51 Global Warming News Articles
for March of 2018
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3-31-18 Shipping faces demands to cut CO2
A battle is under way to force the global shipping industry to play its part in tackling climate change. A meeting of the International Maritime Organisation in London next week will face demands for shipping to radically reduce its CO2 emissions. If shipping doesn't clean up, it could contribute almost a fifth of the global total of CO2 by 2050. A group of nations led by Brazil, Saudi Arabia, India, Panama and Argentina is resisting CO2 targets for shipping. Their submission to the meeting says capping ships' overall emissions would restrict world trade. It might also force goods on to less efficient forms of transport. This argument is dismissed by other countries which believe shipping could actually benefit from a shift towards cleaner technology. The UK's Shipping Minister Nusrat Ghani told BBC News: "As other sectors take action on climate change, international shipping could be left behind. "We are urging other members of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to help set an ambitious strategy to cut emissions from ships."
3-31-18 Lake Chad: Can the vanishing lake be saved?
Lake Chad - a source of water to millions of people in West Africa - has shrunk by nine-tenths due to climate change, population growth and irrigation. But can a scheme dating back to the 1980s save it? "It's a ridiculous plan and it will never happen." That's the reaction many people have to the idea of trying to fill up Lake Chad and restore it to its former ocean-like glory by diverting water from the Congo river system 2,400km (1,500 miles) away. Sceptics in Nigeria, who have seen successive governments fail even to make the lights work, wonder if the region's politicians have nodded off and have been dreaming a little too hard. But the government ministers and engineers who were recently sipping mineral water in the capital, Abuja, at the International Conference on Lake Chad had good reason to be thinking outside the box. Lake Chad has shrunk by 90% since the 1960s, due to climate change, an increase in the population and unplanned irrigation. Its basin covers parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and has been a water source for between 20 million and 30 million people. But with the desert encroaching further every year, it is getting increasingly difficult for families to make a living through agriculture, fishing and livestock farming. The UN says 10.7 million people in the Lake Chad basin need humanitarian relief to survive. "We used to pass fields of maize on our way to the lake and there were vast numbers of boats bobbing up and down on the water back then, and huge fish markets," says Bale Bura, who grew up by the lake in the 1970s and now works for the Lake Chad Fishermen's Association.
3-30-18 Sticky yet slick material pulls water from foggy or humid air
Fog catchers can provide water for drinking or farming in rain-starved regions. A new material traps water with sticky lubricant to gather bigger drops faster. In rain-starved regions, fog catchers can provide much needed water for drinking or crops. A new material makes that process more efficient with a corrugated, lubricated surface that builds up larger droplets that slide off easily to be collected. Water-harvesting materials usually come with a trade-off: they either trap droplets well, or help them travel into a reservoir efficiently. It’s tricky to do both because the material must be sticky to grab droplets, but slippery enough to let the water slide off into a receptacle. Most current set-ups use vertical hydrophobic surfaces to harvest water. If fog encounters these surfaces, some droplets – but not many – will condense there and gravity will pull them into a basin. Xianming Dai at the University of Texas at Dallas and Tak-Sing Wong at Pennsylvania State University, led a team that designed a material that is 200 per cent more efficient. The specialised surface is hydrophilic, so it chemically bonds with water molecules to collect more drops. To make it, they carved grooves 20 micrometres deep and 50 micrometres wide into silicon to give water molecules more surface area to latch on. Then, they etched the surface with nanoscale bumps and deposited a layer of a compound called silane on top. Finally, they added a thin layer of hydrophilic lubricant that grips onto the rough nanotexture.
3-29-18 Climate change’s extinction threat
If current carbon emission trends continue unabated, climate change could wipe out up to half of all wildlife and 60 percent of plants in the world’s richest tropical habitats by the end of the century, according to a landmark new study. Researchers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the University of East Anglia, and James Cook University analyzed the effects of a warming world on nearly 80,000 different plants and animals in 35 biologically diverse areas, including the Amazon River basin, the Galápagos Islands, Madagascar, and the Sundarbans in the Ganges River delta. They warn that a global temperature rise of 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.7 Fahrenheit)—which is now the United Nation’s estimated forecast for 2100—will render many habitats unsuitable for indigenous plants and animals, killing off such species as elephants and tigers. A 4.5-degree (8.1 F) increase, which is possible if nations do not meet emissions targets, will cause even more catastrophic die-offs. “Hotter days, longer periods of drought, and more intense storms are becoming the new normal, and species around the world are already feeling the effects,” WWF scientist Nikhil Advani tells CNN.com. The report also warns that slow-moving amphibians and reptiles, including frogs and lizards, may not be able to migrate to more hospitable environments quickly enough to survive. To minimize the damage, researchers say, the world should do “everything possible to reduce the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
3-29-18 Americans Want Government to Do More on Environment
Over Six in 10 Say Government Doing Too Little on the Environment. The majority of Americans say protection of the environment should be a priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth, and believe the U.S. government is not doing enough to protect the environment. About three-quarters support spending more government money on solar and wind power, and support higher emissions and pollution standards for industry. Sixty-two percent of Americans currently say the government is doing too little to protect the environment, the highest in 12 years and well above the low point of 46% measured in 2010. The only time when the "too little" percentage was higher than 62% came in 1992, when Gallup first asked the question.
- 62% say government doing too little on the environment, highest since 2006
- Majority prioritize the environment even if it limits economic growth
- Americans show strong support for curbing emissions and alternative energy
3-29-18 Polarized Americans Rate Environment Worst Since 2009
Forty percent of Americans rate the overall quality of the environment as "excellent" or "good." Although not dramatically lower than in prior years, it is the least positive assessment of the environment since 2009. These latest findings are from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted March 1-8. On balance, less than half of Americans have rated the quality of the environment positively since 2001, when Gallup began asking the question. The lone exception to this pattern came in 2015, with 50% of Americans rating the environment as excellent or good.
- 59% in U.S. rate quality of environment negatively, 40% positively
- 61% say quality of the environment getting worse, 33% say better
- Democrats much more negative than Republicans about quality
3-28-18 Global Warming Concern Steady Despite Some Partisan Shifts
Americans' concerns about global warming are not much different from the record-high levels they were at a year ago. However, the views of some partisans have shifted, creating larger gaps than what Gallup saw last year across all questions about global warming. President Donald Trump, who has called global warming a "hoax," may have contributed to this widening divide by reversing a number of government actions to address the issue. These included the announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord, the removal of climate change from the list of top U.S. national security threats and the elimination of the terms "global warming" and "climate change" from U.S. government websites and lexicons.
- Partisan gaps across global-warming measures slightly wider than in 2017
- Democrats view global warming seriously; Republicans view it skeptically
- 69% of Republicans, 4% Democrats say global warming is exaggerated
3-25-18 How past disasters can help us prepare for the future
In ‘The Big Ones,’ Lucy Jones discusses planning for the next catastrophe. People call Lucy Jones the “earthquake lady.” For nearly 40 years, Jones, a seismologist, has been a leading voice in California on earthquake science and safety. A few months after retiring from the U.S. Geological Survey in 2016, she founded the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society to bring policy makers and scientists together to discuss disaster resilience. Now Jones is bringing that discussion to the public in her new book, The Big Ones. She offers a fascinating history of how catastrophic natural events — including the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Iceland’s Laki volcanic eruption in 1783 (SN: 2/17/15, p. 29) and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — have shaped politics, culture and society. Science News talked with Jones about the book, which she hopes will be a wake-up call, encouraging people to be ready for when, not if, the next disaster strikes. The discussion that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
- Why is now the time to write about the science behind natural disasters and the stories of people affected?
