Global Warming

Antarctic Melt

Images from NASA satellites reveal that the record-breaking heat across parts of Antarctica in early February caused an unprecedented melting of the ice cap.

Ice covering Eagle Island, off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, shrank dramatically as temperatures at times became as warm as those in Los Angeles.

It was the third major melting event of the 2019-2020 southern summer. Scientists say such phenomena have become more and more frequent this century.

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Global Warming

Climate Change is Pushing Giant Ocean Currents Poleward

The world’s major wind-driven ocean currents are moving toward the poles at a rate of about a mile every two years, potentially depriving important coastal fishing waters of important nutrients and raising the risk of sea level rise, extreme storms and heatwaves for some adjacent land areas.

The shift was identified in a new study by researchers with the Alfred Wegener Institute at the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven, Germany, and published Feb. 25 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The poleward shift is bad news for the East Coast of the U.S., because it makes sea level rise even worse, the researchers said. At about 40 degrees latitude north and south, where the effects of the shifting currents are most evident, sea level rise is already 8 to 12 inches more than in other regions.

On the West Coast, salmon are being pushed out of traditional fishing waters. In densely populated coastal Asia, the changes could unleash more intense rainstorms, and the shift also makes heat waves more likely in subtropical areas.

Eight major wind-driven ocean currents, known as gyres, circulate around vast areas of ocean: three in the Atlantic, three in the Pacific, and one each in the Indian and Antarctic Oceans. The rotating currents shape the weather and ocean ecosystems in coastal regions, where parts of the currents have regional names, like the Gulf Stream along the East Coast of the U.S.

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Global Warming

California’s Snowpack Shrivels

As the comparison of satellite images above shows, last year at this time California’s Sierra Nevada range was buried in snow. And even as recently as January of this year, snowpack was looking pretty good.

But since then, the jet stream has ferried storms north of California, causing the snowpack to shrivel — from about 150 percent of average last February down to just a little more than 50 percent now.

Although the Sierra Nevada covers just a quarter of California, the range provides 60 percent of the state’s fresh water, serving 23 million people. The water also is vital to the state’s agricultural production, which supplies more than a third of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts consumed in the United States.

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Global Warming

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef shows signs of new coral bleaching

The government agency tasked with monitoring the health of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has detected signs of heat stress in several coral regions, increasing the prospects of another major bleaching event.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said on Thursday that a prolonged period of warmer than usual ocean currents has led to water temperatures that are 2 to 3°C above average for February, which is already the hottest month of the year on the reef.

Global Warming

Seafood Soup

Freakishly warm water off the northern tip of New Zealand during early February cooked up to 500,000 wild mussels alive in an event linked to climate change.

Auckland resident Brandon Ferguson discovered the dead mollusks as he waded through water choked with mussel shells. Similar die-offs have been observed in New Zealand during recent years involving clams and cockles.

“The common denominators seem to be really hot conditions with lots of sunlight and unusually calm waters for an extended period,” said Waikato University marine ecologist Chris Battershill.

Global Warming

Oil and gas production is contributing even more to global warming than was thought

Among greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is the most significant contributor to global warming and therefore, public enemy No. 1 when it comes to stopping the climate crisis.

But methane — the main component in natural gas and an even more effective heat-trapping gas — is a close second. Scientists say that atmospheric methane is now responsible for about 25 percent of the human-caused warming we see today.

Now, a new study finds that methane emissions from fossil fuels are between 25% and 40% larger than past research had estimated, revealing that oil and gas production is contributing far more to warming the planet than previously thought.

The study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, sheds new light on just how much fossil fuel production and use is changing the atmosphere — and in turn, warming the planet.

Global Warming

Permafrost is thawing so fast it’s gouging holes in the Arctic

Residents of the small Alaskan town Kongiganak can no longer bury their dead. Their cemetery has become a marshy swamp, sucking graves into the once frozen ground. On the island of Sarichef near the Bering Strait, the village of Shishmaref is shrinking so fast locals are considering relocating it entirely.

Global warming has shown that permafrost is not so permanent after all. And as it begins to melt, it is reshaping the Arctic. The rapidly thawing ice layer is creating great sinkholes and hollows across the region as the ground begins to collapse in on itself. Erosion and landslides have become a problem without the ice that once held the soil together.

Permafrost – any area of land that remains frozen for at least two years – can vary from less than a metre thick to more than 1,500 metres. Some of it is tens of thousands of years old. In some areas, it is simply frozen rock. But in other parts, soils and organic matter have acted like a sponge and taken in water which has subsequently frozen. As ice, water takes up a larger volume than its liquid form, but once melted, great pits are created in the land.

