8-31-20 Coronavirus: Pandemic 'causing new wave' of plastic pollution
A charity that cleans up beaches says the coronavirus pandemic has caused a new wave of plastic pollution. Surfers Against Sewage says it has seen an "explosion" of discarded masks and plastics on beaches and in rivers. The group claims businesses are using the pandemic to revert to using huge amounts of single-use plastic. From September, it plans to name and shame on social media individual companies whose waste its members most regularly find. Jack Middleton from Cornwall-based Surfers Against Sewage said: "Since lockdown has started to be lifted we've witnessed a new wave of plastic pollution littering our beaches in the form of disposable masks and gloves. "While the PPE has helped to save lives over the past few months, we now need to consider how we dispose of it properly to prevent it from flowing into our rivers and oceans and destroying our beaches. "We're used to seeing plastic bottles and bags when we're surfing but this new type of plastic pollution is something that no-one could have foreseen." Mr Middleton encouraged people to use reusable face masks and said measures introduced to help businesses during lockdown were undermining the battle against plastic pollution. "We have seen the government roll back on the progress we have made in tackling the plastic pollution crisis," he said. "The 5p plastic bag charge has been waived for food deliveries and the ban on straws, stirrers and cotton-bud sticks that was just weeks away from being introduced has been postponed." From 5 September to 18 October, Surfers Against Sewage will be launching a campaign called The Generation Sea: Plastic Protest aimed at encouraging grass-roots action across the UK. As well as 600 beach and river cleans, the campaign will also involve highlighting the brands whose packaging is found most regularly. Under a measure called Return to Offender, plastic items will be displayed on social media to name and shame the companies responsible for the products.
8-30-20 Hurricane Laura: 400,000 without power in Louisiana
Residents in coastal areas of Louisiana in the US face the prospect of weeks without power or water as the clean-up begins following the devastating impact of Hurricane Laura. More than 400,000 were without power on Saturday morning and 200,000 without water, officials said. Governor John Bel Edwards says the devastation and damage stretch all the way to northern parts of Louisiana. At least 14 people were killed by the storm - 10 in Louisiana, four in Texas. In Haiti, which was earlier badly hit by storms Marco and Laura, more than 31 people are now reported to have died. President Donald Trump visited affected areas in Louisiana and Texas on Saturday. "One thing I know about this state, it rebuilds fast," he told a gathering in Louisiana. Mr Trump said the loss of life was a "tremendous number", but added that it "could have been a lot worse". The White House has declared a major disaster in several parishes in Louisiana - which will mean federal funds can be sent to the hardest-hit areas urgently. "Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," a White House statement said. The Louisiana governor has called Laura "the strongest storm to ever hit Louisiana". It was a category-four hurricane at the time it hit. "The devastation and damage stretch from south-west Louisiana all the way through north Louisiana, with more than a half a million power outages remaining, tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes and, sadly, at least 10 lives lost," Governor Edwards said in a statement. Of the 10 people to lose their lives in the state, five died from carbon monoxide poisoning from gas-powered emergency generators, four from trees falling and one from drowning. In Texas, a man was killed when a tree hit his home, and three people lost their lives in Port Arthur, possibly from carbon monoxide poisoning, officials reported. Around 8,000 homes were possibly destroyed in the two states, according to the Red Cross.
8-29-20 Amazon fires: Are they worse this year than before?
Preserving the Amazon rainforest is of global importance in the fight against climate change, but it is under threat from forest fires, mostly started to clear land for agriculture. Early numbers from this year's fire season show an increase, leading to concern from scientists. President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil recently said that claims the Amazon "is going up in flames" were not true, despite statistics published by his own government showing the spread of fires. So what does the data show about what's happening this year? The total number of fires in Brazil's Amazon until July this year is high - but slightly lower than the same period last year. But there is concern about a surge in blazes last month, earlier than would normally be expected. "If we consider the average number of fires in July over the period from 2010-2019, then the number of fires in July 2020 represented an increase of 55.6% of the average," says Prof Marcia Castro, a Brazilian scientist based at Harvard University. "An increase also happened in June (19.6% compared to June last year, and 36.1% compared to the average for the month of June between 2010-19). The peak of the fire season is often seen in August to September. "So the consistent increase in June and July is worrisome," says Prof Castro. And alerts so far in August look set to rival the number recorded last year. Fires this year are at the second highest level since 2010. In the first seven months of 2020, more than 13,000sq km (5,019sq miles) of the Brazilian Amazon was burned, according to analysis of satellite data provided by Dr Michelle Kalamandeen, a tropical ecologist on the Amazon rainforest. That's more than eight times the size of London. Dr Kalamandeen says the torched forest often struggles to grow back. "When a forest is lost, it is gone forever. Recovery may occur but never 100% recovery," she says.
8-28-20 What’s behind August 2020’s extreme weather? Climate change and bad luck
The month of August alone has brought hurricanes, wildfires and a derecho. August 2020 has been a devastating month across large swaths of the United States: As powerful Hurricane Laura barreled into the U.S. Gulf Coast on August 27, fires continued to blaze in California. Meanwhile, farmers are still assessing widespread damage to crops in the Midwest following an Aug. 10 “derecho,” a sudden, hurricane-force windstorm. Each of these extreme weather events was the result of a particular set of atmospheric — and in the case of Laura, oceanic — conditions. In part, it’s just bad luck that the United States is being slammed with these events back-to-back-to-back. But for some of these events, such as intense hurricanes and more frequent wildfires, scientists have long warned that climate change has been setting the stage for disaster. Science News takes a closer look at what causes these kinds of extreme weather events, and the extent to which human-caused climate change may be playing a role in each of them. California wildfires A “dry lightning” storm, which produced nearly 11,000 bursts of lightning between August 15 and August 19, set off devastating wildfires in across California. To date, these fires have burned more than 520,000 hectares. Midwest derecho On August 10, a powerful windstorm with the ferocity of a hurricane traveled over 1,200 kilometers in just 14 hours, leaving a path of destruction from eastern South Dakota to western Ohio. Atlantic hurricanes Hurricane Laura roared ashore in Louisiana in the early morning hours of August 27 as a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of about 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour). Just two days earlier, the storm had been a Category 1. But in the mere 24 hours from August 25 to August 26, the storm rapidly intensified, supercharged by warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
8-27-20 Hurricane Laura causes severe damage and floods as it batters Louisiana
Hurricane Laura has struck the US state of Louisiana, causing flash floods, severe damage to buildings and power cuts to half a million homes. It is one of the strongest to ever hit the US Gulf Coast, striking at category four with winds up to 150mph (240km/h). Laura's storm surge has not reached the levels feared but is still considered life-threatening, and could spread 40 miles (65km) inland. Half a million residents had been told to leave parts of Texas and Louisiana. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said early on Thursday: "We've had daylight now for a couple of hours. It appears there is more structural damage from the wind and a little less flood damage than we anticipated." He confirmed the first fatality in his state, adding: "I suspect that won't be the last, although I pray that we don't have more." Hurricane Laura made landfall shortly after midnight local time (05:00 GMT) near the district of Cameron, in Louisiana. It tracked north, just east of the Texas-Louisiana border. Four hours later it had been downgraded to a category three storm, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported, before weakening again. At 14:00 GMT it was a category one hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 85mph (140 km/h). But the NWS said "a catastrophic storm surge, hurricane force winds and flash flooding will continue". Laura will track north across Louisiana on Thursday afternoon, with its centre moving into Arkansas overnight. It is expected to become a tropical storm later, but it could still be hurricane force up to the Arkansas border, said Ken Graham, the director of the National Hurricane Center. One sheriff's office in Louisiana's Vermilion Parish had told those who chose not to evacuate: "Write your name, address, social security number and next of kin and put it a Ziploc bag in your pocket. Praying that it does not come to this."
8-27-20 Improved three-week weather forecasts could save lives from disaster
Accurate predictions could help people prepare for extreme weather. Weather forecasters in the Philippines got the tip-off in the second week of November 2019. A precipitation forecast that peered further into the future than usual warned that the islands faced torrential rains more than three weeks away. The meteorologists alerted local and national governments, which sprang into action. Mobile phone and broadcast alerts advised people to prepare to evacuate. By the time the Category 4 Typhoon Kammuri lashed the Philippines with heavy rains in early December, the damage was much less than it could have been. Having so much time to prepare was key, says Andrew Robertson, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society in Palisades, N.Y. “It’s a great example of how far we’ve come” in weather forecasting, he says. “But we still need to go further.” Such efforts, known as “subseasonal forecasting,” aim to fill a crucial gap in weather prediction. The approach fits between short-term forecasts that are good out to about 10 days in the future and seasonal forecasts that look months ahead. A subseasonal forecast predicts average weather conditions three to four weeks away. Each day of additional warning gives emergency managers that much more time to prepare for incoming heat waves, cold snaps, tornadoes or other wild weather. Groups such as the Red Cross are starting to use subseasonal forecasts to strategize for weather disasters, such as figuring out where to move emergency supplies when it looks like a tropical cyclone might hit a region. Farmers look to subseasonal forecasts to better plan when to plant and irrigate crops. And operators of dams and hydropower plants could use the information to get ready for extra water that may soon tax the systems.
8-27-20 Carbon dioxide from Earth’s mantle may trigger some Italian earthquakes
In the Apennines region, spikes in natural CO2 emissions coincide with the biggest tremors. Italy may owe some of its seismic activity to carbon dioxide bubbling up from deep underground. The country’s central Apennine Mountains region has been rattled by several destructive earthquakes in recent years, including the devastating magnitude 6.3 quake that wracked the city of L’Aquila in 2009 (SN: 8/14/09). A new decade-long record of natural carbon dioxide emissions in the area reveals that spikes in CO2 release coincided with the biggest earthquakes. That finding hints that CO2 rising toward Earth’s surface can change pressure along faults to trigger earthquakes, researchers report online August 26 in Science Advances. Understanding the relationship between CO2 and seismicity could someday lead to better earthquake forecasts. Earth naturally releases carbon dioxide when tectonic forces melt carbonate rock in the mantle, a process that frees CO2 (SN: 10/1/19). That CO2 rises, gathers in pressurized pockets in Earth’s crust and seeps into groundwater that feeds springs aboveground. Previous studies have noted that CO2 tends to escape Earth in seismic hot spots. But without long-term records of CO2 emissions in earthquake-prone areas, no one knew exactly how the timing of carbon emissions compared with earthquake occurrence. From 2009 to 2018, researchers measured the carbon content of springwater fed by the Velino aquifer, which is near the epicenter of the 2009 L’Aquila quake and sits atop a reservoir of CO2 in Earth’s crust. Those data show that jumps in CO2 emissions happened at about the same time as strong earthquakes, and emissions dropped off when quakes were smaller and farther between. When the region was struck by quakes of magnitude 6 or higher, the Velino aquifer springs released more than 600 metric tons of CO2 per day. During more seismically quiet periods, the springs emitted some 400 to 500 tons of CO2 daily.
8-27-20 Rowley Shoals: The bleached Australian reef and a Covid challenge
Coral bleaching was detected in a usually healthy reef off Australia's north-western coast earlier this year. But due to Covid lockdown rules, the discovery presented scientists with a challenge: how could they survey the reef without being able to travel there?
8-26-20 Meltwater may fracture Antarctic ice shelves and speed sea level rise
Almost two-thirds of the ice shelves crucial to stopping the collapse of Antarctica’s ice sheets are at risk of fracturing by water, according to an analysis that warns of “major consequences” for sea level rise from the vulnerability. Most of the continent’s ice is held back from the ocean by buttressing, floating tongues, known as ice shelves. These are melting from below due to warming oceans, but scientists are also striving to better understand how meltwater on top of the shelves affects them. It has been suggested that the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002 was partly due to ponds of meltwater inundating and expanding surface fractures in the ice, in a process known as hydrofracturing. Climate change is expected to increase such meltwater. Now a US and European team has pinpointed where meltwater can weaken shelves, potentially speeding up the collapse of the ice sheets and sea level rise. Ching-Yao Lai at Columbia University in New York and her colleagues found that 60 per cent of the buttressing ice shelves are vulnerable to hydrofracture if filled with water. They arrived at the figure by training a neural network to identify fractures from satellite images of the continent, a task too time-consuming for people. The results closely tallied with a model predicting where fractures would be. Calculations of ice stresses and forces were then run to estimate which fractures would become unstable if filled with water. “Not all parts of ice shelves are created equal: some are buttressing, some are not. It’s not only that there is meltwater, but does it turn up in those vulnerable places,” says Jonathan Kingslake at Columbia University, who worked on the study. Before this research, we couldn’t say what effect extra melting in Antarctica would have on ice shelves, says Alex Brisbourne at the British Antarctic Survey. He says: “60 per cent is a significant proportion which is threatened by a warmer climate.”
