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.

Unique climate change has no natural cause

The planet is warming faster than ever, worldwide. Scientists know this unique climate change is not caused by nature. But they checked again, to be certain.

LONDON, 19 August, 2019 – European and US scientists have cleared up a point that has been nagging away at climate science for decades: not only is the planet warming faster than at any time in the last 2,000 years, but this unique climate change really does have neither a historic precedent nor a natural cause.

Other historic changes – the so-called Medieval Warm Period and then the “Little Ice Age” that marked the 17th to the 19th centuries – were not global. The only period in which the world’s climate has changed, everywhere and at the same time, is right now.

And other shifts in the past, marked by advancing Alpine glaciers and sustained droughts in Africa, could be pinned down to a flurry of violent volcanic activity.

The present sustained, ubiquitous warming is unique in that it can be coupled directly with the Industrial Revolution, the clearing of the forests, population growth and profligate use of fossil fuels.

The finding is part of a sustained examination of global climate history, based not just on written and pictorial records but also studies of ancient lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings and other proxy evidence assembled by an international partnership called the Past Global Changes Consortium. It is reported in the journal Nature.

“This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle”

Research like this is a tidying-up operation. Climate scientists, conservationists, glaciologists, marine biologists, geologists and economists all know that climate change is happening, and that it is happening as a consequence of accelerated human activity over the last two centuries.

But from the start, there have always been gnawing questions: hasn’t the climate always changed? If global temperatures rose between 700 AD and 1400 AD, and then fell again, is what is happening now not part of some similar long-term cycle? And until now, that has remained without a confident, categorical answer.

So the latest study surprises nobody. But it matters, because the Nature study clarifies a point of possible confusion. There have been changes in modern human history, but none of them global and synchronous (happening at the same time). They were random fluctuations within the climate system, and even changes in solar activity or volcanic surges could not affect all of the planet at any one time.

“It’s true that during the Little Ice Age it was generally colder across the whole world,” says Raphel Neukom of the University of Bern in Switzerland, and first author, “but not everywhere at the same time. The peak periods of pre-industrial warm and cold periods occurred at different times in different places.”

And his Bern colleague Stefan Brönnimann clears up another point in a related study in the pages of Nature Geoscience.

Volcanic influence

The Little Ice Age began in Europe with no obvious trigger, but it was certainly reinforced and extended by more violent than usual volcanic activity in the tropics between 1808 and 1835. Mt Tambora in what is now Indonesia put so much ash into the stratosphere to screen sunlight and drop temperatures that 1816 became known as the Year without a Summer.

But there were also four other eruptions. Between 1820 and 1850, Alpine glaciers – now in alarming retreat – actually advanced. African and Indian monsoon systems weakened, and rain that should have fallen on hot soils dropped as more snow over Europe.

“Given the large climatic changes seen in the early 19th century, it is difficult to define a pre-industrial climate, a notion to which all our climate targets refer,” said Professor Brönnimann. “Frequent volcanic eruptions caused an actual gear shift in the global climate system.”

Commenting on the Nature finding, Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London, said: “Over the last 2000 years the only time the global climate has changed synchronically has been in the last 150 years when over 98% of the surface of the planet has warmed. This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle.

“This paper shows the truly stark difference between regional and localised changes in climates of the past and the truly global effect of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions.” – Climate News Network

The planet is warming faster than ever, worldwide. Scientists know this unique climate change is not caused by nature. But they checked again, to be certain.

LONDON, 19 August, 2019 – European and US scientists have cleared up a point that has been nagging away at climate science for decades: not only is the planet warming faster than at any time in the last 2,000 years, but this unique climate change really does have neither a historic precedent nor a natural cause.

Other historic changes – the so-called Medieval Warm Period and then the “Little Ice Age” that marked the 17th to the 19th centuries – were not global. The only period in which the world’s climate has changed, everywhere and at the same time, is right now.

And other shifts in the past, marked by advancing Alpine glaciers and sustained droughts in Africa, could be pinned down to a flurry of violent volcanic activity.

The present sustained, ubiquitous warming is unique in that it can be coupled directly with the Industrial Revolution, the clearing of the forests, population growth and profligate use of fossil fuels.

The finding is part of a sustained examination of global climate history, based not just on written and pictorial records but also studies of ancient lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings and other proxy evidence assembled by an international partnership called the Past Global Changes Consortium. It is reported in the journal Nature.

“This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle”

Research like this is a tidying-up operation. Climate scientists, conservationists, glaciologists, marine biologists, geologists and economists all know that climate change is happening, and that it is happening as a consequence of accelerated human activity over the last two centuries.

But from the start, there have always been gnawing questions: hasn’t the climate always changed? If global temperatures rose between 700 AD and 1400 AD, and then fell again, is what is happening now not part of some similar long-term cycle? And until now, that has remained without a confident, categorical answer.

So the latest study surprises nobody. But it matters, because the Nature study clarifies a point of possible confusion. There have been changes in modern human history, but none of them global and synchronous (happening at the same time). They were random fluctuations within the climate system, and even changes in solar activity or volcanic surges could not affect all of the planet at any one time.

“It’s true that during the Little Ice Age it was generally colder across the whole world,” says Raphel Neukom of the University of Bern in Switzerland, and first author, “but not everywhere at the same time. The peak periods of pre-industrial warm and cold periods occurred at different times in different places.”

And his Bern colleague Stefan Brönnimann clears up another point in a related study in the pages of Nature Geoscience.

Volcanic influence

The Little Ice Age began in Europe with no obvious trigger, but it was certainly reinforced and extended by more violent than usual volcanic activity in the tropics between 1808 and 1835. Mt Tambora in what is now Indonesia put so much ash into the stratosphere to screen sunlight and drop temperatures that 1816 became known as the Year without a Summer.

But there were also four other eruptions. Between 1820 and 1850, Alpine glaciers – now in alarming retreat – actually advanced. African and Indian monsoon systems weakened, and rain that should have fallen on hot soils dropped as more snow over Europe.

“Given the large climatic changes seen in the early 19th century, it is difficult to define a pre-industrial climate, a notion to which all our climate targets refer,” said Professor Brönnimann. “Frequent volcanic eruptions caused an actual gear shift in the global climate system.”

Commenting on the Nature finding, Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London, said: “Over the last 2000 years the only time the global climate has changed synchronically has been in the last 150 years when over 98% of the surface of the planet has warmed. This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle.

“This paper shows the truly stark difference between regional and localised changes in climates of the past and the truly global effect of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions.” – Climate News Network

Hot future prompts new ideas for cool cities

Higher temperatures must mean more energy just to cool cities – which means even more heat. But ingenuity is already proposing answers.

LONDON, 15 August, 2019 − The world could need a quarter more energy by 2050, to cool cities and survive the global heating expected by then. And that assumes that nations will have taken steps to control greenhouse gas emissions and that the rise in temperature will be moderate.

If, on the other hand, the world goes on burning fossil fuels under the notorious “business as usual” scenario, then according to new research the people of the planet could demand up to 58% more energy, just to drive the extra air conditioning and refrigeration in ever more frequent and ever more intense extremes of heat.

The latest study, by researchers based in Boston, Massachusetts and Venice in Italy, helps to settle one of the more intricate questions that accompany climate projections and energy demand: yes, there will be more people and bigger cities which demand more power anyway, and yes, warm zones will get hotter and demand more expense on keeping cool. But chilly and temperate nations will enjoy milder winters and spend less on staying warm. Which wins?

The new paper, in the journal Nature Communications, either settles the matter or provides fellow scientists with a methodology and a set of results to examine more closely.

Risky faster heating

A warmer world will also be vastly more energy-expensive. And if nations invest in coal, oil or natural gas to provide the extra electricity to provide the air-conditioning, drive the electric fans and refrigerate food and medical supplies, then global heating would accelerate to ever more dangerous levels.

“At this point, we don’t know. To cool my house, I could buy a bigger air-conditioner. Or if higher demand makes electricity more expensive, I could choose to open my window or run a fan,” said Ian Sue Wing, an earth and environment scientist at Boston University, who led the study.

