Evolution and Global Warming are facts, not theories!

Hand Evolution by Megan Godtland

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Microwave Earth by Megan Godtland

2019 Science Stats

75 Global Warming News Articles
for December of 2021
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12-31-21 Thousands evacuate as Colorado wildfires burn hundreds of homes
Tens of thousands of Colorado residents were told to evacuate on Thursday as two wildfires burned hundreds of homes, The Associated Press and CNN report. Evacuation orders were issued in Louisville and Superior, and the fires were fed by "historic" winds of between 80 and 100 miles per hour with gusts up to 115, according to CNN. At least six injuries have been reported, and officials said the fires burned at least 580 homes, as well as a shopping center and a hotel, per the AP. "I'd like to emphasize that due to the magnitude of this fire, the intensity of this fire and its presence in such a heavily populated area, we would not be surprised if there are injuries or fatalities," Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said. The Washington Post reported that over 500 homes being burned is "likely to make it the most destructive fire in state history," and National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Stark told the Post, "It's absolutely devastating to lose the number of homes, businesses that we've seen. It's historic and devastating to the people who live here." Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) declared a state of emergency.

12-31-21 French ban on plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables begins
A new law banning plastic packaging on most fruit and vegetables comes into effect in France from New Year's day. Cucumbers, lemons and oranges are among the 30 varieties banned from being wrapped in plastic. Larger packs as well as chopped or processed fruit will be exempt. President Emmanuel Macron called the ban "a real revolution" and said it showed the country's commitment to phase out single use plastics by 2040. More than a third of fruit and vegetable products in France are thought to be sold in plastic wrapping, and government officials believe that the ban could prevent a billion items of single use plastics being used every year. In a statement announcing the new law, the Environment Ministry said that France uses an "outrageous amount" of single use plastics and that the new ban "aims at cutting back the use of throwaway plastic and boost its substitution by other materials or reusable and recyclable packaging". The ban forms part of a multi-year programme introduced by Mr Macron's government that will see plastics slowly eased out in many industries. From 2021, the country banned plastic straws, cups and cutlery, as well as polystyrene takeaway boxes. And later in 2022 public spaces will be forced to provide water fountains to reduce the use of plastic bottles, publications will have to be shipped without plastic wrapping, and fast-food restaurants will no longer be able offer free plastic toys. However, industry figures have expressed concerns over the speed at which the new ban is being introduced. Philippe Binard, from the European Fresh Produce Association, said the "removal of plastic packaging from most fruit and vegetables at such short notice does not allow alternatives to be tested and introduced in a timely manner and stocks of existing packaging to be cleared".

12-31-21 Colorado wildfires: Tens of thousands evacuated as blazes spread
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated and hundreds of homes have been destroyed as wildfires spread through the US state of Colorado. The fast-moving fires are burning in Boulder County, north of Denver, and officials say deaths and injuries are likely as the blazes spread further. Some 30,000 people in the towns of Louisville and Superior were told to leave their homes on Thursday. Meanwhile, a state of emergency has been declared by Governor Jared Polis. "This fire is not so much a question of resources," he told a press conference. "This fire is a force of nature." "We hope that the winds die down, that the weather changes," he added. "But for those who are directly affected, know that you don't stand alone." Winds of up to 105 mph (169 km/h) are fanning flames across the region following a historic drought. And while previous fires in Colorado have been in rural areas, these latest blazes are burning in more suburban parts of the state. At least some were sparked when power lines were toppled by strong winds, and they have quickly become the most destructive wildfires in the state's modern history. Some 370 homes went up in flames west of Superior and 210 were lost in the Old Town area of Superior, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said. A shopping complex and hotel were also destroyed. At least one first responder and six others were injured, Sheriff Pelle said, adding that more casualties were likely. One video taken outside a supermarket showed a dramatic scene as winds ripped through the car park. Patrick Kilbride, 72, was at work in a hardware store when he heard the order to evacuate, The Denver Post reported. He rushed home but only had time to gather a few possessions before the flames engulfed the property. His pet dog and cat both died. "It's just a strange feeling to go from having everything to make your life comfortable to having nothing," he said. Colorado has been experiencing extreme droughts in recent years. 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.

12-31-21 Climate change is coming for the world's poles
One notable feature of climate change is how the coldest parts of the planet are seeing the most extreme effects. Up north, for instance, Alaska shattered its statewide temperature record on Dec. 26, when a tidal station off Kodiak Island recorded an incomprehensible 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Nearby Kodiak City registered 65 degrees, which not only broke its record for that particular date by 20 degrees and its monthly record by nine degrees, but also would have set a record for any day between Oct. 5 and April 21. Cold Bay, Alaska broke its daily record by 18 degrees, which would have set a monthly record from November to April. Setting heat records by that kind of gigantic margin is totally inconceivable without climate change. Ironically, that warmer, moister air is now expected to hit unusually cold temperatures to produce freezing rain and unusually heavy snow that will encase cities across the state in ice. That kind of erratic see-sawing between extreme conditions is also fast becoming a classic characteristic of climate change. On the opposite side of the planet, new science has found that a key Antarctic ice sheet is even more unstable than previously thought. A large group of scientists studying the Thwaites Glacier (which is about the size of Florida) recently found troubling new evidence suggesting it may collapse entirely, possibly in less than a decade, which would have dire consequences indeed. "It's doubled its outflow speed within the last 30 years, and the glacier in its entirety holds enough water to raise sea level by over two feet," Ted Scambos, the lead scientist on the project, said in a press release. Worse, Thwaites currently blocks the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet from the ocean. Should it collapse, it "could lead to even more sea-level rise, up to 10 feet, if it draws the surrounding glaciers with it," said Scambos. As Jeff Goodell writes at Rolling Stone, just two feet of sea-level rise would put huge chunks of southern Florida permanently underwater, as well as dozens of other coastal cities in the U.S. and around the world. As Alaska and Antarctica melt, it's a reminder that climate change isn't just an issue for environmentalists — it's a clear and present danger to the physical security of the American people and all humanity.

12-30-21 Climate change: Hurricanes to expand into more populated regions
Climate change will expand the range of tropical cyclones, making millions more people vulnerable to these devastating storms, a new study says. At present, these cyclones - or hurricanes as they are also known - are mainly confined to the tropical regions north and south of the equator. But researchers say that rising temperatures will allow these weather events to form in the mid-latitudes. This area includes cities such as New York, Beijing, Boston and Tokyo. The study has been published in the journal Nature Geoscience. The scientists involved say their work shows by the end of this century, cyclones will likely occur over a wider range than they have for three million years. When subtropical storm Alpha made landfall in Portugal in September 2020, the relatively small scale of damage caused by the cyclone made few headlines. But for scientists this was quite a momentous event. "We hadn't observed this before," said Dr Joshua Studholme, a physicist from Yale University. "You had a traditional kind of mid-latitude storm, that sort of decayed, and in its decay, the right conditions for a tropical cyclone to form occurred, and that hadn't happened to Portugal before." Dr Studholme is the lead author of this new study, which projects that a warming climate will see the formation of more of these types of storms in the mid-latitudes, where most of the world's population lives, and where most economic activity takes place. He explained that as the world gets hotter, the difference in temperature between the equator and polar regions will decline, and this will impact the flow of the jet streams. Normally, these high-altitude rivers of air act as a kind of border guard for hurricanes, keeping them closer to the equator. "As the climate warms, that sort of jet stream activity that happens in the middle latitude, will weaken and in extreme cases split, allowing this sort of cyclone formation to occur." The question of the impact of human induced climate change on hurricanes has been contentious in the past, but recent research suggests that the connections are becoming clearer. Last August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published the first part of its sixth assessment report, dealing with the science of a warming climate.

12-30-21 Alaska 'Icemageddon' warning follows heat record
The coldest US state of Alaska has recorded its hottest-ever December day, amid an unusual winter warm spell. Temperatures soared to a record 19.4C (67F) on the island of Kodiak on Sunday - almost seven degrees warmer than the state's previous high. But elsewhere in Alaska temperatures have been plunging to record lows. In the south-eastern town of Ketchikan, temperatures dropped to -18C (-0.4F) on 25 December - one of the town's coldest Christmas Days in the past century. The weather extremes have prompted warnings of an "Icemageddon" from authorities, as torrents of rain and snow have left ice as hard as cement coating the roads. Experts say warm air pouring in from Hawaii has made Alaska's air - usually cold and dry during December - more moist. This has meant heavy rain and snow storms are more likely in interior regions, away from the balmy coastal areas. Heavy snowfall was followed by torrential rain that left the region coated with ice as the rain quickly froze, resulting in widespread power failures, road closures and offices being shut. Thick ice formed on roads and made them treacherous for drivers, warned the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. "Ice is extremely difficult to remove once it has binded to the road surface. Even though air temps were warm... roads were at sub-zero temps, which caused ice to bind to the surface," the department said on Twitter. The ice would likely cling to the roads until at least March or April, Climate Scientist Rick Thoman, of the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, told the BBC. The fiercest mid-winter storm since 1937 struck the central city of Fairbanks over Christmas, dumping more than 10in (25.4cm) of snow, Mr Thoman explained. So much snow fell on Sunday it caved in the roof of the only grocery shop in the town of Delta Junction, 95 miles (153km) south-east of Fairbanks. Mr Thoman said the blasts of extreme warm and cold temperatures over the past two decades were a sign of climate change.

12-30-21 COP 26: The teenagers suing 33 countries
A group of children in Portugal are using human rights law to force European politicians to tackle climate change. After seeing the damage caused by wildfires in their home country of Portugal, André Oliviera, his sister Sofia and their friends are determined to make sure that leaders who pledged to reduce harmful emissions are forced to act.

12-29-21 Jet stream causing more issues for airlines
U.S. airlines are already understaffed because of COVID-19, and the weather isn't helping matters. The jet stream winds have been unusually strong for several days, affecting transcontinental flights. Those going eastbound on Wednesday were arriving up to an hour earlier than scheduled, while westbound flights were slowed down, some delayed by as much as 45 minutes. Earlier this week, the headwinds were so strong that a Phoenix-bound American Airlines flight from Boston had to stop in Oklahoma City to refuel, The Wall Street Journal reports. Richard Bann, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, told the Journal that winds of upwards of 230 miles an hour are being recorded over the Great Lakes, and the jet stream could remain elevated for a week. In order to ensure that flights coming in early and late aren't landing too close together, the Federal Aviation Administration said it is regulating departures. Thousands of flights have been canceled in the last few days, due to snow in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest combined with staffing shortages caused by pilots, flight attendants, and other airline crew members testing positive for COVID-19. Flight Aware data shows Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has been hit the hardest, with Newark Liberty International, Chicago O'Hare, and Los Angeles International all experiencing above-average cancelation rates. As of Wednesday night, more than 500 flights have already been canceled for Thursday.

12-29-21 Peatlands in peril: The race to save the bogs that slow climate change
LIKE much of Europe, Finland was left economically bereft by the second world war. It needed to ramp up productivity fast and the government decided the answer was forestry, the country’s industrial backbone for generations. Vast tracts of peatland were drained and trees planted, blanketing the swampy ground that covers nearly a third of the country. “These sites are incredibly carbon rich and often have high levels of biodiversity, but they’re not always the best for growing trees,” says Antti Otsamo. Unfortunately, by the time this became clear about half of Finland’s peatland had been degraded. Environmentally, this posed a serious problem. Without enough water, layers of peat were exposed and easily eroded, leaching carbon dioxide into the air and adding to global warming. Metsähallitus, the group that manages Finland’s state-owned forests, realised that planting trees in such places was no longer an option. Today, it is committed to a different goal: restoration. “If we get the peatlands back underwater, it means the carbon remains in the soil,” says Otsamo, manager for sustainable development at Metsähallitus. “Over time, the natural vegetation will return, drawing carbon from the atmosphere like a sponge. That’s what we’re trying to do now.” Finland isn’t alone. Worldwide, about a fifth of peatlands have been drained, burned or otherwise damaged to make way for forests, farms and infrastructure, or extracted as fuel. This degradation generates a whopping 5 per cent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions – more than four times as much as the UK. So peatland restoration could play a pivotal role in climate regulation. This realisation is now driving conservation efforts from the Arctic to the tropics. Although mostly found in the more northerly reaches of the planet, peatland is present in almost every country. It takes a variety of forms from bogs and moors to swamps and fens, but all are made of partly decomposed organic matter – mostly from plants – in waterlogged, low-oxygen, highly acidic conditions. These soils may have accumulated over millennia and can be metres thick, making peatland one of the most space-effective carbon stores of all terrestrial ecosystems. Despite covering just 3 per cent of the world’s surface, it contains nearly a third of all the carbon in soil – twice as much as is stored in the world’s forests.

12-29-21 We must capitalise on the public's renewed focus on climate change
LAST year saw a wave of climate change coverage and record levels of public concern. One poll found that 40 per cent of people in the UK thought climate change was the most important issue facing the country, and a major 30-country study found similar results, with most people in most countries now worried about climate change.They wanted both government and personal action to address the problem. These are uncharted waters for public opinion across the planet. This is a welcome development and it is long overdue. But it represents the start, rather than the finish line for public opinion. Dig deeper and some important planks of the transition to net zero start to look a little shakier. UK polling in the wake of COP26 found that 62 per cent of people thought the UK – as hosts of the conference – should be one of the most ambitious in the world on climate change, regardless of what other nations are doing. But only half that number were clear on what politicians were actually offering. Internationally, awareness of plans to tackle climate change is generally low. To avoid public concern curdling into cynicism, political leaders must visibly practise what they preach. Otherwise, worries about the costs of living – and how the price tag of decarbonisation will be shared – will be weaponised by small but noisy groups who have shifted from challenging the science to criticising the costs of transition. In reality, the price of not acting is much greater, but the cost of transitioning to net zero must be distributed fairly or the process will quickly unravel, and here people are eager to understand what a fair role for them is. Around the world, individuals are increasingly willing to play their part in the shift ahead. But research from the Climate Engagement Partnership shows that only 13 per cent of the UK public are clear on what “people like them” can do to reduce the country’s carbon emissions. And support falls away when surveys emphasise how low-carbon policies could hit people’s wallets.

