26 Feb 2016:
California Natural Gas Leak Officially Largest Leak in U.S. History
The four-month natural gas leak that sickened hundreds of Los Angeles residents and forced the evacuations of 1,800 homes this winter has officially been deemed the largest methane leak in U.S. history, according to a study
in the journal Science
A natural gas facility in California's Aliso Canyon.
The California leak spewed a total 97,100 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, up to 60 tons per hour—the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 572,000 cars. Methane is a greenhouse gas dramatically more potent than carbon dioxide over a short time span. The researchers collected the data during 13 different flights through the leaking gas plume. The measurements were so high the scientists said they double-checked their recording devices. "It became obvious that there wasn't anything wrong with the instruments," said
Stephen Conley, an atmospheric scientists at the University of California-Davis who led the study. "This was just a huge event."
24 Feb 2016:
Extended Bleaching Events
Are Killing Corals As Oceans Warm
Rising ocean temperatures are intensifying the die-off of corals around the planet, according to U.S. government scientists. “We are currently experiencing
Bleached coral at the Great Barrier Reef
the longest global coral-bleaching event ever observed,” said Mark Eakin
, head of Coral Reef Watch at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Bleaching occurs when corals respond to environmental hazards, such as high ocean temperatures, by expelling the symbiotic algae they need to provide them with sustenance. Eakin predicted that the latest extended bleaching event, which started in 2014, will likely last well into next year, at which time about 60 percent of corals worldwide may be affected. Eakin compares the continuous pressure that reefs have been under in recent years to a boxing bout. “What used to be a one-round fight is turning into a two- and three-round fight,” he says.
22 Feb 2016:
Reaching Emission Targets Could
Save 295,000 U.S. Lives by 2030, Study Says
The greenhouse emission cuts that America agreed to at the Paris climate conference may come with a significant public health benefit —the prevention of 295,000 premature deaths— according to a Duke University study
. At the December summit, 196 nations, including the U.S., agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In order to achieve that goal, the U.S. will need to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030, which would lead to a significant reduction in deadly air pollution, according to the study. “People should realize that emissions are having a big impact already… more than 100,000 deaths a year,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke and lead author of the study
. “Air pollution is a very big health challenge, it’s having a major public health impact in the U.S.” According to the World Health Organization
, about seven million people died in 2012 as a result of air pollution.
18 Feb 2016:
Scientists Map Which Ecosystems
are the Most Vulnerable to Climate Change
Forests, tundras, and alpine areas are some of the world’s most at-risk ecosystems to climate change, according to a new map
published in the journal Nature.
Map of at-risk ecosystems
The study, led by scientists at the University of Bergen in Norway, used satellite data collected from 2000 to 2013 to examine how sensitive plants were to changes in air temperature, water availability, and cloud cover, down to a two-square-mile scale. The scientists used the results to create the Vegetation Sensitivity Index—a visual guide to plants’ climate responses. The Arctic tundra, parts of Europe and Canada’s boreal forest, tropical rainforests in South America, and eastern Australia all registered as some of the most ecologically sensitive regions in the world to climatic changes.
11 Feb 2016:
The U.S. Southwest Is Moving
Toward a Drier Climate, New Study Shows
The southwestern United States is becoming increasingly dry and is likely to stay that way
for the foreseeable future as the weather patterns that typically bring precipitation to the region are becoming increasingly rare, according to a new study. Analyzing 35 years of data, researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research identified low-pressure systems in the North Pacific as being responsible for bringing moisture to the Southwest. But between 1979 and 2014, those low-pressure systems increasingly gave way to high-pressure systems, which have generally kept precipitation away from the Southwest and have caused drought there and in California. The outlook for the future is not good, said the researchers, writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
The shift toward higher pressure in the North Pacific is consistent with climate models, which predict that a belt of higher average pressure that now sits closer to the equator will move north.
10 Feb 2016:
Supreme Court Suspends
Obama's Coal Plant Emissions Cuts
The U.S. Supreme Court voted Tuesday to put on hold new federal regulations to curb carbon dioxide emissions, mainly from coal-fired
A coal-fired power plant
power plants, until a legal challenge by more than two dozen states and interest groups is complete. It is the first time the Supreme Court has granted a request to halt a regulation before its review by a federal appeals court. The 5-4 vote along ideological lines is a blow to the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, its strategy to combat climate change. Those challenging the regulations claim the new rules, which are to be enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, would have a devastating economic impact. The White House says it expects the regulations to survive legal challenges. The plan, designed to lower carbon emissions from U.S. power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, is the main tool for the U.S. to meet CO2 reduction targets pledged at the December climate talks in Paris.
