Category Archives: Emissions

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

“ We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet”

The study simultaneously addresses what should be on the global supper table, and how it gets there. It presumes a daily intake for a 70kg active adult male aged 30, or a 60kg woman, of up to 2,500 kilocalories per day, with around 35% of these from wholegrains and tubers.

It recommends a limit of 14 grams of red meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The global appetite for red meat and sugar must be halved, while consumption of nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit intake must double.

And it recommends fair shares on a global scale; North Americans chew their way through more than six times the recommended meat portion; people in South Asia right now consume only half what they should.

And across the globe, people depend too much on starchy foods such as potato and cassava: in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.5 times too much. If people adopt a healthy diet and limit the use of processed foods, this would avert between 10.9m and 11.6m premature deaths each year.

Unprecedented change

But the same advice then addresses the global and seemingly intractable problem of managing agriculture so that it serves all and saves the planet for permanent occupation. To make this happen, change is necessary at rates so far without precedent in history.

Somehow, production must be intensified, but without greater destruction of forests and savannah, and while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Another of the authors, Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and who now directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, calls it “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

“The good news is that not only is it doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” he said.

Planetary perspective needed

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective.”

The study is the latest and most authoritative iteration of a series of research papers that have argued, over and over again, for a change in planetary diet, a shift towards more efficient but also more sustainable  farming methods, and a greater focus on planetary equity.

The message from most of them is that it is, or should be, technically possible to grow food for a hungry planet without wasting productivity and without devastating wildlife and natural ecosystems any further.

Five-point plan

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy. It includes campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources; a shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants; appropriate agricultural practices; careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas; and a concerted attempt to at least halve food wastage, an issue in high-income countries and in different ways also in poor and middle-income countries.

This is one of a series of studies published by the Lancet to address global problems related to climate: in December the same journal carried an authoritative assessment of the health costs of heat extremes in the decades to come.

Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the issue of global nutrition was “everyone’s and no-one’s problem. The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” − Climate News Network

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

“ We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet”

The study simultaneously addresses what should be on the global supper table, and how it gets there. It presumes a daily intake for a 70kg active adult male aged 30, or a 60kg woman, of up to 2,500 kilocalories per day, with around 35% of these from wholegrains and tubers.

It recommends a limit of 14 grams of red meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The global appetite for red meat and sugar must be halved, while consumption of nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit intake must double.

And it recommends fair shares on a global scale; North Americans chew their way through more than six times the recommended meat portion; people in South Asia right now consume only half what they should.

And across the globe, people depend too much on starchy foods such as potato and cassava: in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.5 times too much. If people adopt a healthy diet and limit the use of processed foods, this would avert between 10.9m and 11.6m premature deaths each year.

Unprecedented change

But the same advice then addresses the global and seemingly intractable problem of managing agriculture so that it serves all and saves the planet for permanent occupation. To make this happen, change is necessary at rates so far without precedent in history.

Somehow, production must be intensified, but without greater destruction of forests and savannah, and while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Another of the authors, Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and who now directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, calls it “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

“The good news is that not only is it doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” he said.

Planetary perspective needed

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective.”

The study is the latest and most authoritative iteration of a series of research papers that have argued, over and over again, for a change in planetary diet, a shift towards more efficient but also more sustainable  farming methods, and a greater focus on planetary equity.

The message from most of them is that it is, or should be, technically possible to grow food for a hungry planet without wasting productivity and without devastating wildlife and natural ecosystems any further.

Five-point plan

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy. It includes campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources; a shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants; appropriate agricultural practices; careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas; and a concerted attempt to at least halve food wastage, an issue in high-income countries and in different ways also in poor and middle-income countries.

This is one of a series of studies published by the Lancet to address global problems related to climate: in December the same journal carried an authoritative assessment of the health costs of heat extremes in the decades to come.

Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the issue of global nutrition was “everyone’s and no-one’s problem. The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” − Climate News Network

Swedes top climate change resisters’ league

Some governments take global warming seriously, while others defy the science and virtually ignore it. The climate change resisters’ league names names.

LONDON, 8 January, 2019 – There are countries that are in earnest about the way humans are overheating the planet, the climate change resisters; and there are others that give what is one of the most fundamental problems facing the world only scant attention.

Annually over the past 14 years a group of 350 energy and climate experts from around the globe has drawn up a table reflecting the performance of more than 70 countries in tackling climate change.

Together this group of nations is responsible for more than 90% of total climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In the just published index looking at developments in 2018, Sweden, Morocco and Lithuania are the top performers in combatting global warming. At the other end of the scale are Iran, the US and – worst performer by a significant margin – Saudi Arabia.

The analysis – called the Climate Change Performance Index, or CCPI – is published by German Watch and the New Climate Institute, both based in Germany, plus the Climate Action Network, which has its headquarters in Lebanon.

“No country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C”

The CCPI compares the various countries’ performances across three categories – GHG emissions, renewable energy, and energy use. The index also evaluates the progress made by nations in implementing the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Morocco comes in for particular praise in the index. “With the connection of the world’s largest solar plant and multiple new wind farms to the grid, the country is well on track for achieving its target of 42% installed renewable energy capacity by 2020 and 52% by 2030.”

India has risen up the performance league and is praised for its moves into renewable energy, though concerns are expressed about the country’s plans to build new coal-fired power plants. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel.

The UK and the EU as a whole score reasonably highly in the index, but the CCPI compilers issue several caveats and leave the top three places in the league table blank.

Poor Saudi record

“This is because no country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C, as agreed in the Paris Agreement,” they say.

Russia, Canada, Australia and South Korea all score badly in the CCPI, with the US just one place off the bottom spot.

“The refusal of President Trump to acknowledge climate change being human-caused, and his dismantling of regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions, result in the US being rated very low for its national and international climate policy performance.”

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has over the years repeatedly come bottom of the CCPI.

“The country continues to be a very low performer in all index categories and on every indicator on emissions, energy use and renewable energy.”

Mid-East’s heightened risk

The Saudis are also strongly criticised for their obstructionist tactics at climate negotiations.

At a recent international meeting on climate change held in Katowice in Poland, Saudi Arabia – together with the US, Russia and Kuwait – was accused of holding up proceedings and of refusing to acknowledge the vital importance of taking action on global warming.

The Middle East, and North Africa and the Gulf region in particular, are considered by scientists to be among the areas which are likely to feel the most serious impacts of climate change in the near future.

Already the region is being hit by ever-rising temperatures; climate researchers say that before too long it’s likely that people working outside in the intense summer heat in population centres such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha – including those repairing air conditioning and water systems, or overseeing emergency services – could be putting their lives at risk. – Climate News Network

Some governments take global warming seriously, while others defy the science and virtually ignore it. The climate change resisters’ league names names.

LONDON, 8 January, 2019 – There are countries that are in earnest about the way humans are overheating the planet, the climate change resisters; and there are others that give what is one of the most fundamental problems facing the world only scant attention.

Annually over the past 14 years a group of 350 energy and climate experts from around the globe has drawn up a table reflecting the performance of more than 70 countries in tackling climate change.

Together this group of nations is responsible for more than 90% of total climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In the just published index looking at developments in 2018, Sweden, Morocco and Lithuania are the top performers in combatting global warming. At the other end of the scale are Iran, the US and – worst performer by a significant margin – Saudi Arabia.

The analysis – called the Climate Change Performance Index, or CCPI – is published by German Watch and the New Climate Institute, both based in Germany, plus the Climate Action Network, which has its headquarters in Lebanon.

“No country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C”

The CCPI compares the various countries’ performances across three categories – GHG emissions, renewable energy, and energy use. The index also evaluates the progress made by nations in implementing the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Morocco comes in for particular praise in the index. “With the connection of the world’s largest solar plant and multiple new wind farms to the grid, the country is well on track for achieving its target of 42% installed renewable energy capacity by 2020 and 52% by 2030.”

