Category Archives: Heat

Half a billion people may face heat of 56°C by 2100

Take today’s heat, apply mathematical logic and consider a murderously hot future, 56°C by 2100, for hundreds of millions.

LONDON, 29 March, 2021 − Many millions of people − among them some of the world’s poorest − will be exposed to potentially lethal temperatures on a routine basis. At worst, the mercury could reach 56°C by 2100.

Even if the world keeps its most ambitious promise and contains global heating to no more than 1.5°C above the global average normal for most of human history, the future looks distinctly menacing.

And if the world doesn’t quite get there, and annual average temperatures − already 1°C above the historic norm − rise to 2°C, then vast numbers of people in South Asia will find themselves exposed to deadly conditions at least three times as often.

As the researchers make this sober warning in one journal, researchers on the same day in yet another journal make a simple prediction about the cost of ignoring such warnings altogether, to go on burning ever more fossil fuels and destroying ever more tracts of the natural world.

If this happens, then people in the Middle East and North Africa will be hit by a new category of thermal menace: the arrival of super-extreme and ultra-extreme heatwaves.

Target far exceeded

Which means that by the end of this century, more than half a billion people could be exposed to temperatures as high as 56°C, not just for days, but for weeks. The hottest temperature so far ever recorded on Earth was 54°C, in Death Valley, California in 2020.

In 2015, almost all of the world’s nations met in Paris and vowed to contain global heating by the century’s end to “well below” a maximum of 2°C. In fact, the less explicit intention was to contain the mercury’s rise to no higher than 1.5°C.

So much for the vow: the latest evidence is that, on the basis of the national declared intentions so far, global temperatures will rise far higher than the 2°C target. And summer − defined as the hottest 25% of the year − could by the century’s end last almost six months.

A new computational study in Geophysical Research Letters warns that the 1.5°C target could be passed by 2040, in just two decades. And with higher average temperatures over longer periods, there will inevitably be higher than average extremes of temperature, more often, for longer periods, and over wider ranges.

“The need for adaptation over South Asia is today, not in the future. It’s not a choice any more.”

The outcome could be devastating for the countries of South Asia − India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma among them − as the thermometer rises and the humidity increases. Researchers have warned for years that at a certain level of heat and humidity − meteorologists call it the “wet bulb” temperature − humans cannot labour productively.

That level is 32°C. At a wet bulb temperature of 35°C, humans cannot expect to survive for long. Some parts of the region have already felt such temperatures with a global average rise of just over 1°C: in 2015, at least 3500 people in Pakistan and India died from causes directly related to extreme heat.

At 1.5°C the consequences could be significantly worse, and at 2°C, the scientists say, the hazard will have been amplified by a factor of 2.7: almost threefold. South Asia could later this century be home to more than two billion people: of the working population, 60% are now engaged in agricultural labour out of doors, and many millions live in crowded cities and in severe poverty. The region should prepare itself for a dangerously hot future.

“The future looks bad for South Asia,” said Moetasim Ashfaq, of the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the authors, “but the worst can be avoided by containing warming to as low as possible. The need for adaptation over South Asia is today, not in the future. It’s not a choice any more.”

That heat extremes are potentially lethal, that the people of South Asia are potentially at risk, and that an enormous proportion of the planet’s population will be exposed to dangerously high temperatures is not in dispute: the questions now are about the degree of danger, and its extent.

Ultra-extreme heat

Once again, the statisticians have been at work, and the answer in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science is: it will be much worse, over a vaster region and for a very large number of people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Their calculations suggest that temperatures could reach as high as 56°C, and even more than 60° C in sweltering cities. Such heat extremes could endure for weeks.

So within the lifetimes of those alive today, about half the region’s population − that is, about 600 million people − could face extreme temperatures of around 56°C by 2100 every summer.

The researchers put their message with unusual forthrightness in the headline: “Business-as-usual will lead to super- and ultra-extreme heatwaves in the Middle East and North Africa.” − Climate News Network

Take today’s heat, apply mathematical logic and consider a murderously hot future, 56°C by 2100, for hundreds of millions.

LONDON, 29 March, 2021 − Many millions of people − among them some of the world’s poorest − will be exposed to potentially lethal temperatures on a routine basis. At worst, the mercury could reach 56°C by 2100.

Even if the world keeps its most ambitious promise and contains global heating to no more than 1.5°C above the global average normal for most of human history, the future looks distinctly menacing.

And if the world doesn’t quite get there, and annual average temperatures − already 1°C above the historic norm − rise to 2°C, then vast numbers of people in South Asia will find themselves exposed to deadly conditions at least three times as often.

As the researchers make this sober warning in one journal, researchers on the same day in yet another journal make a simple prediction about the cost of ignoring such warnings altogether, to go on burning ever more fossil fuels and destroying ever more tracts of the natural world.

If this happens, then people in the Middle East and North Africa will be hit by a new category of thermal menace: the arrival of super-extreme and ultra-extreme heatwaves.

Target far exceeded

Which means that by the end of this century, more than half a billion people could be exposed to temperatures as high as 56°C, not just for days, but for weeks. The hottest temperature so far ever recorded on Earth was 54°C, in Death Valley, California in 2020.

In 2015, almost all of the world’s nations met in Paris and vowed to contain global heating by the century’s end to “well below” a maximum of 2°C. In fact, the less explicit intention was to contain the mercury’s rise to no higher than 1.5°C.

So much for the vow: the latest evidence is that, on the basis of the national declared intentions so far, global temperatures will rise far higher than the 2°C target. And summer − defined as the hottest 25% of the year − could by the century’s end last almost six months.

A new computational study in Geophysical Research Letters warns that the 1.5°C target could be passed by 2040, in just two decades. And with higher average temperatures over longer periods, there will inevitably be higher than average extremes of temperature, more often, for longer periods, and over wider ranges.

“The need for adaptation over South Asia is today, not in the future. It’s not a choice any more.”

The outcome could be devastating for the countries of South Asia − India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma among them − as the thermometer rises and the humidity increases. Researchers have warned for years that at a certain level of heat and humidity − meteorologists call it the “wet bulb” temperature − humans cannot labour productively.

That level is 32°C. At a wet bulb temperature of 35°C, humans cannot expect to survive for long. Some parts of the region have already felt such temperatures with a global average rise of just over 1°C: in 2015, at least 3500 people in Pakistan and India died from causes directly related to extreme heat.

At 1.5°C the consequences could be significantly worse, and at 2°C, the scientists say, the hazard will have been amplified by a factor of 2.7: almost threefold. South Asia could later this century be home to more than two billion people: of the working population, 60% are now engaged in agricultural labour out of doors, and many millions live in crowded cities and in severe poverty. The region should prepare itself for a dangerously hot future.

“The future looks bad for South Asia,” said Moetasim Ashfaq, of the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the authors, “but the worst can be avoided by containing warming to as low as possible. The need for adaptation over South Asia is today, not in the future. It’s not a choice any more.”

That heat extremes are potentially lethal, that the people of South Asia are potentially at risk, and that an enormous proportion of the planet’s population will be exposed to dangerously high temperatures is not in dispute: the questions now are about the degree of danger, and its extent.

Ultra-extreme heat

Once again, the statisticians have been at work, and the answer in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science is: it will be much worse, over a vaster region and for a very large number of people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Their calculations suggest that temperatures could reach as high as 56°C, and even more than 60° C in sweltering cities. Such heat extremes could endure for weeks.

So within the lifetimes of those alive today, about half the region’s population − that is, about 600 million people − could face extreme temperatures of around 56°C by 2100 every summer.

The researchers put their message with unusual forthrightness in the headline: “Business-as-usual will lead to super- and ultra-extreme heatwaves in the Middle East and North Africa.” − Climate News Network

Poorest people will suffer worst from cities’ heat

As ever, the poorest people will most feel the heat in a hotter world. But a green growth initiative could help them.

