18 Sep 2013:
Climate Change Reporting
Focuses on Disasters and Uncertainty
Nearly 80 percent of news articles about climate change either warn of current or future disaster scenarios related to global warming, or contain discussions about the uncertainty of climate science, an Oxford study of 350 news articles
from 2007 to 2012 has found. Fewer than two percent of the articles from the media in six countries discussed opportunities to be gained from switching to a lower-carbon economy. Journalists were attracted to "gloom and doom" stories about climate-related disasters, the team wrote, which is in line with findings from previous studies. Uncertainty was discussed in nearly 80 percent of the articles, which the researchers say poses a problem for dealing with climate change
because it keeps debate focused on what's considered conclusive proof of global warming
, rather than directing discussion toward the comparative costs and risks of different policy options.
16 Sep 2013:
Canadian Scientists Fight Back
Against Government Censorship Rules
Recent rules silencing government researchers in Canada have sparked protests in 16 major cities, the Guardian reports
. The Harper administration over the past few years has ordered scientists at Canada's National Research Council, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and other government research agencies not to discuss work on a number of climate- and environment-related issues with journalists, the public, or even fellow researchers. Scientists have been asked not to comment on topics ranging from snowflakes to salmon, even after results have been published in major scientific journals. Critics charge that the Harper administration has a track record of muzzling environmental research
. Earlier this month the administration was accused of stalling a major report on greenhouse emissions — widely expected to document significant rises in carbon pollution — because the study could deal a blow to Harper's efforts to secure U.S. approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Guardian reports.
13 Sep 2013:
Warmer Ocean Water Is Key
Factor in Melting Ice Shelves, Study Says
Recent research into one of West Antarctica's most rapidly melting glaciers and ice shelves has shown that rising ocean temperatures and a series of channels lacing the underside of
Edge of Pine Island ice sheet
the shelf are the key factors in the rapid thinning of the shelf
and the swift advance of the glacier behind it. Reporting in Science
, U.S. scientists said that instruments deployed on and under the Pine Island Glacier and ice shelf over the past two years have shown that warmer ocean water has been flowing through a series of channels under the shelf, causing the 31-mile-long floating slab of ice to thin at the alarming rate of 2.4 inches per day and loosening the shelf's hold on the bedrock below. The melting ice shelf itself doesn't contribute to sea level rise, but as it thins it allows more of the land-based Pine Island Glacier to flow into the sea,
which is contributing to sea level rise.
12 Sep 2013:
Migration of Trees Is
Not Keeping Pace with Warming
Most tree species in the U.S. aren't migrating northward as rapidly as predicted in response to climate change, a new study says
. Looking at 65 species across
Kilmer Forest, North Carolina
31 eastern states, the team found no consistent, northward migration of tree species, as many other climate studies have predicted. Rather than shifting northward by dispersing seeds to cooler climates, the researchers found, tree species are responding by speeding up their life cycles. "Most trees are responding through faster turnover," says lead scientist James Clark
of Duke University, "meaning they are staying in place but speeding up their life cycles in response to longer growing seasons and higher temperatures." The results appear in Global Change Biology
Interview: Finding a Better Message
About the Risks of Climate Change
It’s a common refrain: If people only knew more about the science, there wouldn’t be so much polarization on the issue of climate change. But Dan M. Kahan’s
groundbreaking work has gone a long way to prove that idea wrong. In fact, he’s found, it’s not the lack of scientific understanding that has led to conflict over climate change, but rather the need to adhere to the philosophy and values of one’s “cultural” group. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale Law School, maintains that in order to break down the polarization, the issue needs to be reframed in a way that minimizes the likelihood that positions on climate change will be identified with a particular group. “Are there ways to combine the science with meanings that would be affirming rather than threatening to people?” he says. “I think if somebody believes that there just aren’t any, I think that person just doesn’t have much imagination.”
Read the interview.
