Category Archives: Climate

Study: Fossil fuel air pollution kills one in five


The fossil fuels we consume to maintain our modern industrial world aren’t just sending global temperatures soaring; they’re literally killing us, according to a new scientific study.

From the Independent:

Air pollution from fossil fuels could account for nearly one in five deaths globally, a new study suggests.

The research finds air pollution from fossil fuel burning accounted for around 10 million premature deaths in 2012 – with China and India seeing the largest number of lives cut short.

The number of deaths associated with air pollution from fossil fuels fell to 8.7 million in 2018, the study estimates, as a result of significant improvements to air quality in China. This figure represents around 18 per cent of the total number of deaths recorded in 2018, the researchers say.

Published in the journal Environmental Research, the study focuses specifically on deaths attributable to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution.

“PM2.5 can penetrate deep into our lungs,” Karn Vohra, study lead author and a PhD student in environmental health sciences at University of Birmingham, told The Independent. 

Chart of the day: Bitcoin, anything but green


From BBC News, graphic evidence that cryptocurrency fuels global warming:

From their report:

Bitcoin uses more electricity annually than the whole of Argentina, analysis by Cambridge University suggests. “Mining” for the cryptocurrency is power-hungry, involving heavy computer calculations to verify transactions.

Cambridge researchers say it consumes around 121.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year – and is unlikely to fall unless the value of the currency slumps.

Critics say electric-car firm Tesla’s decision to invest heavily in Bitcoin undermines its environmental image.

The currency’s value hit a record $48,000 (£34,820) this week. following Tesla’s announcement that it had bought about $1.5bn bitcoin and planned to accept it as payment in future. But the rising price offers even more incentive to Bitcoin miners to run more and more machines.

Climate-fueled wildfires threaten mental health


As we discovered soon after we first started reporting in the Golden State, three stories are perennials on the West Coast, catastrophes certain to recur throughout a journalist’s career: Wildfires, earthquakes, and mudslides.

And of the three, it’s wildfires that are getting worse as the wildfire season has lengthened by nearly a month since the 1960s as climate change makes California hotter and drier.

Consider this telling graphic from the 4 December San Francisco Chronicle:

Wildfires spur chronic mental health woes

For various newspapers where I’ve worked, I’ve had many opportunities to interview people impacted by disasters, and the one thing most of them talk about after recounting their relief at surviving as a deep sense of loss, a loss inclusive of both material possessions and psychological security.

The loss of photo albums and mementos is literally a loss of the past, and a loss of the sense of security that comes with the loss of home and all its comforting associations can be devastating.

And now a new study reveals that, for many, the psychic loss from California wildfires continues long after the flames have been extinguished,

From the University of California — San Diego:

Poorer Mental Health Smolders After Deadly, Devastating Wildfire

In 2018, a faulty electric transmission line ignited the Camp Fire in Northern California, ultimately consuming 239 square miles and several communities, including the town of Paradise, which was 95 percent destroyed. At least 85 people died.

Structures have been rebuilt, but some things are worse. In a paper published February 2, 2021 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, scientists at University of California San Diego, with colleagues elsewhere, describe chronic mental health problems among some residents who experienced the Camp Fire in varying degrees.

Direct exposure to large-scale fires significantly increased the risk for mental health disorders, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, the scientists wrote.

“We looked for symptoms of these particular disorders because emotionally traumatic events in one’s lifetime are known to trigger them,” said senior author Jyoti Mishra, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine and co-director of the Neural Engineering and Translation Labs at UC San Diego. Pre-existing childhood trauma or sleep disturbances were found to exacerbate mental health problems, but factors like personal resilience and mindfulness appeared to reduce them.

“We show climate change as a chronic mental health stressor. It is not like the pandemic, in that it is here for a period of time and can be mitigated with vaccines and other measures. Climate change is our future, and we need immediate action to slow down the changes being wreaked upon the planet, and on our own wellbeing.”

Mishra, with collaborators at California State University, Chico and University of South Carolina, conducted a variety of mental health assessments on residents who had been exposed to the Camp Fire six months after the wildfire and those much farther away. Roughly two-thirds of those tested were residents who lived in or around Chico, a Northern California city located approximately 10 to 15 miles of the center of the Camp Fire. The remaining third were San Diego residents living approximately 600 miles from the wildfire and presumably unimpacted.

The researchers found that the Northern California residents experienced measurable increases in PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders, which were worsened by proximity and exposure to the Camp Fire or by previous adverse experiences involving childhood trauma, such as abuse and neglect.

Chronic mental health problems fanned by the wild fire were ameliorated, however, by physical exercise, mindfulness and emotional support, all of which may contribute to personal resilience and the ability to bounce back after stressful life events.

The worrisome thing is that stressful life events like the Camp Fire are becoming more frequent, due to climate change, said study co-author Veerabhadaran Ramanathan, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

“Since the 1970s, fire extent in California has increased by 400 percent,” said Ramanathan. “While a faulty transmission line may have lit the Camp Fire in 2018, it is part of an overall disastrous multi-decadal trend fueled by human-caused climate warming. Through evaporative drying of the air, the soil and the trees, warming acts as a force multiplier. By 2030, the warming is likely to amplify by 50 percent. This surprising, if not shocking, study identifies mental illness as a grave risk for the coming decades.”

Not just in California, but the world, write the authors.

“Unchecked climate change projected for the latter half of this century may severely impact the mental wellbeing of the global population. We must find ways to foster individual resiliency,” wrote the study authors.

Co-authors include: Saria Silveira and Gillian Grennan,

Now add the impact of a lethal pandemic, and we suspect conditions are significantly worse than for the period covered by the study.

Study: Climate change role in COVID proposed


Did climate change play a role in spawning the coronavirus pandemic?

Quite possibly, according to a new study from Cambridge university which examines the role of global warming in driving populations of bats, known spreaders of coronaviruses, into densely populated South China.

A map from their study shows major shifts in bat populations sine the early years of the 20th Century [click on the image to enlarge]:

Estimated increase in the local number of bat species due to shifts in their geographical ranges driven by climate change between the 1901-1930 and 1990-2019 period. The zoomed-in area represents the likely spatial origin of the bat-borne ancestors of SARS-CoV-1 and 2.

From Cambridge University:

Climate change may have driven the emergence of SARS-CoV-2

A new study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment provides the first evidence of a mechanism by which climate change could have played a direct role in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study has revealed large-scale changes in the type of vegetation in the southern Chinese Yunnan province, and adjacent regions in Myanmar and Laos, over the last century. Climatic changes including increases in temperature, sunlight, and atmospheric carbon dioxide – which affect the growth of plants and trees – have changed natural habitats from tropical shrubland to tropical savannah and deciduous woodland. This created a suitable environment for many bat species that predominantly live in forests.

The number of coronaviruses in an area is closely linked to the number of different bat species present. The study found that an additional 40 bat species have moved into the southern Chinese Yunnan province in the past century, harbouring around 100 more types of bat-borne coronavirus. This ‘global hotspot’ is the region where genetic data suggests SARS-CoV-2 may have arisen. 

“Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in the southern Chinese Yunnan province suitable for more bat species,” said Dr Robert Beyer, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and first author of the study, who has recently taken up a European research fellowship at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.

