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2019 Science Stats

58 Global Warming News Articles
for April of 2020
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Climate Change Is Real. Donald Trump Thinks It's A Hoax.

4-30-20 Covid-19 news: Global CO2 emissions could fall 8 per cent in 2020
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The economic effects of the pandemic could cause a record 8 per cent annual decline in global carbon emissions, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). “This is a historic shock to the entire energy world. Amid today’s unparalleled health and economic crises, the plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering,” said IEA director Fatih Birol. “It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts, but the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before.” In Europe, a report out today estimates that there were 11,000 fewer deaths due to air pollution in the 30 days ending 24 April. South Korea reported no new confirmed coronavirus cases today for the first time since February, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hong Kong reported no new confirmed coronavirus cases for the fifth day running. More than 30 million US citizens have claimed unemployment benefits in the last six weeks. State agencies are so overwhelmed with requests that many millions more may have been unable to claim. The eurozone economy shrank at the fastest pace on record in the first quarter of 2020, as countries around the world introduced restrictions to combat coronavirus. A preliminary estimate of GDP between January and March suggests a contraction of 3.8 per cent, worse than during the 2008 financial crisis. The UK government said it carried out 81,000 coronavirus tests in the last 24 hours, missing its target of carrying out 100,000 daily coronavirus tests by the end of April. Pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca has agreed to help manufacture and distribute the experimental coronavirus vaccine currently being developed by researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK if it is found to be effective. 66,000 tonnes of plastic waste from single-use masks could be produced in the UK, unless there is a switch towards reusable masks, according to a report from researchers at University College London, UK. Climate activist Greta Thunberg has donated £80,000 ($100,000) to the United Nations Children’s Fund to help protect children from the consequences of the pandemic. Thunberg’s foundation was awarded the money by the Danish NGO Human Act for her global activism

4-30-20 Nasa space lasers track melting of Earth's ice sheets
Scientists have released a new analysis of how the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have changed, from 2003 to 2019. The study shows that ice losses from melting have outpaced increases in snowfall, resulting in a 14mm rise in global sea-levels over the period. We've had a number of very similar reports to this recently. What makes this one of interest is that it uses data from the highest-resolution satellite system dedicated to studying the poles - IceSat. This system flies space lasers over glaciers and other ice fields to track their constantly shifting shape. The US space agency (Nasa) has now launched two of these altimeter instruments. The first, IceSat, operated between 2003 and 2009; the second, IceSat-2, was put up in 2018. Thursday's report is a first attempt to tie both satellites' observations together. "We've essentially put the two separate missions into one giant mission to tell the story of what's happened over the 16 years," said Dr Ben Smith, a glaciologist at the University of Washington. "Working with this long time span, we can be a lot less worried about seeing short-term behaviours that aren't so relevant to the long-term evolution of the ice sheets, such as whether it snowed a bit more this year than last. The 16 years gives us a clear picture," he told BBC News. The headline findings from the analysis underline the impacts of a warming climate. Greenland is losing an average of about 200 gigatonnes (billion tonnes) of ice a year. Antarctica is shedding an average of roughly 118 gigatonnes per annum. One gigatonne of ice is enough water to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Put another way, the sum of ice loss from both polar regions (5,088 gigatonnes) over the study period could fill Lake Michigan in the US. The interior of Greenland at higher elevations, above 2,000m, is actually accumulating mass from more snowfall, but this can't compete with the melting all around the coastline where warmer atmospheric and ocean temperatures are eating into the surface and the fronts of glaciers. It's a not dissimilar picture in Antarctica. In the east of the continent, the height of the ice sheet is increasing, again from more snowfall, but the gains are outstripped by melting in the west, particularly in those glaciers that reach into the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas. Thwaites and Pine Island are two such glaciers whose thinning trends have recently caught attention. All the numbers in the IceSat analysis are in the same ballpark as the recent Imbie reports for Greenland and Antarctica. Imbie compared many different satellite datasets to try to pull out a single coherent narrative.

4-30-20 Ocean currents are sweeping microplastics into the deep sea
Deep underwater currents are creating large build-ups of microplastics in biologically rich areas on the sea floor. Ian Kane at the University of Manchester in the UK and his colleagues analysed the effect of slow-moving currents on the accumulation of microplastics – fragments and fibres less than one millimetre in size. Looking at currents in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the western coast of Italy, the team found that microplastics aggregate in biodiversity hotspots at concentrations of up to 1.9 million pieces per square metre. Bottom currents, which generally occur at depths of between 600 and 900 metres, pick up and carry sediment from the sea floor, creating large accumulations elsewhere. “They can be kilometres in length and they can be hundreds of metres high,” says Kane. “They’re ubiquitous in all of the world’s oceans.” The currents are beneficial to sea life, says Kane. “Ocean currents also transport nutrients and they transport oxygenated water, so they can often support quite diverse ecosystems on the sea floor.” But they appear to also be sweeping up plastic waste. The researchers collected samples from sediment deposits at 16 sites on the sea floor, at depths of up to one kilometre, and found that the locations of microplastic hotspots correspond with these biodiverse ecosystems. Microplastics by themselves are relatively inert, says Kane, but can accumulate toxins such as heavy metals, which become more concentrated as they are ingested and moved up the food chain. “They could potentially go through many different organisms in the lifespan of a single microfibre or microplastic fragment,” says Kane. Nearly all the microplastics the team found were textile fibres, either from clothing or industrial processes.

4-30-20 Are you more likely to die of covid-19 if you live in a polluted area?
From Milan to Wuhan, we know coronavirus-related travel restrictions have temporarily cut air pollution. One preliminary analysis in China even suggests the number of early deaths from dirty air that have been avoided exceeds the number who have died from covid-19, while a report out today estimates there were 11,000 fewer deaths due to air pollution in Europe during the 30 days ending 24 April. But what isn’t clear yet is whether someone who has spent decades living in a polluted city such as London is more susceptible to dying from the disease. The idea seems reasonable given that both affect the lungs, but what does the evidence show? Marco Travaglio and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge overlaid nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO) levels from more than 120 monitoring stations across England with figures on coronavirus infections and deaths. They found a link between poor air quality and the lethality of covid-19 in those areas. Travaglio says more work is needed to show cause rather than correlation, but points out the health conditions that air pollution causes are remarkably similar to those that increase vulnerability to the coronavirus. Similar work by Yaron Ogen at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany mapped NO2 levels and covid-19 deaths at a regional level in Italy, Spain, France and Germany. He found that long-term exposure to air pollution “could be an important contributor” to high fatality rates. Another team led by Dario Caro at Aarhus University in Denmark looked at the correlation between air pollution and coronavirus infections and deaths in northern Italy. They found people living in areas with dirtier air had a higher level of inflammatory cytokine cells, leaving them more vulnerable to the virus.

4-28-20 It’s impossible to predict if crucial Antarctic glacier will collapse
A major Antarctic glacier is at risk of disintegrating irreversibly if it passes a key tipping point, which could trigger the collapse of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet – and we can’t say when it might happen. Pine Island glacier is one of two glaciers flowing into Pine Island Bay, part of the Amundsen Sea off West Antarctica. The other is Thwaites glacier. Both have retreated rapidly due to climate change, contributing to rising sea levels. “Of all glaciers around Antarctica, we believe Pine Island glacier has contributed most, so far,” says Sebastian Rosier at Northumbria University in the UK. “People are very concerned.” Worse, the two glaciers are the weak point of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which sits on bedrock below sea level. A dramatic glacier retreat could let water get under the ice and thus collapse the entire ice sheet, leading to more than 3 metres of sea level rise, over centuries. The main reason the Pine Island glacier is retreating is a current of warmer water that now periodically flows under its floating tip, melting it from below. Because the main part of the glacier sits on rocks that are below sea level, there is nothing to stop this warmer water getting ever further under the glacier. Rosier and his colleagues simulated the glacier’s behaviour as the ocean water at its tip slowly warmed. They found that it passed through not one but three tipping points. The first two both led to rapid ice loss, even if the ocean was later cooled. The third caused the glacier to collapse entirely. This couldn’t be stopped by cooling the ocean (EarthArXiv, doi.org/dstt). “Tipping point three is sort of game over,” says Ted Scambos at the University of Colorado in Boulder. In the model, the third tipping point occurred when the ocean water had warmed by 1.2°C. A 2014 study found that the Amundsen Sea is warming by 0.1 to 0.3°C per decade.

4-26-20 Is there a limit to optimism when it comes to climate change?
On the differences between the consequentialist and Kantian approaches to fighting climate change. "We're doomed": a common refrain in casual conversation about climate change. It signals an awareness that we cannot, strictly speaking, avert climate change. It is already here. All we can hope for is to minimize climate change by keeping global average temperature changes to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid rending consequences to global civilization. It is still physically possible, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in a 2018 special report — but "realizing 1.5°C-consistent pathways would require rapid and systemic changes on unprecedented scales." Physical possibility aside, the observant and informed layperson can be forgiven her doubts on the question of political possibility. What should be the message from the climate scientist, the environmental activist, the conscientious politician, the ardent planner — those daunted but committed to pulling out all the stops? It is the single most important issue facing the community of climate-concerned Earthlings. We know what is happening. We know what to do. The remaining question is how to convince ourselves to do it. We are, I believe, witnessing the emergence of two kinds of responses. One camp — let us call its members "the optimists" — believes that foremost in our minds ought to be the strict possibility of surmounting the challenge ahead. Yes, it is also possible that we will fail, but why think about that? To doubt is to risk a self-fulfilling prophecy. William James captured the essence of this thought in his lecture "The Will to Believe" occasionally, when faced with a salto mortale (or critical step), "faith creates its own verification" where doubt would cause one to lose one's footing. Those in the other camp, "the pessimists," argue that countenancing the possibility, perhaps the likelihood, of failure, should not be avoided. In fact, it might very well open new pathways for reflection. In the case of climate change, it might, for example, recommend a greater emphasis on adaptation alongside mitigation. But this would depend on the facts of the matter, and the route to facts leads through evidence rather than faith. Some gaps are too wide to jump, faith notwithstanding, and the only way to identify instances of such gaps is to look before leaping. On the extreme ends of these camps there is bitter mistrust of the opposition. Some among the optimists level accusations of enervating fatalism and even cryptodenialism at the pessimists: if it is too late to succeed, why bother doing anything? On the fringes of the pessimist camp, the suspicion circulates that the optimists deliberately undersell the gravity of climate change: the optimist is a kind of climate esoteric who fears the effects of the truth on the masses.

4-25-20 Coronavirus recovery plan 'must tackle climate change'
Tackling climate change must be woven into the solution to the Covid-19 economic crisis, the UK will tell governments next week. Environment ministers from 30 countries are meeting in a two-day online conference in a bid to make progress on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The gathering is called the "Petersberg Climate Dialogue". It will focus on how to organise a "green" economic recovery after the acute phase of the pandemic is over. The other aim is to forge international agreement on ambitious carbon cuts despite the postponement of the key conference COP26 - previously scheduled for Glasgow in November (now without a date). Alok Sharma, the UK Climate Secretary and president of COP26, said: "I am committed to increasing global climate ambition so that we deliver on the Paris Agreement (to stabilise temperature rise well below 2C). "The world must work together, as it has to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, to support a green and resilient recovery, which leaves no one behind. "At the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, we will come together to discuss how we can turn ambition into real action." The informal conference is co-hosted by the UK and Germany. Developed and developing countries will attend, along with the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, and members of civil society and business. Last week, Mr Guterres warned that climate change was a deeper problem than the virus. Campaign groups will be sceptical about the meeting. Since the Paris deal to cut emissions, CO2 has actually been rising - although there's currently a blip in the trend thanks to the Covid recession. The development charity CARE says it's alarmed that public finance provided from rich countries to developing countries to adapt to inevitable climate change actually decreased in 2018. Sven Harmeling from CARE said: "If governments fail to make their economic stimulus sustainable and equitable, they will drive our planet much deeper into the existential economic, social and ecological turmoil caused by the climate crisis." The EU is already set on delivering a green stimulus. The Commission's Green Deal chief, Frans Timmermans, said every euro spent on economic recovery measures after the COVID-19 crisis would be linked to the green and digital transitions.