- How did you choose which disasters to include?
- You write that you were surprised that presenting data, like earthquake probabilities, doesn’t move people to act. Why do you think hard numbers don’t motivate people?
- One of the themes in The Big Ones is disaster preparedness. How can people be ready for a disaster?
3-22-18 Plastic patch in Pacific Ocean growing rapidly, study shows
A collection of plastic afloat in the Pacific Ocean is growing rapidly, according to a new scientific estimate. Predictions suggest a build-up of about 80,000 tonnes of plastic in the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" between California and Hawaii. This figure is up to sixteen times higher than previously reported, say international researchers. One trawl in the centre of the patch had the highest concentration of plastic ever recorded. "Plastic concentration is increasing - I think the situation is getting worse," said Laurent Lebreton of The Ocean Cleanup Foundation in Delft, Netherlands, which led the study. "This really highlights the urgency to take action in stopping the in-flow of plastic into the ocean and also taking measures to clean up the existing mess." Waste accumulates in five ocean areas, the largest being the patch located between Hawaii and California. The researchers used boats and planes to map this area of the North Pacific, where rotating currents and winds cause marine debris, including plastic, seaweed and plankton, to converge. The three-year mapping effort showed that plastic pollution is "increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in the surrounding water", said the international team. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass of plastic afloat within an area of 1.6 million square km. Of the estimated 1.8 trillions bits of plastic, some were larger than microplastics, including fishing nets, toys, and even a toilet seat.
3-22-18 Heavy metal poisoning may be changing birds’ personalities
Great tits exposed to toxic metals like cadmium and lead alter their behaviour, becoming less exploratory and more cautious, suggesting their personalities have been reshaped. Exposure to toxic metals may alter the personalities of songbirds. Great tits may be less curious and unwilling to explore new places if their habitat is contaminated with heavy metals. Great tits (Parus major) have personalities. That means each bird consistently behaves in certain ways, while others consistently behave differently. For example, some great tits are bolder than others when it comes to exploring new places. Andrea Grunst at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, and her colleagues examined whether exposure to heavy metals can alter these behavioural traits. They studied five populations of great tits living outside Antwerp, near a smelter and metal refinery known for emitting toxic metals like cadmium and lead. The five sites were at varying distances from the plant, ranging from zero to 8.5 kilometres. The team captured a total of 249 great tits and brought them to a lab. There the birds were placed in a new environment with artificial trees, to see how boldly they explored it. The closer the birds lived to the smelter, the slower they were to explore the novel surrounding.
3-22-18 The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is gobbling up ever more plastic
There's at least four times as much plastic floating in the Pacific as we thought, and a lot of it may have floated over from Japan after the 2011 Tohoku tsunami. There’s even more plastic in the Pacific than we thought. At least 79,000 tonnes of plastic are floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. That’s four to sixteen times as much as was estimated by two studies in 2014. The Garbage Patch is an area of 1.6 million square kilometres between Hawaii and California. There, floating debris – from microscopic particles of plastic to large pieces like ropes and fishing nets – is carried by currents and accumulates. Similar patches exist in other oceans. Researchers gathered data from aerial surveys and nets towed by ships, and fed it into a computer model. This showed there is around one kilogram of plastic per square kilometre in the outer regions, rising to more than 100kg/km2 near the centre. Earlier studies probably greatly underestimated the mass of plastic because they were not as comprehensive. For instance, they had to rely on spotting flotsam from boats, rather than on aerial surveys. But the team that carried out the latest study says there has also been a real increase in the mass of plastic. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is getting denser with floating plastic, but is not expanding in terms of surface area,” says team member Laurent Lebreton of The Ocean Cleanup in Delft, the Netherlands, an organisation trying to find ways to remove plastic from the seas. Part of this increase could be flotsam washed out to sea by the 2011 Tohoku tsunami. Of the objects collected by the team, a third of those with a “made in” label came from Japan.
3-22-18 The plan to suck huge amounts of drinkable water out of thin air
Finalists announced in the Water Abundance XPRIZE. Their task is to produce 2,000 litres of fresh water a day from the atmosphere using renewable energy. Fresh water plucked out of thin air. It’s an ambitious goal, but to win the Water Abundance XPRIZE teams have to suck two tonnes a day from the atmosphere in a cheap and sustainable way. XPRIZE, a non-profit that organised the competition, announced the five teams through to the final round today, coinciding with World Water Day. The finalists are from the UK, Australia, India and the US, and were selected from an initial field of 98 based on results from their prototypes. Final testing will happen in July. Teams must produce at least 2,000 litres of water a day using renewable energy at no more than 2 cents (1.4 pence) per litre. Whichever group extracts the most at the lowest cost will be awarded $1.5 million. The World Health Organisation says people need at least 20 litres of water a day for drinking and basic hygiene but increasing demand from growing populations, climate change and pollution are rapidly depleting global fresh water supplies. The UN also published a report this week predicting that by the middle of the century 5 billion people will have poor access to water. XPRIZE hopes to incentivise solutions that can serve communities of roughly 100 people at a time. “By 2025 two out of three of us are going to live in water scarce regions ,” says Zenia Tata at XPRIZE. “What we’re trying to do is to unlock this hidden source of water in a cost-effective and sustainable way.”
3-21-18 Ocean plastic could treble in decade
The amount of plastic in the ocean is set to treble in a decade unless litter is curbed, a major report has warned. Plastics is just one issue facing the world's seas, along with rising sea levels, warming oceans, and pollution, it says. But the Foresight Future of the Sea Report for the UK government said there are also opportunities to cash in on the "ocean economy". They say this is predicted to double to $3 trillion (£2 trillion) by 2030. The report says much more knowledge is needed about the ocean. The authors say the world needs a Mission to "Planet Ocean" to mirror the excitement of voyaging to the moon and Mars. The Foresight reports are written by experts to brief ministers on medium and long-term issues of significance. This one has been signed off by ministers from four different departments as the authors emphasise the need for a joined-up oceans policy. One of the authors, Prof Edward Hill from the UK National Oceanography Centre told BBC News: "The ocean is critical to our economic future. Nine billion people will be looking to the ocean for more food. Yet we know so little of what's down there. "We invest a lot of money and enthusiasm for missions to space - but there's nothing living out there. The sea bed is teeming with life. We really need a mission to planet ocean - it's the last frontier." Another of the authors, the chief scientist for the UK government's environment department Ian Boyd, agreed: "The ocean is out of sight, out of mind," he said. The report highlights many concerns, including the current worry about ocean plastic litter, which it forecasts will treble between 2015 and 2025.
