Category Archives: Resources

Oceans losing oxygen; West Coast affected early


Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

The oceans are losing oxygen, and climate change is the culprit.

Areas earliest hit are the western coasts of North America and Africa and the northeastern coast of South America.

The result will be major shifts in marine life, including the development of major dead zones.

And given that much of the world depend son ocean fish for protein, the changes could portend serious human and political crises.

From the American Geophysical Union:

A drop in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large parts of the ocean between 2030 and 2040, according to a new study.

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap oceans of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe. But it’s been difficult to determine whether this anticipated oxygen drain is already having a noticeable impact.

“Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life,” said Matthew Long, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and lead author of the study. “Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it’s been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.”

The study [$6 read-only, $38 to print — esnl] is published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Cutting through the natural variability

The entire ocean—from the depths to the shallows—gets its oxygen supply from the surface, either directly from the atmosphere or from phytoplankton, which release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis.

Warming surface waters, however, absorb less oxygen. And in a double whammy, the oxygen that is absorbed has a more difficult time traveling deeper into the ocean. That’s because as water heats up, it expands, becoming lighter than the water below it and less likely to sink.

Thanks to natural warming and cooling, oxygen concentrations at the sea surface are constantly changing—and those changes can linger for years or even decades deeper in the ocean.

For example, an exceptionally cold winter in the North Pacific would allow the ocean surface to soak up a large amount of oxygen. Thanks to the natural circulation pattern, that oxygen would then be carried deeper into the ocean interior, where it might still be detectable years later as it travels along its flow path. On the flip side, unusually hot weather could lead to natural “dead zones” in the ocean, where fish and other marine life cannot survive.

To cut through this natural variability and investigate the impact of climate change, the research team relied on the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model.

The scientists used output from a project that ran the model more than two dozen times for the years 1920 to 2100. Each individual run was started with miniscule variations in air temperature. As the model runs progressed, those tiny differences grew and expanded, producing a set of climate simulations useful for studying questions about variability and change.

Using the simulations to study dissolved oxygen gave the researchers guidance on how much concentrations may have varied naturally in the past. With this information, they could determine when ocean deoxygenation due to climate change is likely to become more severe than at any point in the modeled historic range.

The research team found that deoxygenation caused by climate change could already be detected in the southern Indian Ocean and parts of the eastern tropical Pacific and Atlantic basins. They also determined that more widespread detection of deoxygenation caused by climate change would be possible between 2030 and 2040. However, in some parts of the ocean, including areas off the east coasts of Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia, deoxygenation caused by climate change was not evident even by 2100.

Picking out a global pattern

The researchers also created a visual way to distinguish between deoxygenation caused by natural processes and deoxygenation caused by climate change.

Using the same model dataset, the scientists created maps of oxygen levels in the ocean, showing which waters were oxygen-rich at the same time that others were oxygen-poor. They found they could distinguish between oxygenation patterns caused by natural weather phenomena and the pattern caused by climate change.

The pattern caused by climate change also became evident in the model runs around 2030, adding confidence to the conclusion that widespread deoxygenation due to climate change will become detectable around that time.

The maps could also be useful resources for deciding where to place instruments to monitor ocean oxygen levels in the future to get the best picture of climate change impacts. Currently ocean oxygen measurements are relatively sparse.

“We need comprehensive and sustained observations of what’s going on in the ocean to compare with what we’re learning from our models and to understand the full impact of a changing climate,” Long said.

Chart of the day: Global nuclear power capacity


The latest available compilation from the European Union’s Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research:

BLOG Nuclear

More environmental woes in Latin America


From Brazil, the first our three stories today, starting with an ongoing problem, reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Latin America’s largest country is still losing tropical forests the size of two football fields every minute, despite attempts to tackle illegal logging and improve local land rights, a former head of Brazil’s forestry service has said.

