7-30-21 The fungus and bacteria tackling plastic waste
Samantha Jenkins was studying a number of types of fungus in a research project for her company, when one of the fungi made a bid for freedom. "Imagine a jar full of grain with a kind of lump of mushroom coming out of the top," says the lead biotech engineer for bio-manufacturing firm Biohm. "It didn't look particularly exciting or fascinating. But as soon as it was cracked open, it was very, very cool." The fungus had eaten its way through the plastic sponge intended to seal it in, breaking it down and assimilating it like any other food. The aim of the project was to evaluate a number of strains of fungus for use in bio-based insulation panels, but the hungry fungus has taken them in another direction. Biohm is now working to develop the strain to make it an even more efficient digester that could potentially help get rid of plastic waste. It's no secret that single-use plastic waste is a vast problem: by 2015, according to Greenpeace, the world had churned out 6.3 billion tonnes of virgin plastic, of which only 9% has been recycled. The rest was burned in incinerators or dumped. Things are improving, with more than 40% of plastic packaging now recycled in the EU, and a target of 50% by 2025. But some types of plastic, such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) which is widely used for drinks bottles, are hard to recycle by traditional means. So might biological methods be the answer? Ms Jenkins is testing their fungus on PET and polyurethane. "You put in plastic, the fungi eat the plastic, the fungi make more fungi and then from that you can make biomaterials... for food, or feed stocks for animals, or antibiotics." Others have also had some success. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have recently used a lab-engineered version of the bacteria E. coli to transform terephthalic acid, a molecule derived from PET, into the culinary flavouring vanillin, via a series of chemical reactions. "Our study is still at a very early stage, and we need to do more to find ways to make the process more efficient and economically viable," says Dr Joanna Sadler, of the university's School of Biological Sciences. "But it's a really exciting starting point, and there's potential for this to be commercially practical in the future after further improvements to the process have been made."
7-30-21 How a Norwegian island is already living our climate change future
One year on, the people of Svalbard are still talking about July 2020. The biggest town of this Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic, Longyearbyen, is surrounded by snowy hills and is sub-zero for much of the year. But last July, temperatures spiked to more than 20°C for several days on end in a month that rarely sees a day above 10°C. This July, by contrast, has been slightly cooler than normal. “There is a general feeling that things are not like they used to be,” says Kim Holmén at the Norwegian Polar Institute’s Longyearbyen office, which sits on the edge of the town, near the sea. Climate change has made Svalbard one of the fastest-warming parts of the Arctic. Summers may be hitting unseasonable heights, but winters are warming quicker, due to changes in sea ice levels. Winter temperatures in the islands are now about 10°C warmer than three decades ago, says Holmén. Svalbard’s shifts are the most extreme example of a wider climatic change at the top of the world. In May, scientists said the Arctic is now thought to have warmed three times faster than the rest of the planet over the past half century, up on previous estimates of just over two times as fast. For parts of Earth that have warmed closer to the global average, like London and New York, Svalbard offers a window to their possible future. On 9 August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release a major report on changes in Earth’s system so far, what is driving them and what the future holds. The report is expected to show that the range of possible temperature rises as a result of doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide from pre-industrial levels, known as equilibrium climate sensitivity, has narrowed from the previous estimate of 1.5 to 4.5°C. The bottom end now looks to be at least 2.3°C. In other words, we are probably on for more warming globally than our previous best-case scenarios. And with greater warming comes more disruptive impacts, the subject of a second IPCC report due next year.
7-30-21 Turkey fires: Blazes threaten Marmaris and other coastal resorts
Thousands of firefighters are battling wildfires in villages and resorts on Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coasts. Four people have died and dozens have been taken to hospital. An investigation has been launched to determine if some of the fires were a result of arson. During a visit to Manavgat, Turkey's Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli, said bringing the fires under control might take time. (Webmasters Comment: The world is burning and its just begun!)
7-29-21 UK already undergoing disruptive climate change
The UK is already undergoing disruptive climate change with increased rainfall, sunshine and temperatures, according to scientists. The year 2020 was the third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest on record, scientists said in the latest UK State of the Climate report. No other year is in the top 10 on all three criteria. The experts said that, in the space of 30 years, the UK has become 0.9C warmer and 6% wetter. The report's lead author Mike Kendon, climate information scientist at the UK Met Office, told BBC News: “A lot of people think climate change is in the future – but this proves the climate is already changing here in the UK. “As it continues to warm we are going to see more and more extreme weather such as heatwaves and floods.” The report says the UK has become hotter, sunnier and rainier: 1. 2020 was the third warmest UK year since 1884; all the years in the top 10 are since 2002, 2. Last year was one of the least snowy on record; any snow mainly affected upland and northern areas, 3. Spring 2020 was the UK’s sunniest on record, and sunnier than most UK summers 4. 2020 was the UK’s fifth wettest year; six of the 10 wettest years have been since 1998. Scientists warn of worse extreme weather if global temperatures rise and politicians fail to curb carbon emissions. And in a separate report, scientists warned that greenhouse gas levels were already too high “for a manageable future for humanity“. Liz Bentley, head of the Royal Meteorological Society, said that even if governments could achieve the challenging outcome of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5C – which looks very unlikely - that would still lead to a 10% increase in the amount of water the air can hold. “In the UK,” she said, “we are likely to see temperatures of 40C. As we get 1.5C warming, that’ll be something we see on a regular basis.
7-28-21 'Most powerful' tidal turbine starts generating electricity off Orkney
A tidal-powered turbine, which its makers say is the most powerful in the world, has started to generate electricity via the grid in Orkney. The Orbital O2 has the capacity to meet the annual electricity demand of 2,000 homes for the next 15 years. In May, it was sailed out of Dundee, where it was assembled over 18 months. The 680-tonne turbine is now anchored in the Fall of Warness where a subsea cable connects the 2MW offshore unit to the local onshore electricity network. Orbital Marine Power said its first commercial turbine, which will be powered by the fast-flowing waters, is a "major milestone". It is also providing power to an onshore electrolyser to generate green hydrogen. Orbital chief executive Andrew Scott praised his team and the supply chain for delivering the "pioneering renewable energy project" safely and successfully. He added: "Our vision is that this project is the trigger to the harnessing of tidal stream resources around the world to play a role in tackling climate change whilst creating a new, low-carbon industrial sector." The turbine's superstructure floats on the surface of the water, with rotors attached to its legs which extract energy from the passing tidal flow. It is held on station by a four-point mooring system with each mooring chain having the strength to lift over 50 double decker buses. Electricity is transferred from the turbine via a dynamic cable to the seabed and then through a static cable to the local onshore electricity network. The company is now aiming to commercialise its technology in a move it says will deliver a jobs boost to coastal communities. Mr Scott said: "We believe pioneering our vision in the UK can deliver on a broad spectrum of political initiatives across net zero, levelling up and building back better at the same time as demonstrating global leadership in the area of low-carbon innovation that is essential to creating a more sustainable future for the generations to come."
7-28-21 UK summers are likely to regularly feature intense 40°C heatwaves
UK summers are likely to regularly see temperatures above 40°C even if humanity manages to limit global warming to 1.5°C, meteorologists have warned. The UK is already seeing increasingly extreme weather, with 2020 the third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest year on record – the first to fall into the top 10 for all three variables. Data published in the The State Of The UK Climate 2020 report today revealed the average winter temperature for last year was 5.3°C, which is 1.6°C higher than the 1981 to 2010 average. That makes December 2019 to February 2020 the fifth warmest winter on record, while the average temperature last summer was 14.8°C, 0.4°C above the 1981 to 2010 average. Early August 2020 saw maximum temperatures hit 34°C on six consecutive days, with five “tropical nights” above 20°C, making it one of the most significant heatwaves to affect southern England in the past 60 years, the report’s authors said. Comparing data from the Central England Temperature series, which goes back to 1772, the research found the early 21st century in this region has been 0.5°C to 1°C warmer than 1901 to 2000 and 0.5 to 1.5°C warmer than 1801 to 1900. Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, which publishes the report, said the world was already seeing extreme heat as a result of warming of 1.1°C to 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels. “If you take that up by another 0.3°C, these [heatwaves] are just going to become much more intense – we’re likely to see 40°C in the UK although we have never seen those kinds of temperatures [before],” she said. “As we hit 1.5°C of global warming, that’s going to not just become something that we see once or twice, it’ll start to become something that we see on a much more regular basis.”
7-28-21 There's room for a green middle ground in the UK's culture wars
A COUPLE of weeks ago, I had an experience that was new to me, and which proved both infuriating and enlightening: I was harangued on Twitter for not being green enough. Last month, I wrote about driving my sick cat to and from the vet, and how the gridlocked traffic looked like a depressing taste of our post-pandemic future. “Shocked by yr column blaming traffic,” my chastiser tweeted at me. “You ARE the traffic; have you tried cycling?” Deeply unfair. But it gave me a glimpse of what many people must feel when their behaviour falls short of the standards set by self-appointed eco police. I was merely doing what I thought was the right thing. But it involved a car, and I was judged for it. (For the record, I am not about to cycle up a main road with an elderly, sick and semi-incontinent cat.) A few days earlier, I had watched the launch of some surprising new research on the UK’s nascent culture wars. For readers who don’t live in the UK or haven’t noticed (of which more later), the national conversation is currently dominated by arguments over statues, taking the knee, free speech and more. Judging from the media narrative, the country has already fractured into two warring and mutually irreconcilable factions, characterised as progressives vs traditionalists, remain vs leave, young vs old, woke vs anti-woke and, of course, green vs anti-green. This polarisation is the very definition of a culture war, as set out in the 1991 book Culture Wars by sociologist James Davison Hunter: “a sense of conflict between two irreconcilable views of what is fundamentally right or wrong about the world we live in.” Another defining feature of a culture war is that it expands to swallow up ever more issues, converting political opinions into non-negotiable identities. The starting point is usually whether granting rights to marginalised groups has, or hasn’t, gone too far. But the rest – including environmentalism – snowballs. Or snowflakes. The long-running culture war in the US, for example, features entrenched partisan positions on climate action.
7-28-21 Is China going to fry the global climate?
Soon, China will be responsible for more total carbon dioxide emissions than any other country. The last month has seen a nearly continuous series of climate disasters striking across the world: extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest, wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada blanketing half the continent with smoke, extreme flooding in Germany, India, and China, and on and on. We surely haven't seen the last climate disaster of 2021. Climate change is a global problem, and all countries are implicated. But one country is far more important to the world's climate future than any other: China. The decisions made by the Chinese leadership will largely determine whether the climate fries. When speaking about China's emissions, one sometimes hears the argument that rich countries should bear the brunt of the effort against climate change, because the U.S. and Europe are responsible for the bulk of historical emissions. This argument is pretty strained to begin with. If climate change is a potentially existential threat to human society (and it is), surely stopping it takes priority over anything else, including litigating who should be most responsible for mitigating it. I do agree that rich countries should be morally obliged to contribute more than poorer ones because of their greater historical emissions, but at the end of the day, simply wrenching down emissions must matter more than that. By the same token, allowing poorer countries to burn carbon is not going to do them much good if that brings about climate change that will destroy their economies anyway. In a critical emergency, everybody has to do as much as they can, as fast as they can. And besides, a significant portion of developed-world emissions happened before the point when climate science was established and brought before policymakers in a sustained way, in about the 1960s and 1970s. If high-emitting poorer countries deserve some latitude because rich ones got to burn carbon freely in the past, then they also deserve less for being fully aware of climate change now. (Webmasters Comment: United States has twice the CO2 emissions per capita than China!)
7-28-21 Electric car charging prices 'must be fair' say MPs
People must be protected from excessive pricing for public electric car charging, MPs have said. Charging an electric car at home is much cheaper than using public charge points. This could put pressure on people who are less able to afford it, the Transport Select Committee said. The government also needs to make charging infrastructure accessible and reliable, and make sure people in rural areas have equal access, the MPs added. The UK plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, and hybrids by 2035. That should mean that most cars on the road in 2050 are either electric, use hydrogen fuel cells, or some other non-fossil fuel technology. However, at present there is a disparity between how much it costs to charge a car at home compared to public charging, which is more expensive. Consumers need to be protected from excessive charges, the Transport Committee said. Property developers should also be required to provide public charging points, and councils should make sure charging infrastructure is built, the MPs added. "Charging electric vehicles should be convenient, straightforward and inexpensive and drivers must not be disadvantaged by where they live or how they charge their vehicles," said committee chair Huw Merriman. In addition, drivers who live in rural or remote areas or who do not have off-street parking "risk being left behind", the committee said. The committee said industry must use pricing "to change consumer charging behaviour to a 'little but often' approach and at times when the National Grid can meet total demand". Graeme Cooper, head of future markets at National Grid, said that the energy network operator was "working with government to map out where critical grid capacity is needed to enable the faster roll out of charging points". "There will be an uptick in demand for energy so we need to ensure that we are future proofing, putting the right wires in the right place for future demand." He said National Grid would have to ramp up capacity to help achieve the UK's net zero goals, both by making it smarter, but also putting in more physical infrastructure.
7-27-21 COP26 climate summit president says progress made, but not enough
The first in-person meeting of climate ministers in 18 months has seen some tentative progress, says the UK minister who will lead the Glasgow COP26 meeting. Alok Sharma said that the countries aligned more closely on climate issues but on some key matters they were "not yet close enough". One of the outstanding questions is the phasing out of coal for energy. Continued use was incompatible with a key climate target, Mr Sharma said. Representatives from 51 countries attended the informal gathering in London over the weekend. COP26 will aim to raise ambition on tackling climate change - in order to avoid far-reaching consequences for the planet. With just three months until the Glasgow summit, there has been a flurry of scientific and diplomatic activity in recent days related to climate change. Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the UN's climate science body - have begun two weeks of discussions to try and agree a new report on the state of the global climate. On the political front, environment ministers from the G20 group of nations met in Naples, Italy, last week to try and make progress on questions such as the elimination of coal from power generation. While there was strong support for the step, it was opposed by China and India. There was also dissent from some G20 countries on strengthening the language around the 1.5C temperature goal in the Paris agreement, drawn up in 2015. Scientists say that we must keep the global rise in temperatures to 1.5C since industrial times if we are to avoid the most dangerous effects of warming. The planet has already warmed around 1.2C compared to the pre-industrial era. However, the nations did agree that they would all submit new climate pledges before the Glasgow meeting. Many of these same ministers have spent the weekend in London, at an informal gathering organised by the UK to discuss some of the key issues that will need resolving before COP26. In all, representatives from 51 countries including the US, India, China took part in this meeting along with nations hugely vulnerable to rising temperatures such as Rwanda, Costa Rica and the Marshall Islands.
7-27-21 A stunning visualization of Alaska’s Yukon Delta shows a land in transition
More northern parts of the Arctic are becoming greener. The westward journey of the mighty Yukon River takes it from its headwaters in Canada’s British Columbia straight across Alaska. The river has many stories to tell, of generations of Indigenous people hunting on its banks and fishing in its waters, of paddle-wheeled boats and gold panning and pipelines. Where it meets the Bering Sea, the river fans out into an intricate delta resembling cauliflower lobes of river channels and ponds. The delta has a story to tell, too — that of an increasingly green Arctic. A composite image of the delta’s northern lobe, taken May 29 by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat 8 satellite, shows willow shrublands lining river channels as they wind toward the sea. Farther inland, tussock grasses carpet the tundra. Grasslike sedge meadows populate low-lying wetlands, punctuated by ponds left behind by springtime floods along the riverbanks from snow and ice that have melted upstream. In southern Alaska, such as in the Kenai Peninsula, the Arctic has been getting noticeably greener since the 1980s, as global temperatures climb (SN: 4/11/19). Researchers observed this change using satellite measurements of red and near-infrared light reflected off the vegetation. Now, analyses of changing vegetation in the Yukon Delta and nearby Kuskokwim Delta show that more northern areas are getting greener too, researchers report June 1 in Earth Interactions. The increasing prevalence of tall willows, an important moose habitat, is one sign of these changes in the delta. Moose populations, too, are on the rise. But for the Yukon and other Arctic deltas — where higher floodwaters due to climate change are likely to deposit thicker sediment piles, supporting more greenery — many more changes are likely to come as the planet warms.
7-27-21 Extreme weather: What causes flash flooding?