12-29-21 Climate change: Storm clouds gather after COP26
Is the progress that was made at the COP26 Glasgow climate summit already in jeopardy because of challenges in the year ahead? 2021 was a momentous year for climate change. As well as a host of extreme, destructive events influenced by rising temperatures, the past 12 months have seen unprecedented political engagement on the issue, culminating in the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November. Progress was undoubtedly made and the overall thrust of the meeting was towards more rapid action on a whole host of measures to curb emissions. But there are now growing concerns that this momentum may dissipate over the coming months. The most grievous blow comes from the US. The potential failure of President Biden to get his Build Back Better act through Congress would significantly impact the ability of the US to meet the tough climate targets that the White House has committed to. It would also hugely affect the relatively unified approach to climate change on display among world leaders at COP26. "Everything that Biden pledged, led to this relatively good atmosphere and a sense of momentum in Glasgow," said Dr Joanna Depledge, a fellow at the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance. "But these were just promises, he needs to get the bill through Congress. And it's now looking increasingly dicey. He can do some things with executive orders, but that certainly isn't the kind of sustained institutional climate legislation change that we're really looking for." "I think the situation to us, is critical." The despair among many in the US over the possible failure of President Biden's bill will also have knock-on effects throughout the world. This will certainly be the case in China, a country smarting from the perception that it flexed its political muscle in Glasgow to get its way. Biden's political difficulties with the bill are seen as more evidence that the "West is declining"

12-29-21 Should your new year's resolution be to cut your carbon footprint?
Are you thinking about going green in 2022? Cutting your personal carbon footprint can help, but it is important to engage with others and encourage wider efforts to tackle climate change, says climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. As 2021 draws to a close, many people will be considering resolutions for 2022. Following a landmark year in the global effort against climate change, you might be thinking of resolving to reduce your personal carbon footprint, but is that the best approach if you want to go green? To find out, New Scientist spoke to Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, a US non-profit organisation. “It all starts with just being aware of where our emissions come from,” says Hayhoe. Depending on your lifestyle, there will be different actions that you can take that will make the biggest change. A carbon footprint calculator can help, she says. Once you have figured out where the bulk of your emissions come from, you can start making changes. “I personally always adopt two new habits every new year,” says Hayhoe. The important thing is to make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself with too much, and don’t be afraid to start small, she says. “[In 2021], one of the things I did was take plastic out of the bathroom – shampoo and facewash for example. And so, I had my family trying new products all year, and switched in their favourite ones,” she says. “Taking the plastic out of the bathroom was so successful, this year I’m taking the plastic out of the other types of soaps we use, such as for our dishwasher and our laundry detergent.” Food waste and losses make up around 9 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so Hayhoe also took a look at her diet. “I wanted to eat more vegetables and more fish and more seafood because that’s much better for our health and lowers carbon emissions,” she says. “Again, it’s not a choice between me or the environment, it’s choosing both.” But shrinking your own carbon footprint is just one element of tackling climate change. “Our footprint is actually the smallest part of what we can do,” she says. She suggests that people who are concerned about the environment focus on their “climate shadow” – the influence we have on those around us to take climate action. This includes talking to others about it and engaging with the wider community.

12-28-21 US snowstorms: California and other western states battered
Heavy storms have battered western regions of the United States, leaving thousands without power. Almost 30in (76cm) of snow fell in California over a 24-hour period ending Sunday morning, causing road closures, including a 70-mile (112km) stretch of Interstate 80 into Nevada. Avalanche warnings are in effect across six states. Over the weekend, southern California was hit by rainstorms, which saw power lines snap and streets flooded. More than 1.8in of rain fell over 24 hours in San Marcos pass in Santa Barbara county, while Rocky Butte in San Luis Obispo county recorded 1.61in, officials said. The National Weather Service (NWS) in Reno, Nevada, said snowstorms would remain heavy well into Monday, and forecasters have warned that travel could prove difficult in the region for several days. Avalanche warnings were put into effect on Sunday for parts of Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and California, as the storms created widespread areas of unstable snow. The NWS issued a winter storm warning for greater Lake Tahoe into Tuesday. Power cuts affected residents in Washington, Oregon and other areas, although northern California was the worst hit. Power Outage US reported 56,000 power cuts there in the early hours of Monday local time, mostly in northern coastal counties and those on the Nevada border. In Montana, the NWS warned that "dangerously cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as five minutes". Wind chill could make the temperatures feel as low as -48C. One benefit of the storms in California will be to replenish the Sierra snowpack. It accounts for about 30% of California's fresh water supply and had been at dangerously low levels after weeks of dry weather. The state's department of water resources reported on Christmas Eve that the snowpack was between 114% and 137% of normal ranges, with more snow expected.

12-27-21 Climate change: Huge toll of extreme weather disasters in 2021
Weather events, linked to a changing climate, brought misery to millions around the world in 2021 according to a new report. The study, from the charity Christian Aid, identified 10 extreme events that each caused more than $1.5bn of damage. The biggest financial impacts were from Hurricane Ida which hit the US in August and flooding in Europe in July. In many poorer regions, floods and storms caused mass displacements of people and severe suffering. Not every extreme weather event is caused by or linked to climate change, although scientists have become bolder in exploring the connections. One leading researcher, Dr Friederike Otto, tweeted earlier this year that every heatwave happening in the world now is "made more likely and more intense" by human induced climate change. In relation to storms and hurricanes, there is growing evidence that climate change is also affecting these events. In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the first part of its sixth assessment report. In relation to hurricanes and tropical cyclones, the authors said they had "high confidence" that the evidence of human influence has strengthened. "The proportion of intense tropical cyclones, average peak tropical cyclone wind speeds, and peak wind speeds of the most intense tropical cyclones will increase on the global scale with increasing global warming," the study said. Just a few weeks after that report came out, Hurricane Ida hit the US. According to Christian Aid it was the most financially destructive weather event of the year. The slow-moving hurricane saw thousands of residents in Louisiana evacuated out of its path. That storm brought massive rainfall across a number of states and cities, with New York issuing a flash-flood emergency alert for the first time. Around 95 people died, with the economic losses estimated at $65bn. The second most financial costly event was the widespread flooding across Germany, France and other European countries in July. The speed and intensity of the water overwhelmed defences and 240 people lost their lives. Reported damages were around $43bn. In the study, the majority of the weather events in the list occurred in developed countries.

12-27-21 US snowstorms: California and other western states battered
Heavy storms have battered western regions of the United States, leaving thousands without power. Almost 30in (76cm) of snow fell in parts of northern California in 24 hours, causing blackouts and road closures, including a 70-mile (112km) stretch of Interstate 80 into Nevada. Avalanche warnings are in effect across six states. Over the weekend, southern California was hit by rainstorms, which saw power lines snap and streets flooded. More than 1.8in of rain fell over 24 hours in San Marcos pass in Santa Barbara county, while Rocky Butte in San Luis Obispo county recorded 1.61in, officials said. The National Weather Service (NWS) in Reno, Nevada, said snowstorms would remain heavy over Sunday night and well into Monday, and forecasters have warned that travel could prove difficult in the region for several days. Avalanche warnings were put into effect on Sunday for parts of Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and California, as the storms created widespread areas of unstable snow. Authorities near Reno said three people were injured in a 20-car weekend pileup on Interstate 395, amid limited visibility. Power cuts affected residents in Washington, Oregon and other areas, although northern California was the worst hit. Power Outage US reported 28,000 power cuts there in the early hours of Monday local time, mostly in northern coastal counties and those on the Nevada border. Meanwhile, in Montana, the NWS warned that "dangerously cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as five minutes". Wind chill could make the temperatures feel as low as -48C. One benefit of the storms in California will be to replenish the Sierra snowpack. It accounts for about 30% of California's fresh water supply and had been at dangerously low levels after weeks of dry weather. The state's department of water resources reported on Christmas Eve that the snowpack was now between 114% and 137% of normal ranges, with more snow expected to fall.

12-24-21 China's aims for UN biodiversity summit are unclear, says UK economist
China is set to host a major biodiversity summit in 2022, but leading economist Partha Dasgupta says it is unclear what the country wants to achieve. The author of a major UK government biodiversity report says he sees no sign that China is showing serious leadership on a vital international nature summit it is hosting next April. The meeting, which is the biodiversity equivalent of the recent COP26 climate summit, aims to agree new measures to halt alarming declines in habitats and wildlife. But Partha Dasgupta, and economist at the University of Cambridge, who this year called on governments to consider nature to be an economic asset, says it remains unclear what China wants the COP15 summit in Kunming to achieve. “I’m hoping against hope that China’s going to take a serious lead in this. It has the clout. It has the wit,” he says. But China’s message so far remains muted, he says. “I’ve seen no signal or sign.” That said, Dasgupta believes China has already been taking on board his recommendation for governments to look beyond traditional measures of success, such as GDP, to ones that reflect the value of the natural world. “Several countries have taken the lead: Costa Rica, China, and the UK is pretty advanced in it too,” he says. Despite pledges at COP26 to halt deforestation, biodiversity hotspots remain under huge pressure: Amazon deforestation rates recently hit a 15-year high, largely driven by cattle ranching. Dasgupta says that protecting what he calls “global public goods”, such as the Amazon rainforest, in national jurisdictions will require major transfers of money to countries hosting those goods. “You need to pay for ecosystem services. If we want Brazil to protect them, with the president that they’ve got [Jair Bolsonaro], you have to pay up big money, because otherwise he’s going to convert them into more cattle ranches in the name of progress,” he says.

12-22-21 How electric vehicles offered hope as climate challenges grew
In the midst of a climate crisis, the EV began to gain traction. This was another year of bleak climate news. Record heat waves baked the Pacific Northwest. Wildfires raged in California, Oregon, Washington and neighboring states. Tropical cyclones rapidly intensified in the Pacific Ocean. And devastating flash floods inundated Western Europe and China. Human-caused climate change is sending the world hurtling down a road to more extreme weather events, and we’re running out of time to pump the brakes, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in August (SN: 9/11/21, p. 8). The world needs to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and fast, if there’s any hope of preventing worse and more frequent extreme weather events. That means shifting to renewable sources of energy — and, importantly, decarbonizing transportation, a sector that is now responsible for about a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. But the path to that cleaner future is daunting, clogged with political and societal roadblocks, as well as scientific obstacles. Perhaps that’s one reason why the electric vehicle — already on the road, already navigating many of these roadblocks — swerved so dramatically into the climate solutions spotlight in 2021. Just a few years ago, many automakers thought electric vehicles, or EVs, might be a passing fad, says Gil Tal, director of the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center at the University of California, Davis. “It’s now clear to everyone that [EVs are] here to stay.” Globally, EV sales surged in the first half of 2021, increasing by 160 percent compared with the previous year. Even in 2020 — when most car sales were down due to the COVID-19 pandemic — EV sales were up 46 percent relative to 2019. Meanwhile, automakers from General Motors to Volkswagen to Nissan have outlined plans to launch new EV models over the next decade: GM pledged to go all-electric by 2035, Honda by 2040. Ford introduced electric versions of its iconic Mustang and F-150 pickup truck.

12-21-21 Microplastics in French mountain air may have crossed Atlantic Ocean
Microplastics travelled thousands of kilometres across oceans and continents in a fast-moving layer of the atmosphere before being captured on a mountain in the French Pyrenees. Microplastics found at a mountain top in the French Pyrenees may have crossed continents and oceans, travelling around 4500 kilometres in a fast-moving region of the troposphere, which is the lowest layer of the atmosphere. The finding suggests the particles can circulate the world and reach even the most remote regions. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, each less than 5 millimetres in diameter. They have been previously discovered in a lower region of the troposphere called the boundary layer, where friction between the air and Earth’s surface occurs and wind speeds are relatively low. Now, for the first time, we have evidence that microplastics can travel at a higher altitude in the troposphere in a layer that doesn’t feel the effects of friction with Earth’s surface. In this layer – called the free troposphere – higher wind speeds give microplastics a greater potential for long-distance travel than was previously known. “Once microplastics hit the free troposphere it’s the super highway for pollution movement. There’s high wind speed and very little rain up there, so the pollution doesn’t get rained out and it just travels much faster [than in the planetary boundary layer below],” says Steve Allen at the University of Strathclyde in the UK, a member of the research team. “We’re not surprised that it’s up there but we’re sad that it is. These tiny particles are excellent transporters of pollution, they act as little balls of Velcro, collecting viruses and other pollutants on the outside of the particle as it moves,” says team member Deonie Allen, also at the University of Strathclyde. The researchers captured 15 samples of microplastic particles over several months at the Pic du Midi Observatory in the Pyrenees in south-west France, which sits at nearly 3000 metres above sea level and provides access to the free troposphere.

12-21-21 One of the longest-lived ozone holes on record is about to close
One of the longest-lived ozone holes on record is expected to close this Wednesday after several weeks of exposing wildlife and people in Antarctica to very high levels of ultraviolet radiation. The Montreal Protocol’s ban on gases, including CFCs, causing the destruction of the ozone layer have put the hole on track to heal by around the middle of the century. But the swing this year is a reminder of how much the ozone layer can vary annually depending on polar conditions. The hole emerges each year above Antarctica between August and October, and in September this year was larger than the continent itself. If it closes on Wednesday, as forecast by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), it will be the second longest-lasting hole in more than 40 years, and just five days shorter-lived than the longest, in 2020. By comparison, 2019 had an unusually short-lived hole. “It is striking because it illustrates how important interannual variability is in addition to the slow, long-term recovery of the ozone layer thanks to the Montreal Protocol,” says Antje Inness at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. The big drivers on a year-by-year basis are the stratospheric temperature and the strength of the winds at this altitude, known as the polar vortex. 2021 and 2020 have been characterised by very cold and strong polar vortices, resulting in strong ozone depletion, explains Inness. Smoke from Australia’s record-breaking bushfires reaching the stratosphere may also have contributed to 2020’s ozone hole, one study has suggested. While this year’s hole has been long-lived, its maximum extent was only the ninth largest since 1979, at 22.75 million square kilometres. The largest was in 1998, at 24.32 million square kilometres. The high UV levels won’t have affected many people given Antarctica’s isolation. But if this year’s hole had extended over part of South America or Australia it would have affected many more people. “This is not what we are seeing now, but it has happened in the past,” says Inness.