8-26-20 Algae's ability to photosynthesise boosted by light-harvesting plastic
Adding a synthetic polymer to algae has been shown to increase its rate of photosynthesis, which could lead to more efficient biofuels. If the technique is found to be effective in other plants, it could help us produce more crops. Less than 5 per cent of the sunlight absorbed by any plant is typically converted into energy. To see how we might make that process more efficient, Shu Wang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his colleagues fused a light-harvesting polymer with a species of freshwater green algae, Chlorella pyrenoidosa, which is commonly used to produce biofuel. The researchers grew algae in a watery solution and added a polymer called PBF, which bonded to the surface of the C. pyrenoidosa cells. PBF has a high rate of green light absorption, which led to an increased rate of photosynthesis and the production of more photosynthetic by-products such as oxygen and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which carries energy in a cell. The bulk of this experiment was conducted in low-light conditions. The team also tested the effect of brighter light on oxygen production. In the brightest conditions, the number of oxygen molecules produced only increased by 12 per cent. But under low-light conditions, the hybrid was more effective, leading to the increase of oxygen molecules by 120 per cent and ATP molecules by 97 per cent. The maximum growth rate of the algae also increased by 110 per cent in these conditions. “This method is not only applicable to green algae,” says Wang. “But its efficacy in other types of algae and plants has not yet been proven.” Wang says he plans to test this method with other plants in the future and that he hopes this method will make it far easier to produce more algae, and therefore more biofuels.
8-26-20 Wildfires in California burn area larger than Grand Canyon
Wildfires are raging across Northern California, which were sparked by dry lightning during a heatwave. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and 1.5million acres of land has been burnt. Two major wildfires are being tackled by 14,000 firefighters, according to Cal Fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
8-26-20 Black turbine blade 'can cut bird deaths'
Painting one blade of a wind turbine black could cut bird strikes at wind farms by up to 70%, a study suggests. Birds colliding with the structures has long been considered to be one of the main negative impacts of onshore wind farms, the authors observed. The RSPB welcomed the research but said the priority remained avoiding placing wind farms where there was a risk to wildlife, such as birds. The findings have been published in the Ecology and Evolution journal. "Collision of birds, especially raptors, is one of the main environmental concerns related to wind energy development," observed co-author Roel May. "In Norway, 6-9 white-tailed eagles are killed annually within the Smøla wind-power plant; This has caused opposition and conflict." The Smola wind farm is located on the west coast of Norway, consisting of 68 turbines over 18 square kilometres, making it one of the largest onshore wind farms in Norway. Dr May, a senior researcher from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in Trondheim, said the team were keen to test whether mitigation measures could reduce the rate of bird strikes. "One of the mitigation measures we tested was painting one of three rotor blades black," he told BBC News. "The expectation is that this design reduces so-called motion smear, making the blades more visible to birds. Dr May said the concept of reducing the motion smear of the rotating blades was based on laboratory experiments carried out in the US at the beginning of the century. The authors observed: "The annual fatality rate was significantly reduced at the turbines with a painted blade by over 70%, relative to the neighbouring control (i.e. unpainted) turbines." Dr May said that the findings were encouraging but further testing at different wind farms was needed in order to make the findings more robust. He observed: "Although we found a significant drop in bird collision rates, its efficacy may well be site- and species-specific. "At the moment there exists interest to carry out tests in the Netherlands and in South Africa."
8-26-20 Mauritius oil spill: Dead dolphins found after shipwreck
At least 13 dead dolphins have been found on the seashore in Mauritius, more than a month after the huge oil spill caused by a Japanese-owned ship. The deaths have been caused either by the spill or the authorities' decision to sink the ship's stem, environmental campaigners say. The carcasses have been sent for a post-mortem, which will establish the cause of deaths, police said. These are the first reported deaths of dolphins since the shipwreck. Up to now, many fish and crabs have been found dead. It is very rare for so many dead dolphins to be found at the same time. Two were found in May 2019. The MV Wakashio ran aground on coral reef on 25 Juy at Pointe d'Esny, a known sanctuary for rare wildlife. The area also contains wetlands designated as a site of international importance by the Ramsar convention on wetlands. The sight of dead dolphins has caused much anger among residents. "Waking up this morning to witness so many dead dolphins on our seashore is worse than a nightmare. Many non-governmental organisations, fishermen, experts said not to sink that ship at the place they did as it was like a home for the dolphins but once again the authority took a bad decision," resident Nitin Jeeha told the BBC. "I have seen around eight to 10 dead dolphins. Are there more in the lagoon?" he added. The Department of Fisheries confirmed 13 deaths, saying many of the dolphins were dead, while others were weak or dying, when they were found on the seashore. Oceanographer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo said the dolphins smelled of fuel oil. "In my opinion, this situation will continue to deteriorate as time goes on," he was quoted by local media as saying. Environmentalist Sunil Dowarkasing said either the oil spill from the bulk carrier or the sinking of its front last week caused the deaths. "The scuttling probably disturbed marine mammals in their natural habitat. There will be after-effects, and this is just the beginning," Mr Dowarkasing added. Greenpeace Africa has warned that "thousands" of animal species are "at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius's economy, food security and health".
8-25-20 Historic California wildfires likely fuelled by climate change
More than 1.1 million acres have burned across California in the past 10 days, as firefighters continue to battle some of the state’s worst wildfires, which have left seven people dead, and more than 100,000 evacuated. More than two dozen major fires are still raging, including complexes of blazes that have ranked as the second and third largest ever in California. Scientists say climate change helped set the stage for the hot and dry conditions that enabled more than 600 fires started by lightning on 15 August to expand so rapidly. Last Friday, the extent of the conflagration doubled in a day. There was then less lightning over the weekend than had been feared, but concerns remain over damage to millennia-old redwood trees. The fires followed a heatwave that caused blackouts, with Death Valley National Park hitting 54.4°C, the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth, pending verification. “Exceptionally hot weather over the past two weeks certainly played a proximal role in drying out vegetation to this extreme degree,” says Daniel Swain at the University of California Los Angeles. But the drying of fuel also started earlier, he notes, with heatwaves in the spring and last winter being very dry in northern California. There are several unusual aspects to the current fires, even for a region used to intense fire. They expanded dramatically in the absence of the usual driver for large and fast-moving fires in the state: powerful, dry winds. “That makes the enormous acreage burned in such a short time all the more astonishing, since they’re essentially spreading on accord of their own intensity,” says Swain. The ignition by dry lightning – thunderstorms without rain – is also rare for the region, says Stephen Pyne at Arizona State University.
8-24-20 Climate change: Removing CO2 could spark big rise in food prices
Technologies that can remove carbon dioxide from the air could have huge implications for future food prices, according to new research. Scientists say that machines that remove CO2 from the air will be needed to keep the rise in global temperatures in check. But these devices will have major impacts on energy, water and land use. By 2050, according to this new report, food crop prices could rise more than five-fold in some parts of the world. In the wake of the Paris climate agreement signed in 2015, researchers have tried to understand what keeping the world under a 1.5C temperature threshold would mean in practice. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported on this question in 2018, and found that keeping below this temperature rise would require the world to reach net zero emissions by 2050 but would also need the removal and storage of large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One of the ideas on how to achieve this is called BECCS - bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. It means growing crops that soak up CO2, then burning them for electricity while capturing and burying the carbon that's produced. Critics say this idea would need the deployment of huge amounts of land which would reduce the amount of land for agriculture at a time of increasing global population. Another technology that has raised much interest is called Direct Air Capture (DAC), where machines pull CO2 directly from the atmosphere. A number of experimental installations of this idea have been successfully implemented, notably in Switzerland and Canada. But there has been little research to date on how the deployment of DAC would impact crop and food prices. This new study looks at the large-scale deployment of a range of negative emissions technologies including DAC. The report says that the energy and water resources needed to drive these machines will be on a very large scale. DAC will need large amounts of heat to make the process work, say the authors. This would require energy equal to 115% of current global natural gas consumption.
8-24-20 Hurricanes: A guide to the world's deadliest storms
As we enter hurricane season, when there is a greater chance of more powerful storms developing in the Atlantic, use our guide to see how deadly storms form, their devastating effects and how they are measured.
8-22-20 Earth Overshoot Day: When consumption outstrips the planet's eco resources
Today is Earth Overshoot Day, the point where scientists say we've used all the ecological resources the planet can produce in 12 months. As consumption grows, that day is getting earlier. However, because of Covid this year it's been pushed back by three weeks. But a global campaign to "move the date" has been launched virtually and supported by the Scottish government. Environmentalists say it's vital we stop eroding Earth's natural resources. Mathis Wackernagel is founder of the Global Footprint Network which carries out the calculation for Earth Overshoot Day. He explained: "Everything we use puts a demand on nature in terms of space; the potato that takes space, I want milk from the cow, it takes space, to absorb the extra CO2 from burning fossil fuels takes space. "All these things that take space we can add up and then we can compare how much is our demand compared to how much is available." This year, the calculation estimates that we've exceed demand by 56% - even with the pandemic. But lockdown has reduced our consumption, meaning Earth Overshoot Day has been delayed for the first time. The calculation is made using UN data which began to be collected in 1961. Just nine years later, around 1970, we passed the point where our consumption couldn't be replenished. The question now, is how to change it in a world where success is measured by exponential growth. John Elkington, founder of Volans, is an authority on corporate sustainability and he believes the tide is turning. He said: "One of the things that's been very striking just in the last 18 months to two years is that a growing number of business leaders around the world have been standing up and saying capitalism is no longer working." The big question is where responsibility lies for fixing it; with governments, businesses or individuals. Although businesses can have the biggest impact, Dr Richard Dixon from Friends of the Earth Scotland says their decisions are dictated by us.
8-22-20 A legal climate change victory in Ireland is inspiring similar cases around the world
Climate activists around the world are bringing their country's governments to court for insufficient action on climate change. t was like nothing Clodagh Daly ever experienced, and certainly not how she expected the three-year court battle to end. Hunched over her laptop in her kitchen with two of her colleagues, she watched as one Supreme Court justice after another said, "I agree." The result was a unanimous decision that said that the Irish government's national climate plan broke the law by not being aggressive enough to meet the country's own targets. "For the highest national court of law to give [a] unanimous ruling in our favor is just so momentous," said Daly, a member of Friends of the Irish Environment, the group who sued the government back in 2017. The decision, which came down earlier this month, said that the country's National Mitigation Plan fell well short of the specificity needed to ensure that the country's climate goals could be met, which is to reach an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 compared to 1990 levels, according to a 2015 federal law. The court proposed that the mitigation plan be "quashed" and redone. "The case is the first of its kind in Ireland whereby the highest national court of law would require the government to raise the ambition of its national climate policy to actually meet its legal obligations," Daly said. The legal battle, known as Climate Case Ireland, is one of many cases around the world of climate activists bringing their own country's governments to court for insufficient action on climate change. Throughout the last decade, dozens of suits have entered the courts, and Ireland is one of the first countries to deliver a big win for activists. "I think, for me, the most powerful element of Climate Case Ireland is reshaping the question of responsibility for the climate crisis," Daly said. Ireland has the third-highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the European Union, and Daly said for a long time, the government's strategy has been to encourage lifestyle changes to lower emissions. Like the Department of Energy's 2006 "Power of One" campaign focusing on energy efficiency in the home, which cost the country 10 million euros, largely on advertising, and failed to deliver results. But since that time, Daly said youth activism in Ireland, such as local chapters of Fridays for Future and School Strike for Climate, have put pressure on the government to do more. "Activists all around the world have been demanding that climate justice be front and center of the conversation," Daly said. This month's court decision in Ireland means the federal government needs to come up with an entirely new plan for how to drastically lower the country's emissions.
8-22-20 California fires: Governor asks Australia for help
California is struggling to contain huge wildfires burning forests and homes, warned Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday as more than 12,000 fire-fighters battled blazes that have killed six people. Help was on its way from several US states as Gov Newsom put in a plea for assistance from Australia and Canada. "These fires are stretching our resources, our personnel," he said. Among the 560 fires are some of the largest the state has seen. More than 12,000 dry lightning strikes started the blazes during a historic heat wave in which thermometers in Death Valley National Park reached what could be the highest ever temperature reliably recorded. By Friday, emergency officials said some of the fires had doubled in size in a day, forcing 175,000 residents to flee. Two fires are now the 7th and 10th largest in the state's history, Gov Newsom said as he urged President Donald Trump to sign a major disaster declaration. The worst are in the mountains to the south and east of San Francisco. At least 43 people including firefighters have been injured, and hundreds of buildings have burned down and thousands more are threatened. Many blazes are burning on steep, difficult-to-access terrain and have been fuelled by strong winds. The fires are also threatening larger towns including Santa Cruz where flames reached within a mile of the University of California Santa Cruz campus, reports Reuters news agency. More fire=fighters, engines and surveillance planes are racing in from other states including Oregon, New Mexico and Texas to help. Assistance from what Gov Newsom called "the world's best wildfire-fighters" in Australia has been requested. "We simply haven't seen anything like this in many, many years," he said, adding that an area the size of the US state of Rhode Island had already burned within California.