10 Sep 2013:
New Prize is Created to
Improve Measurements of Ocean Acidity
Philanthropist Wendy Schmidt is offering $2 million in prize money
to inventors who can develop inexpensive and easily deployable sensors to measure ocean acidification. The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X Prize
is offering $1 million to the team that invents the most accurate sensors to measure the ocean’s acidity and $1 million to the team that devises the most affordable and easy-to-use sensors. Biologist Paul Bunje, a senior executive for oceans at the X-Prize Foundation, said that because current ocean acidity sensors can cost more than $5,000, very little is known about the pace of ocean acidification in various regions and depths. The goal, said Bunje, is to deploy many thousands of sensors worldwide. Rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide mean that more CO2 is being dissolved in the oceans, steadily making them more acidic.
04 Sep 2013:
Scientists, Governments Question
'Blockbuster' Climate Change Reports
Scientists and government officials are questioning the way the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, widely considered the definitive authority on global climate risk, handles its major reports. The panel typically issues "blockbuster" reports every five to seven years; the next is set to be released this month in Stockholm. But The Guardian reports
that international climate scientists, many of whom have been involved in drafting those major reports, are now suggesting future assessments should be more targeted in scope and released more frequently. Scientists and government officials say that narrower reports, such as studies focused on specific regions or phenomena, would be more useful to policymakers. The panel's governing body will meet in October to discuss its future.
03 Sep 2013:
Crop Pests Migrate Poleward
Due to Global Warming, Study Says
Global warming has been driving crop pests toward the North and South poles at a rate of 1.7 miles per year, according to new research from the U.K. Looking at the
Stem rust (Puccinia graminis fungus)
distribution of 612 crop pests over the past 50 years, the researchers found a strong correlation between warming global temperatures and increased ranges for the pests. “If crop pests continue to march polewards as the Earth warms, the combined effects of a growing world population and the increased loss of crops to pests will pose a serious threat to global food security,” said Daniel Bebber, a biologist at the University of Exeter who led the study published in Nature Climate Change
. Crop pests — which include insects as well as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and nematodes — destroy 10 to 16 percent of the world's crops each year, or enough food to feed nine percent of the population, scientists estimate.
29 Aug 2013:
Future Wildfire Seasons to Be
Longer, Smokier, Cover More Area
Fire seasons will be three weeks longer, generate twice as much smoke, and cover a larger area of the western U.S. by 2050, a new study from Harvard researchers finds
. The risk of large fires could also increase by a
Petruncio Mike, USFWS
factor of two to three. In general, the biggest driver for future fires in Western states will be temperature, but driving factors can vary from region to region, the researchers say. In the Rockies, for example, moisture in the forest floor is the biggest predictor. Wildfires in the Great Basin region, however, will be more heavily influenced by relative humidity in the previous year. The results, published in Atmospheric Environment
, are based on records of past fire activity, decades of meteorological data, and a set of internationally recognized climate scenarios.
26 Aug 2013:
Ocean Acidification Could
Amplify Global Warming, Study Says
The increasing acidification of the world’s oceans caused by rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide not only poses a threat to marine creatures, but also could lead to an intensification of planetary warming,
according to a new study. A team of U.S., British, and German researchers conducted experiments in seawater enclosures, known as mesocosms
, showing that the increasing acidification of the ocean leads to a drop in production of an important sulfur compound, dimethylsulphide, or DMS. Marine emissions of DMS are the largest natural source of atmospheric sulfur,
and those sulfur aerosols play an important role in reflecting the sun’s energy back into space and cooling the planet. Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change
, the scientists found that when they created acidic conditions in the seawater enclosures that match pH levels expected in 2100, emissions of DMS fell by roughly 18 percent. The scientists said their study was the first to prove the link between rising ocean acidification and the potential decrease in planet-cooling sulfur dioxide aerosols.
19 Aug 2013:
Future Flood Losses
Could Increase Ten Times by 2050
The rapid growth of the world’s coastal cities, coupled with sea level rise and land subsidence, could mean that flood losses in major metropolitan areas could rise from
$6 billion in 2005 to more than $60 billion in 2050
, according to a new study. Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change
, researchers said sea level increases of 8 to 16 inches by 2050 could cause $60 billion to $63 billion in damages in 136 of the world’s coastal cities.