He added: “Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

To get their results, the researchers created a map of the world’s vegetation as it was a century ago, using records of temperature, precipitation, and cloud cover. Then they used information on the vegetation requirements of the world’s bat species to work out the global distribution of each species in the early 1900s. Comparing this to current distributions allowed them to see how bat ‘species richness’, the number of different species, has changed across the globe over the last century due to climate change.

“As climate change altered habitats, species left some areas and moved into others – taking their viruses with them. This not only altered the regions where viruses are present, but most likely allowed for new interactions between animals and viruses, causing more harmful viruses to be transmitted or evolve,” said Beyer.

The world’s bat population carries around 3,000 different types of coronavirus, with each bat species harbouring an average of 2.7 coronaviruses – most without showing symptoms. An increase in the number of bat species in a particular region, driven by climate change, may increase the likelihood that a coronavirus harmful to humans is present, transmitted, or evolves there.

Most coronaviruses carried by bats cannot jump into humans. But several coronaviruses known to infect humans are very likely to have originated in bats, including three that can cause human fatalities: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) CoV, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) CoV-1 and CoV-2. 

The region identified by the study as a hotspot for a climate-driven increase in bat species richness is also home to pangolins, which are suggested to have acted as intermediate hosts to SARS-CoV-2. The virus is likely to have jumped from bats to these animals, which were then sold at a wildlife market in Wuhan – where the initial human outbreak occurred. 

The researchers echo calls from previous studies that urge policy-makers to acknowledge the role of climate change in outbreaks of viral diseases, and to address climate change as part of COVID-19 economic recovery programmes. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous social and economic damage. Governments must seize the opportunity to reduce health risks from infectious diseases by taking decisive action to mitigate climate change,” said Professor Andrea Manica in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, who was involved in the study. 

“The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wake-up call to reduce global emissions,” added Professor Camilo Mora at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, who initiated the project.

The researchers emphasised the need to limit the expansion of urban areas, farmland, and hunting grounds into natural habitat to reduce contact between humans and disease-carrying animals.

The study showed that over the last century, climate change has also driven increases in the number of bat species in regions around Central Africa, and scattered patches in Central and South America.

This research was supported by the European Research Council.

Polar ice melt hits maximum predicted levels


Stunning news today from the University of Leeds, revealing that melting of the ice cap at the two poles has already hit the levels predicted by worst-case global warming scenarios.

From their report:

Average rate of ice thickness change in the (a) Southern Hemisphere and (b) Northern Hemisphere.

More from the University of Leeds:

Global ice loss increases at record rate

The rate at which ice is disappearing across the planet is speeding up, according to new research.

And the findings also reveal that the Earth lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice between 1994 and 2017 –  equivalent to a sheet of ice 100 metres thick covering the whole of the UK.

The research is the first of its kind to carry out a survey of global ice loss using satellite data.

Scientists led by the University found that the rate of ice loss from the Earth has increased markedly within the past three decades, from 0.8 trillion tonnes per year in the 1990s to 1.3 trillion tonnes per year by 2017.

Ice melt across the globe raises sea levels, increases the risk of flooding to coastal communities, and threatens to wipe out natural habitats which wildlife depend on.

The findings of the research team, which includes the University of Edinburgh, University College London and data science specialists Earthwave, are published in European Geosciences Union’s journal The Cryosphere.

Funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, the research shows that overall, there has been a 65% increase in the rate of ice loss over the 23-year survey. This has been mainly driven by steep rises in losses from the polar ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland.

Lead author Dr Thomas Slater, a Research Fellow at Leeds’ Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, said: “Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

Dr Slater said the study was the first of its kind to examine all the ice that is disappearing on Earth, using satellite observations .

He added: “Over the past three decades there’s been a huge international effort to understand what’s happening to individual components in Earth’s ice system, revolutionised by satellites which allow us to routinely monitor the vast and inhospitable regions where ice can be found.

“Our study is the first to combine these efforts and look at all the ice that is being lost from the entire planet.”

The survey covers 215,000 mountain glaciers spread around the planet, the polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the ice shelves floating around Antarctica, and sea ice drifting in the Arctic and Southern Oceans.

Rising atmospheric temperatures have been the main driver of the decline in Arctic sea ice and mountain glaciers across the globe, while rising ocean temperatures have increased the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet. For the Greenland ice sheet and Antarctic ice shelves, ice losses have been triggered by a combination of rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures.

During the survey period, every category lost ice, but the biggest losses were from Arctic Sea ice (7.6 trillion tonnes) and Antarctic ice shelves (6.5 trillion tonnes), both of which float on the polar oceans.

Dr Isobel Lawrence, a Research Fellow at Leeds’ Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, said: “Sea ice loss doesn’t contribute directly to sea level rise but it does have an indirect influence. One of the key roles of Arctic sea ice is to reflect solar radiation back into space which helps keep the Arctic cool.

“As the sea ice shrinks, more solar energy is being absorbed by the oceans and atmosphere, causing the Arctic to warm faster than anywhere else on the planet.

“Not only is this speeding up sea ice melt, it’s also exacerbating the melting of glaciers and ice sheets which causes sea levels to rise.”

Half of all losses were from ice on land – including 6.1 trillion tonnes from mountain glaciers, 3.8 trillion tonnes from the Greenland ice sheet, and 2.5 trillion tonnes from the Antarctic ice sheet. These losses have raised global sea levels by 35 millimetres.

It is estimated that for every centimetre of sea level rise, approximately a million people are in danger of being displaced from low-lying homelands.

Despite storing only 1% of the Earth’s total ice volume, glaciers have contributed to almost a quarter of the global ice losses over the study period, with all glacier regions around the world losing ice.

Report co-author and PhD researcher Inès Otosaka, also from Leeds’ Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, said: “As well as contributing to global mean sea level rise, mountain glaciers are also critical as a freshwater resource for local communities.

“The retreat of glaciers around the world is therefore of crucial importance at both local and global scales.”

Just over half (58%) of the ice loss was from the northern hemisphere, and the remainder (42%) was from the southern hemisphere.

Further information

Earth’s ice imbalance is published in the European Geosciences Union’s journal The Cryosphere on 25 January 2021 [open access].

Map of the day: The American West, hit by drought


From the National Integrated Drought Information System:

Rich nations lie over climate aid to poor nations


For those of a certain age, the CARE Package was a meme.

CARE, the international aid organization became famous after World War II for using public donations to deliver packages of food and other life-sustaining supplies to civilian populations devastated by the global packages:

One of the original CARE Packages, sent to Germany in 1948. Via Wikipedia.

Back when we were in college and parents sent supplies, snacks, and other goodies to offspring at school far from home, we called those deliveries CARE packages from home.

CARE is still very much alive, and a new study produced by the organization has uncovered a deception practiced by developed countries when they report how much funding they’ve given to less-developed nations to cope with the impacts of climate change.

Just how much they distort their aid is summarized by this graphic from their announcement of their findings, published today:

More from CARE:

Developed nations hugely exaggerate climate adaptation finance for Global South

Rich nations and institutions have been routinely over-reporting funding to protect developing countries from the climate crisis, which is expected to have left climate adaptation funds short by over $20 billion, a report from CARE has found.