8-21-20 Six killed in California wildfires as thousands are forced to flee
Six people have died in wildfires that are sweeping across California and fouling the air with heavy smoke across much of the western US. The worst of the hundreds of fires burning across the state are in the mountains to the south and east of San Francisco. The fires are thought to have been started by lightning strikes amidst an historic heat wave. Hundreds of buildings have burned down and thousands more are threatened. Over 10,000 fire-fighters are battling the blazes, which have been burning on steep, difficult to access terrain and have been fueled by strong winds. With more than 650,000 coronavirus cases, California also has the highest number of infections the US, and some evacuees have said they are afraid to go to emergency shelters. One woman told CNN that she was forced to flee to a community centre in Vacaville, but is refusing to go inside for fear of catching coronavirus. "Not only are we dealing with Covid, but with also the heat and now the fires," said Cheryl Jarvis, who said she is currently sleeping in her Toyota Prius. US disaster agencies have updated disaster preparedness and evacuation guidance in light of Covid-19. People who may be required to flee have been to told to carry at least two face masks per person, as well as hand sanitiser, soap and disinfectant wipes. California is also facing an electricity strain, which is has caused rolling blackout for thousands of customers. Officials have appealed for residents to use less power or risk further cuts. In total, over 980 square miles (1680km) have burned across the state - an area twice the size of Los Angeles. Satellite images show smoke blanketing nearly all of California, as well most of Nevada and southern Idaho. Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California's oldest state park and home to redwood trees that are 2,000 years old, sustained extensive damage to historic buildings.
8-20-20 Sea turtles carrying thermometers could improve hurricane forecasts
Sea turtles tagged with location and temperature sensors have been used to gather data on water temperatures near hurricanes, which could help us better forecast how strong such storms will be. Hurricanes are difficult to model in the Mid-Atlantic Bight, a coastal region that runs along the eastern US from around New York to North Carolina, because the waters there are highly stratified in summer, with warm water at the surface and cold water far below. “The hurricane forces ahead of the eye cause the stratified water to mix, which cools the surface water,” says Leah Crowe at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. Models of hurricane intensity don’t account for this “ahead-of-eye cooling” as it is hard to obtain water temperature data during storms, especially beneath the surface. Hurricanes source their energy from warm water so lower temperatures reduce their strength. That’s where the turtles come in. Crowe’s colleagues tagged 26 loggerhead turtles in the mid-Atlantic during the summer of 2011 – these turtles are known to forage in the Mid-Atlantic Bight during hurricane season. When Hurricane Irene struck in August of that year, 18 of the turtles came within 80 kilometres of the eye of the storm. As they dove from the surface to the depths, they logged temperatures throughout the water column, finding cooled sea surface temperatures and vertical mixing of different water temperatures. Until now, this data came from sources such as autonomous underwater gliders and ship-borne instruments. The turtles cover a large area and their measurements will improve models of ocean temperature, says Crowe. This kind of data could boost the accuracy of hurricane forecasts.
8-20-20 Greenland lost more ice in 2019 than any other year on record
Greenland lost more ice in 2019 than in any other year since measurements began. The ice sheet lost 15 per cent more ice than in 2012, the year the previous record was set. “It is worrying, but not that much surprising,” says Ingo Sasgen at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. The finding is partially based on data from the GRACE satellites, which launched in 2002 and measured changes in Earth’s gravity. Among other things, they revealed just how much ice Greenland is losing as a result of melting and glacier flow into the ocean. The satellites were decommissioned in late 2017, but replacements launched in 2018, allowing measurements to resume. These show that there was less ice loss than usual in 2017 and 2018, but a new record loss of around 530 gigatonnes followed in 2019. The expectation is that ice loss will accelerate as warming continues, but the satellite record is too short to show such a trend. What is clear is that the weather in Greenland is becoming more variable and extreme. In some years, such as 2019, there are more high-pressure systems over Greenland, drawing in warm air from North America that causes lots of melting. In others, such as 2017 and 2018, low-pressure systems are more prevalent, producing lots of snow. However, even in high-snow years, the ice sheet is still losing mass overall because of global warming, with many glaciers flowing faster and dumping more ice in the sea. The suspicion is that this greater variability in the weather is linked to Arctic warming, but this isn’t certain. “At this time, it’s too early to nail it down,” says Sasgen. The loss of all Greenland’s ice would add at least 6 metres to global sea level. It is thought this would happen gradually over millennia rather than there being a sudden collapse, as is expected to happen to parts of Antarctica’s ice sheet.
8-20-20 Climate change: 'Unprecedented' ice loss as Greenland breaks record
Scientists say the loss of ice in Greenland lurched forward again last year, breaking the previous record by 15%. A new analysis says that the scale of the melt was "unprecedented" in records dating back to 1948. High pressure systems that became blocked over Greenland last Summer were the immediate cause of the huge losses. But the authors say ongoing emissions of carbon are pushing Greenland into an era of more extreme melting. Over the past 30 years, Greenland's contribution to global sea levels has grown significantly as ice losses have increased. A major international report on Greenland released last December concluded that it was losing ice seven times faster than it was during the 1990s. Today's new study shows that trend is continuing. Using data from the Grace and Grace-FO satellites, as well as climate models, the authors conclude that across the full year Greenland lost 532 gigatonnes of ice - a significant increase on 2012. The researchers say the loss is the equivalent of adding 1.5mm to global mean sea levels, approximately 40% of the average rise in one year. According to a calculation by Danish climate scientist Martin Stendel, the 2019 losses would be enough to cover the entire UK with around 2.5 metres of melt water. Both last year and 2012 were marked by "blocking" events, the researchers say, where disturbances in the jet stream saw high pressure systems become stuck over Greenland, resulting in enhanced melting. "We seem to have entered a realm of more and more extreme melt in Greenland," said lead author Dr Ingo Sasgen, from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. "It's expected that something like the 2019 or 2012 years will be repeated. And we don't exactly know how the ice behaves in terms of feedback mechanisms in this vigorous range of melting." "There could be... hidden feedbacks that we are not aware about or that are maybe not perfectly described in the models right now. That could lead to some surprises."
8-20-20 50 years ago, scientists clocked the speed of Antarctic ice
Excerpt from the August 22, 1970 issue of Science News. Soviet research in Antarctica, Science News, August 22 & 29, 1970. There is a hypothesis that the Great Antarctic [Ice] Shield is gradually sliding into the sea at a rate of about 330 feet a year.… To learn how much ice is accumulated and how much of it slides off the continent, scientists set up special survey stakes…. During their latest trek they checked these survey stakes and determined the speed with which the ice masses creep. Satellite monitoring that began in the early 1990s has let scientists precisely measure how fast ice moves across Antarctica. Ice near the heart of the continent today creeps coastward at less than 10 meters per year, while ice close to the coast picks up the pace, traveling up to a few kilometers per year. Due to global warming, Antarctica is losing ice faster than it can be replaced. From 2012 to 2017, the continent shed an average of about 219 billion metric tons of ice annually, compared with 76 billion tons per year during the previous two decades. Overall, Antarctic ice melt from 1992 to 2017 boosted global sea level by 7.6 millimeters on average (SN: 7/7/18, p. 6).
8-20-20 Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: The animals at risk from Alaska oil drilling
The US government is pushing forward with controversial plans to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, by laying out the terms of a leasing programme that would give oil companies access to the area. The wildlife refuge in north-eastern Alaska sits above billions of barrels of oil. However, it is also home to many animals, including reindeer, polar bears and different species of bird. The idea of drilling in the area did not originate with President Donald Trump and his administration. Rather, the leasing programme is just the latest step in a controversy that has been ongoing since the late 1970s. One side argues that drilling for oil could bring in significant amounts of money, while providing jobs for people in Alaska. Others, however, are fearful of the impact drilling would have on the many animals that live there - as well as the damage burning more fossil fuels would have on our rapidly warming planet. This push from the Trump administration comes just two months after the Arctic circle recorded its highest ever temperatures. "This plan could devastate the amazing array of wildlife that call the refuge home through noise pollution, habitat destruction, oil spills, and more climate chaos," Kristen Monsell, from the US-based Center for Biological Diversity, told the BBC. "The coastal plain is the most important land-based denning habitat for polar bears and is the birthing grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. "Over 200 species of birds are found in the refuge along with Arctic foxes, black and brown bears, moose and many others." Any oil spills, for example, would not only harm nearby wildlife and their habitat, they could be fatal. Polar bears, Ms Monsell adds, are "particularly vulnerable" to oil spills. "Polar bears must maintain a pristine hair coat as insulation against the cold - but when a polar bear comes into contact with spilled oil, it can soak a polar bear's fur and persist for several weeks. It will be groomed and ingested, irritate the skin, and destroy the insulating abilities of the fur," she says. "Studies show that fatalities can occur from effects on the lungs, kidneys, blood, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs and systems. An oil-coated bear that is not cleaned and rehabilitated will probably die."
8-19-20 Climate change: Dams played key role in limiting sea level rise
The construction of large-scale dams has played a surprising role in limiting rising seas, say scientists. Over the past century, melting glaciers and the thermal expansion of sea water have driven up ocean levels. But this new study finds that dams almost stalled the rising seas in the 1970s because of the amount of water they prevented from entering the oceans. Without them, the annual rate of rise would have been around 12% higher. Measuring how much the seas have risen over the past 100 years or so is a difficult task for scientists. Researchers found that there was a gap between how much water they knew had gone into the oceans compared to how much those oceans had actually risen by over the past century. In this new work, the authors revisited information about sources and measurements to come up with a new, more accurate estimation. As well as the melting of glaciers and the thermal expansion of the seas from heat energy entering the waters, the researchers found that water storage facilities such as dams and reservoirs had made a significant impact on sea levels throughout the period. There are around 58,000 large dams in the world right now with many of them constructed over the past 60 years. The 1950s to 1970s saw a building boom with several large-scale constructions completed, including the Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe, the Bratsk Dam in Siberia and the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. When the full impact of these giants came on stream in the 1970s, their ability to block water from going into the sea slowed the ongoing rise in global sea level. "A large part of this dip is because sea level [rise] was almost brought to a halt because of the amount of water stored in dams," said lead author Dr Thomas Frederikse, from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "So by building dams, we almost stopped sea level rise for a decade or so."
8-19-20 We should rewild the sky to restore the atmosphere to its former glory
Let's take inspiration from the way we intervene to help degraded ecosystems recover and attempt to restore the atmosphere back to full health, writes Graham Lawton. IN A parallel universe, I have just returned from a gathering in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting was a hive of activity: 4000 delegates, talks on cutting-edge research, press conferences, social gatherings and ample opportunities to mingle, make contacts and pick up ideas. In the real world, the meeting was held virtually and I watched it at home on my computer. I take my hat off to the organisers and speakers; in the circumstances, it was amazing. But it wasn’t the same as the real thing. I wonder what chilling effect it might have had on that precious currency of scientific progress, the exchange of ideas over a couple of drinks. Much has been made of the fact that, before the pandemic, we massively overestimated the need to be physically present to get things done. I have been working productively from home and have burned a lot less oil going to international gatherings, while actually attending more than usual. I have repeatedly heard people extol the virtues of these virtual meetings, and I agree there is a lot to be said for them: people from all over the world can get together at the click of a mouse. Teleworking has contributed to the decline in emissions during the pandemic. But let’s not get carried away. Another meeting was a webinar with Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency. Organised by University College London, it was a great example of the use of technology to keep international scholarship alive. Birol’s theme was a now-familiar one: how to leverage the anthropause – the lull in human activity under covid-19 – to bring about a decisive shift in the world’s energy economy. A lot of ink has already been spilled enthusing about this idea. Birol is optimistic that we can solve our environmental problems, but he is a hard-headed, data-driven realist.
8-19-20 A new type of plastic may be the first that is infinitely recyclable
A new type of plastic that can be easily broken down into its chemical building blocks and reassembled into high-quality products could reduce the amount of plastic waste ending up in landfill. More than 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year and only a small fraction – about 10 per cent in the US, for instance – is recycled. The rest is tipped into landfill, incinerated or leaked into the environment. One reason why so little plastic is recycled is because it is hard to break down, and the processes typically used to remould old plastic weaken its chemical structure. As a result, recycled plastic is normally only used to make low-value products, such as outdoor benches and bins. To address this problem, Eugene Chen at Colorado State University and his colleagues developed a plastic that is able to maintain its original qualities when recycled. The material, called PBTL, is made by joining together chemical building blocks called bicyclic thiolactones. PBTL has excellent strength, toughness and stability, says Chen, meaning it could potentially be used to make plastic packaging, sports equipment, car parts, construction materials and other products. The researchers found that PBTL can be easily recycled by heating it at 100°C in the presence of a chemical catalyst for 24 hours. This breaks the plastic cleanly into its original building blocks, which can then be reassembled into new high-quality PBTL. One challenge, however, is that PBTL can only be broken down and remoulded in this way when it is on its own, says Chen. That means it would need to be separated from other types of plastic in mixed plastic waste before it could be recycled, he says.