Deforestation rates in Brazil, home to the world’s biggest expanse of tropical forests, slowed significantly between 2004 and 2010, but have picked up again in recent years due to a lack of innovation and government planning, Tasso Azevedo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Preserving forests is a key way to reduce emissions of planet-warming gases and combat climate change, as trees suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Forests are also home to hundreds of thousands of people who depend on them for their livelihood.

“In some cases, we are walking backwards,” warned Azevedo, citing poor cooperation between competing government departments and civil society in Brazil.

And from Brazil and the Thomson Reuters Foundation again, more devastation, this time human, as activists fighting to preserve lands and forests continue to die at the hands of developers:

Land rights campaigners and environmentalists are facing growing violence and intimidation in Brazil, with at least six activists killed so far this year, a human rights group said.

The killings, tracked between January and February 2016, happened in three largely rural Brazilian states with a history of land conflicts: Rondônia, Maranhão, and Alagoas, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported this week.

South America’s largest country has some of the world’s widest inequality in land distribution, according to a U.S. government report, with one percent of the population owning nearly half of the country’s land.

A growing number of activists demanding land reform and rights for indigenous people are facing “an increase in acts of violence, repression and criminalization”, the IACHR, that monitors human rights across the Americas, said in a statement.

And for our third story, we move closer to home, via teleSUR English:

The southern Mexican state of Chiapas has been hard hit by the El Niño climate phenomenon causing such an intensive drought that 13 rivers have been completely dried up, Mexican newspaper Reforma said Friday.

State Director of Civil Protection Luis Manuel Garcia told Reforma that 40 Chiapan municipalities have been affected, of which four are experiencing extreme drought.

“All of the biggest rivers in the coastal area of Chiapas have been practically dried up,” Garcia said.

In light of the extreme circumstances, Garcia said they would send a petition to the federal government requesting that they issue a state of emergency decree for three of Chiapas’ municipalities in order to get financial resources from the National Disaster Fund.

New studies reveal fracking environmental costs


Two new reports focus on the growing evidence of the dangers of fracking to environments both far and near.

First up, from NASA’s Earth Observatory, a report on the danger that fracking in the lower 48 and elsewhere poses to the Arctic:

BLOG Frack gas

Researchers have suspected for several years that the flaring of waste natural gas from industrial oil and gas fields in the Northern Hemisphere could be a significant source of nitrogen dioxide and black carbon pollution in the Arctic. Research from a NASA-sponsored study lends new weight to that hypothesis.

Nitrogen dioxide is a well-known air pollutant that is central to the production of ground-level smog and ozone. It is closely associated with black carbon (also known as soot), which is an agent of global warming, particularly in the Arctic. In addition to absorbing sunlight while aloft, black carbon darkens snow when it settles on the surface. Both processes lead to heating of the air and the land surface, accelerating the melting of snow and ice.

The amount of black carbon that reaches the Arctic is poorly estimated, but scientists know that any soot could have a significant impact. “The Arctic starts from a very clean state, as there are no significant local sources of dust or smoke pollution,” said Nickolay Krotkov, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a member of a team examining the origins of Arctic black carbon. “In this kind of pristine environment, even small anthropogenic sources make a big difference.”

Previous research has suggested that gas flares from oil and natural gas extraction near the Arctic could be a key source of black carbon. But since international inventories of industrial emissions have gaps in observations and in reporting, they often over- or underestimate the amount of pollutants.

Gas flares are an often-overlooked subset in that already messy data set. Regional estimates from Russia, for example, suggest that gas flaring may account for 30 percent of all black carbon emissions. But with few monitoring stations near flaring sites, the scientific community has had great difficulty getting accurate estimates of emissions.

Can Li and other researchers at NASA Goddard were recently asked by atmospheric modelers to see if they could provide flaring estimates based on satellite data. Black carbon levels in the atmosphere cannot be directly measured by satellites, but they can be derived indirectly. Black carbon is associated with nitrogen dioxide and with the total concentration of aerosol particles in the atmosphere. Nitrogen dioxide and black carbon particles are often produced at the same time when fossil fuels are burned.

