29 Oct 2013:
Three Western U.S. States And
British Columbia Sign Climate Agreement
The governors of California, Oregon, and Washington, together with the premier of British Columbia, have signed a pact to coordinate efforts to combat global warming. With a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion and a population of 53 million people, the three states and the Canadian province represent the world's fifth largest economy. The leaders agreed to a dozen actions aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, including streamlining permits for renewable energy projects, improving the electric power grid, supporting more research on ocean acidification, and expanding government purchases of electric vehicles, the San Jose Mercury News reports
. Environmentalists have praised the agreement, but, as Jeremy Carl, an energy policy fellow at Stanford University, noted, "The devil will be in the details, whether they do anything substantive or whether it turns out to be a time-wasting exercise."
25 Oct 2013:
Major Pension Funds Question
Long-Term Outlook for Fossil Fuel Profits
Leaders from some of the largest pension funds in the U.S. and the world are concerned about the future profitability of fossil fuel companies, and they have asked those companies to report on their plans for managing a long-term shift
toward renewable energy. Managers of 70 major pension funds, which together control about $3 trillion in investments, asked 45 of the world's largest coal, oil, gas, and electric power companies to complete the profitability studies by spring. The pension funds are concerned that, because large investments in fossil fuel exploration take decades to recoup, future legislation could limit production or regulate expensive pollution controls that will significantly cut profitability. "The scientific trajectory that we're on is clearly in conflict" with the business strategy of the companies
, Jack Ehnes, the head of the California's State Teachers' Retirement System, told the AP. "We've been pleasantly surprised by the seriousness" of some of the fossil fuel companies, who are "not just blowing us off," a spokesman for the coalition that is coordinating the efforts told the AP.
24 Oct 2013:
Electric Vehicle Sales
On the Rise in 2013, New Analysis Shows
By the end of August, 59,000 electric vehicles had been sold in the U.S. this year — more than during all of 2012, a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
shows. Over the past three years,
Americans purchased more than 140,000 electric vehicles (EVs), which have saved more than 40 million gallons of gas each year, the report notes. California is the leader, with 29 percent of all U.S. plug-in vehicle purchases made this year. EV sales rates have more than doubled in that state over the past year, according to the report. Although East and West coast cities continue to be hotspots for EV sales, purchases are picking up in cities like Denver, St. Louis, and Dallas, the report says
22 Oct 2013:
Southern Amazon Rainforest
In Danger as Dry Season Expands, Study Says
The dry season in the southern part of the Amazon rainforest is lasting three weeks longer than it did 30 years ago, putting the forest at higher risk for fires and tree mortality, according to new research from the University of Texas
. The most likely culprit is global
warming, says lead researcher Rong Fu. Even if future wet seasons become wetter, rainforest soil can only hold so much water, Fu explained. That water must sustain the forest throughout the entire dry season, and as the dry season lengthens the rainforest becomes increasingly stressed, vegetation growth slows, and the risk of fire rises. During a severe drought in 2005, the Amazon actually released a large amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, rather than acting as a net carbon sink. Should dry seasons continue to expand, conditions like those in 2005 could become the norm, accelerating the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere, the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
21 Oct 2013:
French Utility Company
Agrees to Build Major Nuclear Plant in U.K.
The British government and the French state-controlled utility company, EDF Group, have agreed to build the U.K.'s first nuclear power plant in a generation. The new plant, to be built at Hinkley Point in southwest England, is part of the British government's ongoing efforts to cut carbon emissions in half by the mid-2020s. To meet that goal, the U.K. plans to renew some of its existing nuclear plants and build several new plants to replace aging ones, the New York Times reports
. Once completed, the Hinkley Point nuclear power station will supply 7 percent of the country's electricity — enough to power 6 million homes. Consumers and taxpayers will cover most of the projected £16 ($26 billion) overall cost, but the proposed project is expected to face opposition since EDF will be guaranteed a price of roughly £90 ($145) per megawatt hour for 35 years, a rate that is considerably higher than current electricity costs.
17 Oct 2013:
Animals May Play Significant
Role in Carbon Cycling, Researchers Say
Wildlife may play a more important role in the global carbon cycle than researchers have previously given it credit for, according to a study
from an international group of scientists. Although models generally include
Muskoxen in Alaska
carbon cycling by plants and microbes, they often ignore the ways animals contribute to the process. That's a mistake, says Oswald Schmitz, an ecologist at Yale who led the study, because the actions of wildlife can affect carbon cycling through "indirect multiplier effects." For example, the massive loss of trees in North America triggered by the pine beetle outbreak has caused a net carbon change on scale with British Columbia's current fossil fuel emissions, the researchers reported in Ecosystems
. And in the Arctic, where about 500 gigatons of carbon is stored in permafrost, large grazing mammals like caribou and muskoxen can help maintain the grasslands that have a high albedo and thus reflect more solar energy. "We're not saying that managing animals will offset these carbon emissions," Schmitz said. "What we're trying to say is the numbers are of a scale where it is worthwhile to start thinking about how animals could be managed to accomplish that."
