Category Archives: Nature

Map of the day: Mother Earth gets even hotter


Global temperature anomalies in April compared to temperatures for the same month between 1951 and 1980 in degrees centigrade.

Global temperature anomalies in April compared to temperatures for the same month between 1951 and 1980, measured in degrees centigrade.

Following up on today’s post about record high temperatures in India, a global overview from the World Meteorological Organization:

Global temperature records were broken yet again in April for the 12th consecutive month, the longest such streak in the 137-year record of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Overall, 13 out of the 15 highest monthly temperature departures in the record have all occurred since February 2015.

NOAA said the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for April 2016 was 1.10°C (1.98°F) above the 20th century average of 13.7°C (56.7°F) – the highest temperature departure for April since global records began in 1880. This value surpassed the previous record set in 2010 by 0.28°C (0.50°F).

The global analysis from NOAA confirmed the findings of separate datasets from NASA and the Japan Meteorological Administration.

“Another month, another record,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “The extraordinary heat that was recorded in 2015 pales by comparison to 2016. It is a combined effect of climate change and El Nino,” said Mr Taalas.

“El Niño is fading fast and will probably give way later this year to La Niña. But any cooling effect from La Niña will be temporary and will not be enough to rein in the global warming from greenhouse gases,” said Mr Taalas.

“The rapid implementation of the Paris Climate Change agreement is taking on the utmost urgency, if the ambitious 1.5-2.0 C targets would be reached,” said Mr Taalas.

“For the first time ever, carbon dioxide concentrations in the southern hemisphere have joined those in the northern hemisphere and passed the 400 parts per million level. They are likely to stay there. This is more than just a symbolic threshold. At the current rate of increase in CO₂ levels, we are on track to reach the 2°C temperature limit within the next two generations,” said Mr Taalas.

Measurements at Cape Grim on Tasmania’s northwest coast reached the 400 ppm milestone on 10 May and at Casey Station in Antarctica on 14 May, according to CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology of Australia. The stations form part of WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch network, which spans 100 countries, including stations high in the Alps, Andes and Himalayas, as well as the Arctic and Antarctic.

CO₂ concentrations over the southern hemisphere are trailing those in the planet’s northern half, where 400 ppm level was breached in 2014-15.

Human activity has increased the direct warming effect of CO₂ in the atmosphere by 50 percent above pre-industrial levels during the past 25 years, according to NOAA’s 10th Annual Greenhouse Gas Index

According to the NOAA monthly temperature report, much of Russia and Alaska witnessed temperatures of at least 3.0°C (5.4°F) or greater above average. South America, Africa, and Asia (with an exceptional heatwave in Southeast Asia) also had record high average temperatures.

The April globally averaged sea surface temperature was 0.80°C (1.44°F) above the 20th century monthly average, the highest on record.

According to data from NOAA analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during April was 890,000 square miles below the 1981–2010 average. This was the smallest April Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent in the 50-year period of record.

And form the same report, a chart comparing 2016 temperature with the top seven other warmest years on record:

BLOG Temps chart

India hits record high temp; 2016 to set record


From the India Meteorological Department, a map of weather conditions, with residents of the regions marked in red urged to take immediate action to protect themselves from the killer heat.

From the India Meteorological Department, a map of weather conditions, with residents of the regions marked in red urged to take immediate action to protect themselves from the killer heat.

India is suffering from a devastating heat wave that is destroying lives and crops and depleting the nation’s water supplies.

And today, in a year which has seen the hottest April in recorded history, India set a new temperature record.

From USA Today:

India sweltered to a scorching 123.8 degrees Thursday, setting a new all-time high that breaks a 60-year-old record, the India Meteorological Department said.

Officials recorded the blistering temperature in Phalodi in Rajasthan state in the northwestern part of the country. It bests a record most recently set in 1956 of 123.1 degrees in the city of Alwar, also in Rajasthan. That temperature was also recorded May 25, 1886 in Pachpadra in the same state.

The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth is 134 degrees in Death Valley, Calif., on July 10, 1913.

More on the impacts of the devastating Indian heat wave from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

The prolonged heat wave this year has already killed hundreds and destroyed crops in more than 13 states, impacting hundreds of millions of Indians.

Hundreds of farmers are reported to have killed themselves across the country and tens of thousands of small farmers have been forced to abandon their farmland and live in squalor in urban slums in order to earn a living.

Rivers, lakes and dams have dried up in many parts of the western states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat, and overall officials say that groundwater reservoirs are severely depleted.

In some areas, the situation is so bad the government has sent in water by train for emergency relief.

And some more context, yet more frightening, from Bloomberg:

The number of climate records broken in the last few years is stunning. But here’s a new measure of misery: Not only did we just experience the hottest April in 137 years of record keeping, but it was the 12th consecutive month to set a new record.

It’s been relentless. May 2015 was the hottest May in records dating back to 1880. That was followed by the hottest June. Then came a record July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February, March—and, we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday—the hottest April. In an age of rising temperatures, monthly heat records have become all too common. Still, a string of 12 of them is without precedent.