The Paris Agreement requires countries to provide scaled-up financial resources, evenly balanced between mitigation and adaptation. Developed countries pledged to mobilise $50 billion in annual adaptation finance by 2020.

Official figures from the OECD show that in 2018 donors had committed just $16.8 billion. Based on the most comprehensive assessment to-date, CARE has calculated that this figure is in fact staggeringly lower – at just $9.7 billion.

Civil society

The new report is published as world leaders and decision-makers convene for the Climate Adaptation Summit on 25 January. It follows the recently published Adaptation Gap Report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assessing progress made in adaptation finance.

John Nordbo, from CARE Denmark, is an author of the report. He said: “The world’s poorest people are not responsible for the climate crisis yet are the hardest hit.

“Not only have rich nations let countries in the Global South down by failing to deliver enough adaptation finance, but they have tried to give the impression that they are providing more than they do. It is truly embarrassing.

This injustice must be corrected, and a clear plan must be presented to show how they intend to live up to their commitments with real money – and no reporting tricks”.

Together with civil society organisations in Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia, Nepal, Vietnam and the Philippines, CARE assessed 112 projects, representing 13 percent of total global adaptation finance between 2013-17.

Over-reported

The research found climate adaptation finance to be over-reported by 42 percent, which if applied to the remaining projects, would result in $20 billion of over-reporting across this time period.

The research shows large amounts of climate finance for projects that bear no relation to adaptation and that donors exaggerate the adaptation component of their projects, thereby over-reporting the amount they actually spend on climate adaptation. 

Assessments reveal that Japan has over-reported its climate adaptation finance by more than $1.3 billion. This includes $432 million on projects that did not target climate adaptation, such as the ’Nhat-Tan Friendship Bridge’ and the ‘North-South Expressway Construction Project’ in Vietnam.

The World Bank has over-reported by $832 million in total, including $328 million on an Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project in Nepal. Although the project is primarily a response to a geohazard unrelated to climate change, 86 percent of its budget is reported as finance for climate-change adaptation.

France has over-reported by a total of $104 million. This includes $93 million on the Local Government Finance and Fiscal Decentralisation Sub-Program 2 in the Philippines to help strengthen local governance, even though only five percent of the program’s budget is earmarked for climate adaptation objectives.

Loans

The report acknowledges that adaptation is inherently interlinked with broader development goals and poverty alleviation. As such, the six in-country assessments also looked into whether projects adequately considered gender equality and poverty reduction.

Concerningly, 47 percent of adaptation projects in all six countries do not mainstream gender equality. The Paris Agreement requires that adaptation action “should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems”.

Sofia Sprechmann, secretary general of CARE International, said: “Vulnerable people and countries receive only a fraction of the support promised in Paris, as this report reveals.

“The Climate Adaptation Summit 2021 is an opportunity to remedy climate injustice and a chance to commit to adaptation that is gender transformative.”

Of further concern is that the largest financial provisions often fail to adequately consider the poorest in society. This is particularly true of infrastructure and market-based projects which are frequently provided with finance in the form of loans.

Distress

For projects assessed in Ghana and Ethiopia – both at high risk of debt distress – 28 percent and 50 percent of total finance contributions respectively were provided as loans.

Bart Weijs, from CARE Netherlands and a co-author of the report, said: “This is not just about the numbers.

“It’s about millions of vulnerable people risking their lives in ever more frequent climate disasters. It’s about restoring people’s faith in climate governance. $50 billion or more is really not a high price to pay for this – if we do this together.”

The report calls on donors to stop the over-reporting of adaptation finance, to ensure loans for adaptation do not exacerbate debt distress and to increase transparency of adaptation finance reporting, with gender equality and poverty reduction integrated in adaptation activities.

Tweets of the day: AOC throws shade at Cruz


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offers the perfect riposte to to the Texas ever-Trumper, via her Tweetstream:

Water crisis hits California in midst of pandemic


With California already caught in the midst of a lethal coronavirus pandemic, the Golden State has been stricken with two more crises, one of water, the other of fire.

We begin with the water crisis, first with the Guardian:

The magnitude of America’s water affordability crisis has been laid bare by shocking new data from California where debt owed on water bills has hit $1bn and one in every eight households is currently in arrears.

A survey by the state water board found at least 1.6m households are behind on water bill payments. The average debt is $500, but 155,000 or so households are in real trouble, owing more than $1,000 each and accounting for half the total debt.

California is America’s most populous state and even before the pandemic, a third of residents, about 13 million people, lived in poverty.

Water debt – like other poverty indicators – is not evenly distributed.Vast coalition calls on Biden to impose national moratorium on water shutoffsRead more

Households in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be in arrears, and have disproportionately larger debts. Racial inequalities in California’s water debt persist even after adjusting for income and housing, the survey found. The highest concentration of arrears is in southern California, particularly in Los Angeles – one of the cities hardest hit by Covid-19 deaths and the economic fallout.

More from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The average water-bill debt of Black households, for example, was $485 in areas where minorities are in majority as of October, when the state survey was completed, compared to the $380 debt for white households.

The area’s with the most overdue water bills, by ZIP code, are several parts of Los Angeles County, the city of Colton in San Bernardino County, Orcutt in Santa Barbara County and Rancho Cordova in Sacramento County. In and around the Bay Area, the community of Port Costa and Lake County’s Clearlake have some of the highest concentrations of missed payments.

“People who were already hurting pre-COVID, communities that were lower income, Black and brown communities, those are the most heavily impacted,” said Max Gomberg, a senior environmental scientist for the State Water Board who has been analyzing the finances of water agencies and their customers.

As a result of the revenue losses, nearly 20% of state water agencies, or as many as 600, are estimated to have less than 60 days of operating cash on hand. The lack of funds has suppliers reducing staff, putting long-term projects on hold and looking at raising rates. Some won’t be able to continue long-term water delivery without government intervention.

California’s new fire season: All year long

Jut as water systems in California real from a funding crisis, water’s going to be in ever greater demand as a rash of new wildfires reveals that California’s fire season is no more.

Instead, every day is fire season.

From the Guardian:

Unusually warm and dry conditions coupled with powerful wind gusts have ignited a spate of winter wildfires that call into question the idea that California has a “fire season” at all anymore.

Residents of several communities in the Santa Cruz mountains were ordered to evacuate by the local sheriff’s office Tuesday morning as California’s fire agency (Cal Fire) responded to more than a dozen new vegetation fires across the area. Some of the fires were ignited when power lines were toppled by high winds; others were wind-driven reignitions of areas that burned in 2020, Cal Fire said. By midday Tuesday, six fires in the area were still burning.

The evacuations came as Californians grappled with the latest example of the reality of climate crisis: red flag warnings – the National Weather Service’s highest level of caution for wildfire activity – across much of the state in January. The early start to 2021’s fires follows 2020’s record-breaking year, which saw wildfires that burned approximately 4.26m acres and killed 33 people.California’s wildfire hell: how 2020 became the state’s worst ever fire seasonRead more

“We’re not seeing ‘fire season’ anymore,” said Issac Sanchez, battalion chief of communications for Cal Fire Sacramento. “It’s just one big fire year, where we can be prepared for and expect a large destructive fire at any point.”

