Environment

The Great Lakes, the world’s biggest freshwater system, are shrinking because of drought and rising temperatures, a trend that accelerated with this year’s almost snowless winter and scorching summer. Water levels have fallen to near-record lows on Lakes Michigan and Huron, while Erie, Ontario and Superior are below their historical averages. The decline is causing heavy economic losses, with cargo freighters forced to lighten their loads, marinas too shallow for pleasure boats and weeds sprouting on exposed bottomlands, chasing away swimmers and sunbathers.

Great Lakes Levels

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Victoria in Australia has sweltered on its hottest november day in more than a century, with the heatwave triggering numerous small grass fires in the state. Mildura recorded a high of 45.4ºC at 3.18pm (AEDT) on Thursday, taking it over the record of 45ºC set in the city in November 1905.

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Sea levels are rising 60 percent faster than U.N. projections, threatening low-lying areas from Miami to the Maldives, a study submitted during the U.N. talks in Qatar on combating climate change said on Wednesday.

The study said sea levels had been rising by 3.2 mm (0.1 inch) a year according to satellite data, which was 60 percent faster than the 2mm annual rise projected by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over that period.

In the last century, seas rose by about 17 cm.

The latest best estimate for sea level rise was between 50 cm and a metre this century, possibly more if greenhouse gas emissions surged. Higher temperatures would melt more ice on land and expand the water in the oceans.

That would leave low-lying regions – from Pacific island states and Bangladesh to Tokyo and New York – facing a greater risk of storm surges, erosion and, in a worst case scenario, complete swamping by flood waters.

Environment

Global Warming Shifts Heavy Rainfall Times in the UK.

The United Kingdom is one of those places that have been studying their weather and rainfall patterns for ages, with huge numbers of rain gauges scattered all across the country. Using this wealth of information, researchers have found that as the global climate warms the time of year when the UK will receive it’s heaviest rainfall is set to shift.

The research found in two different models that between 2021 and 2060 and 2061 and 2100 the south-east of the country is likely to experiences its extreme rainfall in autumn rather than in late summer, while the north-east of the country will see its heaviest rainfalls a month earlier than currently.

Problematically, these changes shift the heavy rainfalls over into times when the water catchments are already at their maximum capacity, increasing the risk of flooding in the regions.

The change in rainfall patterns would also affect the viability of many food and forage crops grown in the UK.

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Forests Worldwide Near Tipping-Point From Drought.

A new study, conducted by an international team of scientists, assessed the specific physiological effects of drought on 226 tree species at 81 sites in different biomes around the world. It found that 70 percent of the species sampled are particularly vulnerable to reduction in water availability. With drought conditions increasing around the globe due to climate change and deforestation, the research suggests large swathes of the world’s forests — and the services they afford — may be approaching a tipping point.

Water is critical to trees, transporting nutrients, providing stabilizing, and serving as a medium for the metabolic processes that generate the energy needed for a tree to survive. Insufficient water availably leads a tree to start pulling air bubbles — called gas emboli — into its xylem impeding the flow of water. Hydraulic failure is akin to attempting to drink through a broken straw — air bubbles significantly reduce the amount of liquid that reaches the top of the straw.

The researchers found that a wide range of trees are susceptible to “hydraulic failure”.

Forests

The study provides insight on why drought-induced forest die-off is occurring in a range of forest types, including tropical rainforests which are not typically considered at risk of drought. Over the past 15 years, forests in Borneo and the Amazon have suffered from widespread drought-induced decline. Drought stress if often accompanied by increased incidence of fires, either from natural sources like lightning or human activities like burning for cattle pasture of plantation establishment.

The suggestion that all forests are on the brink of succumbing to drought, and may already be responding to climate change, is supported by observations of increased drought-induced forest die-offs and tree mortality in many ecosystems.

The research also has implications for efforts to combat climate change by relying on forests to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere. Dying forests release, rather than absorb, carbon.

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Sea snails show impact of more acidic ocean.

The shells of some marine snails in the seas around Antarctica are dissolving as the water becomes more acidic, threatening the food chain,

Oceans soak up about a quarter of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year and as CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase from burning fossil fuels, so do ocean levels, making seas more acidic.

Ocean acidification is one of the effects of climate change and threatens coral reefs, marine ecosystems and wildlife.

It has been found thattThe shell of the pteropod sea snail in the Southern Ocean was severely dissolved by more acidic surface water.

And although the snails did not necessarily die, it increased their vulnerability to predators and infection which could affect other parts of the food chain. The sea snails are an important source of food for fish and birds as well as an indicator of marine ecosystem health.

Global Warming

A U.N. conference in Qatar next week is the latest attempt to combat global warming after mounting evidence that human activity is disrupting the climate.

Here is a timeline of the road to action on global warming:

300 BC – Theophrastus, a student of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, documents that human activity can affect climate. He observes that drainage of marshes cools an area around Thessaly and that clearing of forests near Philippi warms the climate.