India has risen up the performance league and is praised for its moves into renewable energy, though concerns are expressed about the country’s plans to build new coal-fired power plants. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel.

The UK and the EU as a whole score reasonably highly in the index, but the CCPI compilers issue several caveats and leave the top three places in the league table blank.

Poor Saudi record

“This is because no country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C, as agreed in the Paris Agreement,” they say.

Russia, Canada, Australia and South Korea all score badly in the CCPI, with the US just one place off the bottom spot.

“The refusal of President Trump to acknowledge climate change being human-caused, and his dismantling of regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions, result in the US being rated very low for its national and international climate policy performance.”

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has over the years repeatedly come bottom of the CCPI.

“The country continues to be a very low performer in all index categories and on every indicator on emissions, energy use and renewable energy.”

Mid-East’s heightened risk

The Saudis are also strongly criticised for their obstructionist tactics at climate negotiations.

At a recent international meeting on climate change held in Katowice in Poland, Saudi Arabia – together with the US, Russia and Kuwait – was accused of holding up proceedings and of refusing to acknowledge the vital importance of taking action on global warming.

The Middle East, and North Africa and the Gulf region in particular, are considered by scientists to be among the areas which are likely to feel the most serious impacts of climate change in the near future.

Already the region is being hit by ever-rising temperatures; climate researchers say that before too long it’s likely that people working outside in the intense summer heat in population centres such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha – including those repairing air conditioning and water systems, or overseeing emergency services – could be putting their lives at risk. – Climate News Network

Soil and water carbon stores puzzle science

Under the ice, and deep in the soil, carbon stores maintain a lively traffic. Researchers are teasing out the complexities of greenhouse gases and global warming.

LONDON, 7 January, 2019 − Two new studies have highlighted yet more unexpected findings in the epic story of the Earth’s carbon stores: how the world’s waters and soils accumulate and discharge them.

One team of researchers has found, to their surprise, that the meltwaters of Greenland are washing measurable quantities of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of the potent greenhouse gas methane.

And another has looked more closely at the way carbon is stored in the world’s soils, and come to the conclusion that even the minerals in the bedrock play a role: with help from rainwater, they can capture and hold potentially vast quantities of carbon in the soils of planet Earth.

Neither discovery changes the big picture of global warming driven by profligate human combustion of fossil fuels during the last two centuries. But both are reminders that climate scientists still have a lot to learn about precisely how the trafficking of carbon between life, rocks and atmosphere really happens.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around”

And both will prompt a fresh look at the great unresolved question facing climate science: how much of the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity can be absorbed naturally by the rocks and living things on the planet?

British, Canadian, US, German, Czech and Danish researchers report in the journal Nature that they camped for three summer months on Greenland to take continuous samples of meltwater from a 600 square kilometre icesheet.

They found what they term “a continuous export” of methane: six tons of it from this site alone, or roughly the equivalent of what might be belched from 100 cows. Busy microbes, at work below kilometres of ice, are producing a greenhouse gas many times more potent as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide.

“A key finding is that much of the methane produced beneath the ice likely escapes the Greenland Ice Sheet in large, fast-flowing rivers before it can be oxidised to CO2, a typical fate for methane gas which normally reduces its greenhouse potency,” said Jemma Wadham, of the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, who led the investigation.

Sizeable challenge

Climate scientists have been worrying for decades about the carbon locked − for the moment − in the Arctic permafrost. But the discovery that even the ice sheets are a source of atmospheric carbon accentuates the scale of the challenge facing those researchers who are trying to settle the great questions of the carbon budget: how much more fossil fuel can humans burn before planetary temperatures reach catastrophic levels, and how much of this build-up of greenhouse gases will be absorbed naturally by oceans, forests and soils?

Attention has repeatedly centred on the role of vegetation,  and in particular the great forests, in soaking up some of this carbon.

But huge questions remain about the roles played by flowing water and by soils as bankers of the planet’s atmospheric carbon. A second study in the journal Nature Climate Change offers a fresh insight into the obscurities of carbon storage underfoot.

Iron- and aluminium-bearing minerals in the soils cling to a lot of carbon. How much varies according to rainfall and evaporation, but it could be that between 3% and 72% of organic carbon found in soils is retained by reactive minerals. And, the researchers think, in all, this could add up to 600 billion metric tons worldwide, most of it in the rainforests.

Long-term uncertainty

“When plants photosynthesise, they draw carbon out of the atmosphere, then they die and their organic matter is incorporated in the soil,” said Oliver Chadwick of the University of Santa Barbara, one of the researchers. “Bacteria decompose that organic matter, releasing carbon that can either go right back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or can get held on the surface of soil minerals.”

What the finding means in the long term is not certain: as the researchers say, the capacity of mineral soils to cling to carbon suggests what they call “high sensitivity to future changes in climate.” That is, with yet more warming, the same mineral soils could release their imprisoned carbon. Nobody knows at what point this would happen.

So there is a need for further research. For more than a decade,scientists have debated the challenge of capturing carbon dioxide and burying it underground, as a way of limiting climate change. The discovery seems to suggest it can be done. But it also suggests ways in which that entrapment could be undone.

“We know less about the soils on Earth than we do about the surface of Mars,” said Marc Kramer of Washington State University, as co-author.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around. This finding highlights a major breakthrough in our understanding.” − Climate News Network

Under the ice, and deep in the soil, carbon stores maintain a lively traffic. Researchers are teasing out the complexities of greenhouse gases and global warming.

LONDON, 7 January, 2019 − Two new studies have highlighted yet more unexpected findings in the epic story of the Earth’s carbon stores: how the world’s waters and soils accumulate and discharge them.

One team of researchers has found, to their surprise, that the meltwaters of Greenland are washing measurable quantities of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of the potent greenhouse gas methane.

And another has looked more closely at the way carbon is stored in the world’s soils, and come to the conclusion that even the minerals in the bedrock play a role: with help from rainwater, they can capture and hold potentially vast quantities of carbon in the soils of planet Earth.

Neither discovery changes the big picture of global warming driven by profligate human combustion of fossil fuels during the last two centuries. But both are reminders that climate scientists still have a lot to learn about precisely how the trafficking of carbon between life, rocks and atmosphere really happens.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around”

And both will prompt a fresh look at the great unresolved question facing climate science: how much of the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity can be absorbed naturally by the rocks and living things on the planet?

British, Canadian, US, German, Czech and Danish researchers report in the journal Nature that they camped for three summer months on Greenland to take continuous samples of meltwater from a 600 square kilometre icesheet.

They found what they term “a continuous export” of methane: six tons of it from this site alone, or roughly the equivalent of what might be belched from 100 cows. Busy microbes, at work below kilometres of ice, are producing a greenhouse gas many times more potent as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide.

“A key finding is that much of the methane produced beneath the ice likely escapes the Greenland Ice Sheet in large, fast-flowing rivers before it can be oxidised to CO2, a typical fate for methane gas which normally reduces its greenhouse potency,” said Jemma Wadham, of the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, who led the investigation.

Sizeable challenge

Climate scientists have been worrying for decades about the carbon locked − for the moment − in the Arctic permafrost. But the discovery that even the ice sheets are a source of atmospheric carbon accentuates the scale of the challenge facing those researchers who are trying to settle the great questions of the carbon budget: how much more fossil fuel can humans burn before planetary temperatures reach catastrophic levels, and how much of this build-up of greenhouse gases will be absorbed naturally by oceans, forests and soils?

Attention has repeatedly centred on the role of vegetation,  and in particular the great forests, in soaking up some of this carbon.

But huge questions remain about the roles played by flowing water and by soils as bankers of the planet’s atmospheric carbon. A second study in the journal Nature Climate Change offers a fresh insight into the obscurities of carbon storage underfoot.

Iron- and aluminium-bearing minerals in the soils cling to a lot of carbon. How much varies according to rainfall and evaporation, but it could be that between 3% and 72% of organic carbon found in soils is retained by reactive minerals. And, the researchers think, in all, this could add up to 600 billion metric tons worldwide, most of it in the rainforests.