“We could use coal or we could use renewable sources, and those two choices mean very different things for our future. With coal, it will mean more greenhouse gas emissions. That’s what keeps me up at night.”

By 2050, there could be between 8.4bn and 10bn people on the planet. Gross domestic product per person (an economist’s measure of income and spending) could have all but doubled or even in some places more than trebled. Tropical and mid-latitude zones could, if warming is only moderate, experience as many as an extra 50 uncomfortably hot days each year. If the warming is vigorous, the number could soar to 75.

“We could use coal or we could use renewable sources. With coal, it will mean more greenhouse gas emissions. That’s what keeps me up at night”

Researchers have warned, consistently and repeatedly, that even a modest rise in average planetary temperatures will take the form of longer and more intense heat waves. By 2100 three out of four people on the planet could be exposed to heat extremes, and those most at hazard will be living in the tropical and subtropical megacities.

Extremes of heat can kill – one group has already identified 27 ways in which to die of rising temperatures – and scientists began warning years ago that ever more needed investment in air-conditioning equipment would only make energy demand, and perhaps greenhouse gas emissions, worse, while also contributing to ever greater outdoor temperatures.

So researchers have been looking at other approaches. The puzzle has already tested the levels of ingenuity and fresh thinking in the world’s energy laboratories. Researchers have cheerfully proposed reflector roofs that could send 97% of the sunlight back into space.

They have explored nature’s answer to the unforgiving sun: more trees in cities could take temperatures down by as much as 5°C and even make cities wealthier and healthier. And already this month, scientists and engineers have suggested two new ways to address the challenge of the overheating cities.

One US team at the University of Buffalo, working with the King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia, has devised an inexpensive polymer-aluminium film that keeps itself cool, packed in a specially designed solar shelter. The film absorbs heat from the air and converts it to thermal radiation that can be beamed back into space.

Deep cuts possible

The researchers report, in the journal Nature Sustainability, that in the laboratory temperatures could be lowered by up to 11°C. On a clear, sunny day in New York state, they achieved outdoor all-day temperature reductions of 2°C to 9°C.

This exercise in entirely passive cooling – no electricity, just rooftop boxes – is in its infancy. But there are other approaches to the “heat island effect” that already makes modern cities uncomfortable.

Researchers at the University of Rutgers in the US simply looked at the ground beneath their feet. Pavement and road surfaces made of concrete or asphalt cover 30% of most cities and in high summer these surfaces can reach 60°C.

So, the Rutgers engineers report in the Journal of Cleaner Production,  roads could be made of permeable concrete, through which water could drain. It might give off more heat on sunny days, but after rainfall the water could run through, and evaporate through the pores, to reduce pavement heat by up to 30%.

And in addition, their concrete treated with fly ash and steel slag would make a huge difference to stormwater management and reduce the risk of urban flash floods. − Climate News Network

Higher temperatures must mean more energy just to cool cities – which means even more heat. But ingenuity is already proposing answers.

LONDON, 15 August, 2019 − The world could need a quarter more energy by 2050, to cool cities and survive the global heating expected by then. And that assumes that nations will have taken steps to control greenhouse gas emissions and that the rise in temperature will be moderate.

If, on the other hand, the world goes on burning fossil fuels under the notorious “business as usual” scenario, then according to new research the people of the planet could demand up to 58% more energy, just to drive the extra air conditioning and refrigeration in ever more frequent and ever more intense extremes of heat.

The latest study, by researchers based in Boston, Massachusetts and Venice in Italy, helps to settle one of the more intricate questions that accompany climate projections and energy demand: yes, there will be more people and bigger cities which demand more power anyway, and yes, warm zones will get hotter and demand more expense on keeping cool. But chilly and temperate nations will enjoy milder winters and spend less on staying warm. Which wins?

The new paper, in the journal Nature Communications, either settles the matter or provides fellow scientists with a methodology and a set of results to examine more closely.

Risky faster heating

A warmer world will also be vastly more energy-expensive. And if nations invest in coal, oil or natural gas to provide the extra electricity to provide the air-conditioning, drive the electric fans and refrigerate food and medical supplies, then global heating would accelerate to ever more dangerous levels.

“At this point, we don’t know. To cool my house, I could buy a bigger air-conditioner. Or if higher demand makes electricity more expensive, I could choose to open my window or run a fan,” said Ian Sue Wing, an earth and environment scientist at Boston University, who led the study.

“We could use coal or we could use renewable sources, and those two choices mean very different things for our future. With coal, it will mean more greenhouse gas emissions. That’s what keeps me up at night.”

By 2050, there could be between 8.4bn and 10bn people on the planet. Gross domestic product per person (an economist’s measure of income and spending) could have all but doubled or even in some places more than trebled. Tropical and mid-latitude zones could, if warming is only moderate, experience as many as an extra 50 uncomfortably hot days each year. If the warming is vigorous, the number could soar to 75.

“We could use coal or we could use renewable sources. With coal, it will mean more greenhouse gas emissions. That’s what keeps me up at night”

Researchers have warned, consistently and repeatedly, that even a modest rise in average planetary temperatures will take the form of longer and more intense heat waves. By 2100 three out of four people on the planet could be exposed to heat extremes, and those most at hazard will be living in the tropical and subtropical megacities.

Extremes of heat can kill – one group has already identified 27 ways in which to die of rising temperatures – and scientists began warning years ago that ever more needed investment in air-conditioning equipment would only make energy demand, and perhaps greenhouse gas emissions, worse, while also contributing to ever greater outdoor temperatures.

So researchers have been looking at other approaches. The puzzle has already tested the levels of ingenuity and fresh thinking in the world’s energy laboratories. Researchers have cheerfully proposed reflector roofs that could send 97% of the sunlight back into space.

They have explored nature’s answer to the unforgiving sun: more trees in cities could take temperatures down by as much as 5°C and even make cities wealthier and healthier. And already this month, scientists and engineers have suggested two new ways to address the challenge of the overheating cities.

One US team at the University of Buffalo, working with the King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia, has devised an inexpensive polymer-aluminium film that keeps itself cool, packed in a specially designed solar shelter. The film absorbs heat from the air and converts it to thermal radiation that can be beamed back into space.

Deep cuts possible

The researchers report, in the journal Nature Sustainability, that in the laboratory temperatures could be lowered by up to 11°C. On a clear, sunny day in New York state, they achieved outdoor all-day temperature reductions of 2°C to 9°C.

This exercise in entirely passive cooling – no electricity, just rooftop boxes – is in its infancy. But there are other approaches to the “heat island effect” that already makes modern cities uncomfortable.

Researchers at the University of Rutgers in the US simply looked at the ground beneath their feet. Pavement and road surfaces made of concrete or asphalt cover 30% of most cities and in high summer these surfaces can reach 60°C.

So, the Rutgers engineers report in the Journal of Cleaner Production,  roads could be made of permeable concrete, through which water could drain. It might give off more heat on sunny days, but after rainfall the water could run through, and evaporate through the pores, to reduce pavement heat by up to 30%.

And in addition, their concrete treated with fly ash and steel slag would make a huge difference to stormwater management and reduce the risk of urban flash floods. − Climate News Network

Ocean heat waves damage reefs and kill coral

Heat extremes on land can kill. Ocean heat waves can devastate coral reefs and other ecosystems – and these too are on the increase.

LONDON, 12 August, 2019 − Heat extremes on the high seas are on the increase, with ocean heat waves disturbing ecosystems in two hemispheres and two great oceans, US scientists report.

And these same sudden rises in sea temperatures don’t just damage coral reefs, they kill the corals and start the process of reef decay, according to a separate study by Australian researchers.

Andrew Pershing of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they examined data from 65 marine ecosystems over the years 1854 to 2018 to work out how frequently ocean temperatures suddenly rose to unexpected levels.

They found such deviations from the average in the Arctic, North Atlantic, eastern Pacific and off the Australian coasts. They expected to find evidence of occasional hot flushes. But they did not expect to find quite so many.