4-24-20 Microwaved bamboo could be used to build super-strong skyscrapers
Scientists have created an exceptionally strong, lightweight material out of microwaved bamboo that could be used to construct the next generation of skyscrapers, cars and aeroplanes. At the moment, steel, concrete and bricks are the most commonly used construction materials, but they are non-renewable and their production contributes substantially to global greenhouse gas emissions. Bamboo, in contrast, is a fast-growing, renewable material that is already used in houses and scaffolding in many Asian countries. However, it is not strong enough in its natural form to construct tall buildings. To make bamboo stronger, Liangbing Hu at the University of Maryland in the US and his colleagues treated it with chemicals to partially remove a substance called lignin, then microwaved it to remove water. This caused the bamboo to shrink by about a third of its size and its cellulose fibres to pack together in dense layers. The tightly-packed cellulose layers were able to form strong chemical bonds called hydrogen bonds that enhanced the strength of the bamboo while still maintaining its lightness, says Hu. The tensile strength of the microwaved bamboo – or the amount of stretch it could withstand without breaking – was 6 times that of steel when compared by weight. It could also withstand slightly more compression than concrete and bricks and did not degrade when left outdoors. These properties make the material suitable for constructing skyscrapers that would be lightweight but stay stable by being strongly bolted to the ground, says Hu. It could also potentially be used to make lighter electric cars that could make up the weight with bigger batteries for travelling further, or lighter aeroplanes that require less fuel to propel them, he says. Hu’s team and other research groups have also used wood to make super-strong, renewable building materials, but bamboo has the advantage of growing faster, meaning it can be produced on a larger scale, he says. Hu and his colleagues are now planning several engineering projects to test the potential of their microwaved bamboo in real-life building contexts.

4-24-20 How to bail out the oil industry without destroying the planet
Hundreds of fossil fuel companies could go bankrupt if lawmakers don't take action — but should we? For a brief spell on Monday, one of the most watched metrics for crude oil prices went negative. Oil producers were literally willing to pay people almost $40 a barrel at one point to take their product. It was the first time in history that had happened. Trading has recovered since then, but crude oil prices remain crushingly low, and are now a genuine existential threat to the U.S. oil and energy sector. That's inspired demands for a federal bailout of the industry, including from President Trump himself — along with a chorus of opponents saying the industry isn't worth saving. But depending on what we mean by "bailout," this could be a moment of historic opportunity for the climate change movement. The last decade's boom in North American shale oil production was a mixed blessing: It created a bunch of jobs and made America a net exporter of oil, but it also flooded the international market with supply. Meanwhile, demand for oil was being eroded by gains in energy efficiency, green energy, and green tech. Much of the remaining global supply is controlled by state-run oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia, who dump supply into the market based on geopolitical strategy as much as market signals. This big ramp up of supply relative to demand led to a price crash several years ago, from which the industry has been slowly recovering. Then came the coronavirus pandemic. The stay-at-home orders and economy-wide lockdowns, both in the U.S. and around the world, sent that already-soft demand for oil into a nosedive. If massive parts of society are no longer working, commuting, flying, etc, they have no need for fuel. Then Saudi Arabia and Russia got into a price war, and ramped up production in an effort to sabotage both the U.S. industry and each other. President Trump managed to broker a detente, but the agreed-to production cuts were not nearly enough to balance the lower demand, so prices kept plunging. Of course, if the supply of oil is far outpacing demand, all that excess oil has to go somewhere. And there's a whole market for oil storage that smooths out these price falls. The problem is, the current glut is so extreme that this market has literally run out of physical storage. There's just nowhere to put the oil anymore. So when the oil storage contracts for the month of May settled early this week, oil producers literally found themselves having to pay the storage people to take the oil and figure out what to do with it. Hence the price plunge into negative territory. We're past the May contracts hump now, and the situation for June looks marginally better, so oil prices have recovered after Monday’s dive. But they're still below $15 a barrel, which is just insanely cheap.

4-24-20 Volcanic time-bomb threatens nearby trees
Trees growing near to an active volcano face an uncertain future for several years after an eruption, a study has suggested. A reduced ability to absorb essential nutrients from the soil and lower rates of turning sunshine into sugar hampered the trees' growth. A team of researchers also found that toxins released by eruptions continued to limit the trees' growth. The findings appear in the journal Dendrochronologia. The team said that the widespread impact of volcanic eruptions on trees had been well documented, such as the "year without a summer" in 1816, following the massive Tambora eruption in Indonesia in the previous year, which was deemed to be the biggest volcanic eruption in human history. However, they added, there was little known about the effect eruptions had on surviving trees near to volcanoes. Certain things had been observed, such as damage to the tree's branches, dust covering the foliage reducing the trees ability to photosynthesise and grow. But few studies had been carried out and meaningful data collated. The team of Spanish and Mexican scientists decided to assess the effects of eruptions on a volcano in central Mexico, which had become active again at the turn of the millennium. The mount, called Popocatepetl (which translates as Smoking Mountain), is about 70km south-east of Mexico City. It's the country's second highest peak. "We selected a study area with living trees growing at the upper forest limit of the Popocatepetl, approximately 4,000 metres above sea-level," explained co-author Raquel Alfaro-Sanchez. "For this study, we focused on the response of the trees to the largest eruption recorded since the volcano resumed its eruptive activities in 1994. This occurred in December 2000." During the decade following the resumption of eruptions in 1994, tree ring samples showed the team that the trees had experienced reduced effectiveness of pores on the leaves (stomata) as well as reduce photosynthetic activity as a "consequence of reduced light intensity [as a result of] the large dust layer covering the study area".

4-23-20 AI can search satellite data to find plastic floating in the sea
With help from artificial intelligence, we can now detect patches of floating marine plastic from satellite data. The technique may eventually help environmental researchers better monitor and manage plastic waste in the ocean. Lauren Biermann at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK, and her colleagues have devised an AI capable of identifying sea plastic in imagery taken at varying wavelengths of light. They trained it with images from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellites, which record visual information at multiple wavelengths along the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from visible light to shortwave infrared. The algorithm can distinguish floating macroplastics – those greater than 5 millimetres in size – from other materials such as sea foam and seaweed with 86 per cent accuracy. Biermann had previously found that floating plastic reflects light in a particular way, giving it a unique spectral signature. For example, in contrast with seawater, which absorbs most near-infrared light, plastic reflects light at this wavelength. The researchers trained an AI using satellite imagery of floating plastic taken over Durban in South Africa in April last year, when severe flooding washed vast amounts of plastic waste out to sea. They also trained the algorithm on existing spectral signatures for other natural materials, including seaweed, woody debris and volcanic rock. The AI learned to analyse individual pixels of satellite imagery, each corresponding to a 100-square-metre area. It then determined which type of material, such as clear water or seaweed, the pixel was most likely to contain. Tested on four sites off the coasts of Canada, Ghana, the UK and Vietnam, the AI was able to correctly identify floating plastic 86 per cent of the time.

4-22-20 Fracking wells in the US are leaking loads of planet-warming methane
Satellites have revealed the fracking heartland of the US is leaking a powerful greenhouse gas at a record-breaking rate. The methane escaping from the oil and gas wells of the Permian basin, which straddles Texas and New Mexico, has the potential to warm the atmosphere by almost as much as the carbon dioxide released by all homes in the US annually. Methane, also known as natural gas, is pumped out of the region’s wells and captured for use, but the satellite analysis has shown they are also inadvertently leaking 3.7 per cent of that gas into the atmosphere. The leakage rate is more than twice that assumed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, well above the average 1.9 per cent for 11 other major US basins, and higher than that recorded in any US oil and gas field before. The findings undermine the dominant narrative in the US that its energy sector has become much cleaner in recent years as it switched to burning natural gas instead of coal for power. “Any emission rate greater than 1 per cent or so is significant in terms of the greenhouse gas consequences of using natural gas. And at 3.5 per cent or 3.7 per cent, natural gas is far worse for the climate than is coal,” says Robert Howarth at Cornell University in New York, who wasn’t involved in the research. Last year, he found oil and gas production in North America was to blame for a puzzling surge in methane levels. The new research, led by Yuzhong Zhang at Harvard University, analysed state of the art measurements of methane columns in the atmosphere taken over 11 months during 2018 and 2019 by the satellite-based TROPOMI system. Launched in 2017, it started sending back data in 2018 that is much higher resolution than previous surveys and provides daily coverage.

4-23-20 A U.S. oil-producing region is leaking twice as much methane as once thought
Satellite data show that more than twice as much methane is leaking from a vast U.S. oil- and natural gas-producing region than previously estimated. From May 2018 to March 2019, a European Space Agency satellite measured an average of 2.7 teragrams of methane emitted each year from the Permian Basin, which spans more than 160,000 square kilometers in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Previously, ground-based estimates of the methane leaked from the region’s oil and gas activities were about 1.2 teragrams per year. The new estimate represents 3.7 percent of the total volume of natural gas being extracted from the Permian Basin, say Yuzhong Zhang, an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University, and colleagues. Such a leakage rate is 60 percent higher than the national average, and is also the highest rate ever measured from a U.S. oil- and gas-producing region, the team reports April 22 in Science Advances. Production in the Permian Basin has skyrocketed in the last decade; the region now accounts for about 30 percent of U.S. oil production, and about 10 percent of its natural gas. This growth may be exceeding the ability of the existing infrastructure in the region to contain and transport the gas, leading to extensive venting and flaring. That could be to blame for the high leakage rate, the researchers say. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, although it lingers in the atmosphere only for a decade or two (SN: 2/19/20). During that time period, it has about 80 times the atmosphere-warming potential of longer-lived carbon dioxide. Identifying and accurately quantifying very large methane emissions from human activities, such as the fossil fuel industry and landfills, is crucial to curbing climate change (SN: 11/14/19).

4-23-20 Waste water tests could monitor 2 billion people for the coronavirus
We don’t know exactly how many people have been infected with the coronavirus due to a lack of comprehensive testing, but we could begin monitoring about 2 billion people worldwide right now, simply by looking for the pathogen in waste water. “It feels like a no-brainer: everything is in place to do this,” says Rolf Halden at Arizona State University. “You could get a huge return on your investment and save many lives.” The monitoring would be a fraction of the cost of traditional clinical testing, and in the right circumstances could detect one person carrying coronavirus among a healthy population of 2 million. Researchers around the world have been monitoring for viruses in waste water since the 1980s. In 2013, for instance, the approach identified a polio outbreak in Israel before the virus had made anyone seriously ill. At the start of the year there were concerns that the technique would not work with coronavirus, because its RNA would readily fall apart. But several papers published in recent weeks confirm that coronavirus can, after all, be detected in stool samples. This suggests it can survive in waste water too. “I have a tonne of emails telling me it’s impossible,” says Halden. “But now it’s been shown to be possible, and everyone wants to get involved.” Waste water coronavirus testing could be performed using essentially the same techniques now being used to test individuals. Halden and his colleague, Olga Hart, have run the numbers to get a sense of how sensitive the approach could be. Depending on local factors – including the temperature of waste water and the size of the sewerage system – it should be possible to detect coronavirus in sewage if just one in every 114 of the people using the sewerage system is infected.