Long-term uncertainty

“When plants photosynthesise, they draw carbon out of the atmosphere, then they die and their organic matter is incorporated in the soil,” said Oliver Chadwick of the University of Santa Barbara, one of the researchers. “Bacteria decompose that organic matter, releasing carbon that can either go right back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or can get held on the surface of soil minerals.”

What the finding means in the long term is not certain: as the researchers say, the capacity of mineral soils to cling to carbon suggests what they call “high sensitivity to future changes in climate.” That is, with yet more warming, the same mineral soils could release their imprisoned carbon. Nobody knows at what point this would happen.

So there is a need for further research. For more than a decade,scientists have debated the challenge of capturing carbon dioxide and burying it underground, as a way of limiting climate change. The discovery seems to suggest it can be done. But it also suggests ways in which that entrapment could be undone.

“We know less about the soils on Earth than we do about the surface of Mars,” said Marc Kramer of Washington State University, as co-author.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around. This finding highlights a major breakthrough in our understanding.” − Climate News Network

Nine vital signs found for forest health

Forests help to moderate climate change, which can itself affect forest health. Researchers still puzzle over how the canopy affects the global carbon exchange.

LONDON, 3 January, 2019 – It is a given of climate science that forest health, the consequence of protected and biodiverse forests, will play a vital role in containing global warming. Now a new study for the first time offers foresters, botanists and conservationists the tools to test the health of a vast woodland.

And a second, separate study confirms an ominous discovery: trees can be counted upon to greedily consume ever more atmospheric carbon dioxide – but only while the natural supply of nitrogen holds out.

Trees use photosynthesis to build tissue from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and store the carbon in the form of leaves, fruits and timber while respiring oxygen. In doing so, they reduce levels of global warming.

Humans – by clearing forests, ploughing fields, grazing cattle and burning fossil fuels – tip about 34 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and the world’s trees take up an estimated 11 bn tonnes of it. But quite how, and how reliably, forests store carbon is still a puzzle.

“The limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests”

US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they decided to find out. They analysed data from 421 plots of forest around the world, and took direct samples in 66 of them. They measured temperature, rainfall, vapour pressure, sunlight and wind speed.

Their search spanned 100 degrees of latitude and more than 3,300 metres in altitude. Altogether the scientists gathered information on 55,983 individual trees greater than 2 cms in diameter and divided into 2,701 tree species.

By the time they had finished they had identified nine vital signs that might help with a diagnosis of a forest’s health. These are two different measures of leaf area, as well as wood density, tree height, the counts of leaf carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus and the important ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus.

Armed with these measures, they began to look at precisely how climate might affect a tree population. Two climatic factors in particular had a disproportionate impact.

New pointers

One was temperature variability – that is, the swing from the lowest to the highest mercury levels – and the other was vapour pressure. And they confirmed that, overall, the measured traits are responding to overall global warming.

Such research offers a new set of signposts for understanding how atmosphere, climate and forests interact. The response of the woodlands has become one of the big unresolved questions.

Researchers have found, a little to their surprise, the “urban forests” – the limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks – could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests.

They have measured unexpected ways in which trees have responded to the rise of 1°C in global average temperatures in the last century, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm.

Concern over nitrogen

But they have also taken serious stock of the planet’s cover of trees, to find that humans are destroying trees at the rate of 15 billion a year and that climate change and human intrusion pose the threat of extinction to many of the world’s 40,000 tropical tree species.

A second team of the US researchers is now sure of one of the mechanisms that might affect the overall health of forests in a warming world. They report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on an intensive examination of the response of 15,000 trees in the wilds of West Virginia to a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Yes, the extra greenhouse gas is fertilising forest growth. But climate change is extending the growing season, as spring arrives earlier and autumn leaf fall happens ever later. A study of the nitrogen isotopes in the leaves suggests that the supply of that other, all-important nutrient, could be on the way down.

If so, the growth of the forests could soon peak, and with that the capacity of forests to moderate climate change could diminish. – Climate News Network

Forests help to moderate climate change, which can itself affect forest health. Researchers still puzzle over how the canopy affects the global carbon exchange.

LONDON, 3 January, 2019 – It is a given of climate science that forest health, the consequence of protected and biodiverse forests, will play a vital role in containing global warming. Now a new study for the first time offers foresters, botanists and conservationists the tools to test the health of a vast woodland.

And a second, separate study confirms an ominous discovery: trees can be counted upon to greedily consume ever more atmospheric carbon dioxide – but only while the natural supply of nitrogen holds out.

Trees use photosynthesis to build tissue from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and store the carbon in the form of leaves, fruits and timber while respiring oxygen. In doing so, they reduce levels of global warming.

Humans – by clearing forests, ploughing fields, grazing cattle and burning fossil fuels – tip about 34 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and the world’s trees take up an estimated 11 bn tonnes of it. But quite how, and how reliably, forests store carbon is still a puzzle.

“The limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests”

US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they decided to find out. They analysed data from 421 plots of forest around the world, and took direct samples in 66 of them. They measured temperature, rainfall, vapour pressure, sunlight and wind speed.

Their search spanned 100 degrees of latitude and more than 3,300 metres in altitude. Altogether the scientists gathered information on 55,983 individual trees greater than 2 cms in diameter and divided into 2,701 tree species.

By the time they had finished they had identified nine vital signs that might help with a diagnosis of a forest’s health. These are two different measures of leaf area, as well as wood density, tree height, the counts of leaf carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus and the important ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus.

Armed with these measures, they began to look at precisely how climate might affect a tree population. Two climatic factors in particular had a disproportionate impact.

New pointers

One was temperature variability – that is, the swing from the lowest to the highest mercury levels – and the other was vapour pressure. And they confirmed that, overall, the measured traits are responding to overall global warming.

Such research offers a new set of signposts for understanding how atmosphere, climate and forests interact. The response of the woodlands has become one of the big unresolved questions.

Researchers have found, a little to their surprise, the “urban forests” – the limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks – could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests.

They have measured unexpected ways in which trees have responded to the rise of 1°C in global average temperatures in the last century, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm.

Concern over nitrogen

But they have also taken serious stock of the planet’s cover of trees, to find that humans are destroying trees at the rate of 15 billion a year and that climate change and human intrusion pose the threat of extinction to many of the world’s 40,000 tropical tree species.

A second team of the US researchers is now sure of one of the mechanisms that might affect the overall health of forests in a warming world. They report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on an intensive examination of the response of 15,000 trees in the wilds of West Virginia to a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Yes, the extra greenhouse gas is fertilising forest growth. But climate change is extending the growing season, as spring arrives earlier and autumn leaf fall happens ever later. A study of the nitrogen isotopes in the leaves suggests that the supply of that other, all-important nutrient, could be on the way down.

If so, the growth of the forests could soon peak, and with that the capacity of forests to moderate climate change could diminish. – Climate News Network

Permafrost thaw unsettles the Arctic

Permafrost thaw and retreating Arctic ice don’t just imperil caribou and bears. People, too, may find the ground shifts beneath their feet.

LONDON, 1 January, 2019 − In just one human generation, citizens of the far north could find themselves on shifting soils as the region’s permafrost thaws. Roads will slump. Buildings will buckle. Pipelines will become at risk of fracture. And in 2050, around three fourths of the people of the permafrost could watch their infrastructure collapse, as what was once hard frozen ground turns into mud.

All this could happen even if the world keeps the promise it made in Paris in 2015 and limits global average warming to just 1.5°C above the level for most of pre-industrial history.

In the last century, the world has already warmed by 1°C on average: the Arctic region has warmed at a far faster rate. At present rates of warming, driven by the profligate use of fossil fuels that raise the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world is on course for an average warming of 3°C by 2100.

