Author: Tim Radford

About Tim Radford

Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

Climate change stokes mayhem in several ways

Three outcomes could follow if climate change stokes mayhem, conflict and violence. It might be helpful to think about the strains to come.

LONDON, 22 February, 2019 − Stand by for long hot summers marked by riot and racial tension. As climate change stokes mayhem, global warming is likely to see a direct rise in human irritability.

Climate change accompanied by natural disaster such as flood or drought could lead to harvest failure and food and water shortages for which people must compete.

And the same natural disasters could lead to a generation of babies, children and adolescents more likely, because of disadvantage and deprivation, to become more prone to violence in adulthood.

Researchers in the US have been thinking carefully about the links between climate change and conflict. This, they write in Current Climate Change Reports, has a long history, and a huge range of studies have addressed the hazard.

And they see more civic strife and conflict on the way. Some of it is likely to involve climate refugees, or ecological migrants: persons driven from their homes by climate change. The steady rise in global temperatures could also help incubate the conditions for global terrorism.

“Syria offers us a glimpse of what the future might look like as the climate continues to change rapidly”

“This is a global issue with very serious consequences. We need to plan for ways to reduce the negative consequences,” said Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University in the US.

“An inadequate food supply and economic disparity make it difficult to raise healthy and productive citizens, which is one way to reduce long-term violence. We also need to plan for and devote resources to aid eco-migrants in their relocation to new lands and countries.”

The Iowa scholars are not alone. Other research teams have linked rising urban temperatures and conflict; and even self-harm.

Some have identified direct links between protracted drought, conflict and the floods of climate refugees, and other groups have repeatedly warned that the numbers driven from their homes by drought, flood, fire, sea level rise and devastating hurricanes is likely to rise steeply within a generation.

Direct link

Professor Anderson and his co-author took a long cool look at the literature of heat and violence. They found direct connections between ambient temperature and hostility.

In one experiment, police officers in overheated conditions were found to be more likely to respond to suspected burglary by drawing a gun and opening fire. Another study compared temperature with levels of violence in 60 different countries and found that for every one degree Celsius rise in temperatures due to climate change, homicide rates could rise by 6%.

A match of crime reports over 59 years with weather data confirmed that violent crime rates rose in the hotter years in 53 out of 55 instances for which seasonal data were available.

They also found that food insecurity and poor nutrition before and after birth could be linked to violent and aggressive behaviour in later years. And they noted the dangers of clashes when migrants were driven across borders and displaced people were attacked by the locals.

Worst for poorest

“Syria offers us a glimpse of what the future might look like as the climate continues to change rapidly: weather becomes more severe, and countries begin falling into economic and civil distress,” they write.

And the already disadvantaged will experience what they call a disproportionate amount of the harmful effects of rapid climate change, which will “likely produce breeding grounds for new terrorist (or gang) activity, a global strain on available resources and the involvement of the developed countries in small-scale wars breaking out across the globe.”

But developed countries can help: this would require, above all, some sharp changes in response to the refugee crisis.

“The view that citizens of wealthy countries often have about refugees needs to change,” Professor Anderson said, “from seeing them as a threat to a view that emphasises humanitarian values and the benefits refugees bring when they are welcomed into the community.” − Climate News Network

Three outcomes could follow if climate change stokes mayhem, conflict and violence. It might be helpful to think about the strains to come.

LONDON, 22 February, 2019 − Stand by for long hot summers marked by riot and racial tension. As climate change stokes mayhem, global warming is likely to see a direct rise in human irritability.

Climate change accompanied by natural disaster such as flood or drought could lead to harvest failure and food and water shortages for which people must compete.

And the same natural disasters could lead to a generation of babies, children and adolescents more likely, because of disadvantage and deprivation, to become more prone to violence in adulthood.

Researchers in the US have been thinking carefully about the links between climate change and conflict. This, they write in Current Climate Change Reports, has a long history, and a huge range of studies have addressed the hazard.

And they see more civic strife and conflict on the way. Some of it is likely to involve climate refugees, or ecological migrants: persons driven from their homes by climate change. The steady rise in global temperatures could also help incubate the conditions for global terrorism.

“Syria offers us a glimpse of what the future might look like as the climate continues to change rapidly”

“This is a global issue with very serious consequences. We need to plan for ways to reduce the negative consequences,” said Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University in the US.

“An inadequate food supply and economic disparity make it difficult to raise healthy and productive citizens, which is one way to reduce long-term violence. We also need to plan for and devote resources to aid eco-migrants in their relocation to new lands and countries.”

The Iowa scholars are not alone. Other research teams have linked rising urban temperatures and conflict; and even self-harm.

Some have identified direct links between protracted drought, conflict and the floods of climate refugees, and other groups have repeatedly warned that the numbers driven from their homes by drought, flood, fire, sea level rise and devastating hurricanes is likely to rise steeply within a generation.

Direct link

Professor Anderson and his co-author took a long cool look at the literature of heat and violence. They found direct connections between ambient temperature and hostility.

In one experiment, police officers in overheated conditions were found to be more likely to respond to suspected burglary by drawing a gun and opening fire. Another study compared temperature with levels of violence in 60 different countries and found that for every one degree Celsius rise in temperatures due to climate change, homicide rates could rise by 6%.

A match of crime reports over 59 years with weather data confirmed that violent crime rates rose in the hotter years in 53 out of 55 instances for which seasonal data were available.

They also found that food insecurity and poor nutrition before and after birth could be linked to violent and aggressive behaviour in later years. And they noted the dangers of clashes when migrants were driven across borders and displaced people were attacked by the locals.

Worst for poorest

“Syria offers us a glimpse of what the future might look like as the climate continues to change rapidly: weather becomes more severe, and countries begin falling into economic and civil distress,” they write.

And the already disadvantaged will experience what they call a disproportionate amount of the harmful effects of rapid climate change, which will “likely produce breeding grounds for new terrorist (or gang) activity, a global strain on available resources and the involvement of the developed countries in small-scale wars breaking out across the globe.”

But developed countries can help: this would require, above all, some sharp changes in response to the refugee crisis.

“The view that citizens of wealthy countries often have about refugees needs to change,” Professor Anderson said, “from seeing them as a threat to a view that emphasises humanitarian values and the benefits refugees bring when they are welcomed into the community.” − Climate News Network

Southward shift faces US climate by 2100

Climate change means a big shift for city dwellers worldwide. Americans can look ahead to very different cities as the US climate heads south.

LONDON, 21 February, 2019 − If the world continues to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels, then life will change predictably for millions of American city dwellers as the US climate heats up. They will find conditions that will make it seem as if they have shifted south by as much as 850 kilometres.

New Yorkers will find themselves experiencing temperature and rainfall conditions appropriate to a small town in Arkansas. People from Los Angeles will discover what it is like to live, right now, on the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula, Mexico. People in Abilene, Texas will find that it is as if they had crossed their own frontier, deep into Salinas, Mexico.

The lawmakers in Washington will have consigned themselves to conditions appropriate to Greenwood, Mississippi. Columbus, Ohio, will enjoy the climate of Jonesboro, Arkansas. Folk of Anchorage, Alaska, will find out what it feels like to live on Vancouver Sound. People of Vancouver, meanwhile, will feel as if they had crossed the border into Seattle, Washington.

This exercise in precision forecasting, published in the journal Nature Communications, has been tested in computer simulations for approximately 250 million US and Canadian citizens in 540 cities.

That is, around three quarters of all the population of the United States, and half of all Canadians, can now check the rainfall and temperature changes they can expect in one human lifetime, somewhere between 2070 and 2099.

“It is my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation”

There are a number of possible climate shifts, depending on whether or not 195 nations fulfil the vow made in Paris in 2015 to work to keep the average rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

In fact, President Trump has announced a US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and many of the nations that stand by the promise have yet to commit to convincing action.

So researchers continue to incorporate the notorious “business-as-usual” scenario in their simulations. So far, these have already predicted a sweltering future for many US cities, with devastating consequences for electrical power supplies and ever more destructive superstorms, megadroughts and floods, with huge economic costs for American government, business and taxpayers.

And, other researchers have found, climate change may already be at work: there is evidence that the division between the more arid American West and the more fertile eastern states has begun to shift significantly.

