Tag Archives: climate change

How an Irish weather station decided D-Day

Climate change and fickle elements can save nations or sink them. Irish weather was crucial to the Allies in June 1944.

COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND, 24 August, 2021 − Any military analyst worth his or her stripes will be aware of the challenges to operations caused by climate change and differing weather patterns. The Irish weather held the balance in 1944 as the Allies prepared to attack the Nazi forces in northern France.

How would heavy military equipment cope now in Arctic conditions as the permafrost melts and the ice cover becomes ever thinner? Will naval bases be threatened by rising sea levels? Will drought and environmental devastation be the catalyst for more conflicts round the world, and where will they occur? Ireland’s World War II experience could be salutary.

Brendan McWilliams, who died in 2007, was a prominent Irish meteorologist who, for several years, wrote a daily column for the Irish Times.

Among his many erudite observations, he analysed what impact the weather and climate had had on various key historical military events.

On 18 June 1815 the Emperor Napoleon was planning his attack on the Anglo-Dutch forces led by the Duke of Wellington near the small town of Waterloo, south of Brussels in Belgium.

Surprise lost

“Napoleon was the master of the quick manoeuvre”, said McWilliams. “His success as a general rested largely on his being able to deal a crushing blow to the weakest spot when it was least expected.

“He would use his artillery as one might aim a pistol, continually searching for the point where maximum advantage might be gained, and reacting to the ebb and flow of fortune at different places on the battlefield.

“For these tactics dry ground and a firm footing were essential; both were denied to him at Waterloo.”

McWilliams says that the day before the battle a small but very active depression caused very heavy falls of rain in the environs of Waterloo, turning fields into quagmires.

Napoleon had planned his attack for early morning on the 15th but had to postpone it till noon, in the hope that the ground would dry out. In the event, Napoleon’s troops became bogged down and could not sustain their advance; the delay in the attack allowed time for reinforcements to arrive.

“Rain and Force 7 winds affected the English Channel around the time for which the invasion had been originally planned”

Wellington won the battle and the tide of history, courtesy the weather, was radically changed.

On another June day nearly 130 years later, during World War II, Allied forces under the command of US General Dwight Eisenhower were about to launch Operation Overlord – the Normandy landings and the ground attack on German forces in mainland Europe.

Light winds, good visibility and calm seas were essential if the attack was to be a success; military planners selected 5 June as the best day for the invasion to go ahead.

At that time, McWilliams points out, accurate weather forecasting was still in its infancy.

On 3 June reports started coming in from a weather station at Blacksod Point in County Mayo in the west of Ireland of the approach of an active – and totally unexpected – cold front.

Postponement lifted

The small weather station was manned by the Sweeney family, who also ran the local post office. Though Ireland was neutral in the war, weather reports sent to Dublin were passed on to London.

It was obvious, says McWilliams, that the cold front would be over the invasion area by 5 June, bringing rain and strong winds, and likely to severely hamper the operations of Allied forces. The military command decided to postpone the invasion for a day.

“Sure enough, rain and Force 7 winds affected the English Channel around the time for which the invasion had been originally planned”, says McWilliams.

“By 6 June, however, the depression had lost much of its intensity, the cold front had passed the battle area, and the weather was sufficiently good not to interfere with operations.”

And the rest, due to the weather and the observations of the Sweeney family, is history. − Climate News Network

Climate change and fickle elements can save nations or sink them. Irish weather was crucial to the Allies in June 1944.

COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND, 24 August, 2021 − Any military analyst worth his or her stripes will be aware of the challenges to operations caused by climate change and differing weather patterns. The Irish weather held the balance in 1944 as the Allies prepared to attack the Nazi forces in northern France.

How would heavy military equipment cope now in Arctic conditions as the permafrost melts and the ice cover becomes ever thinner? Will naval bases be threatened by rising sea levels? Will drought and environmental devastation be the catalyst for more conflicts round the world, and where will they occur? Ireland’s World War II experience could be salutary.

Brendan McWilliams, who died in 2007, was a prominent Irish meteorologist who, for several years, wrote a daily column for the Irish Times.

Among his many erudite observations, he analysed what impact the weather and climate had had on various key historical military events.

On 18 June 1815 the Emperor Napoleon was planning his attack on the Anglo-Dutch forces led by the Duke of Wellington near the small town of Waterloo, south of Brussels in Belgium.

Surprise lost

“Napoleon was the master of the quick manoeuvre”, said McWilliams. “His success as a general rested largely on his being able to deal a crushing blow to the weakest spot when it was least expected.

“He would use his artillery as one might aim a pistol, continually searching for the point where maximum advantage might be gained, and reacting to the ebb and flow of fortune at different places on the battlefield.

“For these tactics dry ground and a firm footing were essential; both were denied to him at Waterloo.”

McWilliams says that the day before the battle a small but very active depression caused very heavy falls of rain in the environs of Waterloo, turning fields into quagmires.

Napoleon had planned his attack for early morning on the 15th but had to postpone it till noon, in the hope that the ground would dry out. In the event, Napoleon’s troops became bogged down and could not sustain their advance; the delay in the attack allowed time for reinforcements to arrive.

“Rain and Force 7 winds affected the English Channel around the time for which the invasion had been originally planned”

Wellington won the battle and the tide of history, courtesy the weather, was radically changed.