LONDON, 9 March, 2021 − As the summer thermometer soars, and the cities of the US Southwest are caught up in extremes of heat, the poorest people who live in the least prosperous districts may find their streets as much as 3°C hotter than those of the wealthiest 10%.

And in Los Angeles, one of the richest cities in one of the richest states of the world’s richest nation, citizens in the most heavily Latin-American districts could be as much as 3.7°C hotter than their white, well-heeled neighbours.

Excess heat is linked to heat stroke, exhaustion, respiratory and cardiovascular problems and of course death: one US group has identified 27 ways in which heat can kill, and several sets of researchers have independently established that potentially lethal heat waves are becoming more likely, more extreme and more widespread.

Californian geographers report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that they mapped summer temperatures in 20 urban centres in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

“The study provides strong new evidence of climate impact disparities affecting disadvantaged communities”

They looked at the data for median household income, and for ethnic origin, to identify the ratio of Black, Latin and Asian populations in each.

They also took into account education levels. And then they looked at satellite data for radiant and atmospheric temperatures on the warmest summer days and nights.

The greatest disparities in street temperature were in California. But on average the poorest 10% of neighbourhoods in a conurbation would be 2.2°C hotter than the wealthiest 10% both on average summer days and during extremes of heat.

There is a term for this: the inner city becomes a heat island. As global temperatures rise, crowded cities become increasingly inhospitable. Paved streets and car parks absorb and retain the sun’s radiation.

Ending ‘thermal inequity’

The suburbs and the high-amenity residential districts will have tree-lined streets, private gardens, parks, flower displays, lawns and even fountains or pools, all to help lower the local temperatures.

Using the constrained language favoured by science journals, the authors write: “The implication would be that programs to increase vegetation within disadvantaged neighborhoods and reduce or lighten pavements and rooftops could help reduce thermal disparities between neighborhoods of different socio-economic characteristics.”

The researchers can hardly have been surprised by their own results: a look at published research had shown them that other groups have found evidence of what they call “thermal inequity” in Hong Kong, New York and Chicago, as well as in Santiago, Chile and in the crowded cities of Britain’s West Midlands.

“The study provides strong new evidence of climate impact disparities affecting disadvantaged communities, and of the need for proactive steps to reduce those risks,” said John Dialesandro, of the department of human ecology at the University of California Davis, who led the research. “There is a strong need for state and local governments to take action.” − Climate News Network

As ever, the poorest people will most feel the heat in a hotter world. But a green growth initiative could help them.

LONDON, 9 March, 2021 − As the summer thermometer soars, and the cities of the US Southwest are caught up in extremes of heat, the poorest people who live in the least prosperous districts may find their streets as much as 3°C hotter than those of the wealthiest 10%.

And in Los Angeles, one of the richest cities in one of the richest states of the world’s richest nation, citizens in the most heavily Latin-American districts could be as much as 3.7°C hotter than their white, well-heeled neighbours.

Excess heat is linked to heat stroke, exhaustion, respiratory and cardiovascular problems and of course death: one US group has identified 27 ways in which heat can kill, and several sets of researchers have independently established that potentially lethal heat waves are becoming more likely, more extreme and more widespread.

Californian geographers report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that they mapped summer temperatures in 20 urban centres in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

“The study provides strong new evidence of climate impact disparities affecting disadvantaged communities”

They looked at the data for median household income, and for ethnic origin, to identify the ratio of Black, Latin and Asian populations in each.

They also took into account education levels. And then they looked at satellite data for radiant and atmospheric temperatures on the warmest summer days and nights.

The greatest disparities in street temperature were in California. But on average the poorest 10% of neighbourhoods in a conurbation would be 2.2°C hotter than the wealthiest 10% both on average summer days and during extremes of heat.

There is a term for this: the inner city becomes a heat island. As global temperatures rise, crowded cities become increasingly inhospitable. Paved streets and car parks absorb and retain the sun’s radiation.

Ending ‘thermal inequity’

The suburbs and the high-amenity residential districts will have tree-lined streets, private gardens, parks, flower displays, lawns and even fountains or pools, all to help lower the local temperatures.

Using the constrained language favoured by science journals, the authors write: “The implication would be that programs to increase vegetation within disadvantaged neighborhoods and reduce or lighten pavements and rooftops could help reduce thermal disparities between neighborhoods of different socio-economic characteristics.”

The researchers can hardly have been surprised by their own results: a look at published research had shown them that other groups have found evidence of what they call “thermal inequity” in Hong Kong, New York and Chicago, as well as in Santiago, Chile and in the crowded cities of Britain’s West Midlands.

“The study provides strong new evidence of climate impact disparities affecting disadvantaged communities, and of the need for proactive steps to reduce those risks,” said John Dialesandro, of the department of human ecology at the University of California Davis, who led the research. “There is a strong need for state and local governments to take action.” − Climate News Network

Alpine plants face risk from growing climate heat

Like many mountainous regions, the European Alps are warming fast. Alpine plants will suffer – and life below ground as well.

LONDON, 1 March, 2021 – The early melting of snow in the Alps is not just bad news for ardent skiers and for those who are dependent on the money they earn during the winter sports season: Alpine plants are in danger too.

Rising temperatures due to climate change are also having a negative impact deep below the surface of the ground.

New research by scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK demonstrates that warming in the area is threatening microbes which live in the Alpine soils.

The microbes play a critical role in supporting life forms above ground, recycling key nutrients upon which animals, plants – and humans – depend.

“More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century”

The microbes also control the amount of carbon stored in the soil: if the cycle of microbial activity is disrupted, then more carbon is released into the atmosphere, resulting in further global warming.

Arthur Broadbent, lead author of a research paper in the ISME Journal,  says climate change is having an alarming impact on microbial communities in Alpine soils.

“Using a high-alpine experiment in the Austrian Alps, we discovered that spring snowmelt triggers an abrupt seasonal transition in soil microbial communities, which is closely linked to rapid shifts in carbon and nitrogen cycling”, he said.

During the winter, microbes in the Alpine soils depend on snow to act as an insulating blanket, allowing them to continue to work throughout the cold months.

Himalayan disaster

The researchers say that climate change in the Alps is taking place at double the rate of the global average. Separate research indicates that profound changes are happening in the Alps and in many other mountainous regions around the world.

In February a flash flood in Uttarakhand in northern India killed nearly 70 people, with 136 more missing and now presumed dead. Most scientists believe the warming climate was the cause of the glacier melt which triggered the disaster.

There are predictions that over the next 80 years more than 90% of glacier ice in the Alpine region will be lost due to ever-rising temperatures.

“Snowmelt is predicted to occur 50 to 130 days earlier in alpine regions due to climate change by the end of the century”, says Dr Broadbent.

Increased warming

“Using experimental manipulations, we demonstrated that earlier snowmelt, of even just 10 days, leads to an earlier seasonal transition in microbial communities and biogeochemical cycling.”

The research paper says that changes in the microbial cycle caused by snow melt will result in less carbon being retained in the soil and so have a negative impact on the growth and productivity of plants.

“This would negatively affect agricultural production and disrupt natural ecosystems. It will also alter annual carbon fluxes in these ecosystems with the potential to cause further climate warming.”

The authors conclude with a clear warning: “More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century.” – Climate News Network

Like many mountainous regions, the European Alps are warming fast. Alpine plants will suffer – and life below ground as well.

LONDON, 1 March, 2021 – The early melting of snow in the Alps is not just bad news for ardent skiers and for those who are dependent on the money they earn during the winter sports season: Alpine plants are in danger too.

Rising temperatures due to climate change are also having a negative impact deep below the surface of the ground.

New research by scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK demonstrates that warming in the area is threatening microbes which live in the Alpine soils.

The microbes play a critical role in supporting life forms above ground, recycling key nutrients upon which animals, plants – and humans – depend.

“More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century”

The microbes also control the amount of carbon stored in the soil: if the cycle of microbial activity is disrupted, then more carbon is released into the atmosphere, resulting in further global warming.

