Category Archives: Environment

Global warming amplifies W. Pacific typhoons


Yet another destructive gift from a reality that Donald Trump and his Big Oil minions deny.

No wonder the incoming administration wanted the names of Department of Energy scientists engaged in climate research.

From the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory:

An analysis of the strongest tropical storms, known as super typhoons, in the western Pacific over the last half-century reveals that they are intensifying. Higher global temperatures have enhanced global rainfall, particularly over the tropical oceans. Rain that falls on the ocean reduces salinity and allows typhoons to grow stronger.

“This work has identified an extremely important region affected by this, the western tropical Pacific known as Typhoon Alley. These storms are really destructive over that region,” said oceanographer Karthik Balaguru of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who published the work in a recent issue of Nature Communications.

The unique contribution of this work is that it identifies the need to study upper ocean salinity in addition to temperature in examining the intensity of typhoons.

Typhoons — the same storms as their Atlantic cousins known as hurricanes — normally have a natural check on how intense they grow. The storms rely on heat from the ocean to build. Their strong winds whip up the ocean surface. This churns the ocean and brings deeper colder water to the surface, which cools off the surface and reduces the typhoon’s power.

Previous studies suggested that as the planet warms, so does the surface of the ocean. As the temperature difference between surface ocean water and deeper water increases, ocean churning by typhoons cools the surface more strongly, which ultimately might decrease the intensity of tropical storms in the future.

But freshwater is less dense than saltwater. A warmer atmosphere brings more rainfall to the ocean than a cooler one. This freshwater collecting on top prevents the churning, keeping the surface warmer. Thus, a lack of ocean water mixing might mean a more intense storm.

Previously, studies that focused on global warming’s effect on typhoons did not generally include the salinity factor, so Balaguru and colleagues at PNNL, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided to incorporate it. This allowed them to look at the effect of freshwater on the ocean both in the past and the future.

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DroughtWatch: Another week and more relief


California’s epic drought declined a little more over the past week, with a 2.43 percent reduction in the Extreme Drought category and a 3.77 percent drop in the Severe Drought category.

Overall, 18.07 percent of the Golden State is now drought-free this week, including nine of the state’s fifty-eight counties, compared to 17.47 percent and eight counties last week.

From the United States Drought Monitor:

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Calls to end a dangerous new GMO technology


What if scientists devised to introduce new genetic alternations in a way that ensured the altered genes spread rapidly through a species in the wild?

The scientists who have done just that contend their inventions would ensure the rapid diffusion of genetic traits that would benefit humanity.

But that assertion implies a godlike omniscience, and if we know anything of the fathomless human capacity for hubris, just sucj thinking invariably leads to catastrophe.

The technology is called the gene drive, and its so scary that the even Pentagon has grown wary of a technology they have supported, as Scientific American reported last month:

Over the next four years a new program in the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to cultivate, among other things, a kind of cleanup crew for engineered genes deemed harmful to or undesirable in an ecosystem. The initiative, called Safe Genes, comes at a time when so-called “gene drive” systems, which override the standard rules of gene inheritance and natural selection, are raising hopes among some scientists that the technology could alter or suppress populations of disease-carrying insects or other pests in as few as 20 generations.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sees so much promise in gene drive technology that it plans to double spending on its Target Malaria initiative, which aims to create systems for driving genes in two species of malaria mosquitoes, to $70 million. Yet without careful precautions, a gene drive released into the wild could spread or change in unexpected ways. Kevin Esvelt, head of the Sculpting Evolution lab at MIT Media Lab, which is applying for Safe Genes funding in collaboration with eight other research groups, predicts that eventually, perhaps around 15 years from now, an accident will allow a drive with potential to spread globally to escape laboratory controls. “It’s not going to be bioterror,” he says, “it’s going to be ‘bioerror.’”

DARPA itself has been one of the largest public funders of synthetic biology research in the U.S. in recent years, upping its spending on synthetic biology projects to more than $100 million in 2014 from nothing in 2010, according to one analysis. The agency announced its Safe Genes program in September 2016 and plans to award funding to multiple research teams by the first half of 2017. “If we’re going to be really bullish about genome engineering,” says DARPA program manager Renee Wegrzyn, “we need to be just as aggressive with tools to reverse those changes.”

The fact that t’s the Pentagon which has backed the technology should be frightening enough, given that the building they’re in was built by the same fellow who headed the American nuclear weapons program for what was then called [more honestly than today] the Department of War.

