Arctic warming: are record temperatures and fires arriving earlier than scientists predicted?

Arctic warming: are record temperatures and fires arriving earlier than scientists predicted?

SOURCE: The Conversation

DATE: September 8, 2020

SNIP: It was a grim record. On June 20 2020, the mercury reached 38°C in Verkhoyansk, Siberia – the hottest it’s ever been in the Arctic in recorded history. With the heatwaves came fire, and by the start of August around 600 individual fires were being detected every day. By early September, parts of the Siberian Arctic had been burning since the second week of June.

CO₂ emissions from these fires increased by more than a third compared to 2019, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. The wildfires produced an estimated 244 megatons of CO₂ between January and August, releasing thousands of years’ worth of stored carbon.

The summer of 2019 was already a record breaker for temperatures and fires across the Arctic. Seeing these events unfold again in 2020 – on an even larger scale – has the scientific community worried. What does it all mean for the Arctic, climate change and the rest of the world?

Even with climate change, the severe summer heatwave of 2020 was expected to occur, on average, less than once every 130 years. Wildfire observations in the Arctic are fairly limited prior to the mid-1990s, but there is no evidence of similarly extreme fires in the years before routine monitoring started.

Higher temperatures globally are likely to be driving the increase in wildfire frequency and duration. But modelling wildfires is difficult. Climate models don’t predict wildfires, and they cannot indicate when future extreme events will occur year-on-year. Instead, climate modellers focus on whether they are able to predict the right conditions for events like wildfires, such as high temperatures and strong winds.

And these climate model projections show that the kind of extreme summer temperatures we’ve seen in the Arctic in 2020 weren’t likely to occur until the mid-21st century, exceeding predictions by decades.

So even though an increasing trend of high temperatures and conditions suitable for wildfires are predicted in climate models, it’s alarming that these fires are so severe, have occurred in the same region two years in a row, and were caused by conditions which weren’t expected until further in the future.

So what is causing this rapid change? Over recent decades, temperatures in the most northerly reaches of Earth have been increasing at a faster rate than the rest of the world, with the polar region heating at more than twice the rate of the global average.

The fires caused by these hot, dry conditions are occurring in remote and sparsely populated forests, tundra and peat bogs, where there is ample fuel.

But these extreme events are also providing worrying evidence of climate “feedback loops”, which were predicted to happen as the climate warms. This is where increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contribute to further warming by promoting events – like wildfires – which release even more greenhouse gas, creating a self-perpetuating process that accelerates climate change.

California fires burn record 2m acres

California fires burn record 2m acres

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: September 7, 2020

SNIP: Wildfires have burned more than 2m acres (809,000 hectares) in California this year, setting a state record even as crews battled dozens of growing blazes in sweltering temperatures Monday that strained the electrical grid and threatened power outages for millions.

The previous high was 1.96m acres (793,184 hectares) burned in 2018. the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, began tracking the numbers in 1987.

Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for Cal Fire, said the most striking thing about the record was how early it was set, with the most dangerous part of the year ahead.

“It’s a little unnerving because September and October are historically our worst months for fires,” she said. “It’s usually hot, and the fuels really dry out. And we see more of our wind events.”

Firefighters struggled to corral several dangerous blazes ahead of dry, hot winds predicted to raise fire danger to critical levels in the coming days. Evacuation orders were expanded to more mountain communities as the largest blaze, the Creek Fire, churned through the Sierra National Forest.

Record-breaking temperatures were driving the highest power use of the year, and transmission losses because of wildfires have cut into supplies.

Hurricane Laura’s Winds Are Now Long Gone, But Residents Fear The Toxic Sludge Left Behind

Hurricane Laura’s Winds Are Now Long Gone, But Residents Fear The Toxic Sludge Left Behind

SOURCE: BuzzFeed News

DATE: September 5, 2020

SNIP: Leaks and spills have become part and parcel of hurricanes that hit Texas and Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. A Reuters analysis found that in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s punishing rain in the Houston area, at least 22,000 barrels of oil, refined fuels, and chemicals were spilled across the state. That was in addition to millions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of tons of other toxic substances. While Harvey had a widespread effect on Texas, the environmental damage paled in comparison to Hurricane Katrina. Researchers estimate that there were as many as 200 releases of hazardous chemicals, petroleum, or natural gas in the wake of that storm coming ashore south of New Orleans.

