Policy makers must take long-term view of climate change

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Impacts of greenhouse gas emissions will last for thousands of years.

‘It is high time that this essential irreversibility is placed into the focus of policy-makers’

Staff Report

Today’s debates about global warming impacts are much too shortsighted, according to a new analysis, which warns that, at the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth is likely to suffer irreparable damage that could last tens of thousands of years.

“Much of the carbon we are putting in the air from burning fossil fuels will stay there for thousands of years – and some of it will be there for more than 100,000 years,” said Oregon State University paleoclimatologist Peter Clark. “People need to understand that the effects of climate change on the planet won’t go away, at least not for thousands of generations,” said Clark, lead author of the article. Continue reading

Will global warming desiccate the Southwest?

‘A normal year in the Southwest is now drier than it once was’

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Will the Southwest’s life-giving rains fade away? @bberwyn photo.

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A federal climate assessment projects soaring temperatures for the Southwest.

Staff Report

A subtle long-term shift in atmospheric patterns driven by global warming could lead to longer and more intense droughts in the southwestern U.S. and other semi-arid regions. Most climate models suggest that that a belt of higher average pressure that now sits closer to the equator will move north. This high-pressure belt is created as air that rises over the equator moves poleward and then descends back toward the surface.

That shift may already be affecting the climate of the Southwest, as moisture-bearing weather patterns have become more rare in the region, according to a new study. Previous research has suggested that the region’s forests and fish and birds are in big trouble. In Australia, researchers are nearly certain that global warming was a factor in a record-breaking 2013 heatwave. A federal climate assessment released in 2013 also identified similar concerns for the Southwest.

“A normal year in the Southwest is now drier than it once was,” said Andreas Prein, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who led the study. “If you have a drought nowadays, it will be more severe because our base state is drier.” Continue reading

Can climate change the course of history?

Sudden cooling may have hastened decline of Eastern Roman empire

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Climate change likely played big role in the shifts of ancient civilizations. Graph courtesy NASA.

Staff Report

After a careful scrutiny of tree-ring records, scientists say they may have identified a link between a sudden shift in climate and geopolitical upheaval about 1,500 years ago.

The sudden drop in temperatures in the northern hemisphere followed a trio of large volcanic eruptions in the years 536, 540 and 547 AD, when sulphate aerosols emitted by the volcanoes may have cooled the atmosphere by blocking sunlight.

Within five years of the onset of what the scientists have dubbed the “Late Antique Little Ice Age,” he Justinian plague pandemic swept through the Mediterranean between 541 and 543 AD, striking Constantinople and killing millions of people in the following centuries. The authors suggest these events may have contributed to the decline of the eastern Roman Empire. Continue reading

Climate: Aviation industry eyes CO2 emissions standard

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Greenhouse gas emissions from aviation are a huge factor in the global climate change puzzle. @bberwyn photo.

Watchdogs say global carbon-trading system for airlines is needed to cap emissions

Staff Report

After years of foot-dragging, the aviation industry is close to adopting a CO2 emissions standard for aircraft, which will require aircraft builders to start producing more fuel efficient planes.

A group of technical experts with the International Civil Aviation Organization agreed on the proposed standard this week; the organization is expected to adopt the standard at an annual meeting this spring. The industry will also start to consider an overall cap on emissions at 2020 levels. The ICAO could take a vote on such a cap, as well as a carbon-trading program, later this year. Continue reading

Climate: Arctic sea ice at record low in January

Antarctic sea ice also below average

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Arctic sea ice extent is declining at a rate of about 3.2 percent per decade. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Arctic sea ice extent in January  was the lowest in the satellite record, according to the latest monthly update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Scientists said the new record monthly low was likely the result of  unusually high air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean and a strong negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation for the first three weeks of the month.

Meanwhile in the Antarctic, this year’s extent was lower than average for January, in contrast to the record high extents in January 2015.

In the Arctic, the ice extent average 5.2 million square miles, 402,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average and 35,000 square miles below the previous record January low that occurred in 2011.

Across most of the Arctic Ocean, air temperatures ran more than 13 degrees above average for most of January as a cyclical air pressure shift enabled warm air to flow northward toward the Arctic.

Over the long term, January sea ice extent is shrinking at a rate of about 3.2 percent per decade. Sea ice extent has been below 14.25 million square miles every year since 2005, according to the NSIDC.

But some projections suggest that winter sea ice extent could hold steady or even increase in the short term because of changes in a key Atlantic Ocean current that transports cold water northward. Observational data show a slight upward trend in Arctic sea ice extent from 2005 to 2015.

See the full NSIDC update here.

Global warming: Goodbye to sea scallops?

A northward shift of the Gulf Stream could warm waters off the New England coast significantly, according to a new NOAA study. Graphic courtesy NASA.

Rapidly warming ocean temperatures off the New England coast are affecting many marine species. Graphic courtesy NASA.

New vulnerability assessment to help guide fisheries management

Staff Report

Rapidly warming ocean temperatures off the coast of the Northeastern U.S. are likely to have a big impact on nearly all fish and other marine life in the region. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration carefully surveyed 82 species in a recent study, trying to identify which are the most vulnerable to global warming.

“Our method identifies specific attributes that influence marine fish and invertebrate resilience to the effects of a warming ocean and characterizes risks posed to individual species,” said Jon Hare, a fisheries oceanographer at NOAA Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) and lead author of the study. “This work will help us better account for the effects of warming waters on our fishery species in stock assessments and when developing fishery management measures.” Continue reading

Colorado lawmakers want to beef up state climate plan

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Global temperatures are rising inexorably. A state climate plan with teeth could ensure that Colorado is doing its part to meet the goals of the 2015 climate agreement reached at the COP21 talks in Paris.

Proposed House Bill 1004 would require state to set measurable targets and report progress annually to lawmakers

By Bob Berwyn

Colorado climate activists and their allies in the State Legislature want to add some teeth to a climate plan released last year by the Hickenlooper administration. The plan acknowledges the impacts and establishes a vague framework for addressing global warming in Colorado, but was criticized for lacking measurable targets.

2015 was by far the hottest year on record for the globe, breaking the record set in 2014. It was the third-warmest year on record for Colorado. The year also saw a modern record set for wildfires, as well as the most widespread bloom of toxin-producing algae ever recorded along the West Coast. In Colorado, scientists recently reported on finding extreme climate change impacts in the state’s alpine zone. Continue reading

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