8-19-20 UK to set limits on harmful airborne particles
A new target will be set to protect people from the effects of breathing in tiny particles produced by transport and industry, the UK government says. he country falls some way short of a limit recommended by the World Health Organization for tiny particles called PM 2.5s. These are produced by burning fuels in power generation, domestic heating and in vehicle engines. PM 2.5s are known to harm the lungs and heart. Ministers will confirm a legally binding PM 2.5 target in two years' time, alongside goals for waste reduction, wildlife, and water. The announcement follows criticism that the government's 2020 Environment Bill failed to include binding targets. It’s had a mixed reception from green groups, who can't tell yet whether the planned targets will be strong or broad enough to tackle the current ecological crisis. They’re also dismayed that the targets won’t be settled until 2022. The government’s new goals will commit to restoring and creating wildlife-rich habitats in protected sites, as well as tackling pollution from agriculture and waste water to improve water quality. Annual progress will be monitored by a new environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection. It’s hoped that setting targets will have the same effect on the broader environment that they’ve had on cutting carbon emissions. Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The targets we set will be the driving force behind our bold action to protect and enhance our natural world - guaranteeing lasting progress on some of the biggest environmental issues. "I hope these targets will provide some much-needed certainty to businesses and society." The announcement has already generated debate about where the targets should be applied and how strong they should be. Richard Benwell from Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “These proposals show the government is considering a truly bold breadth of targets for Nature - well beyond the statutory minimum. “Nevertheless, more ambition will be needed to turn round the relentless decline in our natural world.”
8-19-20 Death Valley: What life is like in the 'hottest place on Earth'
"I think we all lose our patience with how hot it is," says Brandi Stewart, who works at Death Valley National Park in California. "When you walk outside it's like being hit in the face with a bunch of hairdryers." On Sunday, what could be the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth, a toasty 130F (54.4C), was reported in the park - a vast, desert area filled with canyons and sand dunes that straddles the border with neighbouring Nevada. However, in Brandi's picture, the sign showing the temperature appears to have overheated. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says it is still verifying the record. But Brandi doesn't need experts to tell her just how hot it is. She's one of just a few hundred people for whom the location often referred to as "the hottest place in the world" is home. Ms Stewart has lived in Death Valley on and off for five years, working in the park's communication department. "It feels so hot that one thing it took me a while to get used to is that you can't actually feel the sweat on your skin because it evaporates so quickly," she told the BBC. "You might feel it on your clothes, but you don't actually feel sweat on your skin because it dries so quickly". Ms Stewart says a lot of time in the summer is spent inside, but some people choose to head to the mountains where temperatures are slightly cooler. "Once people do get used to it [the heat], I think we begin to normalise it and then anything below 80F (26.6C) seems chilly." In terms of sleep, people in the town have air conditioning, which keeps their homes cool as long as the power doesn't go out. This can be an issue when everyone is trying to keep their homes at a comfortable temperature as the mercury soars. The majority of people who work and live in the national park are located in Furnace Creek, where the recent record temperature was recorded. The town is situated in a long and narrow basin around 280 feet below sea level. It is surrounded by high and steep mountain ranges.
8-19-20 Ethan Hawke stars in ‘Tesla,’ a quirky biopic about the iconic inventor
The film follows the rise and fall of Nikola Tesla. It is a David and Goliath story for the Industrial Age. Young, idealistic Nikola Tesla came to the United States in 1884 hoping that electricity mogul Thomas Edison would work with him on a new system for generating and distributing electricity. Tesla’s alternating current system promised to transmit electricity much greater distances than the reigning direct current setup that Edison had pioneered. But Edison dismissed Tesla’s ideas as impractical, forcing Tesla to strike out on his own. The new biopic Tesla, directed by Michael Almereyda, follows what came to be known as the War of the Currents between Tesla and Edison. The film premieres August 21, available on demand through a variety of cable and digital platforms. Tesla (portrayed by Ethan Hawke) is the underdog hero. He lacks Edison’s business acumen and penchant for self-promotion, but is armed with a visionary idea and relentless ambition. To make his electrical system a reality, Tesla struggles against duplicitous business partners and a smear campaign by Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) to cast alternating current as unsafe. In one macabre scene, one of Edison’s employees goes so far as to publicly electrocute a dog with alternating current. Ultimately, Tesla’s system wins out as the preeminent means of electrical production and distribution worldwide. (Although the film doesn’t explain in detail, AC has an edge over DC electricity because it is easily switched between high and low voltages. That allows high-voltage electricity to travel efficiently across long power lines before getting converted to low voltages for safe in-home use.) Almereyda’s Tesla is a modest man, more concerned with using his inventions for good than earning money or recognition. But Tesla also explores the less flattering aspects of the inventor’s character. His reclusiveness and overactive mind made it difficult to maintain relationships. One of Tesla’s most loyal associates was Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), daughter of J.P. Morgan, the Wall Street titan who was a patron of Tesla’s work. Anne Morgan was drawn to Tesla’s intellect and altruism, and seemed to want to marry him. But Tesla was married to his work, and ultimately moved to Colorado without Morgan to pursue mysterious, lightning-powered experiments. Thus began the second act of Tesla’s career, during which he chased increasingly outlandish ideas that scared off investors and left him destitute (SN: 7/7/56).
8-19-20 Ocean-sieving expedition reveals huge amounts of microplastic in the Atlantic
A vast ocean-sieving expedition across the Atlantic has revealed that there is as much as 21 million tonnes of plastic particles suspended in just the top 200m of the ocean. The findings, based on an analysis of samples and on computer modelling, highlight the largely invisible scale of the pollution clogging the world's second largest ocean, as BBC science correspondent Victoria Gill explains.
8-18-20 Microplastic in Atlantic Ocean 'could weigh 21 million tonnes'
There are 12-21 million tonnes of tiny plastic fragments floating in the Atlantic Ocean, scientists have found. A study, led by the UK's National Oceanography Centre, scooped through layers of the upper 200m (650ft) of the ocean during a research expedition through the middle of the Atlantic. Such an amount of plastic - 21 million tonnes - would be enough to fully load almost 1,000 container ships. The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications. Dr Katsia Pabortsava, from the National Oceanography Centre, who led the study, said by measuring the mass of very small plastic particles in the top 5% of the ocean, she and her colleagues could estimate "the load of plastic in the entire Atlantic" which is "much larger" than the previous figure. "Previously, we haven't been able to balance the amount of plastic we found in the ocean with the amount we thought we had put in," she said. "That's because we weren't measuring the very smallest particles." On their expedition - from the UK to the Falkland Islands - she and her colleagues detected up to 7,000 particles per cubic metre of seawater. They analysed their samples for the three most commonly used, and most commonly discarded, polymers - polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene - all often used in packaging. The findings, the team hopes, will help future efforts to measure the ecological and environmental damage that might be caused by these plastic fragments, by providing a more "robust measure" of its accumulation in remote parts of the ocean. Prof Jamie Woodward, an expert in plastic pollution, from the University of Manchester, told BBC News the findings confirm earlier studies that the microplastic load in the oceans is "much higher than [we had] estimated". "The geographical scale of the study is impressive," he said. "And the authors estimate inputs over 65 years. This is important because microplastics have been flooding into the oceans for many decades. "We now need to understand the ecological impacts of this contamination in all parts of the ocean, since they have been in the oceans at all depths for a long time."
8-18-20 Death Valley hits 130° F, the hottest recorded temperature on Earth since 1931
Logged in aptly-named Furnace Creek, it’s the third highest temperature on record. Amid a sweltering heat wave across the western United States, a remote spot in Death Valley, Calif., may have just earned the title of hottest place on Earth in nearly a century. On August 16, the Death Valley spot — appropriately named Furnace Creek, with a population of 24 — logged a temperature of 130° Fahrenheit (54.4° Celsius). If verified by the World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, that temperature will be the hottest recorded since 1931, and the third hottest since record keeping began. Furnace Creek also holds the record for hottest recorded temperature on Earth, logged in 1913 at 134° F (56.7° C). In second place is Kebili, Tunisia, with a logged temperature of 55.0° C (131° F) on July 7, 1931. The verification process for such global records of weather extremes, which are archived at WMO, may take months, says archive chief Randall Cerveny, a meteorologist at Arizona State University in Tempe (SN: 7/1/20). Substantiating a record involves an international committee of atmospheric scientists poring over the original observations, the equipment used to make it and the calibration practices. But “based on available evidence, we are preliminarily accepting the observation,” Cerveny says. Some scientists have contested the 1913 observation. In 2016, an analysis posted online at Weather Underground suggested that the logged temperature was “essentially not possible” based on meteorological conditions, including that there was no evidence of a particularly intense heat wave from any other stations in the area at the time. For now, though, the record stands, because “no credible substantial evidence” supporting this claim has been submitted to WMO, Cerveny says.
8-17-20 'Highest temperature on Earth' as Death Valley, US hits 54.4C (130F)
What could be the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth - 130F (54.4C) - may have been reached in Death Valley National Park, California. The recording is being verified by the US National Weather Service. It comes amid a heatwave on the US's west coast, where temperatures are forecast to rise further this week. The scorching conditions have led to two days of blackouts in California, after a power plant malfunctioned on Saturday. Sunday's reading was recorded in Furnace Creek in Death Valley. Before this, the highest temperature reliably recorded on Earth was 129.2F (54C) - also in Death Valley in 2013. A higher reading of 134F, or 56.6C a century earlier, also in Death Valley, is disputed. It is believed by some modern weather experts to have been erroneous, along with several other searing temperatures recorded that summer. According to a 2016 analysis from weather historian Christopher Burt, other temperatures in the region recorded in 1913 do not corroborate the Death Valley reading. Another record temperature for the planet - 131F, or 55C - was recorded in Tunisia in 1931, but Mr Burt said this reading, as well as others recorded in Africa during the colonial era, had "serious credibility issues". The current heatwave stretches from Arizona in the south-west, up the coast to Washington state in the north-west. It is expected to hit its peak on Monday and Tuesday, before temperatures start to drop later in the week. However, the sweltering heat will continue for at least another 10 days. As temperatures soared in California, a large "firenado" was observed on Saturday in Lassen County. California's Independent System Operator (CISO), which manages the state's power, has declared a Stage 3 Emergency, meaning "when demand [for electricity] begins to outpace supply".
8-16-20 Mauritius oil spill: Wrecked MV Wakashio breaks up
A Japanese bulk carrier that has leaked hundreds of tonnes of fuel oil off the Mauritius coast has broken apart, authorities in the island nation say. The MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef on 25 July with 4,000 tonnes of the fuel, causing an ecological emergency. Most of the fuel had already been pumped out, officials said, but on Saturday the ship's condition worsened. Mauritius is home to world-renowned coral reefs, and popular with tourists. The MV Wakashio ran aground at Pointe d'Esny, a known sanctuary for rare wildlife. The area also contains wetlands designated as a site of international importance by the Ramsar convention on wetlands. "At around 4.30pm [12:30 GMT], a major detachment of the vessel's forward section was observed," the Mauritius National Crisis Committee said in a statement on Saturday. About 90 tonnes of the fuel were believed to be still on board when the vessel split. The committee said booms had been reinforced near the vessel to absorb any more oil that leaked out. Coast guard vessels have been positioned in the area. Mauritius has said it will seek compensation for the leak from "the owner and the insurer". Japanese firm Nagashiki Shipping has pledged to respond to requests for compensation. Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said in recent days that more than 3,000 of the 4,000 tonnes of oil from the ship's fuel reservoirs had been pumped out. The removed fuel has been transferred to shore by helicopter and to another ship owned by the same Japanese firm. One of the best assessments of the spill has come via Earth observation assets. The US analytics company Ursa Space Systems looked at the situation using radar data from the Finnish Iceye satellites, which are especially effective at picking out oil on water. It found a 27 sq km spill by 11 August.
8-16-20 Rising water levels in Kenya's Great Rift Valley threaten jobs and wildlife
In Kenya, rising water levels in lakes along the Great Rift Valley have forced thousands of people from their homes. It follows severe flooding after months of unusually heavy rain, which campaigners say has been made worse by illegal deforestation. Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria, once 20km (12.5 miles) apart, are now so close together that there are fears they could contaminate each other, threatening wildlife and livelihoods still further.
8-14-20 'Firenado' rages through Angeles National Forest
'Firenado' rages through Angeles National Forest.
8-14-20 Mauritius oil spill: Are major incidents less frequent?
The recent oil spill off the island of Mauritius has brought the dangers of moving large quantities of oil by sea back under the spotlight. The Japanese-operated MV Wakashio ran aground off the Indian Ocean island, and is thought to have leaked more than 1,000 tonnes of oil in an environmentally sensitive area. The number of accidents involving spillages has fallen in recent years according to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF). In the 1970s, there were about 80 spills a year of more than seven tonnes. This has fallen to an average of just six per year over the past decade despite a large increase in the number of tankers now transporting oil. This improvement, according to Naa Sackeyfio of the ITOPF, is down to tighter regulation and improvements in safety standards. Some of the largest spills were between 1978 and 1991, and of all the large oil spills reported since 1970, only about 4% occurred after 2010. There is, however, a big problem with the available data. It does not include small oil spills (that's less than seven tonnes), which the ITOPF says account for more than 80% of all oil spills at sea. The organisation says information on these small spills is difficult to gather and often incomplete. The environmental campaign group Greenpeace says any oil spill should be a source of concern because of the damage caused. "Even a single spill is one too many. Currently, there are many devastating ongoing spills in the world," Tal Harris of Greenpeace told the BBC. Greenpeace says it is also concerned that ITOPF figures do not include every single type of vessel which could be transporting oil, so could be missing some accidents. The ITOPF says its data covers not just oil tankers, but also bulk carriers (which carry oil and other goods), floating oil storage vessels as well as barges (so this would include the ship off Mauritius which was a bulk carrier).