“Severe marine heatwave events can have a far more severe impact than coral bleaching – the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains”

“Across the 65 ecosystems we examined, we expected about six or seven of them would experience these ‘surprises’ each year,” Dr Pershing said. “Instead, we’ve seen an average of 12 ecosystems experiencing these warming events each year over the past seven years, including a high of 23 ‘surprises’ in 2016.”

Intense and sudden changes in sea temperatures affect crustaceans, algae, corals, molluscs and many millions of humans who depend on the oceans for income. And a new study by researchers from Australian universities reports that even a rise of 0.5°C is reflected in deaths during an outbreak of coral bleaching.

Corals live in symbiosis with algae: ocean warming periodically disturbs this normally beneficial relationship. The coral animals evert (turn out) the algae and once-lurid reefs will bleach, and become more vulnerable to disease.

Corals support the world’s richest ocean ecosystems so such changes are a challenge, both to the survival of biodiversity and to local incomes from the tourism linked to the beauty of the reefs.

Very warm water

“What we are seeing is that severe marine heatwave events can have a far more severe impact than coral bleaching: the water temperatures are so warm that that the coral animal doesn’t bleach – in terms of a loss of its symbiosis – the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains,” said Tracy Ainsworth of the University of New South Wales.

The researchers report in the journal Current Biology that they used computer tomography scanning techniques to explore the marine destruction. In 2016, more than 30% of the northern part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef experienced temperatures higher than those in which corals can survive.

“We find that the skeleton is immediately overgrown by rapid growth of algae and bacteria,” said Bill Leggat of the University of Newcastle, a co-author.

“We show that this process is devastating not just for the animal tissue but also for the skeleton that is left behind, which is rapidly eroded and weakened.” − Climate News Network

Heat extremes on land can kill. Ocean heat waves can devastate coral reefs and other ecosystems – and these too are on the increase.

LONDON, 12 August, 2019 − Heat extremes on the high seas are on the increase, with ocean heat waves disturbing ecosystems in two hemispheres and two great oceans, US scientists report.

And these same sudden rises in sea temperatures don’t just damage coral reefs, they kill the corals and start the process of reef decay, according to a separate study by Australian researchers.

Andrew Pershing of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they examined data from 65 marine ecosystems over the years 1854 to 2018 to work out how frequently ocean temperatures suddenly rose to unexpected levels.

They found such deviations from the average in the Arctic, North Atlantic, eastern Pacific and off the Australian coasts. They expected to find evidence of occasional hot flushes. But they did not expect to find quite so many.

“Severe marine heatwave events can have a far more severe impact than coral bleaching – the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains”

“Across the 65 ecosystems we examined, we expected about six or seven of them would experience these ‘surprises’ each year,” Dr Pershing said. “Instead, we’ve seen an average of 12 ecosystems experiencing these warming events each year over the past seven years, including a high of 23 ‘surprises’ in 2016.”

Intense and sudden changes in sea temperatures affect crustaceans, algae, corals, molluscs and many millions of humans who depend on the oceans for income. And a new study by researchers from Australian universities reports that even a rise of 0.5°C is reflected in deaths during an outbreak of coral bleaching.

Corals live in symbiosis with algae: ocean warming periodically disturbs this normally beneficial relationship. The coral animals evert (turn out) the algae and once-lurid reefs will bleach, and become more vulnerable to disease.

Corals support the world’s richest ocean ecosystems so such changes are a challenge, both to the survival of biodiversity and to local incomes from the tourism linked to the beauty of the reefs.

Very warm water

“What we are seeing is that severe marine heatwave events can have a far more severe impact than coral bleaching: the water temperatures are so warm that that the coral animal doesn’t bleach – in terms of a loss of its symbiosis – the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains,” said Tracy Ainsworth of the University of New South Wales.

The researchers report in the journal Current Biology that they used computer tomography scanning techniques to explore the marine destruction. In 2016, more than 30% of the northern part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef experienced temperatures higher than those in which corals can survive.

“We find that the skeleton is immediately overgrown by rapid growth of algae and bacteria,” said Bill Leggat of the University of Newcastle, a co-author.

“We show that this process is devastating not just for the animal tissue but also for the skeleton that is left behind, which is rapidly eroded and weakened.” − Climate News Network

European Union helped to cool 2003 heatwave

Small local changes make a big difference as the temperature soars. And the European Union’s existence once cooled a vicious heatwave.

LONDON, 9 August, 2019 − Of all the political plaudits or economic brickbats hurled at the European Union, this might be the least expected: simply because it existed, it somehow ameliorated or damped down the worst of the 2003 heatwave.

This moment of extreme summer heat is believed to have caused an estimated 40,000 excess deaths and cost the European economy more than €13 billion in economic losses and infrastructure damage.

And yet it could have been worse. Had what is now a 28-nation political and economic behemoth not been formed in 1993, the way the member nations used their land would not have changed, and the heatwave might have been more intense, more severe and more destructive still.

The formation of the EU with its single market and customs union wasn’t the only political shift. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also played a role in determining how farmers, graziers, foresters, conservationists and ministerial managers used the terrain of the European continent.

And – without thinking much about future climate shifts – farmers and foresters collectively began a series of changes that meant that what had once been farmland was abandoned, in Portugal and Spain, in eastern Europe and in Italy, as intensive production shifted to other economic zones.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe”

As more than 8% of what had been ploughed land reverted to grassland and scrub, the shallow groundwater in the abandoned soil began to act in unexpected ways. There was more evapotranspiration, which meant more cloud, which meant more reflectivity, which meant that lower levels of radiation actually scorched the landscape.

And, in turn, temperatures, as torrid as they were in the unprecedented heat that August, were damped down.

Samuel Zipper, then of the University of Victoria in Canada, now at the University of Kansas, and colleagues from Belgium and Germany report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they used what they call “bedrock to atmosphere” computer models to simulate the way water and energy cycles shifted over western Europe between 1990 and 2010. They then made an estimate of what might have happened had there been no changes in the way the land was used.

“What we think is happening is that the agricultural abandonment led to an increase in the amount of water that plants transpired into the atmosphere, which caused increased cloud formation,” Dr Zipper said.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe.”

France spared

They found in addition that the changes in land use overall had some effect on local climate even in those places where land had not been abandoned.

They found that even France – the nation most harshly hit by the extremes of heat that summer – experienced less heat than it would have without shifts in land use further south and east.

And they confirmed that soil moisture, especially in the first metre or so of ground, played a powerful role in moderating atmospheric temperatures that in that region in that year, and in other places exposed to heat extremes since, put the very young, the elderly, the already ill and the poorly housed at ever greater risk of death in dangerous temperatures.

The scientists completed their research long before the unprecedented temperatures recorded in Western Europe this 2019 summer. Such what-if studies based on alternative histories arrive with inherent uncertainties. There is no way to conduct any convincing real life experiment that replicates the same heat wave under different landscape changes.

But the research confirms what climate scientists have been arguing for decades, and that is that the way land is used inevitably contributes to local shifts in temperature, and therefore to overall annual average warming, and inevitably to long-term, lethal and potentially catastrophic extremes. − Climate News Network

Small local changes make a big difference as the temperature soars. And the European Union’s existence once cooled a vicious heatwave.

LONDON, 9 August, 2019 − Of all the political plaudits or economic brickbats hurled at the European Union, this might be the least expected: simply because it existed, it somehow ameliorated or damped down the worst of the 2003 heatwave.

This moment of extreme summer heat is believed to have caused an estimated 40,000 excess deaths and cost the European economy more than €13 billion in economic losses and infrastructure damage.

And yet it could have been worse. Had what is now a 28-nation political and economic behemoth not been formed in 1993, the way the member nations used their land would not have changed, and the heatwave might have been more intense, more severe and more destructive still.

The formation of the EU with its single market and customs union wasn’t the only political shift. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also played a role in determining how farmers, graziers, foresters, conservationists and ministerial managers used the terrain of the European continent.