Arthur Broadbent, lead author of a research paper in the ISME Journal,  says climate change is having an alarming impact on microbial communities in Alpine soils.

“Using a high-alpine experiment in the Austrian Alps, we discovered that spring snowmelt triggers an abrupt seasonal transition in soil microbial communities, which is closely linked to rapid shifts in carbon and nitrogen cycling”, he said.

During the winter, microbes in the Alpine soils depend on snow to act as an insulating blanket, allowing them to continue to work throughout the cold months.

Himalayan disaster

The researchers say that climate change in the Alps is taking place at double the rate of the global average. Separate research indicates that profound changes are happening in the Alps and in many other mountainous regions around the world.

In February a flash flood in Uttarakhand in northern India killed nearly 70 people, with 136 more missing and now presumed dead. Most scientists believe the warming climate was the cause of the glacier melt which triggered the disaster.

There are predictions that over the next 80 years more than 90% of glacier ice in the Alpine region will be lost due to ever-rising temperatures.

“Snowmelt is predicted to occur 50 to 130 days earlier in alpine regions due to climate change by the end of the century”, says Dr Broadbent.

Increased warming

“Using experimental manipulations, we demonstrated that earlier snowmelt, of even just 10 days, leads to an earlier seasonal transition in microbial communities and biogeochemical cycling.”

The research paper says that changes in the microbial cycle caused by snow melt will result in less carbon being retained in the soil and so have a negative impact on the growth and productivity of plants.

“This would negatively affect agricultural production and disrupt natural ecosystems. It will also alter annual carbon fluxes in these ecosystems with the potential to cause further climate warming.”

The authors conclude with a clear warning: “More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century.” – Climate News Network

Wild flowers and bees contend with climate heat

Many alpine flowers could soon fade out. Some bees may be buzzing off. The wild things are victims of climate heat.

LONDON, 9 February, 2021 − Thanks to climate heat, this could be the last farewell to mossy saxifrage, to alpine wormwood and mignonette-leafed bittercress. With them could go plants most people could hardly name: dwarf cudweed, alpine stonecrop, mossy cyphel, cobweb houseleek and two kinds of hawkweed. All of them are mountain-dwellers, hardy little plants that depend for their existence on alpine glaciers.

And almost everywhere in the world, high-altitude rivers of ice are in retreat. Global heating, climate change and human disturbance alter both the conditions for growth and the rich variety of life.

In the same week that one team of researchers listed the alpine flowers threatened with extinction, another team of scientists assembled an inventory of observations of wild bees, to find that a quarter of the world’s 20,000 bee species have not been recorded in the last 25 years.

Bees and flowers are interdependent: they evolved together and would perish together. But climate change threatens to take a selective toll on a range of alpine plants − beloved of gardeners but also important in liqueurs and medicines − as glaciers retreat in the mountainous regions.

These little flowers are to be found variously in the Sierra Nevada in Spain, the Apennines in Italy, along the spine of the Alps in Switzerland and Austria, and even in the highlands of Scotland.

And one day, according to a new study in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, many or all of them could be locally extinct.

“Something is happening to the bees, and something needs to be done … The next step is prodding policymakers into action while we still have time. The bees cannot wait”

The wildflowers listed in the first two sentences − Saxifraga bryoides, Artemisia genipi, Cardamine resedifolia, Leucanthemopsis alpina, Gnaphalium supinum, Sedum alpestre, Minuartia sedoides, Sempervivum arachnoideum, Hieracium staticifolium and H. glanduliferum − could all go, and another suite of alpine opportunists could take advantage of their living space.

Californian researchers report that they looked at 117 plant species and matched them with geological evidence from four glaciers in the Italian Alps, and then used computational systems to calculate how plant communities have changed over the last five thousand years, and what might happen as the glaciers continue to retreat.

They found that as the glaciers disappear, more than one in five of their sample alpines could also vanish. The loss of that 22% however could be to the benefit of around 29% of the surveyed species, among them the snow gentian, Gentiana nivalis and the dwarf yellow cinquefoil Potentialla aurea. Some alpines would probably not be affected: among them alpine lovage or Ligusticum mutellina and Pedicularis kerneri, a variety of lousewort.

The authors make no mention of one alpine almost everybody in the world could name: Leontopodium nivale or edelweiss. But what happens to even the most insignificant wild plants matters to everybody.

“Plants are the primary producers at the basis of the food web that sustained our lives and economies, and biodiversity is the key to healthy ecosystems − biodiversity also represents an inestimable cultural value that needs to be properly supported,” said Gianalberto Losapio, a biologist at Stanford University in the US.

Growing interest

Meanwhile in Argentina researchers decided to take advantage of citizen science to check on some of the flower world’s biggest fans, the wild bees. There has been huge concern about observed decline in insect abundance, as wild ecosystems are colonised by humans and global average temperatures rise to change the world’s weather systems.

But over the same decades, there has also been a dramatic increase in informed interest in the wild things, among gardeners, bird-watchers and butterfly lovers, and an exponential rise in records available to an international network of databases called the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

And, say researchers in the journal One Earth, as global records soar, the number of bee species listed in those records has gone down. Around 25% fewer species were recorded between 2006 and 2015 than were listed in the 1990s.

Wild bees have a role in the pollination of about 85% of the world’s food crops. Without the bees, many wild flowers could not replicate.

“It’s not exactly a bee cataclysm yet, but what we can say is that wild bees are not exactly thriving,” said Eduardo Zattara, a biodiversity researcher at CONICET-Universidad Nacional del Comahue.

“Something is happening to the bees, and something needs to be done. We cannot wait until we have absolute certainty because we rarely get there in the natural sciences. The next step is prodding policymakers into action while we still have time. The bees cannot wait.” − Climate News Network

Many alpine flowers could soon fade out. Some bees may be buzzing off. The wild things are victims of climate heat.

LONDON, 9 February, 2021 − Thanks to climate heat, this could be the last farewell to mossy saxifrage, to alpine wormwood and mignonette-leafed bittercress. With them could go plants most people could hardly name: dwarf cudweed, alpine stonecrop, mossy cyphel, cobweb houseleek and two kinds of hawkweed. All of them are mountain-dwellers, hardy little plants that depend for their existence on alpine glaciers.

And almost everywhere in the world, high-altitude rivers of ice are in retreat. Global heating, climate change and human disturbance alter both the conditions for growth and the rich variety of life.

In the same week that one team of researchers listed the alpine flowers threatened with extinction, another team of scientists assembled an inventory of observations of wild bees, to find that a quarter of the world’s 20,000 bee species have not been recorded in the last 25 years.

Bees and flowers are interdependent: they evolved together and would perish together. But climate change threatens to take a selective toll on a range of alpine plants − beloved of gardeners but also important in liqueurs and medicines − as glaciers retreat in the mountainous regions.

These little flowers are to be found variously in the Sierra Nevada in Spain, the Apennines in Italy, along the spine of the Alps in Switzerland and Austria, and even in the highlands of Scotland.

And one day, according to a new study in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, many or all of them could be locally extinct.

“Something is happening to the bees, and something needs to be done … The next step is prodding policymakers into action while we still have time. The bees cannot wait”

The wildflowers listed in the first two sentences − Saxifraga bryoides, Artemisia genipi, Cardamine resedifolia, Leucanthemopsis alpina, Gnaphalium supinum, Sedum alpestre, Minuartia sedoides, Sempervivum arachnoideum, Hieracium staticifolium and H. glanduliferum − could all go, and another suite of alpine opportunists could take advantage of their living space.

Californian researchers report that they looked at 117 plant species and matched them with geological evidence from four glaciers in the Italian Alps, and then used computational systems to calculate how plant communities have changed over the last five thousand years, and what might happen as the glaciers continue to retreat.