Long trip south

So the latest research could prove another way of bringing home to US citizens some of the challenges ahead.

“Under current high emissions, the average urban dweller is going to have to drive more than 500 miles (850 kms) to the south to find a climate like that expected in their home city by 2080. Not only is climate changing, but climates that don’t presently exist in North America will be prevalent in a lot of urban areas,” said Matt Fitzpatrick, of the University of Maryland, who led the study.

“Within the lifetime of children living today, the climate of many regions is projected to change from the familiar to conditions unlike those experienced in the same place by their parents, grandparents or perhaps any generation in millennia,” he said.

“It is my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation.” − Climate News Network

Climate change means a big shift for city dwellers worldwide. Americans can look ahead to very different cities as the US climate heads south.

LONDON, 21 February, 2019 − If the world continues to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels, then life will change predictably for millions of American city dwellers as the US climate heats up. They will find conditions that will make it seem as if they have shifted south by as much as 850 kilometres.

New Yorkers will find themselves experiencing temperature and rainfall conditions appropriate to a small town in Arkansas. People from Los Angeles will discover what it is like to live, right now, on the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula, Mexico. People in Abilene, Texas will find that it is as if they had crossed their own frontier, deep into Salinas, Mexico.

The lawmakers in Washington will have consigned themselves to conditions appropriate to Greenwood, Mississippi. Columbus, Ohio, will enjoy the climate of Jonesboro, Arkansas. Folk of Anchorage, Alaska, will find out what it feels like to live on Vancouver Sound. People of Vancouver, meanwhile, will feel as if they had crossed the border into Seattle, Washington.

This exercise in precision forecasting, published in the journal Nature Communications, has been tested in computer simulations for approximately 250 million US and Canadian citizens in 540 cities.

That is, around three quarters of all the population of the United States, and half of all Canadians, can now check the rainfall and temperature changes they can expect in one human lifetime, somewhere between 2070 and 2099.

“It is my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation”

There are a number of possible climate shifts, depending on whether or not 195 nations fulfil the vow made in Paris in 2015 to work to keep the average rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

In fact, President Trump has announced a US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and many of the nations that stand by the promise have yet to commit to convincing action.

So researchers continue to incorporate the notorious “business-as-usual” scenario in their simulations. So far, these have already predicted a sweltering future for many US cities, with devastating consequences for electrical power supplies and ever more destructive superstorms, megadroughts and floods, with huge economic costs for American government, business and taxpayers.

And, other researchers have found, climate change may already be at work: there is evidence that the division between the more arid American West and the more fertile eastern states has begun to shift significantly.

Long trip south

So the latest research could prove another way of bringing home to US citizens some of the challenges ahead.

“Under current high emissions, the average urban dweller is going to have to drive more than 500 miles (850 kms) to the south to find a climate like that expected in their home city by 2080. Not only is climate changing, but climates that don’t presently exist in North America will be prevalent in a lot of urban areas,” said Matt Fitzpatrick, of the University of Maryland, who led the study.

“Within the lifetime of children living today, the climate of many regions is projected to change from the familiar to conditions unlike those experienced in the same place by their parents, grandparents or perhaps any generation in millennia,” he said.

“It is my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation.” − Climate News Network

Biggest animals face extinction for food

Megafauna is a mouthful of a word. And that is the problem. The biggest animals are being hunted for their meat.

LONDON, 19 February, 2019 – The world’s biggest animals – the largest birds, the bigger mammals and even reptiles, sharks and amphibians – are in increasing danger of extinction. Climate change, habitat loss and pollution may all be part of the problem, but the biggest and most direct threat is a simple one.

They are being hunted to death. They are being killed for meat, for trophies such as horns and tusks, and for body parts used in Asian medicine.

The findings, reported in the journal Conservation Letters, are stark. Of 362 mammals, sharks and rays larger than 100 kilograms and birds and reptiles larger than 40kg, 200 species or more were in decline and more than 150 could become extinct. And when the researchers composed a catalogue of hazards to species survival, they found that hunting was for most large animals the biggest danger.

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at the Oregon State University school of forestry in the US.

Traditional medicine’s toll

“Through the consumption of various body parts, users of traditional Asian medicine also exert heavy tolls on the largest species. In the future, 70% will experience further population declines and 60% of the species could become extinct or very rare.”

Biologists already have databases of the body mass and habitats of most described species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has for decades kept and updated a catalogue of extinction risks.

Professor Ripple and colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, France and Mexico selected all the information they could about the bigger species, and those known to be threatened. They subdivided the potential threats into a range of categories – ranch and livestock farming, logging and wood harvesting, aquaculture, fishing and so on – for 362 species, and found to their surprise that hunting was the biggest danger for 98% of those species for which they could find threat data.

The lesson is: it’s bad to be big. “Megafauna species are more threatened and have a relatively higher percentage of decreasing populations than all vertebrates together,” they write. “Notably, the top-ranked threat within each megafauna class was direct harvesting by humans, although there were typically multiple co-occurring threats, mostly related to habitat degradation.”

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction”

Meat consumption, they found, was the most common motive for hunting mammals, birds and the cartilaginous fish; the reptiles were more likely to be pursued for their eggs.

The loss of species – and the decline in numbers of surviving individuals – is not news: researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change, driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use, raises the odds of extinction.

But the sheer growth in human numbers and national economies in the last century has devastated what was once the wilderness, and biologists now believe they may be witnessing the sixth great extinction.

The latest study fits into this pattern. What makes it different is the unequivocal identification of human beings as the super-predators, pursuing the biggest and most charismatic of the surviving large animals, sometimes simply as sporting trophies, more often for food or for parts that can be sold.

In retreat everywhere

Nine megafauna – the word for a large animal – have gone extinct in the wild in the past 250 years. But large species numbers everywhere are falling. Their numbers were always fewer, and often their meat more prized.

With first the spear and the arrow, and then the gun, humans mastered the art of killing from a safe distance. And bigger animals became the most obvious targets. In 500 years, 0.8% of all vertebrates have gone extinct. For large animals, the ratio of extinction is 2%.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Professor Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it as well as cultural and social obstacles.

“But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.” – Climate News Network

Megafauna is a mouthful of a word. And that is the problem. The biggest animals are being hunted for their meat.

LONDON, 19 February, 2019 – The world’s biggest animals – the largest birds, the bigger mammals and even reptiles, sharks and amphibians – are in increasing danger of extinction. Climate change, habitat loss and pollution may all be part of the problem, but the biggest and most direct threat is a simple one.

They are being hunted to death. They are being killed for meat, for trophies such as horns and tusks, and for body parts used in Asian medicine.

The findings, reported in the journal Conservation Letters, are stark. Of 362 mammals, sharks and rays larger than 100 kilograms and birds and reptiles larger than 40kg, 200 species or more were in decline and more than 150 could become extinct. And when the researchers composed a catalogue of hazards to species survival, they found that hunting was for most large animals the biggest danger.

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at the Oregon State University school of forestry in the US.

Traditional medicine’s toll

“Through the consumption of various body parts, users of traditional Asian medicine also exert heavy tolls on the largest species. In the future, 70% will experience further population declines and 60% of the species could become extinct or very rare.”

Biologists already have databases of the body mass and habitats of most described species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has for decades kept and updated a catalogue of extinction risks.

Professor Ripple and colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, France and Mexico selected all the information they could about the bigger species, and those known to be threatened. They subdivided the potential threats into a range of categories – ranch and livestock farming, logging and wood harvesting, aquaculture, fishing and so on – for 362 species, and found to their surprise that hunting was the biggest danger for 98% of those species for which they could find threat data.

The lesson is: it’s bad to be big. “Megafauna species are more threatened and have a relatively higher percentage of decreasing populations than all vertebrates together,” they write. “Notably, the top-ranked threat within each megafauna class was direct harvesting by humans, although there were typically multiple co-occurring threats, mostly related to habitat degradation.”

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction”

Meat consumption, they found, was the most common motive for hunting mammals, birds and the cartilaginous fish; the reptiles were more likely to be pursued for their eggs.

The loss of species – and the decline in numbers of surviving individuals – is not news: researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change, driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use, raises the odds of extinction.

But the sheer growth in human numbers and national economies in the last century has devastated what was once the wilderness, and biologists now believe they may be witnessing the sixth great extinction.

