Tag Archives: California

Hotter oceans make the tropics expand polewards

The tropical climate zones are not just warmer, they now cover more of the planet. Blame it on steadily hotter oceans.

LONDON, 27 August, 2020 – The tropics are on the march and US and German scientists think they know why: hotter oceans have taken control.

The parched, arid fringes of the hot, moist conditions that nourish the equatorial forest band around the middle of the globe are moving, unevenly, further north and south in response to climate change.

And the role of the ocean is made even more dramatic in the southern hemisphere: because the ocean south of the equator is so much bigger than in the north, the southward shift of the parched zone is even more pronounced.

Across the globe, things don’t look good for places like California, which has already suffered some of its worst droughts and fires on record, and  Australia, where drought and fire if possible have been even worse.

In the past century or so, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen from what was once a stable average of 285 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures are now at least 1°C higher than they have been for most of human history.

“We demonstrate that the enhanced subtropical ocean warming is independent from the natural climate oscillations. This is a result of global warming”

And although the fastest and most dramatic changes in the world have been in the coldest zones – and particularly the Arctic – the tropics, too, have begun to feel the heat.

Researchers have observed tropical fish moving into cooler waters; they have warned that some tropical plant species may soon find temperatures too high for germination; they have mapped tropical cyclones hitting further north and south with time, and doing more damage; and they have seen evidence that tropical diseases could soon advance even into temperate Europe.

But although satellite observations have revealed that the tropical climate zone has expanded beyond the formal limits known as the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, and is doing so at somewhere between a quarter and half a degree of latitude each decade, no one has been able to work out why the shift is more pronounced in the southern half of the globe.

Now a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres offers an answer. The expansion of the tropics has been driven by ocean warming.

And if that expansion is more obvious in the southern hemisphere, it is because there is more sea to have more impact.

Clear link

Researchers analysed water temperature patterns in the great ocean gyres, those giant circular currents that take warm waters to the poles and return cold water to the equatorial regions.

They matched satellite readings from 1982 – the first year in the series of measurements – with data from 2018, and compared these to measurements of tropical zone expansion.

The connection was clear: excess heat that had been building up in the subtropical oceans ever since global warming began had driven both tropical edges and ocean gyres towards the poles.

That is, the shift in the tropics wasn’t just one of those slow pulses of expansion and retraction, of cyclic change, that happen in a complex world. And more precisely, the tropics were expanding more clearly in those places where the gyres moved poleward.

“We demonstrate that the enhanced subtropical ocean warming is independent from the natural climate oscillations,” said Hu Yang of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, who led the research. “This is a result of global warming.” – Climate News Network

The tropical climate zones are not just warmer, they now cover more of the planet. Blame it on steadily hotter oceans.

LONDON, 27 August, 2020 – The tropics are on the march and US and German scientists think they know why: hotter oceans have taken control.

The parched, arid fringes of the hot, moist conditions that nourish the equatorial forest band around the middle of the globe are moving, unevenly, further north and south in response to climate change.

And the role of the ocean is made even more dramatic in the southern hemisphere: because the ocean south of the equator is so much bigger than in the north, the southward shift of the parched zone is even more pronounced.

Across the globe, things don’t look good for places like California, which has already suffered some of its worst droughts and fires on record, and  Australia, where drought and fire if possible have been even worse.

In the past century or so, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen from what was once a stable average of 285 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures are now at least 1°C higher than they have been for most of human history.

“We demonstrate that the enhanced subtropical ocean warming is independent from the natural climate oscillations. This is a result of global warming”

And although the fastest and most dramatic changes in the world have been in the coldest zones – and particularly the Arctic – the tropics, too, have begun to feel the heat.

Researchers have observed tropical fish moving into cooler waters; they have warned that some tropical plant species may soon find temperatures too high for germination; they have mapped tropical cyclones hitting further north and south with time, and doing more damage; and they have seen evidence that tropical diseases could soon advance even into temperate Europe.

