It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here | ‘Greenland Goes Green: Ice Sheet Melted in Four Days’ (Video)

From PBS News Hour via YouTube:

On July 8, NASA satellite imagery showed about 40 percent of Greenland’s top ice layer intact. By July 12, only four days later, 97 percent of the ice had melted. Margaret Warner asks NASA’s Thomas Wagner for scientific explanation of the massive thaw.

You can read the interview transcript here.

Related:

(Greenland map source: NASA

From Earth Sky:

In what might be the first study to report continuous measurements of net CO2 exchange of urban vegetation and soils over a full year or more, scientists from UC Santa Barbara and the University of Minnesota conclude that not only is vegetation important in the uptake of the greenhouse gas, but also that different types of vegetation play different roles. Their findings will be published July 4 in the current issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

“There has been little research of this type in the urban landscape,” said Joe McFadden, an associate professor in the UC Santa Barbara Department of Geography, and a co-author of the study. While continuous CO2 measurements have been made in natural ecosystems all around the globe, only in the past few years have researchers attempted to use them in developed areas such as cities and suburbs, which often contain large amounts of green space.

The researchers found that typical suburban greenery, such as trees and lawns, played significant roles with respect to CO2 uptake. For nine months out of the year, the suburban landscape was a source of CO2 to the atmosphere; but during the summer, the carbon uptake by vegetation was large enough to balance out fossil fuel emissions of carbon within the neighborhood. Compared to the natural landscape outside the city, the peak daily uptake of CO2 in the suburbs would have been at the low end uptake for a hardwood forest in the region.

The study was funded by NASA and is a “first step” toward quantifying the role of vegetation in extensive developed areas, like suburbs, which are the parts of urban areas growing most rapidly in the country. Potential uses for this type of research include urban planning –– where land use and vegetation choices are major decisions –– and policy decisions based on reducing greenhouse gases.

Check out the rest of the article here.

(Photo credit: ASLA)

‘NASA Images Depict Rapid Loss of Thick Arctic Sea Ice’, 1980 - 2012
From Yale e360:

A new comparison of satellite images from 1980 and 2012 vividly depicts the rapid disappearance of thick, multi-year Arctic Ocean ice in winter. Over the past three decades, the extent of the Arctic’s thickest ice has declined by 15 to 17 percent per decade, according to NASA climate scientist Joey Comiso.

Details over at Yale e360 and NASA’s Earth Observatory.
It’s also worth noting that a new study has found an important link between melting Arctic sea ice and extreme weather being experienced in some regions of our planet. BBC coverage of the study explains that:
The progressive shrinking of Arctic sea ice is bringing colder, snowier winters to the UK and other areas of Europe, North America and China.
More here.

NASA Images Depict Rapid Loss of Thick Arctic Sea Ice’, 1980 - 2012

From Yale e360:

A new comparison of satellite images from 1980 and 2012 vividly depicts the rapid disappearance of thick, multi-year Arctic Ocean ice in winter. Over the past three decades, the extent of the Arctic’s thickest ice has declined by 15 to 17 percent per decade, according to NASA climate scientist Joey Comiso.

Details over at Yale e360 and NASA’s Earth Observatory.

It’s also worth noting that a new study has found an important link between melting Arctic sea ice and extreme weather being experienced in some regions of our planet. BBC coverage of the study explains that:

The progressive shrinking of Arctic sea ice is bringing colder, snowier winters to the UK and other areas of Europe, North America and China.

More here.

From The Guardian:

From coal mines to rice paddies and cooking fires to diesel exhausts, 14 highly cost-effective measures could quickly curb global warming and save millions of lives, while also boosting global food production. That is the striking conclusion of a new study published in Science and the most authoritative look yet at the opportunities offered in tackling methane and black carbon - soot - pollution.

The headline findings are striking. The measures would reduce warming by 0.5C by 2050, very useful indeed with the world failing to get to grips with carbon dioxide emissions. And that’s only half the tale. They would also avert between 0.7 and 4.7 million premature deaths caused by air pollution every year and bump up crop yields by 30 to 135m tonnes a year.

Methane and black carbon have grabbed attention before, in a major UNEP report in 2011 for example, because of the speed with which measures to tackle them take effect. Black carbon floats in the atmosphere for about a week, methane for about a decade, while carbon dioxide hangs around, heating the planet, for about a century. That means cuts in methane and black carbon take effect quickly, though CO2 remains the larger problem.

