Oilsands waste is collected in sprawling toxic ponds. To clean them up, oil companies plan to pour water on them

SOURCE: The Star DATE: November 23, 2018 SNIP: The toxic waste of the Canadian oilpatch [near Fort McMurray, Alberta] has been quietly spreading in the boreal forest since bitumen mining began here in the 1960s. The yogurt-like mix of clay, water, toxic acids, metals and leftover bitumen has sprawled in artificial ponds to cover an area twice the size of the city of Vancouver. More than one trillion litres of the goop, called tailings, fill these man-made waste lakes that can be seen from space. An equivalent amount of water would take five days to tumble over Niagara Falls. The contaminated tailings ponds attract and kill migrating birds. They emit methane and other greenhouse gases. Despite years of public promises from officials that the tailings ponds would shrink and go away, they are growing, and they’re right along the migratory pathways for millions of birds that use the freshwater Peace-Athabasca delta for breeding or as a stopover as they move farther north to breed. And in the meantime, troubling gaps are opening in the oversight system meant to ensure the oilpatch cleans up its mess. Alberta has collected only $1 billion from companies to help remediate tailings — a problem that is now estimated to cost about 100 times that. Decades and billions have been spent on research and still there is no sure solution to a problem that is getting attention beyond Alberta. While the world watches, the mining companies operating here have been allowed by regulators to pursue a clean-up technique called water capping. It’s supposed to work like this: put the tailings into a mined-out pit,...
The World May Have Just Had Its Busiest Day of Air Travel Ever

The World May Have Just Had Its Busiest Day of Air Travel Ever

SOURCE: Earther DATE: July 3, 2018 SNIP: FlightRadar24, a popular website and app that’s been tracking air traffic around the world since 2007, recently recorded its busiest day in air travel ever, likely the busiest the globe has ever seen. The group tallied 202,157 flights last Friday, including commercial jets, cargo flights, and personal planes. That’s the equivalent of 140 planes in the air every minute. This is unabashedly terrible news for the climate and also a mark likely to be broken as the world continues to take to the increasingly crowded skies. Data from FlightRadar24 show weekdays (which tend to be busier than weekends) in June saw total traffic in the low 190,000s range through the first three weeks of the month, with Fridays generally being the busiest day. The last week in June was busier than other weeks, with June 29th capping a frenetic week. A record-setting 4.1 billion passengers took off in 2017 according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In 1950, there were only a few million travelers in comparison. Year after year, travelers have increased with only a few bumps here and there due to pesky things like the financial meltdown of 2009. People are also flying further than ever before. In 2017, flyers traveled an estimated 7.7 trillion kilometers (4.8 trillion miles). That’s the equivalent of 10 million trips to the moon and also a shit ton of frequent flyer miles....

A destructive beetle has jumped the Rockies

SOURCE: Yale Climate Connections DATE: January 22, 2018 SNIP: Canada’s vast conifer forests are being destroyed by tiny beetles that are on the move. Mountain pine beetles are native to western North America, but as the climate warms, the beetle’s range is expanding. Six: “It’s actually jumped the Rockies and has spread across Alberta to Saskatchewan. That’s in the far north, it’s interior. It’s typically very, very cold, and in the past too cold for the beetle to survive there, but now it’s warm enough.” Diana Six is an entomologist at the University of Montana. She says that, as the beetles spread to these new locations, they are starting to kill a new type of tree: jack pine, which is a dominant species across much of Canada. Six: “Jack pine is what we call a naive host. It means it’s one that the beetle hasn’t co-evolved with and so that tree has never had to evolve defenses against the beetle.” She fears that the beetles could destroy vast areas of jack pine forests across Canada, and eventually even move into eastern pine forests. When dead trees decompose, they release stored carbon back to the atmosphere. So when millions of trees are destroyed by beetles, it is not just devastating for wildlife – it makes climate change...

Glacial moulin formation triggered by rapid lake drainage

SOURCE: AGU DATE: January 17, 2018 SNIP: Scientists are uncovering the mystery of how, where and when important glacial features called moulins form on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Moulins, vertical conduits that penetrate through the half-mile-deep ice, efficiently funnel the majority of summer meltwater from the ice surface to the base of the ice sheet. The lubricating effects of the draining water can lead to faster sliding of the ice sheet. A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, finds meltwater lakes that form on the ice surface can drain through moulins in a matter of hours. The new results indicate a potentially much broader importance for lake drainage events, because moulins control the locations where the majority of seasonal meltwater enters the ice sheet, accesses the bed, and accelerates the ice flow, according to Stephen Price, a researcher at Los Alamos and co-author of the new study. “These processes, which aren’t currently accounted for in computer simulations of ice sheet evolution and sea-level change, may need to be considered more carefully in future models,” he said. While previous studies identified a distinct possibility of a cascading effect from meltwater reaching the bed and modifying local stresses to cause nearby supraglacial lake drainage, the new results provide direct evidence that this effect is more widespread and can act over distances of many kilometers, said Matthew Hoffman, a glaciologist and computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico and lead author of the new study. This long-distance triggering mechanism could make new regions of the ice sheet vulnerable to...

2017 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño, thanks to global warming

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: January 2, 2018 SNIP: 2017 was the second-hottest year on record according to Nasa data, and was the hottest year without the short-term warming influence of an El Niño event. In fact, 2017 was the hottest year without an El Niño by a wide margin – a whopping 0.17°C hotter than 2014, which previously held that record. Remarkably, 2017 was also hotter than 2015, which at the time was by far the hottest year on record thanks in part to a strong El Niño event that year. For comparison, the neutral El Niño conditions and the level of solar activity in 1972 were quite similar to those in 2017. 45 years later, the latter was 0.9°C hotter than the former. For each type of year – La Niña, El Niño, and neutral – the global surface warming trend between 1964 and 2017 is 0.17–0.18°C per decade, which is consistent with climate model predictions. America was also battered by climate-fueled extreme weather events in 2017. Research has already shown that global warming boosted Hurricane Harvey’s record rainfall (and associated flooding) by about 38%. California’s record wildfire season was similarly fueled by the state’s hot summer. The southwestern states were cooked by record hot summer temperatures this year, and global warming is making droughts in America and Europe worse. America was hit by 15 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2017, and it will likely be the costliest such year on record once all of the hurricane damages are...