On another June day nearly 130 years later, during World War II, Allied forces under the command of US General Dwight Eisenhower were about to launch Operation Overlord – the Normandy landings and the ground attack on German forces in mainland Europe.

Light winds, good visibility and calm seas were essential if the attack was to be a success; military planners selected 5 June as the best day for the invasion to go ahead.

At that time, McWilliams points out, accurate weather forecasting was still in its infancy.

On 3 June reports started coming in from a weather station at Blacksod Point in County Mayo in the west of Ireland of the approach of an active – and totally unexpected – cold front.

Postponement lifted

The small weather station was manned by the Sweeney family, who also ran the local post office. Though Ireland was neutral in the war, weather reports sent to Dublin were passed on to London.

It was obvious, says McWilliams, that the cold front would be over the invasion area by 5 June, bringing rain and strong winds, and likely to severely hamper the operations of Allied forces. The military command decided to postpone the invasion for a day.

“Sure enough, rain and Force 7 winds affected the English Channel around the time for which the invasion had been originally planned”, says McWilliams.

“By 6 June, however, the depression had lost much of its intensity, the cold front had passed the battle area, and the weather was sufficiently good not to interfere with operations.”

And the rest, due to the weather and the observations of the Sweeney family, is history. − Climate News Network

Oblivion awaits insects on which food crops rely

As the bees start to buzz off, everybody could go hungry. If oblivion awaits insects, the rest of us won’t last long.

LONDON, 19 August, 2021 − The world’s pollinators are in decline − and scientists now have a surer idea of why. The bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles, flies, bats and hummingbirds (yes, animals and birds too) that shift pollen from one flower to another and help three-fourths of the world’s food crops to fruit and reproduce are on the way out. Oblivion awaits insects and other pollinators because of the things humans have done, and go on doing.

And it will be humans that could pay the biggest price as the decline goes on. “What happens to pollinators could have huge knock-on effects for humanity,” said Lynn Dicks, of the University of Cambridge in the UK.

“These small creatures play central roles in the world’s ecosystems, including many that humans and other animals rely on for nutrition. If they go, we may be in serious trouble.”

Lost habitat

Dr Dicks and 20 of her colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution that they assembled all the evidence of pollinator decline so far and then tried to weigh the range of factors at work in the loss of the little flying things on which the rest of the living world depends.

The loss is real enough: one recent study recorded a 75% decline of flying insects in 30 years in one location. Another warned that by the century’s end, half of all insects could have gone.

The loss of insects cannot be separated from the plants on which they depend: many of these too are at increasing risk of extinction.

The biggest factor in this chronicle of loss is habitat destruction: that is, the clearance by farmers, developers and foresters of the natural wildernesses in which the pollinators evolved.

The second problem is posed by the way humans manage the land that has replaced those natural ecosystems: monoculture farming, intense grazing and fertiliser use leave many insects with nowhere to go and nothing to eat.

“Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

Widespread pesticide use actively eliminates many species, some of them yet to be identified. Climate change, with a shift in the conditions in which the insects evolved, and increasingly hostile temperatures, is only for the moment the fourth most powerful factor.

The challenge is compounded by a growing demand for food: in the last 50 years there has been a threefold increase in crops that depend on pollinators: the value of such crops could be as high as US$577 billion (£420bn) a year.

But across two-thirds of the planet, this buzz of insect activity could be at risk: crop yield could become increasingly unreliable. “Crops dependent on pollinators fluctuate more in yield than, for example, cereals,” Dr Dicks said.

“Increasingly unusual climatic phenomena, such as extreme rainfall and temperature, are already affecting crops. Pollinator loss adds further instability − it’s the last thing people need.”

Impact on trade

The continent with most to lose is South America, with cashew, soybean, coffee and cocoa providing both food and the basis of international trade. China and India too are heavily dependent on fruit and vegetable harvests that depend on pollination. And there are less substantial benefits delivered by insects that could be about to fly away for ever.

“Pollinators have been sources of inspiration for art, music, literature and technology since the dawn of human history. All the major world religions have sacred passages about bees,” Dr Dicks said.

“Pollinators are often the most immediate representatives of the natural world in our daily lives. These are the creatures that captivate us early in life. We notice and feel their loss. Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

“We are in the midst of a species extinction crisis, but for many people that is intangible. Perhaps pollinators are the bellwether of mass extinction.” − Climate News Network

As the bees start to buzz off, everybody could go hungry. If oblivion awaits insects, the rest of us won’t last long.

LONDON, 19 August, 2021 − The world’s pollinators are in decline − and scientists now have a surer idea of why. The bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles, flies, bats and hummingbirds (yes, animals and birds too) that shift pollen from one flower to another and help three-fourths of the world’s food crops to fruit and reproduce are on the way out. Oblivion awaits insects and other pollinators because of the things humans have done, and go on doing.

And it will be humans that could pay the biggest price as the decline goes on. “What happens to pollinators could have huge knock-on effects for humanity,” said Lynn Dicks, of the University of Cambridge in the UK.

“These small creatures play central roles in the world’s ecosystems, including many that humans and other animals rely on for nutrition. If they go, we may be in serious trouble.”

Lost habitat

Dr Dicks and 20 of her colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution that they assembled all the evidence of pollinator decline so far and then tried to weigh the range of factors at work in the loss of the little flying things on which the rest of the living world depends.