Flash flooding affects cities across the world and has become more common because of climate change. Parts of London and the south of England were left underwater after heavy rain in July. Flash floods usually happen during intense rainfall - when the amount of water is too much for drains and sewers to deal with. It can occur very quickly and without much warning. Roads can become unpassable - with vehicles abandoned - and homes and shops damaged by floodwater. Floods can affect key public infrastructure including transport networks and hospitals. In London, some hospitals had to ask patients to stay away after they lost power. Urban areas are more likely to experience this type of "surface water" flooding because they have a lot of hard surfaces - everything from paved front gardens to roads, car parks and high streets. When rain hits them it can't soak into the ground as it would do in the countryside. An example was seen when New York City was hit by Storm Elsa in July, flooding the subway system. The city's transit authority president, Sarah Feinberg, said "if the drains at the street level can't handle the water, it goes over the curb and then makes things even worse". Water had come through subway vents and down the stairs, she said. In many places - including much of the UK - old sewer systems were built based on historic rainfall projections. Dr Veronica Edmonds-Brown of the University of Hertfordshire said the growth of London was also a problem as its Victorian era drainage system "cannot cope with the huge increase in population". Many factors contribute to flooding, but climate change makes extreme rainfall more likely. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture and so these storms become more intense. According to Prof Hayley Fowler, of the UK Climate Resilience Programme, flash flooding used to be "relatively unusual". But she said warming means "these heavy short-duration bursts from thunderstorms which cause flash flooding are becoming more common". Ms Fowler's research suggests flash floods - measured as 30mm of rain per hour - "will increase five fold by the 2080s", if climate change continues on its current track.
7-26-21 Can we fix climate models to better predict record-shattering weather?
Record-breaking climate events, such as Canada’s highest temperature on record being exceeded by almost 5°C last month, will be increasingly likely in the coming decades, suggests new research. It comes as the ability of climate models to predict such extremes has been called into question following a string of intense weather events around the world. Erich Fischer at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and his colleagues ran computer models to simulate the average maximum temperature of the hottest week of the year in parts of North America and Europe to see if they could yield temperatures that broke records by large margins. They could – under some emissions scenarios, records were smashed by more than a degree by 2030, not the 0.1°C or 0.2°C usually predicted. The researchers conclude that the likelihood of such record-breaking events is largely down to the speed at which Earth is warming, not just the amount it has warmed, which is 1.1°C so far and continues to rise. “It’s really the rate of change,” says Fischer. Geert Jan van Oldenborgh at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, who linked North America’s recent heatwave to climate change, says it is worrying that some statistical models indicated the region’s records were impossible. Such models have a theoretical distribution of extreme values, which gives an upper bound for temperatures in an area. That limit usually moves smoothly up in line with climate change. “Then this heatwave came and it was way above the upper bound [for the region]. It’s rather surprising and shaking that our theoretical picture of how heatwaves behave was broken so roughly,” says van Oldenborgh. The heatwave isn’t the only event that has rattled climate scientists of late. Germany has been hit by fatal floods while Henan in China has seen its heaviest rainfall in a millennium, with people killed in flooded subways. “It has shocked me,” says Tim Palmer at the University of Oxford.
7-26-21 Rich countries are deluded about the climate threat
The U.S., Germany, and others are learning the hard way that money does not immunize nations from climate disasters. The recent flooding in Germany and Belgium was estimated to be the worst in at least 500 years. At time of writing, some 205 people had been killed, a further 176 were missing and unlikely to be found alive, and billions of euros in property damage had been inflicted. In the ensuing news coverage, a note of astonishment could be heard. It "is inconceivable that this is happening in Germany," a Red Cross driver told Reuters. "Did you ever imagine something like this happening here in Germany?" a CBS reporter asked a local resident. "I don't think anyone … could have imagined something like this," he replied. "There's so many people dead," another resident told a reporter. "You don't expect people to die in a flood in Germany. You expect it maybe in poor countries, but you don't expect it here." The shock on display is reflective of a widespread and deeply-ingrained belief that climate change will not really affect rich countries. Residents of developed nations have long been accustomed to the most damaging natural disasters largely striking impoverished nations — while wealthy places may be hit by hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods, they have been largely protected by their superior building codes and well-funded emergency services. But this is not the case anymore. Poor countries will be hurt worse by climate disasters, but even the wealthiest, most technologically-advanced countries are already getting hammered, and it's going to get much worse in the future. The flood damage in Germany surprised local scientists, who have spent years and tons of money preparing for extreme flooding — and even sent out an advance warning across the affected areas. Germans "were stupidly congratulating ourselves that we were forecasting something so early," hydrologist Hannah Cloke told Science. The problem, apparently, was that researchers previously focused primarily on larger rivers which had caused prior floods, while this freak event struck tributaries that were thought to be less of a risk. (The Netherlands, luckily, had focused its flood control efforts more broadly, and therefore suffered many fewer deaths.) The disaster was classic climate change — caused by a bizarre, slow-moving storm that dumped a stupendous amount of rain in a short time in a confined area. The changing, warming climate means there is no more "normal." Previous weather patterns are less and less useful every year, and disaster can and will strike where you least expect. Even when you've spent years building up protective mechanisms, they can easily be overwhelmed by unprecedented freak events made more likely by warming. And given that global emissions have not decreased at all, this is only the beginning. Now, of course wealth is not useless in protecting people from climate change. No doubt if a similar flood had struck Haiti or Chad the death toll would be exponentially higher. The point is that both the governments of rich nations and their populations are in deep denial about the dire threat climate change poses to themselves. The United States is the worst offender by far, of course. The nominally pro-climate policy Democrats currently run the federal government, and they are currently discussing an infrastructure package whose climate portions are something like 10 percent the size of what President Biden proposed in the 2020 campaign, and even that was not even close to enough. The current bipartisan infrastructure negotiations have stalled partially over Republican demands that the decades-old 80-20 funding split between highways and public transit — basically a climate suicide pact — be slanted even more away from transit.
7-26-21 Climate change: Researchers begin discussions on vital report
Against a backdrop of fires and floods, researchers are meeting virtually to finalise a key climate science study. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is preparing the most comprehensive assessment on the state of global heating since 2013. Over the next two weeks, the scientists will go through their findings line by line with representatives of 195 governments. Experts say the report will be a "wake-up call" to governments. It is expected that the short, 40-page Summary for Policymakers will play an important role in guiding global leaders who will come to Glasgow in November to deal with critical climate questions. As the world has warmed over the past 30 years, the IPCC has become the most important platform for summarising the state of scientific understanding of the problem, its impacts and solutions. This year, though, the panel's report takes places as extreme weather events have shaken the US and Canada, Europe and Asia. The question of the role played by human-induced climate change is being asked more loudly than ever. Formed in 1988, the IPCC's role is to provide politicians with assessments every six or seven years on the science, the impacts and the potential options for tackling climate change. Over the years, its reports have become more strongly worded as the evidence has mounted. In 2013, its assessment said that humans were the "dominant cause" of global warming since the 1950s. That document helped set the scene for the Paris climate agreement signed in 2015. As well as its six- or seven-year assessments, the IPCC has also produced special studies looking at specific scientific questions. In 2018, the IPCC released a special report on keeping global temperature rise under 1.5C. This document has had a significant impact on an emerging generation of young people, willing to take to the streets to demand a political response. "The 1.5C report was really kind of instrumental for young people to use that science to marshal their efforts towards action," said Ko Barrett, a vice chair of the IPCC and a head of research at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).
7-26-21 Climate change: Israel to cut 85% of emissions by mid-century
Israel will cut carbon emissions by 85% from 2015 levels by the middle of the century, its government says. Its prime minister said the decision would help the country gradually shift to a low-carbon economy. Targets include cutting the vast majority of emissions from transport, the electricity sector and municipal waste. But critics want more ambitious targets for renewable energy and bigger economic incentives for change. The world has already warmed by about 1.2C since the industrial era began, and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make steep cuts to emissions. But Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the move would lead to a "clean, efficient and competitive economy" and put Israel at the forefront of the battle against climate change. Israel's targets were in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement - a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted by nearly 200 countries. It aims to keep global temperatures below 2.0C above pre-industrial times, and if possible below 1.5C above pre-industrial times. Israel signed the Paris climate deal. It has set itself an interim goal of cutting emissions by 27% by 2030. Under President Donald Trump the US pulled out of the deal but President Joe Biden has recommitted to it.
7-26-21 Sandstorm swallows city in northwestern China
A sandstorm that lifted at least 100 metres (330ft) has left a city in northwestern China covered in dust. Videos of Dunhuang show the wall of sand slowly creeping over buildings and highways. The town is located on the edge of the Gobi Desert, which is known for its harsh climates.
7-25-21 Wildfires spread from California to Nevada
Fire crews are battling extreme temperatures as they try to control wildfires in California and Nevada. Hundreds of people have been evacuated. Across the country, in Washington DC, the moon turned a bright orange colour due to the smoke from the fires.
7-25-21 Typhoon sweeps into eastern China after flooding chaos
A major typhoon has hit China's eastern coast just days after deadly floods devastated parts of the country. Typhoon In-Fa, known in China as Yanhua, made landfall in the city of Zhoushan at 12:30 local time (04:30 GMT), state media reported. Transport links are suspended and people have been told to stay indoors. Trees have been uprooted and there has been some flooding. Dozens of ships have been evacuated from a busy port south of Shanghai. However, there have as yet been no reports of major damage. The typhoon follows a period of historic flooding that caused widespread damage and killed at least 58 people in central China. Emergency crew are still working around the clock to rescue survivors and provide aid to the tens of millions of people affected by the floods. Typhoon In-Fa could bring more torrential downpours to the stricken region in the coming days, and officials fear it could hamper rescue and recovery efforts. The typhoon reportedly has wind speeds of up to 137 km/h (85mph) according to Reuters news agency. Japan's Meteorological Agency forecasts the storm will track west towards the city of Hangzhou. From Sunday, the typhoon will bring "long periods of extremely heavy rainfall", China's National Meteorological Center said. It added that coastal areas "should guard against the combined impact of wind, rain and tides". Authorities in Zhejiang province have ordered schools, markets and businesses to close, the official Xinhua News Agency said. In Shanghai - China's biggest city - some public parks and museums have been shut. This week's flooding in central China has raised questions about preparations for extreme weather events in the country's major cities. Many factors contribute to extreme weather, but experts say climate change caused by a warming atmosphere makes these events more likely. As Typhoon In-Fa hits China, another tropical storm in the region is threatening to bring heavy downpours and strong winds to the Tokyo Olympics in Japan next week.
7-24-21 Typhoon In-Fa sweeps towards China after flooding chaos
China is bracing for a major typhoon just days after deadly floods devastated parts of the country. Typhoon In-Fa is expected to make landfall along the east coast near Shanghai on Sunday, forecasters say. Flights and train services have been suspended, while people have been ordered to stay indoors. Disruptive winds, rough seas and flooding are expected. Meanwhile, dozens of ships have been evacuated from a busy port south of Shanghai. The typhoon follows a period of historic flooding that caused widespread damage and killed at least 58 people in central China. Emergency crew are still working around the clock to rescue survivors and provide aid to the tens of millions of people affected by the floods. Typhoon In-Fa could bring more torrential downpours to the stricken region in the coming days, and officials fear it could hamper rescue and recovery efforts. The storm is currently moving away from Taiwan with maximum gusts of about 92 mph (148 km/h), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. In its latest update, the forecaster said the typhoon was not expected to strengthen significantly before it collides with eastern China. After it makes landfall, flash flooding, mudslides and gusts of up to 120 mph are possible along the east coast, forecasters have warned. And from Sunday, the typhoon will bring "long periods of extremely heavy rainfall", China's National Meteorological Center said. It added that coastal areas "should guard against the combined impact of wind, rain and tides". Authorities in Zhejiang province have ordered schools, markets and businesses to close, the official Xinhua News Agency said. In Shanghai - China's biggest city - some public parks and museums have been shut. This week's flooding in central China has raised questions about preparations for extreme weather events in the country's major cities.
7-23-21 Termite gut microbes can help turn toxic wood into biofuels
Termites are renowned for devouring wood. Now, bacteria in one termite species’ guts have been shown to break down toxic creosote, which is used to preserve wood. The finding could be useful for turning harmful chemically treated wood waste into biofuels. Termites’ guts are tiny bioreactors teeming with microbes that allow the insects to digest tough lignin and cellulose in wood. Previous studies suggest these gut microorganisms could be key to turning lignocellulose – the most abundant source of renewable carbon on the planet – into biofuels via anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digesters commonly use methane-producing microbes in the absence of oxygen to convert food waste or sewage into biogas – a mixture comprising mostly methane with a bit of carbon dioxide. But converting woody plants is difficult because most microorganisms struggle to break up lignocellulose. Throw toxic wood preservers into the mix and it becomes even harder. Now, Sameh Ali and Jianzhong Sun at Jiangsu University, China, have found that bacteria living in the so-called “super-termite” Coptotermes formosanus – named for its large colonies and voracious appetite for wood – can decontaminate wood that contains creosote while breaking down lignocellulose, making it easier for anaerobic bioreactors to then convert it into biofuels. The scientists isolated bacteria from the termites’ guts and selected 4 species that they found could decompose creosote. They then grew these bacteria together in liquid cultures. When creosote-soaked sawdust was treated with the bacterial mixture for 12 days, it completely removed two toxic chemicals – naphthalene and phenol. Lignocellulose content was also reduced. The resulting product was then anaerobically digested, revealing that the bacterial pre-treatment boosted biogas and methane yields by around 58 percent and 83 percent respectively. “If it is possible to scale the experiments up, the approach may be useful for recycling treated wood,” says Nathan Lo at the University of Sydney.
7-23-21 A 'significant and far-reaching' heat wave is coming to the U.S. next week
Get your A.C. ready. A "significant and far-reaching" heat wave is expected to bake the U.S. coast to coast over the next few weeks, toppling temperature records and aggravating wildfires and drought conditions on the West coast in particular, Axios and The Washington Post report. When combined with humidity, temperatures will feel "well into the triple digits" for millions of Americans, per the Post, as the heat dome — or an area of high pressure aloft that helps to lock in place hot, dry weather, per Axios — forms this weekend over the West then migrates across the Central Plains. The pattern might also spark severe thunderstorms and strong winds in the northern Great Lakes and New England regions in late July and into August, reports the Post. The Plains could face temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s or lower 100s, while the Southeast plans to sit pretty in the mid-to-upper 90s range. Many areas in the West could top 100 degrees, writes the Post. Although heat domes are expected this time of year, climate change is exacerbating their "intensity, duration, and frequency," writes Axios. This will be the "fifth distinct heat wave the U.S. will have seen so far this summer." Read more at Axios and The Washington Post.
7-23-21 Road planners able to ignore climate change, campaigners claim
Planners can effectively ignore climate change when they are deciding whether to grant permission for new road schemes, environmentalists have said. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has promised a review of £27bn highways policy which will be completed within two years. But in the meantime, planners can use existing guidelines. Campaigners say these ignore the cumulative effects of major road projects. They say Mr Shapps should be blocking new schemes until a new climate-friendly policy is developed. Many scientists say no new infrastructure should be built unless it is low-carbon. The debate has been raised because government policies for infrastructure were devised before ministers committed to virtually abolishing carbon emissions for the whole UK economy. The policy debate is still catching up. Currently guidance to planners states: “Any increase in carbon emissions is not a reason to refuse development consent, unless the increase in carbon emissions resulting from the proposed scheme are so significant that it would have a material impact on the ability of government to meet its carbon reduction targets.” Campaigners say the government must take account of the cumulative climate effect of its entire roads programme – not just of individual schemes. They have been chivvying Mr Shapps for 18 months to update the roads strategy to combat the climate crisis. He has now promised to review it – but not for up to two years. Chris Todd, from Transport Action Network, said, "As our roads melt and places around the world face record temperatures and floods, the words ‘climate emergency’ appear to have no meaning within the Department for Transport. “Instead, all we seem to get are delay, delay and yet more delay. Having now finally accepted the inevitable, Mr Shapps is still fiddling while the planet burns.” Mr Todd said the test for carbon in the guidelines was "utterly ridiculous". "A road scheme's emissions, however large, are never going to be significant compared to a five year carbon budget for the whole of the UK," he said. "It's high time the government corrected this ludicrous state of affairs."