3-20-18 Huge Australian bushfire was caused by unseasonal freak weather
A fire in New South Wales has destroyed 69 homes, even though Australia’s fire season is over – climate change may be a factor. A FIERCE fire has swept through 1200 hectares of bush and destroyed 69 homes in New South Wales, Australia. The fire engulfed the seaside town of Tathra on 18 March after starting in nearby bushland. A mix of 38°C heat and gusty winds created a “perfect storm”, says Rob Rogers of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. By the evening of 20 March, the fire had been contained. The town was evacuated so no one was killed, but it is feared burning houses may have released toxic asbestos into the air. The autumn timing of the bushfire is odd. Fires typically affect Australia between December and February. “Sadly, fires like this, well into autumn, are an increasing part of the southern Australian experience, as we move further towards climate disruption,” says Grant Wardell-Johnson at Curtin University in Perth. A 2015 report by Australia’s Climate Council predicted that bushfire season will extend into October and March, as climate change makes heatwaves and droughts more common and intense. Australia has experienced 7 of its 10 warmest years on record since 2005. A similar picture is emerging globally. Fire seasons are now 19 per cent longer on average than they were in the 1970s, and severe fires strike at odd times of year. For example, California experienced its largest wildfire ever in December even though it normally gets most fires between June and September. (Webmaster's comment: If we don't stop global warming we're going to pay in more ways than we can imagine.)
3-20-18 Five billion people face water shortages by 2050, warns UN
Billions more will go thirsty unless we increase use of forests and soils to capture and recycle wate. As many as 5 billion people could be denied a regular supply of water by 2050, warns UNESCO in its annual World Water Development Report. Currently, 3.6 billion—half the world’s population–live in areas that are water-scarce at least one month a year, and this is set to rise as the population approaches 10 billion. But shortages could be eased if countries use natural methods to conserve and trap more water in soil, wetlands and vegetation, rather than relying solely on human-made infrastructure such as reservoirs, irrigation channels and water treatment plants. As many as 1.7 billion people could benefit, says the report. “If we do nothing, some five billion people will living in areas with poor access to water by 2050,” says Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO. “This report proposes solutions that are based on nature to manage water better.” The report says that “green infrastructure” alone can’t solve shortages, but lists several projects around the world where it is being deployed alongside “grey infrastructure” to supplement and safeguard water supplies. It estimates that agricultural production could be boosted by as much as 20 per cent globally if nature-based solutions are fully adopted. Both farmers and drought-hit city-dwellers could benefit, say UNSECO. One study looking at agricultural projects deploying natural water harvesting measures in 57 low-income countries found crop yields increased by 79 per cent.
3-20-18 Can the Salton Sea be saved?
It's not just about protecting the environment. It's about preventing a public health crisis. If you don't live near the fading banks of the Salton Sea, it's easy to forget it exists — that is, until the winds pick up. Depending on which way they are blowing, gusts carry tiny, toxic particulates — and sometimes the stench of decaying fish and sulfur dioxide — from the Colorado Desert to Los Angeles, Phoenix, and points beyond. The smell is a reminder of the public health crisis that will occur if more isn't done — and quickly — to save the sea. The Salton Sea is in California's southeastern desert, spanning Riverside and Imperial Counties, and as such has "long been viewed as a local problem out there," Tim Krantz, professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands, told The Week. "In fact," he said, "it's a regional problem, an interstate problem, an international problem. Mexicali is right there, 1.5 million people are living a short distance from the Salton Sea. It has the potential to be a huge, regional, binational problem." The sea is actually a shallow lake — the largest in California at 35 miles long and 15 miles wide. (That's 15 times the size of Manhattan.) But the Salton Sea is just 43 feet at its maximum depth. It formed by accident in 1905, when the Colorado River, swollen from heavy rains, broke through a canal and flooded into the dry Salton Sink. It took two years for the breach to be fixed — but by then, nearly 350,000 acres had been filled with water. Now, the Salton Sea faces a challenge. Formed by circumstance, there is not constant rainfall in the area to sustain the sea, so instead it depends primarily on irrigation runoff from local rivers as well as farms in the Imperial Valley. But as farmers improved their irrigation techniques, the amount of agricultural runoff declined dramatically.
3-20-18 Gardening is great
Gardening will make you happier and healthier. And you might just save the planet. Spring is here! And what better way to celebrate this new season than plant a garden? Spring and plants belong together. Whether you live in a part of the country where green shoots and buds are just beginning to burst through the frost or the more temperate areas of the South and West, lengthening days and warmer temperatures spark new life and renewed hopes for the future. It's time to put down the smartphone and pick up your favorite gardening tool. Here's why:
- Gardening is good for your body: All that bending, squatting, lifting, raking, and digging burns calories and functionally challenges all of the major (and most of the minor) muscle groups in the human body.
- Gardening is good for your mind: We know regular gardening reduces stress hormones. Spending time tending and harvesting a garden can also reduce anxiety and depression.
- Gardening is good for your soul: Tending to plants is equivalent to nurturing your own heart and mind.
- Gardening is good for every life and every budget: Anyone who's walked out of a grocery store with a bag full of produce and/or a bouquet of flowers and wondered "What just happened to my paycheck?"
- Gardening is good for the planet: Finally, there is this: Everything you grow at home — every fruit, every vegetable, every decorative plant and flower — is one less thing that must travel through a chain of production and supply that is increasingly costly to the environment.
3-19-18 US and Russia will soon face mega-heatwaves from climate change
In the coming decades Russia will experience worse heatwaves than the 2010 event, which killed 55,000 people, while the US will bake in the West and Great Lakes regions. Superpowers beware. More intense heatwaves are in store this century as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. The grim news comes from two studies that model how climate change will affect heatwaves in the US and Russia. Russia already has a heatwave problem. Its worst for 40 years struck in summer 2010. Temperatures passed 40°C, compared with a seasonal average of 23°C, and the heatwave lasted all of July and into mid-August. It resulted in the deaths of 55,000 people in western Russia – 14,000 in Moscow alone – and caused economic losses of $15 billion, not least through the loss of 9 million hectares of crops. Even worse is to come, says Gerard van der Schrier at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. He and his colleagues modelled the conditions that led to the heatwave, including a huge anticyclone that sat over Russia, locked in place because the usual jet stream of air flow has stalled. The team looked at how those same conditions would be affected by warmer temperatures. If similar heatwaves occur this century, the team found that temperatures in Russia could be as much as 8.4°C higher than they were in 2010. One of the reasons for soaring temperature is a change in soil behaviour. Moist soils can absorb more heat than dry soils, reducing air temperature. But the team says the projected temperature rises would overwhelm this effect, even if spring rains were plentiful. “This constraint will disappear in the future,” they say.
3-19-18 Tree rings tell tale of drought in Mongolia over the last 2,000 years
The data could help in predicting future dry spells. A new analysis is shedding light on drought in Mongolia, both past and future. By studying the rings of semifossilized trees, researchers constructed a climate history for the semiarid Asian nation spanning the last 2,060 years — going 1,000 years further back than previous studies. It was suspected that a harsh drought from about 2000 to 2010 that killed tens of thousands of livestock was unprecedented in the region’s history and primarily the result of human-caused climate change. But the tree ring data show that the dry spell, while rare in its severity, was not outside the realm of natural climate variability, researchers report online March 14 in Science Advances. “This is a part of the world where we don’t know about the past climate,” says Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., who was not involved with the study. “Having this record is a great resource for trying to understand past droughts in the region.”