8-14-20 Nestlé sued over tonnes of dead fish in French river
The head of a French fishing federation has lodged a complaint against global food conglomerate Nestlé, after thousands of fish were found dead in a river in north-eastern France. Several tonnes of dead fish were reported in the Aisne river at the weekend, close to a Nestlé factory. The deaths were due to a decrease in oxygen levels in the water, the local prefecture said on Tuesday. Tests are being carried out to determine the origin of the pollution. The dead fish were found near Challerange, 50km (31 miles) from Reims, the prefecture said in a statement. "We have lodged a complaint against Nestlé France for pollution and violation of article 432.2 of the environmental code," said Michel Adam, president of the Ardennes Fishing Federation. The damage amounts to "several thousand euros", he added. "Everything died in an area seven kilometres (4.3 miles) long and 30 metres wide." "We have already recovered three tonnes of dead fish. But there are still some left. Some 14 species have been affected, including protected species such as eels and lamprey. "I have been with the federation for 40 years, I have never seen pollution of this magnitude," he added. The Nestlé factory in Challerange, which manufactures powdered milk, confirmed in a statement that there had been an "occasional and involuntary overflow of biological sludge effluent, without the presence of chemicals" from its wastewater treatment plant on Sunday evening. "As soon as we learned of the report on Sunday at 23:00 (21:00 GMT), we immediately stopped production and put an end to the spill," factory director Tony do Rio said in a statement quoted by the Franceinfo website on Wednesday. "This spill was a one-off [and lasted] less than three hours on Sunday evening," he said, adding that activity at the factory had been stopped for a few days. Since the discovery of the dead fish, volunteer fishermen and firefighters have been working to clean up the river. A dam had also been installed to contain the spread of pollution, the prefecture said.
8-14-20 Hurricanes have names. Some climate experts say heat waves should, too
A newly formed international alliance aims to raise awareness about extreme temperatures. Hurricane Maria and Heat Wave Henrietta? For decades, meteorologists have named hurricanes and ranked them according to severity. Naming and categorizing heat waves too could increase public awareness of the extreme weather events and their dangers, contends a newly formed group that includes public health and climate experts. Developing such a system is one of the first priorities of the international coalition, called the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance. Hurricanes get attention because they cause obvious physical damage, says Jennifer Marlon, a climate scientist at Yale University who is not involved in the alliance. Heat waves, however, have less visible effects, since the primary damage is to human health. Heat waves kill more people in the United States than any other weather-related disaster (SN: 4/3/18). Data from the National Weather Service show that from 1986 to 2019, there were 4,257 deaths as a result of heat. By comparison, there were fewer deaths by floods (2,907), tornadoes (2,203) or hurricanes (1,405) over the same period. What’s more, climate change is amplifying the dangers of heat waves by increasing the likelihood of high temperature events worldwide. Heat waves linked to climate change include the powerful event that scorched Europe during June 2019 (SN: 7/2/19) and sweltering heat in Siberia during the first half of 2020 (SN: 7/15/20). Some populations are particularly vulnerable to health problems as a result of high heat, including people over 65 and those with chronic medical conditions, such as neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes. Historical racial discrimination also places minority communities at disproportionately higher risk, says Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the new alliance. Due to housing policies, communities of color are more likely to live in urban areas, heat islands which lack the green spaces that help cool down neighborhoods (SN: 3/27/09).
8-13-20 What Europe's cities are doing to handle heatwaves
On Wednesday central London saw its longest stretch of high temperatures in almost six decades, with thermometers reading 34 degrees C or above for six consecutive days. Those fortunate enough to be able to get away to the countryside and coast for holidays may be enjoying slightly cooler temperatures, but many residents remain at home. Around three-quarters of the population of Europe now live in urban areas, according to the European Union. Much of western Europe is sweltering this August. As the human influence on our climate becomes ever more marked, heatwaves will become increasingly normal in the summer, researchers say. How can cities adapt to make life easier for their residents during periods of very high temperatures? The phenomenon of urban areas being several degrees hotter than their surroundings is known as the urban heat island effect. London's City Hall says the UK capital can be up to 10 degrees C hotter than its surrounding areas. There are many reasons for the temperature differences observed in cities, including the different way building materials reflect the sun's rays, reduced vegetation, and the fact that water runs off surfaces into drains rather than being absorbed into the ground. Let's explore what different cities across Europe are doing to try to reduce these effects - and to help their citizens keep cool.
- Planting trees: Anyone who's sat underneath a tree on a hot day will know how much the shade helps to keep you - and the ground - cool. But trees don't just provide shade and reflect the sun's rays back up. They take up water from the ground and lose most of it to the air through a process called evapotranspiration. The water the tree doesn't need comes out through tiny holes on the underside of its leaves, and becomes water vapour.
- Greening streets and roofs: Trees aren't the only form of vegetation that can help cool down the air. In smaller spaces where there may not be room for a new tree, some cities are increasing planting - or encouraging residents to do so. Paris now allows anyone to apply for a permit to start a garden anywhere at all. These "permits to vegetate" as they probably shouldn't be translated, mean that residents can plant gardens on pavements and small areas of public land to make the city greener.
- Creating temporary outdoor spaces for summer: Vienna has set up a network of "cool streets" for the second summer running. In these streets, in neighbourhoods across the inner city, cars are banned from parking and people are invited to use the outside space as an "outdoor living room". The streets are kitted out with seating areas, drinking fountains and some even have water spray misting machines. Children can play and there are plants growing. The city authorities have chosen street segments to close off in parts of the city with less access to outdoor spaces, and where there are trees to provide shade.
- Changing urban architecture to add more water and reflective surfaces: As well as existing rivers, lakes and fountains which people can splash in to cool down - and which themselves reflect the sun's rays - some localities are trying to use water in innovative ways to help cool city streets. In Nice, in southern France, urban architects sought to use a pavement wetting system to cool down the area of a new transport hub and make it more comfortable for pedestrians. Water seeps up through porous paving material. This water then evaporates, cooling the pavement.
- Providing information and support: The elderly and young children find it hardest to cope physically with the impacts of a heat wave. A severe heat wave in August 2003 caused many thousands of deaths across Europe, particularly in France where nearly 15,000 lost their lives.
8-13-20 Mauritius rushes to stave off oil spill
The quick work by NGOs and volunteers has in some ways overshadowed the government, which has been criticized for its slow response to the oil spill. he island of Mauritius boasts beautiful beaches, coral reefs, lagoons, and clear waters. Now, oily black sludge mars the country's southeast coastline. It began last week when oil started leaking from the Japanese-owned MW Wakashio ship, which ran aground on a southern coral reef on July 25. "It is the biggest natural disaster to my knowledge that we are having in Mauritius," said Jacqueline Sauzier, a microbiologist who heads Mauritius Marine Conservation Society. Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth tweeted a startling image of the leak. Reportedly 1,000 tons of oil has leaked into the water so far, endangering nearby protected mangroves and lagoons — home to rich and diverse species. "The spill has gone into two directions," said Sauzier. "Into the lagoon of the east coast and down to the coastal zones." But the spill has mobilized Mauritians across the island, and volunteers and organizations have been racing to contain it from spreading further. Local textile companies have worked alongside the sugar cane industry to create long fabric booms filled with dry sugar cane waste and plastic bottles. They essentially work as a floating sponge to soak up the spilled oil. "There is a big movement also since last Friday of Mauritians cutting their hair. So the hair is also a very large absorbent of oil," said Sauzier, who says she and her daughter both cut their hair as well. The hair then goes into nylon leggings, becoming small booms that can be reused. As of Tuesday, the oil spill seems to have been contained — but the ship risks splitting in two, warned Prime Minister Jugnauth on Monday. Containment is only the beginning. "We've got 48 to 72 hours. And if there's no cleaning up done correctly, the mangroves may die," warned Sauzier. Some marine life has already died from the oil spill, according to Reuters. The oil spill also poses a threat to nearby ecology and wildlife on wetlands and smaller islands, says Kevin Ruhomaun, who directs the National Parks and Conservation Services in Mauritius.
8-13-20 Why the Mauritius oil spill is so serious
The amount of oil spilled from the Japanese-owned ship nearby the lagoons and coastal areas of south-east Mauritius is relatively low compared to the big oil spills the world has seen in the past, but the damage it will do is going to be huge and long-lasting, experts say. Unlike most previous offshore spills, this has taken place near two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve, which is a wetland of international importance. So, it's the location rather than the size of the spill which is causing greatest concern about its potentially serious environmental impact. The stunning turquoise waters of the blue lagoon outside the coastal village of Mahébourg in Mauritius, the backdrop for numerous Bollywood movies, are now stained black and brown. The ship, MV Wakashio, ran aground at Pointe d'Esny in late July, and oil began leaking from it last Thursday. Satellite images show the oil spill stretched out between the mainland at Pointe D'Esny and the island of Ile-aux-Aigrettes. It is thought that more than 1,000 tonnes of fuel have leaked out of the ship and into the lagoon. A huge clean-up operation has been launched from the shore with many local people volunteering to help. On 7 August, nearly two weeks after the shipwreck, the Mauritian government declared the incident a national emergency. Mauritius is a biodiversity hotspot with a high concentration of plants and animals unique to the region. "The wind and the water currents are not helping, they are taking the oil towards the areas that have vital marine ecosystems," Sunil Mokshananda, a former Greenpeace strategist, who is on an island near the oil-spill site, told the BBC. The Mauritian marine environment is home to 1,700 species including around 800 types of fish, 17 kinds of marine mammals and two species of turtles, according to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves make Mauritian waters extraordinarily rich in biodiversity. "There are very few such marine areas with such rich biodiversity left on the planet. An oil spill like this will impact almost everything there," said Dr Corina Ciocan, a senior lecturer in marine biology at the UK's University of Brighton. "It is not just about the light oil slick you see on the surface of the water caused by the spill. "There will also be soluble compounds from the oil that will dissolve in the water, a mousse-like layer underneath the surface of the water, and then very heavy residues on the bed - so the entire marine ecosystem will be affected."
8-12-20 Can we rely on tropical forests to stop runaway climate change?
The world's jungles absorb a large proportion of our CO2 emissions, helping to slow the pace of human-induced global warming. But they may be reaching saturation point. A CLANK like a monk’s gong rang out as the researchers marched single file up a forested flank of the RincÓn de la Vieja, an active volcano in north-west Costa Rica. When they stopped alongside the giant buttressed roots of a strangler fig tree, graduate student Nel Rodriguez Sepulveda of Michigan Technological University held up a small steel chamber, the source of the sound. Katie Nelson, a fellow grad student, tapped her tablet and a machine strapped to Rodriguez-Sepulveda’s back began to buzz, noisily sucking air from the steel chamber through a hose. After a few minutes, Nelson glanced at her screen. “It’s elevated!” she whooped. I had joined the scientists on a hunt for a notorious gas that seeps imperceptibly from fissures in the volcanic bedrock. They had come to map the places where it is more highly concentrated in the air than normal, in preparation for an experiment that could finally solve a mystery with profound consequences for the fate of our planet: whether tropical forests will continue to soak up large amounts of carbon dioxide, crucially slowing the pace of climate change. We have always assumed as much. But increasingly we aren’t so sure, raising the prospect that global warming could unexpectedly accelerate. Now the race is on to find out how rising temperatures will affect the ability of tropical forests to lock up CO2, a question with urgent policy implications. Which is why the natural laboratory provided by the volcano is so important. “It could be a game changer,” says Josh Fisher, an ecologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, who led the expedition. As worrisome as rising seas, intensifying storms and more frequent heatwaves are, climate change could already be a lot worse. Since the industrial revolution began, only about half of all the CO2 released from chimneys and exhaust pipes has remained aloft in the atmosphere. The balance has been soaked up by the oceans and by plants on land, both living and dead. These natural carbon sinks have played an indispensable role in slowing the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere and so moderating global warming.
8-12-20 Can static electricity make chemistry more efficient – and greener?
Making medicines and complex materials is messy and wasteful. Using electric fields as catalysts could make chemistry far cleaner. IT ISN’T long after waking each day that we meet the handiwork of chemists. The flavourings in toothpaste, scents in shower gel, polyester in clothes – all have been created through the breaking and making of chemical bonds. The same goes for nearly all the materials on which the modern world relies. It isn’t easy work. Take remdesivir, the antiviral drug that could help us treat covid-19. To make it, chemists begin with a small molecule called alanine and add a further 64 atoms to it over the course of 25 separate chemical reactions. Whew. Making such molecular marvels isn’t just taxing, it can also be a grubby affair. Synthetic chemists spend most of their time amid pastes, powders and bubbling solutions: it is a messy and often smelly craft. But perhaps there is a way to make it simpler and cleaner. More and more chemists are experimenting with a new tool of subtle power: the electric field. Not only does it promise to help us control the jiggling of atoms more precisely, but in a world where green credentials are important, it could also make chemical synthesis a lot less damaging to the environment. If this works, chemistry will be transformed. To see why this new tool is so promising, we need to consider the thing that matters most in any reaction – the flow of electrons. We think of electrons as negatively charged particles that swirl between the positively charged atomic nuclei in a molecule, gluing the atoms together. The job of the synthetic chemist is to cajole this electron glue into flowing from one place to another, and so rearrange and extend the atomic scaffolding to form exciting new substances. To aid this, chemists often pay attention to the polarity of the molecules involved, the overall distribution of positive and negative charge within them. Understand and manipulate this, and you can guide where the glue goes.
