Category Archives: Environment

July was the hottest month ever recorded on earth


BLOG Temps

From NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies:

July 2016 was the warmest July in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

Because the seasonal temperature cycle peaks in July, it means July 2016 also was warmer than any other month on record. July 2016’s temperature was a statistically small 0.1 degrees Celsius warmer than previous warm Julys in 2015, 2011 and 2009.

“It wasn’t by the widest of margins, but July 2016 was the warmest month since modern record keeping began in 1880,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. “It appears almost a certainty that 2016 also will be the warmest year on record.”

The record warm July continued a streak of 10 consecutive months dating back to October 2015 that have set new monthly high-temperature records. Compared to previous years, the warmer global temperatures last month were most pronounced in the northern hemisphere, particularly near the Arctic region.

The monthly analysis by the GISS team is assembled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations. The modern global temperature record begins around 1880 because previous observations didn’t cover enough of the planet.

ChevronTexaco’s deadly Ecuadorian legacy


During our years reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we wrote any number of stories about the Chevron refinery in nearby Richmond on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

As the dominant economic power in a city on of the region’s poorest city, one with a large minority population and in a state of economic implosion, the company was the target of considerable community concerns about fires [they had ‘em] and pollution.

The firm was represented by Willie Brown, the former powerful speaker of the lower house of the legislature of the richest and most populous state in the country, the same Willie Brown casino developers hired to sell the black population of Atlantic City on the ballot measure that legalized casinos there. Willie promised them jobs and good housing; they got neither.

Sophisticated at public relations and press-spinning, Chevron played a dominant role in funding city council elections and turning out supporters, sometimes financed by contributions to churches and other organizations, to ensure their messages got across at city council meetings.

But Richmond’s concerns pale compared to those experienced by thousands of Ecuadorians, the subject of former Bay Area journalist Abby Martin’s latest episode of her series for teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Chevron vs. the Amazon – Inside the Killzone

Program notes:

A U.S. court just handed another victory to the oil giant Chevron Texaco, in its decades-long battle to avoid paying damages it owes in one of the worst environmental disasters in history. In the Ecuadorean Amazon, the most biodiverse area of the world, the energy titan deliberately poisoned 5 million acres of pristine habitat and subjected tens of thousands of indigenous peoples to destruction of their health and culture. In Part 1 of ‘Chevron vs. the Amazon,’ Abby Martin takes The Empire Files inside Chevron Texaco’s Amazon killzone to see the areas deemed “remediated” by Chevron, and spoke with the people living in the aftermath.

Map of the day: European noise pollution


From the European Environment Agency, a look at regions in Europe and their relative exposure to noise pollution and possibility suitable for designation as quiet zones:

BLOG Euroquiet

Mexico moves to save the endangered Vaquita


One of the world’s rarest animals and the rarest of all of its kind is the vaquita [previously], an endangered porpoise living only in a small are of the Gulf of Mexico.

The marvelous mammal is on the brink of extinction because those same waters are populated by a fish possessed of a swim bladder rich Chinese men covet because they believe it restores virility to their aging penises. . .and because possessing it is a sign of their riches.

The fish, the totuaba, is itself on the list of threatened species, but the greatest danger in the illegal fishing by hard-pressed Mexican fisherfolk is to the Vaquita, often caught in the nets used to catch totuaba.

But now the Mexican government has finally acted.

From Environment News Service:

Mexico is to permanently ban the use of gillnets in waters where the endangered vaquita is found, in an attempt to save from extinction this small porpoise found only in the Gulf of California, Mexico.

Today, vaquita numbers are thought to have dropped to just 60 surviving individuals, according to the most recent report of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee.

Vaquitas inhabit the northern part of the Gulf of California where gillnets are used to catch a species of fish, the totoaba, also at risk of extinction.

>snip<

The ban offers a chance to save both species but this can only be achieved with strict enforcement and monitoring to prevent illegal poaching.

“Without action the vaquita will be gone – the second entirely preventable cetacean extinction we will have witnessed in the last 10 years,” warns the 2016 report of the IWC’s Scientific Committee.

Map of the day II: Global Vegetation Health Index


From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Drought Information System:

BLOG Veg

Climate change threatens the world’s primates


Many of the world’s primates, our closest genetic relatives on the planet, face a new man-made threat: Climate change.

The abstract from a sobering report  from scientists at Concordia and McGill universities in Canada concludes this way:

Although all primate species will experience substantial changes from current climatic conditions, our hotspot analysis suggests that species in Central America, the Amazon, and southeastern Brazil, as well as portions of East and Southeast Asia, may be the most vulnerable to the anticipated impacts of global warming. It is essential that impacts of human-induced climate change be a priority for research and conservation planning in primatology, particularly for species that are already threatened by other human pressures. The vulnerable species and regional hotspots that we identify here represent critical priorities for conservation efforts, as existing challenges are expected to become increasingly compounded by the impacts of global warming.

Though you’ll have to fork out $39.95 to Springer to read more than the abstract of the published report, a summary from Concordia University lays out the basics:

The consequences of climate change are an increasing concern for humans around the world. How will we cope with rising sea levels and climbing temperatures? But it’s not just humans who will be affected by these worldwide shifts — it’s our closest cousins, too: monkeys, apes and lemurs.