John Pardue, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Louisiana State University, wrote in a piece for the Conversation about how the fire at BioLab [a chlorine plant which processes chlorine for swimming pools] may be just the tip of Hurricane Laura’s damage to the oil and petrochemical facilities. In that piece, Pardue points out that the storm’s strongest winds whipped through the Hackberry oil field, a marsh dotted with thousands of oil wells, storage tanks, and pipelines. Storage tanks have been known to be ripped from their moorings during hurricanes, releasing whatever toxins they had inside into the environment.

The Gulf Coast is home to a dense network of oil and gas refineries and pipelines and increasingly the booming petrochemical industry. And the industrialization is growing. Using state permitting data, the Environmental Integrity Project showed that between 2012 and 2018, regulators in Louisiana and Texas approved 74 oil, gas, and petrochemical projects within 70 miles of coastline. Many of the biggest projects coming online are in Calcasieu Parish, the county where Lake Charles and Mossville are located, and Cameron Parish, the county just south of Lake Charles that was almost entirely inundated by water during Hurricane Laura. But while regulators have been busy approving new projects in vulnerable areas, they have been unwilling to step up monitoring to protect the surrounding communities during disasters, activists said.

While Texas has made information about the pollutants released since Hurricane Laura available to the public, Louisiana residents are still largely in the dark. Few people think of Texas as a place that strictly regulates industry — except, maybe, in comparison to Louisiana. In Texas, companies must report big emissions events within 24 hours. They must also report how many pounds of pollutants they released. That’s how people learned that at least 4 million pounds of pollutants and greenhouse gases were released in the run-up to Hurricane Laura as plants in East Texas conducted emergency shutdowns ahead of the storm. Those plants emitted well above the allowed amounts of pollutants like nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds in an effort to prevent accidents like when the Arkema chemical plant outside of Houston exploded and burst into flames during Hurricane Harvey. In Louisiana, Environmental advocates say they only know that more than 50 sites released pollutants in recent days. There hasn’t been a full public accounting of what was released or how many pounds of toxins were emitted; the state doesn’t require companies to report either data point.

The Biolab facility that caught fire, for example, did not report the amount of emissions emitted since Hurricane Laura hit. If that factory was in Texas that would have been required.

In 2019, BioLab, the plant that caught fire during Hurricane Laura, was found in violation of the Clean Water Act for releasing over 90 times the allowed amount of hexachlorobenzene into area waters. The EPA says that hexachlorobenzene is a probable human carcinogen. In all the facility has reported dumping chemicals into the nearby bayou and river 145 times since last September, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

BioLab is far from an anomaly. A new ethane plant in Westlake, a joint venture between Lotte Chemical of South Korea and Houston-based Westlake Chemical, has reported consistently releasing more than the allowed amount of the same chemical into area waterways since opening last year. According to EPA enforcement data, that plant is in significant noncompliance with the Clean Water Act. Not far away, the South African–owned chemical complex that led to the leveling of much of Mossville was dinged in 2017 for releasing nearly five times the allowed amount of mercury.

“With a storm surge, you have this sediment sludge that gets moved around,” Subra said. “After Katrina in the greater New Orleans area, some people didn’t clean the sediment sludge from their property. And then they call me up after the grass has grown and they’ve fixed up their house and they say every time I mow the lawn I don’t feel well. That’s the sediment sludge that the lawnmower is throwing up into the air and they are inhaling it, so then we’re talking about long-term exposure.”

Land in Russia’s Arctic Blows ‘Like a Bottle of Champagne’

Land in Russia’s Arctic Blows ‘Like a Bottle of Champagne’

SOURCE: New York Times

DATE: September 5, 2020

SNIP: A natural phenomenon first observed by scientists just six years ago and now recurring with alarming frequency in Siberia is causing the ground to explode spontaneously and with tremendous force, leaving craters up to 100 feet deep.