7-22-21 Kelp surveys on England's south coast monitor a key climate defence
In the 1980s, so much kelp washed onto beaches west of Brighton that the “unsightliness” of the seaweed and the flies it attracted made it a problem worthy of debate in the UK parliament. Farmers took the abundance of washed-up brown algae for fertiliser. Locals talked of the “kelp problem”. Today, the problem is too little kelp, says Mika Peck at the University of Sussex, UK. Kelp matters because it locks up millions of tonnes of carbon globally, provides a nursery for fish and a buffer against coastal flooding. While climate change has played a role in kelp’s decline around the world, local stresses appear to be the bigger driver. For this stretch of England’s south coast, several theories have been floated but not proven, including the Great Storm of 1987 and damage by fishing trawlers. That led campaigners to fight and win a five-year nearshore trawling ban in March. Peck now hopes to find out whether kelp can recover, and if trawling really was the culprit. “This is definitely a nature-based solution to address both climate and biodiversity issues,” says Peck, as he sways aboard a workboat leaving Shoreham Harbour on 15 July. “On our doorstep, we’ve got a way of regenerating a biodiverse environment as interesting as a tropical rainforest far away.” To create a baseline survey of the kelp hidden many metres below the waves here, from Shoreham in the east to Selsey in the west, Peck has turned to low-cost techniques he pioneered for a very different environment: coral reef in Papua New Guinea. Luckily for the crew today, the weather is mostly gloriously still and sunny. Unseasonably bad weather earlier in July postponed some survey days. Offshore from the pavilion of a holiday camp in Bognor Regis, the boat slows as Peck’s team reaches the GPS coordinates for one of 28 sites they are surveying. At a blast of the ship’s horn, Peck works hands-on with his team. In quick succession, they drop three baited remote underwater videos (BRUV) – GoPros and hydrophones plus fish bait attached to a system of metal bars that resemble an athletic hurdle – which cost roughly £2000 each. The team is also trialling a lighter, cheaper “baby BRUV” costing closer to £200, but the jury is out on whether its camera is up to the task.
7-21-21 We have just two years to stop deep-sea mining from going ahead
Deep-sea mining would be an environmental disaster, so we need a global moratorium to halt it in its tracks. Here’s how we go about getting one, says Helen Scales. FIFTY years ago, people started dreaming of mining the deep seabed. Since then, those dreams have turned into a dystopian nightmare as scientists have found diverse, interconnected ecosystems at the bottom of the ocean and realised that mining them risks upsetting the health and functioning of our planet. We have yet to start deep-sea mining, so this dystopia is just one version of the future, but it is one that may soon get the green light. Countries such as the UK, France, Belgium, Jamaica, Russia, China and Japan all have their sights set on the metals inside coal-sized nodules scattered across a vast abyssal plain, called the Clarion Clipperton Zone, 5000 metres underwater in the Pacific Ocean. But turbocharging things is the Pacific island state of Nauru, which has used a controversial provision in international law to declare that its seabed-mining contractor, a subsidiary of Canadian-owned The Metals Company, intends to apply for a mining permit. The vague provision means that in two years’ time the International Seabed Authority shall “provisionally approve” Nauru’s nodule mine, which would operate according to the environmental regulations in place by then – which could be none. These are currently being discussed and are nowhere near ready. If seabed mining were to go ahead, it could unleash an environmental disaster. Nodule mines could wipe out unique species and populations. Sediment plumes could choke animals, including those living far from the mines. Mining wastewater could pollute deep open waters. From tardigrades to tuna, octopuses, corals and whale sharks, nodule mining could harm a huge array of ocean life.
7-21-21 Human innovation caused the chemicals emergency – and it can solve it
WHEN the US chemicals company DuPont adopted the slogan “Better Things for Better Living… Through Chemistry” in 1935, it was to try to win over a public wary of new synthetic materials such as nylon, neoprene and pesticides. It seems to have succeeded. For most people, life today is steeped in synthetic chemicals. Many of these chemicals are benign and do indeed make life better, delivering superior medicines, higher agricultural yields, innovative materials, cleaner water, magical electronic products and a radical abundance of consumer goods. But better living through chemistry has turned out to be a Faustian pact. Over the past century, tens of thousands of chemicals have been released into the wild with barely a thought for the effects on human health and the environment. As a problem, this is hardly news, but we are only just getting to grips with its monumental scale. Earlier this year, the United Nations declared waste and pollution to be the third great planetary crisis alongside climate change and biodiversity loss. In truth, all three are facets of a crisis with the same underlying cause: excessive consumption fed by a linear economic system, which extracts resources, creates useful things (and plenty of useless ones too) and discards the waste products. Human ingenuity and innovation caused this crisis – but its solutions lie there too. Enlightened industrial chemists and the companies they work for are looking to atone for past actions, developing cleaner, more sustainable products, and working to recognise and remediate the worst effects. But the pace of change, especially in legislation, is too slow, and greenwash still too prevalent. Leading chemists are now calling for the establishment of a body similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to coordinate and disseminate research on the extent and effects of chemical pollution. That is to be welcomed as a first step towards meaningful international action. We don’t need to retreat into a world without synthetic chemicals. We still need better living – but this time it must be through better chemistry.
7-21-21 Oregon Bootleg Fire: Evacuations as largest US fire burns 364,000 acres
In the US state of Oregon, the nation's largest active wildfire has burned through more than 364,000 acres, prompting thousands of evacuations. Over 2,000 firefighters are tackling the so-called Bootleg Fire - one of the largest blazes in Oregon's history. Since starting on 6 July, it has already scorched an area larger than the city of Los Angeles. It is one of more than 80 major fires raging across 13 US states, spurred by recent heat waves and high winds. Climate change increases the risk of the hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires. The world has already warmed by about 1.2C since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make steep cuts to emissions. The Bootleg Fire in Oregon, named after the nearby Bootleg Spring, has forced at least 2,000 residents from mostly rural areas to abandon their homes. At least 160 homes and buildings have been destroyed so far. No deaths have yet been reported. Authorities said that about one-third of the fire's perimeter had been contained. "We've had to fight for pretty much every foot of this, but we're getting there," said John Flannigan, an operations section chief at a news conference on Monday. Mr Flannigan described the intensity of the fire as that of a hurricane, saying that it had ripped trees out of the ground. The blaze has grown so large that it is effectively creating its own weather. Intense wildfires, like Bootleg, move with such energy that they can create pyrocumulus clouds - also known as "fire clouds". These clouds are so hot and big they can create their own weather systems, like hurricane and lightning. One resident near the town of Bly whose home was destroyed by the Bootleg Fire, Sayyid Bey, said he watched from afar as the blaze burned through the trees towards his property. "It was red, like we were on Mars," he said.
7-21-21 Climate change: US pushes China to make faster carbon cuts
US climate envoy John Kerry has called on China to increase the speed and depth of its efforts to cut carbon. (Webmasters Comment: But United States CO2 emissions per person are twice that of China!) Without sufficient emissions reductions by China, Mr Kerry said, the global goal of keeping temperatures under 1.5C was "essentially impossible". Mr Kerry said he was convinced that China could do more and the US was willing to work closely to secure a reasonable climate future. Every major economy must now commit to meaningful reductions by 2030, he said. Mr Kerry was speaking at Kew Gardens in London, ahead of a G20 environment ministers meeting in Italy later this week. Referring to the key COP26 gathering in Glasgow in November, the former Secretary of State said that "in little more than 100 days we can save the next 100 years". Doing so would not be easy he said. Mr Kerry said that the promises made during and since the Paris climate agreement in 2015 would still see the world's temperature increase by 2.5-3C. "We're already seeing dramatic consequences with 1.2C of warming," he said, referring to recent heatwaves in the US and Canada, and flooding in Europe. "To contemplate doubling that is to invite catastrophe." He castigated the efforts of some countries which are still building new coal-fired power stations. He was scornful of nations that are illegally cutting down the rainforest. "They're removing the lungs of the world, destroying irreplaceable biodiversity and destabilising the climate all at the same time." Observers say that the envoy was likely referring to Brazil and Indonesia. Mr Kerry paid special attention to the efforts of China, saying the country was now "the largest driver of climate change". China has promised to peak emissions by 2030 - but the US diplomat said that was not good enough. "If China sticks with its current plant and does not peak its emissions until 2030, then the entire rest of the world must go to zero by 2040 or even 2035," he warned. (Webmasters Comment: But United States CO2 emissions per person are twice that of China!)
7-21-21 Why chemical pollution is turning into a third great planetary crisis
Thousands of synthetic substances have leaked into ecosystems everywhere, and we are only just beginning to realise the devastating consequences IT IS the 29th century and Earth is a dump. Humans fled centuries ago after rendering it uninhabitable through insatiable consumption. All that remains is detritus: waste mountains as far as the eye can see. This is fiction – the setting for the 2008 Disney Pixar movie WALL-E. But it may come close to reality if we don’t clean up our act. “We all know the challenge that we’ve got,” says Mary Ryan at Imperial College London. “We can find toxic metals in the Himalayan peaks, plastic fibres in the deepest reaches of the ocean. Air pollution is killing more people than the current pandemic. The scale of this is enormous.” Back when WALL-E was made, pollution and waste were near the top of the environmental agenda. At the 2002 Earth Summit in South Africa, global leaders agreed to minimise the environmental and health effects of chemical pollution, perhaps the most insidious and problematic category. They set a deadline of 2020 (spoiler alert: we missed it). Recently, climate change and biodiversity loss have dominated environmental concerns, but earlier this year the UN quietly ushered pollution back to the top table. It issued a major report, Making Peace with Nature, declaring it a third great planetary emergency. “Do I think that is commensurate with the risk? Yes, I do,” says Ryan. “It justifies being right up there at the top,” says Guy Woodward, also at Imperial. The key question, though, is what pollutants we should be worried about. “Many are innocuous. Some aren’t. Some interact in dangerous ways. That is what we need to grapple with,” says Woodward. Pollution, the waste by-product of our economic activities, is as old as civilisation itself. Ice cores from Greenland contain traces of lead and copper from ore smelting in Bronze Age Europe. The first synthetic chemicals ones that don’t exist in nature – were created in the mid-19th century.
7-21-21 The battle for Indonesia's Gold Island
A Canadian-listed mining company has been granted a concession over more than half of an Indonesian island. Environmentalists say the gold mine threatens Sangihe island's ancient forests, which are home to endemic birds. And locals fear it will affect their water supply. Mining on small islands in Indonesia was off-limits until a controversial pro-business bill was passed last year.
7-20-21 Flooded Chinese city received 87 percent of its annual precipitation in 24 hours
Photographs and video footage circulating on the internet on Tuesday captured the harrowing scenes of severe flooding in China's Henan province, and the rainfall statistics further highlight just how out of the ordinary the situation is, even for a region prone to flooding. The city of Zhengzhou, for instance, received 21.75 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period that ended Tuesday. That figure accounts for 87 percent of the city's average annual precipitation. And in just one hour, CNN meteorologist Tom Sater reports, Zhengzhou registered a record 7.9 inches, or 200 mm, of rain. For comparison, regions in Germany that similarly experienced devastating floods last week, recorded 154 mm of rain in 24 hours. At least 12 people have died as a result of the flooding in Zhengzhou, BBC reports, while more than 10,000 people in Henan province have been evacuated.
7-20-21 Oregon Bootleg Fire: Evacuations as largest US fire burns 364,000 acres
In the US state of Oregon, the nation's largest active wildfire has burned through more than 364,000 acres, prompting thousands of evacuations. Over 2,000 firefighters are tackling the so-called Bootleg Fire - one of the largest blazes in Oregon's history. Since starting on 6 July, it has already scorched an area larger than the city of Los Angeles. It is one of more than 80 major fires raging across 13 US states, spurred by heatwaves and high winds. Climate change increases the risk of the hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires. The world has already warmed by about 1.2C since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make steep cuts to emissions. The Bootleg Fire in Oregon, named after the nearby Bootleg Spring, has forced at least 2,000 residents from mostly rural areas to abandon their homes. At least 160 homes and buildings have been destroyed so far. No deaths have yet been reported. Authorities said that about one-third of the fire's perimeter had been contained. "We've had to fight for pretty much every foot of this, but we're getting there," said John Flannigan, an operations section chief at a news conference on Monday. Mr Flannigan described the intensity of the fire as that of a hurricane, saying that it had ripped trees out of the ground. The blaze has grown so large that it is effectively creating its own weather. Intense wildfires, like Bootleg, move with such energy that they can create pyrocumulus clouds - also known as "fire clouds". These clouds are so hot and big they can create their own weather systems, like hurricane and lightning. One resident near the town of Bly whose home was destroyed by the Bootleg Fire, Sayyid Bey, said he watched from afar as the blaze burned through the trees towards his property. "It was red, like we were on Mars," he said. The fire, which is burning 300 miles (480km) south-east of Portland, threatens to destroy thousands more properties as it continues to spread.
7-20-21 Met Office issues first UK extreme heat warning
The Met Office has issued one of its new-style extreme heat weather warnings for the first time for parts of the UK. The amber warning covers large parts of Wales, all of south-west England and parts of southern and central England. It will be in place until Thursday, when temperatures are expected to peak. It warns of the potential impact of the heat on people's health, as the UK experiences a prolonged period of sweltering conditions. All four UK nations recorded the hottest day of the year over the weekend, and forecasters warned temperatures would continue to climb and could reach 33C (91.4F) in some western areas. Steven Ramsdale, from the Met Office, said: "The high temperatures are going to continue through a large part of this week. "Many areas will continue to reach heatwave thresholds but the amber extreme heat warning focuses on western areas where the most unusually high temperatures are likely to persist." The UK's highest temperature of the year so far was recorded on Sunday at Heathrow, where it reached 31.6C (88.9F), while on the same day Wales hit a high of 30.2C (86.4F) in Cardiff. On Saturday, Northern Ireland saw its hottest day since records began with 31.2C (88.1F) in Ballywatticock, County Down, while Scotland reached 28.2C (82.8F) in Threave, in Dumfries and Galloway. The Met Office launched its new extreme heat warning at the start of June 2021 to highlight potential widespread disruption and adverse health effects. It comes after a record-breaking number of heatwave deaths were recorded in England last summer. The Met Office warning advises that people vulnerable to extreme heat are likely to experience "adverse health effects", while the rest of the population could suffer heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses. It also warns that more people are likely to visit coastal areas, lakes and rivers leading to an "increased risk of water safety incidents".
7-19-21 Climate change to blame for monarch butterfly's recent decline
Climate change has been the biggest cause of the precipitous decline of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) in North America in recent years, say researchers who fear parts of its breeding range will become inhospitable under future warming. The puzzle of the decline of the insect, famous for its epic migration from the US and Canada to Mexico in the winter, has been variously blamed on herbicides wiping out the milkweed plant their caterpillars exclusively feed on, to problems on their migratory route and climate change. To empirically test which is having the most impact, Erin Zylstra at Michigan State University and her colleagues combed 18,000 mostly citizen science surveys of monarchs carried out in the US and Canada and combined them with weather data to build a model of their populations. Between 2004 and 2018, the amount that rainfall and temperature deviated from long-term averages was nearly seven times more important than other factors in explaining the monarch’s summer numbers. “Yes, climate change is happening. It looks like it’s affecting monarchs. Now we have this information, we can have a smart plan for what we might do for conservation of monarchs and other wildlife,” says co-author Elise Zipkin, also at Michigan State University. The study doesn’t overturn previous research finding a correlation between herbicide use, milkweed loss and the steepest period of monarch declines, from 1994 to 2003, says Zipkin. But she says milkweed stayed “pretty constant” from 2004 to 2018, which, along with the modelling results, points the finger at climate change for the recent declines. The research doesn’t mean conservationists should stop protecting and planting milkweed to help the butterflies. “But as we think forward [to climate change], not every spot that’s been good for monarchs may continue to be good, and planting milkweed may not be enough,” says Zipkin.
7-19-21 Using plastic waste to help solve sand shortages
Does the world have a shortage of sand? At first, that might sound like a peculiar question. After all, sand covers vast expanses of beaches and deserts across the world. Yet the raw material is used in giant quantities in construction and manufacturing. In the building sector alone, 40-50bn tonnes of the stuff is used around the world annually. This is led by the production of concrete, which is typically made up of about 25% sand. The problem when it comes to supply is that most desert or beach sand is unsuitable - desert sand is too smooth, and beach sand has too much salt in it. This means that sand is typically dredged from rivers, and due to the environmental damage this causes a number of countries have introduced bans in recent years - including India, Cambodia and Vietnam. The knock-on impact has been supply issues in nations undergoing construction booms such as China and India, which have the largest and second-largest construction sectors. Shortfalls of sand in India continue to fuel a big increase in illegal sand mining, controlled by criminal gangs, known as "sand mafias", These groups have been linked to dozens of murders, including the 2015 killing of investigative journalist Jagendra Singh. "People don't comprehend, or it doesn't strike them, that there is a shortage [of sand]," says Shobha Bhatia, a professor of civil and environment engineering at Syracuse University. "The issue is construction. We are building cities and towns at an unprecedented pace," she adds. "But many of us also don't realize that sand is used for things like smartphone and TV screens, solar panels and other electric items," she says. To try to reduce the need for sand, a small but growing number of researchers are turning to technology and innovation in the hunt for alternatives. These include Dr John Orr, a lecturer in concrete structures at Cambridge University. His research has found that plastic waste can be sorted, cleaned, shredded and crushed into a sand alternative for use in concrete.
