There’s An Environmental Disaster Unfolding In The Gulf of Mexico

There’s An Environmental Disaster Unfolding In The Gulf of Mexico

SOURCE: HuffPost

DATE: July 11, 2019

SNIP: A historic slow-moving flood of polluted Mississippi River water loaded with chemicals, pesticides and human waste from 31 states and two Canadian provinces is draining straight into the marshes and bayous of the Gulf of Mexico — the nurseries of Arnesen’s fishing grounds — upsetting the delicate balance of salinity and destroying the fragile ecosystem in the process. As the Gulf waters warm this summer, algae feed on the freshwater brew, smothering oxygen-starved marine life.

And as of Wednesday, an advancing storm looks likely to turn into a tropical storm or hurricane by the weekend, with the potential to bring torrential downpours and more freshwater flooding.

Fishermen and state government officials agree this long, hot summer may go down in history as one of the most destructive years for Gulf fisheries. The torrent of river water pushing into Gulf estuaries is decimating crab, oyster and shrimp populations. The brown shrimp catch this spring in Louisiana and Mississippi is already down by an estimated 80%, and oysters are completely wiped out in some of the most productive fishing grounds in the country, according to state and industry officials. The polluted freshwater has also triggered algae blooms, which have led to beach closures across Mississippi.

“We are seeing impacts across the coast in all sectors of the fishing communities,” said Patrick Banks, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “We will continue to collect data to support a disaster declaration.”

It’s not just fisheries that are suffering. Dolphins have been dying in huge numbers across the region — nearly 300 this year already, which is three times the number in a normal year, according to federal and state officials. Fishermen report finding dead dolphins floating in water near shore or beached in the marshes, covered in painful skin lesions that scientists have linked to freshwater exposure. One fisherman reported finding a mother dolphin pushing her dead baby along in the water.

Alaska Chokes on Wildfires as Heat Waves Dry Out the Arctic

Alaska Chokes on Wildfires as Heat Waves Dry Out the Arctic

SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: July 11, 2019

SNIP: Under the choking black smoke from the bog and forest fires in Siberia and Alaska, it can feel like the Earth itself is burning. The normally moist, black organic peat soil and lush forests have been drying, and when they catch fire, they burn relentlessly.

Global warming has been thawing tundra and drying vast stretches of the far-northern boreal forests, and it also has spurred more thunderstorms with lightning, which triggered many of the fires burning in Alaska this year, said Brian Brettschneider, a climate scientist with the International Arctic Research Center who closely tracks Alaskan and Arctic extreme weather.

So far this year, wildfires have scorched more than 1.2 million acres in Alaska, making it one of the state’s three biggest fire years on record to this date, with high fire danger expected to persist in the weeks ahead.

The large Arctic fires in June could be a sign of a climate tipping point, said Thomas Smith, a climate researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

It really is unprecedented, a word we should not use lightly,” he wrote. “It may be that in most previous years, temperatures have never been warm enough to drive off moisture from the winter frost and snowpack. The ground is likely covered in mosses that act as a sponge, staying moist all summer long before freezing again in winter. But now that sponge is drying out.”

Amid all of this, scientists in Alaska are worried about the future of scientific research at the region’s universities—the state legislature is struggling to get enough votes by Friday to override a veto by the Republican governor that would effectively slash state funding for the university system by 41 percent.

It’s not only land areas that are heating up. The ocean around Alaska has also been running a fever for months, and it’s all connected.

Summer ocean heat waves contribute land heat waves; in the fall, warmer ocean and land temperatures delay the freeze-up of ice near the shore, which leads to even more heat buildup in the ocean, part of the death spiral of the Arctic climate system as we know it, now headed toward an uncertain future, according to scientists.

The changes in ocean temperatures and sea ice extent likely represent a climate shift for Alaska, said Rick Thoman, with the International Arctic Research Center.

“But there’s no reason to think that we’re at a new equilibrium,” he said. He likens it to a five-year-old on an escalator: “The climate will likely feature big swings all the while trending up. Sure, the 5-year can run up or down and so get to the top faster or slower, but in the end the escalator ‘wins.’

[Read whole article at Inside Climate News.]