12-21-21 Super Typhoon Rai: Philippines faces aftermath
At least 375 people are now known to have died after a powerful storm struck the Philippines on Thursday, police say. The BBC's Howard Johnson is on Siargao Island, which is almost cut off to aid because of the devastation. The Red Cross says there is "carnage" in many areas, with no power, no communications and very little water. Thousands of emergency personnel have been deployed to help the relief operation.

12-20-21 Philippines Super Typhoon Rai death toll surges
At least 375 people are now known to have died after a powerful storm struck the Philippines on Thursday, police say. Super Typhoon Rai - with winds of about 195km/h (120mph) - sent some 400,000 people running for safety when it hit the country's south-eastern islands. At least 500 people were injured and 56 others have been reported missing by local police. Rescue teams have described scenes of "complete carnage". But establishing the scale of the losses is difficult, as communication to a number of areas has been cut off. There are fears widespread landslides and flooding may have claimed more lives. "Many areas have no power, no communications, very little water," the chair of the Philippines Red Cross, Richard Gordon, told the BBC. "There are some areas that look like it has been bombed worse than World War Two." The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an emergency appeal seeking 20 million Swiss francs (£16m; $22m) to fund long-term relief efforts. "Red Cross emergency teams are reporting complete carnage in the coastal areas," Mr Gordon said. "Homes, hospitals, school and community buildings have been ripped to shreds." Volunteers are on the scene giving out urgent help "for people who have lost everything", he said. Thousands of military, coast guard and fire personnel have been deployed in the country's worst-affected areas to assist with search and rescue efforts. Military aircraft and naval vessels are bringing aid to the worst-hit areas. Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has conducted an aerial inspection of the areas ravaged by the storm. Videos posted on social media by his aides show extensive damage to Siargao, Dinagat and Mindanao islands. The governor of the Dinagat islands, Arlene Bag-ao, said on Facebook that the region had been "levelled to the ground" by the typhoon. "The fields and boats of our farmers and fisherfolk have been decimated," she said in the message quoted by news site Rappler. "[W]e have lost our homes. Walls and roofs were torn and blown off…. We have a dwindling supply of food and water."

12-20-21 Vikings may have fled Greenland to escape rising seas
A rapidly changing climate might have brought an end to Nordic life on the island. In 1721, a Norwegian missionary set sail for Greenland in the hopes of converting the Viking descendants living there to Protestantism. When he arrived, the only traces he found of the Nordic society were ruins of settlements that had been abandoned 300 years earlier. There is no written record to explain why the Vikings left or died out. But a new simulation of Greenland’s coastline reveals that as the ice sheet covering most of the island started to expand around that time, sea levels rose drastically, researchers report December 15 at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in New Orleans. These shifting coastlines would have inundated grazing areas and farmland, and could have helped bring about the end of the Nordic way of life in Greenland, says Marisa Borreggine, a geophysicist at Harvard University. Greenland was first colonized by Vikings in 985 by a group of settlers in 14 ships led by Erik the Red, who had been banished from neighboring Iceland for manslaughter. Erik and his followers settled across southern Greenland, where they and their descendants hunted for seals, grazed livestock, built churches and traded walrus ivory with European mainlanders. The settlers arrived during what’s known as the Medieval Warm Period, when conditions across Europe and Greenland were temperate for a handful of centuries (SN: 7/24/19). But by 1350, the climate had started taking a turn for the worse with the beginning of the Little Ice Age, a period of regional cooling that lasted well into the 19th century. Researchers have long speculated that a rapidly changing climate could have dealt a blow to Greenland’s Norse society. The island probably became much colder in the last 100 years of Norse occupation, says paleoclimatologist Boyang Zhao at Brown University in Providence, R.I, who was not involved in the new research. Lower temperatures could have made farming and raising livestock more difficult, he says.

12-19-21 Philippines Super Typhoon Rai death toll surges
At least 169 people are now known to have died after a powerful storm struck the Philippines on Thursday, police are quoted as saying by local media. Super Typhoon Rai - with winds of about 195km/h (120mph) - sent some 300,000 people running for safety when it hit the country's south-eastern islands. Rescue teams have described scenes of "complete carnage". But establishing the scale of the losses is difficult, as communication to a number of areas has been cut off. There are fears widespread landslides and flooding may have claimed more lives. "Many areas have no power, no communications, very little water," the chair of the Philippines Red Cross, Richard Gordon, told the BBC. "There are some areas that look like it has been bombed worse than World War Two." The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an emergency appeal seeking 20 million Swiss francs (£16m; $22m) to fund long-term relief efforts. "Red Cross emergency teams are reporting complete carnage in the coastal areas," Mr Gordon said. "Homes, hospitals, school and community buildings have been ripped to shreds." Volunteers are on the scene giving out urgent help "for people who have lost everything", he said. Thousands of military, coast guard and fire personnel have been deployed in the country's worst-affected areas to assist with search and rescue efforts. Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has conducted an aerial inspection of the areas ravaged by the storm. Videos posted on social media by his aides show extensive damage to Siargao, Dinagat and Mindanao islands. The governor of the Dinagat islands, Arlene Bag-ao, said on Facebook that the region had been "levelled to the ground" by the typhoon. "The fields and boats of our farmers and fisherfolk have been decimated," she said in the message quoted by news site Rappler. "[W]e have lost our homes. Walls and roofs were torn and blown off…. We have a dwindling supply of food and water."

12-18-21 Super Typhoon Rai: Dozens feared dead in Philippines
More than 30 people are feared dead and many are missing after a devastating storm swept over the Philippines. Super Typhoon Rai crashed into the country's southeastern islands on Thursday, levelling homes and bringing winds of about 195km/h (120mph). The strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year has toppled power poles, uprooted trees and left three million people without electricity. The country's disaster agency says the reported death toll stands at 31. Four people are confirmed killed and 27 are believed to have died, it said in a statement. Rescue operations are now under way in the devastated regions. There are growing concerns for the holiday island of Siargao, where the storm - also known as Typhoon Odette in the Philippines - first made landfall. Its governor said the island was "totally devastated" and estimated repair costs would be more than $400m (£302m). And the governor of the neighbouring Dinagat islands, Arlene Bag-ao, said the region had been "levelled to the ground" by the typhoon. "The fields and boats of our farmers and fisherfolk have been decimated," she said in a Facebook message quoted by news site Rappler. "[W]e have lost our homes. Walls and roofs were torn and blown off…. We have a dwindling supply of food and water. Electricity and telecommunications are down. This is why we urgently and humbly ask for everyone's help." She said the damage "is reminiscent of, if not worse than, when Yolanda hit our province". More than 6,000 people died after that storm - also known as Typhoon Haiyan - hit the country in 2013. On average about 20 storms and typhoons strike the Philippines each year. The storm comes as the nation prepares for Christmas, a major holiday in the Philippines. More than 80% of the population declare themselves to be Catholic. The latest update from the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said that while Typhoon Rai has now passed west of the island nation, it is intensifying again. Current predictions suggest it will head towards Vietnam before turning north towards China, Pagasa said.

12-17-21 COP26 could never be a true success without delivering climate justice
To be effective, global action on climate change must be just. That means compensating Indigenous people, but also learning from them, writes Graham Lawton. MY FIRST few days at the COP26 climate summit felt like an extended metaphor for the state of the planet. I was due to arrive on Sunday, but my train was cancelled because of extreme weather. When I finally got there, chaos reigned and tragedies of the commons were playing out. The venue in Glasgow, UK, was so overpopulated that accessing sessions was all but impossible. Chairs, tables and wall sockets had sprouted what looked like shanty towns around them as delegates fought to corner scarce resources. Food outlets ran short, bins overflowed and tempers frayed. But these problems were for the little people. As I searched for my bearings, I was brushed aside by security guards clearing a path for two figures whose body language exuded “VIP”. It was prime ministers Narendra Modi of India and Boris Johnson of the UK, who strode purposefully through the crowds before quickly disappearing into a gated area out of bounds to the plebs. Amid the disarray, a palpable sense of progress was emerging. However, as the first week wore on, a familiar sense of gloom and despair began to descend. Pledges are easy. Action isn’t. Brazil backtracked on its deforestation promise. Reports that emissions cuts promised thus far would keep warming below 2°C turned out to be so much hot air. I grabbed a word with Gabriel Kpaka of the Sierra Leone Meteorological Agency, who speaks on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Least Developed Countries Group. He was less than impressed, pointing out that billions pledged to help the poorest countries – often the most affected by climate change though least responsible for emissions and least able to cope – had still not materialised. The pledges were made in 2015./p> 12-17-21

Outdoor workers are losing hours due to overheating from deforestation
Forests have a localised cooling effect, and in tropical areas where deforestation has occurred, outdoor workers are now feeling the heat more. Deforestation in tropical regions of Asia, Africa and the Americas has reduced the cooling effects of trees and decreased safe working hours – by an average of at least half an hour per day between 2003 and 2018 – for around 2.8 million outdoor workers. “The temperature change associated with deforestation over the 15-year [study period] is equivalent to a century of global warming, happening almost instantly, at these locations,” says Luke Parsons at Duke University in North Carolina. Tropical forests are known to have a localised cooling effect – not only by providing shade, but also through a process called evapotranspiration, in which water is sucked up from the soil and evaporates from the leaves. Now, by using data from population surveys and mapping tree cover loss over a 15-year period, Parsons and his colleagues have estimated the effect of deforestation on outdoor workers – in, for instance, agriculture, fishing or forestry – across 41 countries. “Climate change has already pushed tropical locations right to the edge of what would be considered safe for heavy outdoor labour. Deforestation tips those locations into being even more unsafe,” says Parsons. Parsons and his colleagues used land surface temperature measurements from satellites, and humidity data from weather balloons, to estimate how hot an average day felt to outdoor workers in regions which either lost or maintained tree cover between 2003 and 2018. “The study focuses on what you would think of as a ‘feels-like’ temperature, it takes into account how well you can cool yourself by sweating [which is affected by humidity], as well as the temperature,” says Parsons. The team calculated the number of hours on an average day in each region the apparent temperature fell within a threshold – of around 29°C – that is deemed safe for heavy labour. Above this threshold, health guidelines suggest more breaks should be taken to avoid heat-related issues such as kidney injury and potentially fatal heat stroke.

12-16-21 Fires in Brazil's wetlands killed almost 17 million animals in 2020
At least a fifth of Brazil's Pantanal region was burned in 2020 during a historic drought, and the wildfires are estimated to have killed millions of birds, snakes, rodents and primates, among other animals. Ferocious fires across Brazil’s tropical wetlands last year are estimated to have killed almost 17 million animals, with small snakes and rodents thought to be the hardest hit. Amid a year of historic drought across South America, blazes burned at least a fifth of western Brazil’s Pantanal, a region that includes the largest tropical wetland in the world. The fires are considered the worst in the region’s history. This ecosystem is a biodiversity hotspot home to many animals, including hyacinth macaws (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), jaguars (Panthera onca) and capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). To estimate how many vertebrates perished, Walfrido Tomas at research institute Embrapa Pantanal in Brazil and his colleagues undertook field surveys in burned areas to see which dead animals were found up to 48 hours after fires. They counted 302 carcasses across the surveyed areas. Most were small snakes, birds and rodents, but they also found a tortoise, an anaconda, armadillos and several primates. While they didn’t find any jaguars, some of the big cats were reported to have been killed by the fires. Extrapolating their findings with data on species populations in the Pantanal, they concluded that a total of 16.9 million animals were killed by the blazes. Tomas and his colleagues say the figure is probably an underestimate because many vertebrates will have died of injuries later, and some may have starved in the aftermath or may be out of sight underground. Alexander Lees at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK says the severity of the fires means they will have had a “major impact” on the wetlands’ biodiversity. He says the research gives a notion of that cost to veterbrates, but the estimate comes with “considerable caveats” as it extrapolates from just 302 records and doesn’t account for how the fires would have differed across the Pantanal.

12-16-21 Smart windows keep heat in during winter and let it out in summer
Radiative cooling means ordinary windows aren't very effective at keeping buildings warm or cool as required, but modified windows could help save energy. A smart window that automatically keeps heat in during the winter and lets it out in the summer could be a cost-effective and scalable way to save energy. Windows are one of the least efficient parts of buildings, accounting for as much as 60 per cent of their energy loss. In hot weather, windows are warmed up from the outside, radiating thermal energy into buildings. When it is cold outside, windows are warmed up from the inside and they radiate heat to the outside environment. This process is called radiative cooling. It means that windows aren’t very effective at keeping buildings warm or cool as required. In the US, 4 per cent of energy use can be attributed to heating and cooling through windows. Yi Long at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and her colleagues have now developed a window that can turn this radiative cooling effect on or off by itself, depending on its temperature. The team added a thin layer of vanadium dioxide – a compound that changes from an insulator to a conductor at around 68°C – to one side of the glass. Below this temperature, the window blocks infrared radiation from escaping, which helps to keep heat inside. Above this temperature, the window allows heat to pass through from the inside and reflects heat from the outside. Of course, 68°C is much higher than even the most extreme heat we feel in the summer, so the team added tungsten to the vanadium dioxide to lower the transition temperature to 28°C. Between the glass and the tungsten-doped vanadium dioxide, the team inserted a layer of a transparent plastic called poly(methyl methacrylate), or PMMA. This enhances the window’s insulating properties.

