Category Archives: Environment

California drought stirs up some partisan politics


While El Niño brought California some relief from the relentless drought that has brought an epidemic of wildfires, hardship to farmers, and now-eased water restrictions to city dwellers, 94.5 percent of the Golden State remains in one category or another of drought.

And when there’s a problem, politicians are sure to get involved, exploiting misery for partisan gain.

From The Hill:

The House twice in recent days has debated GOP-backed measures to increase the water pumped through federal infrastructure from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta — a massive delta that acts largely as the hub of the federal and state water canals — to Central Valley farms and Southern California.

Democrats have tried to stop the efforts, arguing that the water losses would hurt endangered fish and the delta’s ecosystem. They say conservation and technology development are key to solving a drought exacerbated by climate change.

Meanwhile, the Senate is debating Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) bill to give more flexibility to federal authorities in water pumping decisions.

And California’s drought is entering the presidential election too, thanks to a Friday visit to Fresno by Republican Donald Trump, who declared, “we’re going to solve your water problem.”

It was Bernie Sanders who responded to Trump’s idiocy with a few well-chosen words reported by ABC News:

Bernie Sanders mocked the presumptive Republican nominee for his recent comments on the drought in California, calling out Donald Trump over his dismissal of climate change.

“You see, we don’t fully appreciate the genius of Donald Trump, who knows more than all the people of California, knows more than all the scientists,” Sanders told the crowd of more than 5,000 people who braved 92 degree heat to hear the senator speak.

Sanders mentioned Trump’s recent campaign stops in the Golden State ahead of the June 7 primary.

“[Trump] knows there is no drought. Not to mention, and I love this one, that Trump has concluded that climate change itself is a hoax,” Sanders said.

Enigma solved: Why the Antarctic warms slower


Observed warming over the past 50 years (in degrees Celsius per decade) shows rapid warming in the Arctic, while the Southern Ocean around Antarctica has warmed little, if at all. Kyle Armour/University of Washington

Observed warming over the past 50 years (in degrees Celsius per decade) shows rapid warming in the Arctic, while the Southern Ocean around Antarctica has warmed little, if at all. Kyle Armour/University of Washington

Following up on today’s post about the coral die-off in the Great Barrier Reef, another entry about oceans in the Southern Hemisphere, this time heading further south.

From the University of Washington:

The waters surrounding Antarctica may be one of the last places to experience human-driven climate change. New research from the University of Washington and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds that ocean currents explain why the seawater has stayed at roughly the same temperature while most of the rest of the planet has warmed.

The new study resolves a scientific conundrum, and an inconsistent pattern of warming often seized on by climate deniers. Observations and climate models show that the unique currents around Antarctica continually pull deep, centuries-old water up to the surface – seawater that last touched Earth’s atmosphere before the machine age, and has never experienced fossil fuel-related climate change. The paper is published May 30 in Nature Geoscience.

“With rising carbon dioxide you would expect more warming at both poles, but we only see it at one of the poles, so something else must be going on,” said lead author Kyle Armour, a UW assistant professor of oceanography and of atmospheric sciences. “We show that it’s for really simple reasons, and ocean currents are the hero here.”

Gale-force westerly winds that constantly whip around Antarctica act to push surface water north, continually drawing up water from below. The Southern Ocean’s water comes from such great depths, and from sources that are so distant, that it will take centuries before the water reaching the surface has experienced modern global warming.

Other places in the oceans, like the west coast of the Americas and the equator, draw seawater up from a few hundred meters depth, but that doesn’t have the same effect.

“The Southern Ocean is unique because it’s bringing water up from several thousand meters [as much as 2 miles],” Armour said. “It’s really deep, old water that’s coming up to the surface, all around the continent. You have a lot of water coming to the surface, and that water hasn’t seen the atmosphere for hundreds of years.”

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Another climate-caused Great Barrier Reef die-off


p of mortality estimates on coral reefs along 1100km of the Great Barrier Reef.

Map of mortality estimates on coral reefs along 1100km of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef, one of the great natural wonders of the world and a critical breeding ground for fish and other marine species, is slowly dying.

The culprit is global warming, and this year’s die-off is the third such event in less than two decades.

From the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia:

Coral reef scientists estimate that mass bleaching has killed 35% of corals on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef.

After months of intensive aerial and underwater surveys, researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reed Studies have released an initial estimate of the death toll from coral bleaching.

The impact, which is still unfolding, changes dramatically from north to south along the 2300km length of the Reef.

