72 Global Warming News Articles
for April of 2018
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4-30-18 A mix-up means US air pollution is way worse than thought
Levels of nitrogen oxides in the air are still falling across the US, but satellite measurements show the reduction has slowed down unexpectedly since 2011. Air pollution levels are falling in the US – but not as rapidly as the US Environmental Protection Agency thinks they are. The US has been reducing its emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide for about 50 years. The EPA keeps tabs on the progress, in part by calculating how technological improvements should change the emissions from vehicles and factories. But those calculations seem to be overestimating the progress being made, according to Zhe Jiang at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei. While at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, Jiang and his colleagues examined pollution data from satellites and ground-based sensors. The team found that NOx concentrations in the air dropped by 7 per cent each year between 2005 and 2009 – but by only 1.7 per cent each year between 2011 and 2015. That’s a 76 per cent slowdown. The EPA’s figures estimate the slowdown should have been just 16 per cent. “Our analysis suggests the EPA overestimated the effect of regulations for heavy duty diesel trucks, which will result in an underestimation of NOx emissions,” says Jiang. The discrepancy might also be due to a relative increase in contributions from off-road sources that are less strictly monitored, like farm equipment and lawn mowers. Last year, a study of data from 61 European cities showed the decline in roadside NO2 emissions since 2010 was larger than expected from government policy projections. Jiang says it’s not clear why certain emissions cuts have been underestimated in Europe and overestimated in the US.
4-30-18 UK-US initiative to study mighty Thwaites Glacier
It is going to be one of the biggest projects ever undertaken in Antarctica. UK and US scientists will lead a five-year effort to examine the stability of the mighty Thwaites Glacier. This ice stream in the west of the continent is comparable in size to Britain. It is melting and is currently in rapid retreat, accounting for around 4% of global sea-level rise - an amount that has doubled since the mid-1990s. Researchers want to know if Thwaites could collapse. Were it to do so, its lost ice would push up the oceans by 80cm or more. Some computer models have suggested such an outcome is inevitable if conditions continue as they are - albeit on a timescale of centuries. But these simulations need to be anchored in many more real-world observations, which will now be acquired thanks to the joint initiative announced on Monday. "There is still a question in my view as to whether Thwaites has actually entered an irreversible retreat," said Prof David Vaughan, the director of science at the British Antarctic Survey. "It assumes the melt rates we see today continue into the future and that's not guaranteed. Thwaites is clearly on the verge of an irreversible retreat, but to sure we need 10 years more data," he told BBC News. The UK's Natural Environment Research Council and the US National Science Foundation are going to deploy about 100 scientists to Thwaites on a series of expeditions. The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC) is the two nations' biggest cooperative venture on the White Continent for more than 70 years - since the end of a mapping project on the Antarctic Peninsula in the late 1940s.
4-29-18 Why oil is getting more expensive
"Donald Trump is not happy about the price of oil," said Jordan Weissman at Slate. The president recently chided the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, suggesting the cartel was manipulating global oil supplies in order to drive up prices, which this week briefly topped $75 a barrel, the highest in more than three years. "Looks like OPEC is at it again," Trump tweeted. "Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!" The cost of oil is up roughly 46 percent over last year, and with demand climbing, drivers have seen prices at the pump also soar to three-year highs. The last time oil was north of $70 a barrel, prices "were in the middle of a steep collapse," said Stephanie Yang and Alison Sider at The Wall Street Journal. It was 2014, and the U.S. shale boom and the resumption of drilling in Libya had resulted in a global glut of crude, causing oil prices to crater, eventually to just $26 a barrel. For two years, OPEC countries responded by pumping frantically, hoping to drive U.S. shale operators out of business. But in 2016, they "reversed course" and enlisted other petrostates, such as Russia, to agree to major production cuts. Over time, the cartel successfully rolled back production by more than 1.5 million barrels a day, eliminating the global glut that had kept prices low.
4-29-18 Australia to fund Great Barrier Reef restoration and protection
Australia has pledged A$500 million (£275m; $379m) to protect the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. In recent years, the reef has lost 30% of its coral due to bleaching linked to rising sea temperatures and damage from crown-of-thorns starfish. The funding will be used to reduce the runoff of agricultural pesticides and improve water quality. Some of the money will be used to help farmers near the reef modify their practices. Threats to the reef include "large amounts of sediment, nitrogen and pesticide run-off" as well as the crown-of-thorns starfish species, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said. The reef can be seen from space and was listed as a world heritage site in 1981 by the United Nations cultural body Unesco. There are 1,052 sites of environmental and cultural importance such as the reef on Unesco's World Heritage List. In 2017, the organisation decided not to place the Great Barrier Reef on its official list of 55 World Heritage sites "in danger". Unprecedented coral bleaching in recent years has caused damage to two-thirds of the reef, aerial surveys in 2017 showed.
4-27-18 Sentinel tracks ships' dirty emissions from orbit
The new EU satellite tasked with tracking dirty air has demonstrated how it will become a powerful tool to monitor emissions from shipping. Sentinel-5P was launched in October last year and this week completed its in-orbit commissioning phase. But already it is clear the satellite's data will be transformative. This latest image reveals the trail of nitrogen dioxide left in the air as ships move in and out of the Mediterranean Sea. The "highway" that the vessels use to navigate the Strait of Gibraltar is easily discerned by S5P's Tropomi instrument. "You really see a straight line because all these ships follow approximately the same route," explained Pepijn Veefkind, Tropomi's principal investigator from the Dutch met office (KNMI). "In this case, we also looked into how many big ships there are in the region [at the time], and there's really not that many - around 20 or so, we estimate - but each one is putting out a lot of NO2." Nitrogen dioxide is a product of the combustion of fuels, in this instance from the burning of marine diesel. But it is also possible to see in the picture the emissions hanging over major urban areas on land that come from cars, trucks and a number of industrial activities. NO2 will be a major contributor to the poorer air quality people living in those areas experience. Sentinel-5P is the next big step because of its greater sensitivity and sharper view of the atmosphere. "Shipping lanes are something we've seen on previous missions but only after we've averaged a lot of data; so, over a month or a year. But with Tropomi we see these shipping lanes with a single image," Dr Veefkind told BBC News. "The resolution we got from our previous instruments was about 20km by 20km. Now, we've gone down to 7km by 3.5km, and we are thinking of going to even smaller pixels."
4-27-18 Pumping water underground for power may have triggered South Korean quake
Enhanced geothermal systems marshal the Earth’s subsurface heat for electricity. Injecting fluid into the ground for geothermal power generation may have caused the magnitude 5.5 earthquake that shook part of South Korea on November 15, 2017. The liquid, pumped underground by the Pohang power plant, could have triggered a rupture along a nearby fault zone that was already stressed, two new studies suggest. If it’s confirmed that the plant is the culprit, the Pohang quake, which injured 70 people and caused $50 million in damages, would be the largest ever induced by enhanced geothermal systems, or EGS. The technology involves high-pressure pumping of cold water into the ground to widen existing, small fractures in the subsurface, creating paths for the water to circulate and be heated by hot rock. The plant then retrieves the water and converts the heat into power. Researchers examined local seismic network data for the locations and timing of the main earthquake, six foreshocks and hundreds of aftershocks to determine whether the temblors might have been related to fluid injections at the Pohang plant. Almost all of the quakes originated just four to six kilometers below surface points that were within a few kilometers of the plant, report geologist Kwang-Hee Kim of Pusan National University in South Korea and colleagues online April 26 in Science. These factors, combined with the lack of seismic activity in the region before the injections, suggest the injections were to blame for the quakes, the researchers found.
4-26-18 A global plastics crisis
When a dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Spain earlier this year, said Emily Atkin, scientists were shocked to discover “64 pounds of plastic in its stomach and intestines.” Throughout the world, discarded plastic is infiltrating and killing wildlife, ravaging coral reefs, and contaminating birds, fish, and the food chain. It is making its way into our bodies, with unknown health effects. Humans already put 19 billion pounds of plastics into the oceans every year, and that toxic avalanche will double by 2025. Recycling and bans on plastic bags and straws can “make a small difference,” but this scourge is truly an international problem, with Asian countries contributing the vast majority of ocean plastic. “Like human-caused climate change,” plastic pollution requires an international agreement with “binding pollution-reduction targets for every country.” That goal will meet with stiff resistance: Not surprisingly, China, India, and now the U.S. under President Trump have refused to sign a draft U.N. resolution that would start the process of setting plastic targets. But it’s the only way to stop the immense flow of plastics into our oceans and our bodies. “The plastics crisis is entirely within humans’ power to solve, but only if we do it together.”
4-26-18 This plastic can be recycled over and over and over again
Breaking down into its initial building blocks is the key to the polymer’s reusabilit. A new kind of plastic can, when exposed to the right chemicals, break down into the same basic building blocks that it came from and be rebuilt again and again. The recyclable material is more durable than previous attempts to create reusable plastics, researchers report April 26 in Science. Designing plastics that can be easily reused is one line of attack against the global plastic waste problem. Only about 10 percent of plastic ever made gets recycled, according to a 2017 study in Science Advances. But the material is so cheap and useful that hundreds of millions of tons of it keeps getting churned out each year. A major impediment to plastic recycling is that most plastics degrade into molecules that aren’t immediately useful. Transforming those molecules back into plastic or into some other product requires many chemical reactions, which makes the recycling process less efficient. And while biodegradable plastics have become popular in recent years, they break down only if the right microbes are present. More often than not, these plastics end up lingering in landfills or floating in the ocean. Creating plastics that could be broken down into their building blocks and reused without additional processing and purifying could help reduce the pollution buildup. But designing such a plastic polymer is a balancing act, says Michael Shaver, a polymer chemist at the University of Edinburgh who wasn’t part of the study. Polymers are long chains of small molecules, called monomers, that link together like beads on a string. Monomers that need extreme temperatures or too much chemical coaxing to join up into polymers might not be practical building blocks. And resulting polymers need to be stable up to a high enough temperature that, say, pouring hot coffee into a cup made of them won’t destabilize the chains and make the plastic melt into a sticky puddle.
4-26-18 Sunscreen for coral reefs
Scientists in Australia have come up with an unlikely way to protect the Great Barrier Reef from climate change: using sunscreen. Greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere are causing the oceans to become warmer and more acidic. When coral reefs are stressed by heat, they lose their bright, vibrant color and turn ghostly white. A resilient reef can recover from this “bleaching” process if water temperatures return to normal quickly; if not, the coral eventually dies. To combat this phenomenon, researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Marine Science designed a “sun shield” to sit on the water’s surface above the corals. Some 50,000 times thinner than human hair, the biodegradable layer is made from calcium carbonate, a component of coral skeletons. Tests found that it blocked up to 30 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, cooling the waters below and thus protecting the coral from bleaching. “This is not intended to be a solution that can be applied over the whole [134,000 square miles] of Great Barrier Reef,” Anna Marsden, from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, tells NBCNews.com. “But it could be deployed on a smaller, local level to protect high-value or high-risk areas.”