3-16-18 Bottled water is bad – but microplastics aren’t the reason
Microplastic particles may taint some bottled water, but the ecological cost of bottles is a better reason to turn on the tap instead. The discovery that most bottled water is contaminated with tiny fragments of plastic has stirred up a mild panic. But do these microplastics actually pose a risk? According to a study commissioned by Orb Media, a global consortium of journalists, samples from 93 per cent of 259 bottles contained microplastic particles – an average of 10 particles wider than 100 micrometres, or roughly the width of a human hair, per litre. The bottles were purchased from countries in five different continents, although not in Europe. Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, who carried out the work, found that 54 per cent of these particles were polypropylene, the plastic from which bottle caps are fabricated, suggesting that the caps may have been the source of the particles. Four per cent were industrial lubricants, suggesting that contamination occurred in the factory. Mason also found smaller particles – an average of 325 per litre, although some samples contained up to 10,000 per litre. These were too small to be verified as microplastics, but it seems likely they are, says Mason. These accounted for 95 per cent of all particles found, ranging from 6.5 to 100 micrometres in size. Does it matter if we swallow this stuff? We don’t really know, but there’s no need to panic. “There’s no clear evidence about human health risks,” says Richard Thompson of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, UK. (Webmaster's comment: What is shown is that the companies bottling the water don't even bother to filter it.)
3-16-18 What we can and can’t say about Arctic warming and U.S. winters
It certainly feels like the northeastern United States is getting snowier. In the first two weeks of March, three winter storms slammed into the northeast corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston. Over the past decade, a flurry of extreme winter storms has struck the region, giving birth to clever portmanteau names such as Snowpocalypse (2009), Snowmageddon (2010) and Snowzilla (2016). So what’s going on? Researchers have previously suggested that extreme weather in the mid-latitudes might be linked to climate change’s impacts on the Arctic (SN Online: 12/2/11), particularly the dramatically decreased sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean. And now, a study published online March 13 in Nature Communications reports a strong correlation between the severe winter weather experienced in the northeastern U.S. over the past decade and the warming trend in the Arctic. Two of the study’s authors, climatologist Judah Cohen of the Massachusetts-based climate and weather risk assessment group Atmospheric and Environmental Research and atmospheric scientist Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, have long been proponents of the hypothesis that the warming Arctic is having profound effects on weather at the midlatitudes (SN: 3/12/15), from severe snowfalls to heat waves. It was Francis who, with a colleague, proposed in 2012 that sea ice loss in the Arctic slows the polar jet stream, a band of air currents flowing above the northern and middle latitudes of Earth. The slowed jet stream would become wavier, with large meanders that might jut deep into the midlatitudes; such waves, the researchers suggested, could allow winter storms to push south and linger.
3-16-18 Cracking new ways to fight plastic waste
Plastic is one of the world's favourite packaging materials - it's cheap, practical and hard wearing. But its durability is part of the problem. Plastic pollution is now a huge issue and consumers are increasingly demanding greener alternatives. So how are companies responding to the pressure? From chocolate biscuits to toothpaste, razors to cigarettes, low-cost products wrapped in plastic line supermarket shelves around the world. The short lifespan and high turnover of these items mean they are a major culprit when it comes to single-use plastic - packaging used just once before being thrown away. For those trying to cut down on their use of plastic, a trip to the supermarket can be a depressing affair. But some manufacturers are finding solutions to the problem. For example, Tipa is an Israeli company that makes compostable plastic packaging. It features a multi-layer film made out of plant-based polymers which disintegrates in the heat and humidity of a home compost heap. British firm Snact, which sells fruit snacks made from food waste, uses Tipa's "bioplastic" packaging. "Just like traditional packaging, we have multiple layers in the film," explains Snact co-founder Michael Minch-Dixon. "One [layer] we print on and that gives all the brand information, and then the other layer is what acts as the barrier, so that keeps out the moisture and the air and makes sure the food stays fresh and safe to eat." He says the material is almost indistinguishable from conventional plastic ,but even the inks and glue are fully home-compostable. "So we can just put it in the compost bin, and like an orange peel it will decompose in about six months' time," he says.
3-15-18 Plastic particles found in bottled water
Tests on major brands of bottled water have found that nearly all of them contained tiny particles of plastic. In the largest investigation of its kind, 250 bottles bought in nine different countries were examined. Research led by journalism organisation Orb Media discovered an average of 10 plastic particles per litre, each larger than the width of a human hair. Companies whose brands were tested told the BBC that their bottling plants were operated to the highest standards. (Webmaster's comment: What a bunch of BS! They haven't even filtered it!) The tests were conducted at the State University of New York in Fredonia. Sherri Mason, a professor of chemistry at the university, conducted the analysis and told BBC News: "We found [plastic] in bottle after bottle and in brand after brand. "It's not about pointing fingers at particular brands; it's really showing that this is everywhere, that plastic has become such a pervasive material in our society, and it’s pervading water - all of these products that we consume at a very basic level." Currently, there is no evidence that ingesting very small pieces of plastic (microplastics) can cause harm, but understanding the potential implications is an active area of science. Commenting on the results, Prof Mason said: "It's not catastrophic, the numbers that we're seeing, but it is concerning." Experts have told the BBC that people in developing countries where tap water may be polluted should continue to drink water from plastic bottles.
3-14-18 The Arctic is sending us signals of impending climate chaos
The immediate disasters of The Day After Tomorrow remains wild exaggeration, but melting ice could yet cause dramatic climate changes by altering ocean currents. WHEN the global warming catastrophe movie The Day After Tomorrow was released in 2004, climate scientists found themselves in the unenviable position of having to put the facts in the way of a good story. The premise of the film is that climate change causes the Gulf Stream to shut down abruptly, plunging the northern hemisphere into a sudden and catastrophic ice age. Although loosely based on science, the deep-freeze scenario is wildly implausible and scientists queued up to pour cold water on it. “It is safe to say that global warming will not lead to the onset of a new ice age,” two distinguished climate scientists wrote in the journal Science. In a curious instance of life imitating art, scientific anxiety about the Gulf Stream also had cold water poured on it around the same time. The idea that the North Atlantic current – a northern extension of the Gulf Stream – could shut down was first proposed in 1961. By the late 1990s, the scientific consensus was that it had stopped in the past and could do so again, possibly with disastrous consequences – albeit not overnight. Gulf Stream anxiety reached its apogee in 2005 when scientists at the University of Southampton, UK, discovered that the North Atlantic current had weakened by a third. But follow-up measurements by the same team showed no clear trend. In 2006, the science was clear enough for New Scientist to declare: “No new ice age for western Europe.”