<snip>

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, called the overnight fire starts in northern California “nothing short of incredible” for this time of year.

“As California’s wildfire crisis escalated in recent years, I have speculated with climate & fire colleagues that we might start to see wind-driven *winter* wildfire outbreaks in NorCal,” he said on Twitter. “2021 is empirically demonstrating that answer to that question is: yes. Wow.”

Climate-related rain shifts threaten food for billions


As the oceans warm and the seas rise, changing global weather patterns threaten some of the world’s poorest and most populous regions in Southern Asia and Latin America with catastrophic changes to critical agricultural regions, portending food shortages and famine in the coming years.

And, we suspect, the resulting pressure will fuel massive migration, raising the specter of still more inflammatory far-Right extremism as the 21st Century unfolds.

That’s the conclusion of major new research from the University of California, Irvine:

UCI researchers: Climate change will alter the position of the Earth’s tropical rain belt

Future climate change will cause a regionally uneven shifting of the tropical rain belt – a narrow band of heavy precipitation near the equator – according to researchers at the University of California, Irvine and other institutions. This development may threaten food security for billions of people.

In a study published Monday in Nature Climate Change [$8.99 for non-subscribers], the interdisciplinary team of environmental engineers, Earth system scientists and data science experts stressed that not all parts of the tropics will be affected equally. For instance, the rain belt will move north in parts of the Eastern Hemisphere but will move south in areas in the Western Hemisphere.

According to the study, a northward shift of the tropical rain belt over the eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean will result in future increases of drought stress in southeastern Africa and Madagascar, in addition to intensified flooding in southern India. A southward creeping of the rain belt over the eastern Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean will cause greater drought stress in Central America.

“Our work shows that climate change will cause the position of Earth’s tropical rain belt to move in opposite directions in two longitudinal sectors that cover almost two thirds of the globe, a process that will have cascading effects on water availability and food production around the world,” said lead author Antonios Mamalakis, who recently received a Ph.D. in civil & environmental engineering in the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UCI and is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University.

The team made the assessment by examining computer simulations from 27 state-of-the-art climate models and measuring the tropical rain belt’s response to a future scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise through the end of the current century.

Mamalakis said the sweeping shift detected in his work was disguised in previous modelling studies that provided a global average of the influence of climate change on the tropical rain belt. Only by isolating the response in the Eastern and Western Hemisphere zones was his team able to highlight the drastic alterations to come over future decades.

Co-author James Randerson, UCI’s Ralph J. & Carol M. Cicerone Chair in Earth System Science, explained that climate change causes the atmosphere to heat up by different amounts over Asia and the North Atlantic Ocean.

“In Asia, projected reductions in aerosol emissions, glacier melting in the Himalayas and loss of snow cover in northern areas brought on by climate change will cause the atmosphere to heat up faster than in other regions,” he said. “We know that the rain belt shifts toward this heating, and that its northward movement in the Eastern Hemisphere is consistent with these expected impacts of climate change.”

He added that the weakening of the Gulf Stream current and deep-water formation in the North Atlantic is likely to have the opposite effect, causing a southward shift in the tropical rain belt across the Western Hemisphere.

“The complexity of the Earth system is daunting, with dependencies and feedback loops across many processes and scales,” said corresponding author Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, UCI Distinguished Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and the Henry Samueli Endowed Chair in Engineering. “This study combines the engineering approach of system’s thinking with data analytics and climate science to reveal subtle and previously unrecognized manifestations of global warming on regional precipitation dynamics and extremes.”

Foufoula-Georgiou said that a next step is to translate those changes to impacts on the ground, in terms of flooding, droughts, infrastructure and ecosystem change to guide adaptation, policy and management.

Other collaborators of this study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, included Jin-Yi Yu, Gudrun Magnusdottir and Michael Pritchard and Padhraic Smyth at UCI; Paul Levine at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Sungduk Yu at Yale University.

Chart of the day: Heat of the oceans soars


The heat content in the upper 2,000 meters of the ocean from 1958 through 2020. The graph shows the departure from a baseline (the average temperature between 1981-2010), with red bars showing more heat than the baseline and blue bars showing less.

More from the National Center for Atmospheric Research [emphasis added]:

The temperatures in the upper 2,000 meters of the ocean hit a record high in 2020, according to a new analysis by a research team that included scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The five hottest years for the upper ocean on record have all occurred since 2015.

The results of the new analysis, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Science, further illustrate how Earth is warming — just over 90 percent of the additional heat due to human-caused climate change is absorbed by the ocean. Ocean heat is a valuable indicator of climate change because it does not fluctuate as much as temperatures at the Earth’s surface, which can vary in response to weather and natural climate variations such as El Niño. Thus it more clearly reveals the gradual accumulation of heat due to human activities.

The increase in ocean temperatures can cause a number of societal impacts. Warmer ocean surface waters can, for example, supercharge hurricanes and other storms that travel over the sea. Warmer water also expands to take up more room, driving sea level rise and causing coastal flooding.

The uneven vertical heating of the ocean — the surface warms more quickly than the deeper ocean layers — also causes the ocean to become more stratified. This stratification inhibits ocean mixing and the distribution of dissolved oxygen and nutrients, which impacts marine ecosystems and fisheries. 

“The warming of the ocean has real consequences,” said NCAR scientist Kevin Trenberth, a co-author of the study. “Ocean heat has exacerbated many of the most significant climate-related events in recent history, and contributed to the record number of billion-dollar disasters in the United States in 2020.”

The new research was led by Lijing Cheng, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The NCAR contributors are Trenberth and John Fasullo.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR’s sponsor, as well as by the National Key R&D Program of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Energy. 

Ocean heat is challenging to analyze because direct measurements of the ocean’s temperature and other attributes can be few and far between. Scientists depend on models to help fill in the gaps between these measurements. However, a network of ocean floats deployed in the last couple of decades that move throughout the top 2,000 meters of the open ocean has provided researchers with valuable data for better understanding past measurements and calibrating their models.

For this analysis, the scientists used two different ocean heat datasets, one from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and one from the National Centers for Environmental Information, which is part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While the two datasets yielded slightly different values for the globally integrated ocean heat in 2020, they both found that 2020 was the warmest year on record. The results also agree with results from independent research teams using slightly different methods and from independent data, such as satellite measurements of global sea level.

“Despite the challenges of measuring the entire ocean’s temperature, we can now say definitively that the ocean is warming and has been for decades,” Fasullo said. “In fact, each decade back to the 1970s has been discernibly warmer than the decade before, revealing an accumulation of heat that can only be explained by human activities.”

UN Climate report: We’re falling short


The United Nations Environment Program took a lot st how well the world’s nations are planning and acting to meet the ongoing and worsening global crisis.

Their verdict: We’re doing much too little.

One interesting feature of their report is an analysis of programs that work with nature, illustrated in this graphic from the document, linking climate crises and nature-based mitigations:

Here’s a briefing on the report from the United Nations Environment Program:

Step up climate change adaptation or face serious human and economic damage – UN report

As temperatures rise and climate change impacts intensify, nations must urgently step up action to adapt to the new climate reality or face serious costs, damages and losses, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report finds.