The latest study fits into this pattern. What makes it different is the unequivocal identification of human beings as the super-predators, pursuing the biggest and most charismatic of the surviving large animals, sometimes simply as sporting trophies, more often for food or for parts that can be sold.

In retreat everywhere

Nine megafauna – the word for a large animal – have gone extinct in the wild in the past 250 years. But large species numbers everywhere are falling. Their numbers were always fewer, and often their meat more prized.

With first the spear and the arrow, and then the gun, humans mastered the art of killing from a safe distance. And bigger animals became the most obvious targets. In 500 years, 0.8% of all vertebrates have gone extinct. For large animals, the ratio of extinction is 2%.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Professor Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it as well as cultural and social obstacles.

“But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.” – Climate News Network

Early rain as Arctic warms means more methane

As spring advances, so does the rain to warm the permafrost. It means more methane can get into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming.

LONDON, 18 February, 2019 − As the global temperature steadily rises, it ensures that levels of one of the most potent greenhouse gases are increasing in a way new to science: the planet will have to reckon with more methane than expected.

Researchers who monitored one bog for three years in the Alaskan permafrost have identified yet another instance of what engineers call positive feedback. They found that global warming meant earlier springs and with that, earlier spring rains.

And as a consequence, the influx of warm water on what had previously been frozen ground triggered a biological frenzy that sent methane emissions soaring.

One stretch of wetland in a forest of black spruce in the Alaskan interior stepped up its emissions of natural gas (another name for methane) by 30%. Methane is a greenhouse gas at least 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’”

As a consequence, climate scientists may have to return yet again to the vexed question of the carbon budget, in their calculations of how fast the world will warm as humans burn more fossil fuels, to set up ever more rapid global warming and climate change, which will in turn accelerate the thawing of the permafrost.

The evidence so far comes from a detailed study of water, energy and carbon traffic from just one wetland. But other teams of scientists have repeatedly expressed concern about the integrity of the northern hemisphere permafrost and the vast stores of carbon preserved in the frozen soils, beneath the shallow layer that comes to life with each Arctic spring.

“We saw the plants going crazy and methane emissions going bonkers,” said Rebecca Neumann, an environmental engineer at the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study. “2016 had above average rainfall, but so did 2014. So what was different about this year?”

What mattered was when the rain fell: it fell earlier, when the ground was still colder than the air. The warmer water saturated the frozen forest, flowed into the bog, and created a local permafrost thaw in anoxic conditions: the subterranean microbial communities responded by converting the once-frozen organic matter into a highly effective greenhouse gas.

Alarm rises

“It’d be the bottom of the barrel in terms of energy production for them,” Dr Neumann said. “The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’.”

As global average temperature levels creep up, so does alarm about the state of the vast tracts of permafrost, home to huge stores of frozen carbon in the form of semi-decayed plant material that could be released into the atmosphere to fuel further global warming, with devastating consequences.

Spring has been arriving earlier everywhere in the northern hemisphere, including the Arctic, with unpredictable impacts on high latitude ecosystems.

The permafrost itself has been identified as a vulnerable region, change in which could tip the planet into a new and unpredictable climate regime, and geographers only this year have started to assess the direct hazard to the communities that live in the high latitudes as once-solid ground turns to slush under their feet.

More evaporation

Much more difficult to assess is how the steady attrition of the permafrost plays out in terms of the traffic of carbon between rocks, ocean, atmosphere and living things: researchers are still teasing out the roles of all the agencies at work, including subterranean microbes.

In a warmer world, evaporation will increase. Warmer air has a greater capacity for water vapour. In the end, it means more rain will fall. If it falls in spring or early summer, the research from one marshland in Alaska seems to suggest, more methane will escape into the atmosphere.

Right now, the rewards of the study are academic. They throw just a little more light on the subtle machinery of weather and climate. The test is whether what happens in one instance is likely to happen in other, similar terrain around the high latitudes.

“The ability of rain to transport thermal energy into soils has been under-appreciated,” Dr Neumann said. “Our study shows that by affecting soil temperature and methane emissions, rain can increase the ability of thawing permafrost to warm the climate.” − Climate News Network

As spring advances, so does the rain to warm the permafrost. It means more methane can get into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming.

LONDON, 18 February, 2019 − As the global temperature steadily rises, it ensures that levels of one of the most potent greenhouse gases are increasing in a way new to science: the planet will have to reckon with more methane than expected.

Researchers who monitored one bog for three years in the Alaskan permafrost have identified yet another instance of what engineers call positive feedback. They found that global warming meant earlier springs and with that, earlier spring rains.

And as a consequence, the influx of warm water on what had previously been frozen ground triggered a biological frenzy that sent methane emissions soaring.

One stretch of wetland in a forest of black spruce in the Alaskan interior stepped up its emissions of natural gas (another name for methane) by 30%. Methane is a greenhouse gas at least 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’”

As a consequence, climate scientists may have to return yet again to the vexed question of the carbon budget, in their calculations of how fast the world will warm as humans burn more fossil fuels, to set up ever more rapid global warming and climate change, which will in turn accelerate the thawing of the permafrost.

The evidence so far comes from a detailed study of water, energy and carbon traffic from just one wetland. But other teams of scientists have repeatedly expressed concern about the integrity of the northern hemisphere permafrost and the vast stores of carbon preserved in the frozen soils, beneath the shallow layer that comes to life with each Arctic spring.

“We saw the plants going crazy and methane emissions going bonkers,” said Rebecca Neumann, an environmental engineer at the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study. “2016 had above average rainfall, but so did 2014. So what was different about this year?”

What mattered was when the rain fell: it fell earlier, when the ground was still colder than the air. The warmer water saturated the frozen forest, flowed into the bog, and created a local permafrost thaw in anoxic conditions: the subterranean microbial communities responded by converting the once-frozen organic matter into a highly effective greenhouse gas.

Alarm rises

“It’d be the bottom of the barrel in terms of energy production for them,” Dr Neumann said. “The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’.”

As global average temperature levels creep up, so does alarm about the state of the vast tracts of permafrost, home to huge stores of frozen carbon in the form of semi-decayed plant material that could be released into the atmosphere to fuel further global warming, with devastating consequences.

Spring has been arriving earlier everywhere in the northern hemisphere, including the Arctic, with unpredictable impacts on high latitude ecosystems.

The permafrost itself has been identified as a vulnerable region, change in which could tip the planet into a new and unpredictable climate regime, and geographers only this year have started to assess the direct hazard to the communities that live in the high latitudes as once-solid ground turns to slush under their feet.

More evaporation

Much more difficult to assess is how the steady attrition of the permafrost plays out in terms of the traffic of carbon between rocks, ocean, atmosphere and living things: researchers are still teasing out the roles of all the agencies at work, including subterranean microbes.

In a warmer world, evaporation will increase. Warmer air has a greater capacity for water vapour. In the end, it means more rain will fall. If it falls in spring or early summer, the research from one marshland in Alaska seems to suggest, more methane will escape into the atmosphere.

Right now, the rewards of the study are academic. They throw just a little more light on the subtle machinery of weather and climate. The test is whether what happens in one instance is likely to happen in other, similar terrain around the high latitudes.

“The ability of rain to transport thermal energy into soils has been under-appreciated,” Dr Neumann said. “Our study shows that by affecting soil temperature and methane emissions, rain can increase the ability of thawing permafrost to warm the climate.” − Climate News Network

Melting polar ice sheets will alter weather

Sea level rise and melting polar ice sheets may not cause a climate catastrophe, but they will certainly change weather patterns unpredictably.

LONDON, 15 February, 2019 – The global weather is about to get worse. The melting polar ice sheets will mean rainfall and windstorms could become more violent, and hot spells and ice storms could become more extreme.

This is because the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting, to affect what were once stable ocean currents and airflow patterns around the globe.

Planetary surface temperatures could rise by 3°C or even 4°C by the end of the century. Global sea levels will rise in ways that would “enhance global temperature variability”, but this might not be as high as earlier studies have predicted. That is because the ice cliffs of Antarctica might not be so much at risk of disastrous collapse that would set the glaciers accelerating to the sea.

