Environment

Plastic Pollution goes Airborne

Tiny bits of microplastics have been discovered in recent months in rainwater and snowfall from Colorado to the Arctic.

They join similar plastic pollution that has shown up in groundwater, rivers and lakes, and at the deepest depths of the sea.

Scientists from the Northwest Passage Project, taking ice core samples this summer in Arctic Canada, say they also found visible plastic beads and filaments of various shapes and sizes in the ice.

Earlier studies have found that plastic has fallen from the sky in Europe’s Pyrenees Mountains, a region near Hong Kong, the Iranian capital of Tehran and Paris.

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Global Warming

Fracking Methane

A new study concludes that the recent boom in fracking to extract shale gas, largely composed of methane, is responsible for a surge in the atmospheric concentration of the powerful greenhouse gas over the past decade.

Robert Howarth at Cornell University says he estimates that fracking in the U.S. and Canada is also responsible for more than half of the increase in the global fossil fuel emissions seen over the past 10 years.

His report warns that if shale gas extraction continues to rise, it will make the goals of the Paris climate change agreement even more difficult to achieve.

Environment

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50.0 degrees Celsius) in Mitribah, Kuwait.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 102.0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 74.4 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Vostok base, Antarctica.

Temperatures were tabulated from the more than 10,000 worldwide synoptic weather stations. The United Nations World Meteorological Organization sets the standards for weather observations, and provides a global telecommunications circuit for data distribution.

Environment

Chernobyl’s Crumbling Sarcophagus Will Be Torn Down

The giant structure originally constructed around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 to contain the radioactive material released in one of history’s worst nuclear disasters is crumbling. Soon, it will be torn down.

The Ukranian company managing the nuclear power plant, SSE Chernobyl NPP, recently signed a contract with a construction company to take the dome-shaped structure apart by 2023, according to a statement. That’s when the sarcophagus will reach the end of its stable life and “expire,” so to speak.

But that doesn’t mean radioactive material will just slip out into the world. In 2016, a large steel structure called the “New Safe Confinement” was crafted to blanket the sarcophagus and the radiation underneath it. This confinement structure, 354 feet (108 meters) high, was built a distance from the radioactive site and slid into place with 224 hydraulic jacks.

The New Safe Confinement is expected to last at least 100 years and is strong enough to withstand a tornado, according to the report. On the other hand, the crumbling sarcophagus underneath it wasn’t built to last long, and was a kind of Band-Aid approach to quickly contain the radiation during the time of the accident.

The sarcophagus is massive, made up of over 7,700 tons (7,000 metric tons) of metal and 14.1 million cubic feet (400,000 cubic meters) of concrete. But it’s flimsy — it doesn’t have any welded or bolted joints — and could be easily knocked down by an earthquake, according to the report.

It stays upright, not through sturdy engineering but through the force of gravity, according to the statement. Dismantling it will be “extremely complicated” and will happen under conditions of “high nuclear and radiation risk,” the statement said.

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Environment

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50.0 degrees Celsius) in Death Valley, California.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 107.0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 77.2 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Vostok base, Antarctica.

Temperatures were tabulated from the more than 10,000 worldwide synoptic weather stations. The United Nations World Meteorological Organization sets the standards for weather observations, and provides a global telecommunications circuit for data distribution.

Environment

Amazon Deforestation Shot Up by 278% Last Month

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest increased by 278% in July 2019 compared with July 2018, resulting in the destruction of 870 square miles (2,253 square kilometers) of vegetation, new satellite data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) show.

That’s an area about twice the size of the city of Los Angeles. And, while the forest still spans some 2.1 million square miles (5.5 million square km — just a little bit bigger than Mexico), the spike in tree loss is part of a dangerous trend.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic who vowed on the campaign trail to open more of the Amazon to various mining, logging and agricultural interests, despite environmental protections on the land called the report “a lie” and vowed to hire a private firm to monitor rain forest loss.