The loss is real enough: one recent study recorded a 75% decline of flying insects in 30 years in one location. Another warned that by the century’s end, half of all insects could have gone.

The loss of insects cannot be separated from the plants on which they depend: many of these too are at increasing risk of extinction.

The biggest factor in this chronicle of loss is habitat destruction: that is, the clearance by farmers, developers and foresters of the natural wildernesses in which the pollinators evolved.

The second problem is posed by the way humans manage the land that has replaced those natural ecosystems: monoculture farming, intense grazing and fertiliser use leave many insects with nowhere to go and nothing to eat.

“Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

Widespread pesticide use actively eliminates many species, some of them yet to be identified. Climate change, with a shift in the conditions in which the insects evolved, and increasingly hostile temperatures, is only for the moment the fourth most powerful factor.

The challenge is compounded by a growing demand for food: in the last 50 years there has been a threefold increase in crops that depend on pollinators: the value of such crops could be as high as US$577 billion (£420bn) a year.

But across two-thirds of the planet, this buzz of insect activity could be at risk: crop yield could become increasingly unreliable. “Crops dependent on pollinators fluctuate more in yield than, for example, cereals,” Dr Dicks said.

“Increasingly unusual climatic phenomena, such as extreme rainfall and temperature, are already affecting crops. Pollinator loss adds further instability − it’s the last thing people need.”

Impact on trade

The continent with most to lose is South America, with cashew, soybean, coffee and cocoa providing both food and the basis of international trade. China and India too are heavily dependent on fruit and vegetable harvests that depend on pollination. And there are less substantial benefits delivered by insects that could be about to fly away for ever.

“Pollinators have been sources of inspiration for art, music, literature and technology since the dawn of human history. All the major world religions have sacred passages about bees,” Dr Dicks said.

“Pollinators are often the most immediate representatives of the natural world in our daily lives. These are the creatures that captivate us early in life. We notice and feel their loss. Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

“We are in the midst of a species extinction crisis, but for many people that is intangible. Perhaps pollinators are the bellwether of mass extinction.” − Climate News Network

Ireland faces future of climate change division

Ireland, known as the Emerald Isle for its verdant pastures, may soon lose its title as climate change division takes hold.

DUBLIN, 17 August, 2021 − A friend emails from Athens, describing brown, smoke-filled skies caused by Greece’s raging fires, and says she dreams of soft Irish rain. Little does she know of the growing climate change division which is splitting the island apart.

The brother, living in northern California, talks of temperatures yet again topping 40°C, and driving along highways and hearing the macabre, crackling sound of burning forests.

“What I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh Irish air”, he says.

Ireland, blessed with a temperate climate, little polluting heavy industry and a relatively small population, has so far escaped most of the extremes of climate change.

While many countries in southern Europe in recent months have been hit by record high temperatures, drought and wildfires, and several states in northern Europe have endured torrential rain and floods, Ireland has been unscathed.

Semi-tropical Ireland

But a new report on the country’s climate – the most comprehensive such study in more than eight years – warns that Ireland is not immune to the dramatic changes happening elsewhere.

The study, by the government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  and Met Éireann, the national meteorological service, warns of coming weather extremes.

Trends point to “more intense, almost tropical rainfall events.” Couched in cautious terms, the study says scientists in Ireland are “more certain” that the country is becoming both wetter and warmer.

The report says annual rainfall has increased by 6% over the last 30 years compared with the 1960 to 1990 period, while annual average temperatures in Ireland have increased by 0.9% over the past 120 years. The seas round Ireland are becoming warmer and are rising – by approximately 2 to 3mm a year since the early 1990s.

“What I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh Irish air”

A lack of rainfall is not a phenomenon usually associated with Ireland, but the study warns that, despite the increase in total amounts of precipitation, drought could hit many areas in coming years.

The climate is effectively dividing the country in half: rivers in the west and north of the country are becoming fuller, leading to an increased risk of serious flooding. But in the east and south – where the majority of the population lives – some rivers are at risk of drying up.

Frank McGovern, the EPA’s chief scientist, told the Irish Times that government policies need to take account of the country’s changing rainfall patterns: the study’s findings “should inform investment in planning and making our infrastructure and population more resilient to climate change.”

Ireland markets itself as a green and unpolluted land, free of the smoking industrial chimneys of much of the developed world.

Judicial rebuke

The reality is different: per head of population, Ireland is one of the leading emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Europe.

Its agricultural sector – a key part of the economy – is responsible for a large portion of those emissions.

Problems caused by GHG emissions from the country’s seven million cattle herd and by nitrate-based fertilisers are only slowly being tackled. Ireland’s transport sector is also a big polluter.

Last year Ireland’s Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial authority, described the Dublin government’s climate policies as “excessively vague and aspirational” and lacking in clear plans and goals. − Climate News Network

Ireland, known as the Emerald Isle for its verdant pastures, may soon lose its title as climate change division takes hold.

DUBLIN, 17 August, 2021 − A friend emails from Athens, describing brown, smoke-filled skies caused by Greece’s raging fires, and says she dreams of soft Irish rain. Little does she know of the growing climate change division which is splitting the island apart.

The brother, living in northern California, talks of temperatures yet again topping 40°C, and driving along highways and hearing the macabre, crackling sound of burning forests.

“What I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh Irish air”, he says.