4-26-18 Humans may be to blame for a big earthquake in South Korea
An earthquake that struck South Korea in 2017 was caused by a geothermal energy project that injected water underground – and risk assessments missed it. South Korea’s most damaging earthquake for a century may have been man-made. Two investigations both conclude that the quake was caused by injections of water deep underground, as part of a project to harness geothermal energy. The findings also suggest that seismologists’ method for estimating how big an earthquake might be caused by pumping water underground is dangerously flawed. Several dozen people were hurt and many buildings damaged in Pohang by the magnitude-5.5 quake in November last year. It was the second most powerful earthquake in South Korea since 1978. Now two independent studies have found that the quake and its main aftershocks were 2 kilometres or less from a site where water was being injected 4 kilometres underground. The goal was to extract energy from underground heat, by injecting water into deep, hot rocks then drawing the heated water up through a second borehole. During the entire project, which ended last September, engineers pumped down around 12,000 cubic metres of water. The drilling operations probably caused the quake, both teams conclude based on seismic and satellite data. “If the Pohang earthquake proves to be human-caused, it would be the largest known associated with deep geothermal energy, and this would certainly impact future projects,” says team member Stefan Wiemer of the Swiss Seismological Service.
4-26-18 Swimmers peeing in the pond
Henry David Thoreau, after a new study found that the ecosystem of once pristine Walden Pond in Massachusetts has been devastated by “anthropogenic nutrient inputs”—that is, tourist swimmers peeing in the pond.
4-25-18 Why the US is wrong to say burning wood is carbon neutral
The US’s decision to regard wood as carbon neutral flies in the face of the evidence and will lead to increased emissions. It is a disaster for forests, wildlife and efforts to tackle climate change. The US Environmental Protection Agency has decided that wood is a renewable energy source, which means it will now qualify for support from programmes supposed to reduce carbon emissions. The US forestry industry, which already exports wood pellets to Europe for burning in power stations, has long been clamouring for this policy change so it can sell even more wood for energy. On 23 April, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced that forest biomass would be regarded as carbon neutral. Except it isn’t. There are quite a few things wrong with using wood as a fuel. First, it is a very bad one. It contains about half as much energy per kilogram as coal, for instance, so you have to burn a lot more of it to achieve the same results. “As a way of producing energy it’s crazy,” says Tim Searchinger of Princeton University. “England was basically deforested in the 1600s to produce a tiny, tiny fraction of the energy it consumes today. What allowed the forests to come back was coal.” Burning wood is also bad for the environment. It is highly polluting – trendy wood burners are choking our cities by releasing harmful microscopic particles into the air – and it requires cutting down huge numbers of trees each year, which damages precious wildlife habitat. (Webmaster's comment: Scott Pruitt is an Idiot!)
4-26-18 Companies sign up to pledge to cut plastic pollution
More than 40 companies have signed up to a pact to cut plastic pollution over the next seven years. The firms, which include Coca-Cola and Asda, have promised to honour a number of pledges such as eliminating single-use packaging through better design. They have joined the government, trade associations and campaigners to form the UK Plastics Pact. The signatories are responsible for more than 80% of plastic packaging on products sold through UK supermarkets. One of the promises which companies, such as consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble and Marks & Spencer, have signed up to is to make 100% of plastic packaging ready for recycling or composting by 2025. Led by the sustainability campaign group WRAP, the pact is described as a "once-in-a lifetime opportunity" to rethink plastic both to make use of its value and to stop it damaging the environment. WRAP's chief executive Marcus Gover, said: "This requires a whole scale transformation of the plastics system and can only be achieved by bringing together all links in the chain under a shared commitment to act. "That is what makes the UK Plastics Pact unique. It unites every body, business and organisation with a will to act on plastic pollution. We will never have a better time to act, and together we can."
4-25-18 Acid bath: The new threat to lakes and rivers
Freshwater acidification was supposed to be a thing of the past, but it’s back and it could be even worse this time. FOR environmentalists of a certain vintage, the words “acid” and “lakes” can stir strangely fond memories. Back in the 1970s and 80s, acid rain from coal-fired power stations was turning lakes across the northern hemisphere into vinegar. Scientists identified the problem, activists campaigned, governments listened. Today, in the West at least, acid rain is largely a thing of the past. But acid lakes are not. Even while many are still recovering from being deluged with acid rain, they face a resumed assault – this time from carbon dioxide. High concentrations of the gas in the atmosphere means more is dissolving in the world’s lakes and rivers. Goodbye sulphuric acid, hello carbonic acid. The new acid invasion shouldn’t come as a surprise. For over a decade, marine biologists have been on alert for the effects of acidifying oceans as rising amounts of atmospheric CO2 dissolve into them. But until now, the parallel acidification of rivers and lakes has largely escaped attention. That changed in January with the publication of the first research to pinpoint freshwater lakes accumulating CO2 from the air, and growing more acidic as a result. “The rate of acidification is really quite fast – three times faster than in the world’s oceans,” says Linda Weiss of the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, who led the study (Current Biology, vol 28, p 327). That is obviously a cause for concern. Ocean acidification – sometimes known as “the other CO2 problem” – is expected to have severe effects on marine ecosystems. About a third of all the CO2 released into the atmosphere dissolves in seawater and turns into carbonic acid. Since the industrial revolution, the pH of the ocean surface has fallen from 8.16 to 8.05, a 30 per cent increase in the concentration of hydrogen ions. This isn’t a concern yet, but if it continues it will eventually cause some corals and shells to dissolve.
4-25-18 Acid lakes may be a false alarm but we can’t afford complacency
Freshwater acidification might turn out to be a trivial problem but we don’t know how much danger aquatic life is in unless we can track down more data. IN 2003, a scary phrase made its debut in the scientific literature. In a paper in Nature, a couple of scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California cautioned that, over the coming centuries, carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels would dissolve in the ocean and make it significantly less alkaline. They called this phenomenon “ocean acidification” and warned that it might have consequences for marine life – while admitting that there was a “paucity of relevant observations”. Fast forward 15 years and we are now sure that ocean acidification will have major impacts on marine biology, especially corals. We also have another new scary phenomenon to contend with: freshwater acidification (see “Lakes of Acid”). This is the ocean problem applied to rivers and lakes. It, too, may have serious effects on aquatic life, though at this early stage there is another paucity of relevant data. Indeed, “paucity” is a word that cautious scientists and climate change deniers alike may use about the evidence for freshwater acidification. Right now, the evidence that it is happening at all is limited to just four reservoirs in the Ruhr region of Germany. Scientists in other places, notably the UK’s Lake District, haven’t seen any sign of it. This could be confirmation of a long-held consensus that, for a variety of complex reasons, fresh water isn’t as susceptible as seawater to acidification by CO2. If so, that would be good news. Planet Earth has enough environmental problems as it is. And while a new one could provide fresh impetus to campaigns, the acidification of a few reservoirs in Germany is not going to make anyone change their ways.
4-24-18 Record concentration of microplastics found in Arctic
Record levels of microplastics have been found trapped inside sea ice floating in the Arctic. Ice cores gathered across the Arctic Ocean reveal microplastics at concentrations two to three times higher than previously recorded. As sea ice melts with climate change, the plastic will be released back into the water, with unknown effects on wildlife, say German scientists. Traces of 17 different types of plastic were found in frozen seawater. Their "plastic fingerprint" suggests they were carried on ocean currents from the huge garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean or arose locally due to pollution from shipping and fishing. More than half of the microplastic particles within the ice were so small that they could easily be ingested by sea life, said Ilka Peeken of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, who led the study. "No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings," she said. The ice cores were gathered from five regions throughout the Arctic Ocean in the spring of 2014 and summer of 2015. They were taken back to the laboratory, where they were analysed for their unique plastic "fingerprint". "Using this approach, we also discovered plastic particles that were only 11 micrometres across," said co-researcher Gunnar Gerdts, also from the Alfred Wegener Institute. "That's roughly one-sixth the diameter of a human hair, and also explains why we found concentrations of over 12,000 particles per litre of sea ice - which is two to three times higher than what we'd found in past measurements." The researchers found a total of 17 different types of plastic in the sea ice, including packaging materials like polyethylene and polypropylene, but also paints, nylon, polyester, and cellulose acetate (used to make cigarette filters). They say the plastic found its way to the Arctic Ocean from the huge garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean or from ship's paint and fishing nets.
4-24-18 Oil at $75 as Iran sanction fears mount
Oil prices hit $75 on Tuesday, the highest level in nearly three and a half years, as fears mounted over the prospect of new US sanctions on Iran. Brent crude jumped for the sixth consecutive day, trading as high as $75.27 before falling back slightly. The US will decide by 12 May whether to abandon a nuclear deal with Iran and re-impose sanctions. Such a move on the third-biggest oil producer in the Opec cartel threatens to further tighten global supplies. Oil prices have been rising since the 14 nations in Opec, as well as other producers including Russia, decided to restrict output last year. In November they agreed to extend those cuts until the end of 2018. Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM said the prospect of President Trump pulling the US out of the nuclear accord that Iran signed with world powers in 2015 was the most significant element of Brent's recent rally. "All bets are off on the US staying in the nuclear agreement," he said. The US president has said that unless European allies fix what he has called "terrible flaws" in the accord by 12 May, he will restore US economic sanctions on Iran. The other nations that signed the deal - the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China - all want to keep in place the agreement, which has halted Iran's nuclear programme in return for most international sanctions being lifted. Restoring US economic sanctions on Iran would be a severe blow to the pact. Stephen Innes of futures brokerage OANDA said new sanctions against Tehran could push oil prices up by as much as $5 a barrel.