When Yevgeny Chuvilin, a Moscow-based geologist with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, arrived this summer at the rim of the latest blast site, called Crater 17, “it left quite an impression,” he said.

The pit plunged into darkness, surrounded by the table-flat, featureless tundra. As Mr. Chuvilin stood looking in, he said, slabs of dirt and ice occasionally peeled off the permafrost of the crater wall and tumbled in.

“It was making noises. It was like something alive,” Mr. Chuvilin said.

While initially a mystery, scientists have established that the craters appearing in the far north of western Siberia are caused by subterranean gases, and the recent flurry of explosions is possibly related to global warming, Mr. Chuvilin said.

Mr. Chuvilin said the conditions causing the explosions, which are still not fully understood, are probably specific to the geology of the area, as similar craters have not appeared elsewhere in Siberia or in permafrost zones in Canada and Alaska that are also affected by global warming.

The explosions occur underneath small hills or hummocks on the tundra where gas from decaying organic matter is trapped underground.

Contained beneath a layer of ice above and permafrost all around, the gas creates pressure that elevates the overlying soil. The explosions occur when the pressure rises or the ice layer thaws and breaks suddenly.

The strata of perpetually frozen soil are usually a few hundreds of yards deep, but they go down almost a mile in some places in Siberia. Each summer, a portion near the surface, known as the active layer, thaws.

With warmer summers, the active layer is deepening, potentially melting and weakening the ice over the gas deposits.

The gases causing the explosions, said Mr. Chuvilin, may have built up to their current pressure tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago as the organic components of the permafrost partially decayed, before freezing.

Another possibility is that methane trapped in deeper layers of the permafrost in a crystalline, ice-like form known as methane hydrates is reverting to its gaseous state, possibly because of effects of global warming. In this theory, rising pressure rather than thawing on the surface is causing the gas pockets to burst.

“It goes off like a bottle of champagne,” Mr. Chuvilin said.

Canada has big plans to use hydrogen to cut emissions – and produce more oil

Canada has big plans to use hydrogen to cut emissions – and produce more oil

SOURCE: Reuters

DATE: September 4, 2020

SNIP: Canada’s main crude-producing province Alberta looks to use hydrogen to fuel expansion of its oil sands without increasing emissions, even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promises strong action against climate change, officials with the two governments said.

Alberta will announce no later than October a strategy to develop “blue hydrogen” as a cleaner alternative to using natural gas to extract crude at steam-driven oil sands sites, Associate Minister of Natural Gas Dale Nally told Reuters in an interview.

Deploying cleaner feedstock will allow Alberta to produce more oil without exceeding its 100 megatonne annual limit on provincial carbon emissions, Nally said.

“Hydrogen will allow us to continue to move the bar and reduce the carbon intensity of the oil sands until you get to a point where there is no difference in (greenhouse gases) in conventional oil and oil sands,” he said, adding that Alberta’s hydrogen plan is synchronized with Ottawa’s.

“Reducing the carbon intensity of the oil sands would allow of course more expansion.”

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas, with the carbon byproduct captured and stored.

[Ed Note: File under “definition of insanity”]

Mining for renewable energy could be another threat to the environment

Mining for renewable energy could be another threat to the environment

SOURCE: Phys.org and Nature

DATE: September 2, 2020

SNIP: Researchers have warned that mining threats to biodiversity caused by renewable energy production could surpass those averted by climate change mitigation.

A University of Queensland study found protected areas, key biodiversity areas and the world’s remaining wilderness would be under growing pressure from mining the minerals required for a clean energy transition.

UQ’s Dr. Laura Sonter said renewable energy production was material-intensive—much more so than fossil fuels—and mining these materials would increase as fossil fuels were phased out.

“Our study shows that mining the materials needed for renewable energy such as lithium, cobalt, copper, nickel and aluminum will create further pressure on the biodiversity located in mineral-rich landscapes,” Dr. Sonter said.