They found that as the glaciers disappear, more than one in five of their sample alpines could also vanish. The loss of that 22% however could be to the benefit of around 29% of the surveyed species, among them the snow gentian, Gentiana nivalis and the dwarf yellow cinquefoil Potentialla aurea. Some alpines would probably not be affected: among them alpine lovage or Ligusticum mutellina and Pedicularis kerneri, a variety of lousewort.

The authors make no mention of one alpine almost everybody in the world could name: Leontopodium nivale or edelweiss. But what happens to even the most insignificant wild plants matters to everybody.

“Plants are the primary producers at the basis of the food web that sustained our lives and economies, and biodiversity is the key to healthy ecosystems − biodiversity also represents an inestimable cultural value that needs to be properly supported,” said Gianalberto Losapio, a biologist at Stanford University in the US.

Growing interest

Meanwhile in Argentina researchers decided to take advantage of citizen science to check on some of the flower world’s biggest fans, the wild bees. There has been huge concern about observed decline in insect abundance, as wild ecosystems are colonised by humans and global average temperatures rise to change the world’s weather systems.

But over the same decades, there has also been a dramatic increase in informed interest in the wild things, among gardeners, bird-watchers and butterfly lovers, and an exponential rise in records available to an international network of databases called the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

And, say researchers in the journal One Earth, as global records soar, the number of bee species listed in those records has gone down. Around 25% fewer species were recorded between 2006 and 2015 than were listed in the 1990s.

Wild bees have a role in the pollination of about 85% of the world’s food crops. Without the bees, many wild flowers could not replicate.

“It’s not exactly a bee cataclysm yet, but what we can say is that wild bees are not exactly thriving,” said Eduardo Zattara, a biodiversity researcher at CONICET-Universidad Nacional del Comahue.

“Something is happening to the bees, and something needs to be done. We cannot wait until we have absolute certainty because we rarely get there in the natural sciences. The next step is prodding policymakers into action while we still have time. The bees cannot wait.” − Climate News Network

Rising heat forces big growth in electricity demand

As temperatures increase, rising heat will mean many power stations falter, leaving homes dark, chilly and short of energy.

LONDON, 13 January, 2021 − US scientists have identified a new anxiety for a world of heat extremes. As the thermometer climbs, they warn, the efficiency of thermal power plants will fall, as the rising heat makes it harder to keep the generators cool.

In a world in which billions of urban dwellers could be exposed to temperatures at the moment experienced in the Sahara desert and other  hotspots, and in which heat and humidity could reach potentially lethal  levels, the problems ahead for energy companies may seem of less consequence.

But rising city temperatures will inevitably be matched by ever-greater demand for electrically-driven air conditioning. And as air and water temperatures rise, and demand increases, turbines driven by coal, oil and gas combustion must, to operate efficiently, be cooled by air or water.

But if the air and water are warmer too, efficiency and then capacity could fall, by as much as 10%, causing periods when power suddenly becomes unavailable.

“We are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures”

And on the latest calculations, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, if global average temperatures increase by 2°C, then the number of outages on hot days could double.

In fact, global average temperatures have already climbed by more than 1°C, and could hit 1.5°C as early as 2027. Demand for air conditioning has already begun to affect US energy supplies.

“Our work demonstrates a harmful interaction between human adaptation and infrastructure vulnerability in a warming world,” said Ethan Coffel, a geographer at Syracuse University in New York, who led the research into the likely impacts of rising heat.

“As hot days become more frequent, people will want air conditioners to protect themselves from unpleasant and dangerous heat. But these air conditioners need electricity, which further increases the greenhouse emissions that drive global warming further.”

Big shortfall

And that puts a strain on the grid that distributes power around a nation. It also sets a challenge to those nations that have yet to invest heavily in renewable energy sources such as wind power and photovoltaic cells, and to phase out thermal generators.

“By the middle of the century we find that 100 to 200 additional average-sized global power plants could be required to make up for the electricity generating capacity lost due to heat,” Dr Coffel warned.

“Major progress has been made to reduce the cost of wind and solar power − these zero-carbon sources are now often cheaper than fossil fuels. So making the transition away from coal, oil and gas not only makes climate sense, but also economic sense.

“However, we are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures.” − Climate News Network

As temperatures increase, rising heat will mean many power stations falter, leaving homes dark, chilly and short of energy.

LONDON, 13 January, 2021 − US scientists have identified a new anxiety for a world of heat extremes. As the thermometer climbs, they warn, the efficiency of thermal power plants will fall, as the rising heat makes it harder to keep the generators cool.

In a world in which billions of urban dwellers could be exposed to temperatures at the moment experienced in the Sahara desert and other  hotspots, and in which heat and humidity could reach potentially lethal  levels, the problems ahead for energy companies may seem of less consequence.

But rising city temperatures will inevitably be matched by ever-greater demand for electrically-driven air conditioning. And as air and water temperatures rise, and demand increases, turbines driven by coal, oil and gas combustion must, to operate efficiently, be cooled by air or water.

But if the air and water are warmer too, efficiency and then capacity could fall, by as much as 10%, causing periods when power suddenly becomes unavailable.

“We are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures”

And on the latest calculations, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, if global average temperatures increase by 2°C, then the number of outages on hot days could double.

In fact, global average temperatures have already climbed by more than 1°C, and could hit 1.5°C as early as 2027. Demand for air conditioning has already begun to affect US energy supplies.

“Our work demonstrates a harmful interaction between human adaptation and infrastructure vulnerability in a warming world,” said Ethan Coffel, a geographer at Syracuse University in New York, who led the research into the likely impacts of rising heat.

“As hot days become more frequent, people will want air conditioners to protect themselves from unpleasant and dangerous heat. But these air conditioners need electricity, which further increases the greenhouse emissions that drive global warming further.”

Big shortfall

And that puts a strain on the grid that distributes power around a nation. It also sets a challenge to those nations that have yet to invest heavily in renewable energy sources such as wind power and photovoltaic cells, and to phase out thermal generators.

“By the middle of the century we find that 100 to 200 additional average-sized global power plants could be required to make up for the electricity generating capacity lost due to heat,” Dr Coffel warned.

“Major progress has been made to reduce the cost of wind and solar power − these zero-carbon sources are now often cheaper than fossil fuels. So making the transition away from coal, oil and gas not only makes climate sense, but also economic sense.

“However, we are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures.” − Climate News Network

Earth is now committed to a 2°C hotter future

2020 matched all global heating records. In 2021 carbon releases will reach a milestone. Soon we face a 2°C hotter future.

LONDON, 12 January, 2021 − We Earthlings are now unmistakably on our way to the global climate we promised barely six years ago we’d never reach − a 2°C hotter future.

Some time this year, thanks to fossil fuel combustion and the destruction of natural ecosystems, the levels of carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere will be half as high again as the average for most of human history. That is, they will be more than half-way to doubling.

And the warming already driven by this extra charge of greenhouse gas has reached new heights: 2020, according to one calculation, shares with 2016 the grim accolade of the hottest year in history, at the end of the hottest decade since systematic records began.

A third study warns that yet more warming is now inevitable: the greenhouse gases already released must take average planetary temperatures from the present rise of more than 1°C to beyond 2°C − the limit that 195 nations vowed not to exceed when they met in Paris in 2015.

All three studies are simply progress reports on climate change itself. It is more than a century since scientists began to link carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere with planetary temperatures, and more than 50 years since researchers began systematically monitoring atmospheric CO2 at an observatory in Hawaii, and since the first warnings that rising greenhouse gas levels could precipitate potentially catastrophic climate change.

“Our results suggest we have most likely already emitted enough carbon to exceed 2°C”

And this year, says the British Met Office, the ratio will creep up by more than 2 parts per million on last year. That will take the average to beyond 417 ppm for a number of weeks this northern hemisphere spring. And that will be 50% higher than the 278 ppm that was the norm at the close of the 18th century, when humans began to exploit coal, oil and gas as global sources of energy.

“The human-caused build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere is accelerating,” said Richard Betts, of the Met Office. “It took over 200 years for levels to increase by 25%, but now, just 30 years later, we are approaching a 50% increase.”