4-23-18 Why the hockey stick graph will always be climate science’s icon
Two decades after it was first published, the chart linking carbon emissions and global warming is as relevant as ever, says Olive Heffernan. Today is the 20th anniversary of one of the most iconic images in science. On 23 April 1998, US climate scientist Michael Mann and two colleagues published a paper in Nature. Central to it was a graph that would become known as the “hockey stick”. This graph was fairly simple, but its implications were monumental. Unlike any image before, it showed that Earth’s temperature had been relatively stable for 500 years, only to suddenly spike in the 20th century. The hockey stick – named for its long flat line with a sharp upturn – was a strong visual aid that bolstered mounting evidence for human-produced greenhouse gases warming the climate. A year later, Mann and his colleagues extended their analysis further back, showing that the 20th century was hotter than any other time in the past millennium. Seized on by the media, the hockey stick became a global news story. It also became the cornerstone of a bitter political debate, one that would change Mann’s life. Climate sceptics with a vested interest in denying the hockey stick’s central message – that use of fossil fuels is harming the environment – waged an all-out war to discredit Mann and the group’s findings. First, they went after the science. To reconstruct climate going back 500 or 1000 years – long before weather stations or satellites existed – the scientists had to use other indicators of temperature, such as tree rings in long-lived species and ice cores. They also had to develop a new statistical approach to translate such data into annual surface temperatures for the northern hemisphere. As with all scientific analyses, there were uncertainties in the data and Mann and his colleagues had to make judgements on how best to handle them. Sceptics seized on those uncertainties to claim the graph was an artefact, and that using certain proxy data – especially from bristlecone pine trees – biased the results. Then, Mann’s adversaries went after him personally. Writing in Scientific American, Mann described how he was vilified on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, had his e-mails stolen, and has received multiple death threats since the hockey stick article was published. Congress eventually asked the US National Academy of Sciences to weigh in with an independent review. Published in 2006, this endorsed Mann’s findings but had the scientists repeat the analysis with more and better data. Since then, numerous studies have reiterated the hockey stick‘s central conclusion: globally, it’s hotter now than it has been in 1000 years, and according to one analysis, it’s possibly hotter now than it has been for more than 10,000 years.
4-23-18 Climate change: Michael Bloomberg pledges $4.5m for Paris deal
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he will pay $4.5m (£3.2m) to cover some of the lapsed US commitment to the Paris climate accord. He said he had a responsibility to help improve the environment because of President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the deal. The withdrawal was announced last June and sparked international condemnation. It will make the US in effect the only country not to be part of the Paris accord. The Paris agreement commits the US and 187 other countries to keeping rising global temperatures "well below" 2C above pre-industrial levels. As part of the agreement, the US had pledged $3bn to the Green Climate Fund, set up by the UN to help countries deal with the effects of global warming. The money promised by Mr Bloomberg does not aim to cover this, but the US contribution to the UN's climate change secretariat. "America made a commitment and, as an American, if the government's not going to do it then we all have a responsibility," Mr Bloomberg said on CBS. "I'm able to do it. So, yes, I'm going to send them a cheque for the monies that America had promised to the organisation as though they got it from the federal government." His charity, Bloomberg Philanthropies, offered $15m to cover a separate climate change shortfall last year. It said the money would go to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
4-23-18 Environment prize goes to Flint water activist
The founder of a citizens' movement that helped expose the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is one of the recipients of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. Nearly 100,000 residents of Flint were left without safe tap water after lead began leaching into the supply. Mother of four LeeAnne Walters led a citizens' movement that tested the tap water to expose the health threat. Tests showed lead levels in her water were seven times the acceptable limit. In 2014, the water in Ms Walters' home turned brownish and she noticed rashes on her three-year-old twins. Her daughters' hair then fell out in clumps. Walters spent months reading technical documents about the Flint water system. She then teamed up with environmental engineer Dr Marc Edwards, from Virginia Tech, who helped her conduct extensive water testing in the city. She methodically sampled each zip code in Flint and set up a system to ensure the integrity of the tests, working over 100 hours per week for three weeks. They showed lead levels as high as 13,200 parts per billion in some parts of the city - more than twice the level classified as hazardous waste by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The contamination was traced to the city switching its water supply away from Detroit's system, which draws from Lake Huron, and beginning instead to draw water from the Flint River. Flint was in a financial state of emergency and this switch was meant to save the city millions of dollars. But the water from the Flint River was more corrosive than Lake Huron's water and the pipes began leaching lead, which is a powerful neurotoxin. The city has since switched back to using Detroit's water system. But Flint continues to wrestle with the aftermath of the crisis, and pipe replacement is ongoing.
4-20-18 The Amazon’s solar-powered river bus
How can you create public transport in the jungle without polluting it? The isolated Achuar peoples of Ecuador have created an ingenious solution. Since April 2017, a canoe powered solely by solar energy travels back and forth along the 67-km (42-mile) stretch of the Capahuari and Pastaza rivers that connect the nine isolated settlements that live along their banks. The boat Tapiatpia - named after a mythical electric eel in the area - gives the Amazon its first solar powered public transport system. "The solar canoe is an ideal solution for this place because there is a network of interconnected navigable rivers and a great need for alternative transport," says Oliver Utne, a US environmentalist who has been working with the community since 2011. The community previously relied entirely on gasoline canoes, known as peque peques, but they are expensive to run and only owned by a few families per village. The canoe costs passengers just $1 (71p) each per stop, whereas peque peques cost $5-10 in gasoline for the same journey. Gasoline costs five times more here than in the capital Quito because there are no roads and it needs to be flown in. Of course there is an environmental impact too - the canoe means no pollution in one of the world's richest areas of biodiversity. With a roof of 32 solar panels mounted on a traditional canoe design of 16 x 2-metre (52 x 7-feet) fibreglass, Tapiaptia carries 18 passengers.
4-20-18 Heat waves are roasting reefs, but some corals may be resilient
New research examines damage from heat and gives projections for the future. It’s no secret that warming ocean waters have devastated many of the world’s coral reefs. For instance, a 2016 marine heat wave killed 30 percent of coral in the Great Barrier Reef, a study published online April 18 in Nature reports. But some coral species may be able to adapt and survive in warmer waters for another century, or even two, a second team reports April 19 in PLOS Genetics. And that offers a glimmer of hope for future ocean biodiversity. “What we’ve just experienced [in the Great Barrier Reef] is one hell of a natural selection experiment,” says coral reef expert Terry Hughes of James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. In total, about 50 percent of the reef’s corals have died since 2016, he says. A bright side, maybe: “The ones that are left are tougher.” While the marine heat wave particularly damaged staghorn corals (Acropora millepora), this species may ultimately prove to be one of the resilient ones, Mikhail Matz, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, and his colleagues report in PLOS Genetics. A new analysis shows the branching, fast-growing coral — a key reef builder — is genetically diverse enough to survive for another 100 to 250 years, depending on how quickly the planet warms. Other studies have suggested coral reefs may not last this century. What happens to coral reefs affects vast underwater ecosystems, and the hundreds of millions of people who depend on those ecosystems for fishing, tourism and more. So scientists want to understand how corals might fare as climate change brings longer and stronger marine heat waves (SN: 4/10/18, p. 5).
4-19-18 Antarctica’s worrying retreat
Warming ocean water in Antarctica is melting much more underwater ice than previously thought, new research suggests—a discovery that could prompt a re-evaluation of predicted sea-level rises. Between 2010 and 2016, a team from the University of Leeds in the U.K. used satellite data to measure the surface height of about a third of the continent’s ocean-facing glaciers. This allowed them to monitor the “grounding line,” the point at which ocean, ice, and bedrock meet; when a glacier’s grounding line retreats inland, more ice is exposed to the ocean. The researchers found that 10.7 percent of the continent’s glaciers are melting at above-average rates, while only 1.9 percent are growing, reports TheGuardian.com. They concluded that each year during the six-year observation period, about 80 square miles of underwater ice went afloat—an area about four times the size of Manhattan. “We can’t extrapolate sea level rates that come from that,” says lead author Hannes Konrad. “But to say 10 percent of Antarctica, this massive ice body, is retreating, still should be some sign of warning. It’s large.”
4-19-18 Rising CO2 levels might not be as good for plants as we thought
Long-term experiment finds a surprising flip in the rules for plant photosynthesis. Two major groups of plants have shown a surprising reversal of fortunes in the face of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. During a 20-year field experiment in Minnesota, a widespread group of plants that initially grew faster when fed more CO2 stopped doing so after 12 years, researchers report in the April 20 Science. Meanwhile, the extra CO2 began to stimulate the growth of a less common group of plants that includes many grasses. This switcheroo, if it holds true elsewhere, suggests that in the future the majority of Earth’s plants might not soak up as much of the greenhouse gas as previously expected, while some grasslands might take up more. “We need to be less sure about what land ecosystems will do and what we expect in the future,” says ecosystem ecologist Peter Reich of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, who led the study. Today, land plants scrub about a third of the CO2 that humans emit into the air. “We need to be more worried,” he says, about whether that trend continues. The two kinds of plants in the study respond differently to CO2 because they use different types of photosynthesis. About 97 percent of plant species, including all trees, use a method called C3, which gets its name from the three-carbon molecules it produces. Most plants using the other method, called C4, are grasses.
4-19-18 Poking tiny dents into solar panels makes them work better
Most solar cells are limited by how much energy their electrons can absorb. Denting their materials could help them harvest more electricity and breeze past that limit. Putting a dent in solar cells may actually make them more efficient. It could even pave the way to solar cells that break a fundamental limit on how much energy the material can absorb. Solar cells work via the photovoltaic effect, in which light imparts energy to electrons, allowing them to move around and create electrical current. Most modern solar cells place two different types of semiconductor materials next to each other, which directs the electrical current to flow from one material to the other. These solar cells are limited by how much energy the electrons can absorb from sunlight. Too little energy and the electrons don’t absorb any of it, but too much and the extra goes unused. Marin Alexe at the University of Warwick in the UK and his colleagues have come up with a new way to generate energy from sunlight within just one material – and it might be able to bypass make use of more of the sun’s energy. In a single material, electrical current can only flow when the molecular structure is not perfectly symmetrical. In symmetrical materials, electrons can jostle around but there’s nothing directing or organizing their motion to make it useful. Alexe and his colleagues found a way to make any semiconductor into a solar cell: simply break its molecular symmetry. By pressing the rounded tip of an atomic force microscope into a sample of a symmetrical semiconductor, they squeezed some of the molecules closer together.
4-19-18 Why climate engineers are targeting Earth’s last pristine spots
Some of the last great wildernesses are being considered as likely candidates for geoengineering. It's a sad reflection of climate failings, says Olive Heffernan. Do we have any low-risk global geoengineering options ready to deploy now? The answer, according to leading US climatologist Alan Robock, is no. So it is unsurprising that interest is starting to turn to more limited, localised ideas that look less perilous. The latest involve building artificial islands and 100-metre-high walls to prevent a rising tide of melting polar ice. These examples of targeted geoengineering – a new twist on the controversial idea – could prevent the metre or so of sea level rise that is expected to displace millions of coastal dwellers by 2100. Scientists presented the idea to the annual European Geosciences Union meeting last week, a gathering of nearly 15,000 earth and space experts, including Robock, in Vienna, Austria. Most geoengineering schemes would directly intervene in the climate across the planet to counter warming, either by reflecting some of the sunlight reaching Earth or by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But the conclusion in Vienna was that their risks are too high, and in some cases too uncertain, to consider them safe to deploy now on a meaningful scale. According to studies presented at the meeting, solar geoengineering could save corals from bleaching and permafrost from melting, for example, but it would also heighten flood risk from torrential rain in Europe and North America.