A new Concordia study published in the International Journal of Primatology [$39.95 to read it] shows that the world’s primate populations may be seriously impacted by climate change.

“Our research shows that climate change may be one of the biggest emerging threats to primates, compounding existing pressures from deforestation, hunting and the exotic pet trade,” says Tanya Graham, the article’s lead author and an MSc student in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment.

She worked with environment professor Damon Matthews from Concordia and primatology post-doctoral researcher Sarah Turner from McGill to assess the exposure and potential vulnerability of all non-human primate species to projected future temperature and precipitation changes. They found that overall, 419 species of non-human primates — such as various species of lemurs, lorises, tarsiers, monkeys and apes — will experience 10 per cent more warming than the global average, with some primate species experiencing increases of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in annual average temperature for every degree of global warming.

The researchers also identified several hotspots of primate vulnerability to climate change, based on the combination of the number of species, their endangered status and the severity of climate changes at each location. Overall, the most extreme hotspots, which represent the upper 10 per cent of all hotspot scores, cover a total area of 3,622,012 square kilometres over the ranges of 67 primate species.

The highest hotspot scores occur in Central America, the Amazon and southeastern Brazil, as well as portions of East and Southeast Asia — prime territory for some of the globe’s best-known primates who call these areas home.

The ursine howler monkey, black howler monkey, and barbary macaque are expected to be exposed to the highest magnitude of climate change when both temperature and precipitation are considered. For example, the ursine howler monkey, found in Venezuela, will experience an increase of 1.2 degrees Celsius annually and a 5.3 per cent decline in annual rainfall for each degree of global temperature increase.

“This study highlights the vulnerability of individual species, as well as regions in which primates as a whole may be vulnerable to climate change,” says Matthews, who will present the findings of this study during the Joint Meeting of the International Primatological Society and the American Society of Primatologists in Chicago later this month.

“Our findings can be taken as priorities for ongoing conservation efforts, given that any success in decreasing other current human pressures on endangered species may also increase that species’ ability to withstand the growing pressures of climate changes,” says Graham.

“Primates are often seen as flagship species for entire ecosystems, so conservation can have important ramifications for many other species too. I hope our study will help direct conservation efforts for individual primate species in particular, but also for vulnerable ecosystems in general throughout the tropical regions inhabited by non-human primates,” adds Turner.

Maps of the day: Heat extremes high in June, July


New maps from NASA’s Earth Observatory show how far temperatures in June and July departed from previous norms. First up, Russia:

BLOG Heat Russia

From NASA:

Warm weather is to be expected in the summer, but the oppressive heat that affected several regions in the summer of 2016 went well beyond warm. In June and July, people in Siberia, the Middle East, and North America faced extreme heat waves.

Parts of Siberia, where cool weather usually lingers even during summer, saw temperatures that would have been more fitting for the tropics. In July, a rare outbreak of anthrax even occurred in the Yamal Peninsula after hot weather melted permafrost and exposed the carcass of a reindeer. Since the outbreak began, the bacteria has killed one child and more than 2,300 reindeer.

BLOG Heat Mideast

Meanwhile, on July 21, 2016, as an intense heat wave gripped the Middle East and Southwest Asia, a weather station in Mitrabah, Kuwait, recorded a temperature of 54.0 degrees Celsius (129.2 degrees Fahrenheit)—possibly the highest temperature on record for the Eastern Hemisphere and Asia. Before declaring the record officially broken, a committee of World Meteorological Organization experts will investigate whether the sensor used to make the measurement is reliable.

Parts of the Western Hemisphere saw streaks of hot weather as well. In June, record-breaking heat scorched the southwestern United States. In July, several cities in the Southwest and Southeast broke monthly temperature records. For two states—Florida and New Mexico—July 2016 proved to be the hottest July on record. During the peak of one heatwave, about 124 million people were under extreme heat warnings in the United States, according to the National Weather Service.

BLOG Heat US

The three maps on this page show land surface temperature anomalies in Russia, the Middle East, and North America from July 20–27, 2016, compared to temperatures for the same dates from 2001 to 2010. The anomalies are based on land surface temperatures observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Red areas were hotter than the long-term average by as much as 12 degrees Celsius (22 degrees Fahrenheit) in some places; blue areas were below average. White pixels had normal temperatures, and gray pixels did not have enough data, most likely due to excessive cloud cover. Oceans and lakes appear in gray.

Note that land surface temperatures are not the same as air temperatures. Instead, they reflect the heating of the land surface by sunlight, and they can sometimes be significantly hotter or cooler than air temperatures. (To learn more about land surface temperatures and air temperatures, read: Where is the Hottest Place on Earth?)

The bouts of heat come amidst an unusually hot year globally. The six-month period from January to June was the warmest half-year in NASA’s global temperature record, with an average temperature that was 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than in the late 19th century. This follows 2015, which was the warmest year on record and part of the warmest decade on record. The ongoing warming trend—as well as the increasing frequency and severity of high-humidity heat waves—is ultimately driven by rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“While people are very interested in records—the warmest, the hottest, the driest, the wettest—what really matters for how people live and how ecosystems function are the long-term trends and the shift in the whole distribution toward warmer temperatures,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, on To the Point. “The most important thing to remember is that this is part of a long-term trend. We’re not [just] talking about a one-off temperature record. We’re talking about whole stretches of time in India and Pakistan where it’s above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).”