09 Feb 2016:
Ice-Free Arctic Trade Route
Unlikely For Decades to Come, Study says
Despite the impact climate change is having on Arctic sea ice, it will be decades before big cargo ships will be able to take an ice-free shortcut
Russian tanker making its way through ice.
across the Arctic Ocean, according to a new report from the Arctic Institute
. In recent years, countries have been vying for access to possible Arctic shipping lanes in the belief that use of the passage was more imminent and would contribute to shorter travel times and associated cost savings
. But given the Arctic’s short sailing season, continuing treacherous ice conditions, the high costs associated with armoring cargo ships to withstand the ice, as well as low fuel prices, the Institute predicts that such crossings won’t become commercially viable until at least 2040. Until that time, shipping between Europe and Asia will continue to use the Suez Canal. Arctic shipping has decreased in recent years, from 1.3 metric tons in 2013 to 300,000 tons in 2014.
05 Feb 2016:
Rising Temperatures Skewing
Gender Balance of Sea Turtles, Study Says
Rising global temperatures may be skewing the gender makeup of marine turtles, according to
new research from Florida State University
Loggerhead sea turtle
. The gender of marine hatchlings is influenced by the temperature of the sands in which they incubate, with warmer temperatures producing more females. “It's worrying that you could have an extreme skew in gender one way," said Mariana Fuentes, an assistant professor of oceanography at FSU. "Any changes in population structure can have real repercussions.” The scientists examined 25 years worth of data for 21 loggerhead turtle nesting beaches along the Brazilian coast, but the results are pertinent to other regions since temperature-dependent sex determination affects all turtles.
01 Feb 2016:
Lab-raised Caribbean Coral
Grown in the Wild for the First Time
Caribbean coral colonies bred in a lab, using in-vitro fertilization, have for the first time been raised to sexual maturity in their
natural marine habitat, according to findings published in the Bulletin of Marine Science
. Offspring of endangered elkhorn coral were reared from gametes collected in the field and successfully reattached to a reef a year later, where they have grown in size considerably
according to researchers from SECORE International
. Over the past four decades, an estimated 80 percent of all Caribbean corals have disappeared. The elkhorn coral’s decline is so severe that it was the first coral species to be listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2006. Due to its large size, branching shape, and preference for shallow waters, the coral is particularly effective at protecting shorelines from incoming storms, as well as providing a critical habitat for many reef organisms. Scientists hope this success will be an important step in helping restore endangered reefs
29 Jan 2016:
European Summers Hottest Since
Roman Empire, Tree Ring Analysis Finds
For the past three decades, Europe has been experiencing its warmest summers since the days of the Roman Empire, according to a study published in the Environmental Research Letters Journal
. The study, compiled by 40 academics, concluded that average summer temperatures have been 1.3 degrees Celsius hotter than they were 2,000 years ago. Heat waves also occur more often and last longer. The temperature figures were calculated by analyzing the tree ring analysis of three pine species found in Austria, Sweden, and Finland, as well as climate modeling and historical documents. The report says that summers were particularly warm between Roman times and the third century, before cooling until the 7th century. Temperatures warmed up again during medieval times, then dropped again from the 14th to 19th centuries. The recent warming, however, is unprecedented and cannot be explained by natural variability
, but is directly related to manmade climate changes, the scientists said.
27 Jan 2016:
Rush to Electric Vehicles
Is Worsening Air Pollution in China
The push by the Chinese government and the country’s automakers to expand production of electric vehicles is actually worsening air pollution
and carbon emissions because most of China’s electricity is still produced by coal-fired power plants, new studies show. Thanks to government incentives, production of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles is expected to grow six-fold to two million cars and trucks by 2020. But studies by researchers at Tsinghua University show that electric vehicles charged in China with coal-fired power produce two to five times as many particulates and other pollutants as gasoline cars. The Tsinghua studies call into question the government policy of promoting deployment of electric vehicles while the vast majority of the country’s electricity still comes from coal. “International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn’t need to rely on electric vehicles,” said one analyst. “Clean up the power plants.”