4-19-18 Giant plastic 'berg blocks Indonesian river
A crisis of plastic waste in Indonesia has become so acute that the army has been called in to help. Rivers and canals are clogged with dense masses of bottles, bags and other plastic packaging. Officials say they are engaged in a "battle" against waste that accumulates as quickly as they clear it. The commander of a military unit in the city of Bandung described it as "our biggest enemy". Like many rapidly developing countries, Indonesia has become notorious for struggling to cope with mountains of rubbish. A population boom has combined with an explosive spread of plastic containers and wrapping replacing natural biodegradable packaging such as banana leaves. The result is that local authorities trying to provide rubbish collection have been unable to keep up with the dramatic expansion of waste generated. And a longstanding culture of throwing rubbish into ditches and streams has meant that any attempt to clean up needs a massive shift in public opinion. In Bandung, Indonesia's third largest city, we witnessed the shocking sight of a concentration of plastic waste so thick that it looked like an iceberg and blocked a major tributary. Soldiers deployed on a barge used nets to try to extract bags, Styrofoam food boxes and bottles, a seemingly futile task because all the time more plastic flowed their way from further upstream. To encourage recycling, the authorities in the Bandung area are supporting initiatives in "eco-villages" where residents can bring old plastic items and earn small amounts of money in exchange. The plastics are then divided by type. In one project we visited, two women patiently cut apart bottles and small water cups because separating the different kinds of polymers earns higher prices.
4-19-18 This plastic-gobbling enzyme just got an upgrade
Scientists’ tweak led to more breakdown of plastics found in polyester and plastic bottles. Just a few tweaks to a bacterial enzyme make it a lean, mean plastic-destroying machine. One type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is widely used in polyester clothing and disposable bottles and is notoriously persistent in landfills. In 2016, Japanese scientists identified a new species of bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, which has a specialized enzyme that can naturally break down PET. Now, an international team of researchers studying the enzyme’s structure has created a variant that’s even more efficient at gobbling plastic, the team reports April 17 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists used a technique called X-ray crystallography to examine the enzyme’s structure for clues to its plastic-killing abilities. Then, they genetically tweaked the enzyme to create small variations in the structure, and tested those versions for PET-degrading performance. Some changes made the enzyme work even better. Both the original version and the mutated versions could break down both PET and another, newer bio-based plastic called PEF, short for polyethylene-2,5-furandicarboxylate. With a little more engineering, these enzymes could someday feast at landfills.
4-19-18 Save America's nuclear power plants
The United States still has the largest network of nuclear power plants in the world — bigger even than France, which gets about three-quarters of its power from nuclear. But the U.S. nuclear supply is shrinking fast. Plants constructed during the building spree in the 1960s and '70s are being retired as they reach the end of their planned operating lifespan, while they simultaneously come under powerful price pressure from natural gas and ever-cheaper renewables. Recently the utility FirstEnergy announced plans to shut down three nuclear power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, following an announcement from Exelon that it would close the Three Mile Island plant next year. This is bad. Whatever you think of nuclear power, it is still the largest zero-carbon portion of our existing energy infrastructure. We should wring every last kilowatt out of that infrastructure until renewables (or perhaps future superior nuclear tech) are ready to take up the slack. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions should be an overriding goal for all energy policy. Now, that is not to say that we should prioritize building new nuclear power plants. Contrary to the stereotype of nuclear being blocked by dimwitted environmentalists, the big problem with constructing nuclear power is that it is stupendously expensive and complicated, and American institutions — whether they're public or private — have developed severe problems with executing that type of project. Indeed, recent construction on a reactor in South Carolina got so over budget and behind schedule that it bankrupted the contractor Westinghouse and the whole thing was abandoned. (That's just one of many such stories.)
4-18-18 Heatwaves 'cook' Great Barrier Reef corals
Prolonged ocean warming events, known as marine heatwaves, take a significant toll on the complex ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef. This is according to a new study on the impacts of the 2016 marine heatwave, published in Nature. In surveying the 3,863 individual reefs that make up the system off Australia's north-east coast, scientists found that 29% of communities were affected. In some cases up to 90% of coral died, in a process known as bleaching. This occurs when the stress of elevated temperatures causes a breakdown of the coral's symbiotic relationship with its algae, which provide the coral with energy to survive, and give the reef its distinctive colours. Certain coral species are more susceptible to this heat-induced stress, and the 2016 marine heatwave saw the death of many tabular and staghorn corals, which are a key part of the reef's structure. Researchers led by Terry Hughes at Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies looked at aerial observations of the entire 2,300km reef between March and November 2016. These were combined with underwater surveys at over 100 locations. "We saw some corals rapidly dying," explained Dr Scott Heron, another of the study's authors. "Bleaching... is essentially a starvation process that occurs over one to two months. This rapid onset is not the same starvation mechanism. The best way to describe it is akin to cooking," added the Noaa Coral Reef Watch scientist. They found that these "cooked" corals were dying within two to three weeks. The northern section of the reef, some 700km long, was worst affected, with 50% of the coral cover in the reef's shallowest areas being lost within eight months.
4-18-18 Our grandchildren may never see the Great Barrier Reef recover
The reef has been so severely damaged by record ocean heat that it has had no chance to recover fully - and may never be the same again. THE Great Barrier Reef has been so severely damaged by record ocean heat that it will never be the same again in our lifetimes or those of our grandchildren. With ever hotter ocean heatwaves set to occur every few years, the reef will have no chance to recover fully. “In 30 years’ time, we’ll still have a reef, but it will look very different,” says Terry Hughes at James Cook University in Australia, whose team has conducted surveys of the reef to assess the damage. We already knew that the iconic reef was badly damaged by recent heat events. Hughes’s surveys show that the corals started dying at far lower levels of heat stress than expected. They also show that the structure of a third of the 4000 individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef has been degraded, altering ecosystems. The current damage began with a fierce ocean heatwave in early 2016, which directly killed many corals. Overall, 30 per cent of coral cover was lost, making it the worst die-off on record. A second heatwave at the start of 2017 then killed another 20 per cent. While some areas have recovered, corals are still dying in the worst-hit regions. Alarmingly, the corals’ tolerance of short periods of very high sea temperatures or of longer periods of less severe heat was just half as much as forecast by NASA and other research teams (Nature, doi.org/cngq). The corals also died faster than predicted. After sea surface temperatures reached record levels in March 2016, for example, millions of corals perished in just two weeks. “They simply cooked,” says Hughes.
4-18-18 Will China beat the world to nuclear fusion and clean energy?
In a world with an ever-increasing demand for electricity and a deteriorating environment, Chinese scientists are leading the charge to develop what some see as the holy grail of energy. Imagine limitless energy with virtually no waste at all: this is the lofty promise of nuclear fusion. On Science Island in Eastern China's Anhui Province, there is a large gleaming metal doughnut encased in an enormous shiny, round box about as big as a two-storey apartment. This is the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (or EAST). Inside, hydrogen atoms fuse and become helium which can generate heat at several times the temperature of the sun's core. Powerful magnets then control the reaction, which could one day produce vast amounts of electricity if maintained. Around the globe, they are trying to master nuclear fusion - in the United States, Japan, Korea, Brazil and European Union - but none can hold it steady for as long as the team in Anhui. Right now that's 100 seconds and it gets longer every year. Here they're already talking about goals which are 10 times as long, at temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius. But there's a reason why fusion has eluded scientists and engineers since the early advances in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. It is really difficult. (Webmaster's comment: Notice it was the Soviet Union that led the way. My money is on the Chinese, the new leaders of high tech!)
4-18-18 Costa Coffee vows 'cup recycling revolution'
The UK's biggest coffee chain Costa Coffee has said it will recycle as many disposable cups as it sells by 2020 in a "cup recycling revolution". Under the scheme, 500 million coffee cups a year would be recycled, including some sold by rivals, it said. It will encourage waste collection firms to collect the cups by paying them a supplement of £70 a tonne. About 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown away each year in the UK and 99.75% are not recycled. They have a mixture of paper and plastic in their inner lining - designed to make them both heat- and leak-proof. Environmental campaigners have welcomed Costa's move. Costa managing director Dominic Paul told the BBC the move was "a cup-recycling revolution". "By the end of 2020, we'll effectively be cup-neutral. We'll be recycling as many cups as we put into the system," he said. Costa said "misconceptions" had arisen about whether a coffee cup could be recycled because of the plastic layer, which had "previously been considered difficult to separate".
4-17-18 A melting ice shelf can cause rapid ice loss 900 kilometres away
If one part of an ice shelf starts to thin, it can trigger rapid ice losses in other regions as much as 900 kilometres away – contributing to sea level rise. The thinning of one part of an ice shelf can speed up ice movement in another part of the ice shelf up to 900 kilometres away, a computer model suggests. The finding is concerning because many ice shelves are already being thinned by warm sea water flowing beneath them. Ronja Reese of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany has been using a computer model of ice shelves to explore the consequences of this thinning. Her team recently ran simulations to see what happens when ice shelves thin by 1 to 10 metres over areas of 20 by 20 kilometres. According to their results, even such highly localised thinning can have immediate impacts hundreds of kilometres away, Reese told a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna last week. For example, in the model, thinning at the western coast of the Ross Ice-Shelf near Ross Island immediately causes an increased outflow of ice from the Bindschadler Ice Stream, located more than 900 kilometres across the ice shelf. Because ice shelves float on the ocean, sea level does not rise as they thin. However, ice-shelves hold back land-based glaciers flowing into the ocean. Some glaciers in the Antarctic are already speeding up and dumping more ice in the sea, thereby raising global sea levels.
4-17-18 Most UK plants will flower at once in short ‘condensed spring’
Plants in the UK are set to blaze into flower virtually simultaneously, because flowering has been delayed two weeks by the unusually cold weather. UK gardens are likely to be ablaze with colour this week as plants all break into flower simultaneously. This “condensed spring” follows much dismal weather: the UK spring has seen snow, twice the usual amount of rainfall and temperatures that are below average. “Cold has held spring back by two weeks, so suddenly everything will come out in a rush,” says Guy Barter at the Royal Horticultural Society, which has forecast the condensed spring. Plants need a period of cold to kick-start genetic programs for flowering. “It’s like a sort of dosing,” says Elizabeth Wolkovich at Harvard University. “Each day brings a plant some dose of cold or warmth, and once they’ve got the full dose of the two requirements they can flower.” Warmer winters caused by climate change could pose more of a problem for certain plants than cold snaps. In 2012, Wolkovich found that some plants are delaying flowering because warm winters don’t supply enough cold. That could harm these species and animals that rely on them.