Ireland, blessed with a temperate climate, little polluting heavy industry and a relatively small population, has so far escaped most of the extremes of climate change.

While many countries in southern Europe in recent months have been hit by record high temperatures, drought and wildfires, and several states in northern Europe have endured torrential rain and floods, Ireland has been unscathed.

Semi-tropical Ireland

But a new report on the country’s climate – the most comprehensive such study in more than eight years – warns that Ireland is not immune to the dramatic changes happening elsewhere.

The study, by the government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  and Met Éireann, the national meteorological service, warns of coming weather extremes.

Trends point to “more intense, almost tropical rainfall events.” Couched in cautious terms, the study says scientists in Ireland are “more certain” that the country is becoming both wetter and warmer.

The report says annual rainfall has increased by 6% over the last 30 years compared with the 1960 to 1990 period, while annual average temperatures in Ireland have increased by 0.9% over the past 120 years. The seas round Ireland are becoming warmer and are rising – by approximately 2 to 3mm a year since the early 1990s.

“What I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh Irish air”

A lack of rainfall is not a phenomenon usually associated with Ireland, but the study warns that, despite the increase in total amounts of precipitation, drought could hit many areas in coming years.

The climate is effectively dividing the country in half: rivers in the west and north of the country are becoming fuller, leading to an increased risk of serious flooding. But in the east and south – where the majority of the population lives – some rivers are at risk of drying up.

Frank McGovern, the EPA’s chief scientist, told the Irish Times that government policies need to take account of the country’s changing rainfall patterns: the study’s findings “should inform investment in planning and making our infrastructure and population more resilient to climate change.”

Ireland markets itself as a green and unpolluted land, free of the smoking industrial chimneys of much of the developed world.

Judicial rebuke

The reality is different: per head of population, Ireland is one of the leading emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Europe.

Its agricultural sector – a key part of the economy – is responsible for a large portion of those emissions.

Problems caused by GHG emissions from the country’s seven million cattle herd and by nitrate-based fertilisers are only slowly being tackled. Ireland’s transport sector is also a big polluter.

Last year Ireland’s Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial authority, described the Dublin government’s climate policies as “excessively vague and aspirational” and lacking in clear plans and goals. − Climate News Network

China’s cash for UK nuclear plants is in doubt

Cooler Sino-British relations mean China’s cash for UK nuclear plants is at risk − and success at the COP26 climate talks.

LONDON, 16 August, 2021 − A serious stumbling block now threatens the prospect of China’s cash for UK nuclear plants materialising − and also the likelihood of a successful outcome to COP26, the global climate conference which the British government is due to host later this year.

In order to finance the construction of nuclear stations that are supposed to generate up to 20% of the UK’s electricity, the British government needs Chinese money. Without it, the already prohibitively expensive projects may become completely unaffordable.

Neither the deeply indebted French government-owned company EDF, which is building two stations, each with twin reactors, nor the UK  government is prepared to underwrite the entire cost of the projects. This is because of the huge sums required − around £45 billion (US$62bn).

However, the UK government faces severe political pressure to end Chinese involvement, because of the perceived threat of ceding control over vital services such as the electricity supply.

Problematic deal

The problem for Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, is particularly acute as Britain is hosting COP26, this year’s UN climate conference, in Glasgow in November. Relations between the UK and China are already poor, in part because of disputes over democratic freedoms for the people of Hong Kong.

But with China the world’s largest carbon emitter, Johnson needs it onside if he is to have a chance of making COP26 the success it must be to avert catastrophic climate change.

The problem over funding the nuclear programme arises because of a deal struck in 2015 between the then British prime minister, David Cameron, and China’s president Xi Jinping.

That agreed that China would stump up one third of the £23bn ($32bn) cost of the Hinkley C nuclear power station in the West of England, and also pay 20% of the cost of another planned station, Sizewell C, on the east coast. In return the Chinese could then build a nuclear plant of their own design at Bradwell B in Essex, closer to London, and use it as a platform to export their Hualong HPR1000 reactor technology to the rest of the world.

“With China the world’s largest carbon emitter, Johnson needs it onside if he is to have a chance of making COP26 the success it must be”

To President Xi the cost of helping to fund the French company to build nuclear stations in Britain was outweighed by the advantage of getting Chinese technology validated in the UK as a bridge to future exports.

Six years later, however, with the Hinkley Point project well under way and Sizewell C supposedly close to launch, the British government is now nervous about allowing the Chinese such a strong involvement in the UK’s nuclear secrets and the nation’s power supply.

Its dilemma, though, is that if the UK reneges on its 2015 agreement, then China could abandon both projects, leaving a financial black hole of many billions of pounds. Trades unions are horrified at the potential loss of jobs the possible cancellation of the projects would cause.

One alternative to Chinese funding is a UK nuclear tax which would be paid in advance by electricity users to fund the construction of the power stations. With power bills already due to rise by more than 10% in Britain before the end of 2021, this is unlikely to be an electorally popular solution.

Renewable competition

What will happen is anyone’s guess. Given Johnson’s well-known habit of postponing difficult decisions, and the looming COP26, it is likely that nothing will be announced until the crucial Glasgow talks are over. The French, in anticipation, have already announced that they are postponing the “final investment decision” on Sizewell C until next year.

Meanwhile the renewable energy industry, particularly offshore wind, is powering ahead with a massive construction programme. Its projects will all produce electricity far more cheaply than any of the UK’s proposed new nuclear stations.