4-23-20 What will traffic and pollution look like post-coronavirus?
The coronavirus pandemic has utterly upended the U.S. economy. In many cases, what seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago is now the new normal. But eventually the pandemic will end, the economy will reopen, and the new normal will move back towards something at least akin to the old normal. But just how much will it move? A little? A lot?. Take something like traffic: The number of cars on American roads, especially in major cities, has fallen like a rock. A recent study found traffic volume on California roadways dropped 60 percent thanks to the coronavirus lockdowns. Nor is "traffic" just about traffic: It's about how much Americans work from home; how much they use mass transit; how much they rely on online delivering services, from Amazon to Instacart; and how much we pollute, to name just a few examples. There are lots of different microcosms you could pick to try to get a window into how life in America's post-coronavirus economy will or won’t change. But traffic and all its second order effects is a good place to start. So here are a few of the possible scenarios. Traffic is permanently lower: Why would that happen? The two biggest reasons would likely be that more Americans wind up working from home, and we rely on online shopping and delivery services more heavily, particularly for groceries. This could happen both because lingering cultural fears of another pandemic make "light" social distancing norms a kind of permanent cultural fixture; or it might simply be because, having lived through the new world the coronavirus created, we find we want to keep some of it. For instance, American workers doing their jobs from home has slowly but steadily increased in the last two decades, from 3.3 percent in 2000 to 5.2 percent in 2017. Since the pandemic hit, major companies from Microsoft to Facebook, Twitter, Square, and Google have all told their employees to work from home. Surveys suggest anywhere from 29 percent to 43 percent of American workers could potentially do their jobs at home. (According to Gallup, 43 percent already work remotely at least occasionally.) Large majorities of Americans have access to the broadband internet they'd need — though it's worth noting the people who don't have that access, or who can't work from home for other reasons, tend to be lower class, more marginalized, and more vulnerable. While we don't know exactly how many more people have switched to working from home due to the coronavirus, the potential for a pretty large shift is there. "The coronavirus is going to be a tipping point," Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, told CNBC. "I foresee that this is going to really accelerate the trend [towards working from home]." There are lots of reasons the change may stick post-coronavirus: Workers might like the convenience more, and employers might find they don't lose as much productivity as they feared. The average American commute is now a record-setting 27 minutes, just one way — and people would probably be glad to be rid of that, too. As for online shopping, orders on Instacart have jumped 150 percent in just a month, and the company is trying to hire 300,000 more of the workers who actually go out and buy and deliver the groceries. Amazon is hiring 175,000 more people for deliveries and operations, in part to deal with grocery orders that are reportedly 50 times higher than normal. Other companies like Kroger and Walmart are expanding online operations as well. And while delivering groceries and items ordered online still requires cars on the road, it requires significantly less of them for the same number of people compared to all of them going out and physically shopping.

4-23-20 Antarctica's A-68: Is the world's biggest iceberg about to break up?
The world's biggest iceberg, A-68, just got a little smaller. At around 5,100 sq km, the behemoth has been the largest free-floating block of ice in Antarctica since it broke away from the continent in July 2017. But on Thursday, it dropped a sizeable chunk measuring about 175 sq km. The iceberg is currently moving north from the Antarctic Peninsula. Having entered rougher, warmer waters - it is now riding currents that should take it towards the South Atlantic. Prof Adrian Luckman, who's been following A-68's progress, said the new fracture could mark the beginning of the end of this icy giant. "I am continually amazed that something so thin and fragile has lasted so long on the open sea," the Swansea University researcher told BBC News. "I suspect that the final break-up is now starting, but the ensuing fragments will probably be with us for years." Evidence of Thursday's split came via a radar image acquired by the European Union's Sentinel-1 satellite. A-68's name comes from a classification system run by the US National Ice Center, which divides the Antarctic into quadrants. Because the berg broke from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea, it got an "A" designation. "68" was the latest number in the series of large calvings in that sector. Properly, we should refer to the berg as A-68A - that's because subsequent breakages also get their own related name. A-68B was dropped early in the life of the main berg. This new chunk will almost certainly get the designation A-68C. Were there indications that this particular corner would come off? "Not that I have seen. I've been keeping an eye on progress, but mostly it's been attrition of small flakes from all around," said Prof Luckman. When first calved in 2017, A-68 was close to 6,000 sq km in area, with an average thickness of about 190m. For months it appeared to catch on the seafloor and didn't move very far. But eventually it spun around and picked up pace as it drifted northwards. This past austral summer saw the giant break free of the persistent sea-ice that clogs the Weddell Sea - a significant development because it has exposed A-68 to much greater swells. Its structure is now under more stress and further splits should be expected.

4-23-20 Plate tectonics may have started 400 million years earlier than we thought
Minerals suggest large blocks of Earth’s crust moved around as early as 3.2 billion years ago. Modern plate tectonics may have gotten under way as early as 3.2 billion years ago, about 400 million years earlier than scientists thought. That, in turn, suggests that the movement of large pieces of Earth’s crust could have played a role in making the planet more hospitable to life. Geologist Alec Brenner of Harvard University and his colleagues measured the magnetic orientations of iron-bearing minerals in the Honeyeater Basalt, a layer of rock that formed between 3.19 billion and 3.18 billion years ago. The basalt is part of the East Pilbara Craton, an ancient bit of continent in Western Australia that includes rocks as old as 3.5 billion years. This craton, the researchers found, was on the move between 3.35 billion and 3.18 billion years ago, drifting around the planet at a rate of at least 2.5 centimeters per year. That’s a speed comparable to modern plate motions, the team reports April 22 in Science Advances. The basalt layer, which burbled up as lava and hardened during the journey, contains iron-bearing minerals that can act as tiny signposts pointing the way toward Earth’s magnetic poles. While the lava was still molten, the minerals rotated, orienting themselves to align with either the north or south magnetic pole. By tracking the changes in orientation within the lava as more basalt formed during the journey, the researchers were able to determine how quickly the craton was moving. Scientists have long used such preserved magnetic signposts to reconstruct plate motions, retracing the steps of drifting bits of continent. But the constant grinding and shifting of Earth’s tectonic plates over the last few billion years have reworked Earth’s surface many times over, leaving few outcrops that are older than 3 billion years.

4-22-20 Slower-moving hurricanes will cause more devastation as world warms
Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in 2017, killing 68 people and costing $125 billion in damages. One reason it was so destructive is that it moved unusually slowly and remained over the same area for days – and as the world warms, there are going to be a lot more slow-moving tropical cyclones like Harvey, according to high-resolution climate models. A slow-moving tropical cyclone dumps far more rain in one place than a fast-moving storm of a similar size and strength. The winds can also do more damage, as they batter structures for longer. Harvey, for instance, dumped more than a metre of rain in parts of the Houston area. “Imagine that much water falling in one spot,” says Gan Zhang at Princeton University. “It is too much for the infrastructure to handle.” Other recent storms, including Hurricane Florence in 2018 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019 have also been slow-moving, leading to suggestions that climate change is increasing the odds of slow-moving storms. Now Zhang and his colleagues have run around 100 high-resolution simulations of how tropical cyclones behave in three types of conditions: those between 1950 and 2000, those similar to the present and also various future scenarios. They saw a marked slowdown as the world warms, due to a poleward shift of the mid-latitude westerly winds. It is these prevailing winds that push cyclones along and determine how fast they travel. This will increase the risk of storms causing extreme flooding that, among other things, could break dams and spread pollution from factories and farms, Zhang says. Other studies suggest that warming will lead to tropical cyclones becoming stronger, producing more rainfall, intensifying faster – giving people less time to prepare – and forming in and affecting a wider area than they have previously.

4-22-20 Huge volcanic eruption in 2018 was triggered by torrential rains
The eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano in 2018 was caused by heavy rains – suggesting that extreme weather from climate change could lead to more eruptions. THE huge eruption of Kilauea volcano on Hawaii in 2018 was triggered by extremely heavy rains, according to a new analysis. The water caused pressure to build up deep inside the volcano, fracturing the rock and allowing hot magma to rise. The finding bolsters the idea that rainfall can affect volcanoes and thus that climate change could lead to more eruptions. Kilauea began erupting at the end of April 2018, when the floor of its lava lake collapsed. The volcano crumbled and huge volumes of magma flowed over the landscape, eventually reaching the coast. The eruption continued for months. Why it happened was unclear. The volcano didn’t expand in the weeks before, which would have indicated new magma entering from below. Instead, the upper rocks that keep the magma trapped must have been weakened, allowing it to escape. Jamie Farquharson and Falk Amelung at the University of Miami in Florida noticed that Hawaii had unusually heavy rain in early 2018. On 14 to 15 April, 1.26 metres of rain fell within 24 hours – a US record. In the first three months of 2018, Kilauea had 2.25 metres of rain, when it would normally get 0.9 metres. Previous research suggests that passing storms can cause small explosions when they interact with unstable material on the surface of a volcano, says Farquharson. For instance, the Soufrière Hills volcano on Montserrat in the Caribbean erupts more after heavy rain. “Our study goes further,” says Farquharson. He and Amelung used rainfall data to calculate how much pressure built up inside the volcano as a result of increased groundwater, finding that, in early 2018, the pressure was at its highest for almost 50 years. They suggest that pressure fractured the rock, letting magma rise and erupt (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2172-5).

4-22-20 Plate tectonics may have started on Earth 3.2 billion years ago
Plate tectonics – the drifting of continents – may have got underway at least 3.2 billion years ago and could have played a part in the evolution of life, a study of the magnetism of ancient rocks suggests. “If plate tectonics happened on the early Earth, that means that these processes were likely playing a part in the evolution of that life,” says Alec Brenner at Harvard University. The rich life of Earth could not exist without plate tectonics, which helps recycle key elements such as carbon and also maintains a relatively stable temperature. “In part, we have plate tectonics to thank for Earth being habitable,” says Brenner. Previously, the earliest evidence for plate tectonics was around 2.8 billion years ago. Now Brenner, Roger Fu and colleagues have studied a 3.2-billion-year-old volcanic rock formation in Western Australia called the Honeyeater Basalt. They used a newly developed instrument called a quantum diamond microscope, which let them visualise the magnetic fields of an iron oxide mineral called magnetite. The team looked at a series of rock samples formed over a period of around 180 million years. The magnetic signal within the magnetite was shaped by the Earth’s magnetic field at the time the mineral formed. Changes in the direction of the magnetism in rocks from different times during this period suggest they moved around 2.5 centimetres a year over the 180 million years. That’s similar to the speed at which the continents move todays, says Brenner. “The takeaway here is that about 3.2 billion years ago, at least some of the Earth’s crust was moving and moving fast enough to suggest that plate tectonics was driving that motion,” he says. The team checked that the magnetic signal in the rock samples really is from the time that the rock originally formed instead of from a later event. Fu says he is confident that the signal is indeed pristine.