The last six years have all been in the hottest six years ever recorded, European scientists say in their calculations of the planetary pecking order of annual temperatures. It was 0.6°C warmer than the average for the years 1981-2010. And it is fully 1.25°C above the average for 1850 to 1900.

Europe in particular felt the heat: an average of 1.6° higher than the average for 1981 to 2010. And in the Arctic and in Siberia, temperatures were up to 6°C above the average for the same period.

“It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record, and is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts in the future,” said Carlo Buontempo, who directs Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Delay possible

Carbon dioxide is durable: it stays in the air, and each year’s emissions are added to those of the previous year. To keep the planet’s average temperature to a rise of no more than 1.5°C the ideal of the Paris Accord in 2015 − then nations must bring global emissions to zero within the next 30 years. In fact the limit of 2°C explicit in the Accord must now, and inevitably, be exceeded at some point: there is already enough greenhouse gas in the mix to guarantee that. The big question is: when.

Chinese and US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they looked more closely at the pattern of changes in the planet’s surface temperatures, and the impact of low-level clouds that normally reflect heat back into space. And they see regions that have yet to warm, but must do so sooner or later to raise average global temperatures to levels so far not accounted for.

“The important thing to realise is that this has not happened − it is not in the historical record,” said Chen Zhou of Nanjing University, the lead author. “After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates.”

And his co-author Andrew Dessler, of Texas A&M University, said: “The bad news is that our results suggest we have most likely already emitted enough carbon to exceed 2C.”

But this could be delayed by urgent action. “If we can get emissions to net zero soon, it may take centuries to exceed 2°C.” − Climate News Network

2020 matched all global heating records. In 2021 carbon releases will reach a milestone. Soon we face a 2°C hotter future.

LONDON, 12 January, 2021 − We Earthlings are now unmistakably on our way to the global climate we promised barely six years ago we’d never reach − a 2°C hotter future.

Some time this year, thanks to fossil fuel combustion and the destruction of natural ecosystems, the levels of carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere will be half as high again as the average for most of human history. That is, they will be more than half-way to doubling.

And the warming already driven by this extra charge of greenhouse gas has reached new heights: 2020, according to one calculation, shares with 2016 the grim accolade of the hottest year in history, at the end of the hottest decade since systematic records began.

A third study warns that yet more warming is now inevitable: the greenhouse gases already released must take average planetary temperatures from the present rise of more than 1°C to beyond 2°C − the limit that 195 nations vowed not to exceed when they met in Paris in 2015.

All three studies are simply progress reports on climate change itself. It is more than a century since scientists began to link carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere with planetary temperatures, and more than 50 years since researchers began systematically monitoring atmospheric CO2 at an observatory in Hawaii, and since the first warnings that rising greenhouse gas levels could precipitate potentially catastrophic climate change.

“Our results suggest we have most likely already emitted enough carbon to exceed 2°C”

And this year, says the British Met Office, the ratio will creep up by more than 2 parts per million on last year. That will take the average to beyond 417 ppm for a number of weeks this northern hemisphere spring. And that will be 50% higher than the 278 ppm that was the norm at the close of the 18th century, when humans began to exploit coal, oil and gas as global sources of energy.

“The human-caused build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere is accelerating,” said Richard Betts, of the Met Office. “It took over 200 years for levels to increase by 25%, but now, just 30 years later, we are approaching a 50% increase.”

The last six years have all been in the hottest six years ever recorded, European scientists say in their calculations of the planetary pecking order of annual temperatures. It was 0.6°C warmer than the average for the years 1981-2010. And it is fully 1.25°C above the average for 1850 to 1900.

Europe in particular felt the heat: an average of 1.6° higher than the average for 1981 to 2010. And in the Arctic and in Siberia, temperatures were up to 6°C above the average for the same period.

“It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record, and is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts in the future,” said Carlo Buontempo, who directs Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Delay possible

Carbon dioxide is durable: it stays in the air, and each year’s emissions are added to those of the previous year. To keep the planet’s average temperature to a rise of no more than 1.5°C the ideal of the Paris Accord in 2015 − then nations must bring global emissions to zero within the next 30 years. In fact the limit of 2°C explicit in the Accord must now, and inevitably, be exceeded at some point: there is already enough greenhouse gas in the mix to guarantee that. The big question is: when.

Chinese and US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they looked more closely at the pattern of changes in the planet’s surface temperatures, and the impact of low-level clouds that normally reflect heat back into space. And they see regions that have yet to warm, but must do so sooner or later to raise average global temperatures to levels so far not accounted for.

“The important thing to realise is that this has not happened − it is not in the historical record,” said Chen Zhou of Nanjing University, the lead author. “After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates.”

And his co-author Andrew Dessler, of Texas A&M University, said: “The bad news is that our results suggest we have most likely already emitted enough carbon to exceed 2C.”

But this could be delayed by urgent action. “If we can get emissions to net zero soon, it may take centuries to exceed 2°C.” − Climate News Network

Dangerously hotter cities await 2100’s residents

In the concrete jungle, the most dramatic high-rise could be the mercury. Urban dwellers should expect much hotter cities.

LONDON, 8 January 2021 − Tomorrow’s metropolises will feel the heat: by the close of the century, assuming that nations act on vows to drastically reduce fossil fuel use, hotter cities − on average almost 2°C warmer than today − will be home to billions of people.

And if humans go on − as is the case now − tipping ever-greater levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then Paris and Philadelphia, Shanghai and São Paulo, Lagos and London, Beijing and Baghdad could see an average rise of 4.4°C.

The world’s cities are also likely to become less humid as the thermometer goes up, say US scientists who have harnessed machine-learning to statistical data to find a new way of checking the future of the planet’s cities this century.

Such research is literally vital, and vital to most of humankind. Right now, cities − concentrations of people, asphalt, concrete, brick, glass and steel − cover just 3% of the globe’s terrestrial surface, but shelter more than 50% of the world’s people. By 2050, the present megacities and many new ones will be home to more than 70% of humanity.

And they will become hot properties in every sense, simply because they are cities.

Global picture

“Cities are full of surfaces made from concrete and asphalt and retain more heat than natural surfaces and perturb other local-scale biophysical processes,” said Lei Zhao, an engineer at the University of Urbana-Champaign in the US.

“Incorporating these types of small-scale variables into climate modelling is crucial for understanding future urban climate. However, finding a way to include them in global-scale models poses major resolution, scale and computational challenges.”

Dr Zhao and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they combined a range of climate simulations with data-driven statistical models to bring a picture − on a global scale − of the overall average impact of climate change on the urban world.

The researchers stress that their results deliver only the big picture, are inevitably subject to uncertainties, and deliver average temperatures rather than extremes.

“Cities are full of surfaces made from concrete and asphalt and retain more heat than natural surfaces and perturb other local-scale biophysical processes”

But they offer a clear warning that, by 2100, the mid-to-northern US, southern Canada, Europe, the Middle East, northern Central Asia and north-western China will “exhibit the most pronounced urban warming during both daytime and night-time. Inland South America also shows strong night-time warming.”

High-latitude cities in the northern hemisphere will, they find, warm considerably during the winter months: Anchorage in Alaska is already experiencing climate change at twice the rate of cities at mid-latitudes.

They also find a near-universal decrease in relative humidity in cities during the summer months by the end of the century: in some cases, this will inevitably be translated into heat stress, water scarcity and energy uncertainty.

This broad-brush, big-picture forecast for things to come has already been prefigured in earlier research into the potential consequences of heat extremes.

Average increases of 1.9°C or 4.4°C sound alarming enough, but these mean, median or average figures mask a range of extremes likely to impose costs on urban economies, human health and even mortality.

Less stress

Heat extremes are on the way. Heat can kill. High temperatures combined with high humidity could make life without air-conditioning precarious. But air-conditioning heightens energy demand and at the same time makes the streets even hotter.