And – without thinking much about future climate shifts – farmers and foresters collectively began a series of changes that meant that what had once been farmland was abandoned, in Portugal and Spain, in eastern Europe and in Italy, as intensive production shifted to other economic zones.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe”

As more than 8% of what had been ploughed land reverted to grassland and scrub, the shallow groundwater in the abandoned soil began to act in unexpected ways. There was more evapotranspiration, which meant more cloud, which meant more reflectivity, which meant that lower levels of radiation actually scorched the landscape.

And, in turn, temperatures, as torrid as they were in the unprecedented heat that August, were damped down.

Samuel Zipper, then of the University of Victoria in Canada, now at the University of Kansas, and colleagues from Belgium and Germany report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they used what they call “bedrock to atmosphere” computer models to simulate the way water and energy cycles shifted over western Europe between 1990 and 2010. They then made an estimate of what might have happened had there been no changes in the way the land was used.

“What we think is happening is that the agricultural abandonment led to an increase in the amount of water that plants transpired into the atmosphere, which caused increased cloud formation,” Dr Zipper said.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe.”

France spared

They found in addition that the changes in land use overall had some effect on local climate even in those places where land had not been abandoned.

They found that even France – the nation most harshly hit by the extremes of heat that summer – experienced less heat than it would have without shifts in land use further south and east.

And they confirmed that soil moisture, especially in the first metre or so of ground, played a powerful role in moderating atmospheric temperatures that in that region in that year, and in other places exposed to heat extremes since, put the very young, the elderly, the already ill and the poorly housed at ever greater risk of death in dangerous temperatures.

The scientists completed their research long before the unprecedented temperatures recorded in Western Europe this 2019 summer. Such what-if studies based on alternative histories arrive with inherent uncertainties. There is no way to conduct any convincing real life experiment that replicates the same heat wave under different landscape changes.

But the research confirms what climate scientists have been arguing for decades, and that is that the way land is used inevitably contributes to local shifts in temperature, and therefore to overall annual average warming, and inevitably to long-term, lethal and potentially catastrophic extremes. − Climate News Network

Airship’s return can boost hydrogen economy

For a sustainable world, aim high and try some abandoned technology: the airship. It could be the latest, coolest way to deliver the hydrogen economy.

LONDON, 7 August, 2019 − The airship could be on the way back. Tomorrow’s fuel could be delivered at all-but zero carbon cost by the ultimate in high-technology supertankers: vast dirigibles, sailing round the world at stratospheric heights on the jet stream.

Enormous balloons or airships more than two kilometres in length, laden with hydrogen and an additional burden of cargo could, according to new calculations, circumnavigate the northern hemisphere in 16 days. They could, on route, deliver their heavy goods, and at the same time transfer 60% or even 80% of their hydrogen in gas form.

And then, the holds empty, the same airship could float back home in the same direction on the jet stream with the remaining hydrogen to provide the necessary lift, for another trip.

Transport accounts for almost a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by humankind: marine cargo delivery accounts for at least 3% and is projected to grow.

“Cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately promote sustainable development on a global scale”

But as city authorities and inventive motor engineers and laboratory ingenuity around the world have already demonstrated, hydrogen can serve as a combustion fuel. And as solar and windpower investors have already found, surplus renewable energy can be stored as hydrogen, if the unwanted power is used to apply electrolysis to water. And that could be a cue for the return of the airship.

Dirigible development more or less ceased in 1937, when the Hindenburg caught fire and crashed in New Jersey: hydrogen is highly flammable. But a new study of the possibilities of lighter-than-air machines in the journal Energy Conversion and Management: X suggests that safety is now less of a problem.

With advances in computing and communications in the last eight decades, and vastly more accurate weather observation systems, such ships could be fuelled, flown, guided, landed and emptied entirely by robotic control. In effect, the hydrogen would provide the lift, the permanent stratospheric winds would provide the propulsion; in emergency the cargo would also provide the additional fuel.

Julian Hunt of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and colleagues did the sums.

Big is beautiful

The Hindenburg class airship was 245 metres in length. Tomorrow’s hydrogen bulk carriers could be ten times that. Big here is beautiful: a tenfold increase in length would yield a thousandfold increase in volume at the cost of only a hundredfold of the fabric in which the hydrogen is enclosed.

One of those 2.4km giants could be loaded with 3,280 tonnes of hydrogen, lift it to 15km, and glide with the jet stream on a one-way route around the hemisphere. Assuming such a behemoth could make 25 deliveries a year, a fleet of 1,125 lighter-than-air supertankers could deliver enough energy stored in the form of hydrogen to account for a tenth of the global electricity consumption.

The combination of vast bulk carrier (the same cargo could also be transported in a monster balloon, the scientists argue) and a free ride at high altitude carries additional possibilities, they say. Hydrogen to be liquefied must reach a temperature of minus 253°C. Temperatures in the stratosphere can get as low as minus 70°C: altitude makes the process more economical because the fuel would already be at minus 60°C when it landed.

Hydrogen can also be used as fuel for landing and lift-off and course changes, but a big enough airship could also carry solar arrays to exploit the available sunlight. Hydrogen when burned to produce power also delivers nine times its weight as water: sprays of water at high altitude could be used to trigger the complex process that ends in rainfall over drought-stricken farmlands.

Slow but sure

But the researchers see the real bonus simply as a delivery system for hydrogen without the need to liquefy it (a process that consumes about 30% of the available energy of the hydrogen). Delivery might be slow compared to air freight, and always be in the direction west-to-east, but it would outpace most marine shipping – and a dirigible could load at, and deliver directly to, regions far from the coast: from Denver in the US to Islamabad in Pakistan, the researchers instance.

There are problems to overcome: wind and storm stresses could create real problems for structures of such size. Descent and landing could be problematic. But lighter-than-air travel comes with its own economies. Dirigibles are already being revived for a number of commercial uses.

And that’s not all a really vast airship could offer: a dirigible could deliver supplies to space, to be fired into the emptiness by pressure gun. Or a doughnut-shaped airship in the stratosphere could support a spaceship at its centre of gravity, to become the launch pad for its final lift-off.

Above all, the authors say, “cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately support the widespread adoption of intermittent renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind, and promote sustainable development on a global scale.” − Climate News Network

For a sustainable world, aim high and try some abandoned technology: the airship. It could be the latest, coolest way to deliver the hydrogen economy.

LONDON, 7 August, 2019 − The airship could be on the way back. Tomorrow’s fuel could be delivered at all-but zero carbon cost by the ultimate in high-technology supertankers: vast dirigibles, sailing round the world at stratospheric heights on the jet stream.

Enormous balloons or airships more than two kilometres in length, laden with hydrogen and an additional burden of cargo could, according to new calculations, circumnavigate the northern hemisphere in 16 days. They could, on route, deliver their heavy goods, and at the same time transfer 60% or even 80% of their hydrogen in gas form.

And then, the holds empty, the same airship could float back home in the same direction on the jet stream with the remaining hydrogen to provide the necessary lift, for another trip.

Transport accounts for almost a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by humankind: marine cargo delivery accounts for at least 3% and is projected to grow.

“Cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately promote sustainable development on a global scale”

But as city authorities and inventive motor engineers and laboratory ingenuity around the world have already demonstrated, hydrogen can serve as a combustion fuel. And as solar and windpower investors have already found, surplus renewable energy can be stored as hydrogen, if the unwanted power is used to apply electrolysis to water. And that could be a cue for the return of the airship.

Dirigible development more or less ceased in 1937, when the Hindenburg caught fire and crashed in New Jersey: hydrogen is highly flammable. But a new study of the possibilities of lighter-than-air machines in the journal Energy Conversion and Management: X suggests that safety is now less of a problem.

With advances in computing and communications in the last eight decades, and vastly more accurate weather observation systems, such ships could be fuelled, flown, guided, landed and emptied entirely by robotic control. In effect, the hydrogen would provide the lift, the permanent stratospheric winds would provide the propulsion; in emergency the cargo would also provide the additional fuel.

Julian Hunt of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and colleagues did the sums.