Drew Shindell, at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who led the research is clear that this is not an either/or situation: “It is not at all a substitution. It would be a big mistake to focus on dealing with the near-term problems of methane and black carbon without also focusing on the problem of carbon dioxide as well.”

Nonetheless, his team’s work shows action on methane and black carbon is hugely worthwhile and, for the first time, the study shows reveals the regional benefits, from a more stable monsoon in India to better growing plants in Mexico.

Check out the rest of the article here. You may also want to check out Scientific American’s article, 'How to Buy Time in the Fight Against Climate Change: Mobilize to Stop Soot and Methane'.

(Photo credit: AFP)

From The CBC:

A new NASA study predicts massive ecological changes for Canada’s Prairies and boreal regions by the year 2100.

Those areas are in “hot spots” highly vulnerable to massive environmental changes this century due to global warming, the study states.

Much of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba is predicted to see major shifts northward of plant and animal species.

"By about 2100, the climate change projections that we have today would suggest that there would be pressure on that grassland so prevalent in [the Canadian Prairies] to move further northward — and at the expense of the forest moving further northward as well," said NASA climate scientist Duane Walliser, who spoke with CBC News from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Walliser said that all across the globe, whole ecological zones such as deserts and tundra will be on the move because of "unprecedented" warming at a pace faster than at any time in 10,000 years.

But Western Canada will be among the areas hardest hit.

A map of the globe on the NASA study shows much the Prairies in bright red “hot spots” of ecological stress, where 100 per cent of the landscape is predicted to see major changes in plant species.

The NASA study says 37 per cent of Earth’s land surface will transform from one major ecosystem zone, or biome, into another, while 49 per cent of land surfaces will see at least some changes in plant species.

Bergengren said some wildlife will not survive these transformations.

“Obviously, it is much easier for plants and animals to migrate or adapt to this level of climatic change over 10,000 years than it is over 100 years,” he said.

Check out the rest of the article here. You may also be interested in the recent study that found Canada’s Boreal ducks threatened by climate change’.

(Image credit: NASA; Photo credit: CBC)

From Science Daily:

By 2100, global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth’s land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type — such as forest, grassland or tundra — toward another, according to a new NASA and university computer modeling study.

Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., investigated how Earth’s plant life is likely to react over the next three centuries as Earth’s climate changes in response to rising levels of human-produced greenhouse gases. Study results are published in the journal Climatic Change.

The model projections paint a portrait of increasing ecological change and stress in Earth’s biosphere, with many plant and animal species facing increasing competition for survival, as well as significant species turnover, as some species invade areas occupied by other species. Most of Earth’s land that is not covered by ice or desert is projected to undergo at least a 30 percent change in plant cover — changes that will require humans and animals to adapt and often relocate.

In addition to altering plant communities, the study predicts climate change will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth’s water, energy, carbon and other element cycles.

"For more than 25 years, scientists have warned of the dangers of human-induced climate change," said Jon Bergengren, a scientist who led the study while a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech. "Our study introduces a new view of climate change, exploring the ecological implications of a few degrees of global warming. While warnings of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and other environmental changes are illustrative and important, ultimately, it’s the ecological consequences that matter most."

When faced with climate change, plant species often must “migrate” over multiple generations, as they can only survive, compete and reproduce within the range of climates to which they are evolutionarily and physiologically adapted. While Earth’s plants and animals have evolved to migrate in response to seasonal environmental changes and to even larger transitions, such as the end of the last ice age, they often are not equipped to keep up with the rapidity of modern climate changes that are currently taking place. Human activities, such as agriculture and urbanization, are increasingly destroying Earth’s natural habitats, and frequently block plants and animals from successfully migrating.

Check out the rest of the article here.

CLIMATE CHANGE: FEELING THE HEAT IN 2011
It’s been a fast and furious start to the year on the climate front. Here’s a quick round up of news and links that have caught my eye so far.
.
Hot, hot heat
Last week both NASA and NOAA confirmed in independent studies that 2010 tied 2005 as the hottest year on record globally. This builds on news that:

Each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the decade before. At the time, the 1980s was the hottest decade on record. In the 1990s, every year was warmer than the average of the previous decade. The 2000s were warmer still.

