Category Archives: Environment

Polar ice hits the lowest levels ever recorded


A very sobering report from NASA’s Earth Observatory:

In March 2017, Arctic sea ice reached a record-low maximum extent, according to scientists at NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). In the same month, sea ice on the opposite side of the planet, around Antarctica, hit its lowest extent ever recorded at the end of the austral summer—a surprising turn of events after years of moderate sea ice expansion.

On February 13, 2017, the combined Arctic and Antarctic sea ice numbers were at their lowest point since satellites began to continuously measure sea ice in 1979. Total polar sea ice covered 16.21 million square kilometers (6.26 million square miles), which is 2 million square kilometers (790,000 square miles) less than the average global minimum extent for 1981–2010. That’s the equivalent to losing a chunk of sea ice larger than Mexico.

The line graphs above plot the monthly deviations and overall trends in polar sea ice from 1979 to 2017 as measured by satellites. The top line shows the Arctic; the middle shows Antarctica; and the third shows the global, combined total. The graphs depict how much the sea ice concentration moved above or below the long-term average. (They do not plot total sea ice concentration.)

Arctic and global sea ice totals have moved consistently downward over 38 years. Antarctic trends are more muddled, but they do not offset the great losses in the Arctic. The maps below give a closer look at the record lows that occurred at each pole this year.

The ice floating on top of the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding seas shrinks from mid-March until mid-September. As the Arctic temperatures drop in the autumn and winter, the ice cover grows again until it reaches its yearly maximum extent, typically in March. This winter, a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures, unfavorable winds, and a series of storms stunted sea ice growth in the Arctic.

The first map shows the concentration of Arctic sea ice on March 7, 2017, when it reached its maximum extent for the year. Opaque white areas indicate the greatest concentration, and dark blue areas are open water. All icy areas pictured here have an ice concentration of at least 15 percent (the minimum at which space-based measurements give a reliable measurement), and cover a total area that scientists refer to as the “ice extent.”

The maximum extent on March 7 was a record low, measuring 14.42 million square kilometers (5.57 million square miles). That’s 97,00 square kilometers (37,000 square miles) below the previous record low that occurred in 2015.

“We started from a low September minimum extent,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “There was a lot of open ocean water, and we saw periods of very slow ice growth in late October and into November because the water had a lot of accumulated heat that had to be dissipated before ice could grow. The ice formation got a late start and everything lagged behind—it was hard for the sea ice cover to catch up.”

This year’s record-low maximum will not necessarily lead to a new record-low minimum extent in summertime, since weather has a great impact on the melt season’s outcome, Meier said. “But it’s guaranteed to be below normal.”

Sea ice around Antarctica behaves in a similar manner, but with the calendar flipped—it usually reaches its maximum in September and its minimum in February. This year, Antarctic sea ice reached a record-low minimum on March 3. The second map shows the concentration of sea ice on that day.

The extent on March 3 measured 2.11 million square kilometers (815,000 square miles). That’s 184,000 square kilometers (71,000 square miles) below the previous record low in the satellite record, which occurred in 1997. This year’s low happened just two years after several monthly record-high extents in Antarctica and decades of moderate sea ice growth.

“There’s a lot of year-to-year variability in both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, but overall, until last year, the trends in the Antarctic for every single month were toward more sea ice,” said Claire Parkinson, a senior sea ice researcher at NASA Goddard. “Last year was stunningly different, with prominent sea ice decreases in the Antarctic. To think that now the Antarctic sea ice extent is actually reaching a record minimum, that’s definitely of interest.”

Meier said it is too early to tell if this year marks a shift in the behavior of Antarctic sea ice.

“It is tempting to say that the record low we are seeing this year is global warming finally catching up with Antarctica,” Meier said. “However, this might just be an extreme case of pushing the envelope of year-to-year variability. We’ll need to have several more years of data to be able to say there has been a significant change in the trend.”

DroughtWatch: A story told in four maps


In a departure from our usual weekly report from the United States Drought Monitor.

Click on any of the images to enlarge.

We begin with a look at current conditions in California, which are unchanged from last week:

Next up, how things looked four years ago this week:

We turn to a broader view, conditions in the 48 contiguous states this week:

And the same view, as it appeared four years ago:

Charts of the day: Environmental patisanship


From Gallup, two remarkable takes on how Americans view the state of the environment.

First, a look at how the members of the two major parties view the current state of the environment:

And second, how partisans think things will be in the future:

Graphic Representation: Magical Misery Tour


With apologies to the Fab Four.

We begin with the Los Angeles Times, reading the fine print:

David Horsey: The joke is on voters who trusted Trump’s healthcare promises

While the Minneapolis Star Tribune looks at one of the impacts of EPA cuts:

Steve Sack: Clean water, the musical

The Miami Herald completes a slogan:

Jim Morin: Dirty work

A little sleight of hand from the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Joel Pett: Look! Up in the sky! It’s….

While the Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers the art of the steal:

Mike Luckovich: Let’s make a deal.

From the Kansas City Star, going down?:

Lee Judge: Establishing a trend

And from the Sacramento Bee, one character in 140:

Jack Ohman: Mad Men, the sequel…

The Arizona Republic draws a parallel:

Steve Benson: ‘I am not a. . .Dick’

From the Washington Post, the amen chours chimes in:

Tom Toles:  Does Donald Trump cry? Only like this. Sad!