Researchers from Finland, Norway, Russia and the US report in the journal Nature Communications that they mapped, on a scale of a kilometre, the buildings, installations, roads and other infrastructure of the permafrost world: a region defined as that where the ground is frozen solid, summer and winter, for at least two consecutive years.

More than 4 million people live in this pan-Arctic landscape: at least 3.6 million of them, and 70% of their transportation and industrial infrastructure, are at risk.

Present reality

“These observations have led me to believe that global warming is not a ‘fake’ but the reality. And here, in Alaska, we are dealing already and will be dealing even more in the near future with this reality,” said Vladimir Romanovsky, of the University of Alaska’s geophysical institute, one of the authors.

Climate scientists and glaciologists have been warning about the rate of change in the Arctic for two decades: one estimate proposed that for every 1°C of warming, around 4 million square kilometres of permafrost − an area bigger than India − could thaw.

Locked in the frozen soil is an estimated 1,700 billion tonnes of carbon: this is about twice the mass of carbon in the atmosphere in the form of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Its release could precipitate even more calamitous climate change. And the economic consequences – assessed at a potential cost of $43 trillion − could be ruinous.

The latest study found that climate change respected no borders: one third of all Arctic infrastructure and 45% of hydrocarbon extraction fields in the Russian Arctic were in high hazard regions: that is, once the soil thawed, the ground became unstable.

Around 470 kms of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and 280 kms of the Obskaya-Bovanenkovo Railway, the most northerly in the world, lie across what could be thawing permafrost. The scientists identified more than 1,200 settlements in zones where the permafrost could thaw: around 40 of these had populations of 5,000 or more.

“These observations have led me to believe that global warming is not a ‘fake’ but the reality”

Pipelines, too, were endangered: 1,590 kms of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline, 1,260 kms of the gas pipelines in the Yamal-Nenets region − which supplies one-third of European Union imports − and 550 kms of the Trans-Alaska pipeline systems could be at “considerable risk”: that is, they were in areas where near-surface permafrost could thaw by 2050.

By then around one million people, 36,000 buildings, 13,000 kms of roads and 100 airports could have become high hazard environments. And with them, permafrost thaw could threaten to affect 45% of oil and gas fields in the Russian Arctic.

All forecasts arrive with considerable uncertainties, and the authors concede that they could be wrong. But, they warn, even if they are, their estimates of the infrastructure at risk would probably not be much smaller and could be substantially higher. Around 19 large settlements are in their highest hazard zone “but the number could be as large as 34,” they warn.

If nations acted on the Paris promises, they say, the levels of risk would start to stabilise after 2050. “In contrast, higher greenhouse gas levels would probably result in continued detrimental climate change impacts on the built environment and economic activity in the Arctic.” − Climate News Network

Permafrost thaw and retreating Arctic ice don’t just imperil caribou and bears. People, too, may find the ground shifts beneath their feet.

LONDON, 1 January, 2019 − In just one human generation, citizens of the far north could find themselves on shifting soils as the region’s permafrost thaws. Roads will slump. Buildings will buckle. Pipelines will become at risk of fracture. And in 2050, around three fourths of the people of the permafrost could watch their infrastructure collapse, as what was once hard frozen ground turns into mud.

All this could happen even if the world keeps the promise it made in Paris in 2015 and limits global average warming to just 1.5°C above the level for most of pre-industrial history.

In the last century, the world has already warmed by 1°C on average: the Arctic region has warmed at a far faster rate. At present rates of warming, driven by the profligate use of fossil fuels that raise the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world is on course for an average warming of 3°C by 2100.

Researchers from Finland, Norway, Russia and the US report in the journal Nature Communications that they mapped, on a scale of a kilometre, the buildings, installations, roads and other infrastructure of the permafrost world: a region defined as that where the ground is frozen solid, summer and winter, for at least two consecutive years.

More than 4 million people live in this pan-Arctic landscape: at least 3.6 million of them, and 70% of their transportation and industrial infrastructure, are at risk.

Present reality

“These observations have led me to believe that global warming is not a ‘fake’ but the reality. And here, in Alaska, we are dealing already and will be dealing even more in the near future with this reality,” said Vladimir Romanovsky, of the University of Alaska’s geophysical institute, one of the authors.

Climate scientists and glaciologists have been warning about the rate of change in the Arctic for two decades: one estimate proposed that for every 1°C of warming, around 4 million square kilometres of permafrost − an area bigger than India − could thaw.

Locked in the frozen soil is an estimated 1,700 billion tonnes of carbon: this is about twice the mass of carbon in the atmosphere in the form of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Its release could precipitate even more calamitous climate change. And the economic consequences – assessed at a potential cost of $43 trillion − could be ruinous.

The latest study found that climate change respected no borders: one third of all Arctic infrastructure and 45% of hydrocarbon extraction fields in the Russian Arctic were in high hazard regions: that is, once the soil thawed, the ground became unstable.

Around 470 kms of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and 280 kms of the Obskaya-Bovanenkovo Railway, the most northerly in the world, lie across what could be thawing permafrost. The scientists identified more than 1,200 settlements in zones where the permafrost could thaw: around 40 of these had populations of 5,000 or more.

“These observations have led me to believe that global warming is not a ‘fake’ but the reality”

Pipelines, too, were endangered: 1,590 kms of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline, 1,260 kms of the gas pipelines in the Yamal-Nenets region − which supplies one-third of European Union imports − and 550 kms of the Trans-Alaska pipeline systems could be at “considerable risk”: that is, they were in areas where near-surface permafrost could thaw by 2050.

By then around one million people, 36,000 buildings, 13,000 kms of roads and 100 airports could have become high hazard environments. And with them, permafrost thaw could threaten to affect 45% of oil and gas fields in the Russian Arctic.

All forecasts arrive with considerable uncertainties, and the authors concede that they could be wrong. But, they warn, even if they are, their estimates of the infrastructure at risk would probably not be much smaller and could be substantially higher. Around 19 large settlements are in their highest hazard zone “but the number could be as large as 34,” they warn.

If nations acted on the Paris promises, they say, the levels of risk would start to stabilise after 2050. “In contrast, higher greenhouse gas levels would probably result in continued detrimental climate change impacts on the built environment and economic activity in the Arctic.” − Climate News Network

50-million-year cooling trend is reversed

Yet again, scientists have studied the deep past to find warning of a dangerous future: the reversal of a 50-million-year cooling trend.

LONDON, 31 December, 2018 − Humankind, in two centuries, has transformed the climate. It has succeeded in reversing a 50-million-year cooling trend.

Scientists conclude that the profligate combustion of fossil fuels could within three decades take planet Earth back to conditions that existed in the Pliocene three million years ago, an era almost ice-free and at least 1.8°C and possibly 3.6°C warmer than today.

But there is a much earlier warming precedent. The Eocene planet at its warmest 50 million years ago was perhaps 13°C warmer than it has been for almost all human history.

Its continents were differently configured, the Arctic was characterised by swampy forests that might have looked a little like the Louisiana bayous of the US, and the first mammals had begun to colonise the globe.

And then, steadily but unevenly, the globe began to cool towards a level comfortable for human evolution, and then much later to a level that permitted the birth of agriculture and the foundation of a civilisation that fostered writing, music, poetry, scholarship and scientific skills capable of tracing the detailed history of the last 50 million years and at the same time projecting a changing future.

“We have gone from expecting climate change to happen, to detecting its effects, and now we are seeing it is causing harm”

“We can use the past as a yardstick to understand the future, which is so different from anything we have experienced in our lifetime,” said John Williams, a palaeo-ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.

“People have a hard time projecting what the world will be like in five or 10 years from now. This is a tool for predicting that – how we head down those paths, and using deep geologic analogues to think about changes in time.”

Dr Williams and his colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they compared the climate computer forecasts for the mean summer and winter world temperatures from 2020 to 2280, with historic and prehistoric warm periods over the last 50 million years.

And they identified a hotspot in the mid-Pliocene more than 3 million years ago as the best match for global climates after 2030.