Big is beautiful

The Hindenburg class airship was 245 metres in length. Tomorrow’s hydrogen bulk carriers could be ten times that. Big here is beautiful: a tenfold increase in length would yield a thousandfold increase in volume at the cost of only a hundredfold of the fabric in which the hydrogen is enclosed.

One of those 2.4km giants could be loaded with 3,280 tonnes of hydrogen, lift it to 15km, and glide with the jet stream on a one-way route around the hemisphere. Assuming such a behemoth could make 25 deliveries a year, a fleet of 1,125 lighter-than-air supertankers could deliver enough energy stored in the form of hydrogen to account for a tenth of the global electricity consumption.

The combination of vast bulk carrier (the same cargo could also be transported in a monster balloon, the scientists argue) and a free ride at high altitude carries additional possibilities, they say. Hydrogen to be liquefied must reach a temperature of minus 253°C. Temperatures in the stratosphere can get as low as minus 70°C: altitude makes the process more economical because the fuel would already be at minus 60°C when it landed.

Hydrogen can also be used as fuel for landing and lift-off and course changes, but a big enough airship could also carry solar arrays to exploit the available sunlight. Hydrogen when burned to produce power also delivers nine times its weight as water: sprays of water at high altitude could be used to trigger the complex process that ends in rainfall over drought-stricken farmlands.

Slow but sure

But the researchers see the real bonus simply as a delivery system for hydrogen without the need to liquefy it (a process that consumes about 30% of the available energy of the hydrogen). Delivery might be slow compared to air freight, and always be in the direction west-to-east, but it would outpace most marine shipping – and a dirigible could load at, and deliver directly to, regions far from the coast: from Denver in the US to Islamabad in Pakistan, the researchers instance.

There are problems to overcome: wind and storm stresses could create real problems for structures of such size. Descent and landing could be problematic. But lighter-than-air travel comes with its own economies. Dirigibles are already being revived for a number of commercial uses.

And that’s not all a really vast airship could offer: a dirigible could deliver supplies to space, to be fired into the emptiness by pressure gun. Or a doughnut-shaped airship in the stratosphere could support a spaceship at its centre of gravity, to become the launch pad for its final lift-off.

Above all, the authors say, “cheap and clean transportation of hydrogen would be convenient for the implementation of a global hydrogen economy. This would ultimately support the widespread adoption of intermittent renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind, and promote sustainable development on a global scale.” − Climate News Network

Animals adapt to climate heat, but too slowly

Can animals adapt to climate change? And if so, can species adapt fast enough to ensure survival? Reports so far are not promising.

LONDON, 5 August, 2019 − German scientists have an answer to the great question of species survival: can animals adapt to climate change? The answer, based on close analysis of 10,000 studies, is a simple one. They may be able to adapt, but not fast enough.

The question is a serious one. Earth is home to many millions of species that have evolved – and adapted or gone extinct – with successive dramatic shifts in climate over the last 500 million years.

The rapid heating of the planet in a climate emergency driven by profligate fossil fuel use threatens a measurable shift in climate conditions and is in any case coincident with what looks like the beginning of a mass extinction that could match any recorded in the rocks of the Permian, or other extinctions linked with global climate change.

The difference is that climate is now changing at a rate far faster than any previous episode. So can those animals that cannot migrate to cooler climates adjust to changing conditions?

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence”

A team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and more than 60 colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Communications that they examined whether creatures could change either their physiology, size or behaviour to accommodate a rise in temperature accompanied by a change in the timing of the seasons. Biologists call this kind of response “phenotypic change.”

Questions like these are not easily answered. To be sure, the biologists needed reliable local records of temperatures across a number of locations. Then they needed sure information about the timing of migration, reproduction, hibernation and other big events in the lives of their subjects over a number of years.

And then they needed to find case studies where data had been collected over many generations in one population of creatures in one space.

And having found changes in the traits of their selected creatures, the biologists had to work out whether such changes led to higher levels of survival, or more offspring. They found reliable information about 17 species in 13 countries.

Pessimism alert

In the end, most of their data came from studies of birds, among them common and abundant species such as the great tit Parus major, the common magpie Pica pica or the European pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca.

The message is that even if bird populations can change with their environmental conditions, they may not be able to do so at the speed necessary to time migrations to coincide with ever-earlier spring flowering, or nesting to match the explosion of insect populations that provide food for nestlings.

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence,” said Alexandre Courtiol of the Leibniz Institute. And the data available apply to species that are known to cope relatively well with changing conditions.

“Adaptive responses among rare or endangered species remain to be analysed,” said his colleague and co-author Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, a Liebniz ecologist. “We fear that the forecasts of population persistence for such species of conservation concern will be even more pessimistic.” − Climate News Network

Can animals adapt to climate change? And if so, can species adapt fast enough to ensure survival? Reports so far are not promising.

LONDON, 5 August, 2019 − German scientists have an answer to the great question of species survival: can animals adapt to climate change? The answer, based on close analysis of 10,000 studies, is a simple one. They may be able to adapt, but not fast enough.

The question is a serious one. Earth is home to many millions of species that have evolved – and adapted or gone extinct – with successive dramatic shifts in climate over the last 500 million years.

The rapid heating of the planet in a climate emergency driven by profligate fossil fuel use threatens a measurable shift in climate conditions and is in any case coincident with what looks like the beginning of a mass extinction that could match any recorded in the rocks of the Permian, or other extinctions linked with global climate change.

The difference is that climate is now changing at a rate far faster than any previous episode. So can those animals that cannot migrate to cooler climates adjust to changing conditions?

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence”

A team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and more than 60 colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Communications that they examined whether creatures could change either their physiology, size or behaviour to accommodate a rise in temperature accompanied by a change in the timing of the seasons. Biologists call this kind of response “phenotypic change.”

Questions like these are not easily answered. To be sure, the biologists needed reliable local records of temperatures across a number of locations. Then they needed sure information about the timing of migration, reproduction, hibernation and other big events in the lives of their subjects over a number of years.

And then they needed to find case studies where data had been collected over many generations in one population of creatures in one space.

And having found changes in the traits of their selected creatures, the biologists had to work out whether such changes led to higher levels of survival, or more offspring. They found reliable information about 17 species in 13 countries.

Pessimism alert

In the end, most of their data came from studies of birds, among them common and abundant species such as the great tit Parus major, the common magpie Pica pica or the European pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca.

The message is that even if bird populations can change with their environmental conditions, they may not be able to do so at the speed necessary to time migrations to coincide with ever-earlier spring flowering, or nesting to match the explosion of insect populations that provide food for nestlings.

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence,” said Alexandre Courtiol of the Leibniz Institute. And the data available apply to species that are known to cope relatively well with changing conditions.

“Adaptive responses among rare or endangered species remain to be analysed,” said his colleague and co-author Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, a Liebniz ecologist. “We fear that the forecasts of population persistence for such species of conservation concern will be even more pessimistic.” − Climate News Network

Artificial snow could save world’s coasts

In theory, artificial snow could save the ice caps and limit sea level rise. But rescuing civilisation this way would sacrifice Antarctica.

LONDON, 2 August, 2019 − German scientists have proposed a startling new way of slowing sea level rise and saving New York, Shanghai, Amsterdam and Miami from 3.3 metres of ocean flooding − by using artificial snow.

They suggest the rising seas could be halted by turning West Antarctica, one of the last undisturbed places on Earth, into an industrial snow complex, complete with a sophisticated distribution system.

An estimated 12,000 high-performance wind turbines could be used to generate the 145 Gigawatts of power (one Gigawatt supplies the energy for about 750,000 US homes) needed to lift Antarctic ocean water to heights of, on average, 640 metres, heat it, desalinate it and then spray it over 52,000 square kilometres of the West Antarctic ice sheet in the form of artificial snow, at the rate of several hundred billion tonnes a year, for decades.

Such action could slow or halt the apparently-inevitable collapse of the ice sheet: were this to melt entirely – and right now it is melting at the rate of 361 billion tonnes a year – the world’s oceans would rise by 3.3 metres.