4-22-20 Climate change: World mustn't forget 'deeper emergency'
Despite the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the world mustn't forget the "deeper environmental emergency" facing the planet. That's the view of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in remarks released to celebrate Earth Day. The toll taken by the virus is both "immediate and dreadful", Mr Guterres says. But the crisis is also a wake-up call, "to do things right for the future," said the Secretary General. "Biodiversity is in steep decline," Mr Guterres stated. "Climate disruption is approaching a point of no return. "We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption." A long-term advocate of strong action to tackle global heating, Mr Guterres is now proposing six climate-related actions that should shape the recovery after the virus. The world has to deliver new jobs and businesses through a "clean, green transition". Taxpayers' money, when it is used, "needs to be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth". Money must be used to make people and societies more resilient to climate change, he says. "Public funds should be used to invest in the future not the past." Fossil fuel subsidies from governments is a theme that Mr Guterres has highlighted many times. These must end he says, and polluters must pay for their pollution. The world will need to work together, says the Secretary General, and climate risks will need to be factored into the financial system and be at the heart of all public policy. The links between climate change and the coronavirus have also been highlighted by many observers and experts in the field. "While the pandemic will lead to a temporary dip in global greenhouse gas emissions, this must not distract from the urgent need for rapid fundamental changes in infrastructure, energy, land use and industrial systems to set us on a path to net zero emissions globally by 2050 at the latest," said Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

4-22-20 Climate change: 2019 was Europe's warmest year on record
Europe is heating faster than the global average as new data indicates that last year was the warmest on record. While globally the year was the second warmest, a series of heatwaves helped push the region to a new high mark. Over the past five years, global temperatures were, on average, just over 1C warmer than at the end of the 19th century. In Europe, in the same period, temperatures were almost 2C warmer. The data has been published as Earth Day marks its 50th anniversary. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says the physical signs of climate change and impacts on our planet have gathered pace in the past five years, which were the hottest on record. The European data, which comes from the EU's Copernicus Climate Service, 11 of the 12 warmest years on record on the continent have occurred since 2000. The European State of the Climate 2019 shows that warm conditions and summer heatwaves saw drought in many parts of central Europe. While the UK saw a new all-time high temperature recorded in Cambridge in July, in many places across the continent, the weather was 3-4C warmer than normal. This is reflected in the amount of sunshine that hit Europe across the year. The number of sunshine hours was the largest on record. The hot summer weather across Europe was followed by one of the wettest Novembers on record, with rainfall almost four times the normal amount in western and southern Europe. The European Arctic region though was below the high temperatures seen in recent years, just 0.9C higher than average. Taken together, the data show "a clear warming trend across the last four decades." "Europe has indeed been warming significantly faster than the global average," said Prof Rowan Sutton, director of science (climate) at the UK's National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

4-22-20 6 sustainability tips for Earth Day
Here are a few things to keep in mind as we try our hardest to do what's right for the planet — now and in the future. n this Earth Day, sea turtles are thriving on Florida beaches and the air in Los Angeles is cleaner than it has been in years. It's not exactly a cause for celebration, though — these events are the result of the coronavirus pandemic, and come with a heavy price. The virus has infected at least 2.5 million people and killed over 176,000, shut down businesses, and locked down countries. The environmental gains have been made because there are fewer cars on the road, planes in the sky, and factories at full production. With most people at home, nature is prospering. Few believe these improvements will continue when people are able to head to the office again. Still, they're a good reminder that the everyday choices we make can have a large cumulative affect on the environment. Earth Day was started 50 years ago to get people mobilized to enact environmental change. To commemorate the occasion, Alexis Reyes, assistant director of sustainability at Pomona College in Southern California, shared with The Week a few things to keep in mind as we try our hardest to do what's right for the planet — now and in the future.

  1. Help the environment while eating healthier. Lockdown is a good time to try more plant-based recipes, Reyes said, using ingredients that have "a much smaller environmental impact compared to using animal products." While you're in the kitchen, instead of throwing away your bits of onion, celery, and garlic, scoop up the scraps and "try re-growing them" for your own garden, Reyes said.
  2. Time for spring recycling. A lot of people are using their extra time at home to purge their closets, drawers, and cabinets of clothes they'll never wear again and birthday cards from a decade ago. Instead of throwing it all away, there are several companies and nonprofits that will accept these items, turning them into new products or recyclable materials.
  3. Throw away those bottle caps. Here's a smaller decision that can make a difference: When recycling a bottle, make sure you first take off the bottle cap and throw it in the trash. Also, when cafes are back open again, "opt for a reusable thermos or enjoy your drink in one of their mugs" because paper to-go coffee cups are "lined with a plastic film that can't be recycled," Reyes says.
  4. Don't get fooled by bioplastics. Bioplastics are made from renewable material, and used to make disposable items. "Think cornstarch utensils or cold drink cups labeled 'compostable,'" Reyes says.
  5. Order a lint filter. While in the wash, clothes made out of polyester, or any type of synthetic material, shed microplastics into the water. Tiny pieces of microplastic, especially microfibers, have been found in samples from rivers, lakes, ocean water, and even arctic sea ice.
  6. Properly dispose of prescription drugs. In order to keep expired or no-longer-necessary prescription drugs away from kids or anyone else who shouldn't get into them, some people flush them down the toilet. This can "alter the water supply and affect aquatic wildlife," Reyes says.

4-22-20 How much space does nature need? 30 percent of the planet may not be enough
Nature needs to be protected, scientists agree, but how best to do it is up for debate. For millions of years, giants graced the murky depths of China’s Yangtze River. The Chinese Paddlefish (Psephurus gladius), which could reach 7 meters in length, used its swordlike snout to sense the electrical perturbations made by smaller prey, snatching them in the dark. But no more. The fish was declared extinct in 2019, a victim of overfishing and habitat loss. Its story is being played out across the world. From winding rivers to the windswept tundra to the dense tropical forests of Borneo, nature is in trouble. Plants and animals are increasingly threatened by human activities and habitat encroachment. One study estimates a million species face extinction within decades (SN: 5/8/19). That’s 1 million distinct, idiosyncratic answers to the basic question of how to make a living on planet Earth, gone. The scale of this potential loss has many countries worried. Aside from its inherent value, the natural world makes the planet livable through processes like cleaning the air, filtering water, cycling carbon dioxide and pollinating crops. So to stem this biodiversity loss, governments are now working to draft ambitious plans to set aside more space for natural habitats. Nature, after all, needs room to flourish. A global plan under negotiation envisions designating 30 percent of land and sea as protected by 2030 — and 50 percent by 2050 — in order to revive ecosystems and safeguard the diversity of species on Earth, according to a draft text of the agreement under the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity. But is 30 percent, or even 50 percent, enough? And enough for what exactly — to slow extinction rates, or to protect everything that’s possible to protect, or something else entirely?

4-21-20 US oil prices turn negative as demand dries up
The price of US oil has turned negative for the first time in history. That means oil producers are paying buyers to take the commodity off their hands over fears that storage capacity could run out in May. Demand for oil has all but dried up as lockdowns across the world have kept people inside. As a result, oil firms have resorted to renting tankers to store the surplus supply and that has forced the price of US oil into negative territory. The price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for US oil, fell as low as minus $37.63 a barrel. "This is off-the-charts wacky," said Stewart Glickman, an energy equity analyst at CFRA Research. "The demand shock was so massive that it's overwhelmed anything that people could have expected." The severe drop on Monday was driven in part by a technicality of the global oil market. Oil is traded on its future price and May futures contracts are due to expire on Tuesday. Traders were keen to offload those holdings to avoid having to take delivery of the oil and incur storage costs. June prices for WTI were also down, but trading at above $20 per barrel. Meanwhile, Brent Crude - the benchmark used by Europe and the rest of the world, which is already trading based on June contracts - was also weaker, down 8.9% at less than $26 a barrel. Mr Glickman said the historic reversal in pricing was a reminder of the strains facing the oil market and warned that June prices could also fall, if lockdowns remain in place. "I'm really not optimistic about the prospects for oil companies or oil prices," he said. OGUK, the business lobby for the UK's offshore oil and gas sector, said the negative price of US oil would affect firms operating in the North Sea. "The dynamics of this US market are different from those directly driving UK produced Brent but we will not escape the impact," said OGUK boss Deirdre Michie.

4-21-20 Coronavirus: Oil price at 18-year low as turmoil persists
The price of a barrel of Brent Crude - the UK benchmark for oil - has slipped below $20, its lowest level since 2002. The close to 20% slump follows negative prices being recorded for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for US oil. Negative oil prices on Monday were a "quirk", says one market expert. The price of US oil - which slumped to minus $37 a barrel at one point - was produced by a trading deadline and is now back to a positive figure. "Yesterday's price action is best understood as a quirk or peculiarity of futures trading," said analyst James Trafford of Fidelity International. He reckons the unprecedented price movement confirms that near-term demand is very weak. "But it isn't cataclysmic," he said. "We don't see negative oil prices as a new normal, going forward." Oil prices have weakened sharply because of a combination of oversupply and a collapse in global demand due to the decline in economic activity caused by coronavirus lockdown measures. The price of oil that we see reported is actually the future price of oil. Futures are essentially contracts to deliver the physical commodity at a later date. So when we look at oil prices, we are actually seeing the market price for future months. As the delivery date approaches, these contracts need to be rolled over to the subsequent period. The price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for US oil, fell into negative territory for the first time in history on Monday. But that only related to the May contract, which was about to expire. Traders holding the contract were unable to find buyers, because no one with the ability to take delivery wanted it. "Nobody wants to take delivery of oil next month because there's nowhere to store it, so the price dropped below zero," explained Rachel Winter, associate investment director at Killik & Co.

4-21-20 India coronavirus: Can the Covid-19 lockdown spark a clean air movement?
When India shut down last month and suspended all transport to contain the spread of coronavirus, the skies over its polluted cities quickly turned an azure blue, and the air, unusually fresh. As air pollution plummeted to levels unseen in living memory, people shared pictures of spotless skies and even Himalayan peaks from cities where the view had been obscured by fog for decades. On one social messaging group, a resident of the capital, Delhi, which regularly records some of the foulest air in the world, celebrated the city's "alpine weather". Politician and author Shashi Tharoor wrote that the "blissful sight of blue skies and the joy of breathing clean air provides just the contrast to illustrate what we are doing to ourselves the rest of the time". Less than six months ago, Delhi was gasping for breath. Authorities said air quality had reached "unbearable levels". Schools were shut, flights were diverted, and people were asked to wear masks, avoid polluted areas and keep doors and windows closed. Delhi and 13 other Indian cities feature on a list of the world's 20 most polluted. It is estimated that more than a million Indians die every year because of air pollution-related diseases. Industrial smoke, vehicular emissions, burning of trash and crop residue, and construction and road dust are the major contributors. As urban Indians gazed at the skies and breathed clean air inside their homes, researchers hunkered down to track data on how the grinding lockdown - now extended to 3 May - was impacting air pollution across the country. "This was an unprecedented opportunity for us to take a close look at how air pollution levels have responded to an extraordinary development," Sarath Guttikunda, who heads Urban Emissions, an independent research group that provides air quality forecasts, told me. Federal pollution control authorities quickly reported a marked improvement in air quality levels in 85 cities.

4-20-20 Air pollution linked to raised Covid-19 death risk
High levels of air pollution could raise the risk of dying from Covid-19, two studies suggest. Dr Maria Neira, of the World Health Organization (WHO), told BBC News countries with high pollution levels, many in Latin America, Africa and Asia, should ramp up their preparations. Those with underlying pollution-related conditions have developed severe Covid-19 in countries with high levels. But medical professionals say it is too early to prove a direct relationship. "We will be doing a map of most polluted cities based on our database to support national authorities in these regions so that they can prepare their epidemic response plan accordingly," Dr Neira said. A US study suggests Covid-19 death rates rise by about 15% in areas with even a small increase in fine-particle pollution levels in the years before the pandemic. "Patterns in Covid-19 death rates generally mimic patterns in both high population density and high [particulate matter] PM2.5 exposure areas," the Harvard University report says. These particles, one-30th the diameter of a human hair, have previously been linked to health issues including respiratory infections and lung cancer. The Harvard study has not yet been peer reviewed but Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich chair of epidemiology Air pollution linked to raised Covid-19 death riskProf Annette Peters told BBC News its findings "are in line with earlier reports on hospitalisation and mortality due to pneumonia". "It is one of the first studies substantiating our suspicion and the hypothesis that severity of the Covid-19 infection may be augmented by particulate matter air pollution," she said. Report author Prof Francesca Dominici said: "We hope it will help stop the air quality from getting worse, particularly when we are hearing about authorities trying to relax pollution rules amid this pandemic."