They reason that if nations fulfil the promise made in Paris in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep average global warming to no more than 1.5°C above the levels for most of human history, then that is what global conditions will be like.

No parallel

If, on the other hand, nations go on burning fossil fuels under the business-as-usual scenario, then by 2150 the world will be very like the early Eocene, 50 million years ago.

And if that is the case, at least 9% of the globe – including northern Australia, east and south-east Asia, and the coastal Americas – will experience what the scientists call “geologically novel climates”: that is, conditions for which the past can offer no match at all.

It is a tenet of geology that the present is key to the past. If so, the past can also illuminate the future: what has happened before can happen again.

In the course of decades of careful study, climate scientists have identified examples of mass extinction and catastrophic climate change from the Cretaceous and the Permian and even the late Carboniferous, when so much carbon dioxide was taken from the atmosphere and buried as fossil plant material that the planet almost became a snowball.

More directly, change in the past has repeatedly provided increasingly urgent warnings for the near future.

Human flourishing ended

So cogent have been the warnings from the distant past that researchers argue that the epoch in which modern humans flourished – geologists call it the Holocene – effectively came to an end midway through the 20th century.

What initially provided a safe operating space for emerging humanity will, they think, become known as the Anthropocene, because human activity has now so dramatically changed the climate, the landscape and the conditions under which other lifeforms flourish.

“The further we move from the Holocene, the greater we move out of safe operating space,” Professor Williams said.

“In the roughly 20 to 25 years I have been working in the field, we have gone from expecting climate change to happen, to detecting its effects, and now we are seeing it is causing harm.

“People are dying, property is being damaged, we’re seeing intensified fires and intensified storms that can be attributed to climate change.” − Climate News Network

Yet again, scientists have studied the deep past to find warning of a dangerous future: the reversal of a 50-million-year cooling trend.

LONDON, 31 December, 2018 − Humankind, in two centuries, has transformed the climate. It has succeeded in reversing a 50-million-year cooling trend.

Scientists conclude that the profligate combustion of fossil fuels could within three decades take planet Earth back to conditions that existed in the Pliocene three million years ago, an era almost ice-free and at least 1.8°C and possibly 3.6°C warmer than today.

But there is a much earlier warming precedent. The Eocene planet at its warmest 50 million years ago was perhaps 13°C warmer than it has been for almost all human history.

Its continents were differently configured, the Arctic was characterised by swampy forests that might have looked a little like the Louisiana bayous of the US, and the first mammals had begun to colonise the globe.

And then, steadily but unevenly, the globe began to cool towards a level comfortable for human evolution, and then much later to a level that permitted the birth of agriculture and the foundation of a civilisation that fostered writing, music, poetry, scholarship and scientific skills capable of tracing the detailed history of the last 50 million years and at the same time projecting a changing future.

“We have gone from expecting climate change to happen, to detecting its effects, and now we are seeing it is causing harm”

“We can use the past as a yardstick to understand the future, which is so different from anything we have experienced in our lifetime,” said John Williams, a palaeo-ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.

“People have a hard time projecting what the world will be like in five or 10 years from now. This is a tool for predicting that – how we head down those paths, and using deep geologic analogues to think about changes in time.”

Dr Williams and his colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they compared the climate computer forecasts for the mean summer and winter world temperatures from 2020 to 2280, with historic and prehistoric warm periods over the last 50 million years.

And they identified a hotspot in the mid-Pliocene more than 3 million years ago as the best match for global climates after 2030.

They reason that if nations fulfil the promise made in Paris in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep average global warming to no more than 1.5°C above the levels for most of human history, then that is what global conditions will be like.

No parallel

If, on the other hand, nations go on burning fossil fuels under the business-as-usual scenario, then by 2150 the world will be very like the early Eocene, 50 million years ago.

And if that is the case, at least 9% of the globe – including northern Australia, east and south-east Asia, and the coastal Americas – will experience what the scientists call “geologically novel climates”: that is, conditions for which the past can offer no match at all.

It is a tenet of geology that the present is key to the past. If so, the past can also illuminate the future: what has happened before can happen again.

In the course of decades of careful study, climate scientists have identified examples of mass extinction and catastrophic climate change from the Cretaceous and the Permian and even the late Carboniferous, when so much carbon dioxide was taken from the atmosphere and buried as fossil plant material that the planet almost became a snowball.

More directly, change in the past has repeatedly provided increasingly urgent warnings for the near future.

Human flourishing ended

So cogent have been the warnings from the distant past that researchers argue that the epoch in which modern humans flourished – geologists call it the Holocene – effectively came to an end midway through the 20th century.

What initially provided a safe operating space for emerging humanity will, they think, become known as the Anthropocene, because human activity has now so dramatically changed the climate, the landscape and the conditions under which other lifeforms flourish.

“The further we move from the Holocene, the greater we move out of safe operating space,” Professor Williams said.

“In the roughly 20 to 25 years I have been working in the field, we have gone from expecting climate change to happen, to detecting its effects, and now we are seeing it is causing harm.

“People are dying, property is being damaged, we’re seeing intensified fires and intensified storms that can be attributed to climate change.” − Climate News Network

Global water supply shrinks in rainier world

The global water supply is dwindling, even though rainfall is heavier. Once again, climate change is to blame.

LONDON, 20 December, 2018 – Even in a world with more intense rain, communities could begin to run short of water. New research has confirmed that, in a warming world, extremes of drought have begun to diminish the world’s groundwater – and ever more intense rainstorms will do little to make up the loss in the global water supply.

And a second, separate study delivers support for this seeming paradox: worldwide, there is evidence that rainfall patterns are, increasingly, being disturbed. The number of record-dry months has increased overall. And so has the number of record-breaking rainy months.

Both studies match predictions in a world of climate change driven by ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels. But, unlike many climate studies, neither of these is based on computer simulation of predicted change.

Each is instead based on the meticulous analysis of huge quantities of on-the-ground data. Together they provide substance to a 40-year-old prediction of climate change research: that in a warming world, those regions already wet will get ever more rain, while the drylands will tend to become increasingly more arid.

As global temperatures creep up – and they have already risen by 1°C in the past century, and could be set to reach 3°C by 2100 – so does the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb more moisture. It follows that more rain must fall. But at the same time more groundwater evaporates, and the risk of damaging drought increases.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out”

Australian scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they studied readings from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries. And they confirm that even in a world of more intense rain, drought could become the new normal in those regions already at risk.

“This is something that has been missed. We expected rainfall to increase, since warmer air stores more moisture – and that is what climate models predicted too,” said Ashish Sharma, an environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out. We believe the cause is the drying of soils in our catchments. Where once these were moist before a storm event – allowing excess rainfall to run off into rivers – they are now drier and soak up more rain, so less water makes it as flow.”

The study matches predictions. Just in the last few months, climate scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change could be on the way, and that the double hazard of heat waves and sustained drought could devastate harvests in more than one climatic zone in the same season; and that those landlocked rainfall catchment areas that are already dry are becoming increasingly more parched.

But over the same few months, researchers have established repeatedly that tomorrow’s storms will be worse and that more devastating flash floods can be expected even in one of the world’s driest continents, Australia itself.

Less water available

Of all rainfall, only 36% gets into aquifers, streams and lakes. The remaining two thirds seeps into the soils, grasslands and woodlands. But more soil evaporation means less water is available from river supplies for cities and farms.

US researchers have already confirmed that if soils are moist before a storm, 62% of rainfall leads to floods that fill catchments. If soils are dry, only 13% of the rain leads to flooding.

“It’s a double whammy. Less water is ending up where we can’t store it for later use. At the same time, more rain is overwhelming drainage infrastructure in towns and cities, leading to more urban flooding,” said Professor Sharma.

“Small floods are very important for water supply, because they refill dams and form the basis of our water supply. But they’re happening less often, because the soils are sucking up extra rain. Even when a major storm dumps a lot of rain, the soils are so dry they absorb more water than before, and less reaches the rivers and reservoirs”, he said. “We need to adapt to this emerging reality.”

