30 Jul 2014:
New Maps of Peru Forests
Could Help Set Conservation Priorities
New, highly detailed maps of Peru's vegetation show that three-quarters of the country's forests — a biomass
stock that sequesters more carbon than the combined annual CO2 emissions of the U.S. and China — lie outside of protected areas and are vulnerable to deforestation, according to
an analysis by researchers in the U.S. and Peru. The maps, which should prove helpful to scientists, conservationists, and policymakers working to protect the forests, offer the most detailed view to date of the different types of vegetative cover and above-ground carbon stocks across Peru, with resolution at the one-hectare scale. The analysis found that the lowlands of southern Peru, which contain extensive bamboo cover, harbor significantly less carbon than other rainforest areas, and forests in active floodplains appear to store half as much carbon as other forests.
25 Jul 2014:
Southwestern U.S. Aquifers
Are Extremely Low, NASA Data Show
Groundwater reserves in the U.S. Southwest are severely low and prospects for their long-term viability are bleak as persistent drought continues to parch the
land and prevent recharging, according to an assessment from NASA
. As shown in this map, many underground aquifers in the Southwest are extremely dry compared to average conditions over the past 60 years. Deep red areas on the map, such as in southern California and Nevada, depict aquifers that are so dry there's less than a 2 percent chance they could have experienced such levels of drought-related depletion since 1948. Although the Pacific Northwest is experiencing drought-related wildfires, its aquifers appear to be well-stocked, according to the map. The discrepancy is likely due to the long lag between dry conditions at the surface and depletion of groundwater reserves, researchers say.
24 Jul 2014:
Protecting Community Forests
Is a Major Tool in Climate Fight, Study Says
Expanding and strengthening the community forest rights of indigenous groups and rural residents can make a major contribution to sequestering carbon and
The Brazilian Amazon
reducing CO2 emissions from deforestation, according to a new report
. The World Resources Institute
(WRI) and the Rights and Resources Initiative
said that indigenous people and rural inhabitants in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have government-recognized rights to forests containing nearly 38 billion tons of carbon, equal to 29 times the annual emissions of all the world’s passenger vehicles. By enforcing community rights to those forests
, the study said, governments can play a major role in tackling climate change. In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, deforestation rates are 11 times lower in community forests than in forests outside those areas. In areas where community forest rights are ignored, deforestation rates often soar. The report made five major recommendations, from better enforcement of community forest zones to compensating communities for the benefits their forests provide.
Earth Observation Satellites Help
Scientists Understand Global Change
Global warming is affecting more than just atmospheric temperatures — it is also changing water cycles
, soil conditions, and animal migrations. Earth observation satellites aid scientists in measuring and monitoring these changes so societies can better adapt. Although there are well over 1,000 active orbiting satellites, less than 15 percent are used to monitor Earth’s environment. Yale Environment 360
presents a gallery of satellites that scientists are using to better understand how the planet is changing.
View the gallery.
16 Jul 2014:
Politics and Education Affect
When People Search for Climate Information
People across the United States search the Internet for information on climate change when they experience unusual or severe weather events, but the timing of their searches differs based on political ideology and education levels, according to
research published in the journal Climatic Change
. An analysis of Google searches and weather patterns between 2004 and 2013 found that Democratic-leaning regions and those with higher education levels were more likely to seek information about climate change when average summer temperatures were above normal, whereas those in Republican and less educated areas sought climate change information when they experienced extreme heat. Searches peaked during weather consistent with climate change as well as during cold snaps, the study found. This could indicate that people who observe unusual extreme weather conditions are genuinely interested in learning more about climate change, or that climate deniers, when experiencing unusually cool weather, go online to confirm their skeptical views, the researcher speculated.
Five Questions for Jeffrey Sachs
On Decarbonizing the Economy
Thirty scientific institutions from 15 countries last week released a report for the United Nations outlining how
the world’s major carbon dioxide-emitting nations can slash those emissions by mid-century. Called the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project
, the initiative aims to provide leaders with a plan of action in advance of a UN summit in September and climate negotiations in Paris in late 2015. Yale Environment 360
asked Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and a key player in the decarbonization project, five questions about the initiative and the prospects for global action on the climate front.