1896 – Sweden’s Svante Arrhenius becomes the first to quantify carbon dioxide’s role in keeping the planet warm. He later concluded that the burning of coal could cause a “noticeable increase” in carbon levels over centuries.

1957-58 – U.S. scientist Charles Keeling sets up stations to measure carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere at the South Pole and at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The measurements have shown a steady rise.

1988 – The United Nations sets up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to assess the scientific evidence.

1992 – World leaders agree the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets a non-binding goal of stabilising greenhouse gas emissions by 2000 at 1990 levels – a target not met overall.

1997 – The Kyoto Protocol is agreed in Japan; developed nations agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions on average by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The United States stays out of the deal.

2007 – The IPCC says it is at least 90 percent certain that humans are to blame for most of the warming trend of the past 50 years. It also says signs that the planet is warming are “unequivocal”.

2009 – A conference of 193 countries agrees to “take note” of a new Copenhagen Accord to fight climate change, after U.N. talks in Denmark. The accord is not legally binding and does not commit countries to agree a binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol when its first stage ends in 2012.

2011 – U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, agree to negotiate a new accord by 2015 that is “applicable to all” and will come into force from 2020.

Environment

Sea levels have risen almost six centimeters since 1995.

Sea levels have continued to increase by 3.2 millimeters per year, according to a NASA chart analyzing data from 1992 to 2012. There was some debate after recordings showed a quarter inch drop in seal levels between the summer of 2010 to the summer of 2011. The reason for the drop was due to a big El Nino followed by a massive La Nina. These climate events were so powerful they changed storm patterns around the world and brought massive rains and floods to places like Australia, South America, and Southeast Asia. So much water was transferred onto the continents that the level of the oceans fell by about five millimeters, circled on the chart below.

Chart

Climate change skeptics used this drop to deny the oceans are rising, but the latest data shows we are still on track for rising waters. The NASA and European Topex/Poseidon, Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellites have been circling the Earth, tracking the rise of the oceans. The oceans are rising due to global warming melting glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

Environment

After maintaining a marked silence on the issue of global warming in the campaign running up to the US elections, President Obama now sees a second-term focus on climate change, saying that melting ice caps and increasing global temperatures are signs that climate change is real and that he will seek to mitigate the damage from the phenomenon:

“I am a firm believer that climate change is real… and as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”

Environment

Norway’s $650 billion sovereign wealth fund, one of the world’s biggest investors, has started asking companies it invests in to minimise their impact on rainforests.

It is hoped this will mean Norway stops investing and pulls out of many companies that are damaging rainforests.

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A new study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, USA has found that climate model projections that show a greater rise in global temperature are likely to prove more accurate than those showing a lesser rise over the coming decades.

Scientists analyzed how well 16 leading sophisticated climate models reproduce observed relative humidity in Earth’s tropics and subtropics.

Current climate models predict temperature increases in this century, if current carbon dioxide emission levels continue unchanged, at between 3 and 8 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to 19th century temperatures. The average prediction is 5 degrees. If this new study proves accurate, that would mean temperature increases on the upper end of the 3-to-8 degree range if nothing changes. The greater the temperature rise, the greater the effect on sea level rise, heat waves, droughts and other effects

The world’s major global climate models are all based on long-established physical laws known to guide the atmosphere. However, because these relationships are challenging to translate into software, each model differs slightly in its portrayal of global climate. In particular, some processes, such as those associated with clouds, are too small to be represented properly. Although satellites observe many types of clouds, satellite failure, observing errors and other inconsistencies make it challenging to build a comprehensive global cloud census that is consistent over many years.

Environment

In a remote fjord where icebergs float in silence and hunters stalk reindeer, plans are being drawn up for a huge iron ore mine that would lift Greenland’s population by four percent at a stroke – by hiring Chinese workers.

The $2.3-billion project by a small, British company, London Mining Plc would also bring diesel power plants, a road and a port near Greenland’s capital Nuuk. It would supply China with much needed iron for its economy.

With global warming thawing its Arctic sea lanes, and global industry eyeing minerals under this barren island a quarter the size of the United States, the 57,000 Greenlanders are wrestling with opportunities that offer rich rewards but risk harming a pristine environment and a traditional society that is trying to make its own way in the world after centuries of European rule.

Great expectations could lead to greater disappointments, for locals and investors. Yet a scramble for Greenland already may be under way, in which some see China trying to exploit the icebound territory as a staging ground in a global battle for Arctic resources and strategic control of new shipping routes.

Environment

The Dead Sea is slowly dying as industrial and agricultural extraction of water causes the lake to shrink at record rate over the last year.

NASA satellite images illustrating the decline of the Dead Sea over the past 40 years:

dead sea

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The week’s hottest temperature was 121.1 degrees Fahrenheit (49.5 degrees Celsius) at Kaedi, Mauritania.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 79.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 62.0 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Vostok Antarctic research station.