In the second close look at change so far, researchers based in Germany report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters  that they analysed data from 50,000 weather stations worldwide to measure rainfall on a monthly basis.

Climate drives aridity

The US has seen a more than 25% increase of record wet months in the eastern and central regions between 1980 and 2013. Argentina has seen a 32% increase. In central and northern Europe the increase is between 19% and 37%; in Asian Russia, it has been about 20%.

But in Africa south of the Sahara the incidence of very dry months has increased by 50%. “This implies that approximately one out of three record dry months in this region would not have occurred without long-term climate change,” said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Generally, land regions in the tropics and sub-tropics have seen more dry records, and the northern mid- to high-latitudes more wet records. This largely fits the patterns that scientists expect from human-caused climate change.”

His colleague and lead author Jascha Lehmann said: “Normally, record weather events occur by chance and we know how many would happen in a climate without warning. It’s like throwing a dice: on average one out of six times you get a six.

“But by injecting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humankind has loaded the dice. In many regions, we throw sixes much more often, with severe impacts for society and the environment.

“It is worrying that we see significant increases of such extremes with just one degree of global warming.” – Climate News Network

The global water supply is dwindling, even though rainfall is heavier. Once again, climate change is to blame.

LONDON, 20 December, 2018 – Even in a world with more intense rain, communities could begin to run short of water. New research has confirmed that, in a warming world, extremes of drought have begun to diminish the world’s groundwater – and ever more intense rainstorms will do little to make up the loss in the global water supply.

And a second, separate study delivers support for this seeming paradox: worldwide, there is evidence that rainfall patterns are, increasingly, being disturbed. The number of record-dry months has increased overall. And so has the number of record-breaking rainy months.

Both studies match predictions in a world of climate change driven by ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels. But, unlike many climate studies, neither of these is based on computer simulation of predicted change.

Each is instead based on the meticulous analysis of huge quantities of on-the-ground data. Together they provide substance to a 40-year-old prediction of climate change research: that in a warming world, those regions already wet will get ever more rain, while the drylands will tend to become increasingly more arid.

As global temperatures creep up – and they have already risen by 1°C in the past century, and could be set to reach 3°C by 2100 – so does the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb more moisture. It follows that more rain must fall. But at the same time more groundwater evaporates, and the risk of damaging drought increases.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out”

Australian scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they studied readings from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries. And they confirm that even in a world of more intense rain, drought could become the new normal in those regions already at risk.

“This is something that has been missed. We expected rainfall to increase, since warmer air stores more moisture – and that is what climate models predicted too,” said Ashish Sharma, an environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out. We believe the cause is the drying of soils in our catchments. Where once these were moist before a storm event – allowing excess rainfall to run off into rivers – they are now drier and soak up more rain, so less water makes it as flow.”

The study matches predictions. Just in the last few months, climate scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change could be on the way, and that the double hazard of heat waves and sustained drought could devastate harvests in more than one climatic zone in the same season; and that those landlocked rainfall catchment areas that are already dry are becoming increasingly more parched.

But over the same few months, researchers have established repeatedly that tomorrow’s storms will be worse and that more devastating flash floods can be expected even in one of the world’s driest continents, Australia itself.

Less water available

Of all rainfall, only 36% gets into aquifers, streams and lakes. The remaining two thirds seeps into the soils, grasslands and woodlands. But more soil evaporation means less water is available from river supplies for cities and farms.

US researchers have already confirmed that if soils are moist before a storm, 62% of rainfall leads to floods that fill catchments. If soils are dry, only 13% of the rain leads to flooding.

“It’s a double whammy. Less water is ending up where we can’t store it for later use. At the same time, more rain is overwhelming drainage infrastructure in towns and cities, leading to more urban flooding,” said Professor Sharma.

“Small floods are very important for water supply, because they refill dams and form the basis of our water supply. But they’re happening less often, because the soils are sucking up extra rain. Even when a major storm dumps a lot of rain, the soils are so dry they absorb more water than before, and less reaches the rivers and reservoirs”, he said. “We need to adapt to this emerging reality.”

In the second close look at change so far, researchers based in Germany report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters  that they analysed data from 50,000 weather stations worldwide to measure rainfall on a monthly basis.

Climate drives aridity

The US has seen a more than 25% increase of record wet months in the eastern and central regions between 1980 and 2013. Argentina has seen a 32% increase. In central and northern Europe the increase is between 19% and 37%; in Asian Russia, it has been about 20%.

But in Africa south of the Sahara the incidence of very dry months has increased by 50%. “This implies that approximately one out of three record dry months in this region would not have occurred without long-term climate change,” said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Generally, land regions in the tropics and sub-tropics have seen more dry records, and the northern mid- to high-latitudes more wet records. This largely fits the patterns that scientists expect from human-caused climate change.”

His colleague and lead author Jascha Lehmann said: “Normally, record weather events occur by chance and we know how many would happen in a climate without warning. It’s like throwing a dice: on average one out of six times you get a six.

“But by injecting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humankind has loaded the dice. In many regions, we throw sixes much more often, with severe impacts for society and the environment.

“It is worrying that we see significant increases of such extremes with just one degree of global warming.” – Climate News Network

Global warming ‘pause’ never happened

Claims of a global warming ‘pause’ in observed temperatures early this century are unfounded and lack statistical significance, researchers say.

LONDON, 19 December, 2018 − Yet another team of researchers has concluded that the much-debated global warming ‘pause’ which preoccupied climate science around the turn of the century simply did not happen.

If their work continues to win support from other researchers, it will leave those who have argued that the pause was real with some explaining to do.

Some scientists have argued that there was a pause, or hiatus, in the rate of global warming recorded from 1998 to 2013, and that this cast doubt on the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the available evidence showed the world had continued to warm.

Other researchers said variously that the pause had never started, or blamed changes in the trade winds. Many said the pause (or its absence) were anyway irrelevant, because the long-term global warming trend was continuing unabated.

“Global warming did not pause, but we need to understand how and why scientists came to believe it had, to avoid future episodes like this”

Some argued that the “missing” heat had been absorbed by oceans, a few that volcanic discharges might have masked sunlight, some that it was simply evidence of a natural cycle, others that in a longer time series the apparent slowdown became invisible.

Now an international team of climate researchers, after re-analysing existing data and studies, says there has never been a statistically significant pause.

This conclusion holds, they say, whether considering the supposed pause as a change in the rate of warming in observations, or as a mismatch in rate between observations and expectations from climate models. Their findings are published in two papers in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

In other words, they say, there is no reason to doubt that warming continued as mainstream climate scientists argued it would, nor to doubt the methods they used, including climate modelling. But there are reasons to ask why the non-existent pause was so enthusiastically promoted by some scientists and others.

Unsupported by data

Dr James Risbey, from CSIRO Australia, is the lead author of one of the studies, which reassessed the data and put it into historical context.

He said: “Our findings show there is little or no statistical evidence for a ‘pause’ in GMST [global mean surface temperature] rise. Neither the current data nor the historical data support it … there was never enough evidence to reasonably draw any other conclusion.

“Global warming did not pause, but we need to understand how and why scientists came to believe it had, to avoid future episodes like this. The climate-research community’s acceptance of a ‘pause’ in global warming caused confusion for the public and policy system about the pace and urgency of climate change.

“That confusion in turn might have contributed to reduced impetus for action to prevent greenhouse climate change. The risks are substantial.”

Biassed interpretation

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, from the University of Bristol, UK, is the lead author of the companion study, which looks at the alleged mismatch between the rate of global warming in observations and climate models.

He said: “We found the impression of a divergence – that is, a divergence between the rate of actual global warming and the model projections – was caused by various biases in the model interpretation and in the observations. It was unsupported by robust statistics.”