7-18-21 At least 70 major fires are burning in the western United States
There are more than 70 major fires burning in the western United States, with the largest blaze, Oregon's Bootleg Fire, growing on Sunday to more than 476 square miles — an area roughly the size of Los Angeles. There are 2,000 firefighters battling the blaze, which is being driven by high winds. "Weather is really against us," John Flannigan, an operations section chief, told The Associated Press. "It's going to be dry and air is going to be unstable." The fire, which is at 22 percent containment, has forced about 2,000 people to evacuate and burned at least 67 houses and 100 outbuildings. South of Lake Tahoe, the Tamarack Fire — sparked on July 4 by a lightning strike — is being fueled by dry brush and a heat wave. It has scorched 21,000 acres, and after jumping a highway, is close to the small town of Markleeville, California. There are evacuation orders now in place for six communities near Markleeville and two campgrounds in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. At least two buildings have been destroyed in the fire. The National Weather Service in Sacramento said lightning is possible through Monday in Northern California and Southern Oregon, and with "very dry fuels, any thunderstorm has the potential to ignite new fire starts." Scientists say that over the last three decades, climate change has made the western U.S. warmer and drier, which in turn leads to more extreme weather and more frequent and devastating wildfires.
7-16-21 Climate change made extreme floods in Germany and Belgium more likely
The weather events that are thought to have contributed to extreme floods in western Europe are becoming more likely due to climate change, according to climate and meteorology researchers. A combination of extremely heavy rainfall and a slow-moving storm front most likely contributed to the flooding, which has killed at least 120 people in Germany and Belgium, and has also affected the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. “It’s come from very moist air in the atmosphere wrapping around an almost stationary front,” says Hayley Fowler at Newcastle University in the UK. Both weather events are becoming more likely due to global warming. “One of the best understood consequences of global warming is that the moisture content in the atmosphere increases,” says Johannes Quaas at the University of Leipzig in Germany. With every degree Celsius increase in warming, the amount of water the atmosphere can hold goes up by 7 per cent, he says – and this increases the chances of heavy rainfall. At the same time, accelerated warming at Earth’s poles relative to the equator means the frequency of slow-moving storm fronts is also growing, increasing the probability of sustained rainfall over specific areas of land – such as the continuous heavy rainfall that has caused the flooding in western Europe. “What’s made the difference, I think, in this event, is that this low pressure system was almost stationary and the band of rain within was moving in the direction of the flow of this low pressure system as well, so it was very much rain falling on the same system again and again and again,” says Fowler. A recent modelling study by Fowler and her team found that these types of slow-moving or almost stationary storms may be 14 times more frequent across land in Europe by the end of the century. “It’s a huge increase,” she says.
7-16-21 Climate change: Science failed to predict flood and heat intensity
Top climate scientists have admitted they failed to predict the intensity of the German floods and the North American heat dome. They've correctly warned over decades that a fast-warming climate would bring worse bursts of rain and more damaging heatwaves. But they say their computers are not powerful enough to accurately project the severity of those extremes. They want governments to spend big on a shared climate super-computer. Computers are fundamental to weather forecasting and climate change, and computing will underpin the new climate science “Bible”, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next month. But former Met Office chief scientist Prof Dame Julia Slingo told BBC News: "We should be alarmed because the IPCC (climate computer) models are just not good enough. "(We need) an international centre to deliver the quantum leap to climate models that capture the fundamental physics that drive extremes. "Unless we do that we will continue to underestimate the intensity/frequency of extremes and the increasingly unprecedented nature of them." She said the costs of the computer, which would be in the hundreds of millions of pounds, would "pale into insignificance" compared with the costs of extreme events for which society is unprepared. Dame Julia is striving to promote this initiative at the COP26 climate summit in November. She, and other scientists, agree climate change is an emergency. But Oxford Prof Tim Palmer told me: "It’s is impossible to say how much of an emergency we are in because we don’t have the tools to answer the question. (Webmsters Comment: When you are constantly breaking records how much more of an answer to you need?) "We need a commitment and vision with the magnitude of CERN (Europe's major physics research centre) if we are to build climate models that can accurately simulate the extremes of climate like the Canadian heatwave."
7-16-21 Formula 1 boss Ross Brawn says hydrogen could be future fuel
Hydrogen-powered cars could be the future of Formula 1, according to F1 managing director for motorsports Ross Brawn. He says sustainability is now a central objective for the sport, which has committed to become carbon neutral by 2030. The engineer behind Michael Schumacher's seven world titles ruled out a switch to fully electric vehicles. "Maybe hydrogen is the route that Formula 1 can have where we keep the noise, we keep the emotion but we move into a different solution," Brawn told the BBC. Rising F1 star Lando Norris is also sceptical about introducing fully electric cars to Formula 1. You just don't get the same buzz from electric cars, he says. 'Watching England was unbelievable - I can't wait to see what Silverstone will be like' The British driver, who came third in this month's Austrian Grand Prix, worries going electric would take much of the atmosphere away from the sport. "Something I love about Formula 1 and the race cars we drive is the sound and feeling you get from them," he says. "That's what makes it so cool and special and why the fans love it." Formula 1 has one of the most ambitious sustainability programmes of any major sport and in 2019 it announced its plan to go net zero by 2030 with targets including: 1. Net-zero impact from race cars, 2. Ultra-efficient and low/zero-carbon logistics and travel, 3. 100% renewably powered offices, facilities and factories, 4. High-quality offsets and Co2 sequestration programmes. The sport has taken steps to reduce the number of people and freight that travels between race venues, by around a third, and has slimmed down its travelling media operation. F1 has also significantly reduced the personnel involved in the media operation abroad. The media feeds from all races are now produced and broadcast from the sport's HQ at Biggin Hill in Kent. But Formula 1 has been criticised by environmentalists because so much of its effort depends on offsetting - funding activities that reduce emissions elsewhere to match the greenhouse gases the sport produces. Brawn acknowledges that as the most prestigious motorsport tournament in the world, Formula 1 can play an important role shaping fans' attitudes to sustainability and climate change.
7-15-21 Climate change: 'No more excuses' at COP26 climate summit - poor nations
More than 100 developing countries have set out their key negotiating demands ahead of the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow. These include funding for poorer nations to fight and adapt to climate change and compensation for the impacts they will be subjected to. Those backing the plan represent more than half of the world's countries. Without progress on these points, they say that COP26 will be worthless and will end in failure. COP26 in November is expected to be the most important meeting on climate change since the Paris agreement was drawn up in 2015 and there are huge expectations that it will deliver significant progress in the battle against rising temperatures. But this new position paper is a warning shot from more than 100 of the world's poorer countries, which are dismayed by the lack of progress they've seen so far - particularly at the G7 meeting in the UK in June. They've set out five key issues which they say are critical for them in the negotiations: 1. Cutting emissions: Despite some progress, the sum total of climate policies in place will not keep global warming within the limits that governments agreed in Paris in 2015. An acceleration of net zero targets is urgently needed, led by those with the biggest responsibility and capacity. 2. Finance: At the failed Copenhagen COP in 2009, richer countries promised $100bn a year in climate finance by 2020, with increased annual sums from 2025. That target has not been met, say the developing countries - and it needs fixing if they are to trust the richer countries to keep to what they negotiate. This fund is intended to help those lower-income countries adapt to and fight climate change. 3. Adaptation: The developing countries are calling for at least 50% of climate finance to be used to help the most vulnerable to adapt to the effects of global warming. 4. Loss and damage: The historical failure of richer countries to cut their emissions adequately means that the most vulnerable are already experiencing permanent losses and damage. Responsibilities have to be acknowledged, say the poorer countries and promised measures delivered. 5. Implementation: Since Paris, rich and poor have haggled over issues like carbon trading and transparency. The developing countries want to see these questions finally resolved and want all countries to agree five-year common timeframes for their national climate plans.
7-15-21 Climate change: Amazon regions emit more carbon than they absorb
Deforestation and climate change are altering the Amazon rainforest's ability to soak up carbon, according to a new study. Significant parts of the world's largest tropical forest have started to emit more CO2 than they absorb. The south-east is worst-affected, say scientists, with higher rates of tree loss and an increasing number of fires. Temperatures there have risen by three times the global average during the hottest months. Areas of our planet that absorb more carbon from the atmosphere - for example, in the form of the greenhouse gas CO2 - than they store are known as sinks. The role played by the lands and forests of the Earth in soaking up carbon has been a critical factor in preventing faster rates of climate change. Since the 1960s, these sinks have taken in around 25% of carbon emissions from the use of fossil fuels. The Amazon, home to the world's largest tropical forest, has played a key role in absorbing and storing much of that carbon. But the growing impacts of climate change and deforestation are taking their toll on this crucial CO2 sponge. Earlier this year, a study showed that the rainforest in Brazil released about 20% more CO2 into the atmosphere than it took in over the period from 2010-2019. This new paper underlines that change and finds that some regions of the rainforest were "a steadily increasing source" of carbon between 2010 and 2018. A source of carbon is an area of the Earth that releases more carbon than it stores. The researchers used aircraft to take around 600 air samples above selected parts of the rainforest over the years of the study. They found a very clear division between the eastern and western parts of the rainforest. "In the eastern part of the Amazon, which is around 30% deforested, this region emitted 10 times more carbon then in the west, which is around 11% deforested," said lead author Luciana Gatti, with Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
7-15-21 Korindo: Korean palm oil giant stripped of sustainability status
A Korean palm oil giant has been rejected from the world's leading green certification body in the wake of a BBC investigation. The BBC had earlier found evidence that the Korindo group had been buying up swathes of Asia's largest remaining rainforests in the remote Indonesian province of Papua. A visual analysis suggested that fires had then been deliberately set to these forests, a clear violation of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The regulator's tree logo - found on paper products throughout the UK and Europe - is meant to tell consumers the product is sourced from ethical and sustainable companies. At the time of the BBC's investigation late last year, the FSC said they would not expel Korindo but were working with the Korean company to address social and environmental problems. But now the green body says the relationship has "become untenable" and Korindo's trademark licenses with FSC will be terminated from October. "We were not able to verify improvements in Korindo's social and environmental performance," Kim Carstensen, FSC international director general said. He said the decision would "give us clarity and a breath of fresh air while Korindo continues its efforts to improve." Korindo groups chief sustainability officer Kwangyul Peck said in a statement that the company was "very shocked by the FSC decision." He insists they were following all the steps of "an agreed roadmap of improvements" and said despite their expulsion from the FSC "they remain committed to sustainability and human rights." Korindo controls more land in Papua than any other conglomerate. The company has cleared nearly 60,000 hectares of forests inside its government-granted concessions - an area the size of Chicago or Seoul. A 2018 report by the FSC into the allegations against Korindo was never published, after legal threats from the company, but the BBC obtained a copy.
7-14-21 How we can all help grow trees in towns and cities
BEING called a “tree hugger” used to be a mild insult, but there is a growing appreciation for the benefits of trees. Their best-known environmental asset is to take in carbon dioxide from the air, but in towns and cities they have other useful qualities too. n summer, trees cool hot streets, while in times of high rainfall, they take up water, stopping it from running into drains too quickly and causing floods. As climate change will lead most of the UK to have hotter summers and wetter winters, trees help on both counts. Cities and towns are usually several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside, mainly due to their high proportion of hard surfaces like pavements and asphalt, which absorb more heat from the sun. But streets with trees can be several degrees cooler than bare ones thanks to the shade the plants create and their ability to take up water, which evaporates from leaves, cooling the air. Research carried out in Manchester in the UK suggests trees reduce radiant temperatures of hard surfaces in summer by 4°C to 7°C. On a large scale, that should cut deaths caused by heatwaves and the power used by air-conditioning units. Some studies suggest tree-lined roads are linked with better mental health and less crime. While it is hard to show if trees are really the cause, as more affluent areas tend to have more street trees, most would agree that they make an area feel like a more pleasant place to be. People with front gardens can do their bit to help by planting trees next to pavements where they add to street shade. When choosing a tree, “thirsty” varieties and ones with broader leaf canopies are best for cooling and soaking up water, although they do take more watering during dry spells, says Elisabeth Larsen at the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society. Anyone without a garden can still help by joining campaigns to green urban spaces. While many local authorities let people request trees for their street, this is a poor way to allocate planting, says Jon Burke, a former councillor for the London borough of Hackney, who recently began a massive planting programme there. That is because better-off households are more likely to make requests, worsening inequalities in tree cover.
7-14-21 EU unveils sweeping climate change plan
The European Union has announced a raft of climate change legislation aimed at pushing it towards its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. A dozen draft proposals, which still need to be approved by the bloc's 27 member states and the EU parliament, were announced on Wednesday. They include plans to tax jet fuel and effectively ban the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars within 20 years. The proposals, however, are likely to face months of negotiations. The plans triggered serious infighting at the European Commission, the bloc's administrative arm, as the final tweaks were being made, sources told the AFP news agency. "By acting now we can do things another way... and choose a better, healthier and more prosperous way for the future," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday. "It is our generational task... [to secure] the wellbeing of not only our generation, but of our children and grandchildren. Europe is ready to lead the way." The measures are likely to push up household heating bills, as well as increase the cost of flights in the EU. Financial assistance will be available for people to install insulation and make other long-term changes to their homes. "We're going to ask a lot of our citizens," EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said. "We're also going to ask a lot of our industries, but we do it for good cause. We do it to give humanity a fighting chance." Opposition is also expected from some industry leaders, such as airlines and vehicle manufacturers, as well as from eastern member states that rely heavily on coal. One EU diplomat told Reuters that the success of the package would rest on its ability to be realistic and socially fair, while also not destabilising the economy. "The aim is to put the economy on a new level, not to stop it," they said.
7-14-21 EU's carbon border tax will test appetite for global climate action
An unprecedented and controversial carbon tax will be applied to goods imported to the European Union from 2026, the flagship measure in a sweeping suite of European Commission policies unveiled today to meet the bloc’s 2030 climate target. The tax will mean companies importing iron and steel, aluminium, cement, fertilisers and electricity generation to the EU will have to buy a certificate for every tonne of CO2 embedded in their goods. In theory it puts importers’ costs on a par with firms within the EU who have to pay for similar certificates in the EU’s internal carbon market. “The idea is to put foreign producers on a level playing field so they are paying an equivalent carbon price,” says Johanna Lehne at the thinktank E3G. Formally known as the carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), the scheme is the first of this scale and scope globally. Others may follow: the UK is reportedly mulling one too. The CBAM’s central aim is to combat ‘carbon leakage’, the risk of a company in the EU responding to the union’s climate policy costs by relocating outside the bloc in a country that may have a cheaper but more polluting energy supply. That danger could grow as the EU ratchets up its future ambitions to cut emissions. A secondary goal is to provide an incentive for non-EU countries to increase their ambition on climate change. In theory, a fertiliser firm in Turkey would have to pay lower taxes to ship their product to the EU if Ankara used policies to clean up the country’s electricity grid. However, the border tax has generated a storm of pushback even before it was officially outlined today, with China, Australia and other countries warning against trade barriers and protectionism. It remains to be seen if the scheme can win over critics and play an important role in fighting climate change. At the most extreme end, the EU could be forced into a climbdown akin to one it made in 2012 after it included flights in its carbon market.