Last ditch attempts by the nuclear industry to put a green gloss on its proposals by persuading ministers that its spare electricity capacity can be used to make green hydrogen seem unlikely to succeed.

Perhaps in time it will become obvious to Johnson that if banning Chinese involvement in British nuclear plants means they end up not being built that will be a bonus, because cheaper renewable energy will soon be available to fill any perceived gap in supply. − Climate News Network

Cooler Sino-British relations mean China’s cash for UK nuclear plants is at risk − and success at the COP26 climate talks.

LONDON, 16 August, 2021 − A serious stumbling block now threatens the prospect of China’s cash for UK nuclear plants materialising − and also the likelihood of a successful outcome to COP26, the global climate conference which the British government is due to host later this year.

In order to finance the construction of nuclear stations that are supposed to generate up to 20% of the UK’s electricity, the British government needs Chinese money. Without it, the already prohibitively expensive projects may become completely unaffordable.

Neither the deeply indebted French government-owned company EDF, which is building two stations, each with twin reactors, nor the UK  government is prepared to underwrite the entire cost of the projects. This is because of the huge sums required − around £45 billion (US$62bn).

However, the UK government faces severe political pressure to end Chinese involvement, because of the perceived threat of ceding control over vital services such as the electricity supply.

Problematic deal

The problem for Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, is particularly acute as Britain is hosting COP26, this year’s UN climate conference, in Glasgow in November. Relations between the UK and China are already poor, in part because of disputes over democratic freedoms for the people of Hong Kong.

But with China the world’s largest carbon emitter, Johnson needs it onside if he is to have a chance of making COP26 the success it must be to avert catastrophic climate change.

The problem over funding the nuclear programme arises because of a deal struck in 2015 between the then British prime minister, David Cameron, and China’s president Xi Jinping.

That agreed that China would stump up one third of the £23bn ($32bn) cost of the Hinkley C nuclear power station in the West of England, and also pay 20% of the cost of another planned station, Sizewell C, on the east coast. In return the Chinese could then build a nuclear plant of their own design at Bradwell B in Essex, closer to London, and use it as a platform to export their Hualong HPR1000 reactor technology to the rest of the world.

“With China the world’s largest carbon emitter, Johnson needs it onside if he is to have a chance of making COP26 the success it must be”

To President Xi the cost of helping to fund the French company to build nuclear stations in Britain was outweighed by the advantage of getting Chinese technology validated in the UK as a bridge to future exports.

Six years later, however, with the Hinkley Point project well under way and Sizewell C supposedly close to launch, the British government is now nervous about allowing the Chinese such a strong involvement in the UK’s nuclear secrets and the nation’s power supply.

Its dilemma, though, is that if the UK reneges on its 2015 agreement, then China could abandon both projects, leaving a financial black hole of many billions of pounds. Trades unions are horrified at the potential loss of jobs the possible cancellation of the projects would cause.

One alternative to Chinese funding is a UK nuclear tax which would be paid in advance by electricity users to fund the construction of the power stations. With power bills already due to rise by more than 10% in Britain before the end of 2021, this is unlikely to be an electorally popular solution.

Renewable competition

What will happen is anyone’s guess. Given Johnson’s well-known habit of postponing difficult decisions, and the looming COP26, it is likely that nothing will be announced until the crucial Glasgow talks are over. The French, in anticipation, have already announced that they are postponing the “final investment decision” on Sizewell C until next year.

Meanwhile the renewable energy industry, particularly offshore wind, is powering ahead with a massive construction programme. Its projects will all produce electricity far more cheaply than any of the UK’s proposed new nuclear stations.

Last ditch attempts by the nuclear industry to put a green gloss on its proposals by persuading ministers that its spare electricity capacity can be used to make green hydrogen seem unlikely to succeed.

Perhaps in time it will become obvious to Johnson that if banning Chinese involvement in British nuclear plants means they end up not being built that will be a bonus, because cheaper renewable energy will soon be available to fill any perceived gap in supply. − Climate News Network

Climate heating just makes things hotter still

The past has an uncomfortable lesson for a warming world: climate heating begets even more of the same.

LONDON, 13 August, 2021 − Climate heating has a way of making the globe even hotter. As higher temperatures kick in, there is a pronounced planetary tendency to send the mercury rising even further.

And − on the evidence of the last 66 million years − this is a process that doesn’t even need human help. Some kind of warming bias seems to have been baked into the climate machinery, according to a new study.

And if the warming process gets a bit of help from humankind in the form of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, natural planetary ecosystems and global geochemistry could augment the process and take it a lot further.

“The northern hemisphere’s ice sheets are shrinking, and could potentially disappear as a long-term consequence of human actions,” said Constantin Arnscheidt of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the research outlined in the journal Science Advances.

“Our research suggests that this may make the Earth’s climate fundamentally more susceptible to extreme, long-term global warming events such as those seen in the geologic past.”

Continuous cycle

It’s not a new idea. Researchers have been saying for decades that as the polar ice retreats, more open sea and rock is exposed. Ice and snow reflect radiation, dark rock and blue sea absorb it, to amplify warming and accelerate climate change.

As the permafrost thaws, long-buried plant remains begin to surrender methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, to speed up the thaw even more. As forests − vast stores of atmospheric carbon − become hotter and more drought-stricken, they are at risk of fire, which puts even more greenhouse gas  back into the atmosphere to warm the world even more intensely.

