Environment

Amplified Greenhouse Effect Shifts North’s Growing Seasons

Vegetation growth at Earth’s northern latitudes increasingly resembles warmer and lusher latitudes to the south, according to a NASA-funded study based on a 30-year record of ground-based and satellite data sets.

An international team of university and NASA scientists examined the relationship between changes in surface temperature and vegetation growth from 45 degrees north latitude to the Arctic Ocean. Results show temperature and vegetation growth at northern latitudes now resemble those found 4 degrees to 6 degrees of latitude farther south as recently as 1982.

Higher northern latitudes are getting warmer, Arctic sea ice and the duration of snow cover are diminishing, the growing season is getting longer and plants are growing more. In the north’s Arctic and boreal areas, the characteristics of the seasons are changing, leading to great disruptions for plants and related ecosystems.

As a result of enhanced warming and a longer growing season, large patches of vigorously productive vegetation now span a third of the northern landscape, or more than 3.5 million square miles (9 million square kilometres). That is an area about equal to the contiguous United States. This landscape resembles what was found 250 to 430 miles (400 to 700 kilometres) to the south in 1982.

The Arctic’s greenness is visible on the ground as an increasing abundance of tall shrubs and trees in locations all over the circumpolar Arctic. Greening in the adjacent boreal areas is more pronounced in Eurasia than in North America.

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Of the 10 million square miles (26 million square kilometers) of northern vegetated lands, 34 to 41 percent showed increases in plant growth (green and blue), 3 to 5 percent showed decreases in plant growth (orange and red), and 51 to 62 percent showed no changes (yellow) over the past 30 years. Satellite data in this visualization are from AVHRR and MODIS.

Global Warming

Recent Heat Spike Unlike Anything In 11,000 Years

A new study looking at 11,000 years of climate temperatures shows the world in the middle of a dramatic U-turn, lurching from near-record cooling to a heat spike.

Research released Thursday in the journal Science uses fossils of tiny marine organisms to reconstruct global temperatures back to the end of the last ice age. It shows how the globe for several thousands of years was cooling until an unprecedented reversal in the 20th century.

Scientists say it is further evidence that modern-day global warming isn’t natural, but the result of rising carbon dioxide emissions that have rapidly grown since the Industrial Revolution began roughly 250 years ago.

The decade of 1900 to 1910 was one of the coolest in the past 11,300 years — cooler than 95 percent of the other years, the marine fossil data suggest. Yet 100 years later, the decade of 2000 to 2010 was one of the warmest, said study lead author Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University. Global thermometer records only go back to 1880, and those show the last decade was the hottest for this more recent time period.

“In 100 years, we’ve gone from the cold end of the spectrum to the warm end of the spectrum,” Marcott said. “We’ve never seen something this rapid. Even in the ice age the global temperature never changed this quickly.”

Using fossils from all over the world, Marcott presents the longest continuous record of Earth’s average temperature.

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In this Aug. 29, 1938 file photo, smoke rises from smokestacks at Skoda’s main foundry in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia

Marcott’s data indicates that it took 4,000 years for the world to warm about 1.25 degrees from the end of the ice age to about 7,000 years ago. The same fossil-based data suggest a similar level of warming occurring in just one generation: from the 1920s to the 1940s. Actual thermometer records don’t show the rise from the 1920s to the 1940s was quite that big and Marcott said for such recent time periods it is better to use actual thermometer readings than his proxies.

Before this study, continuous temperature record reconstruction only went back about 2,000 years. The temperature trend produces a line shaped like a “hockey stick” with a sudden spike after what had been a fairly steady line. That data came from tree rings, ice cores and lake sediments.

Marcott wanted to go farther back, to the end of the last ice age in more detail by using the same marine fossil method. That period also coincides with a “really important time for the history of our planet,” said Smithsonian Institution research anthropologist Torben Rick. That’s the time when people started to first domesticate animals and start agriculture, which is connected to the end of the ice age.

Marcott’s research finds the climate had been gently warming out of the ice age with a slow cooling that started about 6,000 years ago.

Then the cooling reversed with a vengeance.

The study shows the recent heat spike “has no precedent as far back as we can go with any confidence, 11,000 years arguably,” said Pennsylvania State University professor Michael Mann, who wrote the original hockey stick study but wasn’t part of this research. He said scientists may have to go back 125,000 years to find warmer temperatures potentially rivaling today’s.

However, another outside scientist, Jeff Severinghaus of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography thinks temperatures may have been notably warmer just 12,000 years ago, at least in Greenland based on research by some of his colleagues.

Several outside scientists praised the methods Marcott used, but said it might be a bit too oriented toward the Northern Hemisphere.

Marcott said the general downward trend of temperatures that reversed 100 years ago seemed to indicate the Earth was heading either toward another ice age or little ice age from about 1550 to 1850. Or it was continuing to cool naturally until greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels changed everything.