7-14-21 Mixing trees and crops can help both farmers and the climate
Agriculture that includes trees boosts food production, stores carbon and saves species. Maxwell Ochoo’s first attempt at farming was a dismal failure. In Ochieng Odiere, a village near the shores of Kenya’s Lake Victoria, “getting a job is a challenge,” the 34-year-old says. To earn some money and help feed his family, he turned to farming. In 2017, he planted watermelon seeds on his 0.7-hectare plot. Right when the melons were set to burst from their buds and balloon into juicy orbs, a two-month dry spell hit, and Ochoo’s fledgling watermelons withered. He lost around 70,000 Kenyan shillings, or about $650. Ochoo blamed the region’s loss of tree cover for the long dry spells that had become more common. Unshielded from the sun, the soil baked, he says. In 2018, Ochoo and some neighbors decided to plant trees on public lands and small farms. With the help of nonprofit groups, the community planted hundreds of trees, turning some of the barren hillsides green. On his own farm, Ochoo now practices alley cropping, in which he plants millet, onions, sweet potatoes and cassava between rows of fruit and other trees. The trees provide shade and shelter to the crops, and their deeper root systems help the soil retain moisture. A few times a week in the growing season, Ochoo takes papayas, some as big as his head, to market, bringing home the equivalent of about $25 each time. And the fallen leaves of the new Calliandra trees provide fodder for Ochoo’s five cows. He also discovered that he could grind up the fernlike leaves as a dietary supplement for the tilapia he grows in a small pond. He now spends less on fish food, and the tilapia grow much faster than his neighbors’ fish, he says. Today, nearly everything Ochoo’s family eats comes from the farm, with plenty left over to sell at market. “Whether during dry spell or rainy season, my land is not bare,” he says, “there’s something that can sustain the family.”
7-14-21 Hurricanes may not be becoming more frequent, but they’re still more dangerous
There aren’t more of the storms now than there were roughly 150 years ago, a study suggests. Climate change is helping Atlantic hurricanes pack more of a punch, making them rainier, intensifying them faster and helping the storms linger longer even after landfall. But a new statistical analysis of historical records and satellite data suggests that there aren’t actually more Atlantic hurricanes now than there were roughly 150 years ago, researchers report July 13 in Nature Communications. The record-breaking number of Atlantic hurricanes in 2020, a whopping 30 named storms, led to intense speculation over whether and how climate change was involved (SN: 12/21/20). It’s a question that scientists continue to grapple with, says Gabriel Vecchi, a climate scientist at Princeton University. “What is the impact of global warming — past impact and also our future impact — on the number and intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms?” Satellite records over the last 30 years allow us to say “with little ambiguity how many hurricanes, and how many major hurricanes [Category 3 and above] there were each year,” Vecchi says. Those data clearly show that the number, intensity and speed of intensification of hurricanes has increased over that time span. But “there are a lot of things that have happened over the last 30 years” that can influence that trend, he adds. “Global warming is one of them.” Decreasing aerosol pollution is another (SN: 11/21/19). The amount of soot and sulfate particles and dust over the Atlantic Ocean was much higher in the mid-20th century than now; by blocking and scattering sunlight, those particles temporarily cooled the planet enough to counteract greenhouse gas warming. That cooling is also thought to have helped temporarily suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic.
7-14-21 Carry on flying, says government green plan
You can carry on flying, the government has told the British public, as it outlines its plan to reduce transport emissions to virtually zero by 2050. Ministers say new technology will allow domestic flights to be almost emissions-free by 2040, and international aviation to be near zero-carbon by mid-century. The policy has been ridiculed by environmentalists, who say the government is putting far too much faith in innovation. They say demand for flying and driving must be curbed if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets. The comments on aviation form part of the government’s Transport Decarbonisation Strategy, announced on Wednesday. Transport is responsible for 27% of the UK's emissions, making it the single biggest emitting sector. Before the pandemic, flying made up about 7% of overall emissions. The government has pledged the entire economy will be virtually zero-carbon by mid-century and is relying on new technology to play a significant role in achieving that, especially in aviation. "It's not about stopping people doing things: it's about doing the same things differently," said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. "We will still fly on holiday, but in more efficient aircraft, using sustainable fuel. We will still drive, but increasingly in zero-emission cars." He told the BBC's Today Programme that progress towards low-carbon flying was further advanced than people realised. "We already have electric aircraft, going up in the air, and in fact the UK has become the first country in the world to have a hydrogen aircraft flying as well," he said. "In addition to those advanced technologies, we also have things like sustainable aviation fuel." Mr Shapps said the government planned to use sustainable fuel to fly home some participants in November's COP26 conference. However, critics say reductions in emissions will not be achievable without reducing the amount we fly. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas described the government's approach to aviation as "a flight of fantasy" that relied on technology that was still being developed.
7-14-21 The young climate scientists who want their voice heard
Thousands of young people across the UK are joining a mission to understand and help solve the environmental crisis facing their generation. In a mission led by the UK’s Royal Society, school children as young as five are taking on their own climate and environmental research projects. They plan to take their findings - and their messages - to the politicians who will be representing them at the critical climate talks later this year.
7-13-21 F irefighters make progress battling massive blazes in California and Oregon
Two major wildfires in California and Oregon are still burning, but amid an intense heat wave, firefighters are making steady progress as they work toward full containment. The Beckwourth Complex fire in Northern California is the largest blaze burning in the state. So far, more than 91,200 acres have been scorched near the Nevada border. Fire officials said that as of Monday evening, the fire is 26 percent contained, an improvement from 8 percent on Sunday. The Beckwourth Complex fire was sparked by lightning that hit in the Plumas National Forest, and has destroyed 20 houses in the town of Doyle. California Incident Management Operations Section Chief Jake Cagle said on Monday that the "extreme weather conditions we're dealing with" mean that the "probability of ignition" is 100 percent, should a match or ember make it to dry brush. "And it's still early," he added. "This is stuff that we expect in August, for the past five, six, seven years — now we're seeing it earlier in July." The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon's Fremont-Winema National Forest has burned an estimated 150,800 acres, NBC News reports, but after doubling in size, it only grew by around 5,000 acres on Monday morning. The cause of this fire has not yet been determined.
7-13-21 US heatwave: Could US and Canada see the worst wildfires yet?
After record temperatures, western parts of the US and Canada are bracing themselves for the annual wildfire season. There are warnings that this season could be another highly destructive one, so we've looked at why that might be. Experts told us the potential for a record-breaking wildfire season is significant. Dr Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fires at the University of Alberta, said that fires need three ingredients: 1. vegetation or fuel, 2. ignition (caused by humans or lightning), 4. hot, dry and windy weather. Dr Flannigan added: "It really depends on the day-to-day weather, but the potential is sky-high for parts of Canada and the American west as they are in a multi-year drought. " The US drought monitor - a partnership between the Department of Agriculture and other expert organisations - says half the nation is under some form of drought, with the most severe in western states. In June this year, parts of western Canada recorded their highest-ever temperatures. The village of Lytton in British Columbia (BC) province made headlines after it reported Canada's record temperature of 49.6C. This set off a series of wildfires, which puts the amount of land burnt in the region way ahead of the average for this time of year. Western US states are also experiencing soaring temperatures and wildfires. Another concern is the lack of compressed and hardened snow (known as snowpack) in mountainous areas this year because of higher temperatures. This usually acts as a barrier to burning, and alleviates drought conditions. Looking at the Sierra Nevada mountain range in July 2019 compared with July this year, you can see snow cover is significantly reduced in 2021. t was at a similarly low level in July 2020, a year in which California experienced record-breaking wildfires. Dr Susan Prichard, from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington, says: "That means that vegetation from low to high elevations is more predisposed to burning."
7-13-21 Climate change: Technology boosts efforts to curb tree loss in Amazon
Technology can help indigenous communities to significantly curb deforestation, according to a new study. Indigenous people living in the Peruvian Amazon were equipped by conservation groups with satellite data and smartphones. They were able to reduce tree losses by half in the first year of the project. Reductions were greater in communities facing threats from illegal gold mining, logging and drugs. But for decades, these areas have been under attack from outsiders who are determined to cut down trees for a range of purposes including mining, logging and the planting of illicit crops like the coca plants used to manufacture cocaine. Over the past 40 years, governments and environmentalists have invested heavily in the use of satellite technology to monitor the removal of trees. Governments in Brazil, Peru and Colombia have put in place a system of high-resolution deforestation alerts, but there is little evidence that this information reaches the indigenous communities most affected. This new research set out to see if putting information directly into the hands of forest communities would make a difference. In this randomised, controlled study, the authors identified 76 remote villages in the Peruvian Amazon, with 36 randomly-assigned to participate in this new monitoring programme. Thirty-seven other communities served as a control group and continued with their existing forest management practices. Three members of each selected community were trained in the use of technology and shown how to carry out patrols to verify deforestation. When satellite information showed suspected deforestation activity in an area, photos and GPS coordinates were loaded onto USB drives and carried up the Amazon river and delivered by couriers. The information was then downloaded onto specialised smartphone apps which would guide the community monitors to the suspected locations.
7-13-21 The first step in using trees to slow climate change: Protect the trees we have
By holding onto the big, old trees, more carbon will stay sequestered. Between a death and a burial was hardly the best time to show up in a remote village in Madagascar to make a pitch for forest protection. Bad timing, however, turned out to be the easy problem. This forest was the first one that botanist Armand Randrianasolo had tried to protect. He’s the first native of Madagascar to become a Ph.D. taxonomist at Missouri Botanical Garden, or MBG, in St. Louis. So he was picked to join a 2002 scouting trip to choose a conservation site. Other groups had already come into the country and protected swaths of green, focusing on “big forests; big, big, big!” Randrianasolo says. Preferably forests with lots of big-eyed, fluffy lemurs to tug heartstrings elsewhere in the world. The Missouri group, however, planned to go small and to focus on the island’s plants, legendary among botanists but less likely to be loved as a stuffed cuddly. The team zeroed in on fragments of humid forest that thrive on sand along the eastern coast. “Nobody was working on it,” he says. As the people of the Agnalazaha forest were mourning a member of their close-knit community, Randrianasolo decided to pay his respects: “I wanted to show that I’m still Malagasy,” he says. He had grown up in a seaside community to the north. The village was filling up with visiting relatives and acquaintances, a great chance to talk with many people in the region. The deputy mayor conceded that after a morning visit to the bereaved, Randrianasolo and MBG’s Chris Birkinshaw could speak in the afternoon with anyone wishing to gather at the roofed marketplace. The two scientists didn’t get the reception they’d hoped for. Their pitch to help the villagers conserve their forest while still serving people’s needs met protests from the crowd: “You’re lying!”
7-12-21 Satellites show how a massive lake in Antarctica vanished in days
About twice the volume of San Diego Bay disappeared rapidly. On June 5, 2019, a massive, ice-covered lake sat atop East Antarctica’s Amery Ice Shelf. Within six days, all 600 million to 750 million cubic meters of lake water had vanished, leaving a deep sinkhole filled with fractured ice. “The amount of water that was in the lake was twice that of San Diego Bay. We’re talking about a lot of water,” says Helen Fricker, a glaciologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. Now, using satellite data to reconstruct the event, scientists have solved the mystery of the disappearing lake. Most likely, the weight of all that water fractured the ice shelf below. Channels in the ice then formed, and the water drained away all at once, in a Niagara Falls–like rush, glaciologist Roland Warner, Fricker and colleagues report June 23 in Geophysical Research Letters. Before they knew about the lake, the scientists first spotted the sinkhole. “It was serendipitous,” Fricker says. Warner, of the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia, had been browsing satellite images of Antarctica in January 2020 while tracking a path of smoke lofted into the stratosphere by Australian wildfires (SN: 3/4/20). Warner saw an icy depression, called a doline, spanning 11 square kilometers and about 80 meters deep. Going through the archives, he, Fricker and their colleagues pinned down when the depression formed. Older satellite images revealed that a lake had been at that spot since at least 1973. Using laser altimeter satellite data, the team gleaned estimates of surface elevation changes over time and from those estimated how much water the lake once held (SN: 12/18/05). It’s unclear whether the lake’s disappearance is linked to climate change. Icy lakes and dolines occur regularly on this ice shelf, Fricker says. But this is the first time that scientists have had evidence to piece together how such an event happens.
7-12-21 US heatwave: Wildfires rage in western states as temperatures soar
Wildfires are raging in the west of the United States as the region is hit by a heatwave that has brought record temperatures to several areas. Communities have been told to evacuate as firefighters struggle to battle the blazes in the extreme conditions. In California, residents were urged to cut power consumption after interstate power lines were knocked out. On Saturday, two firefighters in Arizona died when their aircraft crashed while responding to a blaze. Meanwhile, Las Vegas, Nevada, matched its all-time temperature high of 47.2C (117F) on Saturday. Firefighters battling the many wildfires in the region say the air is so dry that much of the water dropped by aircraft to quell the flames evaporates before it reaches the ground. It comes just weeks after another dangerous heatwave hit North America, in which hundreds of sudden deaths were recorded, many of them suspected of being heat-related. The region experienced its hottest June on record, according to the EU's Earth observation programme. Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. But linking any single event to global warming is complicated. However, a study by climate researchers said the heat that scorched western Canada and the US at the end of June was "virtually impossible" without climate change. Arizona's Bureau of Land Management paid tribute to the two "brave wildland firefighters" who died in a plane crash while performing aerial reconnaissance, command and control over the lightning-caused Cedar Basin Fire. "Our hearts are heavy tonight with sincere condolences to families, loved ones and firefighters affected by this tragic aviation accident", the agency said. The accident occurred at around noon local time (19:00 GMT) on Saturday near the small community of Wikieup. Further information was not immediately available and the firefighters have not been officially named.
7-11-21 US heatwave: Wildfires rage in western states as temperatures soar
Wildfires are raging in the west of the United States as the region is hit by a heatwave that has brought record temperatures to several areas. Communities have been told to evacuate as firefighters struggle to battle the blazes in the extreme conditions. Two firefighters in Arizona died when their aircraft crashed while responding to a wildfire. Meanwhile, Las Vegas matched its all-time temperature high of 47.2C (117F) on Saturday. Firefighters battling the many wildfires in the region say the air is so dry that much of the water dropped by aircraft to quell the flames evaporates before it reaches the ground. It comes just weeks after another dangerous heatwave hit North America, in which hundreds of sudden deaths were recorded, many of them suspected of being heat-related. The region experienced its hottest June on record, according to the EU's Earth observation programme. Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. But linking any single event to global warming is complicated. However, a study by climate researchers said the heat that scorched western Canada and the US at the end of June was "virtually impossible" without climate change. Arizona's Bureau of Land Management paid tribute to the two "brave wildland firefighters" who died in a plane crash while performing aerial reconnaissance, command and control over the lightning-caused Cedar Basin Fire. "Our hearts are heavy tonight with sincere condolences to families, loved ones and firefighters affected by this tragic aviation accident", the agency said. The accident occurred at around noon local time (19:00 GMT) on Saturday near the small community of Wikieup. Further information was not immediately available and the firefighters have not been officially named.
7-10-21 US heatwave: California and Nevada brace for record-breaking temperatures
Extreme heat is building in the United States, with forecasts of record-breaking temperatures in the states of California and Nevada. It comes just weeks after another dangerous heatwave hit North America, and the region has experienced the hottest June on record. California's Death Valley on Friday recorded a high of 54.4C (130F), with similar heat expected this weekend. Millions of people in the US are under warnings of excessive heat. The National Weather Service has advised those affected to drink plenty of water and stay in air conditioned buildings. The temperature in Death Valley on Friday matches one recorded in August 2020 - which some argue is the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth. A temperature of 56.7C was recorded in 1913, but this is contested by climate experts. Forecasters say Las Vegas's record of 47.2C could also be passed. Canada is also bracing for extreme heat, though it is not expected to approach the temperatures seen at the end of last month when the village Lytton in British Colombia reached 49.6C, breaking the country's highest recorded temperature. The heatwave saw spikes in sudden deaths and increases in hospital visits for heat-related illnesses. Lightning strikes also sparked dozens of wildfires, forcing people to flee from their homes. Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. But linking any single event to global warming is complicated. A study by climate researchers said the heat that scorched western Canada and the US at the end of June was "virtually impossible" without climate change.
7-10-21 Powerful fire tornado in California is latest extreme weather sign
A fire tornado has been captured on video at the Tennant fire in northern California. It is one of the latest signs of extreme weather threatening the US West, which is facing severe drought and record high temperatures. Though rare, similar phenomena have been seen on video in recent years.