But these have all been warnings: what two researchers at MIT did was to look at the tell-tale patterns of climate change deep in prehistory. Because fossil evidence tells a reliable story of past climates, they could study changes in the composition of the shells of foraminifera preserved in ocean sediments.

These identified a continuous cycle of temperature rise and fall and, in particular, the way temperature rose during the aeons that followed the extinction of the dinosaurs at the close of the Cretaceous.

The researchers found the curve of warming and cooling was more skewed to warm events than cool ones: warm events tended to be of a more extreme temperature than the most extreme cool spells. Sometimes the planetary climate changed dramatically, to bring crocodiles to Arctic waters, and forests to Antarctica.

“This may make the Earth’s climate fundamentally more susceptible to extreme, long-term global warming events such as those seen in the geologic past”

The researchers call this a multiplier effect: increases in temperature bias the climate system towards even more increases.

The study may throw additional light on an enduring climate puzzle: the pattern of temperature for much of the Earth’s history can be matched to the pattern of cyclic shifts in the planetary orbit around the sun, over hundreds of thousands of years.

But these changes are themselves tiny. The multiplier effect could explain why they jolt the planet’s climate into a new regime.

“Climate warms and cools in synchrony with orbital changes, but the orbital cycles themselves would predict only modest changes in climate. But if we consider a multiplicative model, then modest warming, paired with this multiplier effect, can result in extreme events that tend to occur at the same times as these orbital changes,” said Daniel Rothman, a geophysicist at MIT, and a co-author.

And Constantin Arnscheidt said: “Humans are forcing the system in a new way. And this study is showing that, when we increase extreme temperature, we’re likely going to interact with these natural, amplifying effects.” − Climate News Network

The past has an uncomfortable lesson for a warming world: climate heating begets even more of the same.

LONDON, 13 August, 2021 − Climate heating has a way of making the globe even hotter. As higher temperatures kick in, there is a pronounced planetary tendency to send the mercury rising even further.

And − on the evidence of the last 66 million years − this is a process that doesn’t even need human help. Some kind of warming bias seems to have been baked into the climate machinery, according to a new study.

And if the warming process gets a bit of help from humankind in the form of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, natural planetary ecosystems and global geochemistry could augment the process and take it a lot further.

“The northern hemisphere’s ice sheets are shrinking, and could potentially disappear as a long-term consequence of human actions,” said Constantin Arnscheidt of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the research outlined in the journal Science Advances.

“Our research suggests that this may make the Earth’s climate fundamentally more susceptible to extreme, long-term global warming events such as those seen in the geologic past.”

Continuous cycle

It’s not a new idea. Researchers have been saying for decades that as the polar ice retreats, more open sea and rock is exposed. Ice and snow reflect radiation, dark rock and blue sea absorb it, to amplify warming and accelerate climate change.

As the permafrost thaws, long-buried plant remains begin to surrender methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, to speed up the thaw even more. As forests − vast stores of atmospheric carbon − become hotter and more drought-stricken, they are at risk of fire, which puts even more greenhouse gas  back into the atmosphere to warm the world even more intensely.

But these have all been warnings: what two researchers at MIT did was to look at the tell-tale patterns of climate change deep in prehistory. Because fossil evidence tells a reliable story of past climates, they could study changes in the composition of the shells of foraminifera preserved in ocean sediments.

These identified a continuous cycle of temperature rise and fall and, in particular, the way temperature rose during the aeons that followed the extinction of the dinosaurs at the close of the Cretaceous.

The researchers found the curve of warming and cooling was more skewed to warm events than cool ones: warm events tended to be of a more extreme temperature than the most extreme cool spells. Sometimes the planetary climate changed dramatically, to bring crocodiles to Arctic waters, and forests to Antarctica.

“This may make the Earth’s climate fundamentally more susceptible to extreme, long-term global warming events such as those seen in the geologic past”

The researchers call this a multiplier effect: increases in temperature bias the climate system towards even more increases.

The study may throw additional light on an enduring climate puzzle: the pattern of temperature for much of the Earth’s history can be matched to the pattern of cyclic shifts in the planetary orbit around the sun, over hundreds of thousands of years.

But these changes are themselves tiny. The multiplier effect could explain why they jolt the planet’s climate into a new regime.

“Climate warms and cools in synchrony with orbital changes, but the orbital cycles themselves would predict only modest changes in climate. But if we consider a multiplicative model, then modest warming, paired with this multiplier effect, can result in extreme events that tend to occur at the same times as these orbital changes,” said Daniel Rothman, a geophysicist at MIT, and a co-author.

And Constantin Arnscheidt said: “Humans are forcing the system in a new way. And this study is showing that, when we increase extreme temperature, we’re likely going to interact with these natural, amplifying effects.” − Climate News Network

Ancient sea level rises may have been fairly minimal

Maybe ancient sea level rises were not so dramatic. But they’d still have been pretty frightening.

LONDON, 12 August, 2021 − Earth scientists have measured the rising tides of a warmer world more than 100 millennia ago and found a glimmer of good news: ancient sea level rises during a warm spell in the last Ice Age were quite possibly only about 1.2 metres higher than they are today.