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Every rainy season, the Guna people living on the Panamanian white sand archipelago of San Blas brace themselves for waves gushing into their tiny mud-floor huts.

Rising ocean levels caused by global warming and decades of coral reef destruction have combined with seasonal rains to submerge the Caribbean islands for days on end.

Once rare, flooding is now so menacing that the Guna have agreed to abandon ancestral lands for an area within their semi-autonomous territory on the east coast of the mainland.

Environment

Major nations failed to reach agreement on Thursday to set up huge marine protected areas off Antarctica under a plan to step up conservation of creatures such as whales and penguins around the frozen continent.

Environmentalists criticised the failure to agree new marine protected areas in the Ross Sea and off East Antarctica, home to penguins, seals, whales and seabirds as well as valuable stocks of shrimp-like krill.

Most resistance came from Ukraine, Russia and China.

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Peru, the world’s top fishmeal exporter, has slashed its commercial fishing quota as warmer water temperatures and controversial practices deplete stocks of anchovy in one of the world’s richest fisheries.

The government cut its quota for this summer’s anchovy season by 68 percent to 810,000 tonnes, the smallest allowance in 25 years. Anchovy is rarely eaten fresh, but is instead dried, ground up and exported as a protein-rich feed for livestock and farmed fish.

Environment

Parts of Miami Beach, Florida, USA were flooded by an unusually high tide Tuesday morning. Miami-Dade County officials said the flooding of low-lying areas in Miami Beach is a warning about the perils of rising sea levels due to climate change.

Environment

The images below show the Antarctic ozone hole on September 16 (the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer) in the years 1979, 1987, 2006, and 2011.

Stratospheric ozone is typically measured in Dobson Units (DU), which is the number of molecules required to create a layer of pure ozone 0.01 millimeters thick at a temperature of 0 degrees Celsius and an air pressure of 1 atmosphere (the pressure at the surface of the Earth). The average amount of ozone in Earth’s atmosphere is 300 Dobson Units, equivalent to a layer 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) thick — the height of 2 pennies stacked together.

Ozone 1979 2011

In 1979 — when scientists were just coming to understand that atmospheric ozone could be depleted — the area of ozone depletion over Antarctica grew to 1.1 million square kilometers, with a minimum ozone concentration of 194 Dobson Units. In 1987, as the Montreal Protocol was being signed, the area of the hole reached 22.4 million square kilometers and ozone concentrations dropped to 109 DU. By 2006, the worst year for ozone depletion to date, the numbers were 29.6 million square kilometers and just 84 DU. By 2011, the most recent year with a complete data set, the hole stretched 26 million square kilometers and dropped to 95 DU.

The Antarctic hole seems to be stabilizing and may be slowly recovering. The focus of scientists now is to make sure that it is healing as expected. The amount of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) in the atmosphere has stopped rising in recent years, and may actually be decreasing. Changes in the ozone hole now are not significantly driven by changes in CFCs, but instead driven by year-to-year changes in weather in the stratosphere.

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Plans to open up a new Australian “coal export rush” could turn a single Queensland region into the seventh largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions on the planet, undermining international efforts to keep global warming below 2C.

Nine proposed “mega mines” in the Galilee Basin would, at full capacity, result in 705m tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere. This level of emissions would surpass those of all but six nations in the world. By comparison, the UK emitted 549.3 million tonnes of CO2 from all sources in 2011.

Damian blog coal in Aust 007

Environment

Many of the world’s glaciers and ice sheets are retreating in the face of global warming, but a few are stable or growing — including glaciers in the western Himalaya Mountains, according to a new report. The mountains in the region form the headwaters of several major river systems — including the Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers — which serve as sources of drinking water and irrigation supplies for about 1.5 billion people.

Himalaya ali 2009359

The US National Weather Service in Los Angeles released two notices of triple-digit record-breaking temperatures in Long Beach over the weekend. On Friday, a high of 104 degrees was recorded, breaking the old record of 96 set in 1979.

Environment

The first eight months of 2012 have been the warmest of any year on record in the contiguous United States.

Climate Change

As expected, the amount of sea ice in the Arctic has fallen to the lowest level on record.

Satellites tracking the extent of the sea ice found over the weekend that it covered about 1.58 million square miles, or less than 30 percent of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, scientists said. That is below the previous record low, set in 2007, but with weeks still to go in the summer melting season, it is clear that the record will be beaten by a wide margin.

Climate Change

Arctic sea ice is set to reach its lowest ever recorded extent as early as this weekend, signalling that man-made global warming is having a major impact on the polar region.

With the melt happening at an unprecedented rate of more than 100,000 sq km a day, and at least a week of further melt expected before ice begins to reform ahead of the northern winter, satellites are expected to confirm the new record – currently set in 2007.

The ice-free season is now far longer. Twenty years ago it was about a month. Now it’s three months. Temperatures last week in the Arctic were 14 degrees C.