But although satellite observations have revealed that the tropical climate zone has expanded beyond the formal limits known as the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, and is doing so at somewhere between a quarter and half a degree of latitude each decade, no one has been able to work out why the shift is more pronounced in the southern half of the globe.

Now a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres offers an answer. The expansion of the tropics has been driven by ocean warming.

And if that expansion is more obvious in the southern hemisphere, it is because there is more sea to have more impact.

Clear link

Researchers analysed water temperature patterns in the great ocean gyres, those giant circular currents that take warm waters to the poles and return cold water to the equatorial regions.

They matched satellite readings from 1982 – the first year in the series of measurements – with data from 2018, and compared these to measurements of tropical zone expansion.

The connection was clear: excess heat that had been building up in the subtropical oceans ever since global warming began had driven both tropical edges and ocean gyres towards the poles.

That is, the shift in the tropics wasn’t just one of those slow pulses of expansion and retraction, of cyclic change, that happen in a complex world. And more precisely, the tropics were expanding more clearly in those places where the gyres moved poleward.

“We demonstrate that the enhanced subtropical ocean warming is independent from the natural climate oscillations,” said Hu Yang of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, who led the research. “This is a result of global warming.” – Climate News Network

Batteries boost Californian hopes of cooler future

Californian hopes of cooler future rise as the world’s biggest battery storage system comes on stream.

LONDON, 25 August, 2020 – Recent reports of record-breaking heat in the Golden State may be only part of the story: Californian hopes of cooler future days are strengthening with the entry into service of new technology that should promise a less torrid future for millions of people.

The ability to store large amounts of renewable energy – generated mainly by solar and wind power – is seen as a key component in the battle to combat catastrophic climate change.

The Gateway Energy Storage project, near San Diego in southern California, is capable of storing and redistributing up to 230MW of power from solar installations in the area.

“By charging during solar production on off-peak hours and delivering energy to the grid during times of peak demand for power, our battery storage projects improve electric reliability, reduce costs and help our state meet its climate objectives”, said John King of LS Power, the New York-based power development company operating the project.

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real”

California – the most populous state in the US and one of the wealthiest – has been hit by a series of power blackouts in recent weeks as an extreme heatwave has led to increased air conditioner use and expanding energy demand.

In the Central Valley area of the state, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, daytime temperatures have soared to more than 40°C.

In mid-August the temperature in Death Valley, a desert area in southern California, reached 54°C – which could be the highest temperature reliably recorded anywhere in the world.

Further north, residents of Sacramento, the state capital, baked as temperatures reached over 40°C on consecutive days – more than 7°C above normal for the time of year.

Though it’s too early to say whether the heatwave is due to increased levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, is in little doubt about what is driving the heat extremes.

World’s worst air

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier”, Newsom said in a video message to delegates participating in a virtual convention of the Democratic Party. “Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California”, said Newsom.

The extreme heat has led to increased storm activity in many areas of the state and a series of lightning strikes which, in turn, have caused an outbreak of wildfires.

Several people have been killed as the fires have raged out of control over hundreds of thousands of acres. Air quality in some regions has declined to levels not seen before.

At one stage this month the area around San Francisco – one of the globe’s wealthiest cities and home to many of the biggest IT companies – was described as having the worst air quality in the world.

Batteries in demand

A shortage of equipment and firefighters has added to problems. In the past California has used prisoners to help fight fires – a policy condemned by various groups.

Many of the prisoners who might have been used for this purpose are no longer available: they’ve either been placed in quarantine or released in an attempt to control the spread of the Covid virus through California’s overcrowded prison system.

Developing more battery storage to service fast-growing solar and wind industries is seen as vital for the state’s energy needs.

California is facing restrictions on importing power from other states in the western US due to heatwaves in those regions and rising power demand. It has also been shutting down fossil fuel-burning power plants.

Governor Newsom said this month that state utilities must find solutions to the power problem: blackouts, he said, were “unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.” – Climate News Network

Californian hopes of cooler future rise as the world’s biggest battery storage system comes on stream.

LONDON, 25 August, 2020 – Recent reports of record-breaking heat in the Golden State may be only part of the story: Californian hopes of cooler future days are strengthening with the entry into service of new technology that should promise a less torrid future for millions of people.