4-20-20 Coronavirus: Banning cars made easier to aid social distancing
Barriers to imposing car-free streets are being lifted following a government decision to enable key workers to walk or cycle more safely. Normally, councils in England that want to close streets to cars must follow procedures that can take weeks to implement. But ministers say councils can now cut red tape governing temporary road closures. This could help people walk and cycle whilst social distancing. Health and environment groups say the measures will also promote healthy walking and cycling - and tackle climate change and air pollution. A letter from the Department of Transport to councils in England says: “This is temporary guidance and will be withdrawn once conditions allow.” But campaigners say that, even after the epidemic peaks, many workers will still fear infection from public transport. They will also be wary of car accidents. That applies particularly to novice cyclists, who have recently dusted off their bikes during the crisis. The campaign groups want ministers to encourage all councils to make simple changes such as using bollards to shut streets to motor vehicles. Brighton has already closed off a major road to allow people to carry out social distancing while walking, running or cycling. The organisations behind the road closure initiative include Barts NHS Trust, Cycling UK, British Cycling, Sustrans, Brompton Cycles and The Ramblers. Jonathan Kelly, deputy director of operations at Barts NHS Trust, told BBC News: “People require more public space to socially distance safely and the current set-up of the roads isn’t facilitating that adequately. “As we move out of the virus, it’s important to maintain that distance to avoid infection. “Personally, I would like to see many more road closures in future to allow people to use forms of travel that are good for them and good for the planet.” It’s part of a global trend. Road closures have happened in New Zealand, Canada, Germany and the US. In New York, the city council is preparing plans for 75 miles of “streets for people”.

4-20-20 Coronavirus: Banning cars made easier to aid social distancing
Barriers to imposing car-free streets are being lifted following a government decision to enable key workers to walk or cycle more safely. Normally, councils in England that want to close streets to cars must follow procedures that can take weeks to implement. But ministers say councils can now cut red tape governing temporary road closures. This could help people walk and cycle whilst social distancing. Health and environment groups say the measures will also promote healthy walking and cycling - and tackle climate change and air pollution. A letter from the Department of Transport to councils in England says: “This is temporary guidance and will be withdrawn once conditions allow.” But campaigners say that, even after the epidemic peaks, many workers will still fear infection from public transport. They will also be wary of car accidents. That applies particularly to novice cyclists, who have recently dusted off their bikes during the crisis. The campaign groups want ministers to encourage all councils to make simple changes such as using bollards to shut streets to motor vehicles. Brighton has already closed off a major road to allow people to carry out social distancing while walking, running or cycling. The organisations behind the road closure initiative include Barts NHS Trust, Cycling UK, British Cycling, Sustrans, Brompton Cycles and The Ramblers. Jonathan Kelly, deputy director of operations at Barts NHS Trust, told BBC News: “People require more public space to socially distance safely and the current set-up of the roads isn’t facilitating that adequately. “As we move out of the virus, it’s important to maintain that distance to avoid infection. “Personally, I would like to see many more road closures in future to allow people to use forms of travel that are good for them and good for the planet.” It’s part of a global trend. Road closures have happened in New Zealand, Canada, Germany and the US. In New York, the city council is preparing plans for 75 miles of “streets for people”.

4-29-20 US oil prices drop to 21-year low as demand dries up
The price of US oil has fallen to a level not seen since 1999, as demand dries up and storage runs out. The price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for US oil, dropped 19.3% to $14.74 a barrel on Monday. The oil market has come under intense pressure during the coronavirus pandemic with a huge slump in demand. US storage facilities are now struggling to cope with the glut of oil, weakening prices further. The oil industry has been struggling with both tumbling demand and in-fighting among producers about reducing output. Earlier this month, Opec members and its allies finally agreed a record deal to slash global output by about 10%. The deal was the largest cut in oil production ever to have been agreed. But some analysts said the cuts were not big enough to make a difference. "It hasn't taken long for the market to recognise that the Opec+ deal will not, in its present form, be enough to balance oil markets," said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axicorp. Meanwhile, concern continues to mount that storage facilities in the US will run out of capacity, with stockpiles at Cushing, the main delivery point in the US for oil, rising almost 50% since the start of March, according to ANZ Bank. "We hold some hope for a recovery later this year," the bank said in its research note. Mr Innes said: "It's a dump at all cost as no one, and I mean no one, wants delivery of oil with Cushing storage facilities filling by the minute." The drop was also driven by a technicality of the global oil market. Oil is traded on its future price and May futures contracts are due to expire on Tuesday. Traders will be keen to offload those holdings to avoid having to take delivery of the oil and incurring storage costs. Brent oil, the benchmark used by Europe and the rest of the world, was also weaker, down 2.6% to $27.35 a barrel.

4-20-20 Environmental Ratings, Global Warming Concern, Flat in 2020
Gallup's 2020 update of its annual Environment survey, conducted March 2-13, records little change in Americans' views on a number of ratings of the environment as well as the government's handling of the issue. Interviewing for this survey was conducted as coronavirus-related concerns and closures were mounting across the U.S., but prior to the federal government issuing guidelines to curb social gatherings and discretionary travel.

  1. Forty-three percent of U.S. adults say they worry about the quality of the environment "a great deal." That is similar to the 46% expressing the same level of concern in 2019 but is still one of the higher levels of worry found for 13 issues rated.
  2. Thirty-nine percent say President Donald Trump is doing a good job protecting the nation's environment, similar to 37% last year, while 58% say he's doing a bad job. Trump's approval on the environment is much lower than Barack Obama typically received during his presidency but on par with the average for George W. Bush.
  3. About four in 10 Americans rate the overall quality of the environment in the country today as excellent or good, 42% consider it only fair and 14% poor. Six in 10 think it's getting worse while 36% say it's improving.
  4. Consistent with the largely positive economic conditions in the country at the time of the survey -- more Americans choose the environment (60%) than economic growth (33%) when asked which of the two should be given priority.
  5. While public concern about most specific environmental issues rated was flat this year compared with 2019, the percentage worried a great deal about the loss of tropical rain forests increased to 49%. That is up from 39% a year ago, and the highest since 2000.

4-18-20 Climate change: 'Bath sponge' breakthrough could boost cleaner cars
A new material developed, by scientists could give a significant boost to a new generation of hydrogen-powered cars. Like a bath sponge, the product is able to hold and release large quantities of the gas at lower pressure and cost. Made up of billions of tiny pores, a single gram of the new aluminium-based material has a surface area the size of a football pitch. The authors say it can store the large volume of gas needed for practical travel without needing expensive tanks. Car sales, especially larger SUVs have boomed in the US over the past number of years. In 2017, CO2 emissions from cars, trucks, airplanes and trains, overtook power plants as the largest source of US greenhouse gas emissions. As well as developing electric vehicles, much focus has been on hydrogen as a zero emissions source of power for cars. The gas is used to power a fuel cell in cars and trucks, and if it is made from renewable energy it is a much greener fuel. However, hydrogen vehicles suffer from some drawbacks. The gas is extremely light - In normal atmospheric pressure, to carry 1kg of hydrogen which might power your car for over 100km, you'd need a tank capable of holding around 11,000 litres. To get around this problem, the gas is stored at high pressure, around 700 bar, so cars can carry 4-5kg of the gas and travel up to 500km before refilling. That level of pressure is around 300 times greater than in a car's tyres, and necessitates specially made tanks, all of which add to the cost of the vehicles. Now researchers believe they have developed an alternative method that would allow the storage of high volumes of hydrogen under much lower pressure. The team have designed a highly porous new material, described as a metal-organic framework. The product, with the glamorous name of NU-1501, has been built from organic molecules and metal ions which self-assemble to form highly crystalline, porous frameworks. "It's like a bath sponge but with very ordered cavities," said Prof Omar Farha, from Northwestern University in the US who led the research.

4-17-20 Forecasters predict a very active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season
Warmer ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic could fuel stronger storms. The Atlantic hurricane season is likely to be very active, fueled by very warm ocean temperatures in the tropics, according to several forecasts including a report released April 16 by The Weather Channel. A total of 18 named storms — nine of them hurricanes — are predicted in the season starting June 1, according to the Atlanta-based weather forecasting company, which is owned by IBM. That’s higher than the seasonal average of 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, determined by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Four of the hurricanes forecast by the Weather Channel are expected to be “major hurricanes” of Category 3 or higher, with sustained winds of at least 178 kilometers per hour (111 miles per hour). Other researchers have also predicted above-normal activity for the year, including forecasters at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the University of Arizona in Tucson, as well as a consortium of risk experts known as Tropical Storm Risk at University College London. All of these groups cited very high sea-surface temperatures, or SST, in the tropical Atlantic Ocean as a key reason for the expected activity (SN: 9/28/18). Warm moist air evaporating from the ocean acts as fuel for hurricanes, pumping water into the atmosphere that then gets carried higher by converging winds until it rains out, releasing more heat and driving the cycle forward. “Atlantic SST is forecasted to be one of the warmest since 1993,” researchers with the University of Arizona noted April 13. It was the first time the team released its forecast in April, rather than June. Several analyses, including the Weather Channel’s, also suggest that a La Niña weather pattern may develop by late summer. La Niña, the flipside of El Niño, is a cyclical phenomenon that brings cooler waters to the tropical Pacific Ocean and changes wind patterns over the Atlantic in ways that can help strengthen hurricanes (SN: 6/9/16).

4-17-20 Coronavirus crisis could cut UK summer electricity use by a fifth
The coronavirus-led shutdown of large parts of the economy is likely to cut the UK’s electricity needs dramatically this summer, potentially by as much as a fifth. While electricity demand always dips in summer months, the UK’s National Grid said today the response to covid-19 could see electricity demand drop by between 4 and 20 per cent in the daytime. That will make it “harder than usual” to match electricity supply with demand, and ways of balancing the two – such as calling on energy storage and constraining output from windfarms – would be needed more often, said Thomas Edwards at UK energy analysts Cornwall Insight. However, Gavin Brown at National Grid says he is confident the company can cope with a 20 per cent reduction. “We have experience of operating near those levels,” he says. Some of that learning came on Easter Monday, when travel restrictions and the bank holiday drove demand to a record low of 15.2 gigawatts in the UK. The result was that renewable and nuclear energy provided nearly two thirds of the country’s electricity. That was a windy, sunny day across Europe, and coronavirus measures in place in European countries helped create a similar situation across the continent, says Dave Jones at the UK think tank Ember. “You had this moment where electricity operators had a challenge like they’ve never seen before and they coped extraordinarily well,” he says. Fossil fuel generation is down by more than a fifth, and the share of renewable energy being used for power is up in many European countries, he says. The current situation shows that in the future grids could cope with far higher amounts of electricity from renewable sources, he adds. Jim Watson at University College London says this summer will be a new challenge for the National Grid, but one they can deal with. “It does provide an earlier than expected preview of some of the challenges of managing a system with greater shares of variable renewables,” he adds.