And researchers have already identified the most dangerous landscapes: the megacities, especially those in parts of China and south Asia. By 2070, as many as three billion people could at some time of the year face heat levels now considered extreme, and for now a challenge to only a few.

The helpful news from the study is that, as humidity levels fall in the cities, this will make surface evaporation more efficient as a cooling mechanism. If so, then what some researchers politely call “green infrastructure” could offer real help: city parks and green spaces could become urban forests. Trees in streets and gardens could help cool the ambient air.

“Our findings highlight the critical need for global projections of local urban climates for climate-sensitive urban areas,” Dr Zhao said. “This could give city planners the support they need to encourage solutions such as green infrastructure intervention to reduce urban heat stress on large scales.” − Climate News Network

In the concrete jungle, the most dramatic high-rise could be the mercury. Urban dwellers should expect much hotter cities.

LONDON, 8 January 2021 − Tomorrow’s metropolises will feel the heat: by the close of the century, assuming that nations act on vows to drastically reduce fossil fuel use, hotter cities − on average almost 2°C warmer than today − will be home to billions of people.

And if humans go on − as is the case now − tipping ever-greater levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then Paris and Philadelphia, Shanghai and São Paulo, Lagos and London, Beijing and Baghdad could see an average rise of 4.4°C.

The world’s cities are also likely to become less humid as the thermometer goes up, say US scientists who have harnessed machine-learning to statistical data to find a new way of checking the future of the planet’s cities this century.

Such research is literally vital, and vital to most of humankind. Right now, cities − concentrations of people, asphalt, concrete, brick, glass and steel − cover just 3% of the globe’s terrestrial surface, but shelter more than 50% of the world’s people. By 2050, the present megacities and many new ones will be home to more than 70% of humanity.

And they will become hot properties in every sense, simply because they are cities.

Global picture

“Cities are full of surfaces made from concrete and asphalt and retain more heat than natural surfaces and perturb other local-scale biophysical processes,” said Lei Zhao, an engineer at the University of Urbana-Champaign in the US.

“Incorporating these types of small-scale variables into climate modelling is crucial for understanding future urban climate. However, finding a way to include them in global-scale models poses major resolution, scale and computational challenges.”

Dr Zhao and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they combined a range of climate simulations with data-driven statistical models to bring a picture − on a global scale − of the overall average impact of climate change on the urban world.

The researchers stress that their results deliver only the big picture, are inevitably subject to uncertainties, and deliver average temperatures rather than extremes.

“Cities are full of surfaces made from concrete and asphalt and retain more heat than natural surfaces and perturb other local-scale biophysical processes”

But they offer a clear warning that, by 2100, the mid-to-northern US, southern Canada, Europe, the Middle East, northern Central Asia and north-western China will “exhibit the most pronounced urban warming during both daytime and night-time. Inland South America also shows strong night-time warming.”

High-latitude cities in the northern hemisphere will, they find, warm considerably during the winter months: Anchorage in Alaska is already experiencing climate change at twice the rate of cities at mid-latitudes.

They also find a near-universal decrease in relative humidity in cities during the summer months by the end of the century: in some cases, this will inevitably be translated into heat stress, water scarcity and energy uncertainty.

This broad-brush, big-picture forecast for things to come has already been prefigured in earlier research into the potential consequences of heat extremes.

Average increases of 1.9°C or 4.4°C sound alarming enough, but these mean, median or average figures mask a range of extremes likely to impose costs on urban economies, human health and even mortality.

Less stress

Heat extremes are on the way. Heat can kill. High temperatures combined with high humidity could make life without air-conditioning precarious. But air-conditioning heightens energy demand and at the same time makes the streets even hotter.

And researchers have already identified the most dangerous landscapes: the megacities, especially those in parts of China and south Asia. By 2070, as many as three billion people could at some time of the year face heat levels now considered extreme, and for now a challenge to only a few.

The helpful news from the study is that, as humidity levels fall in the cities, this will make surface evaporation more efficient as a cooling mechanism. If so, then what some researchers politely call “green infrastructure” could offer real help: city parks and green spaces could become urban forests. Trees in streets and gardens could help cool the ambient air.

“Our findings highlight the critical need for global projections of local urban climates for climate-sensitive urban areas,” Dr Zhao said. “This could give city planners the support they need to encourage solutions such as green infrastructure intervention to reduce urban heat stress on large scales.” − Climate News Network

Chill out the easy way: science can cool you down

There’s more than one way to chill out. White paint and watery windows could help. So could the deep blue sea.

LONDON, 21 December, 2020 − It’s getting simpler and cheaper to chill out: US scientists have developed an ultra-cool white paint that can reflect more than 95% of the sun’s rays and keep the house cooler on the hottest days.

Across the Pacific in Singapore, researchers have developed a “smart window” clever enough to block the incoming sunlight and regulate the building’s internal temperature. It’s pretty good at blocking the noise from the streets, too.

And people who live on tropical islands and find the heat a bit much can cool their homes with a steady flow of cold seawater from the ocean depths.

Austrian researchers calculate that a cubic metre of water from 700 metres below the ocean surface can deliver the same cooling power as 21 wind turbines, or a solarpowered-farm the size of 68 football fields.

Prototypes tested

None of these developments is anywhere near commercial scale exploitation. But two have been tested in prototype and each is a reminder of the ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories in bids to confront the energy crisis, limit climate change and find new and carbon-free ways to solve the planet’s mounting challenges.

One of the biggest of those challenges is the soaring thermometer: as global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use steadily drives up the mercury, yet more and more people, if they want to chill out, are being forced to invest in air-conditioning, a technology that demands even more energy use and heightens the temperature in the city streets.

So the case for passive, or sophisticated, or simply new ways to turn to stay cool is irresistible. Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana in the US write, in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, that they have developed a technology that could be used in commercial paints, that could be cheaper to make, and that could reflect so much sunlight back into space that the surface of the property could be cooler than the air around it. And it used calcium carbonate − think chalk, or limestone − rather than the more difficult-to-find titanium dioxide to do the trick.

Tests in West Lafayette, Indiana found that when the sun was at its zenith the paint surface stayed 1.7°C cooler than the atmosphere around it. At night, the paint temperature dropped to 10°C below the ambient surroundings.

“Scientists in Singapore have developed a liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that in tests can cut 45% of the energy needed to heat, ventilate and air-condition a property”

Windows are vital in building design, but they can be the least energy-efficient part of any construction. Scientists at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore report in the journal Joule that they have developed a hydrogel-based liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that − in tests − can cut 45% of the energy needed in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning a property.

This could be big business: buildings account for 40% of global energy usage, and half of that goes out of the world’s windows. With savings on that scale possible, all will be able to chill out.

So researchers have been experimenting with glass coatings that cut down the infra-red traffic − the waves that carry heat − from within and without the building, but which do not regulate visible sunlight, which heats the interior as it shines through the glass.

The Singapore scientists found that their micro-hydrogel could respond to temperature change, and turn opaque when exposed to heat. So it could block incoming sunlight, and return to clear glass when things got cooler. At the same time, the trapped hydrogel water stored a lot of thermal energy rather than let it into the building during the heat of the day, but gradually released it at night.

District cooling

In midsummer noonday tests in Beijing, when a normal glass window registered 84°C, the smart window glass stayed at 50°C and saved 11% of the energy required to maintain the same indoor air temperature.

They tested the smart glass in Shanghai in China, Las Vegas in the US, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and in Singapore: in each case, it performed better than regular glass or low-emission windows. It also reduced noise 15% more efficiently than normal double-glazing.

And rather than cool indoor air, and pump the hot air back into the streets with an electric motor − the basis of most air-conditioning − scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria report in the journal Energy Efficiency that for those who live on tropical or subtropical coasts, a short distance from the deep ocean, in places where electricity costs are high, it might be much cheaper to cool whole districts − universities, airports, data centres, hotels and resorts and so on − with pumped deep ocean water at temperatures of around 3°C to 5°C.