Adaptation – reducing countries’ and communities’ vulnerability to climate change by increasing their ability to absorb impacts – is a key pillar of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The agreement requires its signatories to implement adaptation measures through national plans, climate information systems, early warning, protective measures and investments in a green future.

The UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2020 finds that while nations have advanced in planning, huge gaps remain in finance for developing countries and bringing adaptation projects to the stage where they bring real protection against climate impacts such as droughts, floods and sea-level rise.

Public and private finance for adaptation must be stepped up urgently, along with faster implementation. Nature-based solutions – locally appropriate actions that address societal challenges, such as climate change, and provide human well-being and biodiversity benefits by protecting, sustainably managing and restoring natural or modified ecosystems – must also become a priority.

“The hard truth is that climate change is upon us,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Its impacts will intensify and hit vulnerable countries and communities the hardest – even if we meet the Paris Agreement goals of holding global warming this century to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C.”

“As the UN Secretary-General has said, we need a global commitment to put half of all global climate finance towards adaptation in the next year,” she added. “This will allow a huge step up in adaptation – in everything from early warning systems to resilient water resources to nature-based solutions.”

Adaptation planning is growing, but funding and follow-up lagging

The most encouraging finding of the report is that 72 per cent of countries have adopted at least one national-level adaptation planning instrument. Most developing countries are preparing National Adaptation Plans. However, the finance needed to implement these plans is not growing fast enough.

The pace of adaptation financing is indeed rising, but it continues to be outpaced by rapidly increasing adaptation costs. Annual adaptation costs in developing countries are estimated at USD 70 billion. This figure is expected to reach USD 140-300 billion in 2030 and USD 280-500 billion in 2050.

There are some encouraging developments. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) has allocated 40 per cent of its total portfolio to adaptation and is increasingly crowding-in private sector investment. Another important development is increasing momentum to ensure a sustainable financial system. However, increased public and private adaptation finance is needed. New tools such as sustainability investment criteria, climate-related disclosure principles and mainstreaming of climate risks into investment decisions can stimulate investments in climate resilience.

Implementation of adaptation actions is also growing. Since 2006, close to 400 adaptation projects financed by multilateral funds serving the Paris Agreement have taken place in developing countries. While earlier projects rarely exceeded USD 10 million, 21 new projects since 2017 reached a value of over USD 25 million. However, of over 1,700 adaptation initiatives surveyed, only 3 per cent had already reported real reductions to climate risks posed to the communities where the projects were being implemented.

Nature-based solutions for adaptation can make a huge contribution

The report places a special focus on nature-based solutions as low-cost options that reduce climate risks, restore and protect biodiversity and bring benefits for communities and economies.

An analysis of four major climate and development funds – the Global Environment Facility, the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund and the International Climate Initiative – suggested that support for green initiatives with some element of nature-based solutions has risen over the last two decades. Cumulative investment for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects under the four funds stood at USD 94 billion. However, only USD 12 billion was spent on nature-based solutions – a tiny fraction of total adaptation and conservation finance.

Stepping up action

According to the report, cutting greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the impacts and costs associated with climate change. Achieving the 2°C target of the Paris Agreement could limit losses in annual growth to up to 1.6 per cent, compared to 2.2 per cent for the 3°C trajectory.

All nations must pursue the efforts outlined in UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2020, which called for a green pandemic recovery and updated Nationally Determined Contributions that include new net-zero commitments. However, the world must also plan for, finance and implement climate change adaptation to support those nations least responsible for climate change but most at risk.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to hit the ability of countries to adapt to climate change, investing in adaptation is a sound economic decision.

Most of world’s land to lose water as climate heats


Water is the most precious thing on earth, the life-sustaining fluid that most of us take for granted.

But as the earth warms and climates shifts, modst of planet will be suffering frrom reduced water supplies, one of the most worrying impacts of climate change.

Yadu Pokhrel, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan State University and Farshid Felfelani, an MSU Postdoctoral Research Associate, examine the data and its implications for a report in The Conversation, an academic journal written in conversational English:

Two-thirds of Earth’s land is on pace to lose water as the climate warms – that’s a problem for people, crops and forests

The world watched with a sense of dread in 2018 as Cape Town, South Africa, counted down the days until the city would run out of water. The region’s surface reservoirs were going dry amid its worst drought on record, and the public countdown was a plea for help.

By drastically cutting their water use, Cape Town residents and farmers were able to push back “Day Zero” until the rain came, but the close call showed just how precarious water security can be. California also faced severe water restrictions during its recent multiyear drought. And Mexico City is now facing water restrictions after a year with little rain.

There are growing concerns that many regions of the world will face water crises like these in the coming decades as rising temperatures exacerbate drought conditions.

Understanding the risks ahead requires looking at the entire landscape of terrestrial water storage – not just the rivers, but also the water stored in soils, groundwater, snowpack, forest canopies, wetlands, lakes and reservoirs.

We study changes in the terrestrial water cycle as engineers and hydrologists. In a new study published Jan. 11, we and a team of colleagues from universities and institutes around the world showed for the first time how climate change will likely affect water availability on land from all water storage sources over the course of this century.

We found that the sum of this terrestrial water storage is on pace to decline across two-thirds of the land on the planet. The worst impacts will be in areas of the Southern Hemisphere where water scarcity is already threatening food security and leading to human migration and conflict. Globally, one in 12 people could face extreme drought related to water storage every year by the end of this century, compared to an average of about one in 33 at the end of the 20th century.

These findings have implications for water availability, not only for human needs, but also for trees, plants and the sustainability of agriculture.

Where the risks are highest

The water that keeps land healthy, crops growing and human needs met comes from a variety of sources. Mountain snow and rainfall feed streams that affect community water supplies. Soil water content directly affects plant growth. Groundwater resources are crucial for both drinking water supplies and crop productivity in irrigated regions.

While studies often focus just on river flow as an indicator of water availability and drought, our study instead provides a holistic picture of the changes in total water available on land. That allows us to capture nuances, such as the ability of forests to draw water from deep groundwater sources during years when the upper soil levels are drier.

The declines we found in land water storage are especially alarming in the Amazon River basin, Australia, southern Africa, the Mediterranean region and parts of the United States. In these regions, precipitation is expected to decline sharply with climate change, and rising temperatures will increase evaporation. At the same time, some other regions will become wetter, a process already seen today.

The map shows the projected change in terrestrial water storage by the end of the 21st century, compared to the 1975-2005 average, under a mid-range scenario for global warming. A continuum of yellow to orange to dark red reflects increasing severity of loss of stored water; teal to blue to dark blue reflects increasing gains in stored water. Yadu Pokhrel, et al, Nature Climate Change, 2021, CC BY-ND

Our findings for the Amazon basin add to the longstanding debate over the fate of the rainforest in a warmer world. Many studies using climate model projections have warned of widespread forest die-off in the future as less rainfall and warmer temperatures lead to higher heat and moisture stress combined with forest fires.

In an earlier study, we found that the deep-rooted rainforests may be more resilient to short-term drought than they appear because they can tap water stored in soils deeper in the ground that aren’t considered in typical climate model projections. However, our new findings, using multiple models, indicate that the declines in total water storage, including deep groundwater stores, may lead to more water shortages during dry seasons when trees need stored water the most and exacerbate future droughts. All weaken the resilience of the rainforests.