14 Jul 2014:
Human Activity Has Caused
Long-term Australian Drought, Model Shows
A new high-resolution climate model shows that southwestern Australia's long-term decline in fall and winter rainfall, which began around 1970 and has increased over the last four decades, is caused by
increases in man-made greenhouse gas emissions and ozone depletion, according to
research published in Nature Geoscience
. Simulating both natural and man-made climate effects, scientists showed that the decline in rainfall is primarily driven by human activity. Rises in greenhouse gas emissions and thinning of the ozone hole have led to changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation, including a poleward movement of the westerly winds and increasing atmospheric surface pressure over parts of southern Australia. This has led to decreased rainfall, the study said. The drying is most severe over southwest Australia, where the model forecasts a 40 percent decline in average rainfall by the late 21st century, with significant implications for regional water resources.
07 Jul 2014:
A Strong Rebuke for Paper
That Forecasted `Climate Departure’
Thirteen climate scientists and meteorologists have published a sharp criticism
of a paper
by University of Hawaii biogeographer Camilo Mora, who calculated dates when earth’s climate will move into a new state caused by human-driven global warming. Mora and his ideas were featured in an interview
last week at Yale Environment 360
. In a comment article in Nature
, the 13 scientists say that Mora and his colleagues used faulty methodology that produced artificially early dates when specific regions would reach “climate departure.” They also said Mora underestimated the uncertainty involved in forecasting the time of emergence of a new climate regime. “This overconfidence could impair the effectiveness of climate risk management decisions,” the 13 scientists said in their comment. In his own comment
, Mora defended his methods, saying, “Our findings are conservative and remain unaltered in the light of their analysis.”
03 Jul 2014:
Human Activity Has Boosted
Plant Growth Globally, NASA Data Show
On a global scale, the presence of people corresponds to more plant growth, according to
an analysis of three decades of global vegetation greenness data from
Agriculture has increased global vegetative cover.
satellites. More than 20 percent of global vegetation change can be attributed to human activities, such as agriculture, nitrogen fertilization, and irrigation, rather than climate change, researchers report in the journal Remote Sensing
. The findings suggest that global climate change models, which typically don't consider human land use, should take into account the relatively large impact human settlements can have on vegetative cover, the researchers say. From 1981 to 2010, areas with a human footprint saw plant greenness and plant productivity increase by up to 6 percent, while areas with a minimal human footprint, such as rangelands and wildlands, saw almost no change. Most increases in growth and greenness were seen near rural areas and villages, where agriculture is more intense.
Interview: Where Will the Earth
Head After Its ‘Climate Departure’?
The term “climate departure” has an odd ring, but its meaning is relatively straightforward. It marks the point at which the earth’s climate begins to cease resembling
what has come before and moves into a new state where the extreme becomes the norm. Camilo Mora — a University of Hawaii biogeographer, ecologist, and specialist in marshaling big data for climate modeling — has calculated a rough idea for the time of the earth’s climate departure: 2047. That date varies depending on region
, he says. But in a widely publicized paper published in the journal Nature
last year, Mora and 13 colleagues explored the concept of climate departure and what it will mean for our planet. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Mora explains why tropical regions will be most profoundly affected by climate change, why controlling population growth is at the core of the challenge posed by global warming, and the frustrations he and other scientists feel as their warnings about rising temperatures are ignored.
01 Jul 2014:
Small Island Nation of Kiribati
Purchases Foreign Land as Climate Refuge
The small island nation of Kiribati has purchased a swath of land in Fiji as a refuge for citizens who may be displaced by rising sea levels, marking the first time a
Kiribati's location (red) in the Pacific Ocean.
country has taken such actions as a defense against climate change, the Guardian reports
. Kiribati, home to 110,000 people scattered across 33 islands in the Pacific Ocean, is one of several small island nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans that could be extensively or completely submerged within a few decades. The cost of protecting such countries often far outweighs their national incomes. Kiribati, with a GDP of under $200 million, ranks among the 10 countries facing the most severe financial impacts of climate change. The tract of 20 square kilometers on the island of Vanua Levu, Fiji, could provide a future refuge for all of Kiribati's citizens, the nation's president said.