“We found on average, that 35% of the corals are now dead or dying on 84 reefs that we surveyed along the northern and central sections of the Great Barrier Reef, between Townsville and Papua New Guinea,” says Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (JCU).

“Some reefs are in much better shape, especially from Cairns southwards, where the average mortality is estimated at only 5%.

“This year is the third time in 18 years that the Great Barrier Reef has experienced mass bleaching due to global warming, and the current event is much more extreme than we’ve measured before.

“These three events have all occurred while global temperatures have risen by just 1 degree C above the pre-industrial period.

“We’re rapidly running out of time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Coral bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, like heightened sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, called ‘zooxanthellae’.

The loss of these algae causes the corals to turn white, and ‘bleach’.

Bleached corals can recover if the temperature drops and zooxanthellae are able to recolonise them, otherwise the coral may die.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

Continue reading

Map of the day: European urbanization patterns


From Eurostat:

BLOG Euro urban

Feds give thumbs up to Cal offshore fracking


From The Hill:

Federal regulators ruled Friday that offshore hydraulic fracturing has no “significant” environmental impact off California’s coast.

The two agencies responsible for offshore drilling, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), finalized a pair of environmental study documents Friday regarding the impact findings.

“The comprehensive analysis shows that these practices, conducted according to permit requirements, have minimal impact,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement.

The research by the agencies analyzed both fracking and other well stimulation techniques in the 23 offshore drilling platforms that have operated off California’s coast from 1982 to 2014.

Headlines of the day: Primary posturings


First, from Politico:

Clinton scrambles to salvage California

A final loss to Bernie Sanders in the nation’s most populous state, where Clinton won comfortably eight years ago, would be a fitting coda to an upside-down primary season.

Second, more shit from the bull, via USA Today:

Donald Trump tells Californians there is no drought

Trump said state officials were simply denying water to Central Valley farmers to prioritize the Delta smelt, a native California fish nearing extinction — or as Trump called it, “a certain kind of three-inch fish.”

Today in climate change: Political ploys & reefs


It’s gonna be a hot time on the Big Blue Marble if the GOP has its way.

We begin the presumptive presidential candidate, via the Associated Press:

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump unveiled an “America first” energy plan he said would unleash unfettered production of oil, coal, natural gas and other energy sources to push the United States toward energy independence.

Mr Trump promised on Thursday to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of US tax money to a United Nations fund to mitigate effects of climate change worldwide.

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He said he would do everything he could “free up the coal” and bring back thousands of coal jobs lost amid steep competition from cheaper natural gas and regulations designed to cut air pollution and reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

And then there’s the second place candidate, whose noxious schemes are no less inflammatory than the first place finisher.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called on the Justice Department to back off the oil industry, joining other Republican lawmakers asking Attorney General Loretta Lynch to drop any investigations into whether oil companies committed fraud in past statements downplaying the science and impact of climate change.

“The Obama administration and its allies in state attorney general offices across the country are threatening to use the power of government to intimidate and ultimately silence companies and researchers who do not agree with the government’s opinions about the allegedly harmful effects of climate change and what should be done about it,” Cruz, an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate, said in a statement. “This is an abuse of power and a direct assault on the First Amendment.”

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Next up, two different responses the the fate of the world’s rapidly bleaching coral reefs.

Al Jazeera English focuses on dirty tricks Down Under:

Australia’s government has intervened to have all references to the country removed from a United Nations report examining the effect of climate change on world heritage sites over concern it could have a negative impact on tourism.

The World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate report – released on Friday – has upset climate scientists, who were not informed that their contributions had been removed upon the request from Australia’s Department of the Environment.

Will Steffen, a climate scientist at the Australian National University, who had been asked to contribute to the report, told Al Jazeera from Canberra that the report was scientifically sound and would have had no effect on tourism.

“It simply put out the facts about what the risks were to the reef and what needed to be done to deal with those risks,” he told Al Jazeera.

“So to have that pulled out was quite a shocking event for us scientists down here in Australia. I think very few tourists would pick up a UNESCO report and read it before they decided where to go on their holidays.”

And, finally, the opposite approach, via the Guardian:

Thailand has shut down 10 popular diving sites in a bid to slow a coral bleaching crisis, an official said Thursday, in a rare move to shun tourism profits to protect the environment.

The tropical country’s southern coastline and string of islands are home to some of the world’s most prized white sand beaches and scuba sites, and the booming tourism industry props up Thailand’s lagging economy.

But warming waters and ever-growing swarms of visitors have damaged coral reefs and local ecosystems.

The National Parks department has now indefinitely closed at least 10 diving spots after a survey found bleaching on up to 80% of some reefs.