The latest revision of evidence from the melting ice sheets in two hemispheres – and there is plenty of evidence that melting is happening at ever greater rates – is based on two studies of what could happen to the world’s greatest reservoirs of frozen freshwater if nations pursue current policies, fossil fuel combustion continues to increase, and global average temperatures creep up to unprecedented levels.

“Even if we do include ice-cliff instability … the most likely contribution to sea level rise would be less than half a metre by 2100”

“Under current global government policies, we are heading towards 3 or 4 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, causing a significant amount of melt water from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to enter Earth’s oceans. According to our models, this melt water will cause significant disruptions to ocean currents and change levels of warming around the world,” said Nick Golledge, a south polar researcher at Victoria University, in New Zealand.

He and colleagues from Canada, the US, Germany and the UK report in Nature that they matched satellite observations of what is happening to the ice sheets with detailed simulations of the complex effects of melting over time, and according to the human response so far to warnings of climate change.

In Paris in 2015, leaders from 195 nations vowed to contain global warming to “well below” an average rise of 2°C by 2100. But promises have yet to become concerted and coherent action, and researchers warn that on present policies, a 3°C rise seems inevitable.

Sea levels have already risen by about 14 cms in the last century: the worst scenarios have proposed a devastating rise of 130 cms by 2100. The fastest increase in the rise of sea levels is likely to happen between 2065 and 2075.

Gulf Stream weakens

As warmer melt water gets into the North Atlantic, that major ocean current the Gulf Stream is likely to be weakened. Air temperatures are likely to rise over eastern Canada, central America and the high Arctic. Northwestern Europe – scientists have been warning of this for years – will become cooler.

In the Antarctic, a lens of warm fresh water will form over the surface, allowing uprising warm ocean water to spread and cause what could be further Antarctic melting.

But how bad this could be is re-examined in a second, companion paper in Nature. Tamsin Edwards, now at King’s College London, Dr Golledge and others took a fresh look at an old scare: that the vast cliffs of ice – some of them 100 metres above sea level – around the Antarctic could become unstable and collapse, accelerating the retreat of the ice behind them.

They used geophysical techniques to analyse dramatic episodes of ice loss that must have happened 3 million years ago and 125,000 years ago, and they went back to the present patterns of melt. These losses, in their calculations, did not cause unstoppable ice loss in the past, and may not affect the future much either.

Instability less important

“We’ve shown that ice-cliff instability doesn’t appear to be an essential mechanism in reproducing past sea level changes and so this suggests ‘the jury’s still out’ when it comes to including it in future predictions,” said Dr Edwards.

“Even if we do include ice-cliff instability, our more thorough assessment shows the most likely contribution to sea level rise would be less than half a metre by 2100.”

At worst, there is a one in 20 chance that enough of Antarctica’s glacial burden will melt to raise sea levels by 39 cms. More likely, both studies conclude, under high levels of greenhouse gas concentrations, south polar ice will only melt to raise sea levels worldwide by about 15 cms. – Climate News Network

Sea level rise and melting polar ice sheets may not cause a climate catastrophe, but they will certainly change weather patterns unpredictably.

LONDON, 15 February, 2019 – The global weather is about to get worse. The melting polar ice sheets will mean rainfall and windstorms could become more violent, and hot spells and ice storms could become more extreme.

This is because the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting, to affect what were once stable ocean currents and airflow patterns around the globe.

Planetary surface temperatures could rise by 3°C or even 4°C by the end of the century. Global sea levels will rise in ways that would “enhance global temperature variability”, but this might not be as high as earlier studies have predicted. That is because the ice cliffs of Antarctica might not be so much at risk of disastrous collapse that would set the glaciers accelerating to the sea.

The latest revision of evidence from the melting ice sheets in two hemispheres – and there is plenty of evidence that melting is happening at ever greater rates – is based on two studies of what could happen to the world’s greatest reservoirs of frozen freshwater if nations pursue current policies, fossil fuel combustion continues to increase, and global average temperatures creep up to unprecedented levels.

“Even if we do include ice-cliff instability … the most likely contribution to sea level rise would be less than half a metre by 2100”

“Under current global government policies, we are heading towards 3 or 4 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, causing a significant amount of melt water from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to enter Earth’s oceans. According to our models, this melt water will cause significant disruptions to ocean currents and change levels of warming around the world,” said Nick Golledge, a south polar researcher at Victoria University, in New Zealand.

He and colleagues from Canada, the US, Germany and the UK report in Nature that they matched satellite observations of what is happening to the ice sheets with detailed simulations of the complex effects of melting over time, and according to the human response so far to warnings of climate change.

In Paris in 2015, leaders from 195 nations vowed to contain global warming to “well below” an average rise of 2°C by 2100. But promises have yet to become concerted and coherent action, and researchers warn that on present policies, a 3°C rise seems inevitable.

Sea levels have already risen by about 14 cms in the last century: the worst scenarios have proposed a devastating rise of 130 cms by 2100. The fastest increase in the rise of sea levels is likely to happen between 2065 and 2075.

Gulf Stream weakens

As warmer melt water gets into the North Atlantic, that major ocean current the Gulf Stream is likely to be weakened. Air temperatures are likely to rise over eastern Canada, central America and the high Arctic. Northwestern Europe – scientists have been warning of this for years – will become cooler.

In the Antarctic, a lens of warm fresh water will form over the surface, allowing uprising warm ocean water to spread and cause what could be further Antarctic melting.

But how bad this could be is re-examined in a second, companion paper in Nature. Tamsin Edwards, now at King’s College London, Dr Golledge and others took a fresh look at an old scare: that the vast cliffs of ice – some of them 100 metres above sea level – around the Antarctic could become unstable and collapse, accelerating the retreat of the ice behind them.

They used geophysical techniques to analyse dramatic episodes of ice loss that must have happened 3 million years ago and 125,000 years ago, and they went back to the present patterns of melt. These losses, in their calculations, did not cause unstoppable ice loss in the past, and may not affect the future much either.

Instability less important

“We’ve shown that ice-cliff instability doesn’t appear to be an essential mechanism in reproducing past sea level changes and so this suggests ‘the jury’s still out’ when it comes to including it in future predictions,” said Dr Edwards.

“Even if we do include ice-cliff instability, our more thorough assessment shows the most likely contribution to sea level rise would be less than half a metre by 2100.”

At worst, there is a one in 20 chance that enough of Antarctica’s glacial burden will melt to raise sea levels by 39 cms. More likely, both studies conclude, under high levels of greenhouse gas concentrations, south polar ice will only melt to raise sea levels worldwide by about 15 cms. – Climate News Network

World is halfway through its hottest decade

Things are warming up: already the world is halfway through its hottest decade on record, if predictions prove correct.

LONDON, 13 February, 2019 – Here is a climate forecast that climate scientists, meteorologists, politicians, voters and even climate sceptics can check: the next five years will be warm, and will probably help to complete the hottest decade ever.

They will on a global average be at least 1°C higher than the average temperature of the planet 200 years ago, before the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels.

That is because the planet is already midway through what may well prove to be its warmest 10 years since records began on a planetary scale in 1850. There is even a possibility that within the next five years, the global temperature rise could tip 1.5°C above the long-term average for human history.

This is the ambitious limit to global warming that the world set itself at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, for the year 2100.

And the forecasters can make such predictions with some confidence because tomorrow’s temperature chart is already inscribed in the air we breathe: the pattern of warming over the last century is consistent with the steady rise in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and these are still increasing because fossil fuel use is still going up.

“Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C”

Adam Scaife, who heads long-range prediction research at the UK Met Office, said: “2015 was the first year that global annual average surface temperatures reached 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels and the following three years have all remained close to this level.

“The global average temperature between now and 2023 is predicted to remain high, potentially making the decade from 2014 the warmest in more than 150 years of records.”

Climate is what people can reasonably bank on; weather is what they get. The forecast is significant because it is evidence of swelling confidence in the understanding of global warming and climate change science.

Climate researchers began warning at least 40 years ago of the potentially calamitous consequences of climate change: they were, at the time, unwilling to link any single weather event – flood, drought, windstorm or heat wave – to long-term global warming as a consequence of the steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, released from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts.

Possible catastrophe predicted

Not any more: in 2013, one group of geographers in Hawaii even predicted the possible onset of catastrophic climate change in some regions of the globe as early as 2020.