4-17-20 Climate change made a southwestern U.S. drought one of the worst in 1,200 years
Tree ring–based climate reconstructions examine dry spells going back over a millennium. The drought in southwestern North America that lasted from 2000 to 2018 is among the most severe to strike the region in the last 1,200 years, a new study finds. Tree ring–based reconstructions of past climate reveal just one drier 19-year period: a powerful “megadrought” in the late 16th century. The recent drought, researchers say, was made 47 percent more severe by human-caused climate change. Tree rings are yearly growth bands of variable width, depending upon the ready availability of water. Using tree ring records from 1,586 sites across the western United States and northwestern Mexico — amounting to thousands of trees — hydroclimatologist Park Williams of Columbia University and colleagues created a climate history for the region going back to about the year 800. Between about 850 and 1600, several decades-long, intense “megadroughts” struck the region, on a scale not seen again until the present day, the researchers report in the April 17 Science. A particularly devastating drought that lasted from about 1575 to 1593 is recounted in historical records and tree ring reconstructions alike, Williams says. “That was a really impressive event, and kind of the last gasp of the megadrought era,” he says. The drought may have contributed to the abandonment of New Mexico pueblos and the devastating spread of disease brought by Spanish conquistadors among Native Americans. One of the biggest factors controlling precipitation in southwestern North America is the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a natural cycle in which changes in tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures can alter regional weather patterns (SN: 5/2/16). During “La Niña” episodes of this pattern, colder Pacific sea surface temperatures create atmospheric waves that block Pacific storms from reaching southwestern North America, reducing rainfall. The 16th century megadrought, for example, coincided with a powerful La Niña event.

4-16-20 US megadrought is being made more intense by effects of climate change
Climate change caused by humans transformed an otherwise moderate drought in the US and Mexico into one of the driest periods in more than a millennium. South-western North America’s emerging megadrought over the past two decades has wrought devastating wildfires, hit the region’s farmers and cut the flow of vital waterways including the Colorado river. While the area was known to have suffered past extreme droughts due to natural cycles such as the La Niña climate phenomenon, A. Park Williams at Columbia University, New York, and his colleagues, have now revealed that potentially almost half of the current episode’s severity was down to human-caused global warming. The event was second in intensity only to a megadrought at the end of the 16th century. Williams’s team worked out the region’s soil moisture, a measure of drought, for the past 1200 years. Calculating figures for the past century was straightforward, using temperature, rainfall and other weather records to construct soil moisture. To go further back in time, they used data from more than 1500 tree-ring records. These give an indication of how rapidly trees grew in a given year, which is based in part on how much water there was in the soil at the time. Then, the team used 31 different climate models that each estimate how human-induced climate change has affected rainfall over recent decades. By factoring out this estimated climate change effect, they concluded that south-western North America would probably have experienced manageable drought over the past 20 years. But because of the drop in rainfall caused by climate change, the drought may have been as much as 47 per cent more severe. “Even without climate change, we still would have had a drought,” says Williams. “But this drought would have been no big deal without climate change.”

4-16-20 Climate change: US megadrought 'already under way'
A drought, equal to the worst to have hit the western US in recorded history, is already under way, say scientists. Researchers say the megadrought is a naturally occurring event that started in the year 2000 and is still ongoing. Climate change, though, is having a major impact with rising temperatures making the drought more severe. Some researchers are more cautious, saying that it is too early to say if the region really is seeing a true megadrought. According to the authors of this new paper, a megadrought in North America refers to a multi-decade event, that contains periods of very high severity that last longer than anything observed during the 19th or 20th centuries. The authors say there have been around 40 drought events over the period from 800-2018 in the western US. Of these, only four meet the criteria for a megadrought. These were in the late 800s, the mid-1100s, the 1200s and the late 1500s. The key to this new study is the use of tree ring records to reconstruct soil moisture data for the past 1200 years. The team were also able to use supporting evidence such as medieval tree stumps growing in normally wet river beds, the abandonment of settlements by indigenous civilisations at the peak of the 13th century drought, plus evidence from lake deposits indicating wildfire activity was enhanced during these drought periods. The researchers discovered that when they compared the worst 19-year drought events in the past to soil moisture records from 2000-2018, the current period is already worse than three of the four megadroughts recorded. The fourth one, which ran from 1575 to 1603 was likely the worst one of all, but the difference with the present event is slight. "The first two decades of this drought look just like the first two decades of all of the mega droughts," said lead author Dr Park Williams, from Columbia University in New York. "In fact, it is essentially tied with the worst two decades of the worst of the mega droughts." The authors say that undoubtedly the current drought situation is a natural event but is being made much worse by climate change. The key event seems to have been the El Niño/La Niña weather phenomenon.

4-15-20 Climate change: Blue skies pushed Greenland 'into the red'
While high temperatures were critical to the melting seen in Greenland last year, scientists say that clear blue skies also played a key role. In a study, they found that a record number of cloud free days saw more sunlight hit the surface while snowfall was also reduced. These conditions were due to wobbles in the fast moving jet stream air current that also trapped heat over Europe. As a result, Greenland's ice sheet lost an estimated 600 billion tonnes. Current climate models don't include the impact of the wandering jet stream say the authors, and may be underestimating the impact of warming. Greenland's ice sheet is seven times the area of the UK and up to 2-3km thick in places. It stores so much frozen water that if the whole thing melted, it would raise sea levels worldwide by up to 7m. Last December, researchers reported that the Greenland ice sheet was melting seven times faster than it had been during the 1990s. In recent weeks, an analysis of last year's melting said the 600 billion tonnes of ice added 2.2mm to global sea levels in just two months. This new study says that while rising global temperatures played a role in the events last year, changes in atmospheric circulation patterns were also to blame. Researchers found that high pressure weather conditions prevailed over Greenland for record amounts of time. They believe this is connected to what's termed the "waviness" in the jet stream, the giant current of air that mostly flows from west to east around the globe. As the current becomes more wobbly, it bends north, and high pressure systems that would normally move through in a few days become "blocked' over Greenland. These systems had different impacts depending on the part of Greenland you were in. In the southern part of the island, the authors say, it caused clearer skies with more sunlight hitting the surface. The cloud-free days brought less snow, which meant that 50 billion fewer tonnes were added to the ice sheet. The absence of snow also exposed bare, dark ice in some place which absorbed more heat - contributing to the melt.

4-15-20 Earth Day at 50: How an idea changed the world and still inspires now
Coronavirus will overshadow Earth Day's golden anniversary, but the movement's successes are worth celebrating, says Gary Paul Nabhan. Earth Day, when people around the world come together to support the protection of the environment, is commemorating its 50th anniversary this year. The covid-19 pandemic will mean celebrations are muted, but it is worth looking back at its achievements and seeing if it can still make a difference in today’s world. I was there at the beginning. In 1970, I was a 17-year-old intern, part of a roughly 80-person team running Earth Day from its headquarters in Washington DC. The event was described as a national day of environmental teach-ins. Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson turned much of the event planning over to youth activists. This gave the movement a feeling of playful exuberance as well as passionate commitment, much like the climate school strikes movement launched by Greta Thunberg decades later. We couldn’t have imagined that Earth Day would be the largest public event in US history. Collectively, the events in spring 1970 were 80 times as big as the Woodstock music festival in the summer of 1969. On 22 April 1970, 20 million US citizens took part in local events, from teach-ins at 1500 colleges and universities to environmental clean-ups. For example, 300 scuba divers collected debris lying on the coastal shelf of the Pacific. Earth Day soon went global. In less than two decades, 200 million people were taking part in at least 140 countries. Although sheer numbers in and of themselves don’t tell us much about Earth Day’s impact, it also spawned a new intensity of environmental activism across the world. Momentum from the first Earth Day undoubtedly helped the passing of legislation in the US around endangered species and clean water and air, as well as the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency to deal with health challenges from industry. This momentum carried forward into the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which involved delegations from 114 governments as well as dozens of ethnic minority groups, including Hopi Native American farmers from the US Southwest, fishers from the Shuswap Nation in Canada and Sami herders from Norway. The conference’s final declaration was perhaps the first to spell out the fundamental human right to environmental justice: “Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.”

4-12-20 Record deal to cut oil output ends price war
Opec producers and allies have agreed a record oil deal that will slash global output by about 10% after a slump in demand caused by coronavirus lockdowns. The deal, agreed on Sunday via video conference, is the largest cut in oil production ever to have been agreed. Opec+, made up of oil producers and allies including Russia, announced plans for the deal on 9 April, but Mexico resisted the cuts. Opec has yet to announce the deal, but individual nations have confirmed it. The only detail to have been confirmed so far is that 9.7 million barrels per day will be cut by Opec oil producers and allies. On Monday in Asia, oil rose over $1 a barrel in early trading with global benchmark Brent up 3.9% to $32.71 a barrel and US grade West Texas Intermediate up 6.1% to $24.15 a barrel. Shares in Australia jumped 3.46% led by energy exporters, but Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 1.35% on continued concerns of poor global demand because of the spread of the coronavirus. "This is an unprecedented agreement because it's not just between Opec and Opec+... but also the largest supplier in the world which is the US as well as other G-20 countries which have agreed to support the agreement both in reducing production and also in using up some of the surface supply by putting it into storage," Sandy Fielden, director of Oil Research at research firm Morningstar, told the BBC. US President Donald Trump and Kuwait's energy minister Dr Khaled Ali Mohammed al-Fadhel tweeted the news, while Saudi Arabia's energy ministry and Russia's state news agency Tass both separately confirmed the deal on Sunday. "By the grace of Allah, then with wise guidance, continuous efforts and continuous talks since the dawn of Friday, we now announce the completion of the historic agreement to reduce production by approximately 10 million barrels of oil per day from members of 'OPEC +' starting from 1 May 2020," wrote Dr al-Fadhel in a tweet.

4-12-20 President Trump wants the United States to start mining on the Moon for minerals.
President Trump wants the United States to start mining on the Moon for minerals. The US president recently signed an executive order stating America has the right to explore and use resources from outer space. The order also said the US did not see space as a common area for resources, and didn't need permission of international agreements to get started. But why does he want to mine in space? And what are the benefits? Radio 1 Newsbeat has been speaking to a couple of experts who can fill us in. According to Sarah Cruddas, mining the Moon will help humans travel further in space, to places like Mars. Sarah's a space journalist and says the Moon can become "an intergalactic petrol station" - because it has the resources needed for rocket fuel - like hydrogen and oxygen. Having a petrol station in space means rockets can travel further into space before worrying about running out of fuel. "It's like not taking a kitchen sink when you go on holiday. We shouldn't need to take everything with us when we go into space," Sarah tells Radio 1 Newsbeat. Exploring deeper is important because space has lots of resources which can be used to benefit our planet. Professor Benjamin Sovacool says the world is moving towards renewable energy sources because of climate change and needs those resources. "We are currently depleting the resources we have," Benjamin tells Newsbeat. Benjamin is professor of energy policy at University of Sussex and says mining more materials in space can help build items such as electric cars - which will be good for the environment in the long-term. "Metals such as lithium or cobalt - which you need - are mainly in places like China, Russia or Congo. And it's difficult to get them." He says it can be complicated trying to source materials from different suppliers around the world, all of which have different rules. "Mining on the Moon, with one entity, might be easier," he adds. Sarah says mining those materials on Earth in places like Congo, is "done in horrible conditions". But Benjamin does warn that in space mining doesn't offer a short-term fix for climate change on earth.

4-11-20 50 years ago, American waterways were getting more protections
Excerpt from the April 11, 1970, issue of Science News A new water pollution control bill that provides clear assignments of liability without proof of negligence to the source of an oil spill was signed into law by President [Richard] Nixon last week…. It would add pesticide levels to the factors involved in formulating all new water quality criteria. That bill laid the foundations for the Clean Water Act of 1972, establishing U.S. regulations for releasing pollutants into navigable waters. While the law protects “waters of the United States,” the definition of what “waters” meant remained vague until a 2015 regulation defined eight categories of protected waters, which included headwater streams, lakes and wetlands. President Donald Trump’s administration revised that definition in 2020 to exclude groundwater and some streams. The change also reduces the number of protected wetlands by roughly half.