12-16-21 How a warming climate may make winter tornadoes stronger
Higher winter temperatures might make twisters more intense, a climate simulation predicts. NEW ORLEANS — Warmer winters could make twisters more powerful. Though tornadoes can occur in any season, the United States logs the greatest number of powerful twisters in the warmer months from March to July. Devastating winter tornadoes like the one that killed at least 88 people across Kentucky and four other states beginning on December 10 are less common. But climate change could increase tornado intensity in cooler months by many orders of magnitude beyond what was previously expected, researchers report December 13 in a poster at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting. Tornadoes typically form during thunderstorms when warm, humid airstreams get trapped beneath cooler, drier winds. As the fast-moving air currents move past each other, they create rotating vortices that can transform into vertical, spinning twisters (SN: 12/14/18). Many tornadoes are short-lived, sometimes lasting mere minutes and traveling only 100 yards, says Jeff Trapp, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Over the last 20 years, tornado patterns have shifted so that these severe weather events occur later in the season and across a broader range in the United States than before, Trapp says (SN: 10/18/18). But scientists have struggled to pin down a direct link between the twister changes and human-caused climate change. Unlike hurricanes and other severe storm systems, tornadoes happen at such a small scale that most global climate simulations don’t include the storms, says Kevin Reed, an atmospheric scientist at Stony Brook University in New York who was not involved in the study. To see how climate change may affect tornadoes, Trapp and colleagues started with atmospheric measurements of two historical tornadoes and simulated how those storm systems might play out in a warmer future.

12-16-21 Brazil wildfires killed an estimated 17 million animals
Amid the bleakness of 2020, scientists in Brazil concluded a particularly grim conservation study - attempting to count the animals killed by huge wildfires in the Pantanal wetlands. They estimate that as many as 17 million vertebrates - including reptiles, birds and primates - died. Wildfires burned between January and November, destroying 30% of the world's largest tropical wetland. This official estimate of the loss is published in Scientific Reports. Dr Mariana Napolitano Ferreira, head of science at WWF-Brazil explained that there were 22,000 separate fires recorded during that year. This new research highlights, the researchers say, the importance of preventing such disasters in the future. The Pantanal does burn naturally, but the 2020 wildfires were "apocalyptic", according to Dr Alex Lees, an ecologist from Manchester Metropolitan University who has worked extensively in Central Brazil, including in the Pantanal. They were "very different" to those the region normally experiences and the typical cycle of burning and recovery, Dr Lees explained. "These fires were unusual because of their scale and were clearly linked to the mega-drought that [the area] was experiencing at that time. "The Pantanal can't keep burning to this huge extent year-after-year- biodiversity can't recover from that." The study itself was based on a body-counting exercise. Scientists managed to reach areas of the wetland within 48 hours of a fire. They walked along tracts at set intervals and examined every dead animal they found. The team was able to identify the species of 300 animals they found. They then extrapolated from the area they examined to give an estimate of how many animals were killed in total. Dr Walfrido Moraes Tomas, an ecologist from the research institute Embrapa Pantanal in Brasilia, led the study. He told the BBC that he and his team were "not surprised by the numbers", given the vast geographical scale of the disaster. What did surprise him, he said, was how certain groups of species were more impacted than others. "The extremely high number of snakes that were killed makes us wonder about the cascade effects," he explained. "Snakes are usually predators on small mammals, frogs. This impact may result in an unimaginable unbalance in the ecosystem."

12-16-21 Indigenous groups threatened by gold exploration in remote Amazon
Gold mining in the municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira would drive deforestation and increase mercury pollution, say ecologists. The Brazilian government has approved gold exploration in a pristine expanse of Amazon rainforest that is home to 23 Indigenous groups, an investigation by the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper has revealed. It reported that the head of Brazil’s Institutional Security Cabinet, Augusto Heleno, granted seven licences this year to explore for gold in a virtually untouched stretch of jungle bordering Colombia and Venezuela. Ecologists say mining in the area, within the municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, would drive deforestation in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world and increase mercury poisoning of Indigenous groups, some of which are uncontacted. It could also embolden a deadly gold rush that has accelerated across the Amazon in the past five years as prices for the metal have spiked. Last month, Brazilian police set fire to 131 illegal gold dredging boats churning up a river bed in the heart of the rainforest. Miners reportedly shot dead two members of one of Brazil’s largest Indigenous group, the Yanomami, earlier this year when they tried to expel them from their territory with bows and arrows. Mining is directly responsible for 10 per cent of deforestation in the Amazon, but opens the way for more destructive cattle farmers and loggers to follow, says Erika Berenguer, an ecologist at the University of Oxford. Another problem is the release of toxic mercury, often used to separate gold from sediment. This is causing a decline in fish populations and there is growing evidence that it is causing neurological disorders in Amazonian people, particularly learning disabilities in children and visual and motor issues.

12-15-21 How climate change is shaking up the hops that give beer its flavour
Hop plants are largely what distinguish your dark ales from your refreshing pales, and each has its own “terroir”. With changing weather affecting how and where they grow, what does the future hold for brewing and beer? WATER, malted barley and hops. It is the classic recipe for the world’s favourite intoxicant. According to a law declared in 1516 in the German state of Bavaria, a place that likes to see itself as beer’s spiritual home, those are the only three ingredients it may contain – the yeast that converts the sugars in the barley to alcohol being out of sight and out of mind back then. Today’s craft beer revolution takes such strictures less seriously, with new and exotic brews catering for all manner of tastes. But one ingredient remains a constant – indeed the fulcrum – of good beer. Hops give beer the bitterness that counterbalances the sickly sweetness of the fermenting grain and imparts subtle flavour tones that distinguish one brew from another, all while acting as a natural preservative. That is reason enough to declare the hop one of the world’s most important, if often overlooked, plants. Yet trouble is brewing, with a perfect storm of changing tastes and changing weather contriving to shake up its cultivation. The question frothing on many a lip now is whether an ale and hearty future for the hop can be assured. Hops weren’t always so universally beloved. In England, they were once dubbed the “wicked weed”, and traditional ales were brewed without them. It is a myth that Henry VI once tried to ban them, although the city of Norwich did in 1471, as it tried to defend the purity of yeoman English ale in the face of perfidious hopped continental imports. Before hops became the brewer’s undisputed best friend, all manner of botanicals were employed to flavour beer (see “Rooted in history“).

12-14-21 Kentucky tornadoes: Race to find missing in flattened US towns
Kentucky's governor reflected on the "unspeakable trauma" in his state, as he confirmed that weekend tornadoes have killed at least 74 residents. The victims ranged in age from as young as five months to 86 years old and come from at least eight different counties, with 18 people still unidentified. Governor Andy Beshear said on Monday at least 109 people remain missing and more deaths may be confirmed soon. Search and rescue efforts have been continuing across Western Kentucky. Emergency workers, including over 400 members of the National Guard, have been scouring debris for survivors and distributing water and generators to residents. Mr Beshear said cadaver dogs were also being used to help search through rubble, adding that "we're still finding bodies" in some locations. "I'm not doing so well today and I'm not sure how many of us are," the governor said, visibly emotional during a press conference Monday. "The people of Western Kentucky have gone through an unspeakable trauma." "The devastation is unlike anything I have seen in my life," he said. A resident in the town of Mayfield, one of the areas worst-hit, said he had "dropped down to my knees and covered my head" when the tornado hit. "My ears popped, and debris started coming through the doorway," Rick Foley, 70, told Reuters, adding: "It was gone in 30 seconds." Another Mayfield resident, David Norseworthy, said the storm ripped the roof of his property clean off and destroyed his porch as his family hid in a shelter. "We never had anything like that here," the 69-year-old told AFP news agency. Elsewhere in the town, eight deaths were confirmed at a candle factory, where 110 employees were feared to have been trapped inside at the time. Eight other workers were reported missing. Kyanna Parsons Perez, a factory worker who made a desperate plea for help on Facebook from under the wreckage, told the BBC that other businesses had shut down for the storm and staff there should not have been at work.

12-14-21 US tornadoes: Is climate change to blame?
Several US states have been hit by a devastating series of tornadoes, with an expected death toll of more than 100.. These are extremely rare outside the spring and summer, in the US, but this December there has been a record number of tornado warnings. So is climate change causing more frequent and stronger tornadoes? When warm moist air is trapped by cooler air, it causes thunder clouds to form. The warm air rises, creating an updraft. And if there are also strong winds moving in different directions, the air column starts to rotate. Increasing amounts of warm air are drawn in, speeding up the wind spiral, which then extends out of the bottom of the thunder clouds. And once this touches the ground, it is a tornado. There is more warm moist air in the hotter months. And a cluster of tornadoes of this size and power in December is extremely unusual in the US. Far more tornadoes have been recorded in the past 20 years than the previous 20 - but some of this is due to improved tracking. As data-collecting methods have improved, less severe tornadoes have been recorded more consistently. "To an untrained eye, it may look like we are having more of these events happening - but in reality what is happening is we have much better tools for identifying relatively weaker tornadoes," Dr Jana Houser, professor of meteorology, at the University of Ohio, says. But clusters of tornadoes - when six or more start within six hours of each other - are becoming more likely. And though there are now fewer days with tornadoes - on average about 100 compared with 150 in the 1970s - there are more tornadoes on those days. No single weather event can be put down to climate change alone. The increasing amount of tornado clusters "clearly implies that the patterns of the atmosphere have changed", meteorologist Harold Brooks, at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), says. "That may be related to climate change - but we cannot make a full conclusion," he adds.

12-14-21 Arctic heat record is like Mediterranean, says UN
The highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, 38C (100F), has been officially confirmed, sounding "alarm bells" over Earth's changing climate. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Tuesday verified the record, reported in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk on 20 June last year. The temperature was 18C higher than the area's average daily maximum for June. The WMO, a UN agency, said the extreme heat was "more befitting the Mediterranean than the Arctic". It is the first time the agency has included the Arctic Circle in its archive of extreme weather reports. The WMO said the 38C temperature was measured at a meteorological station during "an exceptional and prolonged Siberian heatwave". Last year's extreme heat in the region contributed to the spread of wildfires, which swept across the forests and peatlands of northern Russia releasing record amounts of carbon. While relatively common in summer months, high temperatures and strong winds made the fires unusually severe. The high temperatures across Siberia led to "massive sea ice loss" and played a major role in 2020 being one of the three warmest years on record, the WMO said. The agency said its verification of the Verkhoyansk record highlighted how temperatures were increasing in a climatically important region of the world. "This new Arctic record is one of a series of observations reported to the WMO archive of Weather and Climate Extremes that sound the alarm bells about our changing climate," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. Mr Taalas told the BBC that melting snow and ice in the Russian Arctic were boosting warming. "This is very much caused by changes in the radiation properties of the soil and the ocean... once we had snow cover, the radiation properties of the surface is very different from the dark soil or open sea," he said. The WMO said it had added the Arctic Circle to its World Weather and Climate Extremes archive under a new category for high temperatures in the region.

12-14-21 Thwaites: Antarctic glacier heading for dramatic change
Scientists are warning of dramatic changes at one of the biggest glaciers in Antarctica, potentially within the next five to 10 years. They say a floating section at the front of Thwaites Glacier that until now has been relatively stable could "shatter like a car windscreen". US and UK researchers are currently engaged in an intense study programme at Thwaites because of its melt rate. Already it is dumping 50 billion tonnes of ice into the ocean each year. This is having limited impact on global sea-levels today, but there is sufficient ice held upstream in the glacier's drainage basin to raise the height of the oceans by 65cm - were it all to melt. Such a "doomsday" scenario is unlikely to come about for many centuries, but the study team says Thwaites is now responding to a warming world in really quite rapid ways. "There is going to be dramatic change in the front of the glacier, probably in less than a decade. Both published and unpublished studies point in that direction," said glaciologist Prof Ted Scambos, US lead coordinator for the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC). "This will accelerate the pace (of Thwaites) and widen, effectively, the dangerous part of the glacier," he told BBC News. Thwaites is a colossus. It's roughly the size of Great Britain, or Florida, and its outflow speed has doubled in the past 30 years. The ITGC has established how this is happening. It is the result of warm ocean water getting under - and melting - Thwaites's floating front, or ice shelf as it's known. The warm water is thinning and weakening this ice, making it run faster and pushing back the zone where the main glacier body becomes buoyant. At the moment, the leading edge of the eastern ice shelf is pinned in place by an offshore underwater ridge, which means its flow speed is a third of that seen in the ice shelf's western sector which has no such constraint. But the ITGC team says the eastern shelf is likely to become uncoupled from the ridge in the next few years which will destabilise it. And even if the pinning persists, the ongoing development of fractures in the shelf ice will almost certainly break up the area anyway.

12-14-21 Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier ice shelf could collapse within five years
The loss of its buttressing ice shelf could hasten the demise of the “Doomsday Glacier”. The demise of a West Antarctic glacier poses the world’s biggest threat to raise sea levels before 2100 — and an ice shelf that’s holding it back from the sea could collapse within three to five years, scientists reported December 13 at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in New Orleans. Thwaites Glacier is “one of the largest, highest glaciers in Antarctica — it’s huge,” Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the Boulder, Colo.–based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, told reporters. Spanning 120 kilometers across, the glacier is roughly the size of Florida, and were the whole thing to fall into the ocean, it would raise sea levels by 65 centimeters, or more than two feet. Right now, its melting is responsible for about 4 percent of global sea level rise. But a large portion of the glacier is about to lose its tenuous grip on the seafloor, and that will dramatically speed up its seaward slide, the researchers said. Since about 2004, the eastern third of Thwaites has been braced by a floating ice shelf, an extension of the glacier that juts out into the sea. Right now, the underbelly of that ice shelf is lodged against an underwater mountain located about 50 kilometers offshore. That pinning point is essentially helping to hold the whole mass of ice in place. But data collected by researchers beneath and around the shelf in the last two years suggests that brace won’t hold much longer. Warm ocean waters are inexorably eating away at the ice from below (SN: 4/9/21; SN: 9/9/20). As the glacier’s ice shelf loses mass, it’s retreating inland, and will eventually retreat completely behind the underwater mountain pinning it in place. Meanwhile, fractures and crevasses, widened by these waters, are swiftly snaking through the ice like cracks in a car’s windshield, shattering and weakening it.