Since, between 128,000 and 117,000 years ago, the world was perhaps as much as 2°C warmer than it would become for most of human history, this really is encouraging. Right now, climate scientists project a rise of somewhere between 60cm and 1.5m later this century, as global temperature levels rise 2°C or more above those normal before the Industrial Revolution.

But until now, geological orthodoxy has proposed that during the last “interglacial” or sudden warming, sea levels rose by six metres or possibly even nine metres. This could only happen if the Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets had collapsed.

And although these are indeed already losing ice at an accelerating rate, it doesn’t seem possible for such a colossal quantity of ice to melt in only a handful of decades.

Missing factor

So there was a mismatch between the predictions of the world’s scientists and the apparent evidence from the past.

Now a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a solution: calculations about past sea level heights may have been perhaps too gloomy because they did not fully factor in sea level’s other great uncertainty — the movement of the continents lapped by the sea.

This bedevils all predictions about sea level rise. Seas rise and fall with global temperatures, but so do landmasses. Right now, although sea level is creeping up at a rate measured in millimetres per year, the land under a number of great coastal cities is sinking dramatically, as humans build  ever more massive cities and abstract ever more groundwater. So predictions warn that millions could be at risk of coastal flooding.

But there is another, deeper reason for the uncertainty: as rising temperatures remove the massive burden of ice from glaciated land, and wind and rain erode mountains, so the subterranean rocks in the Earth’s mantle, far below the crust, respond by inching upwards. Even the seemingly solid rocks are elastic, subsiding under pressure and rising when the mass is removed.

“Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood”

All this means that, unless researchers can make an accurate estimate of land movement as well, sea level estimates are riven with uncertainties.

So a team from Columbia University in the US has looked at evidence of sea level rise and fall preserved in fossilised reefs and dunes in just one 1200km chain of islands − the Bahamas in the Atlantic − to come up with a new set of projections.

In the next 100 years, sea levels will rise by about 1.2 metres. This could be too modest: sea levels could just possibly rise by perhaps 5.3 metres, but this doesn’t seem likely. And a nine-metre rise is highly improbable.

“To get to nine metres of sea level rise, you’d have to melt large parts of Greenland and Antarctica,” said Blake Dyer, of the university’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Tricky calculation

“This suggests that didn’t happen. So maybe we should feel not so bad about the future. On the other hand, our lower estimate is bad, and our upper one is really bad.”

At the heart of the puzzle is a phenomenon known to geophysicists as isostasy: vast tracts of continental landmass have been heaving up and down, imperceptibly, over periods of tens of thousands of years, in response to ice and erosion.

So calculating sea level rise and fall when the thing on which sea level measurements are recorded − the land − is itself always shifting becomes tricky. That has always been why climate projections of sea levels contain a range of forecasts, rather than a hard number.

The argument is that changes recorded along the north-south lie of the Bahamas would provide a new and more sophisticated way of reconstructing sea heights in the relatively recent past.

Melting not guaranteed

The study doesn’t settle the question: estimates of past sea level change on a dramatic scale come from many parts of the planet, and glaciologists still have to reconstruct the rate at which the northern ice, for instance, may have retreated while the southern ice cap continued to advance during the last interglacial: that too would have limited sea level rise.

“This is still a question. Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood,” said Maureen Raymo, director of the Earth Observatory and a co-author.

Human carbon emissions are now heating the globe far more rapidly and evenly than during the last interglacial, so there is no guarantee of any melting at different rates in two hemispheres

“That makes it more difficult to apply the results to today. The easy thing to say would be, ‘Oh we showed that sea levels were not so bad, and that’s terrific.’  The harder answer, the more honest answer, is that maybe things were different then, and we’re not in the clear.” − Climate News Network

Maybe ancient sea level rises were not so dramatic. But they’d still have been pretty frightening.

LONDON, 12 August, 2021 − Earth scientists have measured the rising tides of a warmer world more than 100 millennia ago and found a glimmer of good news: ancient sea level rises during a warm spell in the last Ice Age were quite possibly only about 1.2 metres higher than they are today.

Since, between 128,000 and 117,000 years ago, the world was perhaps as much as 2°C warmer than it would become for most of human history, this really is encouraging. Right now, climate scientists project a rise of somewhere between 60cm and 1.5m later this century, as global temperature levels rise 2°C or more above those normal before the Industrial Revolution.

But until now, geological orthodoxy has proposed that during the last “interglacial” or sudden warming, sea levels rose by six metres or possibly even nine metres. This could only happen if the Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets had collapsed.

And although these are indeed already losing ice at an accelerating rate, it doesn’t seem possible for such a colossal quantity of ice to melt in only a handful of decades.

Missing factor

So there was a mismatch between the predictions of the world’s scientists and the apparent evidence from the past.

Now a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a solution: calculations about past sea level heights may have been perhaps too gloomy because they did not fully factor in sea level’s other great uncertainty — the movement of the continents lapped by the sea.

This bedevils all predictions about sea level rise. Seas rise and fall with global temperatures, but so do landmasses. Right now, although sea level is creeping up at a rate measured in millimetres per year, the land under a number of great coastal cities is sinking dramatically, as humans build  ever more massive cities and abstract ever more groundwater. So predictions warn that millions could be at risk of coastal flooding.

But there is another, deeper reason for the uncertainty: as rising temperatures remove the massive burden of ice from glaciated land, and wind and rain erode mountains, so the subterranean rocks in the Earth’s mantle, far below the crust, respond by inching upwards. Even the seemingly solid rocks are elastic, subsiding under pressure and rising when the mass is removed.

“Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood”

All this means that, unless researchers can make an accurate estimate of land movement as well, sea level estimates are riven with uncertainties.

So a team from Columbia University in the US has looked at evidence of sea level rise and fall preserved in fossilised reefs and dunes in just one 1200km chain of islands − the Bahamas in the Atlantic − to come up with a new set of projections.

In the next 100 years, sea levels will rise by about 1.2 metres. This could be too modest: sea levels could just possibly rise by perhaps 5.3 metres, but this doesn’t seem likely. And a nine-metre rise is highly improbable.

“To get to nine metres of sea level rise, you’d have to melt large parts of Greenland and Antarctica,” said Blake Dyer, of the university’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Tricky calculation

“This suggests that didn’t happen. So maybe we should feel not so bad about the future. On the other hand, our lower estimate is bad, and our upper one is really bad.”

At the heart of the puzzle is a phenomenon known to geophysicists as isostasy: vast tracts of continental landmass have been heaving up and down, imperceptibly, over periods of tens of thousands of years, in response to ice and erosion.

So calculating sea level rise and fall when the thing on which sea level measurements are recorded − the land − is itself always shifting becomes tricky. That has always been why climate projections of sea levels contain a range of forecasts, rather than a hard number.

The argument is that changes recorded along the north-south lie of the Bahamas would provide a new and more sophisticated way of reconstructing sea heights in the relatively recent past.

Melting not guaranteed

The study doesn’t settle the question: estimates of past sea level change on a dramatic scale come from many parts of the planet, and glaciologists still have to reconstruct the rate at which the northern ice, for instance, may have retreated while the southern ice cap continued to advance during the last interglacial: that too would have limited sea level rise.

“This is still a question. Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood,” said Maureen Raymo, director of the Earth Observatory and a co-author.

Human carbon emissions are now heating the globe far more rapidly and evenly than during the last interglacial, so there is no guarantee of any melting at different rates in two hemispheres

“That makes it more difficult to apply the results to today. The easy thing to say would be, ‘Oh we showed that sea levels were not so bad, and that’s terrific.’  The harder answer, the more honest answer, is that maybe things were different then, and we’re not in the clear.” − Climate News Network

Amazonia’s forests leak carbon they once stored

Once vital barriers to climate change, Amazonia’s forests now show how that and other human action can harm the rainforest.

LONDON, 11 August, 2021 − Part of Brazil − home to the world’s greatest rainforest − is becoming a source of greenhouse gases. What had once been a powerful machine in the climate system for absorbing carbon dioxide and cooling the planet is now playing a role in accelerating climate change. Much of Amazonia’s forests are no longer carbon sinks: now they are sources instead.

Why? Drought, and forest fires made increasingly likely by drought, have lately killed an estimated 2.5 billion trees and vines, to turn what had once been forest too wet to catch fire into a tinderbox.

And the process is not likely to stop as human numbers multiply and global temperatures soar. Yet another study has found that even those parts of the tropical forest worldwide that are defined as “intact” are at risk: mining, quarrying and extractive industries have concessions that overlap with at least a fifth of the world’s remaining tropical forest.

In the first 13 years of this century alone, an estimated 919,000 sq kms of forest − an area the size of Nigeria − was degraded, destroyed or converted. The area of surviving forest now identified as at risk is 975,000 sq kms, an area almost the size of Egypt.

The restoration and conservation of the world’s forests is a vital part of the global strategy to contain and limit climate change: all three studies confirm the worst fears of conservationists and climate scientists.

East-West split

Researchers have repeatedly warned that what had once been a vast, rich rainforest could − as global temperatures rise and human demands multiply − collapse to something more like dry savannah.

The latest study, in the journal Nature, is a progress report on an ecological catastrophe. Researchers flew 590 missions from four locations above the forest between 2010 and 2018 to make precise measurements of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide released from stressed and damaged vegetation below.

They found that eastern Amazonia on the whole surrendered more carbon than the forest to the west: over the past 40 years, this region has been more systematically invaded, felled, burned and baked by rising temperatures.

South-eastern Amazonia, in particular, now releases more carbon than it absorbs. Carbon that had once been stored in timber, foliage and soils is now escaping into the atmosphere to make climate change even more hazardous. Researchers estimate that the entire forest is home to 123 billion metric tons of carbon: as more escapes, so much the higher the planetary thermometer could rise.

“It is almost impossible to restore the myriad values of intact forests once they are lost”

And extreme drought and extended wildfires will be among the agents that do the damage, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers looked at a tract of forest about twice the size of Belgium in eastern Amazonia − it would amount to just 1.2% of the entire Brazilian Amazon rainforest − after the drought triggered by a largely natural climate phenomenon known as El Niño in 2015 and 2016.

They calculate that drought and fire accounted for 2.5 billion trees and shrubs, and the loss of these released 495 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air above them. Although, as the rains resumed, the vegetation started to recover, three years later only about a third of the emitted carbon dioxide had been re-absorbed.

But drought and wildfire are not the only agents of destruction: human intrusion is even more destructive, and tends to change the forest forever.

The Wildlife Conservation Society and the WorldWide Fund for Nature  report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that the extractive industries authorised by governments have gained concessions over huge