7-9-21 Why planting tons of trees isn’t enough to solve climate change
Massive projects need much more planning and follow-through to succeed – and other tree protections need to happen too. rees are symbols of hope, life and transformation. They’re also increasingly touted as a straightforward, relatively inexpensive, ready-for-prime-time solution to climate change. When it comes to removing human-caused emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere, trees are a big help. Through photosynthesis, trees pull the gas out of the air to help grow their leaves, branches and roots. Forest soils can also sequester vast reservoirs of carbon. Earth holds, by one estimate, as many as 3 trillion trees. Enthusiasm is growing among governments, businesses and individuals for ambitious projects to plant billions, even a trillion more. Such massive tree-planting projects, advocates say, could do two important things: help offset current emissions and also draw out CO2 emissions that have lingered in the atmosphere for decades or longer. Even in the politically divided United States, large-scale tree-planting projects have broad bipartisan support, according to a spring 2020 poll by the Pew Research Center. And over the last decade, a diverse garden of tree-centric proposals — from planting new seedlings to promoting natural regrowth of degraded forests to blending trees with crops and pasturelands — has sprouted across the international political landscape. Trees “are having a bit of a moment right now,” says Joe Fargione, an ecologist with The Nature Conservancy who is based in Minneapolis. It helps that everybody likes trees. “There’s no anti-tree lobby. [Trees] have lots of benefits for people. Not only do they store carbon, they help provide clean air, prevent soil erosion, shade and shelter homes to reduce energy costs and give people a sense of well-being.”
7-8-21 Climate change: US-Canada heatwave 'virtually impossible' without warming
The searing heat that scorched western Canada and the US at the end of June was "virtually impossible" without climate change, say scientists. In their study, the team of researchers says that the deadly heatwave was a one-in-a-1,000-year event. But we can expect extreme events such as this to become more common as the world heats up due to climate change. If humans hadn't influenced the climate to the extent that they have, the event would have been 150 times less likely. Scientists worry that global heating, largely as a result of burning fossil fuels, is now driving up temperatures faster than models predict. Climate researchers have grown used to heatwaves breaking records all over the world in recent years. However, beating the previous national high temperature mark by more than 4C in one go, as happened in Canada last week, is virtually unprecedented. Canada's previous national record for high temperature was 45C - but the recent heat in the village of Lytton in British Columbia saw a figure of 49.6C recorded at the height of the event. This was shortly before the village itself was largely destroyed by a wildfire. All across the region, in the US states of Oregon and Washington and in the west of Canada, multiple cities hit new records far above 40C. These temperatures had deadly consequences for hundreds of people, with spikes in sudden deaths and big increases in hospital visits for heat-related illness. Since the start of the heatwave, people have linked the unusual and extreme nature of the event to climate change. Now, researchers say that the chances of it occurring without human-induced warming were virtually impossible. An international team of 27 climate researchers who are part of the World Weather Attribution network managed to analyse the data in just eight days. Unsurprisingly, given the quick turnaround, the research has not yet been peer-reviewed. However, the scientists use well-established methods accepted by top journals.
7-8-21 Human-driven climate change sent Pacific Northwest temperatures soaring
Temperatures soared by as much as 5 degrees Celsius above previous records. The deadly heat wave that baked the Pacific Northwest in late June would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change, an international team of scientists announced July 7. In fact, the temperatures were so extreme — Portland, Ore., reached a staggering 47° Celsius (116° Fahrenheit) on June 29, while Seattle surged to 42° C (108° F) — that initial analyses suggested they were impossible even with climate change, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a climate scientist with the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in De Bilt, said at a news conference to announce the team’s findings. “This was an extraordinary event. I don’t know what English word covers it.” Climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions made the region’s heat wave at least 150 times more likely to occur, the team found. As emissions and global temperatures continue to rise, such extreme heat events could happen in the region as often as every five to 10 years by the end of the century. It’s not just that numerous temperature records were broken, van Oldenborgh said. It’s that the observed temperatures were so far outside of historical records, breaking those records by as much as 5 degrees C in many places — and a full month before usual peak temperatures for the region. The observations were also several degrees higher than the upper temperature limits predicted by most climate simulations for the heat waves, even taking global warming into account. Coming just about a week after the heat wave broke, the new study is the latest real-time climate attribution effort by scientists affiliated with the World Weather Attribution network. Van Oldenborgh and University of Oxford climate scientist Friederike Otto founded the group in 2014 to conduct quick analyses of extreme events such as the 2020 Siberian heat wave (SN: 7/15/20).
7-8-21 Tropical Storm Elsa makes landfall in Florida
Tropical Storm Elsa, which has weakened from the first hurricane of the season, has made landfall on the west coast of Florida, unleashing rain and flooding. Over 20,000 Florida residents are without power, and warnings are in effect for millions in the region. Elsa battered Cuba on Monday with mudslides and floods. Earlier it tore across the Dominican Republic and St Lucia, killing at least three people and damaging hundreds of buildings. After passing across Florida, Elsa is expected to hit the US states of Georgia and South Carolina. At 14:00 local time (18:00 GMT) the centre of the storm was about 105 miles west of the city of Jacksonville, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an update. Maximum wind speeds were 50mph (85km/h), the NHC said, and the storm was moving at 14mph. Elsa became the first hurricane of the Atlantic season on Friday before weakening to a tropical storm. After leaving Cuba, it briefly regained hurricane force over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but was then downgraded again as it approached the Florida coast. Tampa airport had suspended commercial flights scheduled for Wednesday morning, but has since re-opened after the storm passed. Florida's Lt Gov Jeanette Nunez warned residents of possible power cuts and urged them to stockpile supplies of food and water. She said emergency shelters were available if needed. "If you are asked to evacuate, please leave," she added. In the town of Surfside, near Miami, authorities brought forward the demolition of a partially collapsed apartment block on Tuesday for fear that Elsa might topple it. Late last week, Elsa carved a swathe of destruction in the Caribbean. In the Dominican Republic, at least two people died on Saturday when walls collapsed in high winds. One person also died on the island of St Lucia, while Barbados reported damage to hundreds of homes.
7-7-21 Climate change made North American heatwave 150 times more likely
The recent deadly and record-breaking heatwave in North America would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change, according to scientists who say they are very worried about the prospect of similar events occurring around the world. An international team has found that the heatwave, which may have killed hundreds and saw Canada’s temperature record being broken by nearly 5°C in the village of Lytton, was made 150 times more likely by global warming. The temperature highs were 2°C hotter than they would have been without the human activity that has warmed Earth, say the researchers at the World Weather Attribution project. By the 2040s, they warn, such a heatwave could be another 1°C warmer. “It’s an extraordinary event,” says Geert Jan van Oldenborgh at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, who contributed to the research. “A lot of people are very worried about this event. Could this also happen here in the Netherlands, France, in other places, suddenly having a 5°C jump? This is something that really needs to be researched, whether we should be prepared for this kind of jump in other parts of the world.” Van Oldenborgh and his colleagues arrived at their findings using an approach known as extreme event attribution, whittling down 35 computer models to 21 that were best able to reproduced past weather observations in an area incorporating parts of British Columbia, Oregon and Washington. The models were then used to estimate average maximum daily temperatures in the area studied, with and without climate change. The near-50°C temperatures recorded in Canada don’t appear in climate models. That forced the team to artificially include the event in their models, making assumptions on the rarity of such a heatwave, which they estimated as roughly a 1 in 1000 event. The models then showed the event was 150 times more probable in a world with climate change.
7-7-21 North American heatwave must be a driver for stronger climate action
ON 29 June, the village of Lytton in British Columbia recorded a temperature of 49.6°C, smashing Canadian records. The following day, fire swept through it, razing much of it to the ground. Last week’s deadly heatwave in North America is far from the first extreme weather event to shake the world. Apocalyptic blazes hit California last year and Australia in late 2019. Climate attribution studies show that both earlier events were made more likely by climate change. We hardly need the verdict on the North American heatwave to tell us the risks of continued inaction. Yet that it is what we are getting. Despite the damage and loss of life, Australia’s fires barely shifted the political dial for national action on carbon emissions. It seems unlikely that Lytton’s destruction will lead Canada to rethink the emissions plan promised in April, which is still deemed inadequate to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and limit climate change to liveable levels. Every failure to act now comes with a human cost. A recent leaked draft of a 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said, baldly: “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems. Humans cannot.” Each failure also comes with economic costs, as we need to spend more adapting to a warmer world as well as mitigating the emissions driving it. As our columnist Annalee Newitz points out, we are only just starting to confront how we rebuild infrastructure and social systems to cope with the damage already wrought. Hope that we can avoid the worst effects comes from the bottom up – in the youth movements calling for change, the sinking cost of wind and solar power, the firms jockeying to create the best net-zero plans and in court judgments wringing action from recalcitrant governments and firms.
7-7-21 Preparing for a warming world will take a new information revolution
AS I write this, it’s 13°C and foggy in San Francisco. But 1000 kilometres north, in Portland, Oregon, it hit 47°C just days ago. Across the border in Canada, it reached 49°C. Coroners are blaming the heat for hundreds of deaths in the US and Canada. Climate experts are warning that it’s only a matter of time before my region of the west is broiling under a “heat dome” (see page 10) – catalysing wildfires bigger than those that burned 1.7 million hectares in California last year. Heat domes are statistically likely to become more intense and common every year due to climate change, just as hurricanes and flooding are. As the weather gets consistently weirder, it’s becoming easier to accept that we live in a world that is rapidly changing – not because of the internet or some fantastic new scientific discovery. It’s changing because of nature – or at least its reaction to us. This realisation is especially weird for those of us who grew up learning that humanity tamed nature a long time ago, and that the future of our civilisations will be determined by technology. Now it seems that nature is getting the last laugh. Maybe our great industrial machines beat it back for a while, but unfortunately the fossil fuel we used to power those machines has given nature the upper hand again. I keep thinking about one of the unexpected side effects of the heat dome in Portland, which is that it caused the city’s streetcars to melt. To be more precise, as Robinson Meyer put it in The Atlantic: “A power cable on a major bridge warped, twisted around some metal hardware, and scorched. Elsewhere, the wires that run above the track expanded and sagged so much that they risked touching the train cars.” By afternoon, the city had shut down much of its transit system. To understand how truly staggering this scenario is, consider that Portland is famous for being damp and chilly. It’s a northern, coastal city, full of people who don’t own sunblock or air conditioners.
7-7-21 Tropical Storm Elsa poised to make landfall in Florida
Tropical Storm Elsa, which has weakened from the first hurricane of the season, is poised to make landfall on the west coast of Florida on Wednesday. A warning is in force for a 200-mile (300km) stretch of the Gulf Coast north of Tampa Bay. The storm battered Cuba on Monday with mudslides and floods. Earlier it tore across the Dominican Republic and St Lucia, killing at least three people and damaging hundreds of buildings. After passing across Florida, Elsa is expected to hit the US states of Georgia and South Carolina. "Elsa is forecast to make landfall along the north Florida Gulf coast by late Wednesday morning and then move across the south-eastern United States through Thursday," the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an update. At 02:00 local time (06:00 GMT), the storm was about 60 miles west of Tampa and moving slowly north with winds of 70mph (115km/h), the NHC said. Elsa became the first hurricane of the Atlantic season on Friday before weakening to a tropical storm. After leaving Cuba, it briefly regained hurricane force over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but was then downgraded again as it approached the Florida coast. Tampa airport said it had suspended commercial flights until at least 10:00 on Wednesday. Florida's Lt Gov Jeanette Nunez warned residents of possible power cuts and urged them to stockpile supplies of food and water. She said emergency shelters were available if needed. "If you are asked to evacuate, please leave," she added. In the town of Surfside, near Miami, authorities brought forward the demolition of a partially collapsed apartment block on Tuesday for fear that Elsa might topple it in an uncontrolled way. So far, 36 people are known to have died when Champlain Towers South collapsed on 24 June. At least 109 are still missing. Officials say they hope to be able to continue the search-and-rescue operation, despite the storm. Late last week, Elsa carved a swathe of destruction in the Caribbean. In the Dominican Republic, at least two people died on Saturday when walls collapsed in high winds. One person also died on the island of St Lucia, while Barbados reported damage to hundreds of homes.
7-7-21 Elsa is now a Category 1 hurricane
Tropical Storm Elsa has strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. As of 8 p.m. ET, Elsa was roughly 100 miles south-southwest of Tampa, moving north at 9 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. The hurricane is expected to make landfall in Florida early Wednesday, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) saying this will likely take place between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. There is a hurricane watch in effect from the Tampa Bay region to the Steinhatchee River, 180 miles north on the Gulf Coast, Reuters reports. Tornadoes are possible on Wednesday in Florida, southeast Georgia, and lower South Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said. Elsa is expected to make its way across the southeastern United States, dumping up to four inches of rain on Florida.
7-7-21 Why North America's killer heat scares me
We've just enjoyed our first blissful sleepover weekend with our 20-month granddaughter, Hazel, so maybe that softened me up. Or perhaps it was a week's leave away from the news that rusted my BBC armour of emotional detachment from the climate story. Either way, I confess to a gut-tightening sense of foreboding when Hazel left and I caught up with North America's killer heat dome on TV. That's not because new record temperatures were set in the north-western US and Canada - that happens from time to time. No, it's because old records were smashed so dramatically. The previous all-time Canada record of 45C was set in the 1937 Dust Bowl era when, like this year, the parched ground failed to mitigate temperatures. Normally records like this are over-topped by a fraction of a degree, but this year the former high was obliterated on three days running. The final temperature in the town of Lytton was fully 4.6C higher than the old record. Emissions from human activities inarguably contributed to the rise, increasing global average temperature by about 1.2C since the late 1800s. Climatologists are nervous of being accused of alarmism - but many have been frankly alarmed for some time now. "The extreme nature of the record, along with others, is a cause for real concern," says veteran scientist Professor Sir Brian Hoskins. "What the climate models project for the future is what we would get if we are lucky. The models' behaviour may be too conservative." In other words, in some places it's likely to be even worse than predicted. Computer models are what scientists use to try to second-guess the future behaviour of Earth's climate. But they take a very broad look across the global temperatures - they are not as accurate for smaller areas where the projected temperature extremes may be over-topped on a local level… extreme extremes, if you like. Scientists are now striving to predict some of these crazy weather events that are currently taking policy-makers by surprise.
7-7-21 Record June temperatures point to more 'extraordinary' extremes
North America experienced its warmest June on record, according to the EU's Earth observation programme. That will come as no surprise given the unprecedentedly high temperatures recently recorded during the heatwave that hit Canada and parts of the US. But UK residents may be startled to learn that despite the rain and cloud they experienced, it was the second warmest June on record for Europe. It was also the fourth warmest June ever recorded worldwide. Copernicus, the EU's Earth observation programme, produces its figures for world temperatures from computer-generated analyses using billions of measurements from satellites, aircraft and weather stations around the world. Climate experts say the findings point to a frightening escalation in temperature extremes. "We are getting used to record high temperatures being recorded somewhere around the world every year now," says Prof Peter Stott of the UK Met Office. He says what meteorologists like him find shocking is not that the world is experiencing more heatwaves but that temperature records are increasingly being broken by such large margins. In Canada and the north-western US, several cities recorded temperatures a full 5 degrees Celsius above previous records. A Siberian heatwave last year saw temperatures more than 5C above the previous record between January and June. A study by the Met Office on the extreme heat in the Russian region found that reaching such temperatures was almost impossible without human-caused climate change. It anticipates similar results from studies of the Canadian heatwave. Its initial calculations suggest the odds of the sort of temperatures experienced in Canada occurring without climate change are very low indeed, says Professor Stott. "It is telling us that changes in average climate are leading to rapid escalation not just of extreme temperatures, but of extraordinarily extreme temperatures," he adds. That is exactly what the science says we should expect, Prof Friederike Otto of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University told the BBC. "Every decade the world has increased the rate of greenhouse gas emissions and that has increased the rate of warming. So, of course, heat records are being broken more frequently," she maintains.