25 Jan 2016:
Massive Transformation to Clean
Energy in the U.S. is Possible, Study Says
A rapid and affordable transformation to wind and solar energy within 15 years is possible in the U.S., according to a new study by NOAA
Map showing U.S. wind energy potential
and University of Colorado Boulder researchers published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. This energy transformation could slash greenhouse emissions by as much as 78 percent below 1990 levels, the study said. One of the biggest issues with weather-related power generation is its inherent intermittent nature, leading utilities to rely on gas-fired generators and other reserves during cloudy or low-wind periods. The solution to this problem is to scale up renewable energy generation systems to match the scale of weather systems, the scientists said. The model partially depends on significant improvements to the nation’s outdated electrical grid, including the creation of new, high-voltage direct-current transmissions lines.
20 Jan 2016:
2015 Was the Hottest Year
on Record, U.S. Government Scientists Say
Last year was the hottest year globally — by far — breaking a record set in 2014, according to a report released today
by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During 2015, the globally averaged land and sea surface temperatures were 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average. December, in particular, was the hottest month ever recorded. According to the report, the record warmth was broadly spread around the world and contributed to significant global climate anomalies and events. NOAA and NASA do separate analyses of global temperatures, and the results they released today show 2015 as the warmest since global record-keeping began in 1880.
19 Jan 2016:
Ocean Absorption of Manmade
Heat Doubles Since 1997, Study Says
The amount of manmade heat absorbed by the world’s oceans has doubled since 1997, according to a study
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
released yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Scientists have long known that the oceans absorb more than 90 percent of manmade heat, but the study’s figures give a new and more accurate accounting for that process over a period of 150 years. According to the study, the oceans absorbed 150 zettajoules of energy between 1865 and 1997 — and an additional 150 zettajoules in just the past 18 years. “The changes we’re talking about, they are really, really big numbers,” said co-author Paul Durack, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California. “They are nonhuman numbers.” Put in perspective, the amount of energy absorbed by the oceans since 1997 is the equivalent to a Hiroshima-sized bomb
being exploded every second for 75 years.
15 Jan 2016:
Northeast U.S. Waters Warming
Faster than Previously Thought, NOAA says
The ocean waters off the Northeastern United States may get even warmer, and this warming may occur twice as quickly as previously thought,
according to a new study
The Gulf of Maine is warming rapidly
by researchers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The findings, based on four global climate models, suggest that ocean temperatures in that region will rise three times faster than the global average. “Prior climate change projections for the region may be far too conservative,” said Vincent Saba, a NOAA fisheries scientist and lead author of the study. The Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than nearly 100 percent of the world’s oceans, likely due to a northerly shift in the Gulf Stream. Scientists have been studying the warming’s impact on the area’s marine ecosystem.
11 Jan 2016:
Scientists Warn of Biodiversity
Impacts of Major Hydropower Projects
Hydropower is considered by many to be a key ingredient to reducing carbon emissions and meeting global climate goals,
The Belo Monte dam under construction in the Amazon
but it comes at a great cost to biodiversity, particularly in tropical rainforests, according to a new report
published in the journal Science
. “Far too often in developing tropical countries, major hydropower projects have been approved and their construction begun before any serious assessments of environmental and socioeconomic impacts had been conducted,” says the report's lead author Kirk Winemiller, an aquatic ecologist at Texas A&M University. The dam-building rush, with more than 450 dams planned for the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong river basins alone, impedes tropical fish migration and vastly expands deforestation due to road construction, according to the authors. Other concerns include development of previously inaccessible terrain, as well as methane emissions from newly built reservoirs.
08 Jan 2016:
Study suggests most nitrogen
found in oceans comes from natural sources
The world’s oceans are less affected by human activities then previously suggested by atmospheric models when it comes to increased
Graph of various nitrogen sources found in oceans
nitrogen levels, according to a new study
published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. The majority of nitrogen found in the oceans comes from the oceans themselves instead of human pollution blown off shore, which contradicts most models, the researchers say. That’s both good news and bad news. On the plus side, “People may not be polluting the ocean as much as we thought,” says Meredith Hastings, associate professor at Brown University, one of the study’s co-authors. Excess nitrogen can throw aquatic ecosystems out of balance and lead to large algal blooms that can be deadly for sea creatures. However, nitrogen also stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, which increases the oceans’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus mitigating carbon emissions to some extent.
04 Jan 2016:
More Than Half of Power Plants Could be Hampered by Climate Change
More than 60 percent of the world's power plants could be hampered by changes in climate and water distribution by the middle
Canada's Toba Montrose hydroelectric project
of the century, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Hydropower plants and thermoelectric power plants — nuclear, fossil-, and biomass-fueled plants that convert heat to electricity — rely on freshwater from rivers and streams to produce energy and effectively cool equipment. Together, these types of power plants produce 98 percent of the world's electricity, the researchers note. Changes in climate that lead to water shortages and increased water temperatures will affect electricity generation in some regions more than others, says lead researcher Michelle Van Vliet of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She notes that adaptation measures focused on making power plants more efficient and flexible — such as switching from freshwater cooling to air or seawater cooling — could mitigate the decline.