8-12-20 Fire and melting ice: The Arctic is having a terrifyingly bad year
“THE conditions we’ve seen in the Arctic this year have been truly remarkable, and not in a good way,” says Michael Meredith, a polar researcher at the British Antarctic Survey. Even for a region that has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the planet, this year’s Arctic fires and ice melt have been extraordinary. The first half of 2020 has seen temperature records tumble in one of the coldest places on Earth. The symbolic milestone of 100°F was passed in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk in June, on the way to a record high of 38°C. Longyearbyen in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean hit an all-time high of 21.7°C in July, hotter than Oslo that day. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, where thousands of crop seeds are stored, was built in this location thanks to its supposedly cool climate. It hasn’t just been hot, but hot for an extended period. The Arctic circle was around 8°C above average for the first half of the year, and 10°C above average in June. Although this has been driven by a natural variation in the weather-affecting jet stream that travels high above the North Atlantic, it would also have been almost impossible without the greenhouse gases we have pumped into the atmosphere. Siberia’s heatwave is thought to have been made at least 600 times more likely by climate change. “I think 2020 is a clear window into what is to come,” says Meredith. One big effect has been drastically shrinking sea ice, which polar bears rely on to hunt their prey. Meanwhile, satellite images have brought a daily reminder of fires blazing in northern forests and underground peat, resulting in the region releasing the most carbon dioxide in 18 years. And Russia’s worst oil spill in modern times, which began near Norilsk in the Arctic on 29 May, seems to have been due to a container collapsing as the permafrost it sat on thawed in the heat. The simultaneous nature of these events has researchers worried. Last year saw record fires, while sea ice loss was bad but not unprecedented. This year is different. “It’s the confluence of all of them. Each of these as individual events and phenomena are exceptional in their own right,” says Carly Phillips at the University of British Columbia in Canada. “The fact they’re all occurring simultaneously should raise alarms.”
8-12-20 Mauritius oil spill: Rush to pump out oil before ship breaks
The authorities hope to finish pumping out the remaining oil from the ship that has caused a huge oil spill off the coast of Mauritius on Wednesday. The aim is to transfer the fuel oil to land before the Japanese-owned MV Wakashio breaks up. The ship, believed to have been carrying 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil, ran aground on a coral reef on 25 July. Mauritius is home to world-renowned coral reefs, and tourism is a crucial part of its economy. Fuel has been transferred to shore by helicopter and to another ship owned by the same Japanese firm, Nagashiki Shipping. France has sent a military aircraft with pollution control equipment from its nearby island of Réunion, while Japan has sent a six-member team to assist the French efforts. The Mauritius coast guard and several police units are also at the site in the south-east of the island. Police chief Khemraj Servansing told the media that cracks in the ship "keep increasing". "It is difficult to say when it will break but we have a boom deployment plan with the French Navy helping and we have made provisions for high sea booms," he said. It was "very likely" that the pumping operation would be concluded on Wednesday, Mr Servansing added. "I can say that a large amount of oil has been pumped and 700 tonnes are still on board," the police chief said. The MV Wakashio ran aground at Pointe d'Esny, a known sanctuary for rare wildlife. The area also contains wetlands designated as a site of international importance by the Ramsar convention on wetlands. On Friday, Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of emergency and appealed for international help. Since then volunteers have also been collecting straw from fields and filling sacks to make barriers against the oil. Others have made their own tubes with tights and hair to add to the effort, and some have been cleaning up the island's beaches. Their actions went against an order from the government asking people to leave the clean-up to local authorities.
8-11-20 Milne Ice Shelf: Satellites capture Arctic ice split
The Planet Earth-observation company has just released new imagery of the broken Milne Ice Shelf in the Arctic. Located on the northern margin of Canada's Ellesmere Island, the ice platform split on 30/31 July to form a free-floating bloc some 80 sq km (30 sq miles) in area. By 3 August, this berg, or "ice island", had itself ruptured in two, with both segments then seen to drift out into the Arctic Ocean. Ice shelves are the floating fronts of glaciers that have flowed off the land into the sea. Ellesmere Island was once bounded by extensive shelves that had melded into a single structure. At the beginning of the 20th Century, this covered 8,600 sq km. But by the turn of the millennium, a rapidly warming climate had reduced and segmented the floating ice cover to just 1,050 sq km. Further break-up events in 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2012, and now in 2020, mean the shelf area is currently under 500 sq km. Milne itself now measures only 106 sq km. The pictures from the Californian Planet company come from its Dove satellites. The imagery was acquired on 26 July ("before") and 31 July ("after"). Interesting to note are the numerous melt ponds that cover the surface of the shelf. The presence of such liquid water can be problematic for ice platforms. If it fills crevasses, it can help to open them up. The water will push down on the fissures, driving them through to the base of the shelf in a process known as hydrofracturing. This will weaken an ice shelf.
8-10-20 Climate change: Warming world will be 'devastating' for frozen peatlands
The world's peatlands will become a large source of greenhouse gases as temperatures rise this century, say scientists. Right now, huge amounts of carbon are stored in boggy, often frozen regions stretching across northern parts of the world. But much of the permanently frozen land will thaw this century, say experts. This will release warming gases at a rate that could be 30-50% greater than previous estimates. Stretching across vast regions of the northern half of the world, peatlands play an important role in the global climate system. Over thousands of years, they have accumulated large amounts of carbon and nitrogen, which has helped keep the Earth cool. Scientists, though, are keenly aware that peatlands - including the nearly half that are permanently frozen - are very vulnerable to rising temperatures. But, until now, a lack of accurate maps has made it difficult to fully estimate the impact of climate on peat. Using data compiled from more than 7,000 field observations, the authors of this new study were able to generate the most accurate maps to date of the peatlands, their depth and the amount of warming gases they contain. They show that the boggy terrain covers 3.7 million sq kilometres (1.42 million sq miles). The researchers say the northern peatlands store around 415 gigatonnes of carbon. That's roughly equivalent to 46 years of current global CO2 emissions. In their study, the authors projected that the peatlands would become a major source of CO2 as the world warms up. One key question is when this will happen. "Unfortunately, we cannot put exact times to these numbers so far, the models are not that advanced yet," said lead author Gustaf Hugelius from Stockholm University, Sweden. "But my best estimate is that this shift will occur in the second half of this century."
8-10-20 Climate change: Satellites record history of Antarctic melting
Twenty-five years of satellite observations have been used to reconstruct a detailed history of Antarctica's ice shelves. These ice platforms are the floating protrusions of glaciers flowing off the land, and ring the entire continent. The European Space Agency data-set confirms the shelves' melting trend. As a whole, they've shed close to 4,000 gigatons since 1994 - an amount of meltwater that could all but fill America's Grand Canyon. But the innovation here is not so much the fact that the shelves are losing mass - we already knew that; relatively warm ocean water is eating their undersides. Rather, it's the finessed statements that can now be made about exactly where and when the wastage has been occurring, and where also the meltwater has been going. Some of this cold, fresh water has been entering the deep sea around Antarctica where it is undoubtedly influencing ocean circulation. And this could have implications for the climate far beyond the polar south. "For example, there've been a couple of studies that showed that including the effect of Antarctic ice melt into models slows global ocean temperature rise, and that can actually lead to an increase in precipitation in the US," explained Susheel Adusumilli from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. Mr Adusumilli and colleagues analysed all of the observations made by Esa's long series of radar altimeter missions - ERS-1, ERS-2, EnviSat and CryoSat-2. These spacecraft have tracked the change in thickness in Antarctica's ice shelves since the early 1990s. Combining their data with ice velocity information from other sources, and the outputs of computer models - the Scripps group has gained a high-resolution view of the pattern of melting during the study period. As might be expected, there's been quite a lot of variation, with mass loss and gain, even within the same individual shelf. And the rate of mass loss over time has also gone up and down. But the overall picture is clear: the shelves are wasting.
8-10-20 Species may swim thousands of kilometers to escape ocean heat waves
Species may swim thousands of kilometers to escape ocean heat waves. When an intense heat wave strikes a patch of ocean, overheated marine animals may have to swim thousands of kilometers to find cooler waters, researchers report August 5 in Nature. Such displacement, whether among fish, whales or turtles, can hinder both conservation efforts and fishery operations. “To properly manage those species, we need to understand where they are,” says Michael Jacox, a physical oceanographer with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration based in Monterey, Calif. Marine heat waves — defined as at least five consecutive days of unusually hot water for a given patch of ocean — have become increasingly common over the past century (SN: 4/10/18). Climate change has amped up the intensity of some of the most famous marine heat waves of recent years, such as the Pacific Ocean Blob from 2015 to 2016 and scorching waters in the Tasman Sea in 2017 (SN: 12/14/17; SN: 12/11/18). “We know that these marine heat waves are having lots of effects on the ecosystem,” Jacox says. For example, researchers have documented how the sweltering waters can bleach corals and wreak havoc on kelp forests. But the impacts on mobile species such as fish are only beginning to be studied (SN: 1/15/20). “We have seen species appearing far north of where we expect them,” Jacox says. For example, in 2015, the Blob drove hammerhead sharks — which normally stay close to the tropics, near Baja California in Mexico — to shift their range at least hundreds of kilometers north, where they were observed off the coast of Southern California. To see how far a mobile ocean dweller would need to flee to escape the heat, Jacox and colleagues compared ocean temperatures around the globe. First, they examined surface ocean temperatures from 1982 to 2019 compiled by NOAA from satellites, buoys and shipboard measurements. Then, for the same period, they identified marine heat waves occurring around the world, where water temperatures for a region lingered in the highest 10 percent ever recorded for that place and that time of year. Finally, they calculated how far a swimmer in an area with a heat wave has had to go to reach cooler waters, a distance the team dubs “thermal displacement.”
8-9-20 MV Wakashio: Mauritius locals scramble to stop oil spill
Volunteers in Mauritius are scrambling to create cordons to keep leaking oil from a tanker away from the island. The MV Wakashio, believed be carrying 4,000 tonnes of oil, ran aground on a coral reef off the Indian Ocean island on 25 July. Locals are making absorbent barriers of straw stuffed into fabric sacks in an attempt to contain and absorb the oil. Mauritius is home to world-renowned coral reefs, and tourism is a crucial part of its economy. There are concerns about the island's eco-system. Images posted online by local media show volunteers collecting straw from fields and filling sacks to make barriers. Others have been making their own tubes with tights and hair to add to the effort and some have been cleaning up the island's beaches. Their actions go against an order from the government asking people to leave the clean-up to local authorities. "People have realised that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron told AFP news agency. Mitsui OSK Lines, the operator of the ship, said it had tried to place its own containment booms around the vessel but had not been successful owing to rough seas. Helicopters are attempting to move some of the fuel and diesel off the ship. It is thought that the ship, registered in Panama, had some 4,000 tonnes of fuel aboard when it ran aground. All crew were evacuated. At least 1,000 tonnes of oil is thought to have leaked into the waters surrounding the island nation. Environmentalists are concerned about the impact on the country's ecosystem. The ship ran aground at Pointe d'Esny, a known sanctuary for rare wildlife. The area also contains wetlands designated as a site of international importance by the Ramsar convention on wetlands. Happy Khamule from Greenpeace Africa warned that "thousands" of animal species were "at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius' economy, food security and health".
8-8-20 How China's nature-based solutions help with extreme flooding
This year, record rainfall in China caused the Yangtze river to overflow, leading to serious damage. Southern China's rainy season lasted nearly twice as long this year. Record rainfall caused the country's longest river, the Yangtze, to overflow along the river's middle and lower regions. "A normal rainy season is about 24 days," said Xiquan Dong, an extreme weather expert at the University of Arizona. "This year we got 43." But so far, this year's flooding has not been as catastrophic as the fatal floods of 1998, leading some environmental experts to evaluate how nature-based mitigation strategies like tree planting and floodplain restoration have helped to ease the fallout. "[This year's] precipitation is much higher than the year of 1998, but the flooding has been less serious and damaging," said Junguo, chair professor in the School of Environmental Science and Engineering at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China. This year, about 158 people have been reported dead or missing so far, and more than 400,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, according to China's Ministry of Emergency Management. In contrast, the 1998 flood killed more than 3,000 people and left 15 million people homeless. The Chinese government attributed the 1998 floods to uncharacteristically heavy rains, as well as rampant deforestation and high population density along the Yangtze and its tributaries. Liu said the 1998 disaster caused the Chinese government to completely rethink flooding management. The new approach — rolled out in the 10 years after the 1998 flood as part of the National Climate Change Program — shifted the focus toward nature-based solutions for flood risk management. "Definitely this is a very important turning point for the Chinese government to think about the relation between human and nature," said Liu. For centuries, China's flood control strategy relied on levees built at the riverbank's edge to keep the water in narrow river channels, with people living and farming on the other side. With over 20,000 miles of levees, China has had one of the most extensive levee systems in the world. To reverse some of the damage done by an overburdened levee system, China launched some of the largest ecological restoration projects in the world, planting billions of trees to prevent runoff into rivers and absorb more water upstream. "The Chinese government initiated a lot of programs for the forestry restoration," said Liu. "So, when we plant more trees … upstream, this can reduce the runoff. And this is very helpful for the mitigation of flood events." While the tree-planting schemes have received some criticism for how they were executed, Liu says his studies show that depending on the context, upland tree planting can help reduce flooding by up to 30 percent. Additionally, the government's "sponge cities" project aims to increase green spaces and permeable pavement to absorb more rainwater in urban spaces prone to flooding.