“The fundamental trade-off is whether we as humanity want to sacrifice Antarctica to save the currently inhabited coastal regions and cultural heritage that we have built and are building on our shores,” said Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“The apparent absurdity of the endeavour to let it snow in Antarctica to stop an ice instability reflects the breathtaking dimension of the sea level problem”

“It is about global metropolises, from New York to Shanghai, which in the long term will be below sea level if nothing is done. The West Antarctic ice sheet is one of the tipping elements in our climate system. Ice loss is accelerating and might not stop until the West Antarctic ice sheet is practically gone.”

The Potsdam scientists report in the journal Science Advances that their simulations of ice loss from West Antarctica and the measures needed to halt such loss are not an alternative to other steps. Their calculations would be valid “only under a simultaneous drastic reduction” of the global carbon dioxide emissions that drive global heating, and sea level rise, in the first place.

That is, the world would need to abandon fossil fuels, agree to switch to renewable energy, and then use that renewable energy to in effect destroy the Antarctic’s unique ecosystem but save the great cities of the world from the advancing waves later in this millennium.

The researchers acknowledge that the solution is somewhere between impractical and impossible (in their words, it would have to be undertaken “under the difficult circumstances of the Antarctic climate”). But the mere fact that they could write such a proposal is itself an indicator of the accelerating seriousness of the planetary predicament.

In Paris in 2015, 195 nations agreed to take steps to limit global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C above the level that obtained for most of human history. Such steps for the most part have yet to be taken.

3°C rise possible

Carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, the Arctic ice cap is diminishing, the oceans are warming and the loss of ice in Antarctica is increasing.

By 2100, on present trends, the world will be at least 3°C above the historic average.

“The apparent absurdity of the endeavour to let it snow in Antarctica to stop an ice instability reflects the breathtaking dimension of the sea level problem,” Professor Levermann said.

“Yet as scientists we feel it is our duty to inform society about each and every potential option to counter the problems ahead.

“As unbelievable as it might seem, in order to prevent an unprecedented risk, humankind might have to make an unprecedented effort, too.” − Climate News Network

In theory, artificial snow could save the ice caps and limit sea level rise. But rescuing civilisation this way would sacrifice Antarctica.

LONDON, 2 August, 2019 − German scientists have proposed a startling new way of slowing sea level rise and saving New York, Shanghai, Amsterdam and Miami from 3.3 metres of ocean flooding − by using artificial snow.

They suggest the rising seas could be halted by turning West Antarctica, one of the last undisturbed places on Earth, into an industrial snow complex, complete with a sophisticated distribution system.

An estimated 12,000 high-performance wind turbines could be used to generate the 145 Gigawatts of power (one Gigawatt supplies the energy for about 750,000 US homes) needed to lift Antarctic ocean water to heights of, on average, 640 metres, heat it, desalinate it and then spray it over 52,000 square kilometres of the West Antarctic ice sheet in the form of artificial snow, at the rate of several hundred billion tonnes a year, for decades.

Such action could slow or halt the apparently-inevitable collapse of the ice sheet: were this to melt entirely – and right now it is melting at the rate of 361 billion tonnes a year – the world’s oceans would rise by 3.3 metres.

“The fundamental trade-off is whether we as humanity want to sacrifice Antarctica to save the currently inhabited coastal regions and cultural heritage that we have built and are building on our shores,” said Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“The apparent absurdity of the endeavour to let it snow in Antarctica to stop an ice instability reflects the breathtaking dimension of the sea level problem”

“It is about global metropolises, from New York to Shanghai, which in the long term will be below sea level if nothing is done. The West Antarctic ice sheet is one of the tipping elements in our climate system. Ice loss is accelerating and might not stop until the West Antarctic ice sheet is practically gone.”

The Potsdam scientists report in the journal Science Advances that their simulations of ice loss from West Antarctica and the measures needed to halt such loss are not an alternative to other steps. Their calculations would be valid “only under a simultaneous drastic reduction” of the global carbon dioxide emissions that drive global heating, and sea level rise, in the first place.

That is, the world would need to abandon fossil fuels, agree to switch to renewable energy, and then use that renewable energy to in effect destroy the Antarctic’s unique ecosystem but save the great cities of the world from the advancing waves later in this millennium.

The researchers acknowledge that the solution is somewhere between impractical and impossible (in their words, it would have to be undertaken “under the difficult circumstances of the Antarctic climate”). But the mere fact that they could write such a proposal is itself an indicator of the accelerating seriousness of the planetary predicament.

In Paris in 2015, 195 nations agreed to take steps to limit global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C above the level that obtained for most of human history. Such steps for the most part have yet to be taken.

3°C rise possible

Carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, the Arctic ice cap is diminishing, the oceans are warming and the loss of ice in Antarctica is increasing.

By 2100, on present trends, the world will be at least 3°C above the historic average.

“The apparent absurdity of the endeavour to let it snow in Antarctica to stop an ice instability reflects the breathtaking dimension of the sea level problem,” Professor Levermann said.

“Yet as scientists we feel it is our duty to inform society about each and every potential option to counter the problems ahead.

“As unbelievable as it might seem, in order to prevent an unprecedented risk, humankind might have to make an unprecedented effort, too.” − Climate News Network

Under-nutrition will grow in warmer world

Tomorrow’s world will not just be hungrier: it will increasingly face under-nutrition. More carbon dioxide means harvests with lower protein, iron and zinc.

LONDON, 1 August, 2019 − Climate change driven by ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do more than just limit harvests. It will increase under-nutrition, making the planet’s staple foods less nourishing.

Put simply, the higher the use of fossil fuels, the greater the growth in the numbers of anaemic mothers, malnourished babies and stunted children, and the higher the count of overall deaths from malnutrition.

More than 2 million children of five years or less die each year from conditions associated with protein deficiency. Zinc deficiency is linked to 100,000 deaths a year, and iron levels to 200,000 deaths a year among young children.

And things will get worse. Over the next three decades, according to a new study in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, the combination of shocks from a hotter, stormier, more extreme world and ever-higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will combine to make plant proteins, zinc and iron less available.

By 2050, levels of protein available per head could fall by 19.5% and of iron and zinc by 14.4% and 14.6% respectively. That is a fall of – for all three vital elements of survival – almost one fifth.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide”

Researchers warn that even though agricultural techniques have improved, even though markets are better at distributing food surpluses, and even though the extra carbon dioxide will act to add fertility to crops if atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise, dietary protein, iron and zinc will all fall by significant percentages in the harvests of 2050.

This will hold true for many of the world’s most important staples, among them wheat, rice, maize, barley, potatoes, soybeans and vegetables.

And many nations that already experience higher levels of malnutrition – in South Asia, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the former Soviet Union − will continue to be disproportionately affected.

“We’ve made a lot of progress reducing under-nutrition around the world recently but global population growth over the next 30 years will require increasing production of foods that provide sufficient nutrients,” said Timothy Sulser of the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the researchers.

Plant-based diet

“These findings suggest that climate change could slow progress on improvements in global nutrition by simply making key nutrients less available than they would be without it.”

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals: it has at least twice comprehensively addressed aspects of climate change. At the start of this year it found that with a plant-based diet, it would be in theory possible to feed, and properly nourish, the 10 billion population expected later this century.

Late last year it also warned that, just in this century alone, extremes of temperature had threatened the health and economic growth of an additional 157 million people.

The latest study is a confirmation of earlier findings: other scientists have already warned that protein levels and micronutrient properties will be diminished in a greenhouse world.

Separate research has found that both the rice and wheat harvests of tomorrow could have less food value.

Famine threat

A third study has found that global fruit and vegetable production is already not enough to sustain a healthy population. And researchers have repeatedly warned that ever more-intense and frequent natural shocks that accompany global heating – floods, heat waves, drought, windstorm and so on – threaten food harvests worldwide and could even precipitate the kind of global famines last seen in the 19th century.

The researchers limited their horizon to 2050: they warn that, on present trends, problems with food nutrition levels are only likely to get worse in the decades beyond.