That figure assumes the cities will undertake some flood control measures. Cities whose infrastructure and buildings are now most at risk — including New York; New Orleans; Miami; Guangzhou, China; and Osaka, Japan — will be joined in four decades by other rapidly growing cities,
such as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
16 Aug 2013:
Ecuador Abandons Moratorium
On Oil Drilling in Biodiverse Yasuni Park
The Ecuadorian government has abandoned its moratorium on oil drilling in Yasuni National Park
as a proposal to protect the park with the help of international donations fell apart. In a nationally televised speech, President Rafael Correa blamed the failure of the ambitious conservation plan on a lack of funds, saying that a UN-administered trust fund had raised only $13 million of the $3.6 billion target. Located in eastern Ecuador, where the Amazon basin ascends into the Andes, Yasuni is home to an unprecedented number of animal and plant species
. According to a 2010 study
, one section of the park held at least 200 species of mammals, 247 amphibian and reptile species, and 550 species of birds. But Yasuni also sits atop an estimated 1 billion barrels of oil. Correa had said Ecuador would forego oil income and protect the park if foreign donors would contribute billions of dollars to compensate for the loss of oil revenue.
15 Aug 2013:
Plants in U.S. Southwest
Moving Higher as the Climate Warms
Numerous plant species on a mountain in the southwestern U.S. are migrating to higher elevations
as the climate gets warmer and drier, according to a new
University of Arizona
An alligator juniper on Mount Lemmon
study. After comparing the results of a recent survey of 27 plants found on Mount Lemmon, a 9,157-foot peak near Tucson, Ariz., with a similar survey conducted in 1963, researchers at the University of Arizona found that three-quarters of the plants have shifted their range “significantly” upslope in the last five decades. In some cases, researchers found that the plants had moved upward by as much as 1,000 feet, into a much narrower elevation range than where the plants existed in the early 1960s. Writing in the journal Ecology and Evolution
, the researchers note that the lowermost boundary for 15 of the species has shifted upslope.
Interview: Scientists, Aid Experts
Prepare for a Warmer Future
Harvard University recently sponsored a conference that brought together two groups — climate scientists and humanitarian relief workers — that will undoubtedly be collaborating more closely in the future
as natural disasters intensify in a warming world. The woman who was instrumental in opening a dialogue between these two factions was Jennifer Leaning
, the director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights
at the Harvard School of Public Health. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Leaning says the meeting underscored the huge challenges the aid community will face in a world of more extreme weather and rising seas. But at this point, she says, climate science cannot offer the specific predictions about timing or locations of climate upheaval that the aid community is seeking. “The humanitarians found that the questions they were asking were not the ones that the climate scientists were prepared to answer,” says Leaning. Read the interview
02 Aug 2013:
Prolonged Heat Wave Leaves
Russian Arctic Vulnerable to Wildfires
An enduring high-pressure weather system over the Russian Arctic has led to a prolonged heat wave, creating conditions for another surge in wildfires
a year after a particularly extreme wildfire season. NASA
scientists say that a so-called “blocking high” system — in which rain-bearing systems are blocked from moving west to east — has caused temperatures to reach 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) in the northern city of Norlisk, where daily highs in July typically average 61 degrees F (16 degrees C). Using satellite data, NASA produced a map that vividly depicts the land surface temperature anomalies in the region during the week of July 20-27, with temperatures soaring as high as 37 degrees F above normal. A separate satellite image shows smoke billowing from several fires burning in one of the areas, in the Khanty-Mansiyskiy and Yamal-Nenetskiy districts. According to scientists, the Siberian fires are burning in areas far north of where summer wildfires typically occur.