A new way of looking at drought

Our study also provides a new perspective on future droughts.

There are different kinds of droughts. Meteorological droughts are caused by lack of precipitation. Agricultural droughts are caused by lack of water in soils. Hydrological droughts involve lack of water in rivers and groundwater. We provided a new perspective on droughts by looking at the total water storage.

We found that moderate to severe droughts involving water storage would increase until the middle of the 21st century and then remain stable under future scenarios in which countries cut their emissions, but extreme to exceptional water storage droughts could continue to increase until the end of the century.

That would further threaten water availability in regions where water storage is projected to decline.

Changes driven by global warming

These declines in water storage and increases in future droughts are primarily driven by climate change, not land-water management activities such as irrigation and groundwater pumping. This became clear when we examined simulations of what the future would look like if climate conditions were unchanged from preindustrial times. Without the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, terrestrial water storage would remain generally stable in most regions.

If future increases in groundwater use for irrigation and other needs are also considered, the projected reduction in water storage and increase in drought could be even more severe.

Map of the day: 2020 billion-dollar climate disasters


From the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, a map of the billion-dollar plus climate disasters to strike the U.S. in 2020:

More from the report:

There were 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters across the United States, shattering the previous annual record of 16 events, which occurred in 2017 and 2011. The billion-dollar events of 2020 included a record 7 disasters linked to tropical cyclones, 13 to severe storms, 1 to drought, and 1 to wildfires. The 22 events cost the nation a combined $95 billion in damages. 

Adding the 2020 events to the record that began in 1980, the U.S. has sustained 285 weather and climate disasters where the overall damage costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. (All cost estimates are adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index as of December 2020). The cumulative cost for these 285 events exceeds $1.875 trillion.

More generally, the U.S. experienced a record-breaking number of named tropical cyclones (30), eclipsing the record of 28 set in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. Of these 30 storms, a record 12 made landfall in the United States. And 7 of the 12 became billion-dollar disasters—also a new record.

Not to be left out, many central states were impacted by a historically powerful derecho on August 10, which caused impacts comparable to an inland hurricane. 2020 also brought a record-breaking U.S. wildfire season, which burned more than 10.2 million acres. California more than doubled its previous annual record for area burned (last set in 2018) with over 4.1 million acres. In total, it is clear that 2020 (red line below) stands head and shoulders above all other years in regard to the number of billion-dollar disasters.

In broader context, the total cost of U.S. billion-dollar disasters over the last 5 years (2016-2020) exceeds $600 billion, with a 5-year annual cost average of $121.3 billion, both of which are new records. The U.S. billion-dollar disaster damage costs over the last 10-years (2011-2020) were also historically large:  at least $890 billion from 135 separate billion-dollar events. Moreover, the losses over the most recent 15 years (2006-2020) are $1.036 trillion in damages from 173 separate billion-dollar disaster events.

Among the other items in their report, is this dramatic graph, revealing the ever-growing inflation-adjusted costs incurred from climate disasters over recent years, compared to historic averages:

Month-by-month accumulation of billion-dollar disasters for each year on record. The colored lines represent the top 5 years for most billion-dollar disasters prior to 2020. All other years are colored black. Before the end of August, 2020 (red line) had broken the previous annual record for billion-dollar disasters—16—set in 2011 (royal blue) and tied in 2017 (purple).  NOAA image by NCEI.

Europe hit hottest-ever year, planet record tied


Copernicus Climate Change Service, an intergovernmental service in the European union keep close track on leading indicators of the earth’s changing climate, and this year report offers a stark warning about the the years ahead.

The planet marked a near record overall, with Europe its hottest year ever.

From the Copernicus Climate Change Service:

Air temperature at a height of two metres for 2020, shown relative to its 1981–2010 average. Source: ERA5. Credit: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) today reveals that globally 2020 was tied with the previous warmest year 2016, making it the sixth in a series of exceptionally warm years starting in 2015, and 2011-2020 the warmest decade recorded. Meanwhile, Europe saw its warmest year on record, 0.4°C warmer than 2019 which was previously the warmest year. Together with the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), C3S also reports that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have continued to rise at a rate of approximately 2.3 ppm/year in 2020 reaching a maximum of 413 ppm during May 2020. Both C3S and CAMS are implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on behalf of the European Commission with funding by the European Union.

Decadal averages of global air temperature at a height of two metres estimated change since the pre-industrial period according to different datasets: ERA5 (ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service, C3S); GISTEMPv4 (NASA); HadCRUT5 (Met Office Hadley Centre); NOAAGlobalTempv5 (NOAA), JRA-55 (JMA); and Berkeley Earth. Credit: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF

C3S’s dataset for surface air temperatures shows that:

  • Globally, 2020 was on a par with the 2016 record
  • 2020 was 0.6°C warmer than the standard 1981-2010 reference period and around 1.25°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial period
  • This makes the last six years the warmest six on record
  • Europe saw its warmest year on record at 1.6°C above the 1981-2010 reference period, and 0.4°C above 2019, the previous warmest year
  • The largest annual temperature deviation from the 1981-2010 average was concentrated over the Arctic and northern Siberia, reaching to over 6°C above average

Furthermore, satellite measurements of global atmospheric CO2 concentrations show that:

  • CO2 global column-averaged maximum reached 413 ppm
  • CO2 continued to rise in 2020, increasing by 2.3 ± 0.4 ppm,slightly less than the growth rate of the previous year

Parts of the Arctic and northern Siberia saw some of the largest annual temperature deviations from average in 2020, with a large region seeing deviations of as much as 3°C and in some locations even over 6°C for the year as a whole. On a monthly basis, the largest positive temperature anomalies for the region repeatedly reached more than 8°C. Western Siberia experienced an exceptionally warm winter and spring, a pattern also seen over summer and autumn in the Siberian Arctic and over much of the Arctic Ocean.

Furthermore, the wildfire season was unusually active in this region, with fires first detected in May, continuing throughout summer and well into autumn. As a result, poleward of the Arctic Circle, fires released a record amount of 244 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020, over a third more than the 2019 record. During the second half of the year, Arctic sea ice was significantly lower than average for the time of the year with July and October seeing the lowest sea ice extent on record for the respective month.

In general, the Northern Hemisphere experienced above average temperatures for the year, apart from a region over the central North Atlantic. In contrast, parts of the Southern Hemisphere saw below average temperatures, most notably over the eastern equatorial Pacific, associated with the cooler La Niña conditions developing during the second half of the year. It is notable that 2020 matches the 2016 record despite a cooling La Niña, whereas 2016 was a record year that began with a strong warming El Niño event.

Annual averages of global air temperature at a height of two metres estimated change since the pre-industrial period (left-hand axis) and relative to 1981-2010 (right-hand axis) according to different datasets: Red bars: ERA5 (ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service, C3S); Dots: GISTEMPv4 (NASA); HadCRUT5 (Met Office Hadley Centre); NOAAGlobalTempv5 (NOAA), JRA-55 (JMA); and Berkeley Earth. Credit: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF.