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Global Warming

Climate change opens up ‘frontier’ farmland

Kenya’s livestock herders planting chilli peppers, Pakistan’s mountain farmers rearing fish and tropical fruits in Sicily – farmers around the world are already shifting what they grow and breed to cope with rising temperatures and erratic weather.

In a few more decades, potatoes from the Russian tundra and corn from once-frigid areas of Canada could be added to the list as vast swathes of land previously unsuited to agriculture open up to farmers on a hotter planet.

Climate change could expand farmland globally by almost a third, a study by international researchers found this week.

They examined which new areas may become suitable for growing 12 key crops including rice, sugar, wheat, oil palm, cassava and soy.

“In a warming world, Canada’s North may become our breadbasket of the future,” the scientists wrote.

But, they warned, opening up new “agricultural frontiers” would also bring significant environmental threats, including a risk of increased planet-warming emissions from soils.

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Global Warming

Global warming may cut lifespan of many species

Global warming could reduce the lifespan of hundreds of cold-blooded species around the world, a study by Israeli and Irish researchers has warned.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University and Queen’s University Belfast analyzed data from more than 4,100 land vertebrate species to test the long-accepted “rate of living” theory, which predicts that the faster the metabolic rate of an organism, the shorter the lifespan.

The researchers found that rates of aging in cold-blooded organisms are linked to high temperatures. Proposing an alternative hypothesis, their findings suggest that the hotter the environment is, the faster the rate of living – which in turn leads to more accelerated aging and a shorter lifespan. If increasing ambient temperatures reduces longevity, it may make these species more prone to go extinct as the climate warms.

Accordingly, global warming could reduce the lifespan of many cold-blooded species, subject to accelerated aging. The findings were published on Friday in Global Ecology and Biogeography, a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Busy Week for Antarctica

This week, an iceberg the size of Atlanta broke off the Pine glacier. Researchers discovered a dramatic decline in Antarctic penguin colonies. And Antarctica may have just registered its hottest temperature ever.

These events are all consistent with trends seen in Antarctica over the past few years. The Antarctic Peninsula, where the potentially record-breaking February temperatures were logged, is one of the fastest-warming regions on the planet.

The decline of the Antarctic penguin colonies provides evidence of the effects of this broader warming on the animals that inhabit these sensitive regions. The number of penguins on Elephant Island, where a recently released survey took place, is half what it was at the last survey in 1971. Climate change has removed these penguins’ primary food source, krill. Penguins, seals and whales all depend on krill, which depends on ice. So if climate change affects the ice, that impacts on everything else.

Another unusually high temperature was logged in the Antarctic Peninsula on February 9, when a weather station on Seymour Island produced a reading of almost 70 degrees.

Global Warming

Global warming to blame for hottest day in Argentine Antarctica

Global warming is to blame for Argentine Antarctica recording its hottest day since readings began, Greenpeace said on Friday.

Temperatures climbed to 18.3 degrees Celsius (64.9 degrees Fahrenheit) at midday Thursday at the research station Esperanza base, the highest temperature on record since 1961, according to the National Meteorological Service.

The previous record stood at 17.5 degrees on March 24, 2015.

At Marambio, another Argentine base in Antarctica, temperatures reached 14.1 degrees Celsius on Thursday, the hottest temperature for a day in February since 1971.

Global Warming

The World’s oceans are speeding up

Three quarters of the world’s ocean waters have sped up their pace in recent decades, scientists reported Wednesday, a massive development that was not expected to occur until climate warming became much more advanced.

The change is being driven by faster winds, which are adding more energy to the surface of the ocean. That, in turn, produces faster currents and an acceleration of ocean circulation.

The new research found that 76% of the global ocean is speeding up, when the top 2,000 meters of the ocean are taken into account. The increase in speed is most intense in tropical oceans and especially the vast Pacific.

Scientists aren’t certain of all the consequences of this speedup yet. But they may include impacts in key regions along the eastern coasts of continents, where several currents have intensified. The result in some cases has been damaging ocean hotspots that have upended marine life.

They found a global increase in wind speed over the ocean of about 2% per decade since the 1990s, which translates into about a 5% increase per decade in the speed of ocean currents.

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Global Warming

Rapid Permafrost Collapse

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Arctic permafrost can thaw so quickly that it triggers landslides, drowns forests and opens gaping sinkholes. This rapid melt, described in a new study, can dramatically reshape the Arctic landscape in just a few months.

Fast-melting permafrost is also more widespread than once thought. About 20% of the Arctic’s permafrost — a blend of frozen sand, soil and rocks — also has a high volume of ground ice, making it vulnerable to rapid thawing. When the ice that binds the rocky material melts away, it leaves behind a marshy, eroded land surface known as thermokarst.