The modelers were simulating the trajectories of pollution through the atmosphere based on existing, flawed emission inventories. And their results generally underestimated the amount of black carbon reaching the Arctic compared to what scientists in the field were measuring directly.

The first step for Li, Krotkov, and colleagues was to find gas flares. They compiled “night lights” data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite. They examined four known fossil fuel extraction sites: Bakken, North Dakota (shown above); Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada; the North Sea near Great Britain and Norway; and western Siberia, Russia. The researchers pinpointed gas flares by excluding electric light from nearby towns and roads.

For each study site, Li and Krotkov analyzed nitrogen dioxide data from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard the Aura spacecraft. A sample is shown at the top of this page. Fellow NASA researchers Andrew Sayer and Christina Hsu retrieved aerosol concentration data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite.

“We found a pretty good match-up between the gas flare signals from the night lights and the nitrogen dioxide retrievals for two regions—Bakken and the Canadian oil sands,” said Li. Every year from 2005 to 2015, the levels of atmospheric NO2 rose about 1.5 percent per year at Bakken and about 2 percent per year at Athabasca. This means the concentration of black carbon produced by those flares was also likely on the rise.

The team saw a smaller rise in nitrogen dioxide in western Siberia, and no discernable flaring signal from well-established oil rigs in the North Sea. According to Li, the North Sea signal was likely obscured by the abundance of nitrogen dioxide pollution in Europe.

Aerosol data were less conclusive. Aerosols tend to linger in the atmosphere longer than nitrogen dioxide, making it more difficult to establish whether there was an increase due to oil field activities, as opposed to general background levels, Sayer said.

The new observational results fit well with modeling done by Joshua Fu, an atmospheric modeler at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and a collaborator on the paper. When Fu and colleagues added the gas flare locations and estimated emissions into a model of chemical transport in the atmosphere, they were able to reproduce the amount of black carbon observed in the Arctic by ground stations and aircraft.

Fracking waste spills pollute soil, water

Next, from Duke University, a report revealing that far from being exceptional, soil- and water-polluting spills of contaminated fracking waste water, filled with chemicals fracking companies aren’t even required to report to the concenred public, are all-too-common occurrences:

Accidental wastewater spills from unconventional oil production in North Dakota have caused widespread water and soil contamination, a new Duke University study finds.

Researchers found high levels of ammonium, selenium, lead and other toxic contaminants as well as high salts in the brine-laden wastewater, which primarily comes from hydraulically fractured oil wells in the Bakken region of western North Dakota.

Streams polluted by the wastewater contained levels of contaminants that often exceeded federal guidelines for safe drinking water or aquatic health.

Soil at the spill sites was contaminated with radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element found in brines, which chemically attached to the soil after the spill water was released.

At one site, the researchers were still able to detect high levels of contaminants in spill water four years after the spill occurred.

There’s a whole lot more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Map of the day: Drought, a Syrian conflict driver


The Syrian civil war, while driven in part by the policies of the Obama White House, was made possible by a combination of economic sanctions driven to new heights coupled with an ongoing Middle Eastern drought with its heaviest impacts in Syria itself.

Just how bad has that drought been?

Consider this map from Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria, a July 2014 report from Peter H. Gleick of the Pacific Institute in Oakland and published in Weather, Climate, and Society, a journal of the American Meteorological Society:

Millimeters of rain in the winter period from 1902 to 2010, showing a drop in rainfall in the 1971–2010 period (Hoerling et al. 2012). (b) Reds and oranges highlight the areas around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971–2010 than the comparison period of 1902–2010 (Hoerling et al. 2012).

Millimeters of rain in the winter period from 1902 to 2010, showing a drop in rainfall in the 1971–2010 period. (b) Reds and oranges highlight the areas around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971–2010 than the comparison period of 1902–2010.

Chart of the day II: U.S. indoor water use drops


From Circle of Blue, Americans are using less water indoors, except for those baths [though shower water use also dropped]:

BLOG Water

Old growth forest buffer against climate change


To listen to corporate mouthpieces for Big Timber, a forest is a forest is a forest.

