Environment

Black Snow Is Falling from the Skies in Siberia

A pall of eerie black snow has covered several towns in the Siberian region of Kuzbass, which is home to 2.6 million people and one of the world’s largest coal fields.

According to the Guardian and the Siberian Times, the snow is tainted with toxic black coal dust that was released into the air from open coal pits and improperly maintained factories in the region. One coal plant official told the local media that a shield meant to prevent coal powder from escaping out of the factory had malfunctioned — however, toxic black snowfall seems to be a regular phenomena in the area and it isn’t necessarily tied to a single source.

Kuzbass (short for Kuznetsk Basin) is one of the largest coalfields in the world, spanning more than 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers). A 2015 report from Ecodefense found that the citizens of Kuzbass have an average life expectancy 3 to 4 years shorter than the Russian national average and have nearly twice the risk of contracting tuberculosis and childhood mental disorders.

Black snows like this one are a frequent winter feature in the region, the report found, and mitigation attempts have been… lacking. For instance, in December 2018, regional authorities were accused of trying to hide the toxic black stuff by literally painting over it with white pigment.

Environment

Plastic Pollution

Microplastics proliferating in the world’s oceans appear to also be carrying a host of bacteria, some so toxic that they can cause coral bleaching in tropical waters and even bring infections to humans with open wounds. Bacteria known to cause gastroenteritis were also found.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore sampled plastic debris in the waters around the city-state. They found that among the bacteria hitching rides on the microplastics were some useful organisms, such as those that can break down pollutants in the water.

But lead researcher Sandric Leong cautioned that since marine life are eating the plastic, the accompanying pathogens could be passing up the food chain.

Environment

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 109 degrees Fahrenheit (42.8 degrees Celsius) in Telfer, Western Australia.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 64.0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53.3 degrees Celsius) at Oimyakon, Siberia.

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.

Global Warming

Interactive Map Shows What Climate Change Will Do to US Cities by 2050

The US National Climate Assessment, a stunning report released in November by 13 federal agencies and the White House late last month, showed that climate change has already had devastating impacts on our health and economy, and that costs could mount to hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.

The report maps out what we can expect if we aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions now, and what would happen if we do nothing. As part of the Weather 2050 project, researchers used the latter scenario to look at what could happen to temperature and precipitation in US cities by the middle of the century.

They found that by 2050, many US cities may resemble hotter, more southern parts of the country today. A few of the most striking transitions are shown here:

Environment

USA Withdraws from US-Russian Nuclear Treaty

When President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a long-standing nuclear weapons treaty with Russia on Feb. 1, his actions set the stage for what many fear could be a new arms race between the global superpowers.

Trump’s decision was announced less than two weeks after scientists and policy experts with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) presented the 2019 position for the Doomsday Clock — a hypothetical clock whose time symbolizes how close the Earth is to destruction from nuclear war and other global threats.

On Jan. 24, BAS representatives declared that the clock’s hands would continue to stand at 2 minutes to midnight, the closest to absolute annihilation since the peak of the Cold War in 1953. Their dire warning came on the heels of the Trump administration’s statement of intent in October to withdraw the U.S. from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which was established in 1987 to restrict nuclear arsenals.

On Feb. 2, Russia announced that it, too, would abandon the INF treaty.

Global Warming

Polar Bear Invasion

Thinning sea ice has driven more than 50 polar bears ashore on an Arctic archipelago in northern Russia, causing chaos for the local population. Fences have risen around kindergartens. Special vehicles transport military personnel to their work sites. Residents of the island settlement are afraid to leave their homes.

Novaya Zemlya is a Russian archipelago stretching into the Arctic Ocean. It once played host to Soviet nuclear tests, including the largest-ever man-made explosion, when the so-called King of Bombs detonated in 1961, releasing 50 megatons of power and deepening an arms race that threatened to turn the Cold War hot.

Today, the barren landscape is under siege — from dozens of polar bears locked in their very own sort of hot war. Marine ecologists have long been sounding the alarm about the peril posed by global warming for the vulnerable species. In the far reaches of Russia, the situation has suddenly become traumatic for humans, too.