4-10-20 Oil: Trump promises 'help' for Mexico to seal cuts deal
Oil producers are racing to finalise a deal to reduce output by about 10% in an effort to stabilise plunging prices due to coronavirus lockdowns. Oil producers group Opec and allies on Thursday announced the record supply cut, but the plans were cast in doubt after Mexico baulked at the cuts. Mexico later said they would move forward, thanks to a deal with the US to help shoulder the reductions. US President Donald Trump said he had proposed to "help Mexico along". He said the US would reduce its output and Mexico would "reimburse" the US at some later date. He added that he wasn't sure the deal would be accepted. "We're working on it. I think eventually it's going to work out," he said. Oil markets were closed on Friday, as G20 energy ministers held talks to finalise the agreement. But the prospect of cuts had failed to boost prices a day earlier, with many analysts saying they would do little to offset the massive drop in demand as the coronavirus pandemic has grounded planes, halted travel and put a brake on industry across the world. In prepared remarks at the G20 meeting, US Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette called the situation "dire" and made worse by the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, after Russia would not join a plan to cut supply last month. Mr Brouillette said America would "take surplus off the market" by storing "as much oil as possible" and predicted a fall in US output, pointing to the struggles low prices have created for US companies. But he did not promise specific reductions. "We call on all nations to use every means at their disposal to help reduce the surplus," he said. Government-directed supply cuts would be highly unusual in the US. However, on Friday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Mr Trump had spoken to him on Thursday and suggested the US would help its neighbour with the cuts. Mr Lopez Obrador said the US would make 250,000 barrels per day in additional cuts to its oil output, allowing Mexico to cut just 100,000.

4-10-20 Cities struggling to boost urban tree cover
Many cities around the globe are struggling to reconcile ambitious environmental targets with development pressures, a study has suggested. Scientists in Melbourne recorded a net gain in street tree cover but a net loss in parks and private land. The Australian team says measures to protect mature trees are "critical" if the urban forest's cover is to be enhanced in the future. The findings appear in the Sustainable Cities and Society journal. Globally, the role of trees in towns and cities are well recognised, such as providing shade during hot summer months, and helping to absorb noise pollution and floodwater. The team of researchers in Australia examined the plight of trees in the city of Melbourne in the decade between 2008 and 2017. They observed a complex pattern: "Our analyses showed a net gain in tree canopy cover in public streets and a net loss of canopy cover in public parks and private properties," they say in their study. The team said the most frequently removed trees from public parks and streets were small ones, with trunk diameters less than 15cm. They identified that trees near to developments were among the most at-risk trees. "Almost 2,000 street trees were removed within 10m of major development sites, equivalent to almost 20% of all street trees removed… but this only constituted only 8% of streetscape tree canopy cover losses," they wrote. Co-author Thami Croeser, a PhD student at the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said they were able to record the size of trees removed in Melbourne. "We found that most of them were quite young," he said. "Only about one-in-20 was a mature tree thicker than 60cm [diameter]." He told BBC News: "Overall, the tree canopy cover in the inner city stayed just ahead of losses to development. "Our parks lost canopy, as did private properties, but canopy from street trees grew slightly on balance."

4-8-20 The largest Arctic ozone hole ever measured is hovering over the North Pole
An unusual confluence of events is dramatically thinning the ozone layer over the Arctic. A curious confluence of atmospheric events has produced the largest ozone hole ever measured over the Arctic. A powerful polar vortex has trapped especially frigid air in the atmosphere above the North Pole, allowing high-altitude clouds to form in the stratosphere, where the ozone layer also sits. Within those clouds, chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons already high in the atmosphere — gases used as refrigerants — react with ultraviolet rays from the sun to release chlorine and bromine atoms, which in turn react with and deplete the ozone. Such conditions are more often seen over Antarctica, leading to a more frequent and much larger ozone hole in the Southern Hemisphere (SN: 12/14/16). The ozone layer sits in the stratosphere, an atmospheric layer between about 10 and 50 kilometers above the ground, where it protects life on Earth from UV radiation from the sun. During the Southern Hemisphere’s spring, as much as 70 percent of the ozone can disappear; in some places, the ozone concentration drops to zero. During the Northern Hemisphere’s spring, the Arctic ozone layer also tends to thin. But the Arctic’s average winter temperatures are typically warmer than Antarctica’s, so it’s unusual for cold masses of air to be trapped around the pole for a month or longer and give the gases time to chip away at the ozone. In April 2011, though, Arctic ozone thinned by about 40 percent, setting a new record (SN: 10/3/11). This year’s depletion, which currently covers less than 1 million square kilometers, has already surpassed that record, say researchers with the European Space Agency, based in Paris.

4-8-20 The Great Barrier Reef is suffering its most widespread bleaching ever recorded
The ongoing episode is the third mass bleaching event in five years. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is currently experiencing its third mass bleaching in just five years — and it is the most widespread bleaching event ever recorded. Results from aerial surveys conducted along the 2,000-kilometer-long reef over nine days in late March, and released April 7, show that 25 percent of 1,036 individuals reefs surveyed were severely affected, with more than 60 percent of corals bleached. Another 35 percent of the reefs had less extensive bleaching. “This is the second most severe event we have seen, but it is by far the most widespread,” says marine biologist Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, who led the aerial surveys along with scientists from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. What is most concerning this year is that the southern third of the reef, which escaped unscathed in 2016 and 2017, is now extensively bleached, too. “For the first time we have seen bleaching in all three regions of the reef — the north, the middle and the south,” Hughes says. Bleaching occurs when corals experience periods of unusually high summer sea temperatures, and they eject the symbiotic algae that both nourish corals and give them some of their colors (SN: 10/18/16). It’s not a guaranteed death sentence, but many corals will not survive. The first mass bleaching recorded on the Great Barrier Reef was in 1998, with the next in 2002. But bleaching events in 2016, 2017 and now 2020 have scientists seriously concerned, as there has been little time for reefs to recover in between episodes (SN: 11/29/16; SN: 4/11/17).

4-7-20 The Great Barrier Reef has suffered its most widespread bleaching yet
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has experienced its third mass bleaching event in five years. For the first time, all three sections of the reef have been severely affected. The damage occurred in February when the reef was exposed to the hottest month of water temperatures on record. Aerial surveys conducted by Terry Hughes at James Cook University in Australia and his colleagues during the last two weeks of March revealed that 25 per cent of the reef had been severely bleached and 35 per cent moderately bleached. The northern, central, and southern sections of the reef were all hit. Severe bleaching also struck in 1998, 2002, 2016 and 2017, but was confined to one or two sections. This is the first time that all three sections have simultaneously experienced severe bleaching, says Hughes. “It’s heartbreaking.” Some of the damaged corals will survive, including more heat-resistant species and those that have only been lightly bleached. But many others were probably “literally cooked” at the peak of the country’s heatwave in early 2020. Others will die more slowly from stress over the next few months, says Hughes. His team will conduct underwater surveys in October and November to assess the death toll. Hughes has particularly grave fears for the southern reef, which has mostly been spared in previous bleaching events and hasn’t developed the same heat resistance as the northern and central parts. After the combined 2016 and 2017 bleaching events, about half the coral on the Great Barrier Reef died. It normally takes a decade for even the fastest-growing corals to recover, meaning the latest damage will cripple the reef’s ability to bounce back, says Hughes. “Having three events in five years is very bad news,” he says. The high frequency of mass bleaching in recent years has been driven by human-induced climate change, which is steadily raising global ocean temperatures. The only way to tackle the problem is to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says Hughes.

4-7-20 Climate change: UK forests 'could do more harm than good'
Mass tree planting in the UK could harm the environment if not planned properly, a report warns. Badly-planned trees would increase greenhouse gas emissions, say the government’s advisers on the economic value of the natural environment. The report comes from the Natural Capital Committee (NCC), which says planting trees into peat bogs would prove a serious mistake. Peat locks up vast quantities of carbon - but trees dry out peat. This can release more greenhouse gases than the trees absorb. One NCC member, Prof Ian Bateman from the University of Exeter, said: “The mantra has to be ‘the right tree in the right place’.“ “We would be crazy to undertake the massive scale of planting being considered if we did not also consider the wider effects upon the environment including impacts on wildlife, benefits in terms of reducing flood risks and effects on water quality, improvements to recreation and so on.” The report adds that carpeting upland pastures with trees would reduce the UK’s ability to produce meat – which may lead to increasing imports from places that produce beef by felling rainforests. It also makes a similar point on industry. There’s no point closing dirty UK factories, the authors say, if we’re then going to import goods from places with worse emissions. The authors note that huge publicity has been given to the UK’s plans for planting 11 million trees to lock up carbon emissions, but they warn that conserving carbon in soils is equally or more important. The report points out that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that in 2007 UK soils contained approximately 4,019 million tonnes of carbon (MtC), that’s 94.2% of the total stock of biological carbon - excluding fossil fuel carbon. They say soil degradation through erosion, intensive farming and development creates losses estimated at between £0.9 –1.4bn per year for England and Wales alone.

4-6-20 Coronavirus: Don't bail out airlines, say climate campaigners
More than 250 trades unions and environment groups have signed an open letter opposing plans for bailing out the aviation industry. The letter to governments demands that any bailouts lead to better labour conditions and a cut in emissions. They say aviation should make changes already evident in other sectors amid the coronavirus lockdown. Thanks to a long-standing treaty, international aviation has largely been able to make its own rules. The campaigners say this must change now that firms are asking for new favours from governments. Their informal group is called “Stay Grounded”. Its spokesperson Magdalena Heuwieser said: “For decades the aviation industry has avoided contributing meaningfully to global climate goals and resisted the merest suggestion of taxes on fuel or tickets. “Now, airlines, airports and manufacturers are demanding huge and unconditional taxpayer-backed bailouts. We cannot let the aviation industry get away with privatising profits in the good times, and expect the public to pay for its losses in the bad times.” The aviation association IATA has conducted what it calls an “aggressive” global campaign aimed at persuading governments to introduce measures softening the effect of the virus emergency. It’s asking for the immediate reduction of all charges and taxes; deferral of any planned increases in charges and taxes for 6-12 months; and the creation of funds to help airlines restart or maintain routes. It says without such measures, many airlines will go bankrupt – leading to the loss of routes and damage to the economy, as well as thousands of job losses. Several nations have agreed to some of the industry's demands but in the UK the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has told airlines to look to its own shareholders to keep them running. UK airports, meanwhile, are asking ministers to grant them a suspension of Air Passenger Duty and other measures when the crisis is over. Stay Grounded has a very different recipe for a successful outcome at the end of the crisis. It wants a focus on protecting workers not shareholders; making aviation firms contribute to emissions reductions by cutting air travel demand and strengthening low-carbon alternatives like rail travel; while imposing a kerosene tax and progressive levies on frequent flying.

4-2-20 Brazil: Amazon land defender Zezico Guajajara shot dead
A member of a protected tribe in the Amazon has been killed by gunmen, authorities in the Brazilian state of Maranhao say. The body of Zezico Guajajara, of the Guajajara tribe, was found near his village on Tuesday. He had been shot. The former teacher was a supporter of Guardians of the Forest, a group formed to combat logging gangs in the area. The killing - the fifth in six months - increases concerns about violence against Amazon forest protectors. Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro has drawn intense domestic and international criticism for failing to protect the Guardians' territory in the eastern Amazon region. He has often stated support for farmers and loggers working in the area, while criticising environmental campaigners and slashing the budget of Brazil's environmental agency. The Guajajaras are one of Brazil's largest indigenous groups with some 20,000 people. In 2012, they started the Guardians of the Forest to protect the Arariboia Indigenous Territory. It is not clear who killed Zezico Guajajara on Tuesday. Authorities say they are investigating. In a statement issued on Wednesday, indigenous leader Olimpio Guajajara described him as "another fellow warrior - a man who defended life". "We are mourning his death. We're protecting the forest for all humanity, but powerful forces are out to kill us." The Brazilian Indigenous Peoples' Association (APIB) urged a thorough investigation. The latest murder "is evidence of the worsening violence and vulnerability of the indigenous people, especially the leaders that fight to defend their territories against invaders," the group said in a statement. Sarah Shenker, who works for Survival International, a non-governmental organisation advocating for indigenous communities, accused loggers of targeting activists "one by one". The group renewed its criticism of President Bolsonaro. "The Guardians have been mercilessly targeted by powerful logging mafias illegally exploiting the valuable hardwoods in the Arariboia indigenous territory, home to both the Guajajara indigenous people and uncontacted members of the Awa tribe," it said in a statement.