The research team mapped the world’s mining areas, according to an extensive database of 62,381 pre-operational, operational and closed mining properties, targeting 40 different commodities.

They found that areas with potential mining activity covered 50 million square kilometers of the planet—35 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial land surface excluding Antarctica—and many of these areas coincided with places critical for biodiversity conservation.

“Almost 10 percent of all mining areas occur within currently protected sites, with plenty of other mining occurring within or nearby sites deemed a priority for future conservation of many species,” Dr. Sonter said.

“In terms of mining areas targeting materials needed specifically for renewable energy production, the story is not much better. We found that 82 percent of mining areas target materials needed for renewable energy production, of which, 12 percent coincide with protected areas, 7 percent with key biodiversity areas and 14 percent with wilderness. And, of the mining areas that overlapped protected areas and wilderness, those that targeted materials for renewable energy contained a greater density of mines than the mining areas that targeted other materials.”

Professor James Watson, from UQ’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Science and the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the impacts of a green energy future on biodiversity were not considered in international climate policies.

“New mining threats aren’t seriously addressed in current global discussions about the post-2020 United Nation’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity,” Professor Watson said.

The research team said careful strategic planning was urgently needed.

“Mining threats to biodiversity will increase as more mines target materials for renewable energy production,” Dr. Sonter said.

“Combine this risk with the extensive spatial footprint of renewable energy infrastructure, and the risks become even more concerning.”

[Ed Note: File under NO SHIT! Did they think solar panels and wind turbines and batteries grew on trees????? FFS. ]

International Condemnation Of Global Shipping Grows As 47 Whales Confirmed Dead In Mauritius

International Condemnation Of Global Shipping Grows As 47 Whales Confirmed Dead In Mauritius

SOURCE: Forbes

DATE: August 31, 2020

SNIP: On Monday, it was revealed that 47 whales have been found dead along the South East coast of Mauritius, including pregnant females and juveniles. The numbers continue to rise each day, around the crash site and sinking of the forward section of the Wakashio.

This come amid the extreme secrecy of the operation to salvage the rear of the vessel, disposal of the removed oil and clean up the oil along the coast. The lack of transparency about the methods being used for the cleanup is raising additional concerns about any longer term risk with the use of chemical dispersants. Comparisons are now being drawn between the cleanup in Mauritius and the hushed-up oil spill and cleanup operation in Venezuela earlier this month in its famous Morrocoy National Reserve.

Already, there were concerns about the controversial decision to deliberately sink the forward section of the Wakashio in an undisclosed location off the coast of Mauritius. Two days later, scores of dead dolphins and whales started drifting dead onto the shores of Mauritius.

The international NGO community have also started to raise serious questions about the role of the global shipping industry in this incident. In a statement to Forbes, global ocean protection NGO, Ocean Conservancy has called for a full and independent investigation into the whale and dolphin deaths in Mauritius.

Chris Robbins, head of Science Initiatives at Ocean Conservancy and who worked for a decade on oil spill response and ecosystem restoration after the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy highlighted the risk to dolphins in particular following a major oil spill.

Ocean Conservancy’s Chris Robbins went further and cautioned about many of the secondary effects of an oil spill clean up operation that he had learned from the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy, that ended up causing even more harm.

So far, there has been no additional comments from either the vessel owner, Nagashiki Shipping company, or the multi-billion dollar ship operator that had leased the vessel, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, on the deaths of the dolphins or whales.

Notably, there has also not been a public statement on the oil spill from several other major UN or other ocean protection organizations, 37 days into this major ecological crisis.

Big Oil Is in Trouble. Its Plan: Flood Africa With Plastic.

Big Oil Is in Trouble. Its Plan: Flood Africa With Plastic.

SOURCE: The New York Times

DATE: August 30, 2020

SNIP: Confronting a climate crisis that threatens the fossil fuel industry, oil companies are racing to make more plastic. But they face two problems: Many markets are already awash with plastic, and few countries are willing to be dumping grounds for the world’s plastic waste.