But as arctic ice thins, which is linked to the acceleration of climate change, the animals move ashore, ravenous. They scavenge, sometimes coming into contact with human populations.

At least 52 bears were massed near Belushya Guba, the main settlement on the island territory, which is still used as a military garrison, with restricted access to the public. The town had a population of about 2,000 as of the 2010 Census.

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Global Warming

Warming Record

The U.N. weather agency announced that the last four years have been the warmest ever recorded since reliable measurements began.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also says that the 20 warmest years in history occurred during the past 22 years.

The WMO went on to point out that the unprecedented warming continues this year, with Australia experiencing its hottest January on record.

“The degree of warming during the past four years has been exceptional, both on land and in the ocean,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Oceans to Change Color

The distinctive blue color that Earth presents to the universe may be altered by the end of this century due to effects of a warmer climate.

A team of U.S. and British researchers modeled how phytoplankton absorb and reflect light, and how the ocean’s color will change as global warming alters the composition of those microorganisms living in it.

The scientists predict that blue regions, such as the subtropics, will become more blue, while areas nearer the poles may turn a deeper green as warmer waters stimulate larger and more diverse blooms of phytoplankton.

“There will be a noticeable difference in the color of 50 percent of the ocean by the end of the 21st century,” said lead researcher Stephanie Dutkiewicz of MIT.

Environment

Plastic Meals

Researchers say microplastics were in the guts of every marine animal they examined that had washed up on the coast of Britain, including dolphins, seals and whales.

A team from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory says most of the particles found in 50 animals from 10 different species were synthetic fibers, which can come from fishing nets, toothbrushes and clothing. They believe the rest came from sources such as food packaging and plastic bottles.

While it’s thought the plastic would eventually pass through the digestive systems or be regurgitated, the scientists say they “don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.”

Environment

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 112 degrees Fahrenheit (45.0 degrees Celsius) in Telfer, Western Australia.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 65.0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53.0 degrees Celsius) at Toko, Siberia.

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.

Global Warming

Study: Melting ice sheets may cause ‘climate chaos’

Billions of tonnes of meltwater flowing into the world’s oceans from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets could boost extreme weather and destabilise regional climate within a matter of decades, researchers said yesterday.

These melting giants, especially the one atop Greenland, are poised to further weaken the ocean currents that move cold water south along the Atlantic Ocean floor while pushing tropical waters northward closer to the surface, they reported in the journal Nature.

Known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc), this liquid conveyor belt plays a crucial role in Earth’s climate system and helps ensures the relative warmth of the Northern Hemisphere.

“According to our models, this meltwater will cause significant disruptions to ocean currents and change levels of warming around the world,” said lead author Nicholas Golledge, an associate professor at the Antarctic Research Centre of New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington.

The Antarctic ice sheet’s loss of mass, meanwhile, traps warmer water below the surface, eroding glaciers from underneath in a vicious circle of accelerated melting that contributes to sea level rise.

Most studies on ice sheets have focused on how quickly they might shrink due to global warming, and how much global temperatures can rise before their disintegration — whether over centuries or millenia — becomes inevitable, a threshold known as a “tipping point.”

But far less research has been done on how the meltwater might affect the climate system itself.

One likely result of weakened current in the Atlantic will be warmer air temperatures in the high Arctic, eastern Canada and central America, and cooler temperatures over northwestern Europe and the North American eastern seaboard.

Environment

Huge Plume of Magma Under the Galápagos

A fleet of floating robots has figured out why the Galápagos Islands exist. And, according to the robots’ creators, the discovery could help explain why the Earth isn’t a floating ball of ice.

The Galápagos Islands are a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) off the coast of Ecuador. The islands are most famous as hosts to a large number of species not found anywhere else in the world, which helped the biologist Charles Darwin develop the theory of evolution. Now, according to an international team of researchers, we know that the islands were formed by a thin tunnel bringing magma up from a “mantle plume” 1,200 miles (1,900 km) below the surface. Scientists had suspected such a plume might exist before, but this is the most direct evidence yet that it’s down there.