4-17-18 Plankton named after BBC Blue Planet series
A type of plankton described as part of "the beating heart" of the oceans has been named after the BBC's Blue Planet series. The tiny plant-like organism is regarded as a key element of the marine ecosystem. Scientists at University College London (UCL) bestowed the honour on Sir David Attenborough and the documentary team. It's believed to be the first time a species has been named after a television programme. A single-celled algae, the plankton was collected in the South Atlantic but is found throughout the world's oceans. It will now be officially known as Syracosphaera azureaplaneta, the latter translating from the Latin as 'blue planet'. During a visit to UCL to receive the honour, Sir David said it was "a great compliment" and he was delighted that it would help raise awareness of the importance of plankton to the oceans. "If you said that plankton, the phytoplankton, the green oxygen-producing plankton in the oceans is more important to our atmosphere than the whole of the rainforest, which I think is true, people would be astonished. "They are an essential element in the whole cycle of oxygen production and carbon dioxide and all the rest of it, and you mess about with this sort of thing and the echoes and the reverberations and the consequences extend throughout the atmosphere." The Blue Planet plankton is only about 10 microns across - the diameter of a typical human hair is about seven times greater. It only lives for a few days but in that brief time creates shapes of incredible intricacy and beauty.
4-16-18 Recycling hope for plastic-hungry enzyme
Scientists have improved a naturally occurring enzyme which can digest some of our most commonly polluting plastics. PET, the strong plastic commonly used in bottles, takes hundreds of years to break down in the environment. The modified enzyme, known as PETase, can start breaking down the same material in just a few days. This could revolutionise the recycling process, allowing plastics to be re-used more effectively. UK consumers use around 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year but more than three billion are not recycled. Originally discovered in Japan, the enzyme is produced by a bacterium which "eats" PET. Ideonella sakaiensis uses the plastic as its major energy source. Researchers reported in 2016 that they had found the strain living in sediments at a bottle recycling site in the port city of Sakai. "[PET] has only been around in vast quantities over the last 50 years, so it's actually not a very long timescale for a bacteria to have evolved to eat something so man-made," commented Prof John McGeehan, who was involved in the current study. Polyesters, the group of plastics that PET (also called polyethylene terephthalate) belongs to, do occur in nature. "They protect plant leaves," explained the University of Portsmouth researcher. "Bacteria have been evolving for millions of years to eat that." The switch to PET was nevertheless "quite unexpected" and an international team of scientists set out to determine how the PETase enzyme had evolved.
4-15-18 David Buckel: US lawyer sets himself on fire in climate protest
A prominent US lawyer has died after setting himself on fire in a New York park in a protest against climate change. The remains of David Buckel, 60, were found in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. In a suicide note found nearby, Mr Buckel wrote that he had immolated himself using fossil fuel to symbolise what he said was the damage human beings were doing to the Earth. He said most people now breathed bad air and many died prematurely. Mr Buckel was well known for his legal work on behalf of gay, lesbian and transgender people and later worked with several environmental groups. "Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather," the lawyer said in his suicide note, quoted by the New York Times. The note was also emailed to several news organisations shortly before his body was found, the newspaper said. "My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves," he said. "This is not new, as many have chosen to give a life based on the view that no other action can most meaningfully address the harm they see," he added, the New York Daily News reported. (Webmaster's comment: Pointless!)
4-13-18 The Antarctic is melting even in the middle of subzero winter
Warm mountain winds are causing extensive winter melting on the surface of the Larsen C ice shelf, which could contribute to its breakup. The average winter temperature on the Antarctic peninsula is a chilly -15°C. Yet automated instruments on the Larsen C ice shelf have recorded extensive surface melting even during the long, dark winter. When wind blows over high mountains, the descending air can warm by several degrees. On the Antarctic peninsula, this phenomenon – known as a foehn wind – can sometimes raise air temperature above zero. This was known to happen during summer but has now been found to be occurring even in mid-winter. As the peninsula continues to warm, it will happen more and more often. “We can thus expect more winter melt this century,” Peter Kuipers Munneke of Utrecht University in the Netherlands told a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna this week. This winter melting is likely helping to destabilise the Larsen C ice shelf, which lost a huge chunk last year. Surface melting is thought to have played a big part in the breakup of the nearby Larsen B ice shelf in 2002. Kuipers Munneke and his colleagues made their discovery after installing an automated weather station in Cabinet Inlet, a region of the Larsen C ice shelf, in 2015. The station has instruments that can detect snow melt. They were surprised to discover extensive winter melting often lasting several days. “Over the three-year period, up to 25 per cent of the melt was happening in winter,” said Kuipers Munneke. “Peak intensities of this winter melt even exceed summertime values.” The findings will soon be published in Geophysical Research Letters.
4-13-18 Carbon-free shipping is possible, so why aren’t we doing it?
New UN-agreed limits on carbon emissions from shipping don’t go far or fast enough, especially as we already have the tech to make shipping carbon-free. Ships produce more than 2 per cent of the carbon emissions warming the planet. According to some estimates, those emissions could triple by 2050 if nothing is done. And until now, next to nothing has been done. Shipping, along with aviation, has been excluded from climate agreements. But delegates at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN agency that regulates international shipping, have just agreed on a target of reducing the sector’s emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050. This sounds like great news, but island states and some European countries wanted cuts of up to 100 per cent by the same deadline. “Today the IMO has made history,” said the president of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine. “While it may not be enough to give my country the certainty it wanted, it makes it clear that international shipping will now urgently reduce emissions.” Surprisingly, stricter cuts are actually feasible. While curbing aviation emissions remains a huge technical challenge, ships are easier. In fact, last month an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report concluded that with full deployment of existing technologies alone, shipping emissions could be cut 95 per cent by 2035. How? The first thing is to change the way ships operate. For example, reducing ship speeds could deliver fuel savings of up to two-thirds. While this sounds easy, it would reduce owners’ annual profits, so they won’t do it voluntarily.
4-13-18 Cargo ships must cut their emissions in half by 2050
Nations most at risk from sea level rise had pushed for the U.N. to set a bigger reduction. A new, hard-fought international deal will set limits on greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping for the first time. Delegates to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization, or IMO, met for a week in London to hash out the details of the plan. On April 13, more than 170 states agreed to the new road map, which aims to reduce shipping emissions at least 50 percent below 2008 levels by 2050. Currently, international shipping emissions make up about 2 to 3 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane. That’s roughly on par with Germany’s annual emissions. And a 2014 IMO report calculated that international shipping emissions were on track to increase 50 to 250 percent by 2050. These emissions were not included in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the international pact to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (SN: 1/9/16, p. 6). Every year, tens of thousands of cargo ships crisscross the ocean, hauling everything from cars to coffee. Such ships largely rely on heavy fuel oil, which both contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and is a public health hazard, containing as much as 1,800 times the sulfur of diesel fuel, says James Corbett, an expert in global shipping at the University of Delaware in Newark. (Webmaster's comment: This is a joke! They get 30 years to to reduce their CO2 emissions 50% when they could easily do it in 3 years! It's all about the money for their executives!)
4-13-18 Global shipping in 'historic' climate deal
The global shipping industry has for the first time agreed to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases. The move comes after talks all week at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London. Shippings has previously been excluded from climate agreements, but under the deal, emissions will be reduced by 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. One minister from a Pacific island state described the agreement as "history in the making". Shipping generates roughly the same quantity of greenhouse gas as Germany and, if it were accounted for as a nation, would rank as the world's sixth biggest emitter. Like aviation, it had been excluded from climate negotiations because it is an international activity while both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement involved national pledges to reduce greenhouse gases. The United States, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and a few other countries had not wanted to see a target for cutting shipping emissions at all. By contrast the European Union, including Britain, and small island states had pushed for a cut of 70-100%. So the deal for a 50% reduction is a compromise which some argue is unrealistic while others say does not far enough. Kitack Lim, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization, who had chaired the controversial talks, said: "This initial strategy is not a final statement but a key starting point." The tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands had opened the conference with a plea for action. Although it has the world's second largest register of shipping, it had warned that failure to achieve deep cuts would threaten the country's survival as global warming raises sea levels. (Webmaster's comment: 30 years to begin fixing a problem that could be fixed in 3 years. The real problem is it would reduce profits and shipping companies would have to reduce executive salaries!)
4-12-18 Climate change dials down Atlantic Ocean heating system
A significant shift in the system of ocean currents that helps keep parts of Europe warm could send temperatures in the UK lower, scientists have found. They say the Atlantic Ocean circulation system is weaker now than it has been for more than 1,000 years - and has changed significantly in the past 150. The study, in the journal Nature, says it may be a response to increased melting ice and is likely to continue. Researchers say that could have an impact on Atlantic ecosystems. Scientists involved in the Atlas project - the largest study of deep Atlantic ecosystems ever undertaken - say the impact will not be of the order played out in the 2004 Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow. But they say changes to the conveyor-belt-like system - also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc) - could cool the North Atlantic and north-west Europe and transform some deep-ocean ecosystems. That could also affect temperature-sensitive species like coral, and even Atlantic cod. Scientists believe the pattern is a response to fresh water from melting ice sheets being added to surface ocean water, meaning those surface waters "can't get very dense and sink". "That puts a spanner in this whole system," lead researcher Dr David Thornalley, from University College London, explained. The concept of this system "shutting down" was featured in The Day After Tomorrow. "Obviously that was a sensationalised version," said Dr Thornally. "But much of the underlying science was correct, and there would be significant changes to climate it if did undergo a catastrophic collapse - although the film made those effects much more catastrophic, and happening much more quickly - than would actually be the case."