31 Jul 2013:
Desert Tree Plantings
Could Lower Atmospheric CO2 Levels
The large-scale planting of jatropha trees in the world’s arid regions could help reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide
, a new study says. Using computer models and data from plantations in Egypt, India, and
Madagascar, a team of German scientists calculated that plantations of the durable, scrubby jatropha — which can also be used as a biofuel — could capture 17 to 25 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare annually. Jatropha is particularly suited for so-called “carbon farming” because it can grow in hot, dry regions where the soil is unsuitable for food crops, according to the study, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics
. In addition, the researchers estimate that there are about 1 billion hectares of “unused and marginal” land suitable for cultivating such tree plantations. Since jatropha trees do require some water, the authors suggest they should be planted near coastal regions where desalinated seawater could be accessible.
26 Jul 2013:
Parched New Mexico Reservoir
Reveals Effects of Prolonged Drought
A pair of satellite images released by NASA this week
shows the effects of a severe drought on New Mexico’s largest reservoir, where water levels are at their lowest
levels in four decades. Earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that Elephant Butte reservoir in southern New Mexico was holding about 65,057 acre-feet of water, only 3 percent of its capacity of 2.2 million acre-feet, largely as a result of prolonged drought conditions and unusually low spring snowmelt from nearby mountains. That represents the lowest water levels in the reservoir since 1972. From the mid-1980s to 2000 the reservoir was nearly filled to capacity, as illustrated in a 1994 satellite image, top, released by NASA. The reservoir, fed by the Rio Grande, provides water for about 90,000 acres of agricultural land and about half the city of El Paso, Tex.
24 Jul 2013:
European Investment Bank
Will Not Finance Most Coal Power Stations
The European Investment Bank (EIB), the main lending arm of the European Union, has decided to stop financing most coal-fired power plants
, part of an effort to help the 28-nation bloc meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2030. The EIB says that new and refurbished coal-fired power stations will be ineligible for funding unless they emit less than 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, a standard that traditional coal power plants would be unable to meet. Power stations that burn coal would only be able to meet the standards if they also produce heat for municipal or commercial heating systems or burned biomass. The EIB says it plans to further tighten its emissions standards for coal- and natural gas-fired power plants in the future.
Interview: Leaving Our Descendants
A Whopping Increase in Sea Levels
Last week, a group of scientists led by Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research released a paper
that made a stark forecast:
For every 1 degree Celsius of temperature increase, the world will eventually experience a 2.3-meter increase in sea level. That means that should carbon emissions continue to rise at or near current rates, and temperatures soar 4 to 5 degrees C in the next century or two, the world could well experience sea level increases of many meters — dozens of feet — in the centuries and millennia to come. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Levermann discusses how he and his colleagues reached their conclusions, how much disruption such large sea level increases might cause, and why we need to ponder the effect of our actions on future generations. “Society needs to decide about how much damage it wants to do in the future and how much damage future generations can actually cope with,” he says.
Read the interview
15 Jul 2013:
Map Shows Possible Link
Between Warmer Springs and Large Fires
An interactive tool produced by the group Climate Central illustrates how rising temperatures and reduced snowpack in the western U.S. have corresponded with an increase in wildfires
in recent decades. Based on
federal wildfire data from 1970 to 2012, the graphic shows how large fires in some western states — including Arizona, Colorado, and Idaho — have doubled or even tripled in four decades, a period when the average spring and summer temperatures in 11 states increased by more than 1.5 degrees F. According to the Climate Central analysis, Arizona has experienced the highest average increase in spring temperatures, about 1 degree F, which has likely been a key factor in the steep increase in fires covering more than 1,000 acres. Another key factor has been the decrease in mountain snowpack. During several seasons, unusually low amounts of spring snow caused extended droughts that helped drive more big fires.
10 Jul 2013:
Massive Iceberg Calves
Off Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier
A massive chunk of Antarctica’s fastest-moving ice stream, the Pine Island Glacier, dropped into the Amundsen Sea this week
, nearly two years after
Click to enlarge
Alfred Wegener Institute/German Space Agency
Pine Island Glacier, 2011-2013
scientists first observed a crack in the glacier tongue. German scientists, who have been tracking the progress of the ice mass since NASA satellites first observed the crack in 2011, say the calved iceberg measured 720 square kilometers (278 square miles). There is no conclusive proof that climate change triggered the ice break, said Angelika Humbert, an ice researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute. But shifting wind patterns around Antarctica are bringing warmer waters to the surface of the Southern Ocean in West Antarctica, which is hastening the thinning of some glaciers. Humbert said those warmer waters are causing the Pine Island Glacier to flow more rapidly into the Amundsen Sea.