Despite this, the authors point out that by the end of 2017, the ‘pause’ was the subject of more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles. Many of these articles do not give any reason for their choice of start year for the ‘pause’, and the range spans 1995 to 2004.

Professor Lewandowsky said: “This broad range may indicate a lack of formal or scientific procedures to establish the onset of the ‘pause’. Moreover, each instance of the presumed onset was not randomly chosen but chosen specifically because of the low subsequent warming. We describe this as selection bias … some of the biases that affect the datasets and projections were known, or knowable, at the time.”

Contrarian pressure

When the researchers re-analysed the data, accounting for the selection bias problem, they found that no evidence for a divergence between models and observations existed at any time in the last decade.

They offer several possible reasons why some scientists believed climate warming lagged behind modelled warming. One co-author, Professor Naomi Oreskes, from Harvard University, US, said: “An explanation lies in the constant public and political pressure from climate contrarians.

“This may have caused scientists to feel the need to explain what was occurring, which led them inadvertently to accept and reinforce the contrarian framework.”

Dr Dann Mitchell, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol, who was not involved with either study, said: “Given the fast pace of increasing climate change understanding, the conclusions of this paper will be very relevant for the inevitable future ‘apparent’ climate contradictions that emerge over time.” − Climate News Network

Claims of a global warming ‘pause’ in observed temperatures early this century are unfounded and lack statistical significance, researchers say.

LONDON, 19 December, 2018 − Yet another team of researchers has concluded that the much-debated global warming ‘pause’ which preoccupied climate science around the turn of the century simply did not happen.

If their work continues to win support from other researchers, it will leave those who have argued that the pause was real with some explaining to do.

Some scientists have argued that there was a pause, or hiatus, in the rate of global warming recorded from 1998 to 2013, and that this cast doubt on the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the available evidence showed the world had continued to warm.

Other researchers said variously that the pause had never started, or blamed changes in the trade winds. Many said the pause (or its absence) were anyway irrelevant, because the long-term global warming trend was continuing unabated.

“Global warming did not pause, but we need to understand how and why scientists came to believe it had, to avoid future episodes like this”

Some argued that the “missing” heat had been absorbed by oceans, a few that volcanic discharges might have masked sunlight, some that it was simply evidence of a natural cycle, others that in a longer time series the apparent slowdown became invisible.

Now an international team of climate researchers, after re-analysing existing data and studies, says there has never been a statistically significant pause.

This conclusion holds, they say, whether considering the supposed pause as a change in the rate of warming in observations, or as a mismatch in rate between observations and expectations from climate models. Their findings are published in two papers in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

In other words, they say, there is no reason to doubt that warming continued as mainstream climate scientists argued it would, nor to doubt the methods they used, including climate modelling. But there are reasons to ask why the non-existent pause was so enthusiastically promoted by some scientists and others.

Unsupported by data

Dr James Risbey, from CSIRO Australia, is the lead author of one of the studies, which reassessed the data and put it into historical context.

He said: “Our findings show there is little or no statistical evidence for a ‘pause’ in GMST [global mean surface temperature] rise. Neither the current data nor the historical data support it … there was never enough evidence to reasonably draw any other conclusion.

“Global warming did not pause, but we need to understand how and why scientists came to believe it had, to avoid future episodes like this. The climate-research community’s acceptance of a ‘pause’ in global warming caused confusion for the public and policy system about the pace and urgency of climate change.

“That confusion in turn might have contributed to reduced impetus for action to prevent greenhouse climate change. The risks are substantial.”

Biassed interpretation

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, from the University of Bristol, UK, is the lead author of the companion study, which looks at the alleged mismatch between the rate of global warming in observations and climate models.

He said: “We found the impression of a divergence – that is, a divergence between the rate of actual global warming and the model projections – was caused by various biases in the model interpretation and in the observations. It was unsupported by robust statistics.”

Despite this, the authors point out that by the end of 2017, the ‘pause’ was the subject of more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles. Many of these articles do not give any reason for their choice of start year for the ‘pause’, and the range spans 1995 to 2004.

Professor Lewandowsky said: “This broad range may indicate a lack of formal or scientific procedures to establish the onset of the ‘pause’. Moreover, each instance of the presumed onset was not randomly chosen but chosen specifically because of the low subsequent warming. We describe this as selection bias … some of the biases that affect the datasets and projections were known, or knowable, at the time.”

Contrarian pressure

When the researchers re-analysed the data, accounting for the selection bias problem, they found that no evidence for a divergence between models and observations existed at any time in the last decade.

They offer several possible reasons why some scientists believed climate warming lagged behind modelled warming. One co-author, Professor Naomi Oreskes, from Harvard University, US, said: “An explanation lies in the constant public and political pressure from climate contrarians.

“This may have caused scientists to feel the need to explain what was occurring, which led them inadvertently to accept and reinforce the contrarian framework.”

Dr Dann Mitchell, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol, who was not involved with either study, said: “Given the fast pace of increasing climate change understanding, the conclusions of this paper will be very relevant for the inevitable future ‘apparent’ climate contradictions that emerge over time.” − Climate News Network

London’s melting ice shows world’s plight

How do you raise awareness of climate change? A novel approach in the UK this winter, shipped in from Greenland, is London’s melting ice.

LONDON, 18 December, 2018 – They stand on the bank of the river Thames, outside the world-famous Tate Modern art venue – London’s melting ice, 24 large blocks, some transparent, some opaque, all different shapes, all gently melting in the not so cold air. Another six stands of ice sit in a square in the heart of London’s financial district.

Ice Watch is the idea of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing, a Greenland geologist.

“These blocks tell their own story and I suggest you listen to what they have to say”, Eliasson tells London’s Evening Standard newspaper. “Their melting into the ocean is our world melting.”

The blocks on display in London – weighing a total of more than 100 tonnes – were collected from the cold waters of Nuup Kangerlua fjord near Nuuk, Greenland’s capital.

They had originally been part of Greenland’s ice sheet, which covers about 80% of the island and is the largest ice mass in the northern hemisphere. The blocks were transported to London in containers usually used for exports of frozen fish.

“You can’t live in a perennial state of shock. This is what Ice Watch is about”

Glaciologists say rising air and sea temperatures have caused the pace of melting of the ice sheet to go into overdrive in recent times. There are fears that if the sheet continues to melt at its present rate global sea levels could rise by several metres, flooding coastal cities and large tracts of land.

Visitors can touch the mini-icebergs in London and put their ears to the cold surfaces to listen to the crackling noises as the ice melts, with minuscule air pockets trapped within the blocks cracking open.

Dirt and other material trapped within the ice are evidence of life and changes in the atmosphere stretching back over thousands of years. “Smell, look – and witness the ecological changes our world is undergoing”, says Eliasson.

The artist says that while the facts about climate change and how great a threat it is to the world’s future are clear, people still need to be encouraged to take action.

“We need to communicate the facts of climate change to hearts as well as heads, to emotions as well as minds”, says Eliasson.

Fear is ineffective

“When it comes to people’s choices for or against taking climate action, we are inclined to stick to what we have, here and now, rather than make changes. Inducing fear does not seem an effective strategy.

“You can’t live in a perennial state of shock. This is what Ice Watch is about. I am hopeful that we can push for change. To do so, we have to make use of all the tools at hand, including art.”

Minik Rosing, who has undertaken extensive geological work on the Greenland ice sheet, says the melting of the area’s ice has raised global sea levels by 2.5 millimetres. “Earth is changing at an ever-increasing speed”, he says.

A similar Ice Watch installation has already been staged in Paris. Eliasson has long been involved in climate-related issues. Fifteen years ago his Weather Project exhibition was displayed at Tate Modern.

Ice Watch will be in place in London till December 20 – or until the ice melts completely. – Climate News Network

How do you raise awareness of climate change? A novel approach in the UK this winter, shipped in from Greenland, is London’s melting ice.