The reason the globe warmed after the ice age and then started cooling about 6,000 years ago has to do with the tilt of the Earth and its distance from the sun, said Marcott and Severinghaus. Distance and angle in the summer matter because of heat absorption and reflection and ground cover.

“We have, through human emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, indefinitely delayed the onset of the next ice age and are now heading into an unknown future where humans control the thermostat of the planet,” said Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University.

Environment

Extreme Weather

Extreme weather events have been on the rise in the last few decades, and man-made climate change may be causing them by interfering with global air-flow patterns, according to new research.

The Northern Hemisphere has taken a beating from extreme weather in recent years — the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States, for example. These events, in a general sense, are the result of the global movement of air. Giant waves of air in the atmosphere normally even out the climate, by bringing warm air north from the tropics and cold air south from the Arctic. But a new study suggests these colossal waves have gotten stuck in place during extreme weather events.

2003 Heat Wave  France

2003 Heat Wave – France

A recent study found is that during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays put. How long these weather extremes last is critical, the researchers say. While two or three days of 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) pose little threat, 20 days or more can lead to extreme heat stress, which can trigger deaths, forest fires and lost harvests.

The researchers created equations to model the motion of the massive air waves, determining what it takes to make the waves plough to a stop and build up. The team then used these models to crunch daily weather data from the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction. During extreme weather events, the waves were indeed trapped and amplified, the scientists found. They also saw a significant increase in the occurrence of these trapped waves.

Here’s how the waves may be getting trapped: The burning of fossil fuels causes more warming in the Arctic than in other latitudes, because the loss of snow and ice means heat gets absorbed by the darker ground, not reflected (as it would by the white snow). This warming lessens the temperature difference between the Arctic and northern latitudes like Europe. Since these differences drive air flow, a smaller difference means less air movement. Also, land areas warm and cool more easily than oceans. The result is an unnatural pattern of air flow that prevents the air waves from circulating over land.

The study’s results help explain the spike in summer weather extremes. Previous research had shown a link between climate change and extreme weather, but did not identify the mechanism. “This is quite a breakthrough, even though things are not at all simple – the suggested physical process increases the probability of weather extremes, but additional factors certainly play a role as well, including natural variability.” The 32-year period studied provides a good explanation of past extreme weather events, the researchers say, but is too short to make predictions about how often such events may occur in the future.

Global Warming

Hot January 2013

January 2013 was the globe’s 9th warmest January since records began in 1880, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

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Environment

Ice-Free Arctic Ocean in 2030?

Vast uncertainty remains over the causes of melting Arctic sea ice and when it may disappear altogether during the summer, which would have consequences for oil explorers, shipping firms and the fight against climate change.

The answer will depend on the balance of natural and manmade causes.

Last September sea ice reached its lowest level in the satellite record, which dates back to 1979, a development that has implications for local native communities and wildlife, local coastal erosion and possibly northern hemisphere weather.

Under the albedo effect, dry snow reflects more than 80 percent of solar radiation; bare ice 65 percent; and open water just 5 percent.

And increasing expanse of open water each summer warms up faster than ice-covered sea, meaning new ice will be thinner and more vulnerable the following year.

There are various underlying causes of the melt.

Rising greenhouse gas emissions drive up air and sea temperatures.

Water from a warmer Atlantic entering the Arctic Ocean through the Fram Strait between eastern Greenland and Svalbard, an island due north of Norway.

A similar inflow of warmer Pacific water through the Bering Strait has long been identified as an important process that causes the thinning of ice in the central Arctic.

There are also weather effects that may be natural, partly natural or entirely due to greenhouse gas emissions affecting Arctic ice.

A particular weather pattern contributed to a big melt six years ago by sending warm air towards the central Arctic, according to researchers from the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.

The cumulative impact from rising greenhouse gas emissions, which combined with a few freak summers, ice export and the albedo effect could finish off summer sea ice rather quickly.

Increasingly, scientists and researchers are coming to believe that a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean might be realized as early as 2030.

Environment

Thawing Permafrost May Be “Huge Factor” in Global Warming

Thawing permafrost is emitting more climate-heating carbon faster than previously realised. Scientists have now learned that when the ancient carbon locked in the ice thaws and is exposed to sunlight, it turns into carbon dioxide 40 percent faster.

There are 13 million square kilometres of permafrost in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe. A 2011 study estimated that global warming could release enough permafrost carbon to raise global temperatures three degrees C on top of what will result from human emissions from oil, gas and coal.

Human emissions are headed for four degrees C of global heating, warned the International Energy Agency (IEA) this week. A rapid “decarbonization of electricity supply” is needed to avoid that future.

Crack patterns in Arctic permafrost as viewed from a helicopter:

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Environment

US Environment Agency Releases First Climate Adaptation Plan

For the first time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has publicly released a draft plan on how the department’s programmes will adapt to global warming, in a move that could lay additional groundwork for important new emissions rulemaking the agency may announce in coming months.