3-14-18 Polar melt may shut down the Atlantic current that warms Europe
Melting Arctic ice flooding into the Atlantic could put the ocean circulation that warms Europe in danger, triggering dramatic sea level rise and drought. DTHE ocean current that gives western and northern Europe a relatively mild climate might be at greater risk of shutdown than we thought. If the North Atlantic current – the northern segment of the Gulf Stream – does grind to a halt, the effects could be severe, from greater sea level rise on Atlantic coasts to more intense droughts in Africa. During the winter months, seawater in the Arctic cools and sinks, causing warm water to flow into the region from the tropics. But this convection of water to the depths is threatened by the rapid warming in polar regions. To investigate, Marilena Oltmanns and her colleagues at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, studied seawater salinity and temperature data collected in the Irminger Sea to the south of Greenland between 2002 and 2014. In some summers, the seawater at the surface had an unusually high temperature and low salinity – particularly in 2010. This is a sign that more fresh water was flooding into the region, perhaps from melting ice in Greenland or the Arctic Ocean. The fresh water poses a threat to convection because, being less dense than seawater, it has to be cooled to a greater degree before it will sink. To make matters worse, Oltmanns’s team also found evidence that the summers featuring the largest bodies of fresh water are followed by winters that are too mild to provide adequate chilling. Measurements taken during the northern hemisphere winter of 2010-11 confirmed the significance of the problem. Conditions were mild, and so much fresh water had accumulated during the previous summer that 40 per cent of it still remained in the upper 200 metres of the water column when spring arrived.
3-14-18 Rising carbon dioxide levels impair coral growth
Coral reefs are under threat if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, new research has shown. When CO2 dissolves in the ocean, it raises the water's acidity level. This prevents a build up of calcium carbonate, which corals draw from seawater to build their skeleton. The study, published today in Nature, was conducted on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This marks the first time that ocean acidification has been tested in this way on a natural coral reef community, say the paper's authors. Previous lab-based studies have focused on how particular organisms are impacted by ocean acidification. "But when we try to scale that to understanding how individual ecosystems respond, it would be comparable to looking at a single tree and saying that's how a rainforest would respond," said Dr Rebecca Albright from the California Academy of Sciences, lead author on the study. Dr Claudia Benitez-Nelson at the University of South Carolina described the research as exciting. "We have very few studies that directly examine the impact of ocean acidification in the field, much less at the ecosystem level. Coral ecosystems are unique and complex. Trying to emulate the diversity of such ecosystems is difficult if not impossible," she said.
3-14-18 How concrete and condoms could turn a greenhouse gas green
We need to suck CO2 from the air to solve the climate crisis, but what do we do with it? A budding industry is turning the gas into useful stuff. TAKE a breath. You have just inhaled about 0.6 grams of air, including 0.4 milligrams of carbon dioxide. Had you lived in the 1600s, you would have taken in less than 0.3 milligrams of CO2 with each breath. Although it might not seem like a big difference, the additional greenhouse gas now in the atmosphere is altering the climate at a pace that threatens global havoc. What if we could take CO2 right back out of the air and put it to use? What if, instead of being the most dangerous waste product in human history, it could become the basis for new industries that clean up the planet instead of harming it – and turn a profit too? That is the promise of carbon capture and use (CCU), a burgeoning industry that has attracted billions of dollars in investment, some of it from major oil and gas companies. There are notable success stories. Already, companies are turning carbon dioxide into plastics, fuel and concrete – meaning that you could build your house or power your car with products that keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The real question is whether these start-ups can grow fast enough and to be big enough to make a difference. For that, they need to use enough CO2 to make a significant dent in the billions of tonnes that we emit each year. Governments have agreed to reduce annual emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 or 2°C, the international target enshrined in the 2016 Paris Agreement. But they have left it so late that even if we all made huge cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, the target is nigh-on impossible.
3-14-18 War on plastic may do more harm than good, warns think tank
A green think tank has warned of the risk of unintended consequences from the wave of concern about plastics. The Green Alliance, a parliamentary group, said plastics played a valuable role and couldn't be simply abolished. It wants to transform the notion of a "War on Plastics" into a "War on Plastic Litter". The group - like many environmentalists - gave a grudging welcome to Chancellor Philip Hammond's call for evidence on taxes on single use plastics. But it warned that rejecting all plastic food packaging could prove counter-productive. Agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing food waste is vital. Well-packed food - perhaps in plastic - helps protect food from damage, so it can actually save on greenhouse gases. The other potential area of concern is the substitution of plastics with plant-based materials. Forests are already being felled to grow crops to feed the world's booming demand for meat production and wild land is also disappearing to produce bio-fuels for cars and electricity generation. But there is a finite amount of land. The Green Alliance fears that a demand for plastic substitutes could also increase the pressure for deforestation. This would, in turn, lead to more greenhouse gases that would warm and acidify the oceans people are anxious to protect.
3-12-18 Polar melt may shut down the Atlantic current that warms Europe
Melting Arctic ice flooding into the Atlantic could put the ocean circulation that warms Europe in danger, triggering dramatic sea-level rise and drought. The ocean current that gives western and northern Europe a relatively mild climate might be at greater risk of shutdown than we thought. If the North Atlantic current – the northern segment of the Gulf Stream – did grind to a halt the effects could be severe, from greater sea-level rise on Atlantic coasts to more intense droughts in Africa. Surface seawater in the subpolar region chills during the winter months, which makes it so cold and dense that it sinks. This process, known as ocean convection, is an important part of the large-scale ocean circulation. But the process is threatened by the rapid warming in polar regions. To investigate, Marilena Oltmanns and her colleagues at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, studied seawater salinity and temperature data collected in the Irminger Sea to the south of Greenland between 2002 and 2014. In some summers, the seawater at the surface had an unusually high temperature and low salinity – particularly in 2010. This is a sign that more fresh water was flooding into the region, perhaps from melting ice in Greenland or the Arctic Ocean. The fresh water poses a threat to convection, because, being less dense than seawater, it has to be cooled to a greater degree before it will sink. To make matters worse, Oltmanns’s team also found evidence that the summers featuring the largest bodies of fresh water are followed by winters that are too mild to provide adequate chilling.
3-12-18 US climate report warns nation will lose out if it doesn’t act
A draft of a US government report argues that the country could reap huge economic and health benefits by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming is caused by human activity and failure to address it will cost the US dearly. That’s the uncompromising message from a draft of a major US report on climate science. The full report is due to be published in the spring by the US Global Change Research Program, a body charged by Congress with assessing climatic impacts on the US every four years. But some of the report’s contents are now public, because it has been reviewed by a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Their comments were published on Monday and they suggest the government report will pull no punches in detailing the threats posed by climate change. That message might not go down well in the White House. President Trump has previously suggested global warming is a concept “created by and for the Chinese”. Almost no one in the scientific community doubts that climate change is a threat to civilisation, and is largely caused by human activity. But because of Trump’s views, scientists have expressed fears that the White House could change or suppress government reports on climate science. So far, though, it does not seem to be happening. In November the US Global Change Research Program published volume one of its Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), on the causes of climate change.
3-12-18 Microplastics are 'littering' riverbeds
Microscopic plastic beads, fragments and fibres are littering riverbeds across the UK - from rural streams to urban waterways. This is according to a study that analysed sediments from rivers in north-west England. Scientists from the University of Manchester tested river sediments at 40 sites throughout Greater Manchester and found "microplastics everywhere". There is evidence that such small particles can enter the food chain. The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, are the first from a "systematic basin-wide" study, the researchers say. In a first round of tests, just one of the sites - in the upper reaches of the River Goyt, which is one of the tributaries of the River Mersey - contained no plastic. But when the researchers returned to that site to repeat their test, that area had become contaminated. "I think that it is likely that there are even higher concentrations in some of the large rivers passing through global megacities," said lead researcher Dr Rachel Hurley. "We just need to get out there and see. We still don't know the full scale of the microplastic problem," she told BBC News. "Wherever you have people and industry, you will have high levels of microplastic," added Prof Jamie Woodward, from Manchester University's School of Geography.