04 Jan 2016:
More than Half of Power Plants
Could be Hampered by Climate Change
More than 60 percent of the world's power plants could be hampered by changes in climate and water distribution by the middle
Canada's Toba Montrose hydroelectric project
of the century, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Hydropower plants and thermoelectric power plants — nuclear, fossil-, and biomass-fueled plants that convert heat to electricity — rely on freshwater from rivers and streams to produce energy and effectively cool equipment. Together, these types of power plants produce 98 percent of the world's electricity, the researchers note. Changes in climate that lead to water shortages and increased water temperatures will affect electricity generation in some regions more than others — the U.S., southern South America, southern Africa, and parts of Europe are particularly vulnerable, says lead researcher Michelle Van Vliet of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She notes that adaptation measures focused on making power plants more efficient and flexible — such as switching from freshwater cooling to air or seawater cooling — could mitigate the decline.
04 Jan 2016:
How Science Can Help to Halt
The Western Bark Beetle Plague
Tens of millions of acres of pine and spruce trees have died in western North America in recent
years as a result of bark beetle infestations spawned by a hotter, drier climate. University of Montana entomologist Diana Six has been working to understand why the genetics of some individual trees enable them to survive even as whole forests around them are turning brown and perishing. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Six explains the root causes of the beetle infestations, discusses why U.S. Forest Service policies may be making the problem worse, and describes why the best hope for Western forests will come from the trees’ capacity to genetically adapt to a new climate regime. Read the interview.
23 Dec 2015:
Congressional Tax Credits
Expected to Further Boost U.S. Renewables
The renewable energy sector in the United States is finishing 2015 on a high note as Congress has voted to approve significant extensions for tax credits
for renewable energy, and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has reported a surge in wind power installations.
Ending uncertainty about the fate of tax credits for the wind and solar industries, Congress has voted to extend investment tax credits for solar power and production tax credits for wind energy through 2022 and 2020, respectively. Renewable energy companies and analysts praised the extensions, saying that, coupled with rapidly falling prices for wind and solar energy technologies, the tax credits virtually guarantee a boom in the production of renewables in the U.S. Earlier this week, the AWEA said U.S. wind energy production has reached a milestone, with 50,000 turbines providing a generating capacity of 70 gigawatts — enough to power 19 million homes.
18 Dec 2015:
Marshes Likely More Resilient
To Sea Level Rise Than Thought, Study Says
Marshes may be more resilient to climate change and associated rises in sea level than previously thought, according to recent research
An aerial view of Venice showing elevation by color
published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study shows that as levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase, more CO2 gets taken in by marsh plants. This spurs higher rates of photosynthesis and plant growth, causing marsh plants to trap more sediment above ground and generate more organic soil below ground, the researchers explain. The process can increase the rate of soil accretion nearly enough to allow marshes to keep up with rising sea levels. In fact, the researchers say, it may increase a marsh's threshold for water inundation by up to 60 percent. "Essentially, we found it's a self-rising mechanism marshes use to build themselves up," said Marco Marani, a researcher at Duke University who helped conduct the study.
17 Dec 2015:
Severe Toxic Algal Blooms
Likely To Double in Lake Erie with Warming
The number of severe harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie will likely double over the next century, according to
Sampling lake water during a toxic algal bloom
Ohio State University. As soon as 2050, toxic algal blooms like the one that cut off Toledo's drinking water supply in 2014 will no longer be the exception, but rather the norm, the researchers say. Although several states and Canadian provinces have agreed to significantly cut nutrient runoff into the Great Lakes, the study suggests that nutrient reductions alone might not be enough to stop the toxic blooms. That's because factors associated with climate change — less winter snow, heavier spring rains, and hotter summers — supercharge the blooms, the researchers explain. "Those are perfect growing conditions for algae," said Noel Aloysius, a member of the research team. "We can reduce phosphorus by 40 percent, but the algae won't suffer as much as you might hope."
16 Dec 2015:
Five Questions for Bill McKibben
On the Paris Climate Agreement
Activist Bill McKibben was a visible presence during the climate conference in Paris, urging for strong action. Yale Environment 360
caught up with McKibben, the founder of 350.org
, after an agreement was reached and asked him five question about Paris and the road beyond. While the Paris accord “didn’t save the planet,” McKibben says, “it may have saved the chance to save it – that is, it didn’t foreclose the possibility. Actually getting anywhere will now require massive organizing to hold leaders to their promises.”