30 Jun 2014:
Antarctica's Emperor Penguins
To Be in Serious Decline By 2100, Study Says
Antarctica's Emperor penguins are facing dramatic declines by the end of the century and should be given endangered species status because of the threats posed
Sea ice loss threatens Emperor penguins.
by climate change, according to
an international group of scientists. If sea ice declines at the rates projected by current climate models, at least two-thirds of the colonies will likely shrink by more than 50 percent by 2100, the researchers report in Nature Climate Change
. That conclusion follows a 50-year study in eastern Antarctica of Emperor penguins, an iconic Antarctic species with 45 known colonies. Emperor penguins' survival is highly dependent on sea ice concentrations because they breed on the ice, and too little sea ice reduces the habitat for krill, a critical food source for the penguins. Granting the species protected status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act will provide tools for improving fishing practices of U.S. vessels in the Southern Ocean and potentially for reducing CO2 emissions in the U.S. under the Clear Air Act, the researchers say.
27 Jun 2014:
Going Vegetarian Could Halve
A Consumer’s Food-related CO2 Footprint
A new study of more than 50,000 people in the United Kingdom shows that going vegan, vegetarian, or even “pescatarian” can drastically reduce
people’s carbon footprints. Published in the journal Climatic Change
, the study concluded that if people eating more than 100 grams of meat a day went vegan, their food-related carbon footprint would shrink by 60 percent. If a person eating more than 100 grams of meat per day — and U.S. consumers eat about 225 grams daily — cut down to 50 grams per day, their food-related CO2 emissions would fall by a third, the study said. Pescatarians, who eat fish but no other meat, generate only 2.5 percent more CO2 emissions than vegetarians, according to the study. The research also concluded that vegans produce 25 percent fewer CO2 emissions than vegetarians, who still eat eggs and dairy. “In general there is a clear and strong trend with reduced greenhouse gas emissions in diets that contain less meat,” said Oxford University researcher Peter Scarborough, a co-author of the study.
20 Jun 2014:
Summer Temperatures in U.S.
Have Risen Up To 5 Degrees Since 1970
Summer temperatures in the U.S. have been rising on average 0.4 degrees F per decade since 1970, or about
2 degrees F overall, but the Southwest and West regions have borne the brunt of those increases, according to an analysis by Climate Central
. In the Southwest, temperatures have risen an average of 0.6 degrees per decade, with a few localized areas warming as much as 0.9 degrees per decade. In the West, some parts of California and Nevada have warmed 1.32 degrees F per decade, or more than 5 degrees total since 1970. On the other end of the spectrum, the Upper Midwest has seen the lowest increases. Temperatures in that region have increased only 0.1 degree F per decade on average. The National Climate Assessment
, released last month, found that annual average temperatures in the U.S. could increase by 10 degrees F before the end of the century if the rate of greenhouse gas emissions doesn't slow.
19 Jun 2014:
Rerouting Flights to Avoid
Contrails Would Slow Climate Change
Rerouting the flight paths of commercial aircraft to minimize the condensation trails, or contrails, they leave behind would help slow global warming, even if
the new flight path is longer, according to research published today
. Contrails, thin clouds composed of ice crystals condensed from an aircraft's exhaust, can persist for 17 hours or more and are likely the single largest contributor to climate change
associated with aviation. They form when a plane passes through parts of the atmosphere that are very cold and moist, usually near high pressure systems. The new research shows that avoiding contrail formation has greater climate benefits than avoiding additional carbon dioxide emissions associated with slightly longer flight routes. For example, for a small aircraft that is predicted to form a contrail 20 miles long, an alternative path that adds less than 200 miles will have a smaller climate impact than the contrail. For a larger aircraft, which emits more CO2 per mile than a smaller plane, the alternative route is preferable if it adds less than 60 miles, according to researchers from the University of Reading.