01 Jul 2013:
Climate Change Driving
More Active El Niño Cycles, Study Says
A new analysis of tree-ring data indicates that the climate cycle known as the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has been more active during the latter part of the 20th century than at any other time during the past seven centuries
, suggesting that global warming is affecting this climate phenomenon. Using data from 2,222 tree-ring chronologies from the tropics and mid-latitudes in both the northern and southern Hemispheres, a team of scientists determined that ENSO-related behavior in the late 20th century was far greater than the natural variability reflected in data going back to 1300. A naturally occurring climate cycle, ENSO is characterized by warmer ocean temperatures off the west coast of South America, a phenomenon that can cause major droughts, floods, and extreme weather across the Pacific. According to Jinbao Li, a scientist at the University of Hawaii and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change
, greenhouse gases are altering the planet’s radiation balance and thus intensifying ENSO cycles.
25 Jun 2013:
President Obama Unveils
Sweeping U.S. Plan To Tackle Climate Change
President Obama today unveiled a long-awaited national strategy to tackle climate change
, a sweeping plan that will include cutting carbon emissions at power plants, protecting the coastline from rising seas, and a
greater U.S. role in global climate talks. Calling the need to address climate change a “moral obligation,” Obama asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop strict new standards on carbon pollution from existing power plants
, the largest source of emissions, by June 2014, and complete standards for new plants by October. He also committed $7 billion for climate mitigation and adaptation projects, and $8 billion in incentives for energy efficiency and other innovations, including carbon capture technologies. Overall, the president’s strategy aims to cut U.S. carbon emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
21 Jun 2013:
Illegal Fires in Sumatra
Send Dangerous Pollution to Singapore
Billowing smoke from illegal fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra has engulfed Singapore this week, pushing air pollution to record levels
consecutive days. The smoke, which is captured in a new NASA satellite image
, has created an acrid blanket of smog across the region and historic levels of air pollution. According to government officials, Singapore's air pollution index reached 401 on Friday, a level considered hazardous for breathing. Before this week, the previous high was 226. The smoke has been blowing east toward southern Malaysia and Singapore
from Sumatra, where farmers set illegal fires to clear land for new crops during the mid-year dry season. The fires are yet another sign of the large-scale deforestation taking place on Sumatra.
20 Jun 2013:
Global Reports Underline
Threats to Planet’s Bird Species
New global research underlines the rising threats facing the world’s bird species, with three reports providing evidence that climate change, overfishing, and unsustainable agriculture are taking a heavy toll on
Puffins along the Maine coast.
avian populations worldwide. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reports that numbers of some migratory bird populations in Maine — including Arctic terns and puffins — have plummeted in recent years
because their food supplies are disappearing as a result of commercial fishing and the shifting of fish to cooler waters, which is making it more difficult for some birds to feed their young. In a separate study, scientists predict that rising sea levels will devastate habitat for some migratory shore birds
in the coming decades. Higher sea levels, the study predicts, will flood 23 percent to 40 percent of the intertidal habitats for several shorebird species, triggering population declines of as much as 70 percent. Overall, one in eight bird species globally is at risk of extinction
, according to a new report by BirdLife International
19 Jun 2013:
Study Maps Likely Wildlife
Migration Corridors as Climate Warms
The southeastern U.S., eastern Canada, and the Amazon Basin could become three of the more heavily used wildlife thoroughfares as species are forced to relocate
Click to enlarge
University of Washington
Wildlife corridors in the southeastern U.S.
in response to warming temperatures in the future, according to a new study
. In an analysis of how nearly 3,000 species of mammals, birds, and amphibians in the Western Hemisphere will have to travel to find more hospitable climes — and the human-built barriers, such as cities and agricultural land, that could stand in their way — scientists from the University of Washington found that some regions will see far more animal movement than others. In the southeastern U.S., the Appalachian Mountains are expected to provide a conduit for species movement, as are northern regions of the eastern U.S., including the area around the Great Lakes, the study found. According to the study, published in Ecology Letters
, the findings can help guide conservation and land use planning along these critical migration corridors.