3-9-18 Eco-friendly nanowood is a super strong and recyclable Styrofoam
Nanowood is a strong yet lightweight material made by chemically stripping wood to its skeletal fibres. It’s eco-friendly and insulates better than Styrofoam. Wood is the new Styrofoam. By stripping away all the filler material in wood, leaving just bare fibres, researchers have shown that the resulting “nanowood” material outperforms just about all existing insulators. Liangbing Hu of the University of Maryland in College Park, led the team that developed nanowood. To make it, they expose wood to cheap, simple chemicals – sodium hydroxide, sodium sulphite and hydrogen peroxide. Together, these strip out the cell walls in wood, made up of lignin and hemicellulose, leaving just the skeletal nanofibres of cellulose. It is the parallel arrangement of these surviving nanofibers that gives nanowood its unusual properties. Heat can’t travel easily across the fibres and is mostly reflected, not least because all the solid filler material in wood that would otherwise convey the heat is gone, replaced by poorly-conducting air. And because the surviving fibres are parallel, they help to dissipate any heat that does penetrate, so it can’t become concentrated. This duality of heat conductance – stopping heat penetrating through in one direction and guiding away any that does in another – gives it a big edge over other insulators, says Hu. “This really shows that nature has outperformed humankind, once again,” says Jeff Youngblood of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Illinois, whose work also focuses on producing industrially useful products derived from wood. “We just have to unlock her secrets.”
3-8-18 A record winter warm spell in the Arctic
Scientists are growing increasingly alarmed by the unseasonably warm temperatures in the Arctic. It’s currently winter at the North Pole: The Arctic region hasn’t seen daylight since October and is usually a frigid minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit at this time of year. But a weather station at the northern tip of Greenland has seen a record 61 hours of above-freezing temperatures since Jan. 1, with the mercury rising to a balmy 43 degrees at one point. While the Arctic has become increasingly warmer in recent decades, this heat wave is particularly unusual, with average February temperatures exceeding norms by 27 degrees—with some days 60 degrees above normal. “This is an anomaly among anomalies,” Michael Mann, a climatologist at Penn State University, tells TheGuardian.com. “It is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate.” The warmer temperatures in the Arctic have had a knock-on effect in Europe, causing an unprecedented cold snap that left large swaths of the region blanketed with snow last week. Warmer air and melting Arctic ice weaken the polar jet stream, the strong band of winds that forms at the point where balmy air from lower latitudes meets the frosty air of the Arctic. Weaker winds cause the jet stream to lose strength and become wobbly, allowing the cold air normally trapped in the Arctic to descend farther south.
3-8-18 Record low Arctic ice linked to freak weather in US, Europe
The unusually cold and snowy conditions hitting the US now, and experienced last week across Europe, may be a direct consequence of the Arctic's warmer winter. Another year, another climate record broken. But don’t let this one wash over you. Arctic sea ice is usually at its most extensive in early March, which marks the end of the Arctic winter – but this year’s winter ice cap is the smallest recorded in almost 40 years of monitoring. The previous record low was set only last year. Around Antarctica, meanwhile, sea ice levels are the second lowest on record. In February, Arctic sea ice covered about 13.9 million square kilometres. This is 1.74 million square kilometres below the seasonal average recorded between 1981 and 2010. Global warming is largely to blame for the ice loss. The Arctic has experienced its warmest winter on record, with temperatures far higher than seasonal averages. This has had an impact on the formation of sea ice during the Arctic winter. As millions of people in Europe last week and the eastern United States right now are finding out, the effects are not confined to the Arctic. Warm weather in the polar region is thought to influence atmospheric air streams, forcing colder air further south where it can pass over densely populated regions. The unusually cold conditions experienced last week across Europe may be a direct consequence of the Arctic’s warmer winter. The east coast of the United States is experiencing extreme winter weather. Winter Storm Quinn was expected to dump more than 50 centimetres of snow across the region this week. Some of the affected areas are still recovering from the effects of Winter Storm Riley, which blasted across the region last week.
3-8-18 Winter storm dumps snow and knocks out power on US East Coast
Thousands of people were left without power as a storm brought more than 2ft (60cm) of snow to the US east coast. More than 800,000 customers were without electricity, including some who have been without power since last Friday's powerful winter storm. Heavy snow and icy roads prompted officials to close schools and cancel or delay thousands of flights across the region. It is the second storm to hit the US East Coast in less than a week. More snow and wind gusts of up to 55 miles (88km/h) were expected to stretch across eastern New York through northern Maine on Thursday. Up to 18 inches (45cm) of snow could fall on northern New England, according to the National Weather Service. At least one death has been blamed on the storm. An 88-year-old woman died after she was struck by a falling tree in Suffern, New York, according to the Journal News newspaper. Amtrak rail operator suspended service between New York City and Boston until 11:00 local time (16:00 GMT) on Thursday, according to the company. Dozens of routes had also been cancelled and residents were advised to avoid travel unless necessary. More than 2,000 flights were cancelled as of Wednesday night, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.
3-8-18 Climate change 'impacts women more than men'
Women are more likely than men to be affected by climate change, studies show. UN figures indicate that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. Roles as primary caregivers and providers of food and fuel make them more vulnerable when flooding and drought occur. The 2015 Paris Agreement has made specific provision for the empowerment of women, recognising that they are disproportionately impacted. In central Africa, where up to 90% of Lake Chad has disappeared, nomadic indigenous groups are particularly at risk. As the lake's shoreline recedes, women have to walk much further to collect water. "In the dry season, men go to the towns... leaving women to look after the community," explains Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, coordinator of the Association of Indigenous Women and People of Chad (AFPAT). With dry seasons now becoming longer, women are working harder to feed and care for their families without support. "They become more vulnerable... it's very hard work," Ibrahim recently told the BBC's 100 Women initiative.
3-7-18 A cracking idea: The radical way to open up frozen seas
Arctic routes are getting busier and some ships get trapped in the ice. Rather than smash them out with brute force, there is a more elegant way to free them. IT WAS snowing at the edge of Lake Erie during the commissioning ceremony for the USS Little Rock in December 2017. The US Navy ship cost more than $300 million and is designed to have the speed and manoeuvrability needed for anti-submarine warfare. Towards the end of the ceremony, the ship’s chaplain prayed for its crew: “Protect them from the perils of the sea and the violence of the enemy.” Ice probably wasn’t at the forefront of his mind, yet it is the most troublesome foe the ship has faced to date. It is trapped in port, its route to sea frozen shut. The USS Little Rock is only the latest ship to be frozen out of action. Freight and research vessels routinely get stuck in Arctic ice, leaving crews twiddling their thumbs until an icebreaker ship arrives to smash a path out. But icebreakers make slow progress and frequently get stuck themselves. Luckily, there is an alternative approach that promises to clear ice much quicker: just give it the right sort of shake. Despite the risks of ice, Arctic seas are getting busier. The Northern Sea Route running along the coast of Russia, for example, provides a shortcut for cargo ships between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, reducing the distance compared with the Suez Canal route by about 40 per cent. As the ice cap thins, the Arctic route is becoming increasingly viable: a record high of almost ten million tonnes of cargo travelled that way in 2017. But although the route isn’t frozen solid these days, there will still be plenty of ice floating around for decades to come – so a way to clear it is more important than ever.