“Mantle plumes” are giant bubbles of very hot magma that sit much closer to the Earth’s crust than usual. For decades, scientists have proposed that plumes like this could explain why certain regions of the planet are very volcanically active, even though they’re far from the edges of tectonic plates where volcanism is more expected. (Hawaii is a famous example.) Not every volcanologist accepts this explanation, but those who do think it explains why the Earth hasn’t run out of heat. The result would be a kind of trickle effect, where the hot innards of the planet would release enough geothermal heat to keep the crust warm, but not so much that it burned itself out.

Magnetic North Pole’s ‘Pretty Fast’

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tends to update the location of the magnetic north pole every five years, but the latest update came nearly a year ahead of schedule because the pole is moving so quickly.

Earth’s magnetic north pole — the north that your compass points toward — is leaving the Canadian Arctic and moving towards Russia’s snowy Siberia at a rate of more than 55 kilometres (34 miles) per year, according to an update by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British Geological Survey.

In general, the World Magnetic Model (WMM) is updated at five-year intervals to ensure modern navigation keeps up with the changes in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Global Warming

Climate change: Warming threatens Himalayan glaciers

Climate change poses a growing threat to the glaciers found in the Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountain ranges, according to a new report.

The study found that if CO2 emissions are not cut rapidly, two thirds of these giant ice fields could disappear.

Even if the world limits the temperature rise to 1.5C this century, at least one third of the ice would go.

The glaciers are a critical water source for 250 million people living across eight different countries.

The towering peaks of K2 and Mount Everest are part of the frozen Hindu Kush and Himalayan ranges that contain more ice that anywhere else on Earth, apart from the polar regions.

But these ice fields could turn to bare rocks in less than a century because of rising temperatures, say scientists.

Over the next few decades, the melting could accelerate thanks to warming and increased air pollution from a growing population.

The air pollutants come from the Indo-Gangetic Plain, one of the world’s most polluted regions. The dirty air makes the glacier situation worse by depositing black carbon and dust on the ice, hastening the thaw.

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Environment

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45.0 degrees Celsius) in Port Augusta, South Australia.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 63.4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53.0 degrees Celsius) at Oimyakon, Siberia.

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.

Global Warming

Scientists Have Detected an Enormous Cavity Growing Beneath Antarctica

Antarctica is not in a good place. In the space of only decades, the continent has lost trillions of tonnes of ice at alarming rates we can’t keep up with, even in places we once thought were safe.

Now, a stunning new void has been revealed amidst this massive vanishing act, and it’s a big one: a gigantic cavity growing under West Antarctica that scientists say covers two-thirds the footprint of Manhattan and stands almost 300 metres (984 ft) tall.

This huge opening at the bottom of the Thwaites Glacier – a mass infamously dubbed the “most dangerous glacier in the world” – is so big it represents an overt chunk of the estimated 252 billion tonnes of ice Antarctica loses every year.

Researchers say the cavity would once have been large enough to hold some 14 billion tonnes of ice. Even more disturbing, the researchers say it lost most of this ice volume over the last three years alone.

The Thwaites Glacier actually holds in neighbouring glaciers and ice masses further inland. If its buttressing force disappeared, the consequences could be unthinkable, which is why it’s considered such a pivotal natural structure in the Antarctic landscape.

Global Warming

Climate change is reshaping how heat moves around globe

The Earth’s atmosphere and oceans play important roles in moving heat from one part of the world to another, and new research is illuminating how those patterns are changing in the face of climate change.

The greenhouse effect and carbon dioxide aren’t the only issues to consider as the planet grows warmer – they are just one part of the equation. The way that the atmosphere and oceans move heat around is changing, too, and this could have significant effects on temperatures around the world.

Without heat transfer, the world’s hottest spots would be sizzling and the coolest spots would be even more frigid. Conditions in both hot and cold climates are affected by the movement of heat from the equator toward the poles in the atmosphere and oceans.

The study concludes that warming temperatures are driving increased heat transfer in the atmosphere, which is compensated by a reduced heat transfer in the ocean. Additionally, the excess oceanic heat is trapped in the Southern Ocean around the Antarctic.

For now, that heat is not re-entering the atmosphere, but at some point it may. If that were to happen, changes in heat transfer could contribute to significant shifts in normal temperatures worldwide. For instance, if we didn’t have heat transfer, Ohio would be 20 or 30 degrees colder than we are right now.