Civil groups call for a stop to gene drives

And now a coalition of global environmental , labor, and other civil groups is calling for a halt to the new technology.

From Via Campesina News:

At the 2016 UN Convention on Biodiversity held in Cancun Mexico this month, international conservation and environmental leaders called upon governments to establish a moratorium on the controversial genetic extinction technology called gene drives.

Gene drives, developed through new gene-editing techniques- are designed to force a particular genetically engineered trait to spread through an entire wild population – potentially changing entire species or even causing deliberate extinctions. The statement urges governments to put in place an urgent, global moratorium on the development and release of the new technology, which poses serious and potentially irreversible threats to biodiversity, as well as national sovereignty, peace and food security.

Over 170 civil society organisations from six continents have joined the call. Among them were environmental organizations including Friends of the Earth International; trade unions such as the International Union of Food Workers representing over 10 million workers in 127 countries; the largest global organization  of small-scale famers La Via Campesina International, and organics movements like the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements; the international indigenous peoples’ organization Tebtebba; scientist coalitions including European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility and Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad (Mexico); as well as ETC Group and Third World Network.

We can be certain that corporations seeking to release the new technology into the world will lie about it, just as Monsanto conducted a massive smear campaign to destroy the reputations and careers of scientists like Ignacio Chapela of the University of California at Berkeley [previously] when he reported that genes from Monsanto’s patented corn strains had escaped into the wild, infecting root race varieties of maize in Mexico.

The Law of Unintended Consequences speaks to the inevitability that  actions on complex system designed to create a similar response will inevitably lead to other consequences unanticipated by those who initiate the actions.

And when those actions could impact the whole biosphere, we should tremble in our boots.

Greenland’s ice cap marches towards extinction


We begin with a brief excerpt from a report By Clare Foran, associate editor of and political writer for The Atlantic:

Denial of the broad scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of global warming could become a guiding principle of Donald Trump’s presidential administration. Though it’s difficult to pindown exactly what Trump thinks about climate change, he has a well-established track record of skepticism and denial. He has called global warming a “hoax,” insisted while campaigning for the Republican nomination that he’s “not a big believer in man-made climate change,” and recently suggested that “nobody really knows” if climate change exists. Trump also plans to nominate Republicans to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department who have expressed skepticism toward the scientific agreement on human-caused global warming.

Indeed, Trump’s election is a triumph of climate denial, and will elevate him to the top of a Republican Party where prominent elected officials have publiclyrejected the climate consensus. It’s not that the presidential election was a referendum on global warming. Climate change barely came up during the presidential debates, and voters rated the environment as a far less pressing concern than issues like the economy, terrorism, and health care. But that relative lack of concern signals that voters have not prioritized action on climate change, if they want any action taken at all. Trump’s victory sends a message that failing to embrace climate science still isn’t disqualifying for a presidential candidate, even as scientists warn that the devastating consequences of global warming are under way and expected to intensify in the years ahead.

Trump’s elevation of the Republican booboisie to positions of unprecedented power over the national climate agenda represents the start of a truly dystopian nightmare.

It would all be bizarrely humorous were the consequences not so great and at what history may well look back on as a nexial moment in world politics.

and as for that evidence, consider this from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

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And the report:

Although surface melt on the Greenland Ice Sheet did not set a new record in 2016, the long-term trend of decreasing mass continued, according to the latest Arctic Report Card from NOAA and its partners. Multiple factors likely contributed to ice loss in 2016: early melt-season onset, low reflectiveness (“albedo” to climate experts), and unusually high air temperatures and prolonged melt in some regions.

Adapted from the 2016 Arctic Report Card, this graph shows monthly changes in Greenland’s total ice mass between April 2002 and April 2016. The ice mass amounts measured (vertical axis) are relative to the ice mass as of April 2002 (horizontal line set to 0). Report card authors estimated the changes based on measurements by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). The background photo is from Operation IceBridge.

The ups and downs in the graph track the accumulation of snow in the cold season and the melting of the ice sheet in the warm season. The Arctic Report Card: Update for 2016 reported that between April 2015 and April 2016, Greenland lost approximately 191 gigatonnes of ice, roughly the same amount that was lost between April 2014 and April 2015. Though the April 2015–April 2016 mass loss was lower than the average April-to-April decline over the entire observation period, it continued the long-term melt trend: approximately 269 gigatonnes per year from 2002 to 2016.