Europe 2020: warmest year on record

2020 was Europe’s warmest year recorded, and seasonally winter 2019/20 and autumn 2020 were also the warmest recorded. Winter 2020, meaning December 2019 to February 2020, exceeded the previous warmest of 2016 by almost 1.4°C, while autumn (September to November 2020) passed the old record set in 2006 by 0.4°C. In addition, western Europe experienced a significant heatwave in late July and early August. The next four warmest years for Europe also happened during the last decade.

A full and detailed analysis of Europe’s climate will be released in April when Copernicus presents its annual European State of the Climate 2020.

Carlo Buontempo, Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), comments: “2020 stands out for its exceptional warmth in the Arctic and a record number of tropical storms in the North Atlantic. It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record, and is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts in the future.”

CO2 concentrations continue to rise in 2020

Monthly global CO2 concentrations from satellites (top panel) and derived annual mean growth rates (bottom panel) for 2003-2020. Top: column-averaged CO2 (XCO2) based on the C3S/Obs4MIPs (v4.2) consolidated (2003-2019) and CAMS preliminary near-real time data (2020) records. The listed numerical values in red indicate annual XCO2 averages. Bottom: Annual mean XCO2 growth rates derived from data shown in the top panel. The listed numerical values correspond to the growth rate in ppm/year including an uncertainty estimate in brackets. Source: University of Bremen for Copernicus Climate Change Service and Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service/ECMWF

Analysis of satellite data reveals that carbon dioxide concentrations have continued to rise in 2020 reaching an unprecedented global column-averaged maximum of approximately 413.1 ppm. The estimated annual mean XCO2 growth rate for 2020 was 2.3 ± 0.4 ppm/year. This is less than the growth rate in 2019, which was 2.5 ± 0.2 ppm/year and also less than the 2.9 ppm/year increase in 2015 and 2016. However, 2015 and 2016 experienced a strong El Niño climate event, which resulted in a larger atmospheric growth rate due to a weaker than normal uptake of atmospheric CO2 by land vegetation and large CO2 wildfire emissions, particularly in Indonesia in those years. The wildfires in the Arctic and Australia in 2020, although of unprecedented magnitude in their regions, represent only a small fraction of global fire emissions.

Vincent-Henri Peuch, Director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), comments: “While carbon dioxide concentrations have risen slightly less in 2020 than in 2019, this is no cause for complacency. Until the net global emissions reduce to zero, CO2 will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and drive further climate change.”

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been estimated by the Global Carbon Project that there was a reduction of around 7% of fossil CO2 emissions.

“To what extent this was a factor in the lower total increase is debatable though, as the variations in global growth rate are dominated by natural processes. We must continue efforts to decrease CO2 net emissions to reduce the risk of climate-related change”, Vincent-Henri Peuch adds.

“The extraordinary climate events of 2020 and the data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service show us that we have no time to lose. We must come together as a global community, to ensure a just transition to a net zero future. It will be difficult, but the cost of inaction is too great, which is why the commitments made under our European Green Deal are so very necessary”, highlights Matthias Petschke, Director for Space, European Commission’s Directorate-General for Defence industry and Space.

Biodiversity collapses in the Eastern Mediterranean


For anyone doubting the reality of global warming, consider this: The populations of native lifeforms of the once Temperate Eastern Mediterranean Sea have collapsed, replaced by species previously native only to tropical waters.

The implications are profound.

From the University of Vienna:

Native biodiversity collapse in the Eastern Mediterranean

An international team led by Paolo G. Albano from the Department of Palaeontology at the University of Vienna quantified a dramatic biodiversity collapse of up to 95 per cent of native species in the Eastern Mediterranean. The study is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The coastline of Israel is one of the warmest areas in the Mediterranean Sea. Here, most marine species have been at the limits of their tolerance to high temperatures for a long time – and now they are already beyond those limits. Global warming has led to an increase in sea temperatures beyond those temperatures that Mediterranean species can sustain. Consequently, many of them are going locally extinct.

Paolo Albano’s team quantified this local extinction for marine molluscs, an invertebrate group encompassing snails, clams and mussels. They thoroughly surveyed the Israeli coastline and reconstructed the historical species diversity using the accumulations of empty shells on the sea bottom.

Biodiversity loss in the last few decades

The shallow habitats at scuba diving depths are affected most. Here, the researchers were not able to find living individuals of up to 95 per cent of the species whose shells were found in the sediments. The study suggests that most of this loss has occurred recently, presumably in just the last few decades.

Additionally, most of the species still found alive cannot grow enough to reproduce, “a clear sign that the biodiversity collapse will further continue,” says Albano. In contrast, the tropical species that enter from the Suez Canal thrive. The warm waters in the Eastern Mediterranean are very suitable habitats for them. Indeed, they occur in large populations and their individuals are fully fit to reproduce.

“For anyone accustomed to snorkel or dive in the Mediterranean,” explains the researcher, “the underwater scenario in Israel is unrecognisable: The most common species are missing, while in contrast tropical species are everywhere”.

The future perspectives for the Mediterranean are not good. The sea will continue to warm even if we would stop carbon dioxide emissions today. This is due to the inertia of the system, the long braking distance, so to speak. 

It is thus likely that the biodiversity collapse will continue to spread. It may already be occurring in other eastern Mediterranean areas not surveyed yet, and it will expand to the West and intensify. Only intertidal organisms, which are to some extent pre-adapted to temperature extremes, and habitats in deeper water, where the temperature is markedly lower, will continue to persist – at least for some time.

“But the future is dim unless we immediately act to reduce our carbon emissions and to protect marine habitats from other pressures which contribute to biodiversity loss,” says Paolo Albano, “The changes that already occurred in the warmest areas of the Mediterranean may not be reversible, but we would be able to save large parts of the rest of the basin.”

Methodologically, the study was also interesting due to its interdisciplinary character: “These results came from the cooperation of scientists with very different backgrounds,” says Martin Zuschin, Head of the Department of Palaeontology and co-author of the study – “In particular, the cooperation between ecologists and palaeontologists is providing unique new views on how humankind is impacting biodiversity”.

Carmakers to their grandkids: Suck it up


Carmakers have revealed they have no conscience, ramping up production of vehicles, knowing that Donald Trump would do nothing to stop them as their products spew elevated emissions into the atmosphere, increasing the pace of global warming in a world their own grandchildren will inherit.

From the Associated Press:

A new government report says gas mileage for new vehicles dropped and pollution increased in model year 2019 for the first time in five years.

The mileage increase comes as Americans continue to buy SUVs and trucks, and shift away from more efficient vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the changes show that few automakers could meet strict emissions and mileage standards set by the Obama administration.

But environmental groups contend that automakers used loopholes and stopped marketing fuel-efficient vehicles knowing that the Trump administration would roll back mileage and pollution standards.

The EPA report released Wednesday says gas mileage fell 0.2 miles per gallon, while greenhouse gas emissions rose by 3 grams per mile traveled, compared with 2018 figures. Mileage fell and pollution increased for the first time since 2014.

Bolivians face dry future as glacier vanishes


Climate change is already hammaering one South American nation, as a vanishing glacier threatens future thirst in a city of 1.8 million residents.

From MercoPress:

Bolivia’s Tuni glacier is disappearing faster than initially anticipated, according to scientists in the Andean nation, a predicament that will likely make worse water shortages already plaguing the capital La Paz, just 60 km away.