12-13-21 Collapse of doomsday glacier in Antarctica could begin within a decade
Antarctica's Thwaites glacier could lose its grip on its seamount within 10 years, which could lead to catastrophic sea level rise and potentially set off a domino effect in surrounding ice. The front of a “doomsday glacier” in Antarctica is expected to see “dramatic changes” within 10 years that will accelerate its break-up and contribution to sea level rise, according to findings presented at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union on 13 December. Thwaites glacier is about the size of Great Britain and sheds 50 billion tonnes of ice per year. While that is small in terms of contributing to sea level rise, the tongue of ice is closely watched by researchers because of the buttressing effect it has in holding back the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, which has the potential to raise seas by more than 3 metres. That disastrous outcome isn’t guaranteed and may not unfold for centuries. But major changes to the ice sheet could come much sooner. Erin Pettit at Oregon State University said at a press conference that Thwaites glacier will imminently lose its grip on a 15 kilometre-long “pinning point”, where its floating front is held in place by a seamount under the water. “It’s [already seen] a very significant decrease in contact area [between the glacier and seamount],” she said. “We are predicting if it continues on its current trend, using current processes ongoing, we expect it will reduce down to near zero contact within a decade.” “There’s going to be a dramatic change in the front of the glacier, probably in less than a decade,” said Ted Scambos at the University of Colorado Boulder, speaking at the same event. “When that happens, the fast flow-apart of Thwaites is likely to widen because the bracing on the east side will be gone. It will widen the dangerous part of the glacier.” Thwaites is being undermined from underneath by warm water linked to climate change. The glacier has gradually been losing its grip on the stabilising seamount since 2004 and, according to work presented today, that connection will “be gone by 2030”.

12-13-21 Thousands of lives being saved as US moves to less-polluting vehicles
Almost 8000 fewer lives are being lost to air pollution from vehicle emissions in the US per year, thanks to cleaner engines that produce fewer tiny particles. Nearly 8000 lives are being saved in the US every year thanks to the drop in air pollution from tiny particles in vehicle exhaust fumes, according to an analysis of deaths between 2008 and 2017. Vehicles of all types have become less polluting over the past few decades, due to more efficient engines and cleaner fuels. The emissions of some pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, have been slashed by as much as 99 per cent in the US since 1970. But the release of particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, known as PM2.5, remains a dangerous problem. These get deep into the lungs and can be absorbed into the bloodstream, contributing to deaths from conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Levels of PM2.5 per kilometre driven by each vehicle have also been declining – albeit more gradually – in the US, as people upgrade to newer cars. Ernani Choma at Harvard University and his colleagues wondered how this might have affected the number of lives lost due to PM2.5 pollution between 2008 and 2017. Choma’s team looked to previous research that had calculated how many extra deaths a year can be attributed to PM2.5, and worked out how the figure had changed over the nine-year period. The researchers found that, in 2017, 19,800 deaths in the US were attributable to PM2.5 in vehicle emissions – down from 27,700 in 2008. But the fall would have been greater still if not for other factors such as people driving more kilometres a year and switching to bigger vehicles, like SUVs and minivans, which use more fuel per kilometre. Another contributor was the population getting older and being more susceptible to heart attacks and lung diseases.

12-13-21 Don’t Look Up review: the funniest climate change movie so far
Netflix disaster-satire film Don’t Look Up is a cathartic and hilarious allegory of humanity's hapless efforts to deal with climate change. The Netflix disaster-satire film Don’t Look Up is a thinly-veiled metaphor for humanity’s haphazard efforts to tackle climate change, told through the story of a giant comet that’s on a collision course with Earth. New Scientist podcast editor Rowan Hooper reviewed Don’t Look Up with the help of Emily Atkin, who writes the climate newsletter Heated. Listen to their conversation on this episode of the New Scientist Weekly podcast or a read a transcript of the conversation below, which has been edited for clarity. Rowan Hooper: Emily, thanks for joining us. So let’s set up the movie. It’s the story of two astronomers, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, who discover a comet hurtling towards Earth. And it’s a really big one, bigger even than the one that killed the dinosaurs. And it’s what they call a planet killer. So what did you make of it? Emily Atkin: I thought it was beautiful. Which I know is a really weird word to describe a satirical film about a planet killer comet, but I thought it was beautiful. I thought it was weird. And I thought it was cathartic and intelligent. And I thought it was important. I’m a climate change journalist. And everybody else sitting in the movie theatre with me wasn’t an actual movie critic, and they were also laughing as much as I was. And I’m not sure if they cried the number of times that I did, but I definitely did cry two times. I laughed a lot in it. RH: Yeah, it’s a great satire. And unexpectedly moving actually, absolutely hilarious, especially Jonah Hill, who plays the Chief of Staff, the White House Chief of Staff. EA: He and Meryl Streep do such a good job playing fascists. You know, they’re just so good.

12-12-21 Kentucky tornadoes: Desperate search for survivors as death toll rises
A desperate search for survivors is under way in parts of six US states devastated by powerful tornadoes that have left at least 94 people dead. Dozens more people are missing and entire towns were destroyed by about 30 tornadoes on Friday. President Biden has declared a disaster in Kentucky, the worst-affected state. At least 80 people have died in the state, including dozens in a candle factory, and the death toll is expected to rise above 100. Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman told the BBC the death toll was continuing to rise "with every hour". "All of these numbers continue to unfold...," she said. "Our emergency response teams are still surveying the damage and knocking on doors and reaching out to folks trying to make contact to see who's alive." Local congressman James Comer, working with rescuers in the ruined town of Mayfield, said the tornado there was the widest ever seen. "It's the most devastating storm damage I've seen in my entire life. We've had tornadoes that have been the same length as this tornado but we've never had one with the width of this tornado," he said. Forty people have been rescued from the collapsed candle factory in Mayfield but 60 more remain missing and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, who has visited the scene, said it was unlikely there were more survivors. He said no-one had been found alive since Saturday. "There's at least 15ft of metal with cars on top of it, barrels of corrosive chemicals that are there. It'll be a miracle if anybody else is found alive in it," he said. One candle factory employee made a desperate plea for help on Facebook from under the wreckage as co-workers could be heard moaning in the background. "We are trapped, please, y'all, get us some help," said Kyanna Parsons-Perez - who was later rescued - in the broadcast played on CNN. Mayfield resident Tony Meeker described the moment the tornado hit. "Out of nowhere the sirens went off and then not long after that our ears popped. I mean it was like the pressure dropped. And then it felt like our house was about to just be gone, get carried off," he said. "It looks like a bomb went off. I don't know how anybody could've lived. I feel bad for anybody that didn't make it or people who got stuck. I'm sure it was terrifying."

12-12-21 Aerials show aftermath of deadly Kentucky tornadoes
More than 70 people have died in Kentucky after Friday night's storms, including dozens in a candle factory, and the death toll is expected to rise above 100. The governor of Kentucky has said the tornado system was "the deadliest to ever run through" the US state.

12-11-21 More than 50 feared dead in Kentucky's worst ever tornadoes
The governor of the US state of Kentucky has warned that more than 50 people are thought to have been killed by tornadoes overnight. Andy Beshear said the figure could rise to as many as 100 in what he called the worst tornadoes in the state's history. Dozens are feared dead inside a candle factory in the town of Mayfield. At least five people died as tornadoes wreaked havoc in other states, including one in an Amazon warehouse in Illinois. Mr Beshear has declared a state of emergency in Kentucky. More than 100 people were inside the Mayfield factory when the tornado hit, he said. "We believe we'll lose at least dozens of those individuals," the governor added. US President Joe Biden tweeted that he had been briefed about the tornadoes on Saturday morning. "To lose a loved one in a storm like this is an unimaginable tragedy," he said. "We're working with Governors to ensure they have what they need as the search for survivors and damage assessments continue." Police said the tornado caused "significant damage" across the western parts of the state. A train was derailed during extreme winds in Hopkins County, Sheriff Matt Sanderson told WKYT-TV. He also described how two children were reported missing during a tornado but were then found in a bathtub that had been pulled outside by the force of the wind. "There were two children in the Barnsley area that were missing and they were actually found in a bathtub not where the house was originally standing," he said. The Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville in southern Illinois was damaged during a tornado on Friday night, the authorities said. It is not yet clear how many people were hurt by the roof collapse, but local emergency services have called it a "mass casualty incident" on Facebook. Illinois police chief Mike Fillback said at least one person had died. Sarah Bierman said her partner was still missing.

12-10-21 Will paused Cambo oil plans mark the decline of North Sea drilling?
Investors have pulled out of a project to drill the Cambo oil field in the North Sea. Does this mark the end of new oil and gas extraction in the region? 800 million barrels of oil in the seabed 125 kilometres west of Shetland in the UK now looks likely to stay in the ground after an energy firm put its drilling plans on hold. UK firm Siccar Point Energy said today it couldn’t proceed with the major project after Dutch energy firm Shell pulled out of the Cambo oil field last week. “We are pausing the development while we evaluate next steps,” said Siccar Point Energy CEO Jonathan Roger in a statement. The shelving of Cambo wasn’t unexpected after Shell’s exit, but raises questions over whether this moment marks the end of significant new oil and gas fields for the UK in the North Sea. Huge reserves of oil will have to remain untapped if the world is to meet its climate change targets. Globally, 58 per cent of oil will have to stay unused to keep future global warming to 1.5°C. Yet by governments around the world would see 60 per cent more oil extracted by 2030 than needed to meet that temperature goal. Extracting hydrocarbons in the North Sea is a relatively high-cost operation, and production has been declining since it peaked around the turn of the century. “The UK North Sea is a very marginal field,” says Peter Atherton, an independent energy analyst. Yet the economics of the Cambo oil field stacked up enough to initially attract Shell and the private equity backers of Siccar Point Energy. That has changed. That is partly down to very strong opposition by environmentalists, who made the development a bellwether case about whether the UK government should be green-lighting any new oil and gas production in a year when it was hosting the COP26 climate summit.

12-10-21 Fix the Planet newsletter: The tide is turning for sea power
Once eclipsed by wind and solar, £20 million worth of UK government subsidies mean tidal power may finally begin to make waves. Hello, and welcome to this week’s Fix the Planet, the weekly climate change newsletter that reminds you there are reasons for hope in science and technology around the world. To receive this free, monthly newsletter in your inbox, sign up here. I had more or less written-off tidal power. For several years the technology has looked like it is in a cul-de-sac, eclipsed by wind and solar coming of age, and unlikely to make the jump from demonstration stage to commercial electricity supplies. Yet in a surprising twist, starting next Monday, companies backing tidal as a key part of the clean energy puzzle will be able to bid for £20 million worth of UK government subsidies. That effectively fires the starting gun on a key decade for tidal-power developers to prove they can bring down the high costs for power stations operating in some of the harshest environments on Earth. So why has tidal power come back into vogue? What difference will these incentives make? And are we finally going to harness the awesome power of the moon and seas in a serious way? This week’s Fix the Planet dips a toe into the waters. It’s predictable and low carbon. Most places get two low tides and two high tides a day, and we know when they will happen. That makes it easy to know how much energy will be supplied on any given day or month. Tidal power is never going to outcompete wind and solar power on cost or scale, but it can marry nicely with the variable output of those two, something that came to the fore during the UK’s energy crisis in September, which saw a run of unusually still days. “It’s a complementary technology to wind and solar,” says Danny Coles at the University of Plymouth, UK. He has calculated that the UK has enough tidal resource around its coastline to generate 11 per cent of the country’s current electricity needs.

12-10-21 Cleared tropical forests can regain ground surprisingly fast
Abandoned agricultural lands can recover by nearly 80 percent on average in just 20 years. Tropical forests are disappearing at an alarming clip across the globe. As lush land is cleared for agriculture, climate-warming carbon gets released and biodiversity declines. But when farmland is left alone, nature can make a surprisingly quick comeback. After just 20 years, forests can recover by nearly 80 percent in certain key areas, including biodiversity and soil health, researchers report in the Dec. 10 Science. Keeping existing forests intact is crucial for curbing climate change and stemming species loss (SN: 7/13/21), says ecologist Lourens Poorter of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. But this research shows “there’s tremendous [climate] mitigation potential” in letting forests regenerate. Land cleared of tropical forests often is abandoned after a few years of low-intensity agricultural use, Poorter says, allowing nature to creep back in. To see how such areas recover, he and colleagues studied 77 sites across the Americas and West Africa that are regrowing forests that vary in age. Using 51 old-growth sites, those that show no signs of human use in at least 100 years, as a baseline, the researchers investigated 12 forest attributes related to soil health, ecosystem functioning, forest structure and plant biodiversity, analyzing how quickly those things recovered. Soil bounced back fastest, its carbon and nitrogen levels nearly reaching those of old-growth forests within a decade after abandonment. After 38 years, regrowing forests had nearly as many plant species on average as similar old-growth forests, though it will take 120 years for the relative abundances of the species to rebound to 90 percent of old-growth levels, the researchers estimate. Total aboveground biomass will also take 120 years to near untouched forest levels, the data suggest. Overall, “recovery was way faster than we expected it to be,” Poorter says. Seeds and stumps that remained after clearing probably accelerated the process. Recovery time could be slower on land that has experienced more intense agricultural use, he says, but protecting regrowing forests can be a “cheap, natural solution,” to help address the climate and biodiversity crises.