17 Jun 2013:
Changes in Jet Stream Triggered
Record Greenland Melt in 2012, Study Says
An unusual shift in the jet stream triggered the historic level of surface ice melt
that occurred across Greenland last summer, a new study says. Using satellite data and a computer model simulation, scientists from the University of Sheffield found that a high-pressure system developed in the mid-troposphere over Greenland for much of the summer, pushing warm southerly winds over the western edge of the ice sheet and creating a “heat dome” over Greenland. According to the study, published in the International Journal of Climatology
, this unprecedented event caused record melting across virtually the entire ice sheet, including on Summit Station, Greenland’s highest peak. Ocean temperatures and Arctic sea ice retreat, meanwhile, played a minimal part in the record surface ice melt, the scientists reported. The study predicted that the record ice melt of 2012 is not likely to be “climatically representative of future ‘average’ summers” during the coming century.
10 Jun 2013:
Carbon Emissions Increased
1.4 Percent in 2012, IEA Reports
Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.4 percent in 2012
, a pace that could lead to a temperature increase of as much as 5.3 degrees C (9 degrees F) over pre-industrial times, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest World Energy Outlook
. Despite significant improvements in some regions, including the U.S. and Europe, a record 31.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide were emitted worldwide during the year, including a 5.8-percent increase in Japan
, where more fossil fuels were burned to compensate for reductions in nuclear power. While the rate of emissions growth in China was dramatically lower than in recent years, it still emitted 3.8 percent more carbon dioxide in 2012 than in 2011. In its report, the IEA encouraged four strategies to prevent what it says will be a catastrophic temperature increase: improved energy efficiency in buildings, industry, and transportation; a reduction in construction and use of coal-fired plants; reduced methane emissions; and a partial phaseout of fossil fuel consumption subsidies.
07 Jun 2013:
New Map of Antarctica Provides
Clearest Glimpse of Subglacial Continent
British scientists have unveiled the most detailed topographical map available yet of Antarctica
, a vast dataset that provides a penetrating 3-D view of the
Click to enlarge
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Antarctica's subglacial terrain
frozen continent down to the bedrock level and could offer insights into how it will respond to climate change. Based on millions of measurements collected over decades, the British Antarctic Survey
’s Bedmap2 project illustrates the continent with a level of clarity not previously available, including a vivid look at the mountain landscapes buried in ice and valleys that run deeper than had been known. The scientists say better understanding the landscape will help them predict the behavior of Antarctica’s ice sheet in future decades and the extent to which melting could increase sea levels. The map was based on data collected by satellites, land-based surveys, and ice-penetrating measurements of the subglacial bedrock
30 May 2013:
Nuclear Power Has Prevented
1.84 Million Premature Deaths, Study Says
The use of nuclear power from 1971 to 2009 prevented more than 1.8 million premature deaths
related to air pollution and 64 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, a new study says. Using historical production data and estimates of mortality per unit of electricity generated, scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University calculated that replacing nuclear energy sources with fossil fuel-burning sources during that period would have caused about 1.84 million premature deaths. By midcentury, they project, nuclear power could prevent an additional 420,000 to 7 million deaths, depending on which fossil fuels it replaces, and 80 to 240 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. “By contrast, we assess that large-scale expansion of unconstrained natural gas use would not mitigate the climate problem and would cause far more deaths than the expansion of nuclear power,” said Pushker A. Kharecha, who, along with NASA’s James Hansen, co-authored the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology
. The study calculated that nuclear power plant accidents caused about 4,900 deaths during the same period.