Frozen water takes up more space than liquid water, so when ice-rich permafrost thaws rapidly — “due to climate change or wildfire or other disturbance” — it transforms a formerly frozen Arctic ecosystem into a flooded, “soupy mess,” prone to floods and soil collapse. This can happen very quickly, causing relatively dry and solid ecosystems (such as forests) to turn into lakes in the matter of months to years.

Global warming is literally dissolving the ocean’s plankton

Ocean acidification is wreaking havoc on the ocean’s tiniest inhabitants, and the entire ocean is likely feeling the effects.

Many of the ocean’s inhabitants have soft bodies protected by hard shells. Clams, oysters, and sea snails have them, as do multiple other types of mollusks and plankton. These seashells are almost always made of calcium carbonate — which, under most conditions, is fine. The ocean water is well-suited to support calcium carbonate under normal conditions.

Seawater is slightly basic (meaning pH > 7). When we increase the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we emit, not all of it goes into the atmosphere. Much of it, in fact, is absorbed by the oceans. As oceans absorb CO2, their chemistry starts to change, and they become more acidic.

Lyndsey Fox, a researcher from Kingston University in London, analyzed plankton fossils gathered by the 1872–76 expedition of the HMS Challenger and compared them to plankton gathered from a 2011 expedition to the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean called Tara.

All modern plankton had much thinner shells — up to 76% thinner. In some cases, the shells were so thin that the team wasn’t even able to image them. Plankton is at the foundation of the ocean food chain and if it were to collapse, life in the oceans would probably be unable to recover.

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Global Warming

Greenland Glaciers Melting

Scientists have long known that higher air temperatures are contributing to the surface melting on Greenland’s ice sheet.

But a new study has found another threat that has begun attacking the ice from below: Warm ocean water moving underneath the vast glaciers is causing them to melt even more quickly.
The findings were published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience by researchers who studied one of the many “ice tongues” of the Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden Glacier — also known as the 79° North Glacier — in northeast Greenland.

An ice tongue is a strip of ice that floats on the water without breaking off from the ice on land. The massive one these scientists studied is nearly 50 miles long.

The survey revealed an underwater current more than a mile wide where warm water from the Atlantic Ocean is able to flow directly towards the glacier, bringing large amounts of heat into contact with the ice and accelerating the glacier’s melting.

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Global Warming

Carbon Pollution

Smoke from the massive Australia bushfires of recent months will contribute to an anticipated record annual rise in atmospheric carbon emissions this year, according to Britain’s Met Office.

The CO2 concentration is predicted to peak above 417 parts per million (ppm) in May, while the 2020 average should be around 414 ppm. That would be nearly 3 ppm above the 2019 average, according to the agency.

Smoke from the protracted bushfire crisis will contribute up to one-fifth of the CO2 increase caused by global warming’s altered weather patterns and the resulting effects on the landscape, the British experts say.

As our planet gets greener, plants are slowing global warming

In a new study, published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, the researchers report that climate-altering carbon emissions and intensive land use have inadvertently greened half of the Earth’s vegetated lands.

Green leaves convert sunlight to sugars while replacing carbon dioxide in the air with water vapor, which cools the Earth’s surface. The reasons for greening vary around the world, but often involve intensive use of land for farming, large-scale planting of trees, a warmer and wetter climate in northern regions, natural reforestation of abandoned lands, and recovery from past disturbances.

And the chief cause of global greening we’re experiencing? It seems to be that rising carbon dioxide emissions are providing more and more fertilizer for plants, the researchers say. As a result, the boom of global greening since the early 1980s may have slowed the rate of global warming, the researchers say, possibly by as much as 0.2 to 0.25 degrees Celsius.

Global Warming

Antarctica’s Largest Glacier Is Slowly  Approaching Its Demise

The days of Antarctica’s Pine Island glacier are numbered, but no one really knows what that number is. New models could help to shed some much-needed light on the matter.

In the past four decades, this slow-moving monstrosity of ice has contributed more to sea level rise than any other glacier on Earth, and recently, scientists have noticed signs it might be accelerating and thinning unusually fast.

Using high-resolution satellite observations from the European Space Agency (ESA), researchers at the University of Bristol have tracked the ebbs and flows of Antarctica’s largest glacier

In short, the data suggests the Pine Island glacier is going to lose mass, but not any faster than it already is. Under present-day thinning rates, the glacier has retreated by 20 kilometres in 50 years, and this, according to the authors, is ‘negligible’ compared to more extreme estimates and although the glacier will continue to lose mass, it will do so at present rates and not any faster – which essentially is some good news.