And the Met Office prediction is accompanied by a danger that – for a short while at least – the global increase could reach or exceed the level that 195 nations in Paris agreed would be potentially disastrous for human civilisation.

“A run of temperatures of 1.0°C or above would increase the risk of a temporary excursion above the threshold of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” said Doug Smith, a researcher at the Met Office. “Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C.”

Global temperatures in 2018 were around 0.91°C above the long-term average. This would make 2018 the fourth warmest year ever, although oceanographers recently warned that the oceans – and 70% of the planet is covered by ocean – reached their warmest ever in 2018.

Almost imperceptible

The three warmest years on record are 2015, 2016 and 2017. Climate scientists – and health chiefs – have consistently warned that the average global increase is at almost imperceptible pace, and is a trend rather than a year-on-year rise. This made it possible for some to argue about the interpretation of the data, and to even claim that global warming had paused.

But within this slow increase in average temperatures, there has been a pattern of increasing extremes of rainfall and temperature with the threat of increasingly frequent and potentially lethal heat waves to come.

And, researchers warned recently, the changes seem inexorable: by multiplying in number to more than 7bn in two centuries, by clearing forests and by burning fossil fuels, humans have managed to reverse a long-term climate trend and make the future uncomfortably hot.

A third UK researcher, Tim Osborn of the University of East Anglia’s Cllimatic Research Unit, spelled it out: “The warmth of 2018 is in line with the long-term warming trend driven by the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases.” – Climate News Network

Things are warming up: already the world is halfway through its hottest decade on record, if predictions prove correct.

LONDON, 13 February, 2019 – Here is a climate forecast that climate scientists, meteorologists, politicians, voters and even climate sceptics can check: the next five years will be warm, and will probably help to complete the hottest decade ever.

They will on a global average be at least 1°C higher than the average temperature of the planet 200 years ago, before the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels.

That is because the planet is already midway through what may well prove to be its warmest 10 years since records began on a planetary scale in 1850. There is even a possibility that within the next five years, the global temperature rise could tip 1.5°C above the long-term average for human history.

This is the ambitious limit to global warming that the world set itself at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, for the year 2100.

And the forecasters can make such predictions with some confidence because tomorrow’s temperature chart is already inscribed in the air we breathe: the pattern of warming over the last century is consistent with the steady rise in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and these are still increasing because fossil fuel use is still going up.

“Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C”

Adam Scaife, who heads long-range prediction research at the UK Met Office, said: “2015 was the first year that global annual average surface temperatures reached 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels and the following three years have all remained close to this level.

“The global average temperature between now and 2023 is predicted to remain high, potentially making the decade from 2014 the warmest in more than 150 years of records.”

Climate is what people can reasonably bank on; weather is what they get. The forecast is significant because it is evidence of swelling confidence in the understanding of global warming and climate change science.

Climate researchers began warning at least 40 years ago of the potentially calamitous consequences of climate change: they were, at the time, unwilling to link any single weather event – flood, drought, windstorm or heat wave – to long-term global warming as a consequence of the steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, released from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts.

Possible catastrophe predicted

Not any more: in 2013, one group of geographers in Hawaii even predicted the possible onset of catastrophic climate change in some regions of the globe as early as 2020.

And the Met Office prediction is accompanied by a danger that – for a short while at least – the global increase could reach or exceed the level that 195 nations in Paris agreed would be potentially disastrous for human civilisation.

“A run of temperatures of 1.0°C or above would increase the risk of a temporary excursion above the threshold of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” said Doug Smith, a researcher at the Met Office. “Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C.”

Global temperatures in 2018 were around 0.91°C above the long-term average. This would make 2018 the fourth warmest year ever, although oceanographers recently warned that the oceans – and 70% of the planet is covered by ocean – reached their warmest ever in 2018.

Almost imperceptible

The three warmest years on record are 2015, 2016 and 2017. Climate scientists – and health chiefs – have consistently warned that the average global increase is at almost imperceptible pace, and is a trend rather than a year-on-year rise. This made it possible for some to argue about the interpretation of the data, and to even claim that global warming had paused.

But within this slow increase in average temperatures, there has been a pattern of increasing extremes of rainfall and temperature with the threat of increasingly frequent and potentially lethal heat waves to come.

And, researchers warned recently, the changes seem inexorable: by multiplying in number to more than 7bn in two centuries, by clearing forests and by burning fossil fuels, humans have managed to reverse a long-term climate trend and make the future uncomfortably hot.

A third UK researcher, Tim Osborn of the University of East Anglia’s Cllimatic Research Unit, spelled it out: “The warmth of 2018 is in line with the long-term warming trend driven by the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases.” – Climate News Network

Food webs alter as warmer seas change colour

Reflected sunlight tells a story: one of deeper shading in an ever-warmer ocean. That is because climate change will also alter green growth in the high seas.

LONDON, 11 February, 2019 – The Blue Planet is to get a little bluer as the world warms and climates change. Where the seas turn green, expect an even deeper verdant tint, new research suggests.

Since humans began increasing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – by burning the fossil fuels that have provided the energy for both economic growth and a population explosion – the oceans have warmed in ways that affect marine life. They have grown ever more acidic, in ways that affect coral growth and fish behaviour.

But when US and British scientists tested a model of ocean physics, biogeochemistry and ecosystems – intending to simulate changes in the populations of marine phytoplankton or algae – they also incorporated some of the ocean’s optical properties. Since green plants photosynthesise, they absorb sunlight, and change reflectivity.

And, as mariners have known for centuries, the blue ocean is blue because levels of marine life in the warmer mid-ocean waters are very low.

“There will be a noticeable difference in the colour of 50% of the ocean by the end of the 21st century. It could be potentially quite serious”

The researchers tweaked their simulation to see what the world would look like in 2100 if humanity carried on burning fossil fuels on the notorious business-as-usual scenario and took global average temperatures up to 3°C above historic levels.

And they found that higher temperatures would alter the global palette. More than half of the world’s oceans would intensify in colour. The subtropics would become even more blue, and the oceans that sweep around the poles would become an even deeper green, they report in the journal Nature Communications.

“The models suggest the changes won’t appear huge to the naked eye, and the ocean will still look like it has blue regions in the subtropics and greener regions near the equator and the poles,” said Stephanie Dutkiewicz, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the research

Wider effects.

“That basic pattern will still be there. But it will be enough different that it will affect the rest of the food web that phytoplankton supports.”

The clearer the water, the bluer the reflection of the sunlight. From space, the world looks blue. Waters rich in phytoplankton are by definition rich too in chlorophyll that absorbs blue wavelengths and reflects a green tint. But changes in chlorophyll colouring, observed over the decades from satellite monitoring, can be affected by natural climate cycles and shifts in nutrient supply.

The researchers were looking for a more complete model of the wavelengths of visible light that are absorbed, scattered or reflected by living things. They devised one, and tested their new model against satellite evidence so far. When they found agreement with the past, they had also found yet another way to read the future

Explaining ecosystem change.

They tuned their simulated planet to the 3°C warming that seems inevitable unless humans rapidly shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, to discover that wavelengths of light around the blue-green spectrum shifted the fastest. The shifts in colour could tell a story of altered ecosystems.

“The nice thing about this model is that we can use it as a laboratory, a place where we can experiment, to see how our planet is going to change,” Dr Dutkiewicz said.

“There will be a noticeable difference in the colour of 50% of the ocean by the end of the 21st century. It could be potentially quite serious..

“Different types of phytoplankton absorb light differently, and if climate change shifts one community of phytoplankton to another, they will also change the types of food webs they can support.” – Climate News Network

Reflected sunlight tells a story: one of deeper shading in an ever-warmer ocean. That is because climate change will also alter green growth in the high seas.

LONDON, 11 February, 2019 – The Blue Planet is to get a little bluer as the world warms and climates change. Where the seas turn green, expect an even deeper verdant tint, new research suggests.

Since humans began increasing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – by burning the fossil fuels that have provided the energy for both economic growth and a population explosion – the oceans have warmed in ways that affect marine life. They have grown ever more acidic, in ways that affect coral growth and fish behaviour.

But when US and British scientists tested a model of ocean physics, biogeochemistry and ecosystems – intending to simulate changes in the populations of marine phytoplankton or algae – they also incorporated some of the ocean’s optical properties. Since green plants photosynthesise, they absorb sunlight, and change reflectivity.