From the Illinois Times, down at the heels:

Chris Britt: Trumpcare

The Buffalo News covers a case where ignorance isn’t bliss:

Adam Zyglis: Scott Pruitt remarks

The San Diego Union-Tribune sounds a similar note:

Steve Breen: New E.P.A. Chief Doubts CO2 Plays Big Part in Global Warming

From the Newark Star-Ledger, standard operating mode:

Drew Sheneman: Our paranoid President Trump

But paranoia may be reasonable, notes the Baton Rouge Advocate in the first of two spooky offerings:

Walt Handelsman: Turn off the TV

And the Tulsa World covers tools of the trade:

Bruce Plante: CIA spying tools

Finally, via the Washington Post, strike up the brand:

Ann Telnaes: The seal of approval

Global warming linked to massive coral reef dieoffs


Donald Trump and his crew of wreckers may believe climate change is a hoax, but nearly all of country’s scientists disagree huuugely.

So, too, does the American public, which is growing increasingly worried about what lies ahead, as new polling from Gallup reveals:

Yet mroof of the power of global warming to devastate vast ecosystems comes from new research from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies:

Coral researchers are remobilising to conduct aerial and underwater surveys along the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere in Australia as coral bleaching reappears for the second year in a row. The decision coincides with the release today of a study [$32 to read] in the prestigious journal Nature warning the Reef’s resilience is rapidly waning.

Scientists and Reef managers from ten research institutions across Australia, representing the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, have returned to the Reef only one year after scorching temperatures caused the worst coral bleaching event on record in 2016. Teams will spend the next few weeks in the air and underwater measuring the extent of the damage from this summer compared to last.

“We’re hoping that the next 2-3 weeks will cool off quickly, and this year’s bleaching won’t be anything like last year. The severity of the 2016 bleaching was off the chart,” explains lead author and Taskforce convener, Prof. Terry Hughes (ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies). “It was the third major bleaching to affect the Great Barrier Reef, following earlier heatwaves in 1998 and 2002. Now we’re gearing up to study a potential number four.”

Dead staghorn coral killed by bleaching on the northern Great Barrier Reef, November 2016. Credit: Greg Torda, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

“We have now assessed whether past exposure to bleaching in 1998 and 2002 made reefs any more tolerant in 2016. Sadly, we found no evidence that past bleaching makes the corals any tougher.”

While protecting reefs from fishing, and improving water quality is likely to help bleached reefs recover in the longer term, the study also revealed that it made no difference to the amount of bleaching during the extreme heatwave of 2016.

Continue reading

California: Roundup™ must carry a cancer warning


A new California law will force Monsanto to slap a cancer warning on its Roundup weedkiller.

Score one for the good guys.

The story, from RT America:

California to force Monsanto to label its herbicide as possibly carcinogenic


Program Notes:

Agrochemical giant, Monsanto has lost its court battle in California after a Fresno county judge ruled that the active ingredient in the company’s notorious weed killer ‘Roundup,’ glyphosate, can be added to the state’s list of cancer-causing agents. Once the chemical is added to the list, the company will have one year to label that it’s a possible carcinogen on their products. RT America’s Brigida Santos reports, speaking to Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America, and Alexis Baden-Meyer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Charts of the day: Latin American land inequality


Two significant graphics from Unearthed: land, power and inequality in Latin America, a major study of land distribution in Latin America, reveal the gross inequalities of land distribution in the Americas.

First, a look at agricultural land tenure rates, featuring the percentage of farms in each country owned by the top one percent of landowners:

More from the report:

Latin America is the world’s most unequal region in terms of land distribution. The Gini coefficient for land—an indicator of between 0 and 1, where 1 represents the maximum inequality—is 0.79 for the region as a whole, 0.85 in South America and 0.75 in Central America. These figures indicate much higher levels of land concentration than in Europe (0.57), Africa (0.56) or Asia (0.55).

According to this indicator, Paraguay (with a Gini coefficient of 0.93) is the country where land is most unequally distributed, followed by Chile (0.91) and Venezuela (0.88). At the other end of
the spectrum is Costa Rica (0.67), which has the most equitable land distribution in the region. Most Latin American countries have extremely high levels of concentration with Gini coeffi-
cients above 0.80, while the ratio is over 0.90 in Chile and Paraguay.

Compared with the distribution of income—for which Latin America is also the most unequal region in the world—land distribution is even more inequitable. The regional Gini coefficient for income is 0.48 compared with 0.79 for land, and is higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa (0.43), North America (0.37) or the East Asia-Pacific region (0.37).

And, next, a look at what crops are planted on those vast latifundias:

Note particularly the vast acreage devoted to soybeans.

The great majority of those acres are planted with Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans, according to this September report from Reuters:

South American farmers are expected to sow 57 percent more area with Monsanto Co’s second-generation, genetically modified soybean seed Intacta RR2 Pro in the new planting season, a company executive said.

Intacta, which tolerates the herbicide glyphosate and resists caterpillars, was planted on 14 million hectares in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in 2015/2016.

Farmers are expected to plant 18 million to 22 million hectares this season, Maria Luiza Nachreiner, head of South American soy operations, said in an interview before Monsanto announced it would accept a $66 billion takeover bid from rival Bayer.

“We have a positive outlook this crop,” Nachreiner said.

Intacta will account for 31 percent to 38 percent of the planted area in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, up from 24 percent this season, she noted.

Monsanto does not release specific numbers about the area planted with its seeds in Brazil, the world’s largest soybean exporter. For years, its Roundup Ready Soybeans dominated the regional GMO seed market, peaking in 2013/14 with 84 percent of Brazil’s soybean area, according to data from local consultant Celeres.

To maintain those crops, farmers are also basically forced to use Monsanto weed-killers, most notably glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in the company’s Roundup,.

Roundup has been linked with a growing number of human health problems, but weeds have been growing tolerant, forcing the company to create new blends featuring even more toxic chemicals, including 2,4-D, one of two chemicals used in the toxic Agent Orange blend sprayed over much of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, resulting in a growing number of severe infant deformities.