18 Jun 2014:
Global Energy Systems Must
Prepare for Climate Change, Study Says
Power plants and energy systems around the world will experience potentially disastrous effects from climate change and should develop plans for dealing with those effects, according to a report released today
by the World Energy Council and European researchers. Long-term droughts, for example, could threaten water supplies needed to cool large power plants as they produce electricity, the report notes
. Many energy facilities are also lacking protection from floods, rising seas, and severe weather events — a problem highlighted by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Strong global political action could have major impacts on the energy sector, the report says, especially if governments make a coordinated effort to invest in renewable and low-carbon energy and upgrades to power distribution grids.
16 Jun 2014:
Skyscraper-Size Ice Structures
Discovered at Base of Greenland Ice Sheet
Melting and refreezing at the base of the Greenland ice sheet has created massive, complex structures the height of skyscrapers and the width of Manhattan, according to
research published in Nature Geoscience
The hidden formations more than a mile below the surface stand in stark contrast to the nearly flat, smooth exterior of the ice sheet and may accelerate its flow toward the sea, researchers say. Scientists had previously interpreted the irregular topography at the base of the ice as hills or mountains, but ice-penetrating radar revealed that the structures were made of ice rather than rock. Scientists from Columbia University explained that as meltwater at the bottom refreezes over hundreds or thousands of years, it radiates heat into the surrounding ice sheet, making it pick up its pace as the ice becomes softer and flows more easily. Greenland's glaciers appear to be moving more rapidly toward the sea as climate warms, but it's unclear how the refreezing process will influence this trend, researchers said.
13 Jun 2014:
U.S. Energy System Depicted
In New Mapping Tool from Federal Agency
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently launched a mapping system
that allows users to
explore the landscape of energy sources and power plant distribution across the nation. Among the most striking visualizations is this map showing the widespread distribution of natural gas power plants, marking the fossil fuel's growing use as an energy source. The U.S. had 1,714 natural gas power plants in 2012, accounting for 30 percent of the country's electricity generation, Vox reports
. Natural gas plants are easier to build and emit fewer pollutants and roughly half as much CO2 as coal-fired plants. The EIA maps depict numerous aspects of the U.S. power system, including the distribution of wind turbines, solar installations, nuclear power plants, coal-fired plants, hydropower stations, and pipelines. More energy maps
are available at Vox, or users can create their own with the EIA's tool.
09 Jun 2014:
Air Conditioning Can Raise
Urban Nighttime Temperature by 2 Degrees
Excess heat from air conditioners raises outdoor temperatures at night by nearly 2 degrees F (1 degree C), worsening the urban heat island effect and increasing cooling demands, according to research
from Arizona State University. Studying the Phoenix metropolitan area, researchers found that air conditioning systems pumped more waste heat into the air during the day, but the effect on near-surface temperatures was negligible. The same was not true for nighttime temperatures, however, when waste heat significantly boosts air temperatures because of nighttime atmospheric conditions. Air conditioning systems can consume more than 50 percent of total electricity
during extreme heat, the researchers note, and summertime extreme-heat days are projected to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change. Redirecting waste heat from air conditioning systems to household appliances such as water heaters, for example, could help alleviate the problem, the scientists say. They project that such strategies would save at least 1,200 to 1,300 megawatt-hours of energy per day in the Phoenix metropolitan area alone.
Interview: The Small College That
Launched Fossil Fuel Divestment
When Stanford University announced in May that it would divest its endowment of coal mining companies, it was following the lead of a tiny college in rural Maine
that dubs itself “America’s environmental college.” A year and a half earlier, Stephen Mulkey, the president of Unity College
stood on a stage with Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org and lead cheerleader for the divestment movement, to announce that his college would be the first institution of higher learning to rid its endowment of all fossil fuel holdings. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Mulkey, a climate scientist, talks about the ethical imperative behind the decision to divest, and his vision for, as he puts it, a re-engineering of the way the environmental sciences are taught.