Perhaps even more remarkable is the magnitude of the new records. The extremes of recent months are such that we’re only four months into 2016 and already there’s a greater than 99 percent likelihood that this year will be the hottest on record, according to Gavin Schmidt, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

If NASA’s Schmidt is right, 2016 will be the third consecutive year to set a new global heat record—the first time that’s ever happened. So far, 15 of the hottest 16 years ever measured have come in the 21st century.

But relax, India. Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, the chair of the Senate Environment Committee who says the Bible proves human-caused climate change isn’t real, has some help to throw your way:

BLOG Inhofe

Maps of the day III: Warm seas are bleaching coral


From NASA’s Earth Observatory comes today’s second post about dangers to the planet’s vitally important coral reefs [the first post is here]:

Warm Seas Lead to Extensive Coral Bleaching

Acquired February - March 2016

Acquired February – March 2016

For all of the apparent hardness of their skeletons, corals are rather fragile. Corals thrive under very specific conditions; in particular, they grow best within a small window of temperatures. If the water gets too hot or too cold, corals start to bleach and sometimes die.

The past two years have been the two hottest in the global temperature record, and coral reefs around the world are suffering because of it. The potent El Niño has amplified the problem. As a result, national and international science agencies have declared one of the worst global coral bleaching events on record.

“We are currently experiencing the longest global coral bleaching event ever observed,” said Mark Eakin, coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, in a February 2016 statement. “We may be looking at a 2- to 2.5-year-long event. Some areas have already seen bleaching two years in a row.”

Bleaching occurs when the algae that live inside corals (and give them some of their colors) are expelled due to stress, such as higher-than-normal water temperatures or pollution. The loss of the algae means the loss of a food source for the corals. Under extreme bleaching, corals become more susceptible to disease. Bleaching does not necessarily mean death for a reef, but it can often lead to it.

The images above and below are maps of sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs) in various regions over the past year. The maps do not depict absolute temperatures; instead, they show how much water temperatures were above (red) or below (blue) the long-term average for the same months from 2003 to 2012. Gray areas are too close to land and coastal shallows for a clear signal in this data set.

The map at the top of this page shows sea surface temperature anomalies for the southwestern Pacific Ocean for February and March 2016. The map below depicts equatorial Atlantic, Caribbean, and Pacific waters around the Americas in October and November 2015. The final map is a global view of SSTAs from November 2015 through February 2016, the peak of this winter’s El Niño.

Acquired October - November, 2015

Acquired October – November, 2015

The maps were built with data from the Microwave Optimally Interpolated SST product, a NASA-supported effort at Remote Sensing Systems. The research team combines measurements from the U.S. Navy’s WindSAT instrument on the Coriolis satellite and the AMSR2 instrument on Japan’s GCOM-W. The sensors observe emissions of microwaves and infrared light from the sea surface, capturing the temperature of the top few millimeters of the water.

Temperatures on these maps show above-average readings, but do not necessarily look extreme in the areas around the reefs. But keep in mind that corals are sensitive to relatively minor changes in temperature. Researchers from NOAA also point out that sustained heat stress over a long period of time—weeks to months—is more damaging than brief, extreme events.

Researchers from Australia’s Coral Bleaching Taskforce have reported that nearly 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has been affected in some way by the bleaching event. Temperatures around the reef most recently peaked in February and March 2016. After conducting aerial and in-water surveys, scientists observed that 81 percent of the reefs between Cairns, Australia, and Papua-New Guinea have been severely bleached, with another 18 percent partially bleached. Some reports suggest 50 percent of the corals might be dead already. Along the central latitudes of the reef system, 33 percent of the reefs were severely bleached, with another 56 partly affected. In the southernmost reaches, 1 percent was severely bleached and 74 percent had some level of distress. The central and southern portions were actually aided a bit by Cyclone Winston. The severe storm churned up enough cold water to reduce surface water temperatures and moderate the bleaching.

In the Caribbean and the reefs of the Florida Keys, bleaching events were most severe in the fall of 2015. Reefs around the Hawaiian Islands, Fiji, and other Pacific islands have been severely stressed and bleached. With 2016 global temperatures already setting records, there is concern that bleaching could occur again in 2016.

Acquired November 2015 - February, 2016

Acquired November 2015 – February, 2016

Reefer madness: Great Barrier Reef death watch


Great Barrier Reef inhabitants. Photograph by Matt Curnock.

Great Barrier Reef inhabitants. Photograph by Matt Curnock.

Absent radical and immediate intervention, one of the world’s greatest environmental wonders is doomed to destruction.

Reefs are not only objects of wonder and haven for incredible biological diversity; they are also the sites where many of the world’s fish are sheltered until they mature, and loss of coral reefs pose a major threat the the world’s leading source of animal protein for human consumption.