.
Silent momentum and/ or a new path(s)?
Despite clear evidence of a warming planet and soaring costs associated with more frequent natural disasters the world has yet to sign a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions (GHGs) to a level necessary for a safe operating space for humanity. December’s COP16 meeting in Cancun, Mexico achieved what the United Nations (UN) termed silent momentum on a number of issues including deforestation and the creation of a global fund to assist developing nations adapt to our changing climate. However, the UN and the world’s governments have little to show in terms of what ultimately matters:

A significant emissions gap exists between what is being promised by countries and what is needed to keep the rise in global temperature below two degrees Celsius, let alone move towards the 1.5-degree threshold needed to protect low-lying island states.

For those wondering, the remaining gap in the optimistic scenario is about the equivalent to the emissions of all of the world’s car, trucks and buses combined. And that’s despite the developed world likely having reached peak travel in recent years. 
It is also worth noting that the lack of meaningful progress is raising questions about the effectiveness of the 20-year-long UN COP process and carbon pricing as a vehicle to reduce GHGs. Some are advocating instead for aggressive investments in research and development to drive down the price of clean energy and make it cost competitive with dirty fossil fuels. Others are pointing to getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies as a key step in accelerating the transition to a clean energy and climate resilient future. While others, including prominent NASA climate scientist James Hansen, think a combination of a revenue neutral carbon tax, citizen activism and legal action are what is required. From what I’ve read these are issues that will not be resolved quickly.  
.
Global Weirding?
Of course, all of this is occurring at a time when weird and wild weather around the world is spurring more debate about what is and isn’t caused by climate change. Much of the US and Europe have had massive winter storms; flooding in Brisbane and much of Queensland has been called the costliest disaster in Australian history; Brazil is currently experiencing its own worst natural disaster in history with deadly flooding and mudslides; Pakistan is still reeling from last summer’s flooding that put one-fifth of the country under water and cost $9.5 billion; and Russia’s record heat, drought and fires are playing a role in spiking global food prices and resulted in an estimated 56,000 premature deaths. 
Is all of this evidence of climate change? According to climate scientists it’s impossible to say that any one particular event is definitively caused by our warming climate. However, they explain it is also likely having an influence. For example, Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics at at Potsdam University and Department Head at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, explains that:

While it cannot be scientifically proven (or disproven, for that matter)  that global warming caused any particular extreme event, we can say  that global warming very likely makes many kinds of extreme weather both  more frequent and more severe.

He also points out:

The fact that heat waves like the one in Russia become more frequent and  extreme in a warmer world is easy to understand. Extreme rainfall  events will also become more frequent and intense in a warmer climate,  owing to another simple fact of physics: warm air can hold more  moisture. For each degree Celsius of warming, 7% more water is available  to rain down from saturated air masses. Drought risk al0so increases  with warming: even where rainfall does not decline, increased  evaporation dries out the soils.

In terms of warming to date Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explains that:

There is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.

.
Clean Energy Progress
Of course, all of the above is just the tip of the iceberg on the climate front. I have not written about recent developments in climate science (e.g. climate change unstoppable for 1,000 years; current CO2 emissions on path to warming last seen 30 to 100 million years ago by 2100) or local and national mitigation or adaptation achievements. Those will be addressed in a later post. Instead, I want to close by highlighting some notable developments related to clean energy. 
The big news is that clean energy received a record $243 billion in investment in 2010, which is certainly encouraging and could have huge climate implications if the trend continues over the coming years. In an interview with Bloomberg New Energy Finance Chief Executive Officer Michael Liebreich explains the significance of the funding:

We have been saying for some time that the world needs to reach a figure of $500 billion per annum investment in clean energy if we are to see carbon emissions peak by 2020. What we are seeing in these figures for the first time is that we are halfway there. 

Leaders in this area include Scotland, Brazil and Portugal, which have all taken big steps forward in the last year. But, there are none bigger or more important than China, which reduced its energy intensity per unit of GDP by an impressive 20% and set out a new 5-Year Plan, which has an explicit sustainability agenda. How this figures with their huge energy demand and efforts to build a consumption based economy remains to be seen though. Perhaps this will be explored in another post…
 
(Photo: Jalopnik)

CLIMATE CHANGE: FEELING THE HEAT IN 2011

It’s been a fast and furious start to the year on the climate front. Here’s a quick round up of news and links that have caught my eye so far.

.

