Global Warming

Sea Level Rise Is Killing Trees Along the US Atlantic Coast

Sea level rise is killing trees along the Atlantic coast, creating ‘ghost forests’ that are visible from space.

Throughout coastal North Carolina, evidence of forest die-off is everywhere. Nearly every roadside ditch is lined with dead or dying trees. This flooding is evidence that climate change is altering landscapes along the Atlantic coast. It’s emblematic of environmental changes that also threaten wildlife, ecosystems, and local farms and forestry businesses.

Large patches of trees are dying simultaneously, and saplings aren’t growing to take their place. And it’s not just a local issue: Seawater is raising salt levels in coastal woodlands along the entire Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Maine to Florida. Huge swaths of contiguous forest are dying. They’re now known in the scientific community as “ghost forests.” Rapid sea level rise seems to be outpacing the ability of these forests to adapt to wetter, saltier conditions. Extreme weather events, fueled by climate change, are causing further damage from heavy storms, more frequent hurricanes and drought.

Global Warming

Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday Glacier’ close to tipping point

The glacier could be melting at the key points anchoring it to the land.

Thwaites Glacier, a gigantic ice shelf in West Antarctica, has been on climate scientists’ radars for two decades now. But they didn’t know just how fast the glacier was melting, and how close it was to complete collapse, until researchers sent an unmanned submarine below the ice shelf.

The first measurements ever performed in the dark waters under the 74,000 square mile (192,000 square kilometers) chunk of ice revealed a disquieting piece of information: A previously underestimated current of warm water is flowing from the east, whittling away at several vital “pinning points” that anchor the shelf to the land.

As one of Antarctica’s fastest melting glaciers, Thwaites Glacier, cheerfully nicknamed the “Doomsday Glacier,” has lost an estimated 595 billion tons (540 billion metric tons) of ice since the 1980s, contributing to a 4% rise in global sea levels since that time. The glacier acts like a cork in a wine bottle, stopping the rest of the ice in the region from flowing into the sea, so Thwaites Glacier’s collapse could potentially take the rest of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with it, causing a 10-foot (3 meter) rise in global sea levels.

Global Warming

Australian Bushfires Warmed Planet

Smoke pollution from Australian bushfires in 2019 and 2020 warmed the stratosphere over the southern hemisphere by at least 1°C for six months, according to a new analysis. The devastating 2019 to 2020 bushfire season in Australia injected huge amounts of smoke into the stratosphere and led to record aerosol pollution.

Global Warming

A Fifth of Food Output Growth Has Been Lost to Climate Change

Climate change has been holding back food production for decades, with a new study showing that about 21% of growth for agricultural output was lost since the 1960s. That’s equal to losing the last seven years of productivity growth, according to research led by Cornell University.

The revelation comes as the United Nations’ World Food Programme warns of a “looming catastrophe” with about 34 million people globally on the brink of famine. The group has cited climate change as a major factor contributing to the sharp increase in hunger around the world.

Global Warming

Humans are throwing Earth’s energy budget off balance

Earth is on a budget – an energy budget. Our planet is constantly trying to balance the flow of energy in and out of Earth’s system. But human activities are throwing that off balance, causing our planet to warm in response.

Radiative energy enters Earth’s system from the sunlight that shines on our planet. Some of this energy reflects off of Earth’s surface or atmosphere back into space. The rest gets absorbed, heats the planet, and is then emitted as thermal radiative energy the same way that black asphalt gets hot and radiates heat on a sunny day.

Eventually this energy also heads toward space, but some of it gets re-absorbed by clouds and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The absorbed energy may also be emitted back toward Earth, where it will warm the surface even more.

Adding more components that absorb radiation – like greenhouse gases – or removing those that reflect it – like aerosols – throws off Earth’s energy balance, and causes more energy to be absorbed by Earth instead of escaping into space. This is called a radiative forcing, and it’s the dominant way human activities are affecting the climate.

Climate modelling predicts that human activities are causing the release of greenhouse gases and aerosols that are affecting Earth’s energy budget. Now, a NASA study has confirmed these predictions with direct observations for the first time: radiative forcings are increasing due to human actions, affecting the planet’s energy balance and ultimately causing climate change. The paper was published online on 25 March 2021, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Russian Arctic coast has planet’s quickest warming

It was the second warmest year in the Arctic on record, and parts of the vast region saw air temperatures far beyond the traditional freeze. The year 2020 follows the trend of the past decades and its spring months were the absolutely warmest since measurements started more than 100 years ago, a weather report from Russian meteorological service Roshydromet reads.

Parts of the Russian Arctic are now several degrees warmer than just few years ago. The warming is the most significant along parts of the North Siberian coast, and especially around the peninsulas of Taymyr and Yamal. Heat maps show that an area on the coast of Taymyr in 2020 had average temperatures up to 7’C higher than normal.