12-10-21 Margaret River bushfires: Blazes force evacuations in Australia tourist region
Bushfires raging in Western Australia's Margaret River region have forced evacuations and scorched over 6,000 hectares of land.

12-9-21 Tropical forests can regrow within 20 years on some abandoned farmland
In the tropics, trees are cleared to make way for farmland that is abandoned once the soil is no longer productive – but these sites can become forest again surprisingly quickly. Tropical forests can re-establish themselves quickly on land that was originally deforested for agriculture and then abandoned. The finding suggests that so-called recovered forests, also known as secondary forests, could play a key role in restoring ecosystems and tackling climate change. The destruction of tropical forests is happening at an alarming rate to make way for crops and pastures for livestock. After these lands are depleted of nutrients, they are typically abandoned, which can lead to the natural regrowth of the forest that was once there. To better understand this process, Lourens Poorter at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands and his colleagues analysed 77 secondary forest sites across the tropical regions of central and south America, and in west Africa. Most of the land at the sites was only subject to low to medium intensity farming, for which soil degradation wasn’t extreme. The sites were all at various stages of regrowth – for example, some were 20 years old, and others were 120 years old – which allowed the team to reconstruct what forest recovery looks like over time. “These forests are a bit like apples and pears – you have really tall, jungle-like rainforests and you also have rather small, dry tropical forests that [are] maybe 15 metres tall,” says Poorter. So, to compare recovery across sites, the team contrasted each secondary forest with nearby old-growth forests – forests that haven’t had major disturbance. The more similar the secondary forests were to their neighbouring old-growth forests, reasoned the researchers, the more they had recovered. The team found that after 20 years, the average secondary forest that had grown from farmland that was used with low to medium intensity had recovered 78 per cent of old-growth forest attributes. “It goes way faster than we thought,” says Poorter.

12-9-21 Wildfire smoke may ramp up toxic ozone production in cities
A new study reveals what happens when urban pollution mixes with smoke’s chemical cocktail. Wildfire smoke and urban air pollution bring out the worst in each other. As wildfires rage, they transform their burned fuel into a complex chemical cocktail of smoke. Many of these airborne compounds, including ozone, cause air quality to plummet as wind carries the smoldering haze over cities. But exactly how — and to what extent — wildfire emissions contribute to ozone levels downwind of the fires has been a matter of debate for years, says Joel Thornton, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle. A new study has now revealed the elusive chemistry behind ozone production in wildfire plumes. The findings suggest that mixing wildfire smoke with nitrogen oxides — toxic gases found in car exhaust — could pump up ozone levels in urban areas, researchers report December 8 in Science Advances. Atmospheric ozone is a major component of smog that can trigger respiratory problems in humans and wildlife (SN: 1/4/21). Many ingredients for making ozone — such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides — can be found in wildfire smoke, says Lu Xu, an atmospheric chemist currently at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Chemical Sciences Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. But a list of ingredients isn’t enough to replicate a wildfire’s ozone recipe. So Xu and colleagues took to the sky to observe the chemistry in action. Through a joint project with NASA and NOAA, the researchers worked with the Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality flight campaign to transform a jetliner into a flying laboratory. In July and August 2019, the flight team collected air samples from smoldering landscapes across the western United States. As the plane passed headlong through the plumes, instruments onboard recorded the kinds and amounts of each molecule detected in the haze. By weaving in and out of the smoke as it drifted downwind from the flames, the team also analyzed how the plume’s chemical composition changed over time.

12-9-21 Hydroelectric dams linked to tiger and jaguar losses
The global expansion of hydroelectric dams has had a destructive impact on the habitats of tigers and jaguars, according to a new study. Researchers found that dam construction, particularly in Asia, has affected more than one-fifth of the world's remaining tigers. In some local forest areas, the dams are said to have precipitated tiger extinction. Jaguars face a growing threat with dams on their ranges expected to quadruple. The modern world has not been kind to tigers. Despite their iconic and fearsome reputation, tigers have disappeared from over 90% of their original range over the past century. IUCN as an endangered species, with around 3,500 in total. It's a similar story for jaguars. The distribution of these lithe predators, which range between the US south-west and Argentina, has halved. This new study suggests that global efforts to develop hydropower for energy have had a destructive impact on the habitats occupied by these species. The researchers identified over a thousand existing dams that intersect with the ranges of tigers and jaguars. They painstakingly worked out the amount of forest areas impacted by the construction and concluded that over 13,000 square kilometres of tiger habitat had been flooded to create reservoirs for the dams. This is likely to have had a significant impact on tiger numbers. "More than one in five tigers have presumably been affected by habitat flooding as induced by the construction of dams," said co-author Ana Filipa Palmeirim, from the University of Porto. "As such, that habitat loss is expected to contribute to the decline in the overall tiger population size." "Without these reservoirs, the tiger population today could be 20% larger," said co-author Dr Luke Gibson, from the Southern University of Science and Technology, in Shenzhen, China. "And that goes a long way towards any goal to increase or even double the global tiger population, as many policymakers have recently set their sights on." In some local areas, the building of dams has likely seen tiger extinctions.

12-9-21 Snow-proof solar panels keep working even in icy weather
Snow and ice block sunlight from reaching solar panels and stop energy generation, but a new material can cause them to slide off. Settling snow and ice can significantly dampen the output of a solar panel, and if enough accumulates this can even cause damage or catastrophic collapse. But a transparent coating can shed everything from light snow to thick ice and ensure panels remain operating autonomously for long periods. Anish Tuteja at the University of Michigan and his colleagues carried out an experiment from December to April at a solar farm in Alaska where temperatures can plummet to -35°C. They left some panels uncoated and applied a coating of polymer chains in a transparent film to others, while all panels were tilted to an angle of 45 degrees. During that period of several months, the uncoated panels had an average snow coverage of up to 59 per cent, while panels with the coating had only 28 per cent coverage. The team estimates that the panels would generate as much as 85 per cent more energy with the coating under those conditions. The material used in the coating was a combination of medium-chain triglycerides, which can be extracted from palm oil and coconut oil, embedded in a polyvinyl chloride. The coating could have other applications including for car windshields and covers for lidar sensors on driverless cars, and it can be applied simply with a brush as a liquid that sets solid. The team believes that two mechanisms are at work. The coating stops snow and ice binding with the surface, which reduces friction and allows material to slide off. It also makes it possible for cracks to appear and easily propagate at the point where ice meets the panel, which makes it easier for ice to slide off in smaller chunks that have less friction rather than a large sheet.

12-8-21 The Amazon is turning into savannah – we have 5 years to save it
We have been hearing warnings about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest for decades, but experts say a catastrophic tipping point is now just over the horizon. Are they right? And if so, what can we do to pull things back? IT IS perhaps the most iconic symbol of life on our planet. The Amazon is the world’s largest and most biodiverse tropical rainforest, and an immense trap for carbon dioxide. The perils of deforestation in this vital resource are old news. But now, the time on the clock is running out. It seems that the world’s biggest rainforest is about to turn into the world’s biggest environmental disaster. “We are about to collapse,” says Luciana Gatti at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. “We are in an emergency, we need action now.” Gatti has spent years observing the Amazon from the air. She believes we are as little as five years from a point of no return, where lush rainforest irreversibly begins to convert into dry savannah. It is also the point at which billions of tonnes of carbon would be dumped into the atmosphere. “It’s a nightmare,” she says. That nightmare scenario is the infamous Amazon tipping point, where the ecosystem can no longer cope with the damage being inflicted and irreversibly flips into a new stable state. Like a game of Jenga, brick after stabilising brick is removed until the tower collapses in a heap. Warnings that this is approaching have now taken on extreme urgency. The rate of deforestation has increased sharply and is fast approaching the theoretical limit. In September, the Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA) – a group of more than 200 experts including Gatti – released an assessment of the state of play. The verdict: we are on the edge of disaster.

12-8-21 Indonesia's biodiesel drive is leading to deforestation
Indonesia pledged at the recent COP26 climate summit that its greenhouse gas emissions would peak by 2030 and then start to fall. It's also said that it will end deforestation by that same date. But to reduce emissions from its transport sector, it's relying on using more biofuels - production of which can lead to the loss of forested land. So how can it both curb its emissions using biofuels and end deforestation by 2030? Indonesia is now the third largest producer of biofuels in the world, behind Brazil and the US, and the world's largest producer of biodiesel - a biofuel alternative to regular diesel fuel. Biofuels come from plant material and animal waste, and can be used to power vehicles or for heating and electricity. They are considered a renewable alternative to traditional fossil fuels (coal, petrol and diesel) as they can be replenished quicker and release fewer greenhouse gases. Indonesia produces biodiesel from crops, primarily palm oil, and government policy stipulates that all diesel fuel must contain a mix of at least 30% biodiesel - to rise to 50% by 2025. The transport sector accounts for 13.6% of the country's emissions and 45% of its energy consumption. The government believes this policy could reduce their transport emissions by 36 million tonnes of CO2 by 2040. But taken along with an expected 6% annual growth in its vehicle fleet, it means biofuel production will need to increase by nearly 50% over the next three years to meet demand. This would require a substantial increase in land used for biofuel production, perhaps by as much as 1.2 million hectares - to about a quarter of all palm oil cultivation in the country. In theory, biofuels should reduce emissions compared with fossil fuels because when biofuel crops grow, they absorb carbon from the atmosphere which is then released through burning - meaning there is no net increase in emissions.

12-8-21 Race to start commercial deep-sea mining puts ecosystems at risk
Governments are meeting in Jamaica this week to decide how rules for commercial mining of metals on the ocean floor will be thrashed out, but there are big sticking points. The road to a controversial new era of commercial deep-sea mining is being decided this week by governments meeting in Jamaica. Advocates say tapping mineral-rich, potato-sized nodules on the ocean floor will be essential to meeting the rising global demand for metals in electric cars and other low-carbon technologies, claiming it would cause less environmental harm than land-based mining. Critics say it will be devastating for marine life and habitats, and increase global supply rather than displacing conventional mining. The UN regulator on the issue, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), has awarded more than 20 contracts for deep-sea mining research. But progress on rules for commercial mining, known as the mining code, has been slow since talks began in 2016. That changed in July, when the Pacific island of Nauru forced the issue. In partnership with a Canadian mining firm, The Metals Company, Nauru invoked a clause under a UN treaty that triggers a “two-year rule”. It effectively means the ISA must draw up the mining code by 9 July 2023, at which point entities can obtain licences to start commercial exploitation. The Metals Company has told investors it hopes to start “small scale production” in 2024, across the Pacific seabed between Hawaii and Mexico. Helen Scales, a marine biologist and author, says two years isn’t long enough to draw up a robust code. She wants to see a moratorium. “Nobody knows with any kind of certainty how we could go ahead extracting and exploiting these deposits in the deep sea without environmental harm,” she says. “All of the science we have so far is pointing towards significant long-term and largely irreversible damage.” The damage could stem directly from machines extracting nodules and from plumes of sediment generated by mining. Hundreds of marine researchers expressed their concerns in a statement earlier this year.

12-6-21 Extreme lack of sea ice in Hudson Bay puts polar bears under pressure
Sea ice in Canada's Hudson Bay has been unusually late to form, raising fears over the impact on polar bears that hunt for seals on the ice. An extreme lack of sea ice in Canada this winter should serve as a “wake-up call” for the risk climate change poses to polar bears, say conservationists. Ice normally starts building up across Hudson Bay in November, but the area has remained almost entirely ice-free in the face of temperatures 6°C above average. In the north-western part of the bay, ice extent is at a record low, with just 13 per cent of the area covered in ice. In an average year, 70 to 80 per cent of this part of the bay is covered in ice by this stage in the year. That has left polar bears standing by the shore, waiting for the ice to form so they can hunt seals. Temperatures in recent days have begun dropping and the US National Snow and Ice Data Center says the bay will eventually freeze this winter. But the agency says the current low is “extreme” and, across the bay as a whole, second only to 2010 for this time of year. “It’s very unusual. It’s very low,” says Brandon Laforest at WWF Canada. “I don’t think this is panic and everything is collapsing, but it’s indicative of the broader trend [of sea ice loss].” “It’s not good [for the bears],” says Peter Convey, an ecologist at the British Antarctic Survey. “The longer they don’t have sea ice, they get a gradual loss in condition. A lot will survive it [this year]. But it tips the balance towards stress-related mortality. Fewer will survive.” Research suggests that almost all the world’s remaining 26,000 polar bears will be pushed to the edge of their fasting limits by the end of the century due to climate change. Laforest says that while bears in the high Arctic are currently doing fine, the sub-population in the Hudson Bay area are the canaries in the coal mine. “They are the first to go through these broad implications of climate change,” he says. “We need to take these warning signals for what they are. It’s a wake-up call.”

12-6-21 Invasive grasses are taking over the American West’s sea of sagebrush
Highly flammable cheatgrass and similar nonnative plants dominate one-fifth of the Great Basin. No one likes a cheater, especially one that prospers as easily as the grass Bromus tectorum does in the American West. This invasive species is called cheatgrass because it dries out earlier than native plants, shortchanging wildlife and livestock in search of nutritious food. Unfortunately for those animals and the crowded-out native plants, cheatgrass and several other invasive annual grasses now dominate one-fifth of the Great Basin, a wide swath of land that includes portions of Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Utah and California. In 2020, these invasive grasses covered more than 77,000 square kilometers of Great Basin ecosystems, including higher elevation habitats that are now accessible to nonnative plants due to climate change, researchers report November 17 in Diversity and Distributions. This invasion of exotic annual grasses is degrading one of North America’s most imperiled biomes: a vast sea of sagebrush shrubs, wildflowers and bunchgrasses where pronghorn and mule deer roam and where ranchers rely on healthy rangelands to raise cattle. What’s more, these invasive grasses, which are highly flammable when dry, are also linked to more frequent and larger wildfires. In parts of Idaho’s Snake River Plain that are dominated by cheatgrass, for example, fires now occur every three to five years as opposed to the historical average of 60 to 110 years. From 2000 to 2009, 39 out of 50 of the largest fires in the Great Basin were associated with cheatgrass. To add insult to injury, cheatgrass is more efficient at recolonizing burned areas after a fire than native plants, creating a vicious loop: More cheatgrass causes more fires, and more fires foster more of the weeds. This means that land managers are often behind the curve, trying to keep cheatgrass from spreading to prevent wildfires, while also attempting to restore native plant communities after fires so that the sagebrush ecosystems don’t transition into a monoculture of invasive grasses.