06 Jun 2014:
Brazil Leads the World
In Cutting Deforestation, Analysis Finds
Brazil has become the world leader in reducing deforestation and, at the same time, has increased its soy and beef production, researchers report
Amazon rainforest near Manaus, Brazil
. The country has cut its forest loss by 70 percent since 2004, sparing more than 86,000 square kilometers of rainforests and keeping more than 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Brazil's decline in deforestation in 2013 alone represented a 1.5 percent reduction in global emissions that year, the report says; globally, tropical forest loss
accounts for 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. The analysis credits the success to bold government policies, pressure from environmental groups, and market fluctuations in the price of soy and beef, but the authors warn that these wins may be short-lived without more positive incentives for farmers. “These gains are globally significant, but fragile,” one researcher explained. “We’re bumping up against the limits of what can be achieved through punitive measures.”
04 Jun 2014:
New Ozone-Depleting Gases
Discovered in Atmosphere, Researchers Say
Researchers this week identified three new ozone-depleting gases
in the atmosphere, bringing the total number of such gases discovered this year to seven.
Ozone hole as of September 2013
Alone, none of the three gases were found in concentrations high enough to harm the ozone layer, researchers from the University of East Anglia. But the scientists believe more such gases will likely be discovered, and, cumulatively, they could have a significant impact. Two of the newly discovered gases are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and one is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), both of which were once widely used in refrigerants. All three of the newly discovered gases are likely man-made, researchers said. Both CFCs and HCFCs fall under the Montreal Protocol
, an international agreement that bans the use of 13 such compounds. Including the four new gases discovered earlier this year, there are now a total of 20 known ozone-depleting gases.
02 Jun 2014:
New U.S. Coal Plant Rules
Could Lead to a Steep Drop in Emissions
The Obama administration today unveiled a sweeping new plan
that aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants by roughly a third. Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the new rules would give states maximum flexibility
to achieve the goal of reducing power plant emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Hundreds of coal-fired power plants are expected to close under the EPA plan. But rather than immediately shutting down plants, states would be allowed to reduce emissions by making changes across their electricity systems — by installing new wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, continuing to expand the use of natural gas, and by starting or joining state and regional “cap and trade” programs. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution ... so each state’s path can be different,” said McCarthy. The proposed regulations could be held up by legal challenges. Obama administration officials said the rules would lift the U.S. into a clear global leadership position
on combating global warming.
Video Report: Americans on the
Front Lines of Climate Change
A fire chief in Colorado whose department is battling increasingly intense blazes in the American West. A Texas rancher struggling to operate in the face of years of drought. Oyster farmers in Washington state scrambling to adapt to increasingly acidic waters that are damaging their harvests. These Americans are the subjects of videos created by The Story Group
, a non-profit journalism initiative. The videos are meant to put a human face on the science behind the recently released National Climate Assessment
, which stressed that global warming is already having a major impact on the United States.
Watch the videos.
27 May 2014:
To Sway the U.S. Public,
‘Global Warming’ Beats out ‘Climate Change’
If politicians and scientists want to convey the urgency and importance of a warming world, they are far better off using the term "global warming"
than “climate change,” according to a new report. Produced by researchers at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University, the report
says that Americans are much more familiar with the term “global warming” and that it engenders more negative associations and concern. Based on recent surveys, the report said moderates, women, Hispanics, political independents, and younger Americans associate “global warming” with alarming developments such as melting glaciers and extreme weather. Among many groups, “global warming” also creates a greater sense of threat to one’s family and future generations. “Scientists often prefer the term climate change for technical reasons, but should be aware that the two terms generate different interpretations among the general public and specific subgroups,” the report said. The survey found that among Republicans the two terms are generally synonymous.