4-2-20 Coronavirus: Oil prices rise on hopes of a price war truce
Global oil prices have surged after Donald Trump said he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to end a feud that has driven oil prices to 18-year lows. The US president tweeted "I expect & hope" the two countries would agree to cut supply by 10 million barrels "and maybe substantially more". His comment came as Saudi Arabia called for an emergency meeting of oil producers. The Russian energy minister also said his country may re-start talks. A deal to cut production in response to the drop in demand from coronavirus shutdowns collapsed last month. Since then, the cost of crude has fallen to lows not seen for almost two decades as Russia and Saudi Arabia slashed prices and ramped up production in a fight for market share. The stand-off has led US oil to its worst quarter on record. Prices fell by two thirds in the first three months of the year, rocking the energy sector. The damage has prompted American officials to try to broker a new deal. Prices jumped more than 30% on hopes of an agreement. The international benchmark, Brent crude, hit $32.78 a barrel at one point and the price of US oil, known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), reached $26.93. That put the Brent crude price on track for its biggest one-day gain on record. Speaking earlier about the dispute at a White House news conference, Mr Trump said: "It's very bad for Russia, it's very bad for Saudi Arabia. I mean, it's very bad for both. I think they're going to make a deal". Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak addressed the White House discussions in an interview with the Echo Moskvy radio station on Thursday. "We agreed to stay in constant contact, to work out joint measures, which would facilitate stabilisation on the market in nearest future," he said. The American oil industry, which Mr Trump described as having been "ravaged", has just seen the first stock market-traded casualty of the collapse in oil prices.

4-2-20 Delaying the COP26 climate talks could have a silver lining
In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, most people agree it was the right decision last night to postpone the COP26 climate summit until 2021. But what will the delay mean for the biggest moment in climate change negotiations since the historic 2015 Paris agreement? The nearly 200 countries who support the Paris deal were due to meet in Glasgow to upgrade their plans to curb carbon emissions. Existing blueprints leave the world on track for a catastrophic warming of more than 3°C, a recipe for fires, floods and food insecurity. At Paris, the world agreed to hold warming to 1.5°C, or 2°C at worst. A measly six countries, representing less than 3 per cent of global emissions, have declared new plans so far. That includes Japan, which this week disappointed the world with a plan that was condemned for falling “woefully short”, because it has the same headline target as the last one. Diplomacy in the run-up to Glasgow is meant to elicit more ambitious plans, chief among them new pledges from China and the European Union, the world’s top and third biggest emitter, respectively. Such diplomacy was proving impossible with the pandemic’s lockdown measures, which is one of the reasons the meeting was cancelled. But as many environmental groups pointed out yesterday, there’s no reason countries cannot still submit those roadmaps, regardless of the physical summit’s delay. The EU has already said the postponement will not slow its work. Glasgow also needs to tie up the loose ends from Paris, including crucial matters such as the small print of carbon trading between countries – something last year’s meeting in Madrid abjectly failed to do. So, on the face of it, postponing COP26 is bad news for the much more radical action needed to put the world’s economies on course for the Paris deal’s goals. There is little solace in the fact the coronavirus pandemic will significantly cut global emissions this year, perhaps more than 2 per cent, rather than the increase that had been expected. Such a dip would do little to alter the longer term trajectory.

4-1-20 Our approach to covid-19 can also help tackle climate change
We can't lose sight of the climate emergency when dealing with the covid-19 pandemic, say Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac WE HAVE known for some time that 2020 was going to be a milestone year for the climate change crisis, requiring a radical reversal of the current trajectory in global greenhouse gas emissions. But what we didn’t know was that we would also face a global health crisis this year. The decisions we make now to tackle this imminent threat will affect us for generations to come, including our ability to halt global warming. There is no established link between covid-19 and climate change. However, the way we are altering the planet will make the spread of some diseases more likely. Mosquito-transmitted diseases, such as dengue and malaria, will become more widespread as climate change makes larger areas warm enough for these insects to thrive. Diseases that originate in animals, like Ebola or covid-19, could become more likely too. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that three-quarters of new and emerging diseases infecting humans originate in animals. Encroachment on their habitats increases the risk of such disease. The coronavirus pandemic is a tragedy and its consequences will be felt for a long time. Yet though global health conditions will eventually return to a form of normal, our environment will never do so. Our climate has irreversibly changed: the average global temperature has already risen by 1°C. Our urgent task is to ensure we don’t exceed 1.5°C of warming and so avoid the worst impacts of climate change. As the covid-19 pandemic is painfully showing, our challenges are increasingly global in nature and require systemic solutions. To control the coronavirus, governments have needed to mandate social distancing, ground aeroplanes and close borders. For climate change, they need to back clean technologies and end subsidies to polluting industries.

4-1-20 Coronavirus forces postponement of COP26 meeting in Glasgow
A key climate summit in Glasgow will be delayed until next year due to disruption caused by the coronavirus. The announcement was made in a joint statement from the UK and UN after a "virtual" meeting of officials. Dozens of world leaders were due to attend the COP26 gathering that was set to run in Glasgow from November 9 this year. It is expected that the conference will now take place by the middle of next year. As the virus has spread around the world, there has been a growing expectation in recent weeks that the COP26 talks would be delayed. Around 30,000 delegates, journalists and environmental campaigners were due in Scotland for the meeting. However the changing priorities that coronavirus has forced on governments can be clearly seen in Glasgow's Scottish Events Campus (SEC) which was due to host the talks. It is now set to become a temporary hospital to house patients affected by Covid-19. The decision to move COP26 was taken by UN officials, including UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa and UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma, who is president-designate of the meeting. "The world is currently facing an unprecedented global challenge and countries are rightly focusing their efforts on saving lives and fighting Covid-19," Mr Sharma said in a statement. "That is why we have decided to reschedule COP26." "We will continue working tirelessly with our partners to deliver the ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis and I look forward to agreeing a new date for the conference." Five years on from the landmark Paris agreement, all nations were due to put new improved climate action plans on the table at the Glasgow meeting. Environmental groups said the decision was understandable. "Postponing COP26 is the right thing to do - public health and safety must come first now," said Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the Paris agreement and CEO of European Climate Foundation. "This crisis has shown that international cooperation and solidarity are essential to protect global well-being and peace. COP26 next year should become a centre piece of revitalized global cooperation."

4-1-20 Oceans can be successfully restored by 2050, say scientists
Despite being treated as humanity's rubbish dump for decades, the oceans of the world are proving remarkably resilient, says a new scientific review. Building on that resilience could lead to a full recovery within three decades, the researchers argue. Climate change, and the challenges of scaling up existing conservation efforts, are the big hurdles, they say. The researchers caution that the window for action is now very narrow. The oceans have been exploited by humans for centuries, but the negative impacts of our involvement have only become clear over the last 50 years or so. Fish and other marine species have been hunted almost to extinction, while oil spills and other forms of pollution have poisoned the seas. Over the last few decades, the growing influence of climate change has bleached corals, and seen the ocean's acidity increase. This was documented in last year's special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This new review recognises the scale of the problems but also points to the remarkable resilience of the seas. Humpback whale numbers have rebounded since the ban on commercial whaling. The proportion of marine species assessed as threatened with global extinction by the IUCN has dropped from 18% in 2000 to 11.4% in 2019. "Our study documents the recovery of marine populations, habitats and ecosystems following past conservation interventions. It provides specific, evidence-based recommendations to scale proven solutions globally," said lead author Carlos Duarte, who is professor of marine science at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. "We know what we ought to do to rebuild marine life, and we have evidence that this goal can be achieved within three decades. Indeed, this requires that we accelerate our efforts, and spread them to areas where efforts are currently modest." The researchers identified nine components that are key to rebuilding the oceans: salt marshes, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs, kelp, oyster reefs, fisheries, megafauna and the deep ocean. The scientists recommend a range of actions that are required including protecting species, harvesting wisely and restoring habitats.

4-1-20 Climate change: Warming clips the nightingale's wings
Rising temperatures may be having a profound physical impact on one of the world's favourite songbirds. Researchers in Spain found that over a 20-year period, nightingales had evolved smaller wingspans. The scientists say this is linked to a changing climate in the region which has seen the early onset of spring and increased drought. They are concerned that this could affect the bird's ability to migrate in winter. Famed for its ability to sing, the nightingale has a very rich repertoire as it is able to produce over 1,000 different sounds, compared to just 340 by skylarks. Although common in many parts of Europe and Asia, the bird is mainly seen and heard in southern England. Numbers here have declined markedly over the last half century, down 90%, with multiple factors to blame including deer eating their preferred nesting sites, but also because of a changing climate. The nightingale spends the winter in sub-Saharan Africa, with the small, brown creature clocking up huge distances during migration. Wing size is critical to this endeavour. Now,, researchers say that ability to migrate may be impeded by climate change. Scientists in Spain have studied 20 years of data on wing shape in two populations of the birds. They found that the average wing length of the nightingales relative to their body size has decreased. They believe this is related to changes in temperatures seen in the Mediterranean region. "Our results show that spring is delayed and the intensity of the summer drought is higher, which means a shorter optimal breeding period for the birds," said Dr Carolina Remacha, from Madrid's Complutense University, who led the study. "We find the unique possibility that shorter wings are being favoured." The researchers believe that birds like the nightingale normally adapt to the demands of migration by having longer wings, having a larger clutch size but a shorter lifespan. However, the changing temperatures are interfering with this and provoking a response from the birds. Faced with a shorter breeding season, the researchers believe the most successful birds are having smaller families with smaller wings.

4-1-20 Microrobots made from pollen help remove toxic mercury from wastewater
Tiny robots made using pollen could one day be used to clean contaminated water. Waste water from some factories contains mercury, a metal that can cause illness if consumed. There are techniques to remove mercury in water treatment plants, but they are time consuming and expensive. Martin Pumera at the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, in the Czech Republic, and his colleagues are working on a low-cost alternative. Some pollen grains have a natural tendency to adsorb mercury, so Pumera and his team are experimenting to find ways to turn the grains into tiny mercury-removing robots. “Pollen is highly stable and we can have it in kilogram quantities very cheaply,” says Pumera. The researchers used pollen from a range of plants, including dandelion, pine, lotus, sunflower, poppy, camellia, lycopodium and cattail. They first cleaned and purified pollen, then attached particles of platinum to just one side of each pollen grain. They added the modified pollen to water contaminated with 0.2 per cent mercury by mass. They also added hydrogen peroxide to the water, which reacts with the platinum to form a chemical motor that helps the microrobots travel faster. After two hours in solution, every type of pollen had adsorbed at least 80 per cent of the mercury. Grains from a lotus flower had the highest velocity in the water – about 78 centimetres per hour – while cattail adsorbed the most mercury – around 90 per cent. “We are now working on enzymatically powered microrobots,” says Pumera.

Donald Trump's Plan: Gut The EPA

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