The ability to store large amounts of renewable energy – generated mainly by solar and wind power – is seen as a key component in the battle to combat catastrophic climate change.

The Gateway Energy Storage project, near San Diego in southern California, is capable of storing and redistributing up to 230MW of power from solar installations in the area.

“By charging during solar production on off-peak hours and delivering energy to the grid during times of peak demand for power, our battery storage projects improve electric reliability, reduce costs and help our state meet its climate objectives”, said John King of LS Power, the New York-based power development company operating the project.

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real”

California – the most populous state in the US and one of the wealthiest – has been hit by a series of power blackouts in recent weeks as an extreme heatwave has led to increased air conditioner use and expanding energy demand.

In the Central Valley area of the state, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, daytime temperatures have soared to more than 40°C.

In mid-August the temperature in Death Valley, a desert area in southern California, reached 54°C – which could be the highest temperature reliably recorded anywhere in the world.

Further north, residents of Sacramento, the state capital, baked as temperatures reached over 40°C on consecutive days – more than 7°C above normal for the time of year.

Though it’s too early to say whether the heatwave is due to increased levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, is in little doubt about what is driving the heat extremes.

World’s worst air

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier”, Newsom said in a video message to delegates participating in a virtual convention of the Democratic Party. “Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California”, said Newsom.

The extreme heat has led to increased storm activity in many areas of the state and a series of lightning strikes which, in turn, have caused an outbreak of wildfires.

Several people have been killed as the fires have raged out of control over hundreds of thousands of acres. Air quality in some regions has declined to levels not seen before.

At one stage this month the area around San Francisco – one of the globe’s wealthiest cities and home to many of the biggest IT companies – was described as having the worst air quality in the world.

Batteries in demand

A shortage of equipment and firefighters has added to problems. In the past California has used prisoners to help fight fires – a policy condemned by various groups.

Many of the prisoners who might have been used for this purpose are no longer available: they’ve either been placed in quarantine or released in an attempt to control the spread of the Covid virus through California’s overcrowded prison system.

Developing more battery storage to service fast-growing solar and wind industries is seen as vital for the state’s energy needs.

California is facing restrictions on importing power from other states in the western US due to heatwaves in those regions and rising power demand. It has also been shutting down fossil fuel-burning power plants.

Governor Newsom said this month that state utilities must find solutions to the power problem: blackouts, he said, were “unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.” – Climate News Network

Drought intensifies in western US

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE In recent days California has announced its most severe water restrictions ever as drought continues to hit the state. Scientists say the region’s rainfall has been declining over the years and the consequences are serious. LONDON, 3 February – January is the month when Californians put on their rain jackets – but not this year. It’s the month which is usually wettest in the western US, when rivers and reservoirs are replenished: this year there was virtually no rain through January in much of the region, following on from an exceptionally dry period through much of 2013. A vast area of land in the western region of the American land mass, stretching from the province of Alberta in Canada across to parts of Texas in the US and on down into Mexico, is suffering as reservoirs and rivers dry up. A state of emergency has been declared in several areas, including California. Dr Wallace Covington is director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University. “What we’re seeing across this region is an intensification of long-established aspects of climate change”, Covington told Climate News Network. “I hate to sound pessimistic but all around in these large watersheds we’re seeing a degradation of water structure and function. There’s increased erosion leading to desertification, and with the dry conditions and generally stronger winds the forest fire season is being extended.” Covington is an internationally recognised expert on forest restoration who has been studying tree growth in Arizona for many years, particularly among its ponderosa pines – the Pinus ponderosa.