4-12-18 Isolated lakes found beneath Canadian ice sheet
Researchers have found lakes that may shed new light on icy worlds in our Solar System. High in the Canadian Arctic, two subglacial bodies of water have been spotted beneath over 500 metres of ice. The water has an estimated maximum temperature of -10.5C, and would need to be very salty to avoid freezing. There are thought to be similar cold, saline conditions in the subsurface ocean of Jupiter's moon Europa, yet also the potential to host life. The findings, from a team led by the University of Alberta, have been published in Science Advances. The two lakes appeared in a radar survey of the Devon Ice Cap, which sits on Devon Island, in Canada's northern Nunavut territory. "I was super surprised, and a little bit puzzled," Anja Rutishauser, the study's lead author, said of the discovery. "I was definitely not looking for subglacial lakes." Although water systems beneath large ice sheets are being found to be increasingly common, Devon Island's ice cap was thought to be frozen to the bedrock beneath. These are the first subglacial lakes to be observed in the Canadian Arctic, and are estimated to cover areas of five and eight square kilometres respectively. "It's an amazing finding, and one that I really wasn't expecting from the geophysical survey of this small ice cap," commented Prof Martin Siegert from Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study. "To my knowledge, this is a unique lake system. Of the [more than] 400 subglacial lakes in Antarctica, all of them are thought to comprise fresh water. Hence, whatever might be living in it may also be unique," he added.
4-12-18 Hawaii tops the list of beach destinations at risk of tsunami
The world’s first ranking of tsunami risks for major tourist beaches shows popular spots like Hawaii and Bali are most in danger. Terrified of tsunamis? Maybe cancel those holidays in Hawaii, Bali or Phuket. They’re all among the top 10 major tourist beaches deemed most at risk of the big waves. “Hawaii is number one because of all the tsunamis that can come from the frequent ‘ring-of-fire’ earthquakes zones, from Japan, Alaska, South America and other regions,” said Andreas Schaefer of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, who has developed the first ever ranking of beach tsunami risk. “Phuket was also among the most prominent at-risk destinations, as was Bali, and parts of Turkey.” Schaefer compiled his ranking using historic data on 10,000 of the largest recorded tsunamis coupled with earthquake and seismic activity in 54 subduction zones. He used these figures to batter the 24,000 most popular tourist beaches with virtual tsunamis, then cross referenced with revenue data from governments and tourism operators to work out the potential economic losses at each beach should they encounter real tsunamis. The rankings reflect likely economic rather than human losses. Typically, tsunamis can ruin beaches and their associated infrastructure, sometimes permanently, by covering them in mud, or washing away sand. And sometimes serious tsunamis can destroy economies by scaring away tourists. Following the Indonesian tsunami in 2004 which killed 228,000 people, 20 per cent of beach resorts closed in the Maldives, while in Phang Nga and Phuket in Thailand, two thirds and a quarter of hotels respectively closed within six months of the disaster.
4-11-18 2017 was the year of the biggest fire storms ever seen
The record-breaking 2017 wildfires in the US generated massive thunderstorms that pumped as much smoke into the stratosphere as a volcanic eruption. The wildfires that raged in northwest America last August were so ferocious that they had the same effect on the planet as a volcanic eruption. The heat and smoke from the fires led to the formation of massive thunderstorms known as pyrocumulonimbus. These storms, called pyroCbs for short, pumped the smoke from the fires so high in the atmosphere that it spread over the entire northern hemisphere and remained there for months, until November and December. It was by far the largest event like this ever recorded. “This was the mother of all pyroCbs,” said David Peterson of the US Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey, California, who presented his team’s finding this week at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna. With 2017 being a record year for wildfires in the US, the worry is that this phenomenon will become more common as the planet warms. PyroCbs form from wildfires when conditions are right for the hot air and smoke to generates clouds, which can sometimes develop into a full-blown thunderstorm. “The difference is that the thunderstorm is driven by fire heat, and you end up a very dirty thunderstorm,” said Peterson. Worse still, the smoke can sometimes reach the lower stratosphere where it can spread long distances, as last year. “It’s like a great chimney taking smoke to high altitudes,” said Peterson.
4-11-18 Nazi legacy found in Norwegian trees
The relentless campaign to find and sink Germany's WWII battleship, the Tirpitz, has left its mark on the landscape that is evident even today. The largest vessel in Hitler's Kriegsmarine, it was stationed for much of the war along the Norwegian coast to deter an Allied invasion. The German navy would hide the ship in fjords and screen it with chemical fog. This "smoke" did enormous damage to the surrounding trees which is recorded in their growth rings. Claudia Hartl, from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, stumbled across the impact while examining pines at Kåfjord near Alta. The dendrochronologist was collecting wood cores to build up a picture of past climate in the area. Severe cold and even infestation from insects can severely stunt annual growth in a stand, but neither of these causes could explain the total absence of rings seen in some trees dated to 1945. A colleague suggested it could have something to do with the Tirpitz, which was anchored the previous year at Kåfjord where it was attacked by Allied bombers. Archive documents show the ship released chlorosulphuric acid to camouflage its position. "We think this artificial smoke damaged the needles on the trees," Dr Hartl told BBC News. "If trees don't have needles they can't photosynthesise and they can't produce biomass. In pine trees, needles usually last from three to seven years because they're evergreens. So, if the trees lose their needles, it can take a very long time for them to recover." In one tree, there is no growth seen for nine years from 1945. "Afterwards, it recovered but it took 30 years to get back to normal growth. It's still there; it's still alive, and it's a very impressive tree," Dr Hartl said. In other pines, rings are present but they are extremely thin - easy to miss. As expected, sampling shows the impacts falling off with distance. But it is only at 4km that trees start to display no effects. The Tirpitz sustained some damage at Kåfjord. However, a continuous seek-and-destroy campaign eventually caught up with the battleship and it was sunk by RAF Lancasters in late 1944 in Tromso fjord further to the west.
4-10-18 Ocean heat waves are becoming more common and lasting longer.
The extreme events can kill corals and kelp and throw marine ecosystems into chaos. The world’s oceans are sweltering. Over the last century, marine heat waves have become more common and are lasting longer. New research suggests the annual number of days that some part of the ocean is experiencing a heat wave has increased 54 percent from 1925 to 2016, researchers report April 10 in Nature Communications. Typically, scientists define a marine heat wave as at least five consecutive days of unusually high temperatures for a particular ocean region or season. These extreme temperatures can be lethal for marine species such as corals, kelp and oysters, and can wreak havoc on fisheries and aquaculture (SN: 2/3/18, p. 16). In the new study, the researchers searched for such events recorded in sea surface temperature data recorded as far back as 1900 and in satellite data since 1982. Not only have the heat waves become 34 percent more common on average, but they also last an average 17 percent longer, the team found. That trend is mostly influenced by climate change causing surface ocean waters to warm, rather than by large atmosphere-ocean climate patterns, such as the periodic warming and cooling of waters in the equatorial Pacific called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. The researchers predict even more frequent marine heat waves in coming decades.
4-9-18 Antarctica still losing ice despite big rise in snowfall
A 10 per cent rise in snowfall in Antarctica is adding more ice to the continent each year, but the ice sheets are still shrinking because it's being lost faster too. Snowfall in Antarctica has increased by 10 per cent since 1800, an analysis of ice cores from Antarctica has revealed. An increase in snowfall has long been predicted as a result of global warming. “A warming atmosphere is wetter, producing more precipitation,” says team leader Liz Thomas of the British Antarctic Survey, who presented the findings today at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, Austria. In fact, it used to be thought that increased snowfall in the Antarctica would more than counter any ice loss due to warming. Early IPCC reports forecast that the ice sheets of Antarctica would grow over the 21 century. But gravity-measuring satellites have shown that the continent’s ice sheets have been losing mass since at least 2002. These vast ice sheets are made of the snow that has fallen in Antarctica over the past million years or so. As the snow builds up, it is gradually compressed and turned into ice. To find out how snowfall has changed recently, Thomas and her colleagues analysed 79 ice cores from across the Antarctic, most of which went back at least 200 years. For the whole of Antarctica, they found that 10 per cent more snow falls now than 200 years ago, an average difference per decade of 272 gigatonnes of water, says Thomas. Her team has already published some of the results, with more to follow soon.
4-9-18 BBC climate change interview breached broadcasting standards
Media watchdog Ofcom has rebuked the BBC over a radio interview with climate change sceptic Lord Lawson last August. It found that Radio 4's Today programme had breached broadcasting rules by "not sufficiently challenging" the former chancellor of the exchequer. The BBC has admitted the item broke its guidelines and said Lord Lawson should have been challenged "more robustly". It is the first time Ofcom has found the BBC in breach since taking over regulation of the corporation in 2017. "Statements made about the science of climate change were not challenged sufficiently during this interview, which meant the programme was not duly accurate," said an Ofcom spokeswoman on Monday. In the interview aired on 10 August last year, the ex-chancellor claimed "official figures" showed average world temperatures had "slightly declined". He also claimed the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had confirmed there had not been an increase in extreme weather events for the last 10 years. This view, shown to be false by the Met Office, was not challenged on air by presenter Justin Webb. In its ruling, the broadcasting regulator ruled there was "clear editorial justification for the topic of climate change to be covered". "However, in doing so the BBC needed to ensure that the topic was reported with due accuracy and due impartiality." "The programme did not clearly signal to listeners that [Lord Lawson's] view on the science of climate change ran counter to the weight of scientific opinion in this field," Ofcom continued.
4-9-18 Big increase in Antarctic snowfall
Scientists have compiled a record of snowfall in Antarctica going back 200 years. The study shows there has been a significant increase in precipitation over the period, up 10%. The effect of the extra snow locked up in Antarctica is to slightly slow a general trend in global sea-level rise. However, this mitigation is still swamped by the contribution to the height of the oceans from ice melt around the continent. Some 272 billion tonnes more snow were being dumped on the White Continent annually in the decade 2001-2010 compared with 1801-1810. This yearly extra is equivalent to twice the water volume found today in the Dead Sea. Put another way, it is the amount of water you would need to cover New Zealand to a depth of 1m. Dr Liz Thomas presented the results of the study at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly here in Vienna, Austria. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) researcher said the work was undertaken to try to put current ice losses into a broader context. "The idea was to get as comprehensive a view of the continent as possible," she told BBC News. "There's been a lot of focus on the recent era with satellites and how much mass we've been losing from big glaciers such as Pine Island and Thwaites. But, actually, we don't have a very good understanding of how the snowfall has been changing. "The general assumption up until now is that it hasn't really changed at all - that it's just stayed stable. Well, this study shows that's not the case.”