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Global Warming

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Under Threat

President Trump’s assault on climate and public lands has been called a kind of administrative vandalism. Under his leadership, crucial environmental regulations have been rolled back, the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and millions of acres of public lands have been opened to the energy industry.

Included in the list of areas under threat is Bears Ears National Monument. In December 2017, Trump announced plans to shrink the monument by 85%. A year later, with the protections removed, the surrounding public lands were opened to resource extraction. While the decision is still being challenged in court, for now, it stands.

Arctic Village, a small native village in northeastern Alaska, like Bears Ears, another refuge that lost crucial protections at the start of the Trump administration when the refuge coastal plain, the last 5% of Alaska’s coastline protected from resource extraction, was opened to the energy industry. The move marks the first time a national wildlife refuge in the U.S. has been opened and re-designated for oil development, setting a dangerous precedent.

The Gwich’in, the First Peoples of the area who rely on the land for culture and for subsistence, depend on the Coastal Plain for their chief source of food: the porcupine caribou. The herd, which makes up 80% of Gwich’in food supply, migrates between Canada and Alaska south of the Brooks Range to birth their calves in The Refuge Coastal Plain. This is the longest land migration route of any land mammal on earth. If the administration moves forward to develop the coastal plain for oil the Gwich’in will lose their main source of food.

Developing the coastal plain for oil will also increase climate change. While it’s estimated that the oil reserves would only last six months, based on the current rate at which oil is being used, the climate impacts would be devastating. Research showed that if all the oil is extracted and burned it would add equivalent climate emissions to our atmosphere as emissions from 898 coal plants operating for a year, or adding 776 million passenger vehicles to the road.

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Global Warming

Greenland Melt

A staggering 217 billion tons (197 billion metric tons) of meltwater flowed off of Greenland’s ice sheet into the Atlantic Ocean this July. The worst day of melting was July 31, when 11 billion tons (10 billion metric tons) of melted ice poured into the ocean.

This massive thaw represents some of the worst melting since 2012, according to The Washington Post. That year, 97% of the Greenland ice sheet experienced melting. This year, so far, 56% of the ice sheet has melted, but temperatures — 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit above average — have been higher than during the 2012 heat wave. All told, this July’s melt alone was enough to raise global average sea levels by 0.02 inches (0.5 millimeters).

Environment

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 125 degrees Fahrenheit (51.7 degrees Celsius) in Death Valley, California.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 104.0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 75.6 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Vostok base, Antarctica.

Temperatures were tabulated from the more than 10,000 worldwide synoptic weather stations. The United Nations World Meteorological Organization sets the standards for weather observations, and provides a global telecommunications circuit for data distribution.

Environment

Ethiopia Plans Trees

Ethiopians have planted more than 350 million trees in a single day as part of a campaign to fight deforestation and climate change. Ethiopia’s minister of innovation and technology, said 353 633 660 seedlings were planted in 12 hours on Monday. The planting spree, which surpassed the initial goal of 200 million trees planted in one day, will be a world record, officials said.

Environment

Nuclear Cloud Mystery Solved

A vast cloud of nuclear radiation that spreadover continental Europe in 2017 has been traced to an unacknowledged nuclear accident in southern Russia, according to an international team of scientists.

The experts say the cloud of radiation detected over Europe in late September 2017 could only have been caused by a nuclear fuel-reprocessing accident at the Mayak Production Association, a nuclear facility in the Chelyabinsk region of the Ural Mountains in Russia, sometime between noon on Sept. 26 and noon on Sept. 27.

Russia confirmed that a cloud of nuclear radiation was detected over the Urals at the time, but the country never acknowledged any responsibility for a radiation leak, nor has it ever admitted that a nuclear accident took place at Mayak in 2017.

Although the resulting cloud of nuclear radiation was diluted enough that it caused no harm to people beneath it, the total radioactivity was between 30 and 100 times the level of radiation released after the Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011.