3-7-18 Parts of San Francisco are sinking faster than the sea is rising
Rising seas are already boosting the flood risk in places like San Francisco, but the problem is even worse than that because land is also subsiding. Rising seas aren’t the only problem facing low-lying coastal areas. Many of these areas are also sinking, vastly increasing the risk of flooding. In the San Francisco Bay area, sea level rise alone could inundate an area of between 50 and 410 square kilometres by 2100, depending both on how much action is taken to limit further global warming and how fast the polar ice sheets melt. But when land subsidence is also taken into account, the area vulnerable to flooding during high tides and storm surges rises to between 130 and 430 square kilometres. That’s the conclusion of Manoochehr Shirzaei at Arizona State University and Roland Bürgmann at the University of California, Berkeley. They used satellite data from 2007 to 2010 to work out how land heights changed in the Bay area at this time. A few areas such as Santa Clara Valley were rising slightly, likely because of increased groundwater storage. But most areas were sinking slightly, by 1 or 2 millimetres per year. Some places, including parts of the city itself, plus San Francisco International Airport and Foster City, were sinking by up to 10mm per year. That’s because these areas are built on natural mud deposits, or landfill sites that are still compacting. The subsidence means these areas are sinking even faster than sea level is rising because of global warming: currently 3mm per year and accelerating. The results show the importance of taking land subsidence into account when calculating the risk from coastal flooding, the researchers say.
3-7-18 Elon Musk wants to turn our homes into one big power plant
Tesla has already built a massive battery in Australia, and now plans to fit more in 50,000 homes to create the world's largest virtual power plant. FIRST there was ride-sharing and room-sharing. Now Tesla is bringing us energy-sharing, with the announcement that it is building the world’s largest “virtual” power plant in Australia. Last month, the government of South Australia revealed that it had hired Elon Musk’s firm to fit 50,000 homes with solar panels and lithium ion batteries. The aim is to shake up the traditional model of having all houses connect to a central power station.Instead, houses that can generate power themselves will be wired up separately. The government says that by producing their own solar energy, participating households will shave 30 per cent off their energy bills. Anything they don’t use will be stored in their batteries and fed into the grid to reduce bills for everyone in the state, to the tune of $140 million per year (all prices given are in US dollars). It sounds like a win-win for everyone – if it works. Paul Graham at Australia’s national science organisation CSIRO says conditions are ripe for a shift towards decentralised energy. A major driver is the dramatic fall in the prices of solar panels and batteries, he says. “Just two years ago, batteries were twice the cost they are now.” As prices fall, it makes sense for individual households to install their own power systems, but the coordination offered by a virtual power plant means the entire community can benefit.
3-7-18 Cars buck falling CO2 emissions trend
Britain's carbon emissions have sunk to the level last seen in 1890 – the year before penalties were first awarded in football. In 2017, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels fell by 2.6%. This was mainly driven by a 19% decline in coal use. It follows a 5.8% fall in 2016, which saw a record 52% drop in coal use, according to the green website Carbon Brief. The figure is doubly striking as emissions from cars have been going up. The analysis is based on government energy-use figures. The government will publish its own CO2 estimates later in March. Last year, Carbon Brief's preliminary assessment of CO2 proved accurate. This year’s shows that the UK's total CO2 emissions are currently 38% below 1990 levels. They have been decreasing steadily since 2012, with big falls in 2014 and 2016. The decline continued in 2017. Oil and petroleum use increased slightly, though not enough to offset the falls in CO2 associated with other fuels. Leo Hickman, editor of Carbon Brief, told BBC News: "The data highlights the dramatic impact that the rapid decline of coal-fired power plants is having on the UK's emissions. "The drop was not as pronounced as in 2016, but in 2017 coal was joined by a fall in the use of gas due to a milder winter." But he warned: "If the UK is to meet its climate targets over the next few decades, this rate of decline will need to be maintained, even accelerated. "Action will need to be focused on the transport and building sectors, where emission reductions remain elusive." Vehicles are a creating a real CO2 headache for the government, with average emissions for new cars rising for first time since 2000. The motor industry blamed the public backlash against diesel vehicles driven by concerns about local air pollution. But environmentalists said it was also caused by a manufacturing trend towards SUVs. (Webmaster's comment: It's still not near enough! Worldwide CO2 levels continue to rise and not even slow down. Recent Monthly Average Mauna Loa CO2: February 2017: 406.42 ppm, February 2018: 408.35 ppm)
3-7-18 Diver swims through 'horrifying plastic cloud'
The Indonesian island of Bali is popular with tourists and known for its beautiful beaches. British diver Rich Horner lives on a nearby island, and filmed himself swimming through rubbish in the sea.
3-6-18 When bogs burn, the environment takes a hit
The peat sequestered in the wet ground keeps much of Earth’s carbon out of the atmosphere. In 2015, massive wildfires burned through Indonesia, sending thick smoke and haze as far as Thailand. These fires were “the worst environmental disaster in modern history,” says Thomas Smith, a wildfire expert at King’s College London. Smith estimates that the fires and smoke killed 100,000 people in Indonesia and neighboring countries and caused billions of dollars in damage. The fires were costly for the rest of the planet, too: At their peak, the blazes belched more climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each day than did all U.S. economic activity. Two years later and 13,000 kilometers away, a fire smoldered on the fringes of a barren, northern landscape. The remote blaze could have gone unnoticed. But Jessica McCarty and other fire researchers actively monitor satellite imagery of Earth the way some people check Facebook. One Sunday in August, McCarty, of Miami University in Ohio, was surprised to see massive plumes of what appeared to be white smoke over a swath of Greenland. The giant landmass had not been on her fire radar. It’s mostly ice, and the parts that aren’t have sparse vegetation. The settings of these two blazes couldn’t have been more different, but scientists suspect the two had something important in common: plenty of decaying organic matter known as peat.
3-5-18 By 2100, damaged corals may let waves twice as tall as today’s reach coasts
Conserving reefs is key to defending coastal communities, simulations suggest. A complex coral reef full of nooks and crannies is a coastline’s best defense against large ocean waves. But coral die-offs over the next century could allow taller waves to penetrate the corals’ defenses, simulations suggest. A new study finds that at some Pacific Island sites, waves reaching the shore could be more than twice as high as today’s by 2100. The rough, complex structures of coral reefs dissipate wave energy through friction, calming waves before they reach the shore. As corals die due to warming oceans (SN: 2/3/18, p. 16), the overall complexity of the reef also diminishes, leaving a coast potentially more exposed. At the same time, rising sea levels due to climate change increasingly threaten low-lying coastal communities with inundation and beach erosion — and stressed corals may not be able to grow vertically fast enough to match the pace of sea level rise. That could also make them a less effective barrier. Researchers compared simulations of current and future sea level and reef conditions at four sites with differing wave energy near the French Polynesian islands of Moorea and Tahiti. The team then simulated the height of a wave after it has passed the reef, known as the back-reef wave height, under several scenarios. The most likely scenario studied was based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projections of sea level height by 2100 and corresponding changes in reef structure.