World’s major cities to face ‘unknown’ climate conditions by 2050

World’s major cities to face ‘unknown’ climate conditions by 2050

SOURCE: Reuters and PLOS One

DATE: July 10, 2019

SNIP: A fifth of the world’s major cities will face “unknown” climate conditions by 2050, researchers warned on Wednesday, as rising temperatures heighten the risks of drought and flooding.

Climate scientists at the Crowther Lab, a research group based at ETH Zurich, a science and technology university, analyzes 520 cities across the world, including all capitals and most urban centers with a population of more than 1 million.

Looking at current climate conditions in these cities – including precipitation and seasonal data – scientists projected what would happen as temperatures rise another half degree, to near the lower 1.5 degree Celsius target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

It showed that 22% of the cities will experience unprecedented climate conditions by 2050, such as more intense dry and monsoon seasons, said Jean Francis-Bastin, the lead author of the report.

Crowther Lab scientists said their study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was the first global analysis of the likely shifts in climate conditions in major cities as a result of global warming.

It showed that 77% of the cities it looked at will experience a striking change in climate conditions by 2050.

Across the northern hemisphere, many cities in 30 years time could resemble places that are over 1,000 km (620 miles) further south toward the equator, said the study, which projected conditions if current plans to cut climate-changing emissions go ahead.

Of the 22% of cities that will see ‘unprecedented’ climate shifts, 64% are located in the tropics and include Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Rangoon and Singapore, researchers said.

Under the study scenario, London’s climate in 2050 could be similar to Barcelona’s current climate, with Madrid feeling more like Marrakesh, Seattle more like San Francisco, and Tokyo more like Changsha in central China.

New research shows that Paris Agreement goals might not save the Arctic

New research shows that Paris Agreement goals might not save the Arctic

SOURCE: Think Progress and Nature Communications

DATE: July 10, 2019

SNIP: Global warming limits laid out by the landmark Paris climate agreement do not rule out an Arctic devoid of summer sea ice, according to new research out this week.

The findings, published July 9, are a grim indicator that even a best-case scenario for limiting climate impacts could still have unprecedented implications for the planet.

They also underscore the potential for even more dire situations, which are growing more likely as countries, including the United States, fail to reach their individual climate goals under the Paris Agreement.

Published by scientists from South Korea, Australia, and the United States, the new research appears in this week’s issue of Nature Communications and offers an ominous forecast for climate advocates. Using 31 different climate models, the experts found that there is at least a 6% probability that summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean will disappear in a scenario long cited as the most optimistic: limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

[T]his week’s study highlights the need to establish what level of warming would bring forth an ice-free Arctic — a scenario in which there would be no white mass of ice to reflect sunlight and maintain cooler ocean temperatures. The less sea ice there is to reflect the heat, the more warming is likely to occur. While the researchers note that Arctic sea ice is all but guaranteed to disappear in a situation involving more than 2 degrees Celsius of warming, the potential for such a melting at lower temperatures also remains cause for alarm.

Rising Tundra Temperatures Create Worrying Changes In Microbial Communities

Rising Tundra Temperatures Create Worrying Changes In Microbial Communities

SOURCE: Eurasia Review

DATE: July 10, 2019

SNIP: Rising temperatures in the tundra of the Earth’s northern latitudes could affect microbial communities in ways likely to increase their production of greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide, a new study of experimentally warmed Alaskan soil suggests.

About half of the world’s total underground carbon is stored in the soils of these frigid, northern latitudes. That is more than twice the amount of carbon currently found in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but until now most of it has been locked up in the very cold soil. The new study, which relied on metagenomics to analyze changes in the microbial communities being experimentally warmed, could heighten concerns about how the release of this carbon may exacerbate climate change.

We saw that microbial communities respond quite rapidly – within four or five years – to even modest levels of warming,” said Kostas T. Konstantinidis, the paper’s corresponding author and a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the School of Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The study provides quantitative information about how rapidly microbial communities responded to the warming at critical depths, and highlights the dominant microbial metabolisms and groups of organisms that are responding to warming in the tundra. The work underscores the importance of accurately representing the role of soil microbes in climate models.

“Because of the very large amount of carbon in these systems, as well as the rapid and clear response to warming found in this experiment and other studies, it is becoming increasingly clear that soil microbes – particularly those in the northern latitudes – and their activities need to be represented in climate models,” Eric R. Johnston, now a postdoctoral researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who conducted the study’s analysis as a Georgia Tech Ph.D. student, said. “Our work provides markers – species and genes – that can be used in this direction.”

Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible

Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: July 9, 2019

SNIP: Antarctica faces a tipping point where glacial melting will accelerate and become irreversible even if global heating eases, research suggests.

A Nasa-funded study found instability in the Thwaites glacier meant there would probably come a point when it was impossible to stop it flowing into the sea and triggering a 50cm sea level rise. Other Antarctic glaciers were likely to be similarly unstable.

Recent research found the rate of ice loss from five Antarctic glaciers had doubled in six years and was five times faster than in the 1990s. Ice loss is spreading from the coast into the continent’s interior, with a reduction of more than 100 metres in thickness at some sites.

The Thwaites glacier, part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, is believed to pose the greatest risk for rapid future sea level rise. Research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found it was likely to succumb to instability linked to the retreat of its grounding line on the seabed that would lead to it shedding ice faster than previously expected.

Alex Robel, an assistant professor at the US Georgia Institute of Technology and the study’s leader, said if instability was triggered, the ice sheet could be lost in the space of 150 years, even if temperatures stopped rising. “It will keep going by itself and that’s the worry,” he said.

Modelling simulations suggested extensive ice loss would start in 600 years but the researchers said it could occur sooner depending on the pace of global heating and nature of the instability.

Somali aid community faces up to a new reality of recurring drought

Somali aid community faces up to a new reality of recurring drought


DATE: July 9, 2019

SNIP: If she were to meet someone from her past life, Halima Dahir Mahmoud is not sure they would recognize her. She’s lost weight and is constantly stressed. She was once a nomadic herder who would roam the Ethiopian countryside with her 200 sheep and goats, and 50 camels. Now she lives in a displacement camp on the outskirts of Somaliland’s capital city of Hargeisa.

A few years ago, her animals started dying because of a regional drought. Eventually, there were none left. Her family left Ethiopia and walked 12 hours until they reached the displacement camp where they now live.

Drought has burdened the region year after year since 2015, killing off livestock and crops. Globally, there has been an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. In the Horn of Africa, scientists have linked climate change to frequent drought conditions.

“We’ve faced five years of consecutive drought in this country. Livelihoods have collapsed,” said Mohamed Abdalle Hussein, director of administration and finance at the National Disaster Preparedness and Food Reserve Authority in Somaliland — a region that unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991, although this is not internationally recognized.

In the past, there was typically a buffer zone of good rainy seasons in between droughts that allowed people to recover and rebuild their assets, Hussein said.

Drought is a common disaster we’ve always faced, but the interval has changed. Before, it was a five to seven-year interval between [periods] when we experienced drought. Now that interval has decreased to one to two years,” he said. “If you experience drought year after year, you become weak and vulnerable.”

Officials removed climate references from press releases

Officials removed climate references from press releases


DATE: July 8, 2019

SNIP: A March news release from the U.S. Geological Survey touted a new study that could be useful for infrastructure planning along the California coastline.

At least that’s how the Trump administration conveyed it.

The news release hardly stood out. It focused on the methodology of the study rather than its major findings, which showed that climate change could have a withering effect on California’s economy by inundating real estate over the next few decades.

An earlier draft of the news release, written by researchers, was sanitized by Trump administration officials, who removed references to the dire effects of climate change after delaying its release for several months, according to three federal officials who saw it. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, would face more than $100 billion in damages related to climate change and sea-level rise by the end of the century. It found that three to seven times more people and businesses than previously believed would be exposed to severe flooding.

“We show that for California, USA, the world’s 5th largest economy, over $150 billion of property equating to more than 6% of the state’s GDP and 600,000 people could be impacted by dynamic flooding by 2100,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The release fits a pattern of downplaying climate research at USGS and in other agencies within the administration. While USGS does not appear to be halting the pursuit of science, it has publicly communicated an incomplete account of the peer-reviewed research or omitted it under President Trump.

“It’s been made clear to us that we’re not supposed to use climate change in press releases anymore. They will not be authorized,” one federal researcher said, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal.

In the last year of the Obama administration, USGS distributed at least 13 press releases that focused on climate change and highlighted it in the headline, according to an E&E News review. Since then — from 2017 through the first six months of 2019 — none has mentioned climate change in the headline of the press release, according to the list of state and national releases posted on the USGS website. Some briefly mentioned climate change in the body of the release, while others did not refer to it at all.