30-year drought

“Longer drought periods and increasing temperatures are resulting in attacks by bark beetles – which can eventually kill off trees – becoming increasingly severe. ‘The trees can’t produce adequate moisture: if enough photosynthesis is going on they can fight off the beetles and their larvae. But in northern Arizona we’ve been under drought conditions for about 30 years and it’s getting worse. We’ve been losing pines that are 300 or 400 years old at an alarming rate.” At the end of last month California’s State Water Project – the largest state-built water and power development and distribution system in the US – said it would stop supplying water to local agencies in many areas in order, said officials, to use what water remained “as wisely as possible”. The agencies – which supply water to about 25 million people and to about 750,000 acres of farmland – would in future have to look elsewhere for water, including from local reservoirs or from groundwater sources. Mr Jerry Brown, California’s governor, says the water shortages are “a stark reminder that California’s drought is real” and has asked people to reduce their water consumption by at least 20%.

Food price fears

The western region of the US is one of the world’s main agricultural production regions and if the drought is prolonged global food prices could rise. In some areas ranchers have been forced to sell off their herds and in others farmers are abandoning their crops. In southern California, an area which produces a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts and other crops, farmers are complaining that water supplies are being diverted to towns and cities from their lands. “It’s not as if there hasn’t been enough warning about what’s happening”, says Covington. “These changes have been going on over decades but the trouble is our political and management systems respond only in four to five year cycles, not to 40 or 50 year trends. “This is above national – it’s global. Yet our institutions are national at best. And we don’t have a lot of time to act.” – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE In recent days California has announced its most severe water restrictions ever as drought continues to hit the state. Scientists say the region’s rainfall has been declining over the years and the consequences are serious. LONDON, 3 February – January is the month when Californians put on their rain jackets – but not this year. It’s the month which is usually wettest in the western US, when rivers and reservoirs are replenished: this year there was virtually no rain through January in much of the region, following on from an exceptionally dry period through much of 2013. A vast area of land in the western region of the American land mass, stretching from the province of Alberta in Canada across to parts of Texas in the US and on down into Mexico, is suffering as reservoirs and rivers dry up. A state of emergency has been declared in several areas, including California. Dr Wallace Covington is director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University. “What we’re seeing across this region is an intensification of long-established aspects of climate change”, Covington told Climate News Network. “I hate to sound pessimistic but all around in these large watersheds we’re seeing a degradation of water structure and function. There’s increased erosion leading to desertification, and with the dry conditions and generally stronger winds the forest fire season is being extended.” Covington is an internationally recognised expert on forest restoration who has been studying tree growth in Arizona for many years, particularly among its ponderosa pines – the Pinus ponderosa.

30-year drought

“Longer drought periods and increasing temperatures are resulting in attacks by bark beetles – which can eventually kill off trees – becoming increasingly severe. ‘The trees can’t produce adequate moisture: if enough photosynthesis is going on they can fight off the beetles and their larvae. But in northern Arizona we’ve been under drought conditions for about 30 years and it’s getting worse. We’ve been losing pines that are 300 or 400 years old at an alarming rate.” At the end of last month California’s State Water Project – the largest state-built water and power development and distribution system in the US – said it would stop supplying water to local agencies in many areas in order, said officials, to use what water remained “as wisely as possible”. The agencies – which supply water to about 25 million people and to about 750,000 acres of farmland – would in future have to look elsewhere for water, including from local reservoirs or from groundwater sources. Mr Jerry Brown, California’s governor, says the water shortages are “a stark reminder that California’s drought is real” and has asked people to reduce their water consumption by at least 20%.

Food price fears

The western region of the US is one of the world’s main agricultural production regions and if the drought is prolonged global food prices could rise. In some areas ranchers have been forced to sell off their herds and in others farmers are abandoning their crops. In southern California, an area which produces a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts and other crops, farmers are complaining that water supplies are being diverted to towns and cities from their lands. “It’s not as if there hasn’t been enough warning about what’s happening”, says Covington. “These changes have been going on over decades but the trouble is our political and management systems respond only in four to five year cycles, not to 40 or 50 year trends. “This is above national – it’s global. Yet our institutions are national at best. And we don’t have a lot of time to act.” – Climate News Network