To them it doesn’t matter if the forest is an ancient and constantly evolving ecosystem or a tree farm planted by machines and harvested [also by machines] just like any other crop.

And those pesky tree-hugging environmentalists who say otherwise are just a bunch of airheads, right?

Well, no.

And, as it now it turns, those magnificent old growth forest are farm more than simply glorious sights for human eyes. They are also havens capable of protecting otherwise threatened species from some of the worst impacts of climate change

Differences in microclimate conditions across a gradient in forest structure. (A) Principal components analysis (PCA) showing how vegetation structure metrics differ between mature/old-growth forest sites and plantations. The ellipses represent 68% of the data assuming a normal distribution in each category (plantation and mature/old growth). (B) Three-dimensional LiDAR-generated images of plantation forests [(i) side view; (ii) overhead view] and old-growth forests [(iii) side view; (iv) overhead view] at the Andrews Forest. (C and D) Results from generalized linear mixed models show the modeled relationship between forest structure [PC1, the first component of a PCA on forest structure variables (A)] and the residuals from an elevation-only model of mean monthly maximum during April to June (C) and mean monthly minimum during April to June (D) after accounting for the effects of elevation. Closed circles represent 2012 and open circles represent 2013. Maximum monthly temperatures (C) decreased by 2.5°C (95% confidence interval, 1.7° to 3.2°C) and observed minimum temperatures (D) increased by 0.7°C (0.3° to 1.1°C) across the observed structure gradient from plantation to old-growth forest.

Differences in microclimate conditions across a gradient in forest structure.
(A) Principal components analysis (PCA) showing how vegetation structure metrics differ between mature/old-growth forest sites and plantations. The ellipses represent 68% of the data assuming a normal distribution in each category (plantation and mature/old growth). (B) Three-dimensional LiDAR-generated images of plantation forests [(i) side view; (ii) overhead view] and old-growth forests [(iii) side view; (iv) overhead view] at the Andrews Forest. (C and D) Results from generalized linear mixed models show the modeled relationship between forest structure [PC1, the first component of a PCA on forest structure variables (A)] and the residuals from an elevation-only model of mean monthly maximum during April to June (C) and mean monthly minimum during April to June (D) after accounting for the effects of elevation. Closed circles represent 2012 and open circles represent 2013. Maximum monthly temperatures (C) decreased by 2.5°C (95% confidence interval, 1.7° to 3.2°C) and observed minimum temperatures (D) increased by 0.7°C (0.3° to 1.1°C) across the observed structure gradient from plantation to old-growth forest.

From Oregon State University:

The soaring canopy and dense understory of an old-growth forest could provide a buffer for plants and animals in a warming world, according to a study from Oregon State University published  in Science Advances [open access].

Comparing temperature regimes under the canopy in old-growth and plantation forests in the Oregon Cascades, researchers found that the characteristics of old growth reduce maximum spring and summer air temperatures as much as 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to those recorded in younger second-growth forests.

Landowners who include biodiversity as a management goal, the scientists said, could advance their aims by fostering stands with closed canopies, high biomass and complex understory vegetation.

Management practices that create these types of “microclimates” for birds, amphibians, insects and even large mammals could promote conservation for temperature-sensitive species, the authors wrote, if temperatures rise as a result of global warming.

“Though it is well-known that closed-canopy forests tend to be cooler than open areas, little is known about more subtle temperature differences between mature forest types,” said Sarah Frey, postdoctoral scholar in the OSU College of Forestry and lead author on the study. “We found that the subtle but important gradient in structure from forest plantations to old growth can have a marked effect on temperatures in these forests.”

Temperature is also strongly affected by elevation and even small changes in topography, but the way forests are managed was a critical factor in explaining temperature differences. Researchers at Oregon State and Pacific Northwest Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service conducted the study at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest east of Eugene.

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