And, as mariners have known for centuries, the blue ocean is blue because levels of marine life in the warmer mid-ocean waters are very low.

“There will be a noticeable difference in the colour of 50% of the ocean by the end of the 21st century. It could be potentially quite serious”

The researchers tweaked their simulation to see what the world would look like in 2100 if humanity carried on burning fossil fuels on the notorious business-as-usual scenario and took global average temperatures up to 3°C above historic levels.

And they found that higher temperatures would alter the global palette. More than half of the world’s oceans would intensify in colour. The subtropics would become even more blue, and the oceans that sweep around the poles would become an even deeper green, they report in the journal Nature Communications.

“The models suggest the changes won’t appear huge to the naked eye, and the ocean will still look like it has blue regions in the subtropics and greener regions near the equator and the poles,” said Stephanie Dutkiewicz, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the research

Wider effects.

“That basic pattern will still be there. But it will be enough different that it will affect the rest of the food web that phytoplankton supports.”

The clearer the water, the bluer the reflection of the sunlight. From space, the world looks blue. Waters rich in phytoplankton are by definition rich too in chlorophyll that absorbs blue wavelengths and reflects a green tint. But changes in chlorophyll colouring, observed over the decades from satellite monitoring, can be affected by natural climate cycles and shifts in nutrient supply.

The researchers were looking for a more complete model of the wavelengths of visible light that are absorbed, scattered or reflected by living things. They devised one, and tested their new model against satellite evidence so far. When they found agreement with the past, they had also found yet another way to read the future

Explaining ecosystem change.

They tuned their simulated planet to the 3°C warming that seems inevitable unless humans rapidly shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, to discover that wavelengths of light around the blue-green spectrum shifted the fastest. The shifts in colour could tell a story of altered ecosystems.

“The nice thing about this model is that we can use it as a laboratory, a place where we can experiment, to see how our planet is going to change,” Dr Dutkiewicz said.

“There will be a noticeable difference in the colour of 50% of the ocean by the end of the 21st century. It could be potentially quite serious..

“Different types of phytoplankton absorb light differently, and if climate change shifts one community of phytoplankton to another, they will also change the types of food webs they can support.” – Climate News Network

Energy from greenhouse gases is possible

Laboratories can make energy from greenhouse gases, power smartphones with their own radiation, and cut shipping costs naturally. And each could become reality.

LONDON, 8 February, 2019 – Researchers have found ways to realise a modern version of the medieval alchemists’ dream  not turning base metals into gold, but conjuring energy from greenhouse gases, exploiting abundant pollutants to help to power the world.

Korean scientists have developed a sophisticated fuel cell that consumes carbon dioxide and produces electricity and hydrogen – potentially another fuel – at the same time.

Researchers based in the US and Spain have devised a nanoscale fabric that converts electromagnetic waves into electrical current.

The dream is that a smartphone coated with the fabric could, without benefit of a battery, charge itself from the ambient wi-fi radiation that it exploits for texts, calls and data.

German scientists have taken a leaf from nature’s book and applied it – so far in theory – to bulk cargo shipping. Salvinia molesta, a floating fern native to Brazil, isolates itself from water with a thin sheath of air. If the large carriers could adopt the Salvinia trick and incorporate a similar layer of air in the anti-fouling coating on the hull, this would reduce drag sufficiently to save 20% of fuel costs.

To the Urals

And in yet another demonstration of the ingenuity and innovative ambition on show in the world’s laboratories, another German team has looked at the large-scale climate economics of artificial photosynthesis – a system of semiconductors and oxides – that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deliver stable chemical compounds.

To take 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year would demand a forest that covered all Europe as far as the Urals. But to do the same job, a commercial forest of “artificial leaves” would require a land area about the size of the German federal state of Brandenburg.

All these ideas are ready for further development. None is so far anywhere near the commercial market.

But all are evidence that chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists have taken up the great climate challenge: how to power modern society without fuelling even faster global warming and climate change that could, ultimately, bring global economic growth to a devastating halt.

And, as many researchers see it, that means not just by-passing the fossil fuels that drive climate change, but actively exploiting the ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, or soon to emerge from power station chimneys

“The best thing now would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper”

Scientists at UNIST, Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology, report in the journal iScience that in collaboration with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US they have already developed a hybrid sodium-carbon dioxide system of electrolytes that converts dissolved carbon dioxide to sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen, with a flow of electric current.

Efficiency is high – with 50% of the carbon dioxide exploited – and could be higher. And their test apparatus so far has run in stable fashion for 1000 hours. The system uses a new approach to materials to exploit something in the air everywhere.

And that too is exactly what researchers in the US have done: they report in the journal Nature that they have fashioned a flexible sheet of ultra-thin material that serves as what they call a “rectenna”: a radio-frequency antenna that harvests radiation, including wi-fi signals, as alternating current waveforms, and feeds them to a nanoscale semiconductor that converts it to direct current.

So far, the rectenna devices have produced 40 microwatts of power: enough to fire up a light-emitting diode, or power a silicon chip.

“We have come up with a new way to power the electronics systems of the future – by harvesting wi-fi energy in a way that’s easily integrated in large areas – to bring intelligence to every object around us,” said Tomás Palacios, an electrical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

Magic carpet

The waterweed Salvinia molesta exploits bubbles to keep itself afloat but out of the water: it literally rides in the water on a little magic carpet of air. The hydrophobic plant is regarded as an invasive pest, but the way it harnesses air to keep itself afloat and on top of things provides a lesson not just for evolutionary biologists but for engineers.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have been looking at the problem of the global shipping fleet: cargo freighters burn 250 million tonnes of fuel a year and emit a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, much of it because of the sheer drag of moving a hull through the waves. So anything that reduces drag saves fuel (which accounts for half of all transport costs).

The German scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society that their experiments with hull coatings based on the lessons of Salvinia could in the medium term cut fuel costs by up to 20% and on a global scale reduce emissions by 130 million tonnes a year. If the same coating discouraged barnacles as well, the saving could reach 300 million tonnes – 1% of global CO2 output.

To keep global warming to the promised level of no more than 1.5°C, an ambition signed up to by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, global fossil fuel emissions will have to reach zero by 2050.

Right now, nations are adding 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. So there is pressure to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

Huge economy

German scientists report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they did the sums and calculated that to take 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using the machinery supplied by 3 billion years of evolution would require new forest plantations that stretched over 10 million kilometres. This is about the size of continental Europe.

But supposing artificial leaf systems developed in laboratories could be further developed on a massive scale? These leaves would draw down carbon dioxide and deliver it for permanent storage or for chemical conversion to plastic or building material.

If so, then efficient synthetic photosynthesis installations could do the same job from an area of only 30,000 square kilometres.

“These kinds of modules could be placed in non-agricultural regions – in deserts, for example. In contrast to plants, they require hardly any water to operate,” said Matthias May of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, one of the authors. It would of course come at a formidable cost – about €650 bn
or US$740 bn a year.

“The best thing now,” Dr May said, “would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper.” – Climate News Network

Laboratories can make energy from greenhouse gases, power smartphones with their own radiation, and cut shipping costs naturally. And each could become reality.

LONDON, 8 February, 2019 – Researchers have found ways to realise a modern version of the medieval alchemists’ dream  not turning base metals into gold, but conjuring energy from greenhouse gases, exploiting abundant pollutants to help to power the world.

Korean scientists have developed a sophisticated fuel cell that consumes carbon dioxide and produces electricity and hydrogen – potentially another fuel – at the same time.

Researchers based in the US and Spain have devised a nanoscale fabric that converts electromagnetic waves into electrical current.

The dream is that a smartphone coated with the fabric could, without benefit of a battery, charge itself from the ambient wi-fi radiation that it exploits for texts, calls and data.

German scientists have taken a leaf from nature’s book and applied it – so far in theory – to bulk cargo shipping. Salvinia molesta, a floating fern native to Brazil, isolates itself from water with a thin sheath of air. If the large carriers could adopt the Salvinia trick and incorporate a similar layer of air in the anti-fouling coating on the hull, this would reduce drag sufficiently to save 20% of fuel costs.