12-6-21 Climate change could make Virginia’s Tangier Island uninhabitable by 2051
Time is running out for the island's residents, two researchers say. Virginia’s Tangier Island is rapidly disappearing. Rising sea levels are exacerbating erosion and flooding, and could make the speck of land in the Chesapeake Bay uninhabitable within the next few decades. For years, island residents, policy makers and others have debated whether to attempt to save the island or relocate its small community elsewhere. But time to decide is running out, says David Schulte, a marine biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Crucially, that choice will signal how other groups most at risk from climate change, “which are often Native American, minority or low-income such as the isolated fishing community of Tangier, will have their needs addressed — or ignored,” Schulte and his colleague Zehao Wu write in a new study. The island’s sole town, Tangier, is located on three upland ridges that have largely been protected from coastal erosion. By analyzing aerial photographs of the area from 1967 to 2019, Schulte and Wu, a field researcher at Biogenic Solutions Consulting in Newport News, Va., found that nearly 62 percent of the ridges have been lost to sea level rise. What’s left will convert completely to a wetland by 2051 — about a decade earlier than previously thought — the researchers report November 8 in Frontiers in Climate. Already, frequent flooding has turned the front yards of many Tangier homes into marshland, Schulte says. Empty parking lots and elevated homes, schools and sidewalks “are all signs of just how bad it is out there.” Just 436 people lived on the island as of 2020, and that number could drop to zero by 2053, Schulte and Wu’s analysis of population trends suggests. Many factors, including fewer employment opportunities, play a role in the island’s population decline, the researchers say. The shrinking area of dry land has probably convinced people to leave as well.

12-6-21 Invasive grasses are taking over the American West’s sea of sagebrush
Highly flammable cheatgrass and similar nonnative plants dominate one-fifth of the Great Basin. No one likes a cheater, especially one that prospers as easily as the grass Bromus tectorum does in the American West. This invasive species is called cheatgrass because it dries out earlier than native plants, shortchanging wildlife and livestock in search of nutritious food. Unfortunately for those animals and the crowded-out native plants, cheatgrass and several other invasive annual grasses now dominate one-fifth of the Great Basin, a wide swath of land that includes portions of Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Utah and California. In 2020, these invasive grasses covered more than 77,000 square kilometers of Great Basin ecosystems, including higher elevation habitats that are now accessible to nonnative plants due to climate change, researchers report November 17 in Diversity and Distributions. This invasion of exotic annual grasses is degrading one of North America’s most imperiled biomes: a vast sea of sagebrush shrubs, wildflowers and bunchgrasses where pronghorn and mule deer roam and where ranchers rely on healthy rangelands to raise cattle. What’s more, these invasive grasses, which are highly flammable when dry, are also linked to more frequent and larger wildfires. In parts of Idaho’s Snake River Plain that are dominated by cheatgrass, for example, fires now occur every three to five years as opposed to the historical average of 60 to 110 years. From 2000 to 2009, 39 out of 50 of the largest fires in the Great Basin were associated with cheatgrass. To add insult to injury, cheatgrass is more efficient at recolonizing burned areas after a fire than native plants, creating a vicious loop: More cheatgrass causes more fires, and more fires foster more of the weeds. This means that land managers are often behind the curve, trying to keep cheatgrass from spreading to prevent wildfires, while also attempting to restore native plant communities after fires so that the sagebrush ecosystems don’t transition into a monoculture of invasive grasses.

12-6-21 Climate change: Is ‘blue hydrogen’ Japan’s answer to coal?
It's a glorious autumn afternoon and I'm standing on a hillside looking out over Tokyo Bay. Beside me is Takao Saiki, a usually mild-mannered gentleman in his 70s. But today Saiki-San is angry. "It's a total joke," he says, in perfect English. "Just ridiculous!" The cause of his distress is a giant construction site blocking our view across the bay - a 1.3-gigawatt coal-fired power station in the making. "I don't understand why we still have to burn coal to generate electricity," says Saiki-San's friend, Rikuro Suzuki. "This plant alone will emit more than seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year!" Suzuki-San's point is a good one. Shouldn't Japan be cutting its coal consumption, not increasing it, at a time of great concern about coal's impact on the climate? So why the coal? The answer is the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. In 2010 about one third of Japan's electricity came from nuclear power, and there were plans to build a lot more. But then the 2011 disaster hit, and all Japan's nuclear power plants were shut down. Ten years later most remain closed - and there is a lot of resistance to restarting them. In their place Japan's gas-fired power stations have been doing a lot of overtime. But, as Britain has found out recently, natural gas is expensive. So, the Japanese government decided to build 22 new coal-fired power stations, to run on cheap coal imported from Australia. Economically it made sense. Environmentally, not so much. Japan is now under intense pressure to stop using coal. Instead of closing the old coal plants and switching to renewables, Japan's answer is to switch to burning hydrogen or ammonia. "The investment made by electric power companies in coal-fired power plants would suddenly be useless without value in their balance sheet," says Prof Tomas Kaberger, an expert on energy policy at Chalmers University in Sweden.

12-5-21 Pacific Ocean garbage patch is immense plastic habitat
Scientists have discovered marine animals living on plastic debris in an area of the open ocean dubbed "the Great Pacific Garbage Patch". Many of the creatures are coastal species, living miles from their usual habitats, on a patch halfway between the coast of California and Hawaii. Plants and animals, including anemones, tiny marine bugs, molluscs and crabs, were found on 90% of the debris. Scientists are concerned that plastic may help transport invasive species. The study examined plastic items more than 5cm (2in) in diameter gathered from a gyre - an area where circulating currents cause floating debris to accumulate - in the Pacific. Lead researcher Dr Linsey Haram, who carried out the work at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre, said: "Plastics are more permanent than many of the natural debris that you previously have seen in the open ocean. They're creating a more permanent habitat in this area." Dr Haram worked with the Ocean Voyages Institute, a charity that collects plastic pollution on sailing expeditions, and with oceanographers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The world has at least five plastic-infested gyres. This one is thought to hold the most floating plastic - an estimated 79,000 tonnes in a region of more than 610,000 square miles (1.6m sq km). "All sorts of stuff ends up out there," said Dr Haram. "It's not an island of plastic, but there's definitely a large amount of plastic corralled there." Much of that is micro-plastic - very difficult to see with the naked eye. But there are also larger items, including abandoned fishing nets, buoys and even vessels that have been floating in the gyre since the Japanese tsunami in 2011. The researchers, who reported their findings in the journal Nature Communications, initially embarked on the investigation following that devastating tsunami.

112-3-21 Shell pulls out of Cambo oil field development
Oil giant Shell has pulled out of the controversial Cambo oil field development west of Shetland. The company had a 30% stake in the field, which has faced sustained criticism from environmental groups. Shell said the economic case for investment in the North Atlantic project was "not strong enough". Majority stakeholder Siccar Point Energy said it would continue talks with the UK government over the future of the field. Shell said it had carried out "comprehensive screening" before reaching a decision to "ensure the best returns for the business". A spokesperson said: "The economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time, as well as having the potential for delays. "However, continued investment in oil and gas in the UK remains critical to the country's energy security. "We believe the North Sea - and Shell in it - has a critical role to play in the UK's energy mix, supporting the jobs and skills to enable a smooth transition to Britain's low-carbon future." The Cambo oil field is situated approximately 125km (75 miles) to the west of Shetland in water depths of between 1,050m (3,445ft) and 1,100m (3,609ft). It was originally licensed for exploration in 2001 and could yield hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. If approved by the Oil and Gas Authority, drilling could start as early as 2022 - and continue for 25 years. Project leader Siccar Point Energy said the development "remains critical" to the UK's economy and energy security. CEO Jonathan Roger said: "Whilst we are disappointed at Shell's change of position, we remain confident about the qualities of a project. "It will not only create over 1,000 direct jobs as well as thousands more in the supply chain, but also help ease the UK's transition to a low carbon future through responsibly produced domestic oil. "Given Shell's decision, we are now in discussions with our contractors, supply chain and wider stakeholders to review options."

12-3-21 The Southern Ocean is still swallowing large amounts of humans’ carbon dioxide emissions
Aircraft data counter ocean float studies suggesting the ocean stores less CO2 than thought. The Southern Ocean is still busily absorbing large amounts of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans’ fossil fuel burning, a study based on airborne observations of the gas suggests. The new results counter a 2018 report that had found that the ocean surrounding Antarctica might not be taking up as much of the emissions as previously thought, and in some regions may actually be adding CO2 back to the atmosphere. It’s not exactly a relief to say that the oceans, which are already becoming more acidic and storing record-breaking amounts of heat due to global warming, might be able to bear a little more of the climate change burden (SN: 4/28/17; SN: 1/13/21). But “in many ways, [the conclusion] was reassuring,” says Matthew Long, an oceanographer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. That’s because the Southern Ocean alone has been thought to be responsible for nearly half of the global ocean uptake of humans’ CO2 emissions each year. That means it plays an outsize role in modulating some of the immediate impacts of those emissions. However, the float-based estimates had suggested that, over the course of a year, the Southern Ocean was actually a net source of carbon dioxide rather than a sink, ultimately emitting about 0.3 billion metric tons of the gas back to the atmosphere each year. In contrast, the new findings, published in the Dec. 3 Science, suggest that from 2009 through 2018, the Southern Ocean was still a net sink, taking up a total of about 0.55 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The 2018 study had used newly deployed deep-diving ocean floats, now numbering almost 200, that are part of a project called Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling, or SOCCOM. Calculations based on data collected from 2014 through 2017 by 35 of the floats suggested that parts of the ocean were actually releasing a great deal of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere during winter (SN: 6/2/19). That sparked concerns that the Southern Ocean’s role in buffering the impacts of climate change on Earth might not be so robust as once thought.

12-3-21 The drought ravaging East African wildlife and livestock
At least 26 million people are struggling for food following consecutive poor rainfall seasons in the Horn of Africa. Drought conditions in northern Kenya, much of Somalia and southern Ethiopia are predicted to persist until at least mid-2022, putting lives at risk. The situation is already so bad that wild animals are dying in their hundreds and herders are reporting losses of up to 70% of their livestock.

12-2-21 COP26: UK 'nowhere near' meeting targets agreed at Glasgow climate summit
The UK is "nowhere near" meeting emissions targets enshrined at the Glasgow climate summit, official advisers have warned. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) says that, at current rates, the UK will be contributing to a disastrous temperature rise of 2.7C by 2100. It says this could - in theory - be brought down to just under 2C. But this could only happen if ministers agree tougher policies, and if other nations slash emissions too. The government insists that it will meet all its climate change targets. Scientists say any temperature rise approaching 2C is extremely dangerous, so green groups want the UK to improve its emissions targets. But the CCC says Britain will set a better example to the world if it keeps the same targets but actually delivers them through stronger policies. It maintains that the government must nudge people towards greener lifestyles, and must tackle emissions from farming more aggressively. The committee's chief executive, Chris Stark, said: "The government is nowhere near achieving current targets. "If it sets tougher targets that will simply widen the gap between ambition and delivery. What we really need is to strengthen delivery - and show the world that it can be done." His group has produced a shortlist of ideas to support Britain's climate leadership. They include producing convincing plans to cut emissions by 78% by 2035; and drawing up agreements to radically reduce so-called "embodied emissions" from major polluters such as steel and cement. The CCC also says the UK should act to reduce embodied emissions in imported goods - the emissions created to make the stuff British residents buy. This could happen through taxes imposed on carbon-intensive goods being imported into the UK. Another proposed strategy could be based on the final agreement at COP to phase out inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.

12-2-21 2021 hurricane season was third most active
The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season has now officially ended, and it's been the third most active on record. Though the last month has seen little tropical storm activity, all the pre-determined names have been exhausted for the second year in a row. There were 21 named tropical storms, including seven hurricanes, four of which were major hurricanes - where wind speeds were 111mph or greater. This puts 2021 behind 2020 and 2015 - the first and second most active years. Matthew Rosencrans, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (Noaa) Climate Prediction Center in the US, said: "Climate factors, which include La Nina, above normal sea surface temperatures earlier in the season, and above average West African Monsoon rainfall were the primary contributors for this above average hurricane season." Hurricane Ida was the most powerful and costliest storm of the year in the region. It made landfall initially in the Cayman Islands on 26 August as a tropical storm. Then it intensified in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and became a powerful Category 4 major hurricane, with wind speeds of 150mph. Ida eventually made landfall in Louisiana on 29 August, becoming the most destructive to hit the US state since Hurricane Katrina in 2015. As well as the damaging winds, Ida produced a lot of rainfall. Between 120 and 250mm fell in Louisiana, bringing widespread flash flooding. While Ida weakened soon after landfall, it travelled north-east through the US and stayed as a potent weather system with heavy rain and floods. Newark, New Jersey, had its wettest day on record - 213mm, surpassing the previous record of 171mm. While the 2021 season got off to a busy start, tropical storm and hurricane activity tailed off over the last few months. Tropical storm Wanda formed at the end of October, but before that, the last named storm was Victor, which formed and decayed in the open waters of the Atlantic at the end of September.