8-8-20 MV Wakashio: Mauritius declares emergency as stranded ship leaks oil
The island nation of Mauritius has declared a "state of environmental emergency" after a vessel offshore began leaking oil into the ocean. MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef off the Indian Ocean island on 25 July and its crew was evacuated. But the large bulk carrier has since begun leaking tons of fuel into the surrounding waters. France has pledged support and the ship's owner said it was working to combat the spill. Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared the state of emergency late on Friday. He said the nation did not have "the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships" as he appealed to France for help. The French island of Reunion lies near Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is home to world-renowned coral reefs, and tourism is a crucial part of the nation's economy. "When biodiversity is in peril, there is urgency to act," French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Saturday. "France is there. Alongside the people of Mauritius. You can count on our support dear Jugnauth." In a separate statement, the French embassy in Mauritius said a military aircraft from Reunion would bring pollution control equipment to Mauritius. Happy Khambule of Greenpeace Africa said "thousands" of animal species were "at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius' economy, food security and health". The ship - owned by a Japanese company but registered in Panama - was empty when it ran aground, but had some 4,000 tonnes of fuel aboard. MV Wakashio is currently lying at Pointe d'Esny, in an area of wetlands near a marine park. In a statement, the ship's owner, Nagashiki Shipping, said that "due to the bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days, the starboard side bunker tank of the vessel has been breached and an amount of fuel oil has escaped into the sea".
8-8-20 Predictions for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season just got worse
Two new forecasts now expect as many as 25 named storms, with nearly half becoming hurricanes. Chalk up one more way 2020 could be an especially stressful year: The Atlantic hurricane season now threatens to be even more severe than preseason forecasts predicted, and may be one of the busiest on record. With as many as 25 named storms now expected — twice the average number — 2020 is shaping up to be an “extremely active” season with more frequent, longer and stronger storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns. Wind patterns and warmer-than-normal seawater have conspired to prime the Atlantic Ocean for a particularly fitful year — although it is not yet clear whether climate change had a hand in creating such hurricane-friendly conditions. “Once the season ends, we’ll study it within the context of the overall climate record,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said during an Aug. 6 news teleconference. The 2020 hurricane season is already off to a rapid start, with a record-high nine named storms by early August, including two hurricanes. The average season, which runs June through November, sees two named storms by this time of year. “We are now entering the peak months of the Atlantic hurricane season, August through October,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said in the news teleconference. “Given the activity we have seen so far this season, coupled with the ongoing challenges that communities face in light of COVID-19, now is the time to organize your family plan and make necessary preparations.” Storms get names once they have sustained wind speeds of at least 63 kilometers per hour. In April, forecasters predicted there would be 18 named storms, with half reaching hurricane status (SN: 4/16/20). Now, NOAA anticipates that 2020 could deliver a total of 19 to 25 named storms. That would put this year in league with 2005, which boasted over two dozen named storms including Hurricane Katrina (SN: 8/23/15).
8-7-20 Coronavirus severely restricts Antarctic science
The British Antarctic Survey is scaling back its research in the polar south because of coronavirus. Only essential teams will head back to the continent as it emerges from winter and virtually all science in the deep field has been postponed for a year. This includes all work on the huge, and rapidly melting, Thwaites Glacier, which has been the focus of a major joint study with the Americans. BAS says it doesn't have the capacity to treat people if they get sick. And in consultation with international partners this past week, very strict procedures will now be put in place to keep the virus out of Antarctica. "No nation has the medical facilities to deal with people who are seriously ill," explained BAS director Prof Dame Jane Francis. "Everybody is taking very strong precautionary measures to make sure that any activity in Antarctica this year is as safe as possible," she told BBC News. The key logistical challenge is the uncertainty surrounding air routes. Many of those who go to Antarctica each austral summer season do so by travelling on a plane to one of the main gateways - in South Africa, Australia/New Zealand and Chile - where they then make the hop across the Southern Ocean, either on a connecting flight or on a ship. But with air corridors so severely disrupted at the moment, the gateways aren't functioning as they should. UK scientists and technicians, and their supplies, will therefore travel direct from Britain to Antarctica on the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross. It's possible some sort of air connection could eventually be established via the Falklands with a refuelling stop on Ascension Island - but this is not Plan A. With the limitations these arrangements impose, BAS has no alternative but to suspend the vast majority of its deep-field projects which send researchers into the interior of the continent to conduct their studies. The emphasis will instead be on maintaining important climate observations made at the main stations of Rothera and Halley.
8-7-20 Covid-19 lockdowns will have little lasting impact on global warming
Global lockdowns to halt the spread of the coronavirus will have a negligible impact on rising temperatures due to climate change, researchers have found. Lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus caused huge falls in transport use, as well as reductions in industry and commercial operations, cutting the greenhouse gases and pollutants caused by vehicles and other activities. The impact is only short-lived, however, and analysis shows that even if some lockdown measures last until the end of 2021, global temperatures will only be 0.01°C lower than expected by 2030. But if countries choose a strong green stimulus route out of the pandemic, it could halve the temperature rises expected by 2050, says a team led by Piers Forster at the University of Leeds, UK. That gives the world a good chance of keeping temperature rises to the 1.5°C goal that countries signed up to under the international Paris climate agreement to prevent the most dangerous impacts of global warming. Forster started working on the analysis with his daughter Harriet after her A-level exams were cancelled due to school closures. They used mobility data from Google and Apple to calculate how 10 different greenhouse gases and pollutants changed between February and June in 123 countries, before a wider team helped with detailed analysis. The team also modelled options for post-lockdown action, ranging from a fossil-fuelled recovery to two different levels of green stimulus. Emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants fell by between 10 and 30 per cent, the analysis said. But because the reduction was only temporary, the impact on warming driven by the long-term build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will be very small unless countries take action.
8-7-20 Emissions dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic. The climate impact won’t last
‘Green’ policies built into coronavirus recovery plans could leave a more permanent mark. To curb the spread of COVID-19, much of the globe hunkered down. That inactivity helped slow the spread of the virus and, as a side effect, kept some climate-warming gases out of the air. New estimates based on people’s movements suggest that global greenhouse gas emissions fell roughly 10 to 30 percent, on average, during April 2020 as people and businesses reduced activity. But those massive drops, even in a scenario in which the pandemic lasts through 2021, won’t have much of a lasting effect on climate change, unless countries incorporate “green” policy measures in their economic recovery packages, researchers report August 7 in Nature Climate Change. “The fall in emissions we experienced during COVID-19 is temporary, and therefore it will do nothing to slow down climate change,” says Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. But how governments respond could be “a turning point if they focus on a green recovery, helping to avoid severe impacts from climate change.” Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for a long time, making month-to-month changes in CO2 levels difficult to measure as they happen. Instead, the researchers looked at what drives some of those emissions — people’s movements. Using anonymized cell phone mobility data released by Google and Apple, Le Quéré and colleagues tracked changes in energy-consuming activities, like driving or shopping, to estimate changes in 10 greenhouse gases and air pollutants. “Mobility data have big advantages” for estimating short-term changes in emissions, says Jenny Stavrakou, a climate scientist at the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy in Brussels who wasn’t involved in the study. Since those data are continuously updated, they can reveal daily changes in transportation emissions caused by lockdowns, she says. “It’s an innovative approach.”
8-7-20 Climate change: Lockdown has 'negligible' effect on temperatures
The dramatic drop in greenhouse gases and air pollutants seen during the global lockdown will have little impact on our warming planet say scientists. Their new analysis suggests that by 2030, global temperatures will only be 0.01C lower than expected. But the authors stress that the nature of the recovery could significantly alter the longer term outlook. A strong green stimulus could keep the world from exceeding 1.5C of warming by the middle of this century. Previous studies have already established that there were significant changes to greenhouse gas emissions as transport systems shut down around the world in response to the pandemic. Global daily emissions of CO2 fell by 17% at the peak of the crisis. The new study builds on these findings by using global mobility data from Google and Apple. Prof Piers Forster from the University of Leeds, who led the study, worked with his daughter Harriet on the research, when her A-Level exams were cancelled. With other researchers, they calculated how 10 different greenhouse gases and air pollutants changed between February and June 2020 in 123 countries. They found that the drop off peaked in April, with CO2, nitrogen oxides and other emissions falling between 10-30% globally, mainly due to declines in surface transport. But this new work shows that some of the declines in greenhouse gases actually cancelled each other out in terms of warming. Nitrogen oxides from transport normally have a warming impact in the atmosphere. While they went down by 30%, they were matched by a drop in sulphur dioxide, which mainly comes from the burning of coal. Emissions of this gas help aerosols to form, which reflect sunlight back into space and cool the planet. This balancing out, combined with the temporary nature of the pandemic restrictions, mean the impact on warming by 2030 will hardly be felt.
8-7-20 Mont Blanc: Glacier collapse risk forces Italy Alps evacuation
Italian authorities have evacuated about 75 people, mostly tourists, from an Alpine valley as huge blocks of ice threaten to crash down from a glacier. Planpincieux glacier, in the Mont Blanc massif, has weakened because of intense summer heat alternating with night-time cold. It lies above Val Ferret valley, near Courmayeur ski resort. A local environmental risk expert said the fragile ice could fall at any time. The threatening glacier section is about the size of Milan cathedral. The risk manager, Valerio Segor, said "the water flowing underneath can, in fact, act as a slide" and they faced "the risk of immediate collapse". The fragile 500,000 cubic metres (18m cu ft) of glacier is being monitored with aerial photography and radar. Roads leading to Val Ferret, a popular area for hikers, have been closed off. A similar alert and evacuation took place last September, because of the unusually hot Alpine summer, attributed to global warming. The glacier is at a height of 2,600-2,800 metres (8,500-9,200 ft). The Mont Blanc massif is the highest mountain in western Europe, at over 4,800m. A Courmayeur official, Moreno Vignolini, said the heatwave had accelerated the glacier's melting rate, pushing it as high as 50-60cm (16-23in) a day.
8-7-20 Climate change: UK peat emissions could cancel forest benefits
Emissions from UK peatland could cancel out all carbon reduction achieved through new and existing forests, warns the countryside charity CPRE. It says many degraded peatlands are actually increasing carbon emissions. Yet, it says, there has been much more focus from the government and media on forests than on peat bogs. The government’s advisory committee on climate change told BBC News that it agreed with the conclusions of the analysis. Both that committee and the CPRE are urging more ambitious action to protect and enhance peatlands. A peat bog is a Jekyll and Hyde thing. A wet, pristine peat bog soaks up CO2 and, unlike trees, has no limit to the amount of carbon it captures. Trees only capture CO2 until they are mature. But a dry, degraded bog – like many in England’s uplands – is a big source of CO2 as the carbon in the bog oxidises. So restoring bogs by filling up drainage ditches is a highly cost-effective way of reducing emissions. The CPRE points out that around 18.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions come from peatlands every year in the UK. The same amount of emissions would be captured through existing and proposed forest. But crucially that is not before 2050 to 2055 when the trees will be fully grown. In other words, whilst forestry and peat restoration both need to be done, the best value lies with improving peat. Ministers aim to publish a peat strategy, but this has been delayed. A government response to the CPRE’s warning has been requested. Environmentalists insist the government strategy must ban peat extraction for gardens. Currently, suppliers are supposed to be phasing out peat voluntarily – but campaigners say it's far too slow. Tom Fyans from CPRE said: ‘The government has paid too little attention to emissions from peatland. As things stand, they aren’t even properly included in current emissions monitoring. “This seriously threatens the effectiveness of other nature-based solutions, like tree planting, in tackling the climate emergency.
