Category Archives: Heat

Siberia dries out as forests burn and climate heats

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

3 bn people may face Saharan heat levels by 2070

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network

South Asia’s twin threat: extreme heat and foul air

Climate change means many health risks. Any one of them raises the danger. What happens when extreme heat meets bad air?

LONDON, 29 May, 2020 – Extreme heat can kill. Air pollution can seriously shorten human lives. By 2050, extreme summer heat will threaten about 2 billion people on and around the Indian sub-continent for around 78 days every year. And the chances of unbearable heat waves and choking atmospheric chemistry at the same time will rise by 175%.

Climate scientists have been warning for decades that what were once rare events – for instance the 2003 heat wave that claimed tens of thousands of lives in Europe – will, as global average temperatures rise, become the new normal.

And they have repeatedly warned that in step with extreme summer temperatures, extreme humidity is also likely to increase in some regions, and to levels that could prove potentially fatal for outdoor workers and people in crowded cities.

The link between air pollution and ill health was established 60 or more years ago and has been confirmed again and again with mortality statistics.

Risk to megacities

Now a team from China and the US confirms once more in the journal  AGU Advances, published by the American Geophysical Union, that the danger is real, and that they can tell where it is becoming immediate: in seven nations that stretch from Afghanistan to Myanmar, and from Nepal to the tip of southern India.

Around 1.5bn people live there now, and they are already learning to live with around 45 days of extreme heat every year. By 2050, there will be 2bn people, most of them crammed into megacities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan, and climate models confirm that the number of days of extreme heat could rise to 78 a year.

The number of days on which cities – already blighted by air pollution – reach health-threatening levels of high particulate matter will also rise. When heat and choking air chemistry become too much, lives will be at risk.

That extremes of summer heat are on the increase is now a given. That the intensity, duration and frequency of heat waves will go on rising has also been established. Extremes of heat are a threat to crops and a particular hazard in cities already much hotter than their surrounding landscapes.

“South Asia is a hotspot for future climate change impacts. Much research is needed over other parts of the world on  the risks they pose, and their potential human health effects”

One research group has identified 27 ways in which high temperatures can kill. Others have repeatedly warned of the dangerous mix of high temperatures and high humidity (climate scientists call it the “wet bulb” temperature), and one team of scientists has already argued that such conditions have already arrived, albeit so far for short periods and in limited locations.

The researchers chose the so-called wet-bulb temperature of 25°C as their threshold for an unhealthy extreme, and then worked out the number of days a year that such conditions happened in South Asia: between 1994 and 2006, these arrived at an average of between 40 and 50 days a year.

They then looked at the likely rise with forecast increases in average planetary temperature, depending on how vigorously or feebly the world’s nations tried to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The probability increased by 75%.

They then chose widely-agreed dangerous thresholds for air pollution with soot, and sulphate aerosols, usually from fossil fuel combustion, to find that extremes of pollution would happen by 2050 on around 132 days a year.

Tenfold risk increase

Then they tried to estimate the probabilities that extreme pollution and extreme heat would coincide. They judged that the frequency of these more than usually hazardous days would rise by 175%, and they would last an estimated 79% longer. The area of land exposed to this double assault on human health would by then have increased tenfold.

Scientific publications usually avoid emotional language, but the researchers call their own finding “alarming.”

“South Asia is a hotspot for future climate change impacts,” said Yangyang Xu, of Texas A&M University, the first author.

“I think this study raises a lot of important concerns, and much research is needed over other parts of the world on these compounded extremes, the risks they pose, and their potential human health effects.” – Climate News Network

Climate change means many health risks. Any one of them raises the danger. What happens when extreme heat meets bad air?

LONDON, 29 May, 2020 – Extreme heat can kill. Air pollution can seriously shorten human lives. By 2050, extreme summer heat will threaten about 2 billion people on and around the Indian sub-continent for around 78 days every year. And the chances of unbearable heat waves and choking atmospheric chemistry at the same time will rise by 175%.

Climate scientists have been warning for decades that what were once rare events – for instance the 2003 heat wave that claimed tens of thousands of lives in Europe – will, as global average temperatures rise, become the new normal.

And they have repeatedly warned that in step with extreme summer temperatures, extreme humidity is also likely to increase in some regions, and to levels that could prove potentially fatal for outdoor workers and people in crowded cities.

The link between air pollution and ill health was established 60 or more years ago and has been confirmed again and again with mortality statistics.

Risk to megacities

Now a team from China and the US confirms once more in the journal  AGU Advances, published by the American Geophysical Union, that the danger is real, and that they can tell where it is becoming immediate: in seven nations that stretch from Afghanistan to Myanmar, and from Nepal to the tip of southern India.

Around 1.5bn people live there now, and they are already learning to live with around 45 days of extreme heat every year. By 2050, there will be 2bn people, most of them crammed into megacities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan, and climate models confirm that the number of days of extreme heat could rise to 78 a year.

The number of days on which cities – already blighted by air pollution – reach health-threatening levels of high particulate matter will also rise. When heat and choking air chemistry become too much, lives will be at risk.

That extremes of summer heat are on the increase is now a given. That the intensity, duration and frequency of heat waves will go on rising has also been established. Extremes of heat are a threat to crops and a particular hazard in cities already much hotter than their surrounding landscapes.

“South Asia is a hotspot for future climate change impacts. Much research is needed over other parts of the world on  the risks they pose, and their potential human health effects”

One research group has identified 27 ways in which high temperatures can kill. Others have repeatedly warned of the dangerous mix of high temperatures and high humidity (climate scientists call it the “wet bulb” temperature), and one team of scientists has already argued that such conditions have already arrived, albeit so far for short periods and in limited locations.

The researchers chose the so-called wet-bulb temperature of 25°C as their threshold for an unhealthy extreme, and then worked out the number of days a year that such conditions happened in South Asia: between 1994 and 2006, these arrived at an average of between 40 and 50 days a year.

They then looked at the likely rise with forecast increases in average planetary temperature, depending on how vigorously or feebly the world’s nations tried to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The probability increased by 75%.

They then chose widely-agreed dangerous thresholds for air pollution with soot, and sulphate aerosols, usually from fossil fuel combustion, to find that extremes of pollution would happen by 2050 on around 132 days a year.

Tenfold risk increase

Then they tried to estimate the probabilities that extreme pollution and extreme heat would coincide. They judged that the frequency of these more than usually hazardous days would rise by 175%, and they would last an estimated 79% longer. The area of land exposed to this double assault on human health would by then have increased tenfold.

Scientific publications usually avoid emotional language, but the researchers call their own finding “alarming.”

“South Asia is a hotspot for future climate change impacts,” said Yangyang Xu, of Texas A&M University, the first author.

“I think this study raises a lot of important concerns, and much research is needed over other parts of the world on these compounded extremes, the risks they pose, and their potential human health effects.” – Climate News Network