They also point out that the availability of nutrients is only part of the problem: the poorest also need access to clean water, sanitation and education to take advantage of any improved diet.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide,” Professor Sulser said. − Climate News Network

Tomorrow’s world will not just be hungrier: it will increasingly face under-nutrition. More carbon dioxide means harvests with lower protein, iron and zinc.

LONDON, 1 August, 2019 − Climate change driven by ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do more than just limit harvests. It will increase under-nutrition, making the planet’s staple foods less nourishing.

Put simply, the higher the use of fossil fuels, the greater the growth in the numbers of anaemic mothers, malnourished babies and stunted children, and the higher the count of overall deaths from malnutrition.

More than 2 million children of five years or less die each year from conditions associated with protein deficiency. Zinc deficiency is linked to 100,000 deaths a year, and iron levels to 200,000 deaths a year among young children.

And things will get worse. Over the next three decades, according to a new study in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, the combination of shocks from a hotter, stormier, more extreme world and ever-higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will combine to make plant proteins, zinc and iron less available.

By 2050, levels of protein available per head could fall by 19.5% and of iron and zinc by 14.4% and 14.6% respectively. That is a fall of – for all three vital elements of survival – almost one fifth.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide”

Researchers warn that even though agricultural techniques have improved, even though markets are better at distributing food surpluses, and even though the extra carbon dioxide will act to add fertility to crops if atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise, dietary protein, iron and zinc will all fall by significant percentages in the harvests of 2050.

This will hold true for many of the world’s most important staples, among them wheat, rice, maize, barley, potatoes, soybeans and vegetables.

And many nations that already experience higher levels of malnutrition – in South Asia, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the former Soviet Union − will continue to be disproportionately affected.

“We’ve made a lot of progress reducing under-nutrition around the world recently but global population growth over the next 30 years will require increasing production of foods that provide sufficient nutrients,” said Timothy Sulser of the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the researchers.

Plant-based diet

“These findings suggest that climate change could slow progress on improvements in global nutrition by simply making key nutrients less available than they would be without it.”

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals: it has at least twice comprehensively addressed aspects of climate change. At the start of this year it found that with a plant-based diet, it would be in theory possible to feed, and properly nourish, the 10 billion population expected later this century.

Late last year it also warned that, just in this century alone, extremes of temperature had threatened the health and economic growth of an additional 157 million people.

The latest study is a confirmation of earlier findings: other scientists have already warned that protein levels and micronutrient properties will be diminished in a greenhouse world.

Separate research has found that both the rice and wheat harvests of tomorrow could have less food value.

Famine threat

A third study has found that global fruit and vegetable production is already not enough to sustain a healthy population. And researchers have repeatedly warned that ever more-intense and frequent natural shocks that accompany global heating – floods, heat waves, drought, windstorm and so on – threaten food harvests worldwide and could even precipitate the kind of global famines last seen in the 19th century.

The researchers limited their horizon to 2050: they warn that, on present trends, problems with food nutrition levels are only likely to get worse in the decades beyond.

They also point out that the availability of nutrients is only part of the problem: the poorest also need access to clean water, sanitation and education to take advantage of any improved diet.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide,” Professor Sulser said. − Climate News Network

Elephants’ diets help forests to thrive

Elephants may throw their weight around, but they pay their dues to the environment: they help the great forests store ever more carbon.

LONDON, 30 July, 2019 – Like humans, all social animals exploit, disturb and alter their natural environment. Biologists have just identified at least one species, elephants, that – in the course of bulldozing their way through the undergrowth and destroying young trees – actually make the forest more efficient at storing carbon and thus containing global heating.

The African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis browses upon and uproots young trees with stems smaller than 30cms and deposits the digested foliage as fertiliser, rich in seeds for the next generation of saplings.

Researchers from Italy, France, Brazil and the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that this simple act – performed by perhaps one elephant in one square kilometre of forest – actually adds to the biomass locked in the remaining timber at the rate of by between 26 and 60 tonnes per hectare.

And if these ancient mega-herbivores were not crashing through the forest, consuming young trees, the forest would be home to 7% less biomass in the form of dense timber.

Forest elephants, the same scientists say, are rapidly declining in numbers. The researchers had been studying the species for years, and devised a mathematical model of their impact on the environment that supported them.

“Humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can. Forest elephants are facing extinction. All of their positive effect on carbon and their roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost”

Humans convert forest to farmland and increase the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that fuel global heating and the climate emergency. Forest elephants, on the other hand, simply alter the composition of the forest and make their environment a little cooler.

They do so by clearing away the fast-growing species to make more space for trees slower to climb towards the sunlight but with timber of higher density.

“Lo and behold, as we look at numbers of elephants in a forest and we look at the composition of forest over time, we find that the proportion of trees with high-density wood is higher in forests with elephants,” said Stephen Blake of St Louis University in the US, one of the authors.

“The simulation found that the slow-growing plant species survive better when elephants are present. These species aren’t eaten by elephants and, over time, the forest becomes dominated by these slow-growing species. Wood (lignin) has a carbon backbone, meaning it has a large number of carbon molecules in it.

“Slow-growing high wood-density species contain more carbon molecules per unit volume than fast-growing low wood-density species. As the elephants ‘thin’ the forest, they increase the number of slow-growing trees and the forest is capable of storing more carbon.”

Support for Gaia

The finding is consistent with the Gaia theory of earth system science: that life unconsciously but collectively tends to work in ways that keep the planet’s atmosphere stable and the planetary temperatures within comfortable boundaries.

So far humans are the most conspicuous exception to this rule. Biologists have wondered about the contribution of the mega-herbivores: in this one case, it seems that forest elephants are good for the forest and good for climate control.

The finding is also consistent with an argument put by conservationists, biologists and climate scientists: the healthiest and most efficient forests at absorbing atmospheric carbon are those that are home to the richest levels of biodiversity – that is, forests that remain natural wilderness.

Biologists and conservationists talk a lot about “ecosystem services” and “natural capital”: that is, the contribution of the natural world,  directly or indirectly, to human wealth. The researchers put a cash value on the carbon contribution of the African forest elephants: they perform a carbon storage service of $43 bn.

“The sad reality is that humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can,” said Dr Blake. “Forest elephants are rapidly declining and facing extinction. From a climate perspective, all of their positive effect on carbon and their myriad other ecological roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost.” – Climate News Network

Elephants may throw their weight around, but they pay their dues to the environment: they help the great forests store ever more carbon.

LONDON, 30 July, 2019 – Like humans, all social animals exploit, disturb and alter their natural environment. Biologists have just identified at least one species, elephants, that – in the course of bulldozing their way through the undergrowth and destroying young trees – actually make the forest more efficient at storing carbon and thus containing global heating.

The African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis browses upon and uproots young trees with stems smaller than 30cms and deposits the digested foliage as fertiliser, rich in seeds for the next generation of saplings.

Researchers from Italy, France, Brazil and the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that this simple act – performed by perhaps one elephant in one square kilometre of forest – actually adds to the biomass locked in the remaining timber at the rate of by between 26 and 60 tonnes per hectare.

And if these ancient mega-herbivores were not crashing through the forest, consuming young trees, the forest would be home to 7% less biomass in the form of dense timber.

Forest elephants, the same scientists say, are rapidly declining in numbers. The researchers had been studying the species for years, and devised a mathematical model of their impact on the environment that supported them.

“Humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can. Forest elephants are facing extinction. All of their positive effect on carbon and their roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost”

Humans convert forest to farmland and increase the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that fuel global heating and the climate emergency. Forest elephants, on the other hand, simply alter the composition of the forest and make their environment a little cooler.

They do so by clearing away the fast-growing species to make more space for trees slower to climb towards the sunlight but with timber of higher density.

“Lo and behold, as we look at numbers of elephants in a forest and we look at the composition of forest over time, we find that the proportion of trees with high-density wood is higher in forests with elephants,” said Stephen Blake of St Louis University in the US, one of the authors.