4-9-18 Plea for action on shipping emissions
Talks on the global shipping industry cutting greenhouse gases have opened with a passionate plea for action. A minister from the Marshall Islands warned that the future of his low-lying Pacific country was at stake. The shipping industry generates more than 2% of global CO2 emissions but that's projected to increase rapidly. More than 100 countries are meeting at the International Maritime Organisation in London to try to agree on a new policy. Battle lines are drawn between countries determined to see deep cuts in shipping's greenhouse gases and those that fear that rapid limits could damage development. Shipping was exempted from the Paris Agreement because it involves an international activity and the agreement was based on a system of national targets. But the industry currently produces a higher level of carbon emissions than Germany and, if it was ranked as a country, it would be the sixth largest emitter on the planet. Speaking to the gathering of more than 1,000 diplomats and shipping industry executives, David Paul, environment minister of the Marshall Islands, said that shipping was a major source of income for his country which had the second largest number of ships registered. But he said the economic gains of protecting one sector would be "far outweighed" by the costs of failing to achieve the limits in temperature rise set out in the Paris Agreement. "There will be nothing more devastating to global trade than the cost of having to try to adapt to a world that is on average two, three or four degrees warmer," Mr Paul told delegates. And he said that the argument that climate action could undermine economic growth was "completely and utterly false".
4-6-18 A simple mathematical rule shapes the behaviour of Arctic ponds
Understanding Arctic ponds can help us predict how fast the ice is melting. Their formation is governed by the simple maths of drawing overlapping circles. A simple model of the patterns formed by ponds could help us make better predictions about how Arctic ice is melting. Arctic sea ice has been melting faster than expected. One factor that might contribute to this is the way ponds trap heat. When ice melts and forms ponds on the surface of sea ice, it becomes less reflective, trapping more heat and making the ice melt faster. That leads to a positive feedback mechanism: melting creates ponds, which results in faster melting. Previous studies have shown that the fraction of the ice covered by ponds in the spring can predict how much sea ice will be left at the end of the summer each year. The geometry of the ponds influences how the ice around them melts: for example, small, long ponds will grow sideways by melting more ice faster than large, symmetrical ponds. Predrag Popovic at the University of Chicago and colleagues modelled the patterns created by ponds by randomly drawing overlapping circles of varying sizes on a plane. They analysed hundreds of photographs of sea ice taken during helicopter flights to compare their model with real data.
4-5-18 More severe heat waves will broil the U.S.
Climate change will become the lead driver of extreme heat waves in the western U.S. as soon as the late 2020s, a new study has found. Using historical data and climate models, researchers projected future temperature patterns under current “business as usual” carbon emissions, reports ScienceDaily.com. Their goal was to establish at what point human-induced global warming will surpass natural climate variability as the most likely cause of heat waves, defined as three or more days of record-high temperatures. The researchers concluded that this threshold would be crossed in California, Nevada, and the drier parts of Oregon, Utah, Arizona, and Idaho in 2028. They predicted it would happen in the Great Lakes region in 2037; in the Northern Great Plains in 2056; and the Southern Plains in 2074. Overall, the researchers calculated that half of the extreme heat waves projected to take place this century wouldn’t happen without anthropogenic global warming. The top cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S., heat waves have become more frequent and intense in recent decades, as the world has warmed. Study author Hosmay Lopez, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says the findings are “a significant advancement in the scientific understanding of future projections of heat waves.”
4-5-18 The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling oceanic graveyard where discarded, man-made trash is deposited by the currents, is four to 16 times bigger than previously thought, occupying an area roughly four times the size of California, a new study found. It comprises an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of rubbish—including 87,000 tons of plastic that disintegrate into small particles and are eaten by fish.
4-5-18 Microplastics may enter freshwater and soil via compost
A new study traces the contamination of fertilizer back to household and supermarket waste. Composting waste is heralded as being good for the environment. But it turns out that compost collected from homes and grocery stores is a previously unknown source of microplastic pollution, a new study April 4 in Science Advances reports. This plastic gets spread over fields, where it may be eaten by worms and enter the food web, make its way into waterways or perhaps break down further and become airborne, says Christian Laforsch, an ecologist at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. Once the plastic is spread across fields, “we don’t know its fate,” he says. That fate and the effects of plastic pollution on land and in freshwater has received little research attention compared with marine plastic pollution, says ecologist Chelsea Rochman of the University of Toronto. Ocean microplastics have gained notoriety thanks in part to coverage of the floating hulk of debris called the great Pacific garbage patch (SN Online: 3/22/18). But current evidence suggests that plastic pollution is as prevalent in land and freshwater ecosystems as it is in the oceans, where it’s found “from the equator to the poles,” says Rochman, author of a separate commentary on the state of plastic pollution research published in the April 6 Science. Plastic “is seen in the high Arctic, where we suspect it comes down in rain. We know it’s in drinking water, in our seafood and spread on our agricultural fields,” she says.
4-5-18 Plastic in bottled water
Whenever you drink bottled water, you’re probably ingesting tiny pieces of plastic. A study of 259 water bottles from the U.S. and eight other countries found that 93 percent of them were contaminated with microplastics. Researchers detected this debris, which is less than 5 mm long, using a dye that binds to plastic. On average, they found 10 plastic particles per liter of water, reports BBC.com. The 11 brands tested included Dasani, S. Pellegrino, Evian, and Aquafina. “We found [plastic] in bottle after bottle and brand after brand,” says study author Sherri Mason, from the State University of New York in Fredonia. “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.” It’s unclear how or when this plastic contamination occurs. More investigation is needed to determine how the accumulation of plastic in the body affects human health.
4-5-18 Spending on renewables in rich countries has halved in six years
Spending on renewables in developed countries has halved since 2011, with investment levels in Europe falling back below the 2006 level. The world added more solar capacity in 2017 than all new coal, gas and nuclear electricity-generating plants combined. That’s the headline conclusion of a report on how much banks, private investors and utility companies invested in renewables last year. While that sounds promising, on closer examination there are some worrying numbers in the same report. They reveal that in most of the world, investment over the past few years has either changed little or fallen, often because of cutbacks in subsidies – showing that despite getting ever cheaper, wind and solar remain heavily dependent on government support. In fact, investment in the developed countries whose emissions have caused most of the global warming so far has halved since 2011, to $103 billion. Most shocking is what is happening in Europe, which is meant to be leading the world in tackling climate change. There investment peaked at $126bn in 2011 and has now fallen to $41bn. The global figures would look quite grim were it not for the astounding efforts of China, where investment in renewables has soared over the last decade to hit a record $127bn last year. This means that in China alone, investors are now pouring more money into solar and wind power than in all the developed countries combined. It’s important to point out that because the cost of building wind farms and solar plants has fallen sharply, every buck spent today creates far more electricity-generating bang than a decade ago. But if investment in developed countries had remained at 2011 levels, the world would be getting a lot more of its electricity from renewable sources than it is now. And that matters. Despite the $3 trillion spent globally since 2004, just 12 per cent of the world’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2017, compared with 5 per cent in 2005 (these figures exclude large hydroelectric schemes and nuclear plants). This is projected to rise to 34 per cent by 2040, says the lead author of the report, Angus McCrone of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
4-5-18 Plastic bag litter falls in UK seas
A study of litter in UK seas shows the number of plastic bags has fallen, amid a rise in other types of plastic rubbish. The authors say this could be due to several things - the introduction of charges for plastic bags across Europe, manufacturing changes and changes in ocean dynamics. The research found a rise in the proportion of fishing debris. Some of the plastic debris is likely to be coming from outside the UK. The reduced proportion of plastic bags in marine litter was found from 2010 onwards. There was a drop of around 30% from the pre-2010 period compared with afterwards. If charging is a potential contributor, the downward trend could suggest that policies can affect the amount and distribution of certain marine litter items on short timescales. But in their scientific paper, they add that this point is controversial. A change in the composition of plastic bags, which may speed up the rate at which they decompose, could also be another factor. Co-author Thomas Maes, who is a marine litter scientist at the government's Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), said: "It is encouraging to see that efforts by all of society, whether the public, industry, NGOs or government to reduce plastic bags are having an effect. "We observed sharp declines in the percentage of plastic bags as captured by fishing nets trawling the seafloor around the UK compared to 2010 and this research suggests that by working together we can reduce, reuse and recycle to tackle the marine litter problem." A UK levy of 5p per bag was introduced in 2015.
4-4-18 Congestion charge can cut childhood asthma attacks by half
A congestion charge in Stockholm not only cut levels of air pollution, it halved the number of children admitted to hospital with asthma attacks. Children’s health can benefit from congestion charging schemes that limit city-centre traffic and the airborne pollution it generates. But a comparison of the congestion charges in London and Stockholm suggests the schemes only achieve this if they drive down the amount of nitrogen dioxide belched into city air by vehicles. Emilia Simeonova of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and her colleagues tracked air pollution levels in Stockholm, Sweden from 2004 to 2010. In 2007 the city introduced a congestion charge. Levels of nitrogen dioxide fell by 5-7.5 per cent. Nitrogen dioxide is the most harmful pollutant from vehicle exhausts. It aggravates asthma and other respiratory ailments. The reduction in nitrogen dioxide in Stockholm appeared to benefit children. Before the congestion charge, 18.7 children in 10,000 were admitted to hospital with asthma attacks. Afterwards the number halved to 8.7 per 10,000 (National Bureau of Economic Research, doi.org/cm2d).
4-4-18 Efforts to contain Mississippi floods may have made them worse
Re-creation of the river’s 500-year flood history shows the worst floods are bigger than ever.The world’s longest system of levees and floodways, meant to rein in the mighty Mississippi River, may actually make flooding worse. Using tree rings and lake sediments, researchers re-created a history of flooding along the lower Mississippi River extending back to the 1500s. This paleoflood record suggests that the past century of river engineering — intended to minimize flood damage to people living along the river’s banks — has instead increased the magnitude of the largest floods by 20 percent, the researchers report April 5 in Nature. Climate patterns that bring extra rainfall to the region don’t account for the dramatic increase in flood size, the team found. “The obvious culprit is that we have really modified the river itself,” says Samuel Munoz, a geoscientist at Northeastern University in Boston. Settlers built the first levees on the Mississippi in the early 1800s. After a massive flood displaced hundreds of thousands of people in 1927, the U.S. government built the current system of spillways and levees. The engineering projects profoundly altered the river’s shape and sediment content. But how these changes affected the size of the river’s largest floods has been unclear, in part because water gauges have tracked the river’s flow for just 150 years.
4-3-18 Are we ready for the deadly heat waves of the future?