20 May 2014:
Widespread Greenland Melting
Due to Forest Fires and Warming, Study Says
Rising temperatures and ash from Northern Hemisphere forest fires combined to cause large-scale surface melting of the Greenland ice sheet in 2012, an
echo of a similar event that occurred in 1889, a new study
finds. The massive Greenland ice sheet — the second largest ice body in the world after the Antarctic ice sheet — experiences annual melting at low elevations near the coastline, but surface melt is rare in the dry snow region in its center. In July 2012, however, satellites observed for the first time surface melt across more than 97 percent of the ice sheet, generating reports that the event was almost exclusively the result of climate change. In the new report, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, researchers found that in both 2012 and 1889 exceptionally warm temperatures combined with black carbon sediments from Northern Hemisphere forest fires to darken the surface of the ice sheet to a critical albedo threshold, causing the large-scale melting events. Since Arctic temperatures and the frequency of forest fires are both expected to rise with climate change, large-scale melt events on the Greenland ice sheet may begin to occur almost annually by 2100, the researchers say.
15 May 2014:
Intensity of Hurricanes
Now Peaking Farther From the Equator
Powerful, destructive tropical cyclones are now reaching their peak intensity farther from the equator and closer to the poles, according to a new study
in the journal
Hurricane Sandy's progression in 2012
. Over the last 30 years, tropical cyclones, also known as hurricanes or typhoons, have moved poleward at a rate of roughly 33 miles per decade in the Northern Hemisphere and 38 miles per decade in the Southern Hemisphere. Ocean temperatures between 82 and 86 degrees F seem to be "ideal for the genesis of tropical cyclones," said MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel, who co-authored the study, "and as that belt migrates poleward, which surely it must as the whole ocean warms, the tropical cyclone genesis regions might just move with it." The poleward shift of hurricanes and typhoons could lead to "potentially profound consequences to life and property" in regions that previously had not been hit by tropical cyclones.
Five Questions for John Holdren
On the U.S. Climate Assessment
The federal government this month released its National Climate Assessment
, the most comprehensive report to
John P. Holdren
date on the climate impacts already being felt in the U.S. Saying climate change “has moved firmly into the present,” the report documented how drier regions are growing drier, heat waves more intense, and large swaths of forest dying from insect infestations. Yale Environment 360
asked John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, five questions about the report and about plans by President Obama to intensify actions to rein in CO2 emissions and adapt to rising seas and other changes. Read more.
14 May 2014:
Early El Niño Conditions
May Spell Big Weather Impact This Year
Indications are growing that an El Niño weather pattern may be forming in the Pacific Ocean, which could have a profound impact on global weather. El Niño events are spawned by unusually warm ocean waters in the Pacific,
and these NASA satellite images
are one indication of warmer waters. The images depict sea-surface height anomalies, with above average sea-surface height shown in various shades of brown. Above average sea-surface heights are an indication of warmer waters, which expand as temperatures rise. These two images compare conditions in 1997 — a year with one of the most powerful El Niño events of the 20th century — with conditions this May. If an El Niño pattern does develop this year, it could lead to wetter conditions in western North America and South America, which could help end a severe drought now plaguing the U.S. West. The 1997/98 El Niño also created warmer and drier conditions in much of Asia. Other evidence, including data from a network of buoys in the Pacific, also shows a deep pool of warm waters sliding east across the Pacific since January.
Interview: Can Marine Life Adapt
To the World’s Acidifying Oceans?
As the world’s oceans grow more acidic from increased absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide, marine scientists are confronting a key question: How well can
organisms like mollusks, crustaceans, and corals adapt to these more corrosive conditions? One of the leading authorities in this field is University of California, Santa Barbara marine biologist Gretchen Hofmann. Her work in recent years has shown, in fact, that some sea organisms that build shells do seem to have some ability to acclimate to more acidic waters. But in an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Hofmann cautions that this adaptive capacity has its limits. The continuing burning of fossil fuels, she says, could push ocean acidity past a tipping point, rendering some mollusks and other organisms unable to build shells.
Read the interview.