Stored tanks of cold seawater could even make chiller facilities more efficient, and reduce the costs of food storage. But, the IIASA team warns, there might be problems with the impact on coastal wildlife while returning the used seawater to the ocean surface. − Climate News Network

There’s more than one way to chill out. White paint and watery windows could help. So could the deep blue sea.

LONDON, 21 December, 2020 − It’s getting simpler and cheaper to chill out: US scientists have developed an ultra-cool white paint that can reflect more than 95% of the sun’s rays and keep the house cooler on the hottest days.

Across the Pacific in Singapore, researchers have developed a “smart window” clever enough to block the incoming sunlight and regulate the building’s internal temperature. It’s pretty good at blocking the noise from the streets, too.

And people who live on tropical islands and find the heat a bit much can cool their homes with a steady flow of cold seawater from the ocean depths.

Austrian researchers calculate that a cubic metre of water from 700 metres below the ocean surface can deliver the same cooling power as 21 wind turbines, or a solarpowered-farm the size of 68 football fields.

Prototypes tested

None of these developments is anywhere near commercial scale exploitation. But two have been tested in prototype and each is a reminder of the ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories in bids to confront the energy crisis, limit climate change and find new and carbon-free ways to solve the planet’s mounting challenges.

One of the biggest of those challenges is the soaring thermometer: as global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use steadily drives up the mercury, yet more and more people, if they want to chill out, are being forced to invest in air-conditioning, a technology that demands even more energy use and heightens the temperature in the city streets.

So the case for passive, or sophisticated, or simply new ways to turn to stay cool is irresistible. Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana in the US write, in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, that they have developed a technology that could be used in commercial paints, that could be cheaper to make, and that could reflect so much sunlight back into space that the surface of the property could be cooler than the air around it. And it used calcium carbonate − think chalk, or limestone − rather than the more difficult-to-find titanium dioxide to do the trick.

Tests in West Lafayette, Indiana found that when the sun was at its zenith the paint surface stayed 1.7°C cooler than the atmosphere around it. At night, the paint temperature dropped to 10°C below the ambient surroundings.

“Scientists in Singapore have developed a liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that in tests can cut 45% of the energy needed to heat, ventilate and air-condition a property”

Windows are vital in building design, but they can be the least energy-efficient part of any construction. Scientists at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore report in the journal Joule that they have developed a hydrogel-based liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that − in tests − can cut 45% of the energy needed in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning a property.

This could be big business: buildings account for 40% of global energy usage, and half of that goes out of the world’s windows. With savings on that scale possible, all will be able to chill out.

So researchers have been experimenting with glass coatings that cut down the infra-red traffic − the waves that carry heat − from within and without the building, but which do not regulate visible sunlight, which heats the interior as it shines through the glass.

The Singapore scientists found that their micro-hydrogel could respond to temperature change, and turn opaque when exposed to heat. So it could block incoming sunlight, and return to clear glass when things got cooler. At the same time, the trapped hydrogel water stored a lot of thermal energy rather than let it into the building during the heat of the day, but gradually released it at night.

District cooling

In midsummer noonday tests in Beijing, when a normal glass window registered 84°C, the smart window glass stayed at 50°C and saved 11% of the energy required to maintain the same indoor air temperature.

They tested the smart glass in Shanghai in China, Las Vegas in the US, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and in Singapore: in each case, it performed better than regular glass or low-emission windows. It also reduced noise 15% more efficiently than normal double-glazing.

And rather than cool indoor air, and pump the hot air back into the streets with an electric motor − the basis of most air-conditioning − scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria report in the journal Energy Efficiency that for those who live on tropical or subtropical coasts, a short distance from the deep ocean, in places where electricity costs are high, it might be much cheaper to cool whole districts − universities, airports, data centres, hotels and resorts and so on − with pumped deep ocean water at temperatures of around 3°C to 5°C.

Stored tanks of cold seawater could even make chiller facilities more efficient, and reduce the costs of food storage. But, the IIASA team warns, there might be problems with the impact on coastal wildlife while returning the used seawater to the ocean surface. − Climate News Network

World still warms in 2020 as greenhouse gases fall

Greenhouse gases have fallen during 2020. But that’s no reason for congratulations, in a year of climate drama.

LONDON, 11 December, 2020 − The year of the coronavirus − the year of global lockdown − meant a record fall in emissions of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming: by December there had been 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion worldwide, a fall of 7% compared with 2019, according to a new study.

If governments followed the economic shutdown with what the UN calls a “green pandemic recovery”, then by 2030 greenhouse gas emissions could fall by up to 25%. That remains a “big if.” Right now the planet is heading towards an end-of-century average temperature rise of a calamitous 3°C, according to a second report.

And a third summary of the last 12 months finds the pandemic changed almost nothing, says the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The year looks to be one of the three warmest on record, in the warmest decade on record. The warmest six years ever recorded have all happened since 2015.

The news in the journal Earth System Science Data, that humankind managed not to add 2.4 bn tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere because car journeys fell by half and airline flights dwindled at the peak of the lockdowns from Covid-19, should be encouraging.

“There is at least a one in five chance of [the world] temporarily exceeding 1.5°C by 2024. 2020 has been yet another extraordinary year for our climate”

To be on track to meet the promises made under the Paris Agreement of 2015, humankind has to reduce emissions by around 1 to 2 billion tonnes a year for the next ten years. Nobody can yet say whether the decline will continue, or whether emissions will rebound.

“All the elements are not yet in place for sustained decreases in global emissions, and emissions are slowly edging back to 2019 levels”, warned Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK. “Government actions to stimulate the economy at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic can also help lower emissions and tackle climate change.”

Here is the message of the United Nations Environment Programme’s latest Emissions Gap Report. Examining the gap between what nations promised to do in Paris, and what is actually happening, it warns that a 7% drop in emissions during 2020 translates to a reduction in global warming by 2050 of no more than 0.01°C.

If nations stepped into economic recovery with plans to advance renewable energy and save fossil fuel use, a 25% emissions cut could indeed create a chance of meeting the 2°C limit promised in the Paris Agreement. But it wouldn’t get the world to the real goal of a rise of no more than 1.5°C by 2100.

Roasting Arctic

Greenhouse gases continue to inflict a relentless burden. Right now the world is already 1.2°C warmer than at any time for almost all of human history, thanks to profligate fossil fuel use over the last century. And, says the WMO’s secretary-general Petteri Taalas, “there is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5°C by 2024.”

Ocean heat has reached record levels and 80% of the blue planet experienced at least one marine heatwave in the last year, says a summary of the year based on evidence from January to October. In the Siberian Arctic, temperatures were 5°C above normal. The Arctic summer sea ice was the second-lowest since records began 42 years ago. In California’s Death Valley in August, the thermometer hit 54.4°C, the highest anywhere in the world for at least the last 80 years.

“2020 has, unfortunately, been yet another extraordinary year for our climate. We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic. Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the US West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe,” Professor Taalas said.

“We saw a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, including unprecedented back-to-back category 4 hurricanes in Central America in November. Flooding in parts of Africa and South-east Asia led to massive population displacement and undermined food security for millions.” − Climate News Network

Greenhouse gases have fallen during 2020. But that’s no reason for congratulations, in a year of climate drama.

LONDON, 11 December, 2020 − The year of the coronavirus − the year of global lockdown − meant a record fall in emissions of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming: by December there had been 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion worldwide, a fall of 7% compared with 2019, according to a new study.

If governments followed the economic shutdown with what the UN calls a “green pandemic recovery”, then by 2030 greenhouse gas emissions could fall by up to 25%. That remains a “big if.” Right now the planet is heading towards an end-of-century average temperature rise of a calamitous 3°C, according to a second report.

And a third summary of the last 12 months finds the pandemic changed almost nothing, says the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The year looks to be one of the three warmest on record, in the warmest decade on record. The warmest six years ever recorded have all happened since 2015.