Global Warming

Amazon Adds to Global Warming

The first broad study of all greenhouse gases in the Amazon rainforest reveals that on balance the damaged ecosystem is now a net contributor to climate change. Part of the problem comes from local damaging activities like logging, dam-building, and cattle ranching. But planet-wide warming is also disrupting the water cycles in the Amazon, intensifying floods and drought that create more greenhouse gases and further decrease the ecosystem’s ability to capture and store carbon emissions.

Global Warming

Melting Glaciers Contribute to Alaska Earthquakes

In a recently published research article, scientists with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute found that ice loss near Glacier Bay National Park has influenced the timing and location of earthquakes with a magnitude of 5.0 or greater in the area during the past century.

Scientists have known for decades that melting glaciers have caused earthquakes in otherwise tectonically stable regions, such as Canada’s interior and Scandinavia. In Alaska, this pattern has been harder to detect, as earthquakes are common in the southern part of the state.

Alaska has some of the world’s largest glaciers, which can be thousands of feet thick and cover hundreds of square miles. The ice’s weight causes the land beneath it to sink, and, when a glacier melts, the ground springs back like a sponge. The disappearance of glaciers has also caused Southeast Alaska’s land to rise at about 1.5 inches per year.

When the earth rebounds following a glacier’s retreat, it does so much like bread rising in an oven, spreading in all directions. This effectively unclamps strike-slip faults, such as the Fairweather in Southeast Alaska, and makes it easier for the two sides to slip past one another.

Global Warming

Early Blooms

Japan’s renowned cherry blossoms are in full bloom again, bursting forth in vivid pink at the earliest date on record around Tokyo. The first blooms were observed in the capital on March 14, the same date as during last year’s record early appearance. The early blossoms are said to be the result of the ongoing global heating that brought Japan unusual February warmth.

Global Warming

Climate Change Influences River Flow

Climate change is affecting the water balance of our planet: depending on the region and the time of year, this can influence the amount of water in rivers potentially resulting in more flooding or drought. River flow is an important indicator of water resources available to humans and the environment. The amount of available water also depends on further factors, such as direct interventions in the water cycle or land use change: if, for example, water is diverted for irrigation or regulated via reservoirs, or forests are cleared and monocultures grown in their place, this can have an impact on river flow.

However, how river flow has changed worldwide in recent years was so far not investigated using direct observations. Similarly, the question whether globally visible changes are attributable to climate change or to water and land management had not been clarified.

Now, an international research team led by ETH Zurich has succeeded in breaking down the influence of these factors, after analysing data from 7,250 measuring stations worldwide. The study, which has been published in the scientific journal Science, demonstrates that river flow changed systematically between 1971 and 2010. Complex patterns were revealed – some regions such as the Mediterranean and north-eastern Brazil had become drier, while elsewhere the volume of water had increased, such as in Scandinavia.

Climate Change in Siberia

Global warming is something of a boon for Russia, where 55% to 65% of the country is covered in permafrost. It is estimated that 60% of the country’s oil and 90% of its natural gas, as well as deposits of nonferrous metals and gold, lie under this thawing part of the planet.

President Vladimir Putin once shrugged off the perils of global warming, saying, “an increase of two or three degrees wouldn’t be so bad for a northern country like Russia. We could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up.”

That was at least partially prophetic. According to Russia’s Federal State Statistics Service, grain production in 2020 was up 9.7% from the previous year, the second highest level after 2017. The amount of land under cultivation is also increasing.

But those shrugged-off perils are beginning to overshadow the bumper harvests.

In the Republic of Sakha in far eastern Siberia, the temperature is minus 50 C, yet white smoke rises from the snow-covered ground. In January, local media released an amazing image of a peat fire in the ground under the snow.

Roughly 140,000 sq. km of Russia, about the size of Greece, was lost to fire in 2020. Most of that was in once-frozen areas. When covered with snow in winter, the fires seem to be extinguished. However, the peat in the ground continues to smolder, and in summer it ignites on the surface. They’re being called zombie fires and are believed to be caused by global warming.

In Siberia, plants and other organisms that have been decomposing for more than 10,000 years are trapped in the soil as CO2 and methane gas. These gases are released by fires and other events, further accelerating global warming. The world’s permafrost zones are thought to contain twice the amount of carbon that is in the atmosphere.

In 2016, western Siberia experienced a different kind of crisis, an anthrax outbreak. One boy and over 2,000 reindeer died. The source of the bacterial infections was the melted corpse of a reindeer that had been frozen for more than 75 years. Some scientists have warned of the possibility of more dormant pathogens reactivating.

Although it was supposed to be a global warming “winner,” Russia has become an unexpected climate change victim.

Global Warming

Carbon Emission Red Alert

Leading climate scientists warn that the promised moves to greener technologies to supply the world’s energy needs will not happen fast enough to stave off the climate catastrophes predicted if the world warms more than 2 degrees Celsius.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change says nations must cut their carbon emissions in half within the next 10 years to keep global heating within the 1.5-degree “safe” threshold. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called the warning a red alert for our planet, adding that “it shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change.”