12-2-21 Impossible Foods in talks with UK farmers to swap livestock for trees
Exclusive: CEO of plant-based "meat" firm plans to show economic and climate change benefits of planting trees on land used for cattle and sheep production. The chief executive of Impossible Foods is in talks with UK farmers for a pilot project to swap livestock for trees to fight climate change. Pat Brown, who founded the fast-growing plant-based “meat” firm in 2011, says he wants to demonstrate the economic benefits of taking farmland out of cattle and sheep production to allow forests to grow on it and absorb carbon. He argues livestock farmers would be financially better off selling carbon offsetting permits to airlines and other polluting industries. “It’s very nascent. What I’m interested in doing is kind of like a… demonstration project to show that it is actually very financially sound to buy land from livestock farmers and manage it for biomass recovery and sell carbon offsets,” Brown tells New Scientist. The Stanford University scientist is one of a growing number of experts proposing land for meat production will need to be freed up to grow trees that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere if the world is to meets its climate goals. The UK government’s statutory climate advisers want to see a fifth of UK farmland taken out of production and used to store carbon by turning it over to tree-planting. “Almost every livestock farmer on Earth would make more money at $50 (£38) a tonne [of carbon], accumulating [plant] biomass on their land as opposed to livestock,” says Brown. The price of a tonne in the EU’s flagship CO2 trading scheme has been over €60 (£51) for the past month. On a recent trip to the UK for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Brown spoke with UK farmers about hosting a trial project. He says there was some scepticism, but he believes the wider adoption of the idea could be enthusiastic because “those farmers are making a pittance right now”.

12-2-21 New plan to pay farmers who protect winter soil
The empty brown fields of England's winter countryside could be transformed under government plans for farming. Cold naked acres will in future be clothed in vegetation as farmers are paid for sowing plants that bind the soil together. The aim is to hold precious topsoil on the land, instead of seeing it washed into rivers during heavy rainfall. But critics say it is not ambitious enough to reverse the UK's nature crisis. The changes are being introduced as part of a broad post-Brexit reform of the subsidies paid to farmers. Under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, farmers received taxpayers' cash proportional to the amount of land they owned - the richer the farmer, the bigger the subsidy. Some £1.8bn in grants was dispensed annually under that EU scheme. But now the government is demanding what it calls "public money for public goods". That means payments will only be for protecting species, planting trees and hedges, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting water courses and the soil. The UK nations all have their own farm support plans, but ministers expect the scheme in England - the Sustainable Farming Incentive - will entice 70% of farmers to smother 70% of land in wintertime with "cover crops" such as grasses, beans, brassicas and herbs. These crops won't be planted for harvesting; they are for improving the soil. It's part of a widespread realisation that soils globally have been neglected, even though they are the foundation for ecosystems and crop fertility. Many British farmers are already protecting their soils through good practice. They will now be paid for the valuable work they are doing, whereas previously they weren't rewarded with grants. The new scheme will be rolled out in phases to avoid a "Big Bang" in farming. In future, landholders will be incentivised for reducing the amount of fertiliser and pesticide they use. They'll be encouraged instead to use low-impact methods such as integrated pest management, which uses pheromones to disrupt pest mating cycles, or adopts mechanical control, such as trapping or weeding.

12-1-21 Hawaiian Soul review: An inspiring tale of environmental activism
An uplifting film tells the story of how George Jarrett Helm Jr became a leading voice in a movement for environmental and Indigenous rights in Hawaii WHAT IS the best way to carry out activism? How should we communicate bad news in ways that stir into action those who, not unreasonably, just want to get on with their lives? Hawaiian Soul, a 20-minute short film directed by Hawaiian film-maker ‘Aina Paikai, asks those questions through the dramatised experiences of one man: the Hawaiian falsetto singer and musician George Jarrett Helm Jr. Born in 1950, Helm was a guitarist and singer with a legendary vocal range. In his 20s he became a leading voice in Hawaii’s emerging Aloha ‘Aina movement, which translates as “love of the land” and spawned campaigns on environmental rights and Hawaiian sovereignty. In 1976, Helm was part of a group called Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) which campaigned to stop the US military’s use of Kaho’olawe, the smallest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, as a firing range and for bombing target practice. After an initial attempt to halt military activity failed, the group decided to land repeatedly and illegally on Kaho’olawe. In March 1977, Helm disappeared in high seas as he was attempting to reach the island on his surfboard. In the film, Helm’s gentleness, charisma and regrettably short lifetime of activism – he was 26 when he vanished – comes to a head in a scene in which he and his fellow campaigners attempt to convince a sceptical and straight-laced church congregation to support the cause. While unilaterally unimpressed at first, Helm’s singing, and a stirring call to protect their shared homeland, ensures there isn’t a dry eye in the church. It is a moment that sounds like the purest schmaltz, but thanks to the film’s skilful editing, its talented lead actor and its use of archive music, the scene proves moving enough – and is entirely convincing, despite it being a work of fiction.

12-1-21 Methane's climate impact was just one truth finally accepted at COP26
One of the positives to come out of last month’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow was official recognition of the central role that climate science must play both in understanding and solving the problem. That might seem an odd thing to say – surely science has always been at the heart of the negotiations? Sadly, it hasn’t. At COP24 in Poland in 2018, for example, a report on the impacts of 1.5°C of global warming – specially commissioned from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the meeting – was merely “noted” in the final text. On that front, the newly agreed Glasgow Climate Pact is a major improvement. The final text explicitly acknowledges the latest IPCC report and notes its findings “with concern”. One area where the science really cut through was on methane – a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas that has hitherto been treated as a secondary problem. Scientists have been arguing for a decade that cutting methane emissions is an obvious, simple and cheap way to significantly slow the rate of warming, but to little avail. As one leading researcher puts it, methane is a massive lever for effecting positive climate action, but nobody was seeing it. No longer. Like London buses, you wait 25 COPs for action on methane, then two breakthroughs come along at once: the Global Methane Pledge and a declaration from the US and China to collaborate on climate action. Together, these could shave a not-insignificant 0.2°C off warming by mid-century, using existing methane-busting technology and at no net cost. As we explain on Methane is much worse than CO2 – here’s what we should do about it, this is great news, not something we are used to hearing when it comes to climate change. But it isn’t unequivocally good news. Grasping the methane lever doesn’t buy us extra time to deal with the real villain of the piece, carbon dioxide. We still have to decarbonise immediately. And making pledges is no substitute for making changes. Despite the sudden swerve to methane, the Glasgow Climate Pact merely “invites” nations to “consider further actions” to reduce it. It has taken 26 COPs to put science where it truly belongs, but we still have some way to go.

12-1-21 Why the myth of 'wilderness' harms both nature and humanity
Humans have affected every aspect of life on Earth – from hunting prehistoric beasts to changing the climate – and the illusion that pristine nature still exists undermines our efforts to make a better world, says environmental writer Emma Marris. What is nature? We tend to think of it as something “out there”, far away. We watch it on TV, we read about it in glossy magazines. We imagine somewhere distant, wild and free, a place with no people and no roads and no fences and no power lines, untouched by humanity’s grubby hands, unchanging except for the turn of the seasons. This is our mistake. This dream of pristine wilderness haunts us. It also blinds us. After many years thinking and writing about nature and wilderness, I have come to see these concepts as not just unscientific, but damaging. The notion of a pristine ecosystem is a myth. Over millennia, humans have stirred up the global pot and changed the entire planet so that all organisms alive today are influenced by us. And it goes the other way, too. We humans are deeply influenced by the plants and animals we evolved with; we are part of “nature”. Changing our ideas about nature isn’t easy. It is hard for you and me; it is probably hardest for those who have spent their lives studying and protecting wilderness. But it is crucial that we do. “Wilderness” rhetoric has long been used to justify denying land rights to Indigenous people and to erase their long histories. What’s more, thinking of nature and humans as incompatible makes it impossible to revive or discover ways of working with and within nature for the common good. All species that regularly interact shape each other’s evolution. Natural selection favours organisms that thrive in their environment, and the environment is as much the living species in a place as it is non-living factors like climate. So, like all animals on Earth, our species has been affecting other species for its entire run.

12-1-21 Plastic food packaging gets a bad rap, but does it always deserve it?
Social media can be a powerful force for positive change, especially when it comes to environmental issues. A seemingly perfect example is the drive to stem the tide of single-use plastic, particularly when it comes to food packaging. Huge campaigns – including organised groups descending on supermarkets to strip and dump all packaging from their purchases and leaving it at the till in what is known as a “plastic attack” – have led to some quite dramatic changes, both in business and government. But it is possible that these sorts of well-intentioned moves, based on simple, social-media-friendly messages, can have unintended consequences. The less geeky among us might overlook the fact that fruit and veg are still living plants, constantly interacting with the world around them in complex ways, some of which degrade the product. Under supermarket strip lights, they are still photosynthesising, making new compounds, breaking down others and even emitting growth regulators into the air that affect the behaviour of neighbouring crops on the shelves around them. Understanding these incredibly sophisticated interactions and how to control them has spurred the creation of a branch of study called post-harvest technology. Over the past half century or so, this has led to a suite of ingenious inventions, including wrapping, that have dramatically extended the shelf life of crops. Waste has been slashed and nutritional quality and flavour improved. Take, for example, a study published in 2011 showing that shrink-wrapped cucumbers lost a lot less water in a typical journey from farm to fork than the unwrapped equivalent, extending shelf life by up to 60 per cent. Ditching this wrapping would therefore have a significant impact on food as, much of the time, the crop would go off before being eaten.

12-1-21 Methane is much worse than CO2 – here’s what we should do about it
Methane is an underappreciated but potent greenhouse gas. How we deal with it will have a massive impact on averting the worst consequences of climate change. After a year of weather extremes, there can no longer be any doubt that the climate is warming rapidly, and no doubt that carbon dioxide is slowly cooking the planet. But the immediate culprit is a different gas altogether: methane. A potent greenhouse gas, methane is largely responsible for the current rate of warming. It is thus a vital target in the fight to keep global temperature rises below the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5°C – as well as offering some of the easiest wins. Yet it has been neglected. “Methane for so long has been a sort of Cinderella gas,” says Euan Nisbet at Royal Holloway, University of London. With methane kept below stairs, its ugly sisters carbon dioxide and, to a lesser extent, nitrous oxide (N2O) have got all the attention. No longer. At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, UK, last month, methane finally arrived at the party and won over the assembled dignitaries. World leaders lined up to declare it the belle of the ball, and more than 100 nations signed a pledge to slash its emissions by 2030. Depending on how you measure it – which is one of the problems with curbing it – 1 tonne of methane has between 28 and 120 times more warming power than 1 tonne of CO2. However, it stays in the atmosphere relatively briefly – about 12 years – before mostly being converted to CO2, which hangs around for at least a century. Yet it is present in the atmosphere in tiny quantities – lower even than CO2, which accounted for 412.5 molecules per million in 2020. Methane is measured in parts per billion, and its current concentration is about 1880 ppb, up from 722 in pre-industrial times.

12-1-21 Lakes freezing later in winter leads to less algae in the spring
A unique experiment in a Canadian lake has found that the timing of when ice forms can have a big impact on the organisms that live in it the following year. The timing of when ice forms on lakes in the winter can have big knock-on effects on life in the water the next spring and summer, according to a study that sheds light on how climate change will affect such ecosystems. As the climate warms, lake ice is forming later and thawing earlier. But there hasn’t been much research done on lakes during the winter, partly because the ice-covered period has long been considered a dormant season for freshwater organisms, so how these changes might affect lake ecosystems is unclear. “This is rather alarming given that we do not know much about under-ice lake ecology, so it is even harder to anticipate the consequences of ice loss and predict future changes,” says Marie-Pier Hébert, an aquatic scientist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. To find out more, Hébert and her colleagues conducted a unique experiment to manipulate the timing of ice onset in one lake in Canada. They constructed a floating platform with several deep containers extending below it, essentially turning columns of lake water into giant test tubes. Then, once the lake froze, they broke up and melted the ice in each container twice a day at dawn and dusk, delaying the onset of winter ice cover for 8, 15 or 21 days. This delay had a profound effect on life in the water below. A later freeze meant that algae could continue photosynthesis for longer, which in turn allowed some of the tiny zooplankton that feed on the algae to fatten up more and so survive throughout the winter under the ice. Those surviving zooplankton then got a head start on eating the new batch of spring algae once the ice started to melt, leaving less food available for species that only become active once the ice is gone.

12-1-21 UK refuses to release document showing Net Zero Strategy CO2 savings
The UK government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has turned down a freedom of information request that would allow independent scrutiny of its plan for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. The UK government has refused a freedom of information request to release a spreadsheet showing how much its landmark Net Zero Strategy will cut carbon emissions for individual measures, such as backing a new nuclear power station and fitting new electric car chargers. Withholding the document smacks of “secrecy and subterfuge” and prevents the public from being able to interrogate the estimated impacts of the measures, says Ed Matthew at climate change think tank E3G. The publication of the government’s Net Zero Strategy on 19 October was a key moment ahead of the COP26 climate summit, laying out in detail how the UK plans to reach its 2050 commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. Previous government blueprints for decarbonisation, such as the 2020 10-point green plan and 2017 clean growth strategy, have spelled out estimates of exactly how much individual policies will cut emissions. But the Net Zero Strategy failed to provide any such breakdown, which observers said showed a lack of transparency that hampered independent scrutiny. Government officials conceded that there was a spreadsheet containing all the figures, but said they wouldn’t release it. Now, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has refused a freedom of information request by New Scientist to publish the document. It declined the request on the grounds that it involves the disclosure of internal communications. Public interest doesn’t outweigh the need to keep such communications private, says the BEIS FOI team. “We have concluded that the net zero strategy itself contains appropriate detail at this stage for the public to engage with our decarbonisation proposals,” they wrote in a letter.

12-1-21 Victims of a historic flood in New York City reflect on the wreckage
Months after Hurricane Ida brought New York City to its knees with historic flooding that killed 13 people, victims are still reeling from the devastation. As they reflect on the storm, some wonder about the future of the city, as climate change makes extreme weather events more likely.


75 Global Warming News Articles
for December of 2021

Global Warming News Articles for November of 2021