Category: climate and weather

Morning photo: Forests

Trees are our friends

Last week the UN celebrated the International Day of Forests as a way to acknowledge how important forests are to the world. To cynics, it may seem trite lip service by faceless bureaucrats. But in reality, it’s critical that everyone understands how important forests are for the planet. They cover about a  third of the Earth’s land mass and provide livelihoods, medicines, fuel, food and shelter for about 1.6 billion people – including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures. Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80 percent of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. They may also be one of our last, best hopes for slowing climate change. Yet despite all of these priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, global deforestation continues at the rate of about 32 million acres per year, equivalent to 10-20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. Check out my article and photo essay for Pacific Standard to learn more about forests, especially for ways you can get involved in helping to protect and restore them.

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Plastic pollution is increasing in the Arctic Ocean

Plastic debris is increasing in the Fram Strait, east of Greenland. @bberwyn photo.

Study documents rising amount of sea-bottom debris

Staff Report

There’s more direct evidence that plastic pollution is increasing rapidly in the remote Arctic Ocean, according to German scientists, who have tracking sea-bottom litter at two research stations since 2002. The Hausgarten deep-sea observatory network includes a total of 21 stations in the Fram Strait, between Greenland and Svalbard.

The Alfred Wegener Institute’s Mine Tekman,  lead author of a new study published in the scientific journal Deep-Sea Research I, said the long-term monitoring confirms that the amount of plastic litter has increased rapidly in the past 15 years.  Other scientists with the AWI have also documented evidence of a floating garbage patch starting to form in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic Ocean. Plastic has already been reported from stomachs of resident seabirds and Greenland sharks. Continue reading “Plastic pollution is increasing in the Arctic Ocean”

Connecting the climate dots, from E-cars to rising sea level

Global climate reporting from Summit Voice

Oceans are warming, sea levels are going up, and will continue to rise for centuries to come. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

If you’re a long-time Summit Voice follower you’ve noticed that the pace of posts has dropped off a bit in the past few months, but that’s only because some of the content has moved to other locations. So here’s a quick roundup of some of my latest environment and climate stories from around the world.

For InsideClimate News, I took a close look at some of the latest research on ocean heat content, featuring work by Kevin Trenberth, with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. The new study he co-authored took a close look at data from thousands of autonomous ocean probes that measure ocean temperatures from the surface all the way down to a depth of 2,000 meters. The study found that the rate of ocean warming has doubled since the early 1990s from previous decades, and that the heat is getting into deep waters. The study also tracks regional variations in ocean warming, important because it will affect where and when sea level rises fastest: Rate of Ocean Warming Has Nearly Doubled Over 25 Years.

I also did some in-depth reporting on a potentially groundbreaking legal case in Austria, where an administrative law court ruled that citizens have a legal right to be protected from climate change impacts when the blocked construction of a third runway at the Vienna International Airport: Vienna Airport Expansion Blocked on Climate Change Grounds.

In my first story for Deutsche Welle, which is a German equivalent of NPR and PBS, I reported on how global warming is increasing forest fire danger all over the world, including forests in temperate, wet climates like Central Europe, even in the Alps. While residents of the West already have seen fire activity surge in the past 20 years, some other regions are just starting to experience those changes, and the risks are great: Global warming is increasing forest fire risk in the Alps.

Globally, there are also burgeoning efforts to electrify the transportation system in the fight to limit greenhouse gas emissions and avert dangerous climate change. In Austria, the federal government has teamed up with the private sector to invest in e-mobility. Consumers can get rebates of up to €4,000 for buying electric cars, and even E-bikes, and there are also subsidies available for investments in expanding the electric charging infrastructure. Altogether, the government expects that their initial €72 million investment will help spur the creation of 30,000 new jobs and €3 billion in new economic activity: Austria Is Making Electric Cars More Affordable Than Ever.

Global CO2 emissions flat for 3d year in a row

U.S. emissions at 1992 level, according to IEA report

The Craig Station power plant in northwest Colorado pollutes lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Carbon dioxide emissions from the world’s biggest economies — the U.S. and China — dropped in 2016 and didn’t grow in Europe, showing that economic growth can occur without an increase in heat-trapping pollution, according to the latest emissions report from the International Energy Agency.

Despite the slowdown in emissions from the power sector, CO2 levels are still climbing at a record rate, though, according to scientists who recently released a report showing that concentrations of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas increased 3 parts per million for the second year in a row. The concentration is now above 400 ppm, more than 43 percent more than pre-industrial levels. Continue reading “Global CO2 emissions flat for 3d year in a row”

Mass coral bleaching likely along northern Great Barrier Reef

Extensive stand of severely bleached coral at Lisianski Island in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, documented during an August 2014 NOAA research mission. (Credit: NOAA).

Scientists are currently mapping the biological damage caused by global warming

Staff Report

At the end of eastern Australia’s long, hot summer, ocean scientists are once again seeing devastating coral die-backs in the northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef. Over the next few weeks, they’ll venture underwater to study how the coral communities responded to a second straight year of overheated water.

When temperatures pass a threshold, the coral expels its symbiotic algal partner, leaving underwater wastelands of white-washed reefs. The scientists will also use survey flights above the reef, and even satellite imaging as they mobilize to document one of global warming’s most devastating impacts. There has been a prolonged global mass bleaching under way for the past year, and climate researchers say nearly all the world’s corals will be at risk by mid-century under projected global temperature increases. Continue reading “Mass coral bleaching likely along northern Great Barrier Reef”

NASA data shows second-warmest February on record

Is another El Niño brewing in the Pacific?

Staff Report

Confirming measurements announced last week by the European Climate Change Service, NASA today announced that February 2017 was the second-warmest February on record, just 0.20 degrees Celsius cooler than last year’s record reading. The analysis by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies showed that the month was 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1951-1980 mean.

The monthly analysis by the GISS team is assembled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations.

The analysis shows that North America and Siberia, along with the Arctic, were the hot spots in February, with most of Europe also warmer than average. Cool areas included parts of the Pacific Northwest and the Middle East.

The pattern was reflected by the string of daily and monthly high temperature records set in the eastern U.S. The Arctic has also been record warm all winter, with sea ice in the region hovering near record low extent for several months in a row.

The persistent warmth comes despite the end of a warm El Niño Pacific Ocean phase, when a switch to La Niña — the cool part of the ENSO cycle — often brings a global cool down. Australian climate scientists this week said that yet another El Niño could be brewing in the Pacific for next year.

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, there’s a 50  percent chance the El Niño threshold could be reached by July, as projections show steady warming of the central tropical Pacific Ocean over the next six months. So far, however, wind and cloud patterns have not shown any big shift away from neutral conditions. The researchers said it’s difficult to make an accurate forecast during the transition season.

What caused ‘snowball Earth?’

Volcanoes seen as likely trigger for global glaciation

In the right conditions, global ice can spread rapidly from pole to pole. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

A 10-year string of steady volcanic eruptions may have been the trigger for a massive global cooling event that left much of the Earth encased in glaciers and ice sheets about 771 million years ago.

The eruptions could have spewed so much sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere that the planet’s climate reached a tipping point, resulting in what scientists call ‘snowball Earth,” according to a new study published this month in Geophysical Research Letters. Understanding the natural variability of climate is important to understanding current climate change driven by emission of greenhouse gases. Continue reading “What caused ‘snowball Earth?’”