7-7-21 A tweaked yeast can make ethanol from cornstalks and a harvest’s other leftovers
The process could tap underused sources of renewable fuels. When corn farmers harvest their crop, they often leave the stalks, leaves and spent cobs to rot in the fields. Now, engineers have fashioned a new strain of yeast that can convert this inedible debris into ethanol, a biofuel. If the process can be scaled up, this largely untapped renewable energy source could help reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Previous efforts to convert this fibrous material, called corn stover, into fuel met with limited success. Before yeasts can do their job, corn stover must be broken down, but this process often generates by-products that kill yeasts. But by tweaking a gene in common baker’s yeast, researchers have engineered a strain that can defuse those deadly by-products and get on with the job of turning sugar into ethanol. The new yeast was able to produce over 100 grams of ethanol for every liter of treated corn stover, an efficiency comparable to the standard process using corn kernels to make the biofuel, the researchers report June 25 in Science Advances. “They’ve produced a more resilient yeast,” says Venkatesh Balan, a chemical engineer at the University of Houston not involved in the research. The new strain may benefit biofuel producers trying to harness materials like corn stover, he says. In the United States, most ethanol is made from corn, the country’s largest crop, and is mixed into most of the gasoline sold at gas stations. Corn ethanol is a renewable energy source, but it has limitations. Diverting corn to make ethanol can detract from the food supply, and expanding cropland just to plant corn for biofuel clears natural habitats (SN: 12/21/20). Converting inedible corn stover into ethanol could increase the biofuel supply without having to plant more crops. “Corn can’t really displace petroleum as a raw material for fuels,” says metabolic engineer Felix Lam of MIT. “But we have an alternative.”
7-6-21 Climate change: Planting extra trees will boost rainfall across Europe
Planting extra trees to combat climate change across Europe could also increase rainfall, research suggests. A new study found that converting agricultural land to forest would boost summer rains by 7.6% on average. The researchers also found that adding trees changed rainfall patterns far downwind of the new forests. The authors believe that extra rain could partially offset the rise in dry conditions expected with climate change. The findings about increasing rainfall are partly based on observations of existing patterns. But the underlying reasons are less clear - they are probably related to the way the forests interact with cloudy air. Planting trees has become a major plank of many countries' efforts to tackle climate change all over the world. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the UK is aiming to plant some 30 million new trees every year by 2025. A number of studies have looked at the range of impacts, both positive and negative, that the boom in planting is likely to bring. This new paper considers the impact of converting agricultural land across Europe to sustainable forests. The authors use an observation-based statistical model to estimate how changes to forest cover would impact rainfall across the continent. The researchers found that if there was a 20% increase in forest, uniformly across Europe, then this would boost local rainfall, especially in winter and with greater impacts felt in coastal regions. But as well as local rain, the planting of new forests causes impacts downwind. The scientists found that rainfall in these locations was increased particularly in the summer months. Taking the two impacts together, in what the team describe as a realistic reforestation scenario, they found that precipitation overall went up by 7.6% in the summer.
7-6-21 Climate change: The craft brewery using algae to cut emissionsE
Fermenting beer produces carbon dioxide (CO2), which is usually released into the atmosphere. So a craft brewery in Sydney, Young Henrys, has partnered with climate change scientists and developed a way to use microalgae to capture that CO2, and turn it into oxygen.The brewers estimate their algae releases as much oxygen as two hectares of bushland.
7-5-21 Azerbaijan mud volcano triggers huge blast in Caspian oil and gas fields
A huge explosion has been seen off the coast of Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea, sending plumes of black smoke and flames into the sky. The blast, which erupted in an area full of oil and gas fields on Sunday, was caused by a mud volcano, the government says. None of the oil farms were damaged and no-one was hurt, it added. Mud volcanoes are formed underground by water, minerals and flammable gasses, which can ignite when they erupt. Videos shared online showed a fireball and smoke rising above the sea on Sunday. The blast took place about 10km (6 miles) from the Umid gas field, which is 75km (45 miles) off the coast of Azerbaijan's capital Baku, state oil company Socar spokesman Ibrahim Ahmadoc said. The fire continued to smoulder into Monday, but was threatening neither oil and gas infrastructure nor people's lives, Azerbaijan's emergency ministry said. It said the fire had been caused by a mud volcano, which spews both mud and flammable gases. Mud volcanoes are similar to normal volcanoes but without lava. They are caused by water being heated deep within the Earth that mixes with rocks and minerals - when they erupt, this mixture is forced to the surface and can catch fire. While it is unclear how a mud volcano can catch fire naturally, one theory is that it might happen when a mixture of flammable gasses is ignited by sparks from rocks colliding together. About 400 of the world's estimated 1,000 mud volcanoes are in Azerbaijan. Nicknamed the "Land of Fire", Azerbaijan is famed for its its rich oil and natural gas reserves. Explorer Marco Polo wrote about the fires in the 13th Century. "The mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan are some of the biggest and most violent in the world. There are, on average, several large mud volcano eruptions each year, and many of them can have big fires," Dr Mark Tingay, a geophysicist at the University of Adelaide, wrote on Twitter. The explosion follows a fire on the ocean surface in the Gulf of Mexico, which was extinguished on Friday after burning for more than five hours. The blaze was blamed on a gas leak from an underwater pipeline.
7-4-21 Canada heatwave: Military on standby as lightning triggers more wildfires
The Canadian military is on standby to help evacuate residents in British Columbia where wildfires linked to a record-breaking heatwave threaten to engulf communities. Emergency services say they are now trying to control more than 170 fires, many triggered by lightning strikes. Many western areas are tinder-dry followed the unprecedented hot weather. Meanwhile, at least two people are reported to have died in the village of Lytton that was destroyed by fire. Lytton recorded Canada's highest-ever temperature of 49.6C (121.3F) on Tuesday. About 350 military personnel as well as aircraft are being readied to help threatened communities, Canadian defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told reporters. The announcement came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held emergency talks with ministers as well as provincial and indigenous leaders from affected areas. "We will be there to help," he said. Large swathes of North America have seen a high-pressure "heat dome" in recent days, causing abnormally high temperatures. The heatwave has also affected Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and northern Ontario. Although linking any single event to global warming is complicated, experts say climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. In British Columbia, evacuation orders and alerts are in place for several areas north of the city of Kamloops, 350km (220 miles) north-east of Vancouver where the worst fires are raging. "We saw 12,000 lightning strikes, roughly, yesterday [Friday]," said Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for British Columbia Wildfire Service. "Many of those lightning strikes were hitting near communities... in the Kamloops area," he said, according to broadcaster CBC. On Saturday, the British Columbia Coroners Service confirmed that at least two people had died in Lytton where a wildfire on Wednesday evening forced many of its 250 residents to flee without their belongings.
7-4-21 The villains behind the heat wave
The fossil fuel industry knew all along what climate change would do to people. Last week, I noted that on June 27, Canada smashed its all-time heat record with a temperature of 116 degrees Fahrenheit, besting the previous record by three whole degrees. It turns out that was just the start: The same small town of Lytton that broke the national record broke it again the next day by hitting 118 degrees, and a third time the following day with a temperature of 121.3 degrees — or more than eight degrees higher than any previous recorded temperature in Canadian history. "This is the most anomalous regional extreme heat event to occur anywhere on Earth since temperature records began. Nothing can compare," weather historian Christopher Burt told Yale Climate Connections. The heat roasted the forests surrounding Lytton, accelerating wildfires that produced their own "pyroculmulus" storms, creating more lightning and even more blazes. The day after setting the record, fire ripped through Lytton and burned it to the ground just 15 minutes after the first appearance of smoke. During that same period last week, Greenpeace published a recording of an ExxonMobil lobbyist, Keith McCoy, in which he boasted about working with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and the Biden administration to weaken Democrats' climate policy, discussed the company's role in funding climate denial, and suggested the company's support of a carbon tax is purely a "talking point" because they expect it will never happen. (The company denied this was true, but there's no reason to take their word for it.) All Americans are implicated in climate change to some degree. As a country, the U.S. has for decades contributed several times the global average of per capita emissions. But a relative handful of people — principally corporate executives at large fossil fuel companies, their major shareholders, company apparatchiks who hand bribes to politicians, and those that accept those bribes — bear the overwhelming majority of the responsibility. Their amoral greed is directly implicated in the climate disasters that are killing thousands of people already, and will soon be killing millions. At least several hundred people in western North America were killed by the heat wave — at time of writing, perhaps 320 deaths in Canada and 75 in the United States were being linked to the heat, with likely more remaining to be discovered. Estimates of the costs of melted or broken infrastructure have not yet been compiled, but are sure to be enormous. It was an awful disaster. Yet in some ways, it was lucky the heat wave struck where it did. Canada and the U.S. are both rich, and not too many people live in that part of either country. If the same scale of heat wave had hit a poor, densely populated country, the death toll would be exponentially greater. Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson's recent book The Ministry of the Future opens with a gripping, terrifying account of a near-future heat wave in India that kills 20 million people in a matter of weeks. Absent a Second World War-scale global policy mobilization that is nowhere in sight, something like Robinson's scenario is absolutely certain to happen somewhere on the planet, sooner or later. Here's why: Beyond a "wet-bulb" temperature of about 95 degrees (the combined heat and humidity level at which the body can no longer cool itself by sweating), no human being can survive for long and even the healthiest person sitting motionless in the shade will cook themselves to death from the inside within a few hours.
7-3-21 Climate activist: Biden's plan the 'bare minimum'
"I don't think you can say in any serious way that [President Biden] is treating climate change like the emergency that it is," Evan Weber, the co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, told Politico, adding that the White House's plan to tackle the issue is not the "historic commitment" Biden describes it as. "It's scraps," Weber said. "It's the bare minimum." Biden's climate adviser Gina McCarthy, along with senior White House adviser Anita Dunn, sent out a memo this week stating that while the bipartisan infrastructure deal the administration recently struck left out "critical initiatives on climate change" proposed by Biden, a future bill, which the White House aims to pass via budget reconciliation, will include them. But, Politico notes, there's no guarantee that will happen, at least not without some serious infighting among Democrats and intense pressure from climate activists like Weber — who view this summer as the "tipping point" for climate change (there have indeed been several bouts of extreme weather across the United States and around the world in recent weeks) — on moderate Democratic lawmakers. Read more at Politico.
7-3-21 Canada heatwave: Lightning triggers wildfires in British Columbia
More than 130 wildfires - many sparked by lightning strikes - are burning across western Canada following a record-breaking heatwave. Canada's federal government said it would send military aircraft to help crews battling the fires in the province of British Columbia. Earlier this week, people had to flee the village of Lytton. Lytton, which recorded Canada's highest ever temperature of 49.6C (121.3F) on Tuesday, was destroyed by fire. The blaze in the village - about 260km (160 miles) north-east of Vancouver - forced many of its 250 residents to leave without their belongings on Wednesday evening. "Within about 15 minutes the whole town was engulfed in flames," Mayor Jan Polderman told the BBC. Abnormally high temperatures have been recorded in swathes of North America in recent days. Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. However, linking any single event to global warming is complicated. On Friday, the British Columbia Wildfire Service said that 136 fires were active across the province following some 12,000 lightning strikes the previous day. Some officials are quoted as saying the fires now number more than 150. Hundreds of people have been warned they may have to leave their homes. Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the government would provide aid, including military helicopters and personnel, to help tackle the fires and reach people threatened by the flames. The blazes have forced the closure of a number of major roads. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the weather and the wildfires were having a "devastating" and "unprecedented" impact on British Columbia. Health officials say extreme heat is likely to have contributed to 719 sudden deaths over the past week.
7-3-21 Then and now: Arctic sea-ice feeling the heat
In our monthly feature, Then and Now, we reveal some of the ways that planet Earth has been changing against the backdrop of a warming world. The shrinking sea-ice in the Arctic is not only a sign of climate change, it is causing the planet to warm more quickly. This is because more sunlight is being absorbed by the darker ocean, rather than being reflected back into space. Arctic sea-ice plays an important role in controlling the planet's temperature, and any problem with this natural thermostat is a cause for concern. Figures from the US space agency (Nasa) suggest the loss of the minimum Arctic sea-ice extent is in the region of 13.1% per decade, based on the 1981 to 2010 average. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 concluded that the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as a result of human activity was primarily responsible for the decline in sea-ice extent in the region. The disappearance of the sea-ice in a warming world also contributes to rising average surface temperatures. The sea-ice is estimated to reflect 80% of sunlight back into space, meaning it does not warm the surface. But when the sea-ice has melted, the darker ocean surface is exposed, which absorbs about 90% of the sunlight hitting it. This results in warming of the region. This phenomenon is known as the Albedo effect, and it occurs because light surfaces reflect more heat than dark surfaces. The freezing and thawing of the ocean in the Arctic is a seasonal occurrence, with the freezing peaking in March and the melting reaching its maximum in September. However, data from on-the-ground observations and from satellites tell us that the extent of sea-ice in the Arctic polar region is declining as the planet warms. As this occurs, the albedo (or reflectivity) is reduced, because the dark ocean waters absorb more heat than the lighter sea-ice. This in turn causes the land and oceans to warm even more. Ultimately, scientists fear, the increasing amount of ground being exposed in regions traditionally covered with snow will trigger a "tipping point". This is where the warming of the atmosphere reaches a point where human interventions will no longer be able to halt it.
7-2-21 Canada Lytton: Heatwave record village overwhelmingly burned in wildfire
A wildfire has burned 90% of the village that recorded Canada's highest ever temperature, the local MP says. Brad Vis said the fire had caused extensive damage to Lytton, in British Columbia, and to surrounding critical infrastructure. Jan Polderman, mayor of Lytton, told the BBC he had been "lucky to get out with my own life". "There won't be very much left of Lytton," he said. "There was fire everywhere." Mr Polderman told the BBC's Newshour programme his town was engulfed by a "wall of fire". Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. However, linking any single event to global warming is complicated. Lytton this week recorded the country's highest ever temperature of 49.6C (121.3F). And abnormally high temperatures have been recorded in swathes of North America. British Columbia, in western Canada, recorded 486 deaths over five days compared with an average of 165 in normal times. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe blamed the extreme weather. The western province had seen only three heat-related deaths over the past three to five years. Many of those who died, Ms Lapointe said, had been living alone in unventilated homes. Temperatures have been easing in coastal areas of Canada but there is not much respite for inland regions. The weather system is now moving eastwards over the Prairie provinces - Alberta and Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba have been placed under Environment Canada heat warnings. Residents fled on Wednesday, many without their belongings, as smoke and flame engulfed the village, which is home to about 250 people and located about 260km (162 miles) north-east of Vancouver. "Within about 15 minutes the whole town was engulfed in flame," Mayor Polderman told the BBC. "People basically just grabbed their pets, grabbed their keys and got into their car and fled."
7-2-21 Lytton, the Canadian village that hit a record 121 degrees, has 'burnt down' in flash wildfire
Lytton, a town in British Columbia about 95 miles northeast of Vancouver, set and broke successive Canadian heat records for three consecutive days this week, topping out at a scorching 121.2 degrees on Tuesday. On Wednesday evening, a wildfire swept through Lytton, and on Thursday, Mayor Jan Polderman told CBC News "the town burnt down." Polderman signed an evacuation order at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. "I noticed some white smoke at the south end of town and within 15 to 20 minutes, the whole town was engulfed in flame," he said. Brad Vis, the local member of Parliament, said that 90 percent of Lytton was lost in the fire. The town's roughly 1,000 residents fled quickly in different directions, and with phone and cellphone service down, nobody is sure if everybody made it out safely. Lytton, a whitewater rafting destination at the junction of two rivers, "routinely reports some of the highest temperatures in Canada, due to a combination of dry air and low elevation," The Washington Post reports. Its temperature on Tuesday was higher than any recorded measurement in Las Vegas. "Our poor little town of Lytton is gone," resident Edith Loring Kuhanga wrote on Facebook. "This is so devastating — we are all in shock! Our community members have lost everything." British Columbia Premier John Horgan said Thursday that 62 new fires had broken out in the previous 24 hours, the fire around Lytton had grown to 22,000 acres, and the fire risk remained "extreme" in most parts of British Columbia. The province, like Oregon and Washington, has been trapped under a brutal heat dome for a week, with hot air being pushed down and cooler currents kept out. The week of intense record-breaking heat has caused nearly 100 deaths in Oregon and Washington, officials say, and even more in British Columbia. And the wildfires aren't unique to Canada — fire fighters are battling three blazes in Northern California, where residents, as in Lytton, had to evacuate with little warning and few possessions. (Webmaster's comment: This is just the beginning! We ain't seen nuthin' yet!)