3-5-18 Pollution regulations help Chesapeake Bay seagrass rebound
The bay’s nitrogen concentrations have dropped 23 percent since 1984. Underwater grasses are growing back in the Chesapeake Bay. The plants now carpet three times as much real estate as in 1984, thanks to more than 30 years of efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution. This environmental success story shows that regulations put in place to protect the bay’s health have made a difference, researchers report the week of March 5 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Rules limiting nutrient runoff from farms and wastewater treatment plants helped to decrease nitrogen concentrations in the bay by 23 percent since 1984. That decline in nitrogen has allowed the recovery of 17,000 hectares of grasses, the new study shows — enough to cover roughly 32,000 football fields. “This is one of the best examples we have of linking long-term research data with management to show how important that is in restoring this critical habitat,” says Karen McGlathery, an environmental scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville who wasn’t involved in the research. ”I don’t know of any other system that’s so large and so complicated where these connections have been made.”
3-3-18 Winter storms batter US eastern seaboard
Severe storms have battered the US eastern seaboard, causing coastal flooding and power outages and bringing travel services to a halt. More than a million residences were without power in the Northeast and Midwest while rail operator Amtrak suspended its Northeast service. Heavy rains and damaging winds also led to the cancellation of more than 2,600 US flights. At least six people have been killed, US media report. They died when strong winds brought branches or entire trees down on streets, cars, and homes. Seawater flooded Boston's coastal streets for the second time this year caused by an extreme high tide. A foot (30cm) of snow fell on northern and western areas of New York state. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency on Friday afternoon in order to marshal resources and "appropriate preparedness, response, and recovery measures", according to a statement. (Webmaster's comment: Chaotic weather will soon become the new normal.)
3-3-18 Critter-finding mission to Antarctica’s Larsen C iceberg scrapped
Too much ice prevented the research vessel from reaching the calving site. Thick sea ice has thwarted researchers’ plans to explore what creatures lived beneath an Antarctic ice shelf. A mission to study seafloor life suddenly exposed by the breaking away of the Larsen C iceberg last July was delayed as it tried to navigate through floating ice, some chunks as thick as 5 meters. With 400 kilometers still to go, the captain of the vessel, the RRS James Clark Ross, canceled the mission February 28. "It was nature [that] defeated us," said principal investigator and marine biologist Katrin Linse of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge in a video released by BAS March 2. “We knew this mission was high risk and high reward.” Not all is lost, though. The vessel is now heading to the nearby Larsen A ice shelf, where an iceberg broke away in 1995. There, researchers will study a never-explored deep-sea seafloor ecosystem 1,000 meters beneath the ocean’s surface.
3-2-18 Mission to giant A-68 berg thwarted by sea-ice
Scientists have had to abandon their plan to investigate the waters around the world's biggest iceberg. The team, led by the British Antarctic Survey, was thwarted in its attempts to reach the massive block known as A-68 by thick sea-ice in the Weddell Sea. The iceberg broke away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula last July. It revealed portions of the sea-floor that had been covered for many thousands of years. The team, which is on the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross, had been hoping to sample what were likely to be new species. These animals would have had to adapt to an environment devoid of light to survive. "We knew that getting through the sea-ice to reach Larsen C would be difficult," said expedition leader Dr Katrin Linse. "Naturally, we are disappointed not to get there but safety must come first. "But we have a 'Plan B'; we will head north to areas which have never been sampled for benthic biodiversity. "The Prince Gustav Channel Ice Shelf and neighbouring Larsen A Ice Shelf collapsed in 1995. We'll be sampling deeper than we planned at Larsen C - down to 1,000m - so we're excited about what deep sea creatures we might find."
3-2-18 Ireland shutdown as Europe severe weather continues
Severe weather continues to bring chaos to large parts of Europe, where at least 55 people have died amid sub-zero temperatures. Most transport and flights have been suspended in Ireland where strong winds brought by a storm left some 24,000 homes and businesses without power.Several other countries have faced disruptions caused by snow and ice. The death toll rose in Poland, and the public has been told to alert officials if they see people sleeping outside. The unusually cold spell brought by a Siberian weather system was being felt as far south as the balmy Mediterranean. The system has been given various nicknames - in the UK it is "the Beast from the East" while the Dutch call it the "Siberian bear" and Swedes the "snow cannon". It met Storm Emma on Thursday, causing blizzards and strong winds in parts of England, Wales and Ireland. Flights in and out of Dublin and Cork airports were suspended until Saturday at the earliest. All schools in the country were shut and people were urged not to drive. Some rail services operated by Eurostar between London, Paris and Brussels were axed, while the airport in the Swiss city of Geneva was shut because of snow. In parts of central Italy, ice forced the closure of several roads and railways.
3-1-18 Temperatures in the Arctic soared
Temperatures in the Arctic soared 45 degrees higher than normal last week, even though the sun hasn’t shone in the region since October. The Cape Morris Jessup weather station at the northernmost tip of Greenland, just 400 miles from the North Pole, registered more than 24 hours of above-freezing temperatures. At one point, the temperature at the North Pole rose to about the melting point.
3-1-18 ‘Beast From the East’
Europe was blasted with extreme cold this week, bringing rare snow to Rome and the French Riviera and disrupting travel across the continent. Schools and government offices shut down from Belgium to Bulgaria. In Poland, at least 18 people died from hypothermia; in Romania, the cold caused at least three deaths. Meteorologists said the cold snap came from Siberia, leading British media to call it the “Beast From the East”—although one commentator, moaning about Britons’ lack of hardiness, labeled it “hysteria from Siberia.” Several European cities opened extra shelters and sent police to round up the homeless, saying it was too cold to allow anyone to sleep outdoors. In parts of Germany, temperatures dipped to minus 5.
3-1-18 Snow in Europe: Icy blizzards stall transport networks
Fresh heavy snowfalls lashing Europe have caused transport delays, with the deep freeze expected to continue. The airport in the Swiss city of Geneva has been forced to shut down temporarily and snow ploughs have been attempting to clear the runway. Large parts of the Continent continue to shiver in the grip of a Siberian weather system that has brought the coldest temperatures for several years. The cold snap has been given various nicknames in different countries. In Britain it is "the Beast from the East" - with Storm Emma close behind - while the Dutch are calling it the "Siberian bear" and Swedes the "snow cannon". Icy blizzards have seen trains cancelled and roads come to a standstill. About 2,000 drivers were stranded on a motorway near the French city of Montpellier, with some complaining of being stuck for as long 24 hours. Meanwhile, dozens of people have been reported dead across the continent - including 21 in Poland, according to AFP news agency. Many are believed to have been rough sleepers. The cold spell has spread as far south as the Mediterranean and to the far north-west, where Ireland is prepared for what is predicted to be its heaviest snowfall in decades.