16 Oct 2013:
Climate-Driven Disasters To Keep
Impoverished Populations Poor, Study Says
Extreme weather events driven by climate change will exacerbate poverty in regions where people are already among the world's poorest, according to a study
by the U.K.'s Overseas Development Institute. Where disasters
Floods in Mozambique
such as drought are common, those events are the leading cause of poverty, the authors say, rather than poor health or societal factors. Across the globe, up to 325 million people will be living in countries that face natural hazard risks by 2030, the report says; in sub-Saharan Africa alone, 118 million people in poverty will face extreme events. To brace against the effects of disasters
, aid money should be spent on reducing those risks, rather than only on humanitarian relief after an extreme event, the authors argue. Currently, money tends to flow to a region after a disaster instead of before, when it could be used for prevention. "If the international community are serious about ending extreme poverty, they need to get serious about reducing disaster risk for the poorest people," the institute's Tom Mitchell told the BBC.
14 Oct 2013:
World Ocean Conditions Worse
Than Previously Thought, Analysis Finds
The world's oceans are deteriorating more rapidly than scientists had thought due to rising carbon dioxide levels and associated warming, according to a new analysis
by European scientists. By many indicators, ocean conditions are even worse than outlined last
Sea butterfly without shell
month by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's assessment report on the physical effects of global warming, the researchers say. Sinking oxygen levels, which could decline by 1 to 7 percent by 2100, increasing ocean acidification, and overfishing of more than 70 percent of marine populations are among the biggest threats to ocean ecosystems, the scientists report in Marine Pollution Bulletin
. Mollusks and other sensitive organisms are increasingly being found with corroded shells, a result of rising dissolved CO2 concentrations; within 20 to 40 years ocean acidity levels may reach the point where coral reefs are eroded faster than they can regenerate, the review said.
10 Oct 2013:
Carbon Capture and Storage
Projects Lagging Worldwide, Study Finds
Major projects aiming at capturing and burying carbon dioxide underground have slowed worldwide, according to a study by the Global CCS Institute in Australia
. Despite the common view among experts that carbon
Otway CCS project, Victoria, Australia
capture and storage (CCS) technologies could play a crucial role in slowing the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases, the number of major CCS projects fell from 75 to 65 over the past year. Although the U.S. currently leads the world in CCS projects, most of them involve pumping carbon into old oil wells to stimulate additional oil production. China, the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide, seems poised to become the new leader in CCS, with 12 projects in the works, the study noted. A major hurdle for the growth of CCS has been the lack of investments in projects based on new technologies, the analysts said. CCS technology has so far not proven to be commercially viable, The New York Times
08 Oct 2013:
Eighty Percent of Ecosystems
Vulnerable to Climate Change, Study Finds
Climate change could significantly transform up to 86 percent of the planet's land ecosystems under worst-case global warming scenarios, according to researchers at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
. That estimate is based on a 4 to 5 degree C temperature increase by the year 2100 — a scenario that is plausible given many nations' reluctance to enact greenhouse gas emissions limits, the researchers say. Even if global temperatures are kept to 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels, 20 percent of natural land ecosystems are at risk of moderate or major changes, especially high-altitude and high-latitude regions. Such changes could include boreal forests being transformed into temperate savannas, trees growing in thawed Arctic tundra, or even a dieback of some of the world's tropical forests. "Essentially, we would be leaving the world as we know it," says Sebastian Ostberg, who led the research. "The findings clearly demonstrate that there is a large difference in the risk of global ecosystem change under a scenario of no climate change mitigation compared to one of ambitious mitigation," he added.
04 Oct 2013:
New Hurricane Sandy Models
Are Most Detailed Visualizations To Date
The most striking visualizations to date of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of the U.S. East Coast last year, show in great detail
the storm's evolution and path. Developed using state-of-the-art computer models
at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
, the images are based on data with spatial resolution 5,500 times greater than NOAA's highest-resolution hurricane forecast model. The visualizations show how several well-studied weather phenomena coincided to create the superstorm. They also show how, about a day before it made landfall, cool air began to envelop the storm's warm core. This ultimately tempered Sandy's power, but it also could have intensified winds at the storm's lower levels. The computer model includes 150 layers of vertical data, which means the model calculated weather conditions at more than 4 billion points within the storm each second, said meteorologist Robert Henson of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which manages NCAR.