That’s the conclusion of scientists from James Cook University, perhaps the world’s leading academic center for coral reef studies:

Scientists from James Cook University say the Great Barrier Reef will be in a terminal condition within five years without a $10 billion commitment during this federal election campaign to improve water quality.

In a scientific paper [$35.95 from the raptors at Elsevier — esnl] released this week , JCU’s Jon Brodie, Chief Research Officer with the Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER), and Emeritus Professor Richard Pearson said it was now absolutely vital that pollutant targets were met so the reef could survive the seemingly inevitable ocean warming.

The scientists said many parts of the GBR are in bad shape and continuing to decline – with the main causes being pollutant runoff from agricultural and urban land, climate change impacts, and the effects of fishing.

“If we want to provide resilience against the current climate impacts, water management needs to be greatly improved, both in terms of money made available and a cohesive strategy, by 2025,” said Mr Brodie.

Scientists believe the next Crown of Thorns starfish (CoTS) wave of outbreaks is most likely to occur around 2025 – an event triggered by poor water quality.

Mr Brodie said if climate change continued at its current pace the combination of its effects and a CoTS outbreak or similar event could lead to disaster and permanent loss of the coral.

Mr Brodie said the current federal election campaign was probably the last chance for politicians to put forward their plans of action on water quality and climate change if the GBR is to avoid permanent damage.

“It takes time for change to happen and we need to start fast. If something is not done in this election cycle then we may not see good coral again within our children’s lifetime.”

The scientists said catchment and coastal management programs needed to be funded in the order of $1 billion per year over the next ten years.

“It may seem like a lot of money, but we know that amount would be effective and it’s small by comparison to the economic worth of the GBR – which is around $20 billion per year,” said Mr Brodie.

The pair said it was vital that management of the reef expand to the “Greater GBR”. This would mean expanding the Great Barrier Reef management area to explicitly include, as well as the World Heritage Area, an area from the Torres Strait to Hervey Bay, and the GBR catchment inland.

“We need to be managing the ecological Great Barrier Reef, not just the jurisdictional one,” said Mr Brodie.

Map of the day II: Water use by U.S. fracking wells


From the United Nations Environment Assembly’s GEO-6 Global Environment Outlook Regional Assessment for North America [PDF], fracking water use measured in cubic meters per well:

BLOG Fracking water

More on the assembly and links to more assessments for other regions here.

DroughtWatch: Some more relief for California


It’s official: 5.5 percent of California is out of drought this week, up from 4.26 percent last week.

While there’s no change in the worst category, where 21.04 percent of the state is listed as in a state of Exceptional Drought, unchanged from last week, there are much larger changes in some of the other categories designated by the the United States Drought Monitor.

There’s been a 4.92 percent decline in the second-worst [Extreme Drought] category, a 9.15 percent decline in the third-worst [Severe Drought] category, a 3.29 percent decline in the fourth-worst [Moderate Drought] category, and a 3.29 percent decline in the fifth-worst [Abnormally Dry] category.

All-in-all, it’s looking better, though the state’s rainy season is mostly over:

BLOG Drought

Massive plastic invasion threatens Alaska’s coast


Alaska has a huge problem, and it’s not of its own making.

The shoreline of America’s largest state is suffering from a foreign invasion.

And like the last time Alaska was invaded, the force is coming from Asia.

But unlike the last invaders, this time the enemy isn’t confined to a couple of Islands in the Aleutian chain. This time its attacking every mile of the state’s vast coastline.

And that’s because this time the invader isn’t human. It’s plastic.

It’s plastic.

And the problem is so serious that cleanup costs are estimated at $100 million, which is why Sen. Dan Sullivan has taken the problem to the U.S. Senate’s Fisheries, Water and Wildlife Subcommittee.

Chris Pallister, president of Gulf of Alaska Keeper, tesitified before the committee Tuesday, where his questioners included Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island.

From the Alaska Dispatch News:

Removing marine debris that is already washing ashore is only a “short-term fix” as the problem replicates “at the next high tide,” said Jim Kurth, deputy director at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The scale and complexity of this problem outstrips the ability of any agency or nation to address alone,” Kurth said.

The scale is massive. Cleaning just the most impacted shorelines in Alaska would cost at least $100 million, Pallister told the committee.

At one point, Whitehouse stopped Pallister’s testimony in disbelief, and asked him to repeat what he’d told them about an ongoing Alaska cleanup effort in an area that holds 30 tons of plastic debris per mile, along shorelines with virtually no vehicle access.

“It’s a dangerous place to work. It’s incredibly challenging,” Pallister said. And “there’s thousands of miles like that in Alaska.”

And as we have reported many times, plastics are proving to be a growing threat to marine life, the source of most of the animal protein people consume.

Not only does plastic poses a direct threat to fish and marine mammals who choke and suffer other injuries from the ubiquitous human waste product, but its breakdown products are increasingly suspected to be a threat to the plankton that forces the base of the oceanic food pyramid.

And that’s because plastics mimic the endocrine chemicals that regulate many of the life processes in the animal kingdom.