14 Dec 2015:
Accelerating Rock Weathering
Could Help Reduce Atmospheric CO2 Levels
Speeding up the naturally occurring process of weathering rocks to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere could help to
Weathered limestone cliffs in Yorkshire, England
stabilize the climate and avert ocean acidification caused by greenhouse gas emissions, according to
research published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. As rainwater and other environmental conditions naturally break down rocks on the earth's surface, carbon dioxide is drawn from the atmosphere. The process converts CO2 to bicarbonate, a mineral that chemically binds CO2 and is washed away through rivers to the oceans. By modeling the large-scale effects of weathering — which is driven largely by precipitation, vegetation, and soil microbes — the researchers found methods for accelerating this CO2-removal system. Such a strategy could significantly counteract anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions, they say, slowing ocean acidification and protecting delicate ocean ecosystems such as coral reefs.
12 Dec 2015:
Landmark Agreement on Climate
Is Reached in Paris to Cap Warming
Climate negotiators meeting in Paris have achieved a deal
that could change the world. The Paris Agreement commits the
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders
international community to capping global warming to "well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C." To achieve that, the agreement requires the world to "reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible" and "to undertake rapid reductions thereafter, in accordance with best available science." The intention is to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero in the second half of this century. "This agreement is a turning point," said Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Center.
11 Dec 2015:
NASA Detects Carbon Monoxide
Plume as Indonesian Forest Fires Burn
This fall tens of thousands of fires in Indonesia released clouds of particulate matter and toxic gases over the region
Carbon monoxide plumes detected over Indonesia
process that repeats itself year after year as property owners clear their land of debris for farming. This year, however, saw significantly more fires than usual, and many of those fires escaped their handlers and burned uncontrollably for weeks or months. The fires produced a massive plume of carbon monoxide (CO) — a toxic gas that affects both human health and the climate — that could be detected by NASA satellites
. “The 2015 Indonesian fires produced some of the highest concentrations of carbon monoxide that we have ever seen with MOPITT,” the satellite technology that detected the gas, said Helen Worden, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Typically, CO concentrations in that region are roughly 100 parts per billion. Some parts of Borneo, however, saw CO levels of nearly 1,300 parts per billion in September and October.
10 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: An Unexpected Move
Toward Global Target of 1.5 Degrees
It is the big surprise of the Paris talks: the growing acceptance of a call from small nations most vulnerable to climate change
for the conference to declare warming should be halted at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even a few months ago, this seemed unimaginable. Two degrees was the only target on the table. But here it has gained momentum with more than 100 nations, including the U.S. and the EU, agreeing it should be in the final agreement. With more than a day of talks remaining, inclusion is far from a done deal. But it has strong support. A 1.5-degree target “looks much more scientifically justifiable,” said Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Institute.
09 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: U.N. Climate Talks
Could Hasten the Demise of Coal
Is Paris the beginning of the end for coal? Coal burning is declining fast in both of the world's two largest carbon dioxide emitters,
China’s air pollution is pushing it away from coal.
China and the U.S., with resulting declines in emissions for both countries. The fuel looks incompatible with a world that warms by no more than two degrees C, bringing calls for its rapid phaseout as the global economy is "decarbonized." But, with or without a deal in Paris later this week, will the calls be heeded? Has the demise of King Coal been greatly exaggerated? The smart money in Paris is betting that, despite the embrace of coal by some developing countries such as India and Turkey, the dirty fossil fuel’s days are numbered. "The inevitable conclusion we can draw on the future of global thermal coal is that it has none," an energy analyst said in Paris.
08 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: Amid Optimism, Key
Issues Remain on Negotiating Table
The centerpieces of a potential climate deal in Paris are the 180 national emissions pledges for the period up to 2030, which
Delegates draft text for the proposed agreement.
were submitted ahead of the conference. What is at issue now are the rules for their implementation, including funding of pledges from poor nations, and whether a procedure can be agreed for upgrading them later to give the world a chance of meeting its two-degree Celsius temperature-rise target. To do all that in the final few days of the conference, negotiators are considering a 48-page draft text that contains numerous brackets, which denote alternative options and text yet to be agreed on. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expected the final deal to include a review of emissions targets every five years to determine how they are playing out and to allow for increasingly ambitious goals that could secure the two-degree target.