Scientists from the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA), who monitor the Tuni and other regional glaciers, said the once sprawling glacier had been reduced to just one square kilometer.

Where once they had predicted it would last through 2025, now they say its disappearance is imminent.

“This entire sector was once covered with ice,” said Dr. Edson Ramírez, a university glaciologist. Across much of the glacier´s former path, now only discolored rock remains, exposed for the first time in centuries.

Tweet of the day: Happy 18th to a world hero


From here Tweetstream, with a hefty dash of humor:

London’s Sunday Times has fielded a compelling interview with the Swedish activist today,

Some excerpts:

She started thinking seriously about climate change after a lesson in which a teacher showed a documentary about the island of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean. Thunberg started to cry. Others in the class were distressed too but they moved on when the school bell rang. Thunberg could not. It has been pointed out that people with autism are overrepresented within the climate movement and I’m interested to know why she thinks this is. “Humans are social animals. We copy each other’s behaviour, so if no one else is acting as though there’s no crisis then it can’t be that bad. But we who have autism, for instance, we don’t follow social codes, we don’t copy each other’s behaviour, we have our own behaviour,” she says. “It’s like the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes; the child who doesn’t care about his reputation or becoming unpopular or being ridiculed is the only one who dares to question this lie that everyone else just silently accepts.”

It is a different folk tale that springs to my mind as I talk to her; the Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke. She is not at all emotional when she discusses the environment; she reads, speaks to scientists regularly and is motivated by cold, hard facts. Fame was just a consequence of her conviction and is not something she enjoys. She gets stopped in the street everywhere she goes except at home in Sweden. It is a cultural phenomenon called Jantelagen, or Jante’s law, she has said: a term used by Scandinavians to describe their cultural inclination towards disapproval of individual achievement. “I know that people see me, I can see in their eyes that they recognise me, and sometimes they point, but they don’t stop and talk,” she says. “It’s nice because I’m being left alone, but it gets very socially awkward because I know they know and it becomes like a game they all pretend.”

She copes with it by spending most of her time at home with her family. Her younger sister, Beata, was diagnosed with ADHD, and the family is a tight-knit unit. Over the years there has been a lot of speculation about the influence her parents have over her profile and her campaigning, but it is very clear when you talk to her that Thunberg thinks for herself. Does it make her feel lonely? She shakes her head. “Of course it is hard to find someone who understands what my life is like, but that doesn’t mean I’m lonely because I have so many people supporting me,” she says. One of them is Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel prize-winning Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban and became a global champion of education for girls. They met when they were filming a series for the BBC and have stayed close. Yousafzai, 23, has advised her to “take care of yourself, to remember that you are probably in it for the long run, so you shouldn’t take on too much”, Thunberg says.

<snip>

She is decidedly laid-back about other people’s choices too. I ask what she makes of celebrities who talk about the environment while flying around the world. “I don’t care,” she says. “I’m not telling anyone else what to do, but there is a risk when you are vocal about these things and don’t practise as you preach, then you will become criticised for that and what you are saying won’t be taken seriously.” Nor does she agree that having children is bad for the planet. The whole issue is a distraction, she says, and one that scares people away. “I don’t think it’s selfish to have children. It is not the people who are the problem, it is our behaviour.”

Her own choices demonstrate what she believes is the right way to live. She stopped flying years ago — she famously sailed to America to speak at the 2019 UN climate summit, a voyage that took 15 days (footage shows her ashen-faced, disappearing out of shot with a bucket). She is a vegan and has stopped “consuming things”. What does that mean, I ask. Clothes? She nods. What if she needs something? “The worst-case scenario I guess I’ll buy second-hand, but I don’t need new clothes. I know people who have clothes, so I would ask them if I could borrow them or if they have something they don’t need any more,” she says. “I don’t need to fly to Thailand to be happy. I don’t need to buy clothes I don’t need, so I don’t see it as a sacrifice.”

Greenland: Scenes of an icy climatic breakup


From NASA’s Earth Observatory, a dramatic image captures the dramatic breakup of Greenland’s ice cap as the two-mile-thick frozen mantle melts and ice begins flowing into the sea. The added red regions note areas of movement, with the intensity of the reds reflecting the relative pace of glacial movement:

More from NASA:

A recent study of Greenland’s ice sheet found that glaciers are retreating in nearly every sector of the island, while also undergoing other physical changes. Some of those changes are causing the rerouting of freshwater rivers beneath the ice.

In a study led by Twila Moon of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, researchers took a detailed look at physical changes to 225 of Greenland’s ocean-terminating glaciers—narrow fingers of ice that flow from the ice sheet interior to the ocean. They found that none of those glaciers has substantially advanced since the year 2000, and 200 of them have retreated.

The map at the top of this page shows measurements of ice velocity across Greenland as measured by satellites. The data were compiled through the Inter-mission Time Series of Land Ice Velocity and Elevation project (ITS_LIVE), which brings together observations of glaciers collected by multiple Landsat satellites between 1985 and 2015 into a single dataset open to scientists and the public.

About 80 percent of Greenland is blanketed by an ice sheet, also known as a continental glacier, that reaches a thickness of up to 3 kilometers (2 miles). As glaciers flow toward the sea, they are usually replenished by new snowfall on the interior of the ice sheet that gets compacted into ice. Multiple studies have shown that the balance between glacier melting and replenishment is changing, as is the rate of iceberg calving. Due to rising air and ocean temperatures, the ice sheet is losing mass at an accelerating rate and additional meltwater is flowing into the sea.

“The coastal environment in Greenland is undergoing a major transformation,” said Alex Gardner, a snow and ice scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author of the study. “We are already seeing new sections of the ocean and fjords opening up as the ice sheet retreats, and now we have evidence of changes to these freshwater flows. So losing ice is not just about changing sea level, it’s also about reshaping Greenland’s coastline and altering the coastal ecology.”

Though the findings by Moon, Gardner, and colleagues are in line with other Greenland observations, the new survey captures a trend that has not been apparent in previous work. As individual glaciers retreat, they are also changing in ways that are likely rerouting freshwater flows under the ice. For example, glaciers change in thickness not only as warmer air melts ice off of their surfaces, but also as their flow speed changes. Both scenarios can lead to changes in the distribution of pressure beneath the ice. This, in turn, can change the path of subglacial rivers, since water will always take the path of least resistance (lowest pressure).

Citing previous studies on the ecology of Greenland, the authors note that freshwater rivers under the ice sheet deliver nutrients to bays, deltas, and fjords around Greenland. In addition, the under-ice rivers enter the ocean where the ice and bedrock meet, which is often well below the ocean’s surface. The relatively buoyant freshwater rises, carrying nutrient-rich deep ocean water to the surface, where the nutrients can be consumed by phytoplankton. Research has shown that glacial meltwater rivers directly affect the productivity of phytoplankton, which serve as a foundation of the marine food chain. Combined with the opening of new fjords and sections of ocean as glaciers and ice shelves retreat, these changes amount to a transformation of the local environment.

“The speed of ice loss in Greenland is stunning,” said Moon. “As the ice sheet edge responds to rapid ice loss, the character and behavior of the system as a whole are changing, with the potential to influence ecosystems and people who depend on them.”