The EPA is tasked with oversight of the health of both human communities and natural systems, mandated with creating and implementing standards relating to air and water quality, among others. As such, the agency has emerged at the frontlines of Washington’s attempts to push through stricter climate-related regulations while circumventing the U.S. Congress, which remains fractious and politicised over the reality of human responsibility for global warming.

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Environment

Global Hottest and Coldest Temperatures

The week’s hottest temperature was 115.3 degrees Fahrenheit (46.3 degrees Celsius) at Mardie, Western Australia.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 68.3 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 55.8 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Siberian outpost of Oiymakon.

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.

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U.S. Greenhouse Emissions Drop to 20-Year Low

Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. fell to their lowest levels since 1994 last year, with greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s power plants seeing a 4.6 percent drop for 2012 alone.

Overall CO2 emissions fell by 13 percent over the past five years as new energy-saving technologies were adopted, including a switch from coal to wind, solar and cleaner-burning natural gas.

Geothermal and hydroelectric sources also helped reduce air pollution.

But America got 31 percent of its energy from natural gas, which came about due to an explosive use of fracking.

America’s improvement in greenhouse gas emissions is offset by the burst in air pollution being generated in developing countries such as China.

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Transportation

South Africa Commuter Trains Collide Near Pretoria

At least 300 people, including many school children, have been injured when two passenger trains collided near the South African capital, Pretoria. Medical workers say 28 people were seriously hurt.

The theft of copper cables used for signalling, compounded by human error, caused the crash, said the head of South Africa’s rail authority.

The early morning accident happened when a train crashed into a stationary train near Attridgeville, a township west of Pretoria.

SA Train

Transportation

Passenger Plane Crash in Kazakhstan

A passenger plane crashed in thick fog near Kazakhstan’s commercial capital Almaty on Tuesday and broke into pieces when it hit the ground, killing all 21 people on board.

Storms and Floods

Tropical Cyclone Felleng

(13s) was located approximately 460 nm north of La Reunion. Felleng is predicted to continue to intensify as it nears Madagascar. Felleng will travel between eastern Madagascar and La Reunion Island by Feb. 1.

Landslide in Turkey

At least seven people have been killed in a landslide in Turkey. The landslide also hit a football pitch in Sirnak, Turkey.

Turkey

Flooding in UK

Flooding has been reported in Devon, Somerset and south-east Wales. Heavy rain and strong wind warnings have been issued in these regions.

Flooding in Ireland

Heavy rainfall has caused flooding in the Spanish Arch, Galway city of Ireland.

The gale force winds, high tides and heavy rain caused flash flooding in Galway city. Galway city is currently on high alert.

Floods also closed Wolfe Tone Bridge and Lough Atalia Road.

Flooding in Queensland, Australia

Massive summer floods have killed four people and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes across two Australian states on Tuesday, disrupting air and rail travel and coal production.

A deluge fed by the ex-tropical cyclone Oswald dumped more than 200 millimetres (8 inches) of rain in some areas of the Queensland and New South Wales states over the past three days, swelling rivers and swamping towns.

The worst-hit areas were around Bundaberg, Rockhampton and Ipswich in the Queensland state, and around the northern New South Wales towns of Grafton and Lismore.

A fleet of 14 helicopters rescued more than 1,000 people across Queensland overnight and rescue efforts continued on Tuesday.

Natural disaster areas have been declared in ten local government areas hit by flooding in northern NSW.

Drought

Heatwave – South Africa

Several parts of South Africa are currently experiencing an intense heatwave. Temperatures were between 35 to 40 degrees in the Free State, the Northern Cape, North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.

Temperatures

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 115.7 degrees Fahrenheit (46.5 degrees Celsius) at Penrith, NWS, Australia, (western suburb of Sydney,) which broke its all-time record high with 114.4 F (45.8 C) the same day.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 66.1 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 54.5 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Siberian outpost of Oimyakon.

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.

Drought

Wheat Prices Rise as US Drought Persists

Wheat futures rose for the second time in three sessions on renewed concern that the worst U.S. drought since the 1930s is eroding prospects for crops in the southern Great Plains. Little or no rain has fallen in parts of south-central Kansas and north-central Oklahoma in the past three months, according to the National Weather Service. As much as 25 percent of the wheat crop may go unharvested this year, when farmers begin collecting grain in June.

Transportation

Vienna Trains Crash Head-on, 41 People Injured

Two trains packed with morning commuters crashed head-on Monday on Vienna’s outskirts after a state railway employee apparently forgot to activate a signal. Railway officials said 41 people were injured, five seriously.

A statement from OBB, Austria’s state railway, said initial investigations show that a supervisor neglected to trip a signal after manually activating a rail switch.

Vienna Train Collision