Loss of snow in California to hit winter sports and water supply

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE “Clear and compelling evidence” shows that winter snows vital for tourism and agriculture are in rapid decline in Southern California. LONDON, 21 June – By mid century, the snow-capped mountains of Southern California will be a lot less snowy, according to a new study from the University of California Los Angeles. The mountains beyond Pasadena, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach and other iconic addresses will have 30 to 40 per cent less snow on top and none at all at lower elevations. And by 2100, snowfall could be reduced to about a third of its level in 2000. Alex Hall, of UCLA’s department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, warned “Climate change has become inevitable, and we’re going to lose a substantial amount of snow by mid-century. But our choices matter. By the end of the century there will be stark differences in how much snowfall remains, depending on whether we begin to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.” The study was produced with funding from the City of Los Angeles – the city’s mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called it “clear and compelling” – and it examined snowfall in the San Gabriel and San Bernadino mountains and other ranges. The consequences for tourist and leisure industries could be considerable: local enthusiasts use the slopes for skiing and snowboarding; lower snowfalls could have implications for water supplies, agriculture and increased flooding from more frequent rains. More flooding The scientists used climate models and real data from local townships to quantify future snow forecasts, but did not measure snow melt. Earlier research had established that the city and its environs could expect to experience a warming of 4° to 5°F (around 2.5°C) by mid century. By then, the snowpack would be melting 16 days earlier than it did at the beginning of the century. Temperatures would fall to freezing later, and less often, so what fell would be rain, with quicker runoff and more flooding as a consequence. The researcher considered two scenarios – one the notorious “business as usual” prospect, in which greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise without restraint, and the other a world in which governments and society tried to significantly reduce emissions. By 2050, under the mitigation scenario, snowfall would be reduced 31% by 2050, but would stay relatively stable and only be at 33% below baseline by 2100. If the world fails to take action to mitigate climate change, by 2100 however, loss of snow is expected to reach 67% by the end of the century. “Los Angeles must begin today to prepare for climate change,” said Mayor Villaraigosa. “We invested in this study and created the AdaptLA framework to craft innovative solutions and preserve our quality of life for the next generation of Angelenos.” – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE “Clear and compelling evidence” shows that winter snows vital for tourism and agriculture are in rapid decline in Southern California. LONDON, 21 June – By mid century, the snow-capped mountains of Southern California will be a lot less snowy, according to a new study from the University of California Los Angeles. The mountains beyond Pasadena, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach and other iconic addresses will have 30 to 40 per cent less snow on top and none at all at lower elevations. And by 2100, snowfall could be reduced to about a third of its level in 2000. Alex Hall, of UCLA’s department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, warned “Climate change has become inevitable, and we’re going to lose a substantial amount of snow by mid-century. But our choices matter. By the end of the century there will be stark differences in how much snowfall remains, depending on whether we begin to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.” The study was produced with funding from the City of Los Angeles – the city’s mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called it “clear and compelling” – and it examined snowfall in the San Gabriel and San Bernadino mountains and other ranges. The consequences for tourist and leisure industries could be considerable: local enthusiasts use the slopes for skiing and snowboarding; lower snowfalls could have implications for water supplies, agriculture and increased flooding from more frequent rains. More flooding The scientists used climate models and real data from local townships to quantify future snow forecasts, but did not measure snow melt. Earlier research had established that the city and its environs could expect to experience a warming of 4° to 5°F (around 2.5°C) by mid century. By then, the snowpack would be melting 16 days earlier than it did at the beginning of the century. Temperatures would fall to freezing later, and less often, so what fell would be rain, with quicker runoff and more flooding as a consequence. The researcher considered two scenarios – one the notorious “business as usual” prospect, in which greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise without restraint, and the other a world in which governments and society tried to significantly reduce emissions. By 2050, under the mitigation scenario, snowfall would be reduced 31% by 2050, but would stay relatively stable and only be at 33% below baseline by 2100. If the world fails to take action to mitigate climate change, by 2100 however, loss of snow is expected to reach 67% by the end of the century. “Los Angeles must begin today to prepare for climate change,” said Mayor Villaraigosa. “We invested in this study and created the AdaptLA framework to craft innovative solutions and preserve our quality of life for the next generation of Angelenos.” – Climate News Network