LONDON, 18 December, 2018 – They stand on the bank of the river Thames, outside the world-famous Tate Modern art venue – London’s melting ice, 24 large blocks, some transparent, some opaque, all different shapes, all gently melting in the not so cold air. Another six stands of ice sit in a square in the heart of London’s financial district.

Ice Watch is the idea of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing, a Greenland geologist.

“These blocks tell their own story and I suggest you listen to what they have to say”, Eliasson tells London’s Evening Standard newspaper. “Their melting into the ocean is our world melting.”

The blocks on display in London – weighing a total of more than 100 tonnes – were collected from the cold waters of Nuup Kangerlua fjord near Nuuk, Greenland’s capital.

They had originally been part of Greenland’s ice sheet, which covers about 80% of the island and is the largest ice mass in the northern hemisphere. The blocks were transported to London in containers usually used for exports of frozen fish.

“You can’t live in a perennial state of shock. This is what Ice Watch is about”

Glaciologists say rising air and sea temperatures have caused the pace of melting of the ice sheet to go into overdrive in recent times. There are fears that if the sheet continues to melt at its present rate global sea levels could rise by several metres, flooding coastal cities and large tracts of land.

Visitors can touch the mini-icebergs in London and put their ears to the cold surfaces to listen to the crackling noises as the ice melts, with minuscule air pockets trapped within the blocks cracking open.

Dirt and other material trapped within the ice are evidence of life and changes in the atmosphere stretching back over thousands of years. “Smell, look – and witness the ecological changes our world is undergoing”, says Eliasson.

The artist says that while the facts about climate change and how great a threat it is to the world’s future are clear, people still need to be encouraged to take action.

“We need to communicate the facts of climate change to hearts as well as heads, to emotions as well as minds”, says Eliasson.

Fear is ineffective

“When it comes to people’s choices for or against taking climate action, we are inclined to stick to what we have, here and now, rather than make changes. Inducing fear does not seem an effective strategy.

“You can’t live in a perennial state of shock. This is what Ice Watch is about. I am hopeful that we can push for change. To do so, we have to make use of all the tools at hand, including art.”

Minik Rosing, who has undertaken extensive geological work on the Greenland ice sheet, says the melting of the area’s ice has raised global sea levels by 2.5 millimetres. “Earth is changing at an ever-increasing speed”, he says.

A similar Ice Watch installation has already been staged in Paris. Eliasson has long been involved in climate-related issues. Fifteen years ago his Weather Project exhibition was displayed at Tate Modern.

Ice Watch will be in place in London till December 20 – or until the ice melts completely. – Climate News Network

Katowice climate talks run short of time

The annual UN global warming conference is over. Despite some progress, the Katowice climate talks show political action still lags far behind the science.

LONDON, 17 December, 2018 − By tradition, United Nations conferences on tackling global warming always over-run. No surprise then that the Katowice climate talks ended a day late. They made some useful progress. But the underlying message from Poland is that diplomatic efforts to prevent global temperatures increasing to dangerous levels are nowhere near what climate scientists say is needed.

Katowice (COP-24, in UN jargon, otherwise the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) was meant to be an opportunity to put flesh on the bare bones of the Paris Agreement, the achievement of the 2015 COP, held three years ago in the French capital.

That agreed that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise by more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, and that every country should do its utmost to keep the rise if possible to a maximum of 1.5°C.

The Agreement’s commitments do not actually commit governments to anything, because they are entirely voluntary. So Katowice sought to agree a rule book: countries would sign up to more demanding pledges of greenhouse gas emission cuts and would be more transparent about how far they were living up to them.

The meeting did agree on measures to improve transparency: how governments will measure, report on and verify their attempts to cut emissions. But there was little movement on the central question of how countries will step up their targets on making bolder cuts, and without that it is hard to see the Paris Agreement being able to have much practical effect.

“The UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science”

For all that, there was praise for Katowice. The incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Johan Rockström, said: “The Katowice agreement is a relief. The Paris Agreement is alive and kicking, despite a rise in populism and nationalism. With the rule book now finally adopted, the Paris agreement can be implemented. Overall the Katowice decisions provide enough momentum to move forward…

“My biggest concern is that the UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science, in particular missing the necessity of making clear that global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut by half by 2030 to stay in line with the IPCC 1.5 C report.

“This is a real concern. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4°C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events are hitting people all across the planet already, with only 1°C of global warming.”

Professor Rockström identifies exactly why many people, despite Katowice’s acknowledged progress, are disappointed at its outcome: it does not seem to have absorbed the scientists’ message that the planet needs far faster action on reducing emissions than anything now on offer.

Approaching crisis

Once again, the careful pace of diplomacy as the annual COPs roll around is the best that the UNFCCC can manage, and it is not remotely fast enough to confront the scientific reality. The negotiators make gradual progress, while in the real world the climate gallops towards crisis point, now only 12 years away according to the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Add to this the fact that the entire COP process is voluntary, consigning the fate of the single biosphere which sustains life on Earth to the choices − and sometimes the whims − of around 200 widely differing governments, and it is little surprise that the UN is being left behind by events.

Yet it remains the only game in town, the only way so far developed for potentially slowing global temperature rise. It’s not enough, but it still offers hope of reducing the threat from climate change to some degree.

The Katowice negotiators ran out of time. It is ironic that at this rate the planet could do so too. − Climate News Network

The annual UN global warming conference is over. Despite some progress, the Katowice climate talks show political action still lags far behind the science.

LONDON, 17 December, 2018 − By tradition, United Nations conferences on tackling global warming always over-run. No surprise then that the Katowice climate talks ended a day late. They made some useful progress. But the underlying message from Poland is that diplomatic efforts to prevent global temperatures increasing to dangerous levels are nowhere near what climate scientists say is needed.

Katowice (COP-24, in UN jargon, otherwise the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) was meant to be an opportunity to put flesh on the bare bones of the Paris Agreement, the achievement of the 2015 COP, held three years ago in the French capital.

That agreed that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise by more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, and that every country should do its utmost to keep the rise if possible to a maximum of 1.5°C.

The Agreement’s commitments do not actually commit governments to anything, because they are entirely voluntary. So Katowice sought to agree a rule book: countries would sign up to more demanding pledges of greenhouse gas emission cuts and would be more transparent about how far they were living up to them.

The meeting did agree on measures to improve transparency: how governments will measure, report on and verify their attempts to cut emissions. But there was little movement on the central question of how countries will step up their targets on making bolder cuts, and without that it is hard to see the Paris Agreement being able to have much practical effect.

“The UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science”

For all that, there was praise for Katowice. The incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Johan Rockström, said: “The Katowice agreement is a relief. The Paris Agreement is alive and kicking, despite a rise in populism and nationalism. With the rule book now finally adopted, the Paris agreement can be implemented. Overall the Katowice decisions provide enough momentum to move forward…

“My biggest concern is that the UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science, in particular missing the necessity of making clear that global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut by half by 2030 to stay in line with the IPCC 1.5 C report.

“This is a real concern. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4°C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events are hitting people all across the planet already, with only 1°C of global warming.”

Professor Rockström identifies exactly why many people, despite Katowice’s acknowledged progress, are disappointed at its outcome: it does not seem to have absorbed the scientists’ message that the planet needs far faster action on reducing emissions than anything now on offer.

Approaching crisis

Once again, the careful pace of diplomacy as the annual COPs roll around is the best that the UNFCCC can manage, and it is not remotely fast enough to confront the scientific reality. The negotiators make gradual progress, while in the real world the climate gallops towards crisis point, now only 12 years away according to the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Add to this the fact that the entire COP process is voluntary, consigning the fate of the single biosphere which sustains life on Earth to the choices − and sometimes the whims − of around 200 widely differing governments, and it is little surprise that the UN is being left behind by events.

Yet it remains the only game in town, the only way so far developed for potentially slowing global temperature rise. It’s not enough, but it still offers hope of reducing the threat from climate change to some degree.

The Katowice negotiators ran out of time. It is ironic that at this rate the planet could do so too. − Climate News Network