To the Urals

And in yet another demonstration of the ingenuity and innovative ambition on show in the world’s laboratories, another German team has looked at the large-scale climate economics of artificial photosynthesis – a system of semiconductors and oxides – that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deliver stable chemical compounds.

To take 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year would demand a forest that covered all Europe as far as the Urals. But to do the same job, a commercial forest of “artificial leaves” would require a land area about the size of the German federal state of Brandenburg.

All these ideas are ready for further development. None is so far anywhere near the commercial market.

But all are evidence that chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists have taken up the great climate challenge: how to power modern society without fuelling even faster global warming and climate change that could, ultimately, bring global economic growth to a devastating halt.

And, as many researchers see it, that means not just by-passing the fossil fuels that drive climate change, but actively exploiting the ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, or soon to emerge from power station chimneys

“The best thing now would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper”

Scientists at UNIST, Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology, report in the journal iScience that in collaboration with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US they have already developed a hybrid sodium-carbon dioxide system of electrolytes that converts dissolved carbon dioxide to sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen, with a flow of electric current.

Efficiency is high – with 50% of the carbon dioxide exploited – and could be higher. And their test apparatus so far has run in stable fashion for 1000 hours. The system uses a new approach to materials to exploit something in the air everywhere.

And that too is exactly what researchers in the US have done: they report in the journal Nature that they have fashioned a flexible sheet of ultra-thin material that serves as what they call a “rectenna”: a radio-frequency antenna that harvests radiation, including wi-fi signals, as alternating current waveforms, and feeds them to a nanoscale semiconductor that converts it to direct current.

So far, the rectenna devices have produced 40 microwatts of power: enough to fire up a light-emitting diode, or power a silicon chip.

“We have come up with a new way to power the electronics systems of the future – by harvesting wi-fi energy in a way that’s easily integrated in large areas – to bring intelligence to every object around us,” said Tomás Palacios, an electrical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

Magic carpet

The waterweed Salvinia molesta exploits bubbles to keep itself afloat but out of the water: it literally rides in the water on a little magic carpet of air. The hydrophobic plant is regarded as an invasive pest, but the way it harnesses air to keep itself afloat and on top of things provides a lesson not just for evolutionary biologists but for engineers.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have been looking at the problem of the global shipping fleet: cargo freighters burn 250 million tonnes of fuel a year and emit a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, much of it because of the sheer drag of moving a hull through the waves. So anything that reduces drag saves fuel (which accounts for half of all transport costs).

The German scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society that their experiments with hull coatings based on the lessons of Salvinia could in the medium term cut fuel costs by up to 20% and on a global scale reduce emissions by 130 million tonnes a year. If the same coating discouraged barnacles as well, the saving could reach 300 million tonnes – 1% of global CO2 output.

To keep global warming to the promised level of no more than 1.5°C, an ambition signed up to by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, global fossil fuel emissions will have to reach zero by 2050.

Right now, nations are adding 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. So there is pressure to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

Huge economy

German scientists report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they did the sums and calculated that to take 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using the machinery supplied by 3 billion years of evolution would require new forest plantations that stretched over 10 million kilometres. This is about the size of continental Europe.

But supposing artificial leaf systems developed in laboratories could be further developed on a massive scale? These leaves would draw down carbon dioxide and deliver it for permanent storage or for chemical conversion to plastic or building material.

If so, then efficient synthetic photosynthesis installations could do the same job from an area of only 30,000 square kilometres.

“These kinds of modules could be placed in non-agricultural regions – in deserts, for example. In contrast to plants, they require hardly any water to operate,” said Matthias May of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, one of the authors. It would of course come at a formidable cost – about €650 bn
or US$740 bn a year.

“The best thing now,” Dr May said, “would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper.” – Climate News Network

Whales’ appetite for plastics yawns wide

Polluting fragments and fibres get everywhere. Whales’ appetite for plastics shows how that includes the living tissue of some of the biggest sea creatures.

LONDON, 6 February, 2019 − There seem to be few limits to whales’ appetite for plastics. Scientists who checked the stomachs and intestines of 50 whales, dolphins and seals found stranded and dead on British coasts have identified plastic particles ingested by every one of them.

So far the researchers make no link between what now seems ubiquitous plastic pollution of the seas and the health of the animals – the numbers in each were tiny – but the find is yet another indicator of the steady degradation of the planet’s biggest natural habitat by just one terrestrial species with a lately-acquired addiction to fossil fuels.

A small fraction of the world’s oil, coal and natural gas output is turned into plastics or organic polymers with versatile and enduring properties, and four-fifths of the particles were identified as synthetic fibres from clothes, fishing nets and toothbrushes: the remainder may have come from food packaging and plastic containers.

“It’s shocking – but not surprising – that every animal had ingested microplastics,” said Sarah Nelms of the University of Exeter and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study.

“The number of particles in each animal was relatively low (average of 5.5 particles per animal) suggesting they eventually pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated. We don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.”

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at”

The find was not surprising because in the last few years researchers have repeatedly established that in the century since the first synthesis of artificial polymer materials, colossal quantities have ended up in the oceans in ever-tinier particles: they have been found in the high Arctic, in every litre of sampled seawater, in coral reefs and in polar bears.

The scientists write in the journal Scientific Reports that they found at least one microplastic particle in every animal they examined, in either stomach or intestine.

Altogether, in 10 species – the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the bottlenose, common, striped, white-beaked and Risso’s dolphins, the grey seal, the harbour seal, the harbour porpoise and the pygmy sperm whale − they found 273 particles, and 261 of these were smaller than 5mm. Most were fibres, ranging in size from 2cms to 0.1mm; 16% were fragments. At least 26 marine mammals are known to use British waters.

Colossal quantities of microplastics get into the sea from a variety of sources. Rain washes away fragments of tyres and paint; debris gets spilled during transportation; microbeads get washed out of fibres and cosmetics; large objects get abraded, crushed and fragmented.

Effects unknown

The smaller the size, the easier it is for the particles to be taken up by small crustaceans called copepods, shellfish, fish, seabirds and the bigger sea creatures and the marine mammals at the top of the food chain.

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at; from tiny zooplankton at the base of the marine food web to fish larvae, turtles and now dolphins, seals and whales,” said Pennie Lindeque, who heads the marine plastics research group at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

“We don’t yet know the effects of these particles on marine mammals. Their small size means they may easily be expelled, but while microplastics are unlikely to be the main threat to these species, we are still concerned by the impact of the bacteria, viruses and contaminants carried on the plastic.

“This study provides more evidence that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas.” − Climate News Network

Polluting fragments and fibres get everywhere. Whales’ appetite for plastics shows how that includes the living tissue of some of the biggest sea creatures.

LONDON, 6 February, 2019 − There seem to be few limits to whales’ appetite for plastics. Scientists who checked the stomachs and intestines of 50 whales, dolphins and seals found stranded and dead on British coasts have identified plastic particles ingested by every one of them.

So far the researchers make no link between what now seems ubiquitous plastic pollution of the seas and the health of the animals – the numbers in each were tiny – but the find is yet another indicator of the steady degradation of the planet’s biggest natural habitat by just one terrestrial species with a lately-acquired addiction to fossil fuels.

A small fraction of the world’s oil, coal and natural gas output is turned into plastics or organic polymers with versatile and enduring properties, and four-fifths of the particles were identified as synthetic fibres from clothes, fishing nets and toothbrushes: the remainder may have come from food packaging and plastic containers.

“It’s shocking – but not surprising – that every animal had ingested microplastics,” said Sarah Nelms of the University of Exeter and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study.

“The number of particles in each animal was relatively low (average of 5.5 particles per animal) suggesting they eventually pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated. We don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.”

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at”

The find was not surprising because in the last few years researchers have repeatedly established that in the century since the first synthesis of artificial polymer materials, colossal quantities have ended up in the oceans in ever-tinier particles: they have been found in the high Arctic, in every litre of sampled seawater, in coral reefs and in polar bears.

The scientists write in the journal Scientific Reports that they found at least one microplastic particle in every animal they examined, in either stomach or intestine.

Altogether, in 10 species – the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the bottlenose, common, striped, white-beaked and Risso’s dolphins, the grey seal, the harbour seal, the harbour porpoise and the pygmy sperm whale − they found 273 particles, and 261 of these were smaller than 5mm. Most were fibres, ranging in size from 2cms to 0.1mm; 16% were fragments. At least 26 marine mammals are known to use British waters.