8-7-20 How covid-19 spawned a plastic pandemic – and what we can do about it
It looked as if the tide had turned against single-use plastic last year, with the European Union approving a ban on cutlery, straws and more, New York backing a plastic bag ban and consumer pressure continuing to grow. Then the coronavirus hit. Hygiene fears and the demand for masks have unleashed a plastic pollution pandemic, while industry lobbyists are pushing to roll back restrictions. It hasn’t been long enough for there to be official data on plastic waste and recycling rates, but there is no shortage of estimates and anecdotes. Every person in the UK using one single-use mask a day for a year would create 66,000 tonnes of plastic waste according to one estimate by a University College London team. New Scientist readers have reported masks dumped on beaches, streets, harbours and the countryside. Meanwhile, large parts of the retail and hospitality industry have suspended efforts to cut plastic use. Many coffee chains have stopped accepting reusable cups, pubs in the UK are only serving drinks in plastic, not glass, and petrol station pumps have been equipped with single-use plastic gloves. Online supermarkets have stopped collecting and recycling plastic bags. The list goes on. “Members of the public can help by using reusable face masks, and disposing of any single-use masks and gloves carefully, to avoid adding to the plastic pollution that already clogs up our rivers and seas,” says Louise Edge at Greenpeace UK. Governments and local authorities are also going backwards. California dropped its ban on single-use plastic bags for several months, although it has since reinstated it. Other places in the US, from Denver to Minneapolis have delayed bag bans or fees or lifted existing ones. Italy postponed a plastics tax on bottles, bags and more until 2021. A Norway-backed effort to establish an international treaty on marine plastic pollution has indefinitely postponed its meetings because of covid-19.
8-7-20 How do you cope in a heatwave?
How do you cope in the heat? How ready are you for a warmer world in which the UK sees high temperatures more often? A major new citizen science experiment has been launched to try to find out. As parts of the UK experience a heatwave, the Open University and the Royal Meteorological Society want you to tell them more about how hot it is and how the heat makes you feel. BBC Weather's Carol Kirkwood talked to Hannah Mallinson from the Royal Meteorological Society and the Open University's Mike Sharples about this year-long experiment and how the public can join in.
8-6-20 Bizarre fossil with an incredibly long neck was a marine hunter
A baffling extinct animal was actually a marine reptile that may have used its extremely long neck to ambush prey. Fossils of Tanystropheus were identified over 100 years ago, but the animal’s true nature has long been a mystery. It lived around 242 million years ago, in the Triassic period. Life on Earth was still recovering from the end-Permian mass extinction of 252 million years ago, and the first dinosaurs were emerging. Tanystropheus was a reptile. Its most striking feature was its disproportionately long neck, which was three times the length of its body. Fossil remains of it fell into two groups: large specimens up to 6 metres long and small ones up to 1.5m. But questions remained. “Is it terrestrial or is it marine? Are those juveniles and adults, or are they two different species?” says Olivier Rieppel of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. His team re-examined a skull from a large specimen. The skull had been crushed, but the individual bones were undamaged. So the team was able to CT scan them and digitally reposition them to reconstruct the skull, revealing crucial anatomical details. The skull is unmistakably that of a marine animal, says Rieppel. For instance, its nostrils are on the top of the snout, to allow it to breathe when it surfaced. “Biomechanically, that neck doesn’t make sense on land.” Meanwhile, the bones of the smaller fossils showed multiple growth rings, indicating they belonged to adults, not juveniles. This means the large and small fossils are actually different species, not adults and juveniles of the same species, says Rieppel. The two species were able to coexist in the same waters because they ate different foods. The large species ate fish and cephalopods like squid, while the smaller one probably ate tiny invertebrates like shrimp.
8-5-20 Covid-19 news: NHS unable to use 50 million masks due to safety fears
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Safety issue means 50 million medical face masks won’t be used by NHS England workers. 50 million medical face masks purchased by the government in April won’t be used by NHS England due to safety concerns, according to legal papers seen by the BBC. The masks use ear-loop fastenings rather than loops that go around the head, so may not fit tightly enough. Alan Murray, chief executive of the British Safety Industry Federation told the BBC: “The face fit is either a pass or a fail and there are more fails on products with ear loops than there are on products with head harnesses.” The FFP2 respirator masks were bought as part of a £252 million contract from supplier Ayanda Capital. It isn’t clear what will happen to the masks. Facebook removed a video posted by US president Donald Trump on Wednesday because it violated their covid-19 misinformation policy. Twitter later suspended Trump’s election campaign account, @TweetTrump, for posting the same video, which featured Trump making false claims about children’s susceptibility to the coronavirus. A spokesperson for Twitter on Wednesday said “the account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again.” Trump repeated the false claims during a press briefing yesterday. Belgium is expected to be added to England’s coronavirus quarantine list this weekend, meaning travellers arriving from Belgium will be required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Belgium is one of a number of European countries that has seen a resurgence of the virus, with an average of 535.4 people per day testing positive for the virus between 26 July and 1 August, according to health officials. People arriving in Germany from certain high risk areas abroad will be required to take a coronavirus test, unless they are able to produce a negative test certificate that is no more than two days old, Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn announced today.
8-5-20 Climate change: Satellites find new colonies of Emperor penguins
Satellite observations have found a raft of new Emperor penguin breeding sites in the Antarctic. The locations were identified from the way the birds' poo, or guano, had stained large patches of sea-ice. The discovery lifts the global Emperor population by 5-10%, to perhaps as many as 278,500 breeding pairs. It's a welcome development given that this iconic species is likely to come under severe pressure this century as the White Continent warms. The Emperors' whole life cycle is centred around the availability of sea-ice, and if this is diminished in the decades ahead - as the climate models project - then the animals' numbers will be hit hard. One forecast suggested the global population could crash by a half or more under certain conditions come 2100. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) used the EU's Sentinel-2 spacecraft to scour the edge of the continent for previously unrecognised Emperor activity. The satellites' infrared imagery threw up eight such breeding sites and confirmed the existence of three others that had been mooted in the era before high-resolution space pictures. The new identifications take the number of known active breeding sites from 50 to 61. Two of the new locations are in the Antarctic Peninsula region, three are in the West of the continent and six in the East. They are all in gaps between existing colonies. Emperor groups, it seems, like to keep at least 100km between themselves. The new sites maintain this distancing discipline. It's impossible to count individual penguins from orbit but the BAS researchers can estimate numbers in colonies from the size of the birds' huddles. "It's good news because there are now more penguins than we thought," said BAS remote-sensing specialist Dr Peter Fretwell. "But this story comes with a strong caveat because the newly discovered sites are not in what we call the refugia - areas with stable sea-ice, such as in the Weddell Sea and the Ross Sea. They are all in more northerly, vulnerable locations that will likely lose their sea-ice," he told BBC News.
8-5-20 Penguin poop spotted from space ups the tally of emperor penguin colonies
Eight new spots include the first reported offshore breeding sites for the largest penguins. Patches of penguin poop spotted in new high-resolution satellite images of Antarctica reveal a handful of small, previously overlooked emperor penguin colonies. Eight new colonies, plus three newly confirmed, brings the total to 61 — about 20 percent more colonies than thought, researchers report August 5 in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation. That’s the good news, says Peter Fretwell, a geographer at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England. The bad news, he says, is that the new colonies tend to be in regions highly vulnerable to climate change, including a few out on the sea ice. One newly discovered group lives about 180 kilometers from shore, on sea ice ringing a shoaled iceberg. The study is the first to describe such offshore breeding sites for the penguins. Penguin guano shows up as a reddish-brown stain against white snow and ice (SN: 3/2/18). Before 2016, Fretwell and BAS penguin biologist Phil Trathan hunted for the telltale stains in images from NASA’s Landsat satellites, which have a resolution of 30 meters by 30 meters. The launch of the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites, with a much finer resolution of 10 meters by 10 meters, “makes us able to see things in much greater detail, and pick out much smaller things,” such as tinier patches of guano representing smaller colonies, Fretwell says. The new colony tally therefore ups the estimated emperor penguin population by only about 10 percent at most, or 55,000 birds. Unlike other penguins, emperors (Aptenodytes forsteri) live their entire lives at sea, foraging and breeding on the sea ice. That increases their vulnerability to future warming: Even moderate greenhouse gas emissions scenarios are projected to melt much of the fringing ice around Antarctica (SN: 4/30/20). Previous work has suggested this ice loss could decrease emperor penguin populations by about 31 percent over the next 60 years, an assessment that is shifting the birds’ conservation status from near threatened to vulnerable.
8-5-20 50 years ago, Mauna Kea opened for astronomy. Controversy continues
Excerpt from the August 1, 1970 issue of Science News. The new Mauna Kea Observatory of the University of Hawaii has been completed and dedication ceremonies have been held. Standing at an altitude of 13,780 feet on the island of Hawaii, the new observatory is the highest in the world. Its major instrument is an 88-inch reflecting telescope that cost $3 million to build. More than a dozen large telescopes now dot Mauna Kea, operated by a variety of organizations. Those telescopes have revolutionized astronomy, helping to reveal the accelerating expansion of the universe and evidence for the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. But the telescopes have long sparked controversy, as the dormant volcano is sacred to Native Hawaiians. Since 2014, protests have flared in response to the attempted construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Opponents have kept progress stalled by blocking the only access road to the site. Some scientists have spoken out against the telescope’s location. The Thirty Meter Telescope collaboration is considering the Canary Islands as a backup site.
8-3-20 Apple Fire: Massive California wildfire forces evacuations
Fire crews in California are battling a massive wildfire that has forced thousands of people from their homes east of Los Angeles. More than 1,300 firefighters, backed by helicopters and water-dumping planes, have been tackling the blaze dubbed the Apple Fire which started on Friday. Parts of the fire are on steep, rugged hillsides, making it hard for fire engines to reach. Around 7,800 residents have been told to evacuate the area. Images show flumes of smoke filling the sky over the mountainous region. In a tweet, the National Weather Service said some smoke had blown east to Phoenix, Arizona - nearly 300 miles (482km) away. The wildfire began as two adjacent blazes in Cherry Valley, an area near the city of Beaumont. It has since stretched out to 20,516 acres (8,302 hectares), San Bernadino National Forest said in a tweet on Sunday. The government body said the blaze had been fuelled by high temperatures, low humidity and dry vegetation in the area. The US Forest Service told the Riverside Press-Enterprise, a local newspaper, that because the fire was on rugged terrain, it was dangerous for firefighters to try and surround it. "We don't want to put fire-fighters in a dangerous situation," said spokesperson Lisa Cox. "It's burning in a straight line up a mountain."
8-3-20 Apple Fire: Firefighters battle massive blaze in California
Fire crews in California are fighting a massive wildfire that has forced thousands of people from their homes east of Los Angeles. More than 1,300 firefighters, backed by helicopters and water-dumping planes, have been tackling the blaze dubbed the Apple Fire which started on Friday.
8-2-20 In pictures: Europe swelters under near-record temperatures
Much of Europe has been basking in a mini-heat wave since Friday, and countries like the UK, France and Spain have experienced near-record temperatures. But with lockdowns and social distancing measures in place across the continent, this is a summer like no other.
8-2-20 Amazon region: Brazil records big increase in fires
Official figures from Brazil have shown a big increase in the number of fires in the Amazon region in July compared with the same month last year. Satellite images compiled by Brazil's National Space Agency revealed there were 6,803 - a rise of 28%. President Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged agricultural and mining activities in the Amazon. But under pressure from international investors in early July his government banned starting fires in the region. The latest figures raise concerns about a repeat of the huge wildfires that shocked the world in August and September last year. "It's a terrible sign," Ane Alencar, science director at Brazil's Amazon Environmental Research Institute, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. "We can expect that August will already be a difficult month and September will be worse yet." Mr Bolsonaro has criticised Brazil's environmental enforcement agency, Ibama, for what he describes as excessive fines, and his first year in office saw a sharp drop in financial penalties being imposed for environmental violations. The agency remains underfunded and understaffed.
8-2-20 Tropical Storm Isaias nears coronavirus-hit Florida
Florida is preparing for Tropical Storm Isaias which is expected to hit the US state later on Sunday. Isaias, the ninth named storm of 2020, was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm after battering the Turks & Caicos Islands and the Bahamas. "Don't be fooled by the downgrade," Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents. State authorities have opened shelters and closed beaches and parks. Florida is one of the US states worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic. It has recorded more than 480,000 coronavirus cases, the second highest number of all US states after California, which has double the population. Coronavirus testing centres are being temporarily shut and there are fears the hurricane could hit nursing homes already badly affected by the Covid-19 virus. Early bands of heavy rain lashed the state's Atlantic coast early on Sunday morning. The storm is now continuing along the coast with winds gusting up to 110km/hour (68mph). A voluntary evacuation order is in place for people living in mobile or manufactured homes. Officials are grappling with opening shelters that comply with social distancing regulations and prevent the spread of the virus. Mr De Santis told residents to anticipate power shortages and to have a week's supply of food, water and medicine. Isaias has already uprooted trees, destroyed crops and homes and caused flooding and landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. At least two people have died.
8-1-20 Dangerous heat wave forecast for south-western areas of US
US weather forecasters have issued warnings of a potentially life-threatening heat wave over the weekend in south-western areas of the country. The National Weather Service (NWS) said temperatures could reach 50C (122F) in southern California on Saturday. Parts of Utah, Arizona and Nevada, including the city of Las Vegas, may also be hit with a heat wave of up to 49C. It comes after a day of record temperatures in the region on Friday. The NWS has urged people to take safety precautions like limiting the amount of time spent outdoors. Forecasters said a high-pressure system was moving through the south-west and causing temperatures to rise. A record-beating 46C was reported on Friday in Phoenix, Arizona and records were also beaten in four cities in California. The NWS said in a tweet that "rare, dangerous and deadly" temperatures were expected in large areas of Arizona until Monday.