Over the course of the  2016 warm season, melting was especially pronounced in Greenland’s southwest and northeast. Melt season lasted about 30 to 40 days longer than usual in the northeast, and about 15 to 20 days longer along the west coast. Albedo (the proportion of incoming solar radiation reflected back into space) was the fifth lowest since the year 2000. Albedo was particularly low in the southwest, and near normal only in the northwest.

Climate change poses a major threat to ants


While most of us notice the humble ant only when it invades our homes in wet weather, filch our food at picnic, or deliver a nasty bite when we invade their world, this modest insect plays a vital role in the ecosystem, as noted on the Harvard University forest website:

  • Ants play an important role in the environment.
  • Ants turn and aerate the soil, allowing water and oxygen to reach plant roots.
  • Ants take seeds down into their tunnel to eat the nutritious elaiosomes that are part of the seed.
  • These seeds often sprout and grow new plants (seed dispersal).
  • Ants eat a wide variety of organic material and provide food for many different organisms.

But now, as with so many other creatures on the land, under the waters, and in the air, this vitally important animal faces a serious threat from climate change, a threat that could pose great peril to the rest of us.

From Bowling Green State University:

The world of forest ants may provide a macrocosm of the complex reactions and interactions among species affected by global climate change, according to a research project involving Bowling Green State University biologist Dr. Shannon Pelini.

As escalating amounts of carbon dioxide are introduced into the atmosphere, a chain reaction is induced, leading to increasingly warmer temperatures, Pelini said. This is taking place at an alarming rate, making it more important than ever that we understand how climate change will affect our natural world.

Many scientists have attempted to tackle this issue by determining the thermal tolerance of various species, then predicting what will happen to them as our world warms. However, this approach as a way to understand nature has its drawbacks because one species never acts alone. Individuals are constantly interacting with other species and the environment in which they live, so comprehending how global change impacts these interactions is crucial to a holistic understanding.

Pelini and her colleagues have made significant progress in this direction with their new study, “Climatic Warming Destabilizes Forest Ant Communities” [open access], which looks at complex interactions of ant communities and their responses to warming. The study was published [open access] in the Oct. 26 edition of the journal Science Advances.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Program for Ecosystem Research and the National Science Foundation, the long-term experiment looked at the interactions ants exhibit over nesting structures in two distinctly different geographical areas. As a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, and in collaboration with investigators from the University of Vermont, the University of Tennessee and North Carolina State University, Pelini designed and built large warming chambers within Harvard Forest in Massachusetts. These chambers were also replicated in Duke Forest in North Carolina to provide a comparison to the cooler Harvard Forest.

“It’s one of the biggest climate change experiments in the entire world, which is a really exciting thing to be a part of,” Pelini said. “We were shooting for understanding what goes on with ant communities that exist in a cooler northern latitude and how their responses compare to the same suite of species in populations that occur in the warmer lower latitude.”

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DroughtWatch: Rains bring some significant relief


Today’s updated report from the United States Drought Monitor shows reductions in all drought classifications, with eight of California’s 58 counties now drought-free, thanks to last week’s rains and snowfall:

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Quote of the day: Be afraid. Be very afraid. . .


A sign of the complete corporate victory over the public interest, from Monday’s lead editorial in the Washington Post:

Having held partial or controlling stakes in companies ranging from Phillips Petroleum to American Railcar Industries, billionaire investor Carl Icahn certainly knows a thing or two about how federal regulators deal with business. He also is, at 80, a successful, intelligent, deeply experienced investment pro. Whether his is the ideal résumé for a special adviser to the president on regulatory reform is less clear. Foxes are experts on chicken coops, it is true.

Federal safety, environmental and financial regulations necessarily involve balancing of costs and benefits to the public. The Obama administration’s approach frequently struck the balance in favor of more rules, and there is a reasonable case to be made that pruning regulatory overgrowth could, indeed, help the economy — which, by the way, is doing reasonably well. But Mr. Icahn’s sweeping indictments of the regulatory agencies, voiced repeatedly during the campaign, suggest he would urge President-elect Donald Trump to swing wildly in the opposite direction. “You almost get enraged by some of the stuff,” he told CNBC on Thursday.

The Trump transition team’s statement announcing Mr. Icahn’s new role quoted him as saying that “under President Obama, America’s business owners have been crippled by over $1 trillion in new regulations.” We don’t know where that number comes from, though we did find an estimate from the conservative regulation skeptics at American Action Forum, a think tank, that puts the total cost of major new regulation imposed since the beginning of the second term of George W. Bush’s presidency at $1 trillion. Notably, that study also mentioned $745 billion worth of offsetting social benefits.