As Greenland Warms, Nature’s Seasonal Clock Is Thrown Off-Kilter

As Greenland Warms, Nature’s Seasonal Clock Is Thrown Off-Kilter

SOURCE: Yale e360 DATE: September 13, 2018 SNIP: From their perch on a rocky ridge in southwestern Greenland, graduate students Rebecca Walker and Conor Higgins peer through binoculars, looking for caribou. It’s a cool, June day and the tundra is ablaze with tiny magenta, pink, and yellow wildflowers. Crystalline lakes dot the glacially carved valleys, and from the round-topped mountains you can catch the glint of the massive Greenland Ice Sheet to the east. Below, the Watson River tumbles toward Kangerlussuaq Fjord, 12 miles to the west. It’s quiet, save for bird song, the rush of the wind, and the frequent crash of ice shearing off nearby Russell Glacier. Two decades ago, Walker and Higgins would have seen hundreds of caribou from the top of this same hill, set amid an ancestral caribou calving grounds. But these days the herds are a fraction of their former size, and Walker and Higgins spot only a handful of females and two calves a mile away. The ecologist supervising the students — Eric Post of the University of California, Davis — says the decline is very likely linked to a rapidly warming climate that is driving the schedules of caribou and the tundra plants they eat seriously out of balance. Post first came to the area 25 years ago to study calving in large herds of caribou. But around the early 2000s, he began noticing a major change. “As it got warmer and warmer and the growth season started earlier and earlier, the caribou calving season wasn’t starting earlier to the same extent,” Post says. The advancing plant growth was being triggered...
Hot nights: Summer low temperatures were warmest on record in Lower 48

Hot nights: Summer low temperatures were warmest on record in Lower 48

SOURCE: Washington Post DATE: September 6, 2018 SNIP: Americans seeking to cool off after long, hot days this summer found little relief in the dark of night. Windows were shut, and air-conditioners kept humming as low temperatures averaged over the nation were the warmest in over 120 years of records. In its latest climate report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the hot nights pushed the average summer temperature to its fourth-warmest level on record, tied with 1934. The average high temperature ranked 11th warmest in records that date back to 1895, but the average low was a record-warm, 2.5 degrees above average, and 0.1 degrees above the previous record in 2016. As greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere keep increasing, overnight low temperatures are warming “nearly twice as fast as afternoon high temperatures,” according to NOAA. “[T]he 10 warmest summer minimum temperatures have all occurred since 2002,” NOAA wrote. Such warm nights have important consequences. They increase heat stress on the homeless and those without air conditioning, which can lead to heat-related illness and death. At the same time, they require increased use of air-conditioning for those with access, which adds more heat-trapping gases into the...
The frozen tears of New Zealand’s melting glaciers

The frozen tears of New Zealand’s melting glaciers

SOURCE: Deutsche Welle DATE: August 30, 2018 SNIP: Glaciers are not formed from frozen water but by compacted snow. The accumulation of snow at the head of the glacier is called a névé. After four to five years, it compacts and becomes part of the glacier. When annual snowfall at the névé is greater than annual snowmelt, the glacier advances. When snow melts faster, the glacier retreats. In the normal run of things, the Franz Josef Glacier would advance a little, and then retreat again. Many glaciers go through centuries-long cycles this way. But with the Franz Josef Glacier, the long-term trend has been retreat. Striations, patterns on the rocks, mark the glacier’s long path through the valley. Thousands of years ago, it would have reached as far as the sea. The first photograph of Franz Josef Glacier was taken in 1867, and shows the glacier dominating the valley. The first official mapping of the glacier took place in 1893 between then and 1983 it retreated about three kilometers, but advanced again 1.5 kilometers by 2008. That advance has now been lost almost completely, as the glacier retreated 1.4 kilometers over the last decade. That has scientists worried. “That’s a big retreat and it’s happened really fast,” Brian Anderson, a glaciologist at Victoria University in Wellington, told DW. Anderson has no doubt the reason for the glaciers’ retreat is anthropogenic — or man-made — climate change. “New Zealand’s glaciers are quite special and responsive to climate change, and sensitive, so they can respond really quickly and move quite a long way,” he told DW. The Franz Josef Glacier’s three-kilometer...
Sweden’s reindeer at risk of starvation after summer drought

Sweden’s reindeer at risk of starvation after summer drought

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: August 22, 2018 SNIP: Sweden’s indigenous Sami reindeer herders are demanding state aid to help them cope with the impact of this summer’s unprecedented drought and wildfires, saying their future is at risk as global warming changes the environment in the far north. The Sami reindeer owners are asking for emergency funding to help pay for supplementary fodder as a replacement for winter grazing lands that could take up to 30 years to recover from the summer’s drought and fires. “We are living with the effects of climate change,” Niila Inga, chair of the Swedish Sami Association, told the SVT news agency. “The alarm bells are ringing. We face droughts, heatwaves, fires. This is about the survival of the reindeer, and of Sami culture, which depends on them.” Although warmer summers help lichen grow, warmer and wetter winters are increasingly leading to rainfall rather than snow during the coldest Arctic months. When temperatures fall back to below freezing, impenetrable sheets of ice form on ground that would normally be covered by a much softer crust of snow. This leaves the reindeer, who habitually feed by digging into the snow and then grazing on the lichen beneath, unable to smell the vital food source or dig down to get to it, leading to some herds starving to...
Extreme temperatures ‘especially likely for next four years’

Extreme temperatures ‘especially likely for next four years’

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: August 14, 2018 SNIP: The world is likely to see more extreme temperatures in the coming four years as natural warming reinforces manmade climate change, according to a new global forecasting system. Following a summer of heatwaves and forest fires in the northern hemisphere, the study in the journal Nature Communications suggests there will be little respite for the planet until at least 2022, and possibly not even then. Rising greenhouse gas emissions are steadily adding to the upward pressure on temperatures, but humans do not feel the change as a straight line because the effects are diminished or amplified by phases of natural variation. From 1998 to 2010, global temperatures were in a “hiatus” as natural cooling (from ocean circulation and weather systems) offset anthropogenic global warming. But the planet has now entered almost the opposite phase, when natural trends are boosting man-made effects. [T]he statistical upward nudge from natural variation this year is twice as great of that of long-term global warming. Next year, it is likely to be three times...