7-2-21 Climate change: Extremes committee validates Antarctic record heat
A new record high temperature for the Antarctic continent of +18.3C has been confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It occurred on 6 February last year at Argentina's Esperanza research station. The mark was widely reported at the time but has now been validated by a WMO committee set up to check extreme weather data from around the globe. The same group rejected an even higher Antarctic claim for 2020 of +20.75C, "recorded" on Seymour Island. This again received international headlines, but the committee found the sensor set-up incorporated into a Brazilian permafrost experiment had not been properly protected from direct sunlight. Thermometers are supposed to record air temperatures inside a ventilated covering, or screen. The WMO team said that on Seymour Island this took the form of a modified length of scaffolding pipe and would likely therefore have introduced a warming bias into any data readings. Nonetheless, temperatures on the normally frigid Antarctic continent have been rising, especially along its peninsula - the great tongue of terrain that stretches north in the direction of South America. Over the last 50 years, the peninsula warmed almost three degrees. And although no official temperature recording has yet gone above +20C on the continent and its close-by islands, it's just a matter of time, says Prof John King from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). "If you consider all the area covered by the Antarctic Treaty - that's all land south of 60 degrees South latitude - then we had a temperature of +19.8C in January 1982 on Signy Island. "Okay, that's from the maritime Antarctic rather than the continent proper, but I wouldn't rule out seeing +20C temperatures somewhere in the northeast Antarctic Peninsula sometime within the next decade," the WMO extremes committee member told BBC News.
7-2-21 Climate change: 'Last refuge' for polar bears is vulnerable to warming
A new study finds that an area of the Arctic Ocean critical for the survival of polar bears is fast becoming vulnerable to climate change. The region, dubbed the "last ice area" had been expected to stay frozen far longer than other parts of the Arctic. But this new analysis says that this area suffered record melting last summer. The researchers say that high winds allied to a changing climate were behind the unexpected decline. The Wandel Sea area, to the north of Greenland, is part of what scientists call the "last ice area". Normally, this region retains thick, multi-year ice all year round. "Sea ice circulates through the Arctic, it has a particular pattern, and it naturally ends up piling up against Greenland and the northern Canadian coast," said Axel Schweiger, from the University of Washington and lead author of this latest study. "In climate models, when you spin them forward over the coming century, that area has the tendency to have ice survive in the summer the longest." Scientists consider the area to be an important last refuge for Arctic marine mammals including polar bears, ice-dependent seals and walruses. Polar bears in the area use the ice to hunt for seals who build dens to raise their young on the frozen water. In August last year, the German research vessel, the Polarstern sailed across the Wandel Sea, and unexpectedly encountered stretches of open water where thick ice would normally be found. Researchers have now used a combination of satellite imagery and sea ice models to understand what happened in the region. Adding to the puzzle were satellite measurements from spring last year showing that sea ice in the Wandel Sea was thicker than in recent years. However, by August 2020, the images showed a record low of just 50% ice concentration. According to the researchers, unusually strong winds moved much of the sea ice out of the area - but this was enhanced by a thinning trend, related to warming, that's been going on for years.
7-2-21 Change needed to tackle climate crisis, Queen says
Tackling climate change will mean a change to "the way we do things", the Queen has said as she met experts on global warming in Edinburgh. The Queen and the Princess Royal visited the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI) ahead of COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November. It was the monarch's final engagement as part of the traditional Royal Week visit to Scotland. She arrived at the University of Edinburgh in a hybrid 4x4 vehicle. provide cost-effective clean electricity.The Queen spoke to experts from Climate XChange, an independent research group that advises the Scottish government. Regarding the impact of tackling the global issue, she said: "It does mean we are going to have to change the way we do things really, in the end." Anne Marte Bergeseng, knowledge exchange manager at the organisation, said her discussion with the monarch covered "everything" about a greener future and what that means for our way of living. The tour coincided with the announcement of the Edinburgh Earth Initiative (EEI), a project aiming to boost global leadership on the adaption to and mitigation of climate change. EEI will be a focal point for the university's research on the climate, and will have an emphasis on supporting global partnerships to deliver solutions. The Queen and her daughter Anne also met representatives from the Children's Parliament who explained their recent contribution to Scotland's Climate Assembly. The children presented the monarch with two rowan trees that will be planted as part of the Queen's Green Canopy, a UK-wide tree planting initiative to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee next year. The Queen finished the event by unveiling a plaque for the institute and listening to a speech from university principal Peter Mathieson. He spoke about the challenges faced by the workforce during the pandemic and what it may mean for the future. After the presentation, the Queen said: "It's very unnatural for us, obviously we're going to have to change our lives a bit. "Nothing can be quite normal again or what we thought."
7-2-21 Climate change: Will UK mining drive a green revolution?
The rapid growth of renewable energy and electric vehicles means the demand for the minerals they rely on is set to soar. By 2030, the world could need half as much tin again, and for lithium the increase is a massive 500% by 2050 according to the World Bank. With battery production set to start in the UK, could the answer to their supply lie in the rocks of Cornwall? Bumping around in the back of a truck, we descend underground. Just the headlights guide our way into the gloomy tunnels ahead. We’re heading into South Crofty mine in Cornwall, where copper and tin have been excavated for hundreds of years. "This tunnel, we believe, is Elizabethan, so it dates back to the 1500s,” says Richard Williams, CEO of Cornish Metals, as we enter one of the oldest parts of the site. But access is limited. Much of the mine flooded after South Crofty shut in 1998. Now though, it may open again. With the growth of renewable energy and electric vehicles, demand for some minerals is soaring. "Next-generation solar panels use a compound called tin perovskite; anything with an electric connection, a circuit board has tin in it," explains Mr Williams. "We'd be contributing to the UK's objective of meeting its carbon neutral target by 2050. And to have that domestic supply on your doorstep, it makes sense to see this mine put back into production." The rocks of this region hold a metal of great interest, too. Lithium was discovered in Cornwall about 150 years ago, but back then there was little need for it. It’s a very different story today. Lithium is the main component of the batteries that electric cars use. And with the UK's ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars that comes into force in 2030, we will need more and more of it. Half an hour away, we head to a site extracting the metal. It’s about as different as it gets from a deep, dusty mine. On the edge of an industrial estate, a small borehole has been drilled that reaches about a kilometre beneath the ground. "Down there are geothermal waters that are circulating naturally within fractures in the rock," explains Lucy Crane, the chief geologist at Cornish Lithium.
7-2-21 Deep sea mining may be step closer to reality
Are the first mines on the ocean floor getting closer to being a reality? The tiny Pacific nation of Nauru has created shockwaves by demanding that the rules for deep sea mining are agreed in the next two years. Environmental groups warn that this will lead to a destructive rush on the mineral-rich seabed "nodules" that are sought by the mining companies. But United Nations officials overseeing deep sea mining say no venture underwater can start for years. It's all about a letter that refers to the small print of an international treaty which has far-reaching implications. Nauru, an island state in the Pacific Ocean, has called on the International Seabed Authority - a UN body that oversees the ocean floor - to speed up the regulations that will govern deep sea mining. It's activated a seemingly obscure sub-clause in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that allows countries to pull a 'two-year trigger' if they feel negotiations are going too slowly. Nauru, which is partnered with a mining company, DeepGreen, argues that it has "a duty to the international community" to make this move to help achieve "regulatory certainty". It says that it stands to lose most from climate change so it wants to encourage access to the small rocks known as nodules that lie on the sea bed. That's because they're rich in cobalt and other valuable metals that could be useful for batteries and renewable energy systems in the transition away from fossil fuels. If the ISA does not manage to settle the rules for mining within two years, it may issue Nauru with provisional approval to go ahead - and no one knows what that could mean. "This could really open the floodgates," Matthew Gianni of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition told me. "If Nauru and DeepGreen get a provisional licence, any number of other companies or states could trigger the two-year rule too and then the whole process descends into utter chaos. "Things have got a lot messier - it would not be a coordinated, well-planned process of negotiation to come up with regulations."
7-2-21 Common plastics can be broken down by enzymes found in cow stomachs
Cows have stomachs with four compartments and the bacteria in one of them – the rumen – produce enzymes which can break down some widely used plastics. The discovery could lead to new technology for processing such materials after use. Georg Guebitz at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Austria and his colleagues visited a local slaughterhouse and collected samples of the liquid from the rumen of a young ox fed on alpine pastures. They found that the liquid contained many types of enzymes, including cutinases. The team demonstrated that these enzymes could break down three types of widely used polyesters – namely polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and polyethylene furanoate (PEF), which are often used to make products including bottles, textiles and bags. The enzymes degraded these substances within one to three days when kept at a temperature of about 40°C to match that of a cow’s stomach. “We found that the diet of cows contains foods that have a ‘shell’ that is similar to polyesters,” says Guebitz: this explains why the microbes within the rumen produce enzymes that can also deal with synthetic polyesters. In future, these enzymes could be used to break down polyesters on a larger, commercial scale, says Guebitz. This may, at least potentially, be cheaper than the technologies currently used to process the plastics, he says – but other researchers are cautious about this. “It has to be proven that the enzymatic activity is the same or better than what is commercially being implemented today,” says Ramani Narayan at Michigan State University. “If they were to fast-track to an engineering process, then there is a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of what is the yield of the product, what is the productivity and so on, to compare with existing enzyme technology.”
7-1-21 How can we adapt to the intense heat and drought in the western US?
There is no question that the drought and heat across the western US is bad right now. Unseasonably high temperatures have baked Washington and Oregon, with new highs of 41.7°C in Seattle on Monday and 44.4°C in Portland on Sunday. Canada, better equipped for blizzards, has also suffered in a deadly, record-breaking heatwave. A dry winter means exceptional and severe drought now blankets large swathes of the western US states, with hot summer months still to come – leading to worries of another potentially disastrous wildfire season. The drought is intense even for a region that played host to a historic six-year drought from 2011. “It’s extraordinarily bad already,” says Peter Gleick at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California. These spectacularly dry conditions don’t guarantee a wildfire season worse than last year’s devastating blazes, says Daniel Swain at the University of California, Los Angeles. But they do set the stage for one, by creating an abundance of tinder dry fuel. Compared with last year, California has seen a 56 per cent increase in the area burned up to 10 June. These extremes are playing out in a world that has warmed around 1.1°C since pre-industrial times. So what does the US west coast face if the world warms by the 2.9°C that governments’ current policies have us on track for? “The short answer is the future holds more of this and worse. By this, I mean more severe droughts and more severe wildfire seasons,” says Swain. “What we can say for the climate for the region is it’s not going to get better, especially California,” says Friederike Otto at the University of Oxford. “It’s one of the regions that, already at low [global] warming levels, sees an increase in hot and dry [conditions]. We see an increase in hot extremes basically everywhere the world, but dry only in specific regions – and this is one of them.”
7-1-21 Canada Lytton: Wildfire forces hottest place in heatwave to evacuate
Residents of a Canadian village which recorded the country's highest ever temperature, 49.6C (121.3F), have been forced to flee by a wildfire. The mayor of Lytton, British Columbia, ordered people to evacuate, saying flames had spread through the village in just 15 minutes. A heatwave has hit western Canada this week, with British Columbia recording three times its usual number of deaths. Abnormally high temperatures have been recorded in swathes of North America. British Columbia registered 486 deaths over five days compared with an average of 165 in normal times. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe blamed the extreme weather. The western province had seen only three heat-related deaths over the past three to five years. Many of those who died, Ms Lapointe said, had been living alone in unventilated homes. Temperatures have been easing in coastal areas of Canada but there is not much respite for inland regions. The weather system is now moving eastwards over the Prairie provinces - Alberta and Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba have been placed under Environment Canada heat warnings. Climate scientists are still trying to determine to what extent climate change may have aggravated the heatwave. One scientist, Zeke Hausfather, said the unprecedented weather was almost certainly a consequence of global warming. "Climate is sort of steroids for the weather, it's loading the dice to make these sort of extreme events be more common," he told AFP news agency. Residents fled on Wednesday, many without their belongings, as smoke and flame engulfed the village about 260km (162 miles) north-east of Vancouver. "The whole town is on fire," Mayor Jan Polderman told CBC News after signing the evacuation order at 18:00 (01:00 GMT Thursday). In one area, he said, "the fire was a wall about three, four feet high coming up to the fence line". Winds of up to 71km/h (44 mph) were pushing the fire north into the community on Wednesday evening, CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe reported. Hot, dry and windy conditions in the area could mean the fire was moving at 10 or even 20km/h.
7-1-21 US-Canada heatwave: Visual guide to the causes
A blistering heatwave has hit Canada and parts of the US, sending temperatures to dangerous highs of nearly 50C (122F). Hundreds of people have died. Here's what we know about what is going on. Temperature records have been shattered across western Canada and the US Pacific Northwest. Canada broke its country temperature record for a third straight day on Tuesday - 49.6C (121.3F) in Lytton, British Columbia. Before Sunday, temperatures in the country had never passed 45C. The heat has been blamed for helping cause the deaths of hundreds in British Columbia. The US north-west has also seen record highs - and a number of fatalities. Portland, a city with a famously rainy climate, broke its all-time high temperature record for three days in a row. The temperature at Portland International Airport peaked at 46.1C on Monday, going above the previous day's high of 44.4C and Saturday's 42.2C, according to the US National Weather Service. At least a dozen deaths in Washington and Oregon are believed to be linked to the heatwave. The searing temperatures have left many vulnerable people struggling in the sweltering heat. The region's climate is typically mild, and many homes do not have air conditioning, which might help explain the sudden rise in deaths. Many have been forced to take refuge in cooling centres - air-conditioned buildings, such as stadiums, where residents can work and sleep. People and infrastructure in urban spaces, absorbing more heat than greener, rural areas, have been particularly affected by the high temperatures. The heat has been so intense it has melted power cables and buckled roads. In Vancouver, residents have reported car windows cracking and melting, even when they are not parked in the sun. Vaccination centres have been forced to close or relocate, schools have shut their doors and some public transport has been suspended - including the Portland Streetcar Service. Elsewhere, shops have sold out of portable air conditioners, fans, ice and water.
7-1-21 Invisible bursts of electricity from volcanoes signal explosive eruptions
Mysterious electrical signals could help warn aviators of impending volcanic ash plumes. As one of Japan’s most active volcanoes, Sakurajima often dazzles with spectacular displays of volcanic lightning set against an ash-filled sky. But the volcano can also produce much smaller, invisible bursts of electrical activity that mystify and intrigue scientists. Now, an analysis of 97 explosions at Sakurajima from June 2015 is helping to show when eruptions produce visible lightning strokes versus when they produce the mysterious, unseen surges of electrical activity, researchers report in the June 16 Geophysical Research Letters. These invisible bursts, called vent discharges, happen early in eruptions, which could allow scientists to figure out ways to use them to warn of impending explosions. Researchers know that volcanic lightning can form by silicate charging, which happens both when rocks break apart during an eruption and when rocks and other material flung from the volcano jostle each other in the turbulent plume (SN: 3/3/15). Tiny ash particles rub together, gaining and losing electrons, which creates positive and negative charges that tend to clump together in pockets of like charge. To neutralize this unstable electrical field, lightning zigzags between the charged clusters, says Cassandra Smith, a volcanologist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Anchorage. Experiments have shown that you can’t get lightning without some amount of ash in the system, Smith says. “So if you’re seeing volcanic lightning, you can be pretty confident in saying that the eruption has ash.” Vent discharges, on the other hand, are relatively newly detected bursts of electrical activity, which produce a continuous, high-frequency signal for seconds — an eternity compared with lightning. These discharges can be measured using specialized equipment.
7-1-21 Iceland may be part of a submerged continent called Icelandia
Iceland may not just be an island. It may be the only exposed part of an entire continent, dubbed Icelandia, that is mostly submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean. “There is a hidden continent right there under the sea,” said Gillian Foulger of Durham University in the UK. She and her colleagues have published the idea in a chapter of the new book In the Footsteps of Warren B. Hamilton: New Ideas in Earth Science. Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where two of the tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s surface are slowly moving apart. Hot magma from inside the Earth wells up along the ridge, before cooling and solidifying into rock, forming more seabed. Earth’s outer layer, the crust, is typically thinner under the oceans than it is under continents. But Foulger says Iceland is an anomaly. Geologists have assumed that it is made of oceanic crust that has accumulated over millions of years, but Foulger says it is hard to explain how so much could have formed. “For the ocean floor, the crust is typically 6-7 kilometres thick,” she says. “But [the crust beneath] Iceland is 40km thick.” Typically, geologists argue the thickness of the crust can be explained by the presence of a so-called geological hotspot – an unusually hot region in the mantle that leads to greater volcanic activity. But Foulger’s team has an alternative explanation. They argue instead that Iceland is made of continental crust – and so are large areas of the surrounding seabed. This, she says, explains its odd features. “Everything fits,” she says. “Why didn’t we see that before?” This hidden continent of Icelandia, if it exists, has a surface area of 600,000 square kilometres. A second region north-west of the British Isles, including the Faroe Islands, might also be included – in which case the area is 1 million square kilometres.