“The simulation found that the slow-growing plant species survive better when elephants are present. These species aren’t eaten by elephants and, over time, the forest becomes dominated by these slow-growing species. Wood (lignin) has a carbon backbone, meaning it has a large number of carbon molecules in it.

“Slow-growing high wood-density species contain more carbon molecules per unit volume than fast-growing low wood-density species. As the elephants ‘thin’ the forest, they increase the number of slow-growing trees and the forest is capable of storing more carbon.”

Support for Gaia

The finding is consistent with the Gaia theory of earth system science: that life unconsciously but collectively tends to work in ways that keep the planet’s atmosphere stable and the planetary temperatures within comfortable boundaries.

So far humans are the most conspicuous exception to this rule. Biologists have wondered about the contribution of the mega-herbivores: in this one case, it seems that forest elephants are good for the forest and good for climate control.

The finding is also consistent with an argument put by conservationists, biologists and climate scientists: the healthiest and most efficient forests at absorbing atmospheric carbon are those that are home to the richest levels of biodiversity – that is, forests that remain natural wilderness.

Biologists and conservationists talk a lot about “ecosystem services” and “natural capital”: that is, the contribution of the natural world,  directly or indirectly, to human wealth. The researchers put a cash value on the carbon contribution of the African forest elephants: they perform a carbon storage service of $43 bn.

“The sad reality is that humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can,” said Dr Blake. “Forest elephants are rapidly declining and facing extinction. From a climate perspective, all of their positive effect on carbon and their myriad other ecological roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost.” – Climate News Network

Crop diversity keeps bees buzzing happily

Big business agriculture could be bad for pollinators, which need crop diversity. And that could mean very bad news for an ever-hungrier world.

LONDON, 26 July, 2019 − Tomorrow’s world could be a hungrier world. That is because as large-scale agribusiness gets busier crop diversity diminishes, and the pool of potential pollinators will become increasingly at risk.

Those crops that rely on pollination by the animal world can only deliver the reward of nourishment to bees and other insects for a very short time. As developing nations switch increasingly to massive plantations of soy, canola and palm oil, the creatures farmers rely on to set seed and begin the process of setting fruit will have a problem finding a food supply for the rest of the year.

The message of the latest research is simple: a sustainable world must be a diverse one. And that means a diversity of crops and crop varieties as well as a diversity of forest, grasslands and wildflowers to keep the honeybees buzzing.

Scientists from Argentina, Chile, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and Korea report in the journal Global Change Biology that without an increase in crop diversity, agricultural productivity worldwide could be put at risk by its increasing dependence on pollinators – and insects of all kinds could be on the decline, even as crop-devouring predator insects could be on the increase.

The researchers looked at data from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization on the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016. They found that more and more land is being colonised for agriculture, and the area cultivated for crops that rely on pollinators has increased by 137%. But crop diversity has increased only by 20%. And 16 of the 20 fastest-growing crops require pollination by insects or other animals.

Efficiency above all

The researchers paint a picture of a world in which vast tracts of landscape have been converted for maximum efficiency into plantations producing just one crop, while bees and other pollinators − already at hazard from climate change, pesticides and invasive infection – face a fall in the variety of their own potential food supply.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye of the University of Maryland in the US, one of the authors.

And a co-author, Robert Paxton of the Martin Luther University at Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, said: “Just a few months ago, the World Biodiversity Council (IPBES) revealed that up to one million plant and animal species are being threatened with extinction, including many pollinators.”

The researchers found that developing nations in South America, Africa and Asia had invested in vast monocultures grown for the global market: soy, for instance, exported to Europe as cattle feed, had risen by about 30% per decade globally, at great cost to natural and semi-natural tropical and subtropical forests and meadows that might otherwise have provided the blooms that pollinators could turn to once the cash crop seeds and nuts had set.

“Studying how this mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem”

“The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management,” said Professor Inouye.

In a world of potentially catastrophic climate change, global food security is already a worry. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat could slash yields and even precipitate global famine.

They have warned that rapid ecosystem change could affect global food supplies and that rapid warming will accelerate the spread of crop pests and diseases.

And even the shifts in the growing season – and in particular the earlier flowering each spring – may soon no longer be matched by the appearance of vital pollinators.

Bees avoid cold

Researchers in Japan report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society that they monitored the emergence of the flower Corydalis ambigua and its pollinator bumblebee in the forests of northern Japan for 19 years.

The earlier the snowmelt, the earlier the flowering. And the earlier the snowmelt, the more likely it was that the flowers would emerge before the bumblebees, which hibernate underground until the soil temperatures reach 6°C, could begin looking for food and, in the course of doing so, pollinate the flower and set seed for the next generation.

“Our study suggests the early arrival of spring increases the risk of disruption to the mutualism between plants and pollinators,” said Gaku Kudo, who led the research.

“Studying how this phenological mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to the larger question of how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem.” − Climate News Network

Big business agriculture could be bad for pollinators, which need crop diversity. And that could mean very bad news for an ever-hungrier world.

LONDON, 26 July, 2019 − Tomorrow’s world could be a hungrier world. That is because as large-scale agribusiness gets busier crop diversity diminishes, and the pool of potential pollinators will become increasingly at risk.

Those crops that rely on pollination by the animal world can only deliver the reward of nourishment to bees and other insects for a very short time. As developing nations switch increasingly to massive plantations of soy, canola and palm oil, the creatures farmers rely on to set seed and begin the process of setting fruit will have a problem finding a food supply for the rest of the year.

The message of the latest research is simple: a sustainable world must be a diverse one. And that means a diversity of crops and crop varieties as well as a diversity of forest, grasslands and wildflowers to keep the honeybees buzzing.

Scientists from Argentina, Chile, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and Korea report in the journal Global Change Biology that without an increase in crop diversity, agricultural productivity worldwide could be put at risk by its increasing dependence on pollinators – and insects of all kinds could be on the decline, even as crop-devouring predator insects could be on the increase.

The researchers looked at data from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization on the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016. They found that more and more land is being colonised for agriculture, and the area cultivated for crops that rely on pollinators has increased by 137%. But crop diversity has increased only by 20%. And 16 of the 20 fastest-growing crops require pollination by insects or other animals.

Efficiency above all

The researchers paint a picture of a world in which vast tracts of landscape have been converted for maximum efficiency into plantations producing just one crop, while bees and other pollinators − already at hazard from climate change, pesticides and invasive infection – face a fall in the variety of their own potential food supply.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye of the University of Maryland in the US, one of the authors.

And a co-author, Robert Paxton of the Martin Luther University at Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, said: “Just a few months ago, the World Biodiversity Council (IPBES) revealed that up to one million plant and animal species are being threatened with extinction, including many pollinators.”

The researchers found that developing nations in South America, Africa and Asia had invested in vast monocultures grown for the global market: soy, for instance, exported to Europe as cattle feed, had risen by about 30% per decade globally, at great cost to natural and semi-natural tropical and subtropical forests and meadows that might otherwise have provided the blooms that pollinators could turn to once the cash crop seeds and nuts had set.

“Studying how this mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem”

“The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management,” said Professor Inouye.

In a world of potentially catastrophic climate change, global food security is already a worry. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat could slash yields and even precipitate global famine.

They have warned that rapid ecosystem change could affect global food supplies and that rapid warming will accelerate the spread of crop pests and diseases.

And even the shifts in the growing season – and in particular the earlier flowering each spring – may soon no longer be matched by the appearance of vital pollinators.

Bees avoid cold

Researchers in Japan report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society that they monitored the emergence of the flower Corydalis ambigua and its pollinator bumblebee in the forests of northern Japan for 19 years.

The earlier the snowmelt, the earlier the flowering. And the earlier the snowmelt, the more likely it was that the flowers would emerge before the bumblebees, which hibernate underground until the soil temperatures reach 6°C, could begin looking for food and, in the course of doing so, pollinate the flower and set seed for the next generation.

“Our study suggests the early arrival of spring increases the risk of disruption to the mutualism between plants and pollinators,” said Gaku Kudo, who led the research.

“Studying how this phenological mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to the larger question of how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem.” − Climate News Network