Category: Drought

Signs of serious global warming impacts piled up in 2016

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2016 is on track to be the third year in a row with a record-warm average global temperature.

There wasn’t any relief from a wave of worrisome global warming news in the spring of 2016, including a study from Harvard showing how rising temperatures will send ozone levels surging to dangerous highs across parts of the U.S.

“In the coming decades, global climate change will likely cause more heat waves during the summer, which in turn could cause a 70 to 100 percent increase in ozone episodes, depending on the region,” said Lu Shen, first author and graduate student at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Even if the president-elect follows through on his threat to cut funding for Earth observation programs, there are other international science agencies that will continue to monitor climate change impacts, including the European Space Agency. In April, data from ESA ice-observing instruments showed that the meltdown of Antactic ice shelves may be irreversible at this point. The thick shelves of ice that sit at the edge of the continent act as breaks on inland glaciers. If the ice shelves vanish, it could mark a point of no return for Antarctica’s ice, the ESA reported. Continue reading “Signs of serious global warming impacts piled up in 2016”

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Around the world with Summit Voice

Links to our climate and international news reporting …

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How much longer will the cryosphere last? @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

Not as much content as usual on Summit Voice this week, but that’s because we were busy reporting elsewhere, with a few noteworthy stories. For example, Austria is holding a presidential election tomorrow (Sunday, Dec. 4) and the election of Donald Trump became an issue in the last few weeks of the campaign. I co-reported a story on the election with the European bureau chief of the Christian Science Monitor, including an interview with an American expat involved in the campaign.

Also published did a couple of pieces for Pacific Standard, including a photo essay on the Earth’s vanishing cryosphere, and an in-depth story about how the incoming Trump administration could undermine the integrity of science-based decision making in government agencies. Another article from a couple of weeks ago in Pacific Standard took a look at whether the world can still achieve the goals of the Paris climate agreement if the U.S. withdraws.

And at InsideClimate News, I reported on potential climate change links to the devastating wildfires in the Southeast, as well as on a new study suggesting that heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution is shifting the track of Atlantic hurricanes to the north, where they are more likely to hit the Northeast coast.

I also took a close look at Germany’s ambitious new climate action plan, which aims to decarbonize the country’s economy by 2050. Absent U.S. leadership on climate policy, other major western industrial countries will have to lead by example.

Massive forest death continues in California

Latest survey tallies more than 100 milion dead trees

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A stand of pine-beetle killed lodgepole pines on the White River National Forest. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

California’s long-term drought has claimed another 36 million trees, the U.S. Forest Service said this week, announcing the results of a new aerial survey. Since 2010, more than 100 million trees have died across 7.7 million acres, the agency said.

The die-off intensified in 2016, after four years of drought,  with mortality increasing 100 percent. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years. Forest Service leaders once again emphasized that their ability to address safety issues linked with dead trees has been severely hampered by climate change and limited resources.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said a broken budget for the Forest Service sees an increasing amount of resources going to firefighting while less is invested in restoration and forest health.  Continue reading “Massive forest death continues in California”

Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper eyes executive order on climate change

Is Colorado a hotspot for global warming?
Is Colorado a hotspot for global warming?

Draft document highlights global warming threats to state

Staff Report

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper says a “shifting climate” threatens many of the state’s vital industries, including skiing and agriculture, and he wants the state’s power plants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent in the next 15 years from 2012 levels. The goals are outlined in a draft version of an executive order on mitigating and adapting to climate change, which spells out some specific threats of global warming that are already well-known, including:

  • Greater air pollution will lead to a more hospital admissions and increased cases of respiratory illness;
  • Changes in precipitation can adversely impact the amount and quality of Colorado’s water resources;
  • Changes in runoff patterns, intense precipitation, and rising temperatures can negatively affect food production and result in greater risk of food contamination and waterborne illness.

Continue reading “Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper eyes executive order on climate change”

Will global warming boost groundwater supplies in the Upper Colorado River Basin?

Some climate models project more rainfall in the West

A bend in the Yampa River near Dinosaur National Monument in northwest Colorado.
Will global warming boost flows in Colorado River tributaries? @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

While most recent research suggests that the Colorado River will be depleted well beyond current demands as global temperatures increase, there may be one small bright spot on the horizon. Even if runoff from snow declines, groundwater replenishment in the basin may hold stead under projected increases in  precipitation, the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation found in a new study.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Fred Tillman, lead author and USGS scientist. “These results are the first step in understanding the quantity of groundwater we can expect in the Upper Colorado River Basin; however, further studies are needed to help more accurately forecast future groundwater availability.”

The Colorado River is a critically important source of water for more than 35 million people in the United States and 3 million people in Mexico. As much as half the water flowing in the rivers and streams in the Upper Colorado River Basin originates as groundwater. Understanding how much groundwater is available and how it’s replenished is important to sustainably manage both groundwater and surface water supplies in the Colorado River basin now and in the future.

In the new study, USGS and Reclamation scientists estimated projected changes in groundwater recharge for the Upper Colorado River Basin from recent historical (1950–2015) through future (2016–2099) time periods using climate projections and a groundwater-recharge model.

Simulated future groundwater recharge through 2099 is generally expected to be somewhat greater than the historical average in most decades due to an anticipated wetter future climate in the basin under the most advanced climate modeling projections. Groundwater resources are replenished through increases in precipitation, which may offset reductions from increased temperatures. The full report is available online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

But researchers urged caution interpreting the results because a few of the models suggested  decreased future recharge relative to the historical climate period.

Continue reading “Will global warming boost groundwater supplies in the Upper Colorado River Basin?”

Climate: U.S. was record warm in June 2016

Deadly heatwaves and flooding part of emerging pattern of extremes

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Utah and Arizona reported a record-warm June average temperature, with most other states also coming in above average.

Staff Report

Blistering, record heat in the Southwest helped propel the lower 48 states to a new high-temperature record in June, with an average reading of 71.8 degrees Fahrenheit for the month. That included a new monthly temperature record set in Death Valley National Park, where the average temperature in June was 101.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

The warmest-ever June reading broke the record set during the Dust Bowl era, in 1933, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The year-to-date is the third-warmest on record, the monthly state of the climate summary report said.

Continue reading “Climate: U.S. was record warm in June 2016”

California tree deaths part of global wave of forest mortality

Climate change is wiping out forests on a staggering scale

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Red and dead lodgepole pines in Colorado. @bberwyn photo.
A beetle-killed lodgepole pine branch in Summit County, Colorado.
A beetle-killed lodgepole pine branch in Summit County, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

California’s multiyear drought killed even more trees than previously thought, the U.S. Forest Service announced this week. Aerial and ground surveys show that 26 million trees across six counties in Southern California died, in addition to the 40 million trees that died statewide from 2010 to October 2015. Four years of drought, high temperatures and an outbreak of tree-killing bark beetles all contributed the historic levels of tree die-off, the agency said.

The tree mortality in California is the latest crest in a wave of forest die-offs in the past few decades linked with global warming. In the Southwest, an outbreak of ips beetles after the 2002 drought killed 80 percent of the piñon pine forests in the Four Corners region.

Around the same time, pine beetles started spreading across northern Colorado, parts of Wyoming and North Dakota, ultimately killing millions of acres of forest. And just as the pine beetle infestation waned, a spruce beetle outbreak in southern Colorado started to spread. Since 1996, spruce beetles have killed trees across about 1.5 million acres of forest.

Huge swaths of Colorado aspen forests also died in the early 2000s in a mortality event linked with extreme heat, and forest researchers say hardwood forests in the northern U.S. are also at risk from global warming. Continue reading “California tree deaths part of global wave of forest mortality”