Forum: Climate Scientists Assess
The Latest Report from U.N. Panel
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently issued a report containing the latest data and
scientific assessments of the physical science of climate change. It is one of three so-called “working group” reports that will be released in advance of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, due out in September 2014. In a Yale e360
forum, seven climate scientists discuss what they consider to be the most noteworthy or surprising findings in the recent report. Read more.
27 Sep 2013:
IPCC Scientists Warn
Of Upper Limit on CO2 Emissions
Saying it is 95 percent certain that humans have caused most of the global warming of the last half-century, scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned today that the world can afford to burn about 1 trillion tons of carbon
before facing extreme climate change. The IPCC’s working group on the physical sciences for the first time set an upper limit on CO2 emissions, contending that humanity can combust only one-third of the 3 trillion tons of fossil fuels that still remain in the ground. If carbon emissions continue at their current pace, IPCC scientists forecast that the trillionth ton of carbon will be released around 2040, and beyond that the world will face potentially destabilizing temperature increases exceeding 2 degrees C, or 3.6 degrees F. The physical sciences report,
compiled by hundreds of scientists and released in Stockholm, marked the first time that the IPCC had forecast that sea levels could rise by as much as three feet this century. The physical sciences report is the first of several to be released in the next year in advance of the 2014 publication of the IPCC’s fifth report on global climate change.
24 Sep 2013:
Major Wind and Rain Belts
Could Shift North as Earth Warms
A study of warming at the end of the last Ice Age indicates that future warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels will likely shift the planet's rain and wind belts northward, say researchers
at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Regions that are already dry — including the western U.S., western China, and the Middle East — could grow drier, while equatorial Africa and monsoonal Asia may become wetter. An examination of data such as polar ice cores and ocean sediments shows that as the last Ice Age ended 15,000 years ago, northward shifts in the tropical rain belt and mid-latitude jet stream occurred as the temperature gradient between the northern and southern hemispheres increased. That sharper gradient came about because the land mass-dominated northern hemisphere warmed faster than the ocean-dominated southern hemisphere, according to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. Researchers say a similar pattern could develop in years to come as the northern hemisphere continues to warm faster than the southern hemisphere.
23 Sep 2013:
Cleaner Air from Curbing CO2
Emissions Would Save Lives, Study Finds
Gains in air quality that would come from reducing greenhouse gas emissions could save up to three million lives per year by 2100, according to U.S. researchers
. Their findings, published in Nature Climate Change
, come ahead of an important interim report by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, set to be released on Friday. Cutting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, vehicles, and other sources would reduce particulate matter and ozone emissions, which are tied to cardiovascular distress, respiratory illnesses, lung cancer, and strokes. The study estimated that by 2100, 1.4 million to 3 million premature deaths a year could be avoided thanks to cuts of CO2 emissions. The researchers calculated that health care savings alone would outweigh the projected costs of cutting carbon emissions over the next few decades.
20 Sep 2013:
U.S. Places CO2 Limits
On New Coal-Fired Power Plants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will for the first time begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions from new coal- and natural gas-fired power plants
under the Clean Air Act, EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy announced. Speaking in Washington, McCarthy said, “Climate change is real, human activities are fueling that change,
and we must take action to avoid the most devastating consequences.” The EPA regulations, which the coal industry vows to challenge in court, will require new coal plants to emit fewer than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, considerably lower than the average 1,800 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour currently produced by coal-fired power plants. Such limits would require the new plants to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which has not been used on a wide scale. The difficulty of using CCS technology will be at the heart of lawsuits challenging the EPA move, industry officials say.
19 Sep 2013:
Fracked Shale Formations
Could Store Carbon Dioxide, Study Says
Storing carbon dioxide in the same shale formations that produce natural gas may be an effective way to sequester carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel-burning power plants, according to a U.S. study
. Computer models by researchers at the University of
Virginia suggest the Marcellus Shale, a 600-square-mile formation in the northeastern U.S. that is a center of hydrofracturing natural gas, is capable of storing half the CO2 emitted by U.S. coal plants from now to 2030. Fracked shale wells are good candidates for carbon storage because CO2 can be injected in much the same way that natural gas was extracted, the researchers say. Fracking involves injecting pressurized fluids in wells to fracture the shale rock, which creates cracks that let gas seep out. The authors of this study suggest those networks of cracks could be filled with CO2 before sealing the natural gas wells.
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.