Antarctic Calving

An iceberg more than 20 times the size of Manhattan and nearly 500 feet thick has broken off from Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf. The British Antarctic Survey said it was the largest calving there since 1917 but cannot be directly linked to climate change.

Warning signs of the split began last November when a chasm in the ice appeared and ripped toward another major crack 21 miles away. In January, the chasm began to expand in that direction at about a half-mile a day until the separation occurredrcWhile it is a huge chunk of ice, scientists say it is dwarfed by Iceberg A68a, which broke off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in 2017 and recently threatened to collide.

Greenhouse gas emissions around the world exceed pre-pandemic lockdown levels

After declining sharply last spring, global emissions of greenhouse gases ended 2020 by exceeding pre-pandemic levels, according to International Energy Agency (IEA).

With a screeching halt of the movement of people last spring, as many countries imposed strict restrictions on travel, socializing and commuting to slow the spread of the coronavirus, emissions in April during the peak period of the lockdown were down 17 percent from a year ago, the report noted.

Overall, global carbon emissions from energy use dropped 8 percent in 2020. Yale School of the Environment says that’s a decline equal to two-and-a-half years of energy sector emissions.

However, by the end of the year, emissions spiked. This week, the IEA, a Paris-based intergovernmental agency, released a new report that shows emissions from the production and use of oil, gas and coal were 2 percent higher in December 2020 than a year earlier.

Global Warming

Global Warming Slowing Ocean Currents

New research reveals Earth’s major ocean currents are slowing down, and there are real-world impacts for global weather patterns and sea levels. The slowdown of ocean circulation is directly caused by warming global temperatures and has been predicted by climate scientists.

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) transports water across the planet’s oceans, including the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian. The region contributing to the slowdown is the North Atlantic, according to the research due mainly to the meaning ice sheets in Greenland contributing both to a rise in sea levels and decrease in local salinity.

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Environment

Arctic Open for Navigation

Global heating has melted so much of the thick multi-year ice off the coast of Siberia that Russia has for the first time been able to navigate a cargo ship from Asia to a home port on the Arctic Ocean in winter. By using the newly opened Northern Sea Route (NSR) instead of the traditional path around Asia and the Middle East, through the Suez Canal and around Europe, the Sovcomflot shipping company saved millions of dollars and days of travel time. Traffic through the NSR has exploded during summer in recent years but has remained closed from November until July. Russia now has plans to use its expanding fleet of civilian nuclear-powered icebreakers to make the path available year-round.

Global Warming

Ozone Healing

The level of ozone-depleting chemicals banned by the 1987 Montreal Protocol to stop the annual ozone hole from forming over the Antarctic is once again falling.

The illicit use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the manufacture of polyurethane insulation foam in China, discovered in 2018, had caused the levels of atmospheric CFCs to be higher than expected. This caused the healing of the ozone layer to be slower than what scientists had predicted. But now that China has reined in the use of those compounds, their levels in the atmosphere are once again declining.

Environment

Bitcoin Fuel

Electricity used to operate Bitcoin’s “mining” operations around the world now exceeds that used by the entire nation of Argentina.

Experts told the BBC that the energy consumed by the cryptocurrency’s operations increased sharply as its value soared to ever-higher record levels during February. The complex puzzles that run on a vast network of computers, required to keep Bitcoin secure and verify its transactions, consume an enormous amount of power. The operators of those “mining” efforts earn a small amount of bitcoins for the tasks, with some filling warehouses with computers that operate continuously to maximize profits.

Some suggest imposing a carbon tax on all cryptocurrencies to offset the greenhouse gas emissions that result from their operations.

Global Warming

How global warming causes Europe’s harsh winter weather

Climate deniers are using a spell of unusually cold weather in Europe to incorrectly argue that CO2 emissions are not warming the planet. Their rather simplistic claim — which has been repeatedly debunked by climate scientists — is that extremely cold weather shows that carbon dioxide emissions are not warming the Earth.

In fact, the effects of global warming may even have favored the extremely cold temperature. The sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfalls are more than just a cold winter. They are made more likely by the collapse of the polar vortex — a huge ring of cold winds raging in the Earth’s stratosphere — at the North Pole.

The polar vortex is closely connected to the jet stream, a band of strong winds about 10 kilometers above the ground. At the polar front, this flows between warm air from the tropics and subtropics, and cold polar air. The pressure extremes that form in this transitional area at lower layers are sometimes referred to in weather reports as the Icelandic low or the Azores high.

The jet stream usually determines the winter weather in Europe: if it is strong and flows from west to east, it brings mild, windy and rainy weather from the Atlantic, and holds the cold air from the Arctic.

But if the jet stream is weak and wavy, the polar vortex also weakens, and sometimes breaks down completely. The cold snap across Europe is the result of a weak jet stream — more precisely a dip — that has caused a strong and long-lasting collapse of the polar vortex.

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