The industry thinks it has found a solution to both problems in Africa.

According to documents reviewed by The New York Times, an industry group representing the world’s largest chemical makers and fossil fuel companies is lobbying to influence United States trade negotiations with Kenya, one of Africa’s biggest economies, to reverse its strict limits on plastics — including a tough plastic-bag ban. It is also pressing for Kenya to continue importing foreign plastic garbage, a practice it has pledged to limit.

Plastics makers are looking well beyond Kenya’s borders. “We anticipate that Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying U.S.-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement,” Ed Brzytwa, the director of international trade for the American Chemistry Council, wrote in an April 28 letter to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

Kenya, like many countries, has wrestled with the proliferation of plastic. It passed a stringent law against plastic bags in 2017, and last year was one of many nations around the world that signed on to a global agreement to stop importing plastic waste — a pact strongly opposed by the chemical industry.

The chemistry council’s plastics proposals would “inevitably mean more plastic and chemicals in the environment,” said Griffins Ochieng, executive director for the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development, a nonprofit group based in Nairobi that works on the problem of plastic waste in Kenya. “It’s shocking.”

The plastics proposal reflects an oil industry contemplating its inevitable decline as the world fights climate change. Profits are plunging amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the industry is fearful that climate change will force the world to retreat from burning fossil fuels. Producers are scrambling to find new uses for an oversupply of oil and gas.

Pivoting to plastics, the industry has spent more than $200 billion on chemical and manufacturing plants in the United States over the past decade. But the United States already consumes as much as 16 times more plastic than many poor nations, and a backlash against single-use plastics has made it tougher to sell more at home.

In 2019, American exporters shipped more than 1 billion pounds of plastic waste to 96 countries including Kenya, ostensibly to be recycled, according to trade statistics. But much of the waste, often containing the hardest-to-recycle plastics, instead ends up in rivers and oceans.

And after China closed its ports to most plastic trash in 2018, exporters have been looking for new dumping grounds. Exports to Africa more than quadrupled in 2019 from a year earlier.

The plastics industry’s proposals could also make it tougher to regulate plastics in the United States, since a trade deal would apply to both sides.

Last year, Kenya was one of many countries around the world that signed on to a global agreement to stop importing plastic waste — a pact strongly opposed by the chemical industry. Emails reviewed by The Times showed industry representatives, many of them former trade officials, working with U.S. negotiators last year to try to stall those rules.

Royal Dutch Shell’s 386-acre plastics plant outside Pittsburgh is billed as the anchor for a new petrochemical hub in Appalachia, a region reeling from the collapse of the coal industry. Plants like these have revolutionized the plastics industry by turning fracked natural gas into the manufacturing material for millions of plastic bottles, bags, clamshell containers, drinking straws and a parade of other products, tapping into a seemingly endless supply of cheap shale gas from America’s booming oil and gas fields. Among local communities, the plants have raised air pollution concerns.

In Appalachia, Texas and nationwide, almost 350 new chemical plants are in the works, according to an industry tally, together representing oil companies’ life-or-death bet on plastics as the future.

Exxon Mobil has forecast that global demand for petrochemicals could rise by nearly 45 percent over the next decade, significantly outpacing global economic growth and energy demand. Most of that would come from emerging markets.

The American Chemistry Council’s April 28 letter to the trade representative’s office laid out the group’s vision. Kenya’s growing ports, railways and road networks “can support an expansion of chemicals trade not just between the United States and Kenya, but throughout East Africa and the continent,” Mr. Brzytwa wrote.

To foster a plastics hub, he wrote, a trade deal with Kenya should prevent the country from measures that would curb plastic manufacture or use, and ensure Kenya continues to allow trade in plastic waste, demands that experts said were unusual and intrusive.

Giant new 50-metre deep ‘crater’ opens up in Arctic tundra

Giant new 50-metre deep ‘crater’ opens up in Arctic tundra

SOURCE: The Siberian Times

DATE: August 29, 2020

SNIP: The recently-formed new hole or funnel is the latest to be seen in northern Siberia since the phenomenon was first registered in 2014.