Other studies have been quietly buried on the agency’s webpages.

That subtle form of suppression fits a pattern elsewhere in the federal government.

Politico recently reported that officials at the Department of Agriculture buried dozens of studies related to climate change. In one case, agency officials tried to prevent outside groups from disseminating a climate-related study. The research looked at how rice provides less nutrition in a carbon-rich environment. That could have global consequences because hundreds of millions of people have rice-based diets around the world.

The Interior Department has been accused of deleting climate change references from previous press releases. In 2017, The Washington Post reported that the agency deleted a line mentioning climate change in a press release about a study on flood risks to coastal communities. That line was: “Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding.”

Breaching a ‘carbon threshold’ could lead to mass extinction

Breaching a ‘carbon threshold’ could lead to mass extinction


DATE: July 8, 2019

SNIP: Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics and co-director of the Lorenz Center in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, has found that when the rate at which carbon dioxide enters the oceans pushes past a certain threshold—whether as the result of a sudden burst or a slow, steady influx—the Earth may respond with a runaway cascade of chemical feedbacks, leading to extreme ocean acidification that dramatically amplifies the effects of the original trigger.

This global reflex causes huge changes in the amount of carbon contained in the Earth’s oceans, and geologists can see evidence of these changes in layers of sediments preserved over hundreds of millions of years.

Rothman looked through these geologic records and observed that over the last 540 million years, the ocean’s store of carbon changed abruptly, then recovered, dozens of times in a fashion similar to the abrupt nature of a neuron spike. This “excitation” of the carbon cycle occurred most dramatically near the time of four of the five great mass extinctions in Earth’s history.

Scientists have attributed various triggers to these events, and they have assumed that the changes in ocean carbon that followed were proportional to the initial trigger—for instance, the smaller the trigger, the smaller the environmental fallout.

But Rothman says that’s not the case. It didn’t matter what initially caused the events; for roughly half the disruptions in his database, once they were set in motion, the rate at which carbon increased was essentially the same. Their characteristic rate is likely a property of the carbon cycle itself—not the triggers, because different triggers would operate at different rates.

According to Rothman, today we are “at the precipice of excitation,” and if it occurs, the resulting spike—as evidenced through ocean acidification, species die-offs, and more—is likely to be similar to past global catastrophes.

“When you go past a threshold, you get a free kick from the system responding by itself,” Rothman explains. “The system is on an inexorable rise. This is what excitability is, and how a neuron works too.”

In other words, if today’s human-induced emissions cross the threshold and continue beyond it, as Rothman predicts they soon will, the consequences may be just as severe as what the Earth experienced during its previous mass extinctions.

“It’s difficult to know how things will end up given what’s happening today,” Rothman says. “But we’re probably close to a critical threshold. Any spike would reach its maximum after about 10,000 years.”

One climate crisis disaster happening every week, UN warns

One climate crisis disaster happening every week, UN warns

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: July 7, 2019

SNIP: Climate crisis disasters are happening at the rate of one a week, though most draw little international attention and work is urgently needed to prepare developing countries for the profound impacts, the UN has warned.

Catastrophes such as cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Mozambique and the drought afflicting India make headlines around the world. But large numbers of “lower impact events” that are causing death, displacement and suffering are occurring much faster than predicted, said Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on disaster risk reduction. “This is not about the future, this is about today.”

This means that adapting to the climate crisis could no longer be seen as a long-term problem, but one that needed investment now, she said. “People need to talk more about adaptation and resilience.”

Estimates put the cost of climate-related disasters at $520bn a year, while the additional cost of building infrastructure that is resistant to the effects of global heating is only about 3%, or $2.7tn in total over the next 20 years.

Until now, most of the focus of work on the climate crisis has been on “mitigation” – jargon for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and not to be confused with mitigating the effects of the climate crisis. The question of adapting to its effects has taken a distant second place, in part because activists and scientists were concerned for years that people would gain a false complacency that we need not cut emissions as we could adapt to the effects instead, and also because while cutting emissions could be clearly measured, the question of adapting or increasing resilience was harder to pin down.

Mizutori said the time for such arguments had ran out. “We talk about a climate emergency and a climate crisis, but if we cannot confront this [issue of adapting to the effects] we will not survive,” she told the Guardian. “We need to look at the risks of not investing in resilience.”