Colossal quantities of microplastics get into the sea from a variety of sources. Rain washes away fragments of tyres and paint; debris gets spilled during transportation; microbeads get washed out of fibres and cosmetics; large objects get abraded, crushed and fragmented.

Effects unknown

The smaller the size, the easier it is for the particles to be taken up by small crustaceans called copepods, shellfish, fish, seabirds and the bigger sea creatures and the marine mammals at the top of the food chain.

“Over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at; from tiny zooplankton at the base of the marine food web to fish larvae, turtles and now dolphins, seals and whales,” said Pennie Lindeque, who heads the marine plastics research group at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

“We don’t yet know the effects of these particles on marine mammals. Their small size means they may easily be expelled, but while microplastics are unlikely to be the main threat to these species, we are still concerned by the impact of the bacteria, viruses and contaminants carried on the plastic.

“This study provides more evidence that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas.” − Climate News Network

Food shocks increase as world warms

Heat extremes harm harvests. So do floods, drought and high winds. Climate change spurs food shocks that threaten the supper table.

LONDON, 1 February, 2019 − More than ever, the world’s ways of keeping hunger at bay are taking a pounding as food shocks become more frequent. Potatoes are being baked in heat waves. Corn is being parched by drought. Fruit is being bitten by frost.

And a long-term study suggests that for the world’s farmers and graziers, fishing crews and fish farmers, things will get worse as the world warms. Australian and US scientists report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they examined the incidence of what they call “food shocks” across 134 nations over a period of 53 years.

They found that some regions and some kinds of farming have suffered worse than others; that food production is vulnerable to volatile climate and weather changes; and that the dangers are increasing with time.

The researchers looked at cases of dramatic crop failure, harvest loss and fishing fleet failures between 1961 and 2013, as recorded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and other sources, and then mapped shock frequency and co-occurrence.

In their database of 741 available time-series of food production, they found 226 cases of food shock: dramatic interruption of supply.

Hunger increases

Agriculture and livestock emerged as slightly more vulnerable to shock than fisheries and aquaculture. South Asia suffered most from crop damage or loss; the Caribbean for livestock, and Eastern Europe for fisheries; some of these regions were hard hit in more than one sector.

“The frequency of shocks has increased across all sectors at a global scale,” the authors report. “Increasing shock frequency is a food security concern in itself. Conflict-related shocks across sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East since 2010, combined with adverse climate conditions, are responsible for the first uptick in global hunger in recent times.”

More than half of all shocks to food production were climate-related, and drought was the biggest factor. Extreme weather accounted for a quarter of shocks to livestock, and disease outbreaks another 10%, but the biggest single factor for pastoral farmers arose from geopolitical conflict and other crises.

Fisheries seemed better protected, and the worst shocks to fish landings could be traced to overfishing. Disruption to fish farming – a relatively new form of food production – has grown at a faster rate and to a higher level than in any other sector.

Climate scientists and agricultural researchers have been warning for years that food security is at hazard from global warming and climate change, both driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels and unthinking destruction of forests and natural grasslands and wetlands.

“While the number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the long-term trend shows they are happening more often”

Heat extremes can harm cereal yields almost anywhere, but Africa and South-east Asia are particularly at risk from changes in precipitation patterns.

The latest study is a reminder that, in some ways, the future has already arrived: the forewarned rise in climate extremes such as flood, heat and drought can be detected in the annual harvest tally around the globe.

And although a high percentage of the food supply damage can be linked to social conflict or political stress, climate change seems increasingly to be a factor in civil and international violence.

A new study for the UN security council – co-incidentally released on the same day – confirms the picture. Hunger and conflict are in a persistent and deadly partnership that threatens millions.

Mass famine

The number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the Nature Sustainability authors say. That is because factors such as social conflict and climate change can in synergy create a number of shocks across different sectors at different times. At least 22 of the 134 nations experienced shocks in many sectors over the same five-year time period.

In some cases, these shocks ended with more than just empty shelves. The collapse of the Soviet Union late in the last century removed some economic support from North Korea: subsequent floods precipitated a famine that killed 200,000 people.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, and the subsequent Gulf War, devastated agricultural land and cost Kuwait’s commercial fishermen their livelihoods. Drought in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 decimated cereal yields, pastoralists lost fodder for their cattle and animal disease incidence soared.

“While the number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the long-term trend shows they are happening more often,” said Richard Cottrell of the University of Tasmania, who led the study.

“Globalised trade and the dependence of many countries on food imports mean that food shocks are a global problem, and the international community faces a significant challenge to build resilience.” − Climate News Network

Heat extremes harm harvests. So do floods, drought and high winds. Climate change spurs food shocks that threaten the supper table.

LONDON, 1 February, 2019 − More than ever, the world’s ways of keeping hunger at bay are taking a pounding as food shocks become more frequent. Potatoes are being baked in heat waves. Corn is being parched by drought. Fruit is being bitten by frost.

And a long-term study suggests that for the world’s farmers and graziers, fishing crews and fish farmers, things will get worse as the world warms. Australian and US scientists report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they examined the incidence of what they call “food shocks” across 134 nations over a period of 53 years.

They found that some regions and some kinds of farming have suffered worse than others; that food production is vulnerable to volatile climate and weather changes; and that the dangers are increasing with time.

The researchers looked at cases of dramatic crop failure, harvest loss and fishing fleet failures between 1961 and 2013, as recorded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and other sources, and then mapped shock frequency and co-occurrence.

In their database of 741 available time-series of food production, they found 226 cases of food shock: dramatic interruption of supply.

Hunger increases

Agriculture and livestock emerged as slightly more vulnerable to shock than fisheries and aquaculture. South Asia suffered most from crop damage or loss; the Caribbean for livestock, and Eastern Europe for fisheries; some of these regions were hard hit in more than one sector.

“The frequency of shocks has increased across all sectors at a global scale,” the authors report. “Increasing shock frequency is a food security concern in itself. Conflict-related shocks across sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East since 2010, combined with adverse climate conditions, are responsible for the first uptick in global hunger in recent times.”

More than half of all shocks to food production were climate-related, and drought was the biggest factor. Extreme weather accounted for a quarter of shocks to livestock, and disease outbreaks another 10%, but the biggest single factor for pastoral farmers arose from geopolitical conflict and other crises.

Fisheries seemed better protected, and the worst shocks to fish landings could be traced to overfishing. Disruption to fish farming – a relatively new form of food production – has grown at a faster rate and to a higher level than in any other sector.

Climate scientists and agricultural researchers have been warning for years that food security is at hazard from global warming and climate change, both driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels and unthinking destruction of forests and natural grasslands and wetlands.

“While the number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the long-term trend shows they are happening more often”

Heat extremes can harm cereal yields almost anywhere, but Africa and South-east Asia are particularly at risk from changes in precipitation patterns.

The latest study is a reminder that, in some ways, the future has already arrived: the forewarned rise in climate extremes such as flood, heat and drought can be detected in the annual harvest tally around the globe.

And although a high percentage of the food supply damage can be linked to social conflict or political stress, climate change seems increasingly to be a factor in civil and international violence.

A new study for the UN security council – co-incidentally released on the same day – confirms the picture. Hunger and conflict are in a persistent and deadly partnership that threatens millions.

Mass famine

The number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the Nature Sustainability authors say. That is because factors such as social conflict and climate change can in synergy create a number of shocks across different sectors at different times. At least 22 of the 134 nations experienced shocks in many sectors over the same five-year time period.

In some cases, these shocks ended with more than just empty shelves. The collapse of the Soviet Union late in the last century removed some economic support from North Korea: subsequent floods precipitated a famine that killed 200,000 people.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, and the subsequent Gulf War, devastated agricultural land and cost Kuwait’s commercial fishermen their livelihoods. Drought in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 decimated cereal yields, pastoralists lost fodder for their cattle and animal disease incidence soared.

“While the number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the long-term trend shows they are happening more often,” said Richard Cottrell of the University of Tasmania, who led the study.

“Globalised trade and the dependence of many countries on food imports mean that food shocks are a global problem, and the international community faces a significant challenge to build resilience.” − Climate News Network