The news in the journal Earth System Science Data, that humankind managed not to add 2.4 bn tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere because car journeys fell by half and airline flights dwindled at the peak of the lockdowns from Covid-19, should be encouraging.

“There is at least a one in five chance of [the world] temporarily exceeding 1.5°C by 2024. 2020 has been yet another extraordinary year for our climate”

To be on track to meet the promises made under the Paris Agreement of 2015, humankind has to reduce emissions by around 1 to 2 billion tonnes a year for the next ten years. Nobody can yet say whether the decline will continue, or whether emissions will rebound.

“All the elements are not yet in place for sustained decreases in global emissions, and emissions are slowly edging back to 2019 levels”, warned Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK. “Government actions to stimulate the economy at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic can also help lower emissions and tackle climate change.”

Here is the message of the United Nations Environment Programme’s latest Emissions Gap Report. Examining the gap between what nations promised to do in Paris, and what is actually happening, it warns that a 7% drop in emissions during 2020 translates to a reduction in global warming by 2050 of no more than 0.01°C.

If nations stepped into economic recovery with plans to advance renewable energy and save fossil fuel use, a 25% emissions cut could indeed create a chance of meeting the 2°C limit promised in the Paris Agreement. But it wouldn’t get the world to the real goal of a rise of no more than 1.5°C by 2100.

Roasting Arctic

Greenhouse gases continue to inflict a relentless burden. Right now the world is already 1.2°C warmer than at any time for almost all of human history, thanks to profligate fossil fuel use over the last century. And, says the WMO’s secretary-general Petteri Taalas, “there is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5°C by 2024.”

Ocean heat has reached record levels and 80% of the blue planet experienced at least one marine heatwave in the last year, says a summary of the year based on evidence from January to October. In the Siberian Arctic, temperatures were 5°C above normal. The Arctic summer sea ice was the second-lowest since records began 42 years ago. In California’s Death Valley in August, the thermometer hit 54.4°C, the highest anywhere in the world for at least the last 80 years.

“2020 has, unfortunately, been yet another extraordinary year for our climate. We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic. Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the US West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe,” Professor Taalas said.

“We saw a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, including unprecedented back-to-back category 4 hurricanes in Central America in November. Flooding in parts of Africa and South-east Asia led to massive population displacement and undermined food security for millions.” − Climate News Network

China and Australia face a climate tipping point

Once again, scientists warn that at least part of the world could be facing a climate tipping point. Two parts, in fact.

LONDON, 8 December 2020 − The grasslands of northern China and Mongolia could be about to lurch into a climate tipping point, an irreversible sequence of heat and drought.

This is a landscape that helped shape world history. The Hun forces that humbled the western Roman Empire 16 centuries ago, and the conquering hordes led by Genghis Khan that commanded most of the Asian continent and threatened Europe eight centuries later, both emerged from tribes of nomad herdsmen from its grasslands. Now it could itself be about to be reconfigured by human-driven climate change.

And that same anthropogenic climate tipping point poses the same threat to great tracts of south-east Australia: water could become more scarce, bush fires could become more frequent, and winds could begin to blow away the parched soils in droughts that could last decades, or even centuries.

Both studies are based on evidence from the past, and both on the story told by preserved annual growth rings. The warning from inner East Asia is based on the testimony of tree stumps and timbers from the last 260 years, say researchers in the journal Science.

“They’re alarming findings, in a long list of alarming findings…if humans continue to warm the planet, this is the future we may all be looking at”

The patterns of tree growth suggest that the recent consecutive summers marked by both heat and drought are new events, and could increase in frequency.

The high plains of central Asia can be very cold in winter, very hot in summer. But soil moisture normally evaporates to cool the air at the surface. In a sustained drought, the air becomes hotter. In recent years, the region’s lakes have been shrinking in extent − and in number.

“The result is more heatwaves, which means more soil water losses, which means more heatwaves − and where this might end, we cannot say,” said Deliang Chen of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, one of the research team.

He and his co-authors warn bluntly that the double impact of sustained heat and prolonged drought “is potentially irreversible beyond a tipping point in the East Asian climate system.”

Mega-drought link

The evidence from Australia is based on a much more distant past, and preserved in stalagmites deep in a cave in New South Wales. Researchers write in the journal Scientific Reports that during a warm interval in the last Ice Age, from 129,000 to 116,000 years ago, global temperatures rose to levels much as they are today, and perhaps slightly warmer.

And the record of lower falls of snow, higher temperatures and ever-scarcer water, preserved in the ancient annual growths of underground calcium carbonate, provided the scientists with a hint of what to expect in a world of global heating driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, and ever-greater destruction of natural ecosystems.

“We found that, in the past, a similar amount of warming has been associated with mega-drought conditions all over south-eastern Australia. These drier conditions prevailed for centuries, sometimes for more than 1000 years,” said Hamish McGowan of the University of Queensland, who led the study.

“They’re alarming findings, in a long list of alarming findings that climate scientists have released over the last few decades. We hope that this new research allows for new insights to our future climate and the risks it may bring, such as drought and associated bushfires. But importantly, if humans continue to warm the planet, this is the future we may all be looking at.” − Climate News Network

Once again, scientists warn that at least part of the world could be facing a climate tipping point. Two parts, in fact.

LONDON, 8 December 2020 − The grasslands of northern China and Mongolia could be about to lurch into a climate tipping point, an irreversible sequence of heat and drought.

This is a landscape that helped shape world history. The Hun forces that humbled the western Roman Empire 16 centuries ago, and the conquering hordes led by Genghis Khan that commanded most of the Asian continent and threatened Europe eight centuries later, both emerged from tribes of nomad herdsmen from its grasslands. Now it could itself be about to be reconfigured by human-driven climate change.

And that same anthropogenic climate tipping point poses the same threat to great tracts of south-east Australia: water could become more scarce, bush fires could become more frequent, and winds could begin to blow away the parched soils in droughts that could last decades, or even centuries.

Both studies are based on evidence from the past, and both on the story told by preserved annual growth rings. The warning from inner East Asia is based on the testimony of tree stumps and timbers from the last 260 years, say researchers in the journal Science.

“They’re alarming findings, in a long list of alarming findings…if humans continue to warm the planet, this is the future we may all be looking at”

The patterns of tree growth suggest that the recent consecutive summers marked by both heat and drought are new events, and could increase in frequency.

The high plains of central Asia can be very cold in winter, very hot in summer. But soil moisture normally evaporates to cool the air at the surface. In a sustained drought, the air becomes hotter. In recent years, the region’s lakes have been shrinking in extent − and in number.

“The result is more heatwaves, which means more soil water losses, which means more heatwaves − and where this might end, we cannot say,” said Deliang Chen of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, one of the research team.

He and his co-authors warn bluntly that the double impact of sustained heat and prolonged drought “is potentially irreversible beyond a tipping point in the East Asian climate system.”

Mega-drought link

The evidence from Australia is based on a much more distant past, and preserved in stalagmites deep in a cave in New South Wales. Researchers write in the journal Scientific Reports that during a warm interval in the last Ice Age, from 129,000 to 116,000 years ago, global temperatures rose to levels much as they are today, and perhaps slightly warmer.

And the record of lower falls of snow, higher temperatures and ever-scarcer water, preserved in the ancient annual growths of underground calcium carbonate, provided the scientists with a hint of what to expect in a world of global heating driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, and ever-greater destruction of natural ecosystems.

“We found that, in the past, a similar amount of warming has been associated with mega-drought conditions all over south-eastern Australia. These drier conditions prevailed for centuries, sometimes for more than 1000 years,” said Hamish McGowan of the University of Queensland, who led the study.

“They’re alarming findings, in a long list of alarming findings that climate scientists have released over the last few decades. We hope that this new research allows for new insights to our future climate and the risks it may bring, such as drought and associated bushfires. But importantly, if humans continue to warm the planet, this is the future we may all be looking at.” − Climate News Network