When days and nights get too hot, city dwellers are the first to run into trouble. Some victims were found at home. An 84-year-old woman who’d spent over half her life in the same Sacramento, Calif., apartment died near her front door, gripping her keys. A World War II veteran succumbed in his bedroom. Many died outside, including a hiker who perished on the Pacific Crest Trail, his water bottles empty. The killer? Heat. Hundreds of others lost their lives when a stifling air mass settled on California in July 2006. And this repeat offender’s rap sheet stretches on. In Chicago, a multiday scorcher in July 1995 killed nearly 700. Elderly, black residents and people in homes without air conditioning were hardest hit. Europe’s 2003 heat wave left more than 70,000 dead, almost 20,000 of them in France. Many elderly Parisians baked to death in upper-floor apartments while younger residents who might have checked in on their neighbors were on August vacation. In 2010, Russia lost at least 10,000 residents to heat. India, in 2015, reported more than 2,500 heat-related deaths. Year in and year out, heat claims lives. Since 1986, the first year the National Weather Service reported data on heat-related deaths, more people in the United States have died from heat (3,979) than from any other weather-related disaster — more than floods (2,599), tornadoes (2,116) or hurricanes (1,391). Heat’s victim counts would be even higher, but unless the deceased are found with a fatal body temperature or in a hot room, the fact that heat might have been the cause is often left off of the death certificate, says Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
4-3-18 Seafloor map shows why Greenland’s glaciers melt at different rates
Deep seafloor troughs allow warm water to eat away at the ice from below, speeding shrinkage. Greenland is melting rapidly, but some glaciers are disappearing faster than others. A new map of the surrounding seafloor helps explain why: Many of the fastest-melting glaciers sit atop deep fjords that allow Atlantic Ocean water to melt them from below. Researchers led by glaciologist Romain Millan of the University of California, Irvine analyzed new oceanographic and topographic data for 20 major glaciers within 10 fjords in southeast Greenland. The mapping revealed that some fjords are several hundred meters deeper than simulations of the bathymetry suggested, the researchers report online March 25 in Geophysical Research Letters. These troughs allow warmer and saltier waters from deeper in the ocean to reach the glaciers and erode them. Other glaciers are protected by shallow sills, or raised seafloor ledges. These sills act as barriers to the deep, warm water, the new seafloor maps show. The researchers compared their findings with observations of glacier melt from 1930 to 2017, and found that the fastest-melting glaciers tended to be those more exposed to melting from below.
4-3-18 Just half a degree less global warming would avert food shortage
Governments are dithering over whether to limit climate change to 1.5°C or 2°C, but it seems the stricter target would avoid food shortages and major economic losses. Sometimes it’s good to over-reach – particularly when it comes to stopping climate change. New evidence comparing the impacts of 1.5°C and 2°C rises in temperature reveal the unprecedented food shortages, economic inequality and species loss that will occur if we don’t aim for the more ambitious target. In 2015, global leaders signed up to the Paris Agreement: a commitment to keep global warming under 2°C and possibly even limit it to 1.5°C. Comparisons between the two targets show they have dramatically different impacts. For example, several regions are predicted to reach unprecedented levels of food insecurity, due to increased flooding and drought as a consequence of global warming. For three-quarters of the countries assessed, this increase is larger at 2°C than 1.5°C. The most vulnerable regions are sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Meanwhile, the global average GDP per capita is projected to be 5 per cent lower at the end of the century under 2°C warming relative to 1.5°C, and 13 per cent lower than under no additional warming. This economic loss will be felt most strongly by low-income countries, creating greater global inequality. However, a rise of 1.5°C compared with 2°C would see an additional 5.5 per cent of the globe able to act as a “climate refuge” for plants and animals.
4-3-18 Antarctica 'gives ground to the ocean'
Scientists now have their best view yet of where Antarctica is giving up ground to the ocean as some its biggest glaciers are eaten away from below by warm water. Researchers using Europe's Cryosat radar spacecraft have traced the movement of grounding lines around the continent. These are the places where the fronts of glaciers that flow from the land into the ocean start to lift and float. The new study reveals an area of seafloor the size of Greater London that was previously in contact with ice is now free of it. The report, which covers the period from 2010 to 2016, is published in the journal Nature Geoscience. "What we're able to do now with Cryosat is put the behaviour of retreating glaciers in a much wider context," said Dr Hannes Konrad from the University of Leeds, UK. "Our method for monitoring grounding lines requires a lot of data but it means you could now basically build a permanent service to monitor the state of the edges of the continent," he told BBC News. Although the end product is quite simple, the process of getting to it is quite a complex one. Viewed from above, the position of grounding lines is not always obvious. The glaciers themselves are hundreds of metres thick, and where they begin to float as they come off the continent can be hard to discern in simple satellite images. But there are radar techniques that can find their location by spotting the up and down tidal movement of a glacier's floating ice. This, however, is just a snapshot in time. What Dr Konrad and colleagues have done is use these known positions and then combine the data with knowledge about the shape of the underlying rock bed and changes in the height of the glaciers' surface to track the evolving status of the grounding lines through time.
4-3-18 Fiji PM: Climate change threatens our survival
Fiji's prime minister has said the Pacific island nation is in "a fight for survival" as climate change brings "almost constant" deadly cyclones. Frank Bainimarama said Fiji had entered a "frightening new era" of extreme weather that needed to be confronted. His comments came after Cyclone Josie caused deaths and flooding on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu, at the weekend. In 2016, a cyclone hit Fiji leaving 44 people dead and wiping out one-third of the nation's economic production. Four people have died in severe flooding caused by Cyclone Josie, according to Reuters news agency. "We are now at an almost constant level of threat from these extreme weather events," Mr Bainimarama said on Tuesday, adding that powerful cyclones in the region were becoming "more severe" as a result of climate change. "We need to get the message out loud and clear to the entire world about the absolute need to confront this crisis head on," he said. "As a nation we are starting to build our resilience in response to the frightening new era that is upon us," he added. Last November, Mr Bainimarama took a leading role at the UN's Climate Conference in the German city of Bonn. The planet's climate has constantly been changing over time. However, the current period of warming is occurring more rapidly than many past events. The changes could drive freshwater shortages, bring sweeping changes in food production conditions, and increase the number of deaths from floods, storms, heat waves and droughts. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events - though linking any single event to global warming is complicated.
4-3-18 Reaping the wind with the biggest turbines ever made
When engineer Lukasz Cejrowski finally saw the world's largest wind turbine blades installed on a prototype tower in 2016, he stood in front of it and took a selfie. Obviously. "It was amazing," he says, recalling the moment with a laugh. "The feeling of happiness - 'Yes, it works, it's mounted.'" Those blades, made by Danish firm LM Wind Power, were a record-breaking 88.4m (290ft) long - bigger than the wingspan of an Airbus A380, or nearly the length of two Olympic-sized swimming pools. The swept area of such a mammoth rotor blade would cover Rome's Colosseum. But things move quickly in the wind turbine industry. In just a few years, those blades could be surpassed by the company's next project - 107m-long blades. LM Wind Power is owned by global engineering firm General Electric (GE), which announced in March that it hopes to develop a giant 12MW (megawatt) wind turbine by the year 2020. A single turbine this size, standing 260m tall, could produce enough electricity to power 16,000 households. The world's current largest wind turbine is a third less powerful than that, generating 8MW. Various companies, including Siemens, are working on turbines around the 10MW mark. When it comes to wind turbines, it seems, size matters. This is because bigger turbines capture more wind energy and do so at greater altitudes, where wind production is more consistent. But designing and manufacturing blades of this size is a significant feat of engineering. Mr Cejrowski says that the firm could in theory use metal, but the blades would be extremely expensive and heavy. Instead, they use a mix of carbon and glass fibre.
4-3-18 Refusing to accept GM food is safe is like climate change denial
Environmentalist Mark Lynas, who once destroyed GM crops and then made headlines by ending his opposition, is stepping up his call for reason to triumph. Pro-science types, when they lambast those who campaign against genetically modified crops, often point out that no one has ever been harmed by the food produced from them. After 3 trillion meals, they insist, nobody has credibly reported even so much as a headache. August bodies – from the US National Academy of Sciences to the UK’s Royal Society – all agree that food from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is as safe as any other. Perhaps I am the first person, therefore, harmed by dealings with a GMO. During an hour spent recently examining the performance of genetically engineered maize in a “confined field trial” near Kampala in Uganda, I received quite a severe sunburn. The maize itself looked impressive, however. Carrying an insect-resistance gene called Bt, it was clearly able to fend off pests better than the neighbouring non-GM equivalents, which were riddled with holes, much shorter and carrying smaller cobs. While there, I spoke to a local farmer called Lule Monica. Also a council leader, Monica told me she was “praying” for the day when the genetically modified maize being trialled in the research station would be available to farmers like her. She is concerned about a pest called fall armyworm that has invaded maize crops in Uganda and elsewhere in East Africa, and farmers are struggling. The Bt maize would help. Produced under the banner of the Gates Foundation-funded philanthropic Water Efficient Maize for Africa partnership, it also carries a drought-tolerance trait to help resist the worsening impacts of climate change.
4-2-18 Shrimp and lobster are as bad for the climate as eating beef
Fish and seafood are normally fairly environmentally friendly, but it takes so much fuel to catch some species that their carbon footprint is as big as that of red meat. WILD-caught seafood is usually an environmentally friendly thing to eat. But a few species have greenhouse-gas footprints as large as that of beef. Because those high-footprint species are growing in popularity, greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s fisheries have risen sharply over the past two decades. The extra effort needed to catch depleted species is also contributing to the rise. Robert Parker at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and his colleagues pulled together country-by-country data for fisheries catches. They combined this with best estimates of fuel use for each class of fishery. Because fuel accounts for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions from fishing, they could calculate the total carbon footprint for each fishery. Globally, they found that carbon emissions from fisheries rose by 28 per cent between 1991 and 2011, even though total catch has barely changed. That contrasts with other foods, where improved efficiency has led to lower emissions per kilogram of product. One reason is that people are eating more shrimp and lobster, both of which emit a lot per kilogram, comparable to beef. Most other fish are good choices for a climate-friendly diet. “The typical fish product is going to have a similar footprint to chicken, which is the most efficient land-based animal source,” says Parker. Some small fish such as anchovies do even better. The team is now developing a website where people can look up the greenhouse gas footprints of different seafood.
4-2-18 Dumping pesticides, using ducks instead
French farmer, Bernard Poujol, believes ducks are the future for rice farms, but he hasn't quite perfected his technique.
4-2-18 U.S. Energy Concerns Low; Increasing Supply Not a Priority
Gallup's annual Environment survey yields two broad conclusions about Americans' views on the U.S. energy situation. First, Americans' concern about energy, based on multiple measures, is at or near its lowest level in two decades or more. Second, Americans continue to voice preferences for environmental protection, energy conservation and developing alternative energy over producing more traditional energy supplies. Twenty-five percent of Americans say they worry "a great deal" about the availability and affordability of energy -- a new low in Gallup's 18-year trend, though not substantially lower than the readings in 2003 and 2015 through 2017.
- 25% worry about availability and affordability, a new low
- Americans prioritize environmental protection over energy production
- Conservation, alternative energy favored over traditional production
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