Environment

After Scorching Europe, Heat Wave Is Poised to Melt Greenland

A heat wave that shattered records in Europe this week is on the move, and it could melt billions of tons of ice in Greenland.

Hot air that originated over Northern Africa recently brought blistering heat to Europe, Paris sizzled at a staggering 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit (42.6 degrees Celsius), and temperature records were broken across the continent by up to 6 degrees F (3 degrees C).

A representative of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that atmospheric flow would carry this scorching heat to Greenland, which lost over 170 billion tons (160 billion metric tons) of ice in July and 80 billion tons (72 billion metric tons) of ice in June from surface melting alone. When this warm air arrives in Greenland, it will likely cause “another major peak in melt area.

Pumping Deeper

The first nationwide study of U.S. groundwater wells shows that they are being dug deeper and deeper to supply the country’s expanding freshwater needs.

But scientists caution that the practice is not sustainable because groundwater supplies are dropping in many of the major aquifers that supply fresh water to more than 120 million people and half of U.S. farming irrigation.

Writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara caution that deeper wells may eventually tap into saltier water, requiring desalination. The U.S. Geological Survey says that between 1950 and 2015, aquifer levels have dropped by about 10 feet on average.

Global Warming

Climate Consensus

As all-time temperature records continue to be broken in heat waves around the Northern Hemisphere this summer, scientists say there has never been a time in the past 2,000 years when global temperatures have risen so quickly.

June 2019 was the hottest on record, and July is likely to be the hottest as well.

Scientists in three separate reports say that while the world has warmed and cooled many times over the centuries, soaring greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in a climate that is now warming as never seen before.

“This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle,” said Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London, who wasn’t part of the studies.

One of the lead authors says the scientific consensus that human activity is behind global heating is likely to have surpassed 99%.

Oceans Are Melting Glaciers from Below Much Faster than Predicted

Beneath the ocean’s surface, glaciers may be melting 10 to 100 times faster than previously believed, new research shows.

Until now, scientists had a limited understanding of what happens under the water at the point where ice meets sea. Using a combination of radar, sonar and time-lapse photography, a team of researchers has now provided the first detailed measurements of the underwater changes over time. Their findings suggest that the theories currently used to gauge glacier change are underestimating glaciers’ ice loss.

The warming atmosphere melts glaciers from above, while ocean water can erode the ice along the glacier’s face. Researchers have been studying similar effects of ocean water beneath the ice shelves in Antarctica, which slow the flow of the glaciers on land behind them. Last year, a study there found that warming ocean waters are contributing to glacial changes that increase the rate of sea level rise.

As fresh water from melting glaciers enters the ocean, it does more than increase sea level. “Plumes” of fast-moving runoff stir up nutrients locked deep in the water, which then feed phytoplankton and zooplankton near the surface, spurring population booms.

Changes in tidewater glaciers can have an impact on people living along the Alaskan coast, altering patterns in the ocean water that provides food and livelihood for many. Longer melt seasons mean more fresh water entering the ocean earlier in the year. This could affect things like salmon swimming up those streams or not.

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Environment

Iceland Reforestation

A warming climate is helping efforts in Iceland to restore the forests that once thrived before the seafaring Vikings colonized the island and razed its forests more than 1,000 years ago.

Nearly 97 percent of the native birch were felled to make way for farming as well as to build homes for the European settlers.

Iceland’s cool climate and volcanic eruptions have hampered efforts in the past to restore the forests.

But climate change is now allowing the birch to be planted along with non-native lodgepole pines and Sitka spruces, which grow more quickly.

Those species were also chosen for their ability to capture carbon and help Iceland mitigate global greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.9 degrees Celsius) in Adrar, Algeria.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 96.0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 71.1 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Vostok base, Antarctica.

Temperatures were tabulated from the more than 10,000 worldwide synoptic weather stations. The United Nations World Meteorological Organization sets the standards for weather observations, and provides a global telecommunications circuit for data distribution.