It was initially spotted by chance from the air by a Vesti Yamal TV crew en route from an unrelated assignment.

A group of scientists then made an expedition to examine the large cylindrical crater which has a depth of up to 50 metres.

Such funnels are believed to be caused by the build up of methane gas in pockets of thawing permafrost under the surface.

Scientist Dr Evgeny Chuvilin, a leading researcher at Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, said: ‘What we saw today is striking in its size and grandeur.

‘These are the colossal forces of nature that create such objects.’

The ‘crater’ – these holes are called hydrolaccoliths or bulgunnyakhs by scientists – is given the number 17, and is seen as the most impressive of the large holes to suddenly appear in recent years as the permafrost thaws.

Rubber debris litters miles of Puyallup River after artificial turf was used in dam project without permit

Rubber debris litters miles of Puyallup River after artificial turf was used in dam project without permit

SOURCE: Seattle Times

DATE: August 28, 2020

SNIP: In black waves, drifts and bands, crumbs of rubber [Ed Note: actually, plastic] are polluting miles of the Puyallup River after a spill at a dam project last month.

Rubber [plastic] debris already is likely more than 40 miles downriver in Puget Sound. The pollution is the result of unpermitted use of thousands of yards of artificial turf by the dam’s owners while reconstructing parts of the dam.

The Puyallup Tribe was first alerted to the spill by a social media post put up July 31 by Derek Van Giesen, a former employee of Electron Hydro, an owner of the dam. He walked off the job over the installation of the turf liner and a large fish kill at the dam that took place the same day of the spill, which occurred overnight on July 29.

Van Giesen said the turf came from a pile stored on the property of a neighboring rock quarry. The pile is at least one story high and as long as a football field.

From the stop order: “The use of astro-turf in a river system where it can break down and discharge potential toxins into the water is not considered a suitable material.”

The question now is how to clean up the mess, just weeks before adult chinook salmon listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act are expected to arrive on their homeward journey.

According to the consultant’s report, the company, as part of its work on a bypass channel at the dam placed 2,409 square yards of artificial FieldTurf on the channel between July 20 and 27. The turf was intended to function as an underlayment for a plastic liner put on top of it. The company then diverted the river into the bypass channel, to create a dry area to continue its ongoing work at its dam.

The night of July 29, the diverted river — well known for its rock-chucking high flows — ripped pieces of the liner and turf loose, sending hunks of artificial turf and a torrent of loose black crumb rubber downriver.

At least 4 to 6 cubic yards of crumb rubber [i.e. plastic] — each piece about the size of a fat coffee ground — was released to the river, in the pristine upper reaches of the Puyallup, about 6 miles from the boundary with Mount Rainier National Park.

The consultant estimated the rate of travel in the water at 2 mph. The rubber probably reached Orting within nine hours, and Tacoma and Commencement Bay within 20 hours. The river would have deposited crumb rubber all along the way, a distance of some 40 miles, in channel margins, in deep pools, in coves and river bends, and continued redistributing it ever since.

Everywhere he looked for it along the river, Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the Puyallup Tribe, saw crumbs of black rubber. Immediately downstream of the dam, it lay in streaks of black on the beach. Fourteen miles down river, there it was again, in black nubby necklaces around rocks, in bands along the shore, in heaps on the river’s sandy bank.

The dam, formerly owned by Puget Sound Energy, is 116 years old and produces electricity for about 20,000 homes. Reconstruction at the dam is intended, along with screens and other equipment, to prevent fish and sediment from entering the flume, used to deliver water for the project.

WDFW reported a fish kill on the river the same day, as Electron Hydro dewatered a stretch of the river during routine maintenance at its dam, causing what the department described as “a large fish kill, resulting in the loss of ESA-listed species, including Chinook, and bull trout, along with coho, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and sculpin.”

Historically the river supported as many as 42,000 chinook. The run is greatly diminished today to a little over 1,000 fish and was listed for protection in 1999 under the ESA.