Hot, hot heat

Last week both NASA and NOAA confirmed in independent studies that 2010 tied 2005 as the hottest year on record globally. This builds on news that:

Each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the decade before. At the time, the 1980s was the hottest decade on record. In the 1990s, every year was warmer than the average of the previous decade. The 2000s were warmer still.

.

Silent momentum and/ or a new path(s)?

Despite clear evidence of a warming planet and soaring costs associated with more frequent natural disasters the world has yet to sign a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions (GHGs) to a level necessary for a safe operating space for humanity. December’s COP16 meeting in Cancun, Mexico achieved what the United Nations (UN) termed silent momentum on a number of issues including deforestation and the creation of a global fund to assist developing nations adapt to our changing climate. However, the UN and the world’s governments have little to show in terms of what ultimately matters:

A significant emissions gap exists between what is being promised by countries and what is needed to keep the rise in global temperature below two degrees Celsius, let alone move towards the 1.5-degree threshold needed to protect low-lying island states.

For those wondering, the remaining gap in the optimistic scenario is about the equivalent to the emissions of all of the world’s car, trucks and buses combined. And that’s despite the developed world likely having reached peak travel in recent years.

It is also worth noting that the lack of meaningful progress is raising questions about the effectiveness of the 20-year-long UN COP process and carbon pricing as a vehicle to reduce GHGs. Some are advocating instead for aggressive investments in research and development to drive down the price of clean energy and make it cost competitive with dirty fossil fuels. Others are pointing to getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies as a key step in accelerating the transition to a clean energy and climate resilient future. While others, including prominent NASA climate scientist James Hansen, think a combination of a revenue neutral carbon tax, citizen activism and legal action are what is required. From what I’ve read these are issues that will not be resolved quickly.  

.

Global Weirding?

Of course, all of this is occurring at a time when weird and wild weather around the world is spurring more debate about what is and isn’t caused by climate change. Much of the US and Europe have had massive winter storms; flooding in Brisbane and much of Queensland has been called the costliest disaster in Australian history; Brazil is currently experiencing its own worst natural disaster in history with deadly flooding and mudslides; Pakistan is still reeling from last summer’s flooding that put one-fifth of the country under water and cost $9.5 billion; and Russia’s record heat, drought and fires are playing a role in spiking global food prices and resulted in an estimated 56,000 premature deaths.

Is all of this evidence of climate change? According to climate scientists it’s impossible to say that any one particular event is definitively caused by our warming climate. However, they explain it is also likely having an influence. For example, Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics at at Potsdam University and Department Head at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, explains that:

While it cannot be scientifically proven (or disproven, for that matter) that global warming caused any particular extreme event, we can say that global warming very likely makes many kinds of extreme weather both more frequent and more severe.

He also points out:

The fact that heat waves like the one in Russia become more frequent and extreme in a warmer world is easy to understand. Extreme rainfall events will also become more frequent and intense in a warmer climate, owing to another simple fact of physics: warm air can hold more moisture. For each degree Celsius of warming, 7% more water is available to rain down from saturated air masses. Drought risk al0so increases with warming: even where rainfall does not decline, increased evaporation dries out the soils.

In terms of warming to date Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explains that:

There is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.

.

Clean Energy Progress

Of course, all of the above is just the tip of the iceberg on the climate front. I have not written about recent developments in climate science (e.g. climate change unstoppable for 1,000 years; current CO2 emissions on path to warming last seen 30 to 100 million years ago by 2100) or local and national mitigation or adaptation achievements. Those will be addressed in a later post. Instead, I want to close by highlighting some notable developments related to clean energy.

The big news is that clean energy received a record $243 billion in investment in 2010, which is certainly encouraging and could have huge climate implications if the trend continues over the coming years. In an interview with Bloomberg New Energy Finance Chief Executive Officer Michael Liebreich explains the significance of the funding:

We have been saying for some time that the world needs to reach a figure of $500 billion per annum investment in clean energy if we are to see carbon emissions peak by 2020. What we are seeing in these figures for the first time is that we are halfway there. 

Leaders in this area include Scotland, Brazil and Portugal, which have all taken big steps forward in the last year. But, there are none bigger or more important than China, which reduced its energy intensity per unit of GDP by an impressive 20% and set out a new 5-Year Plan, which has an explicit sustainability agenda. How this figures with their huge energy demand and efforts to build a consumption based economy remains to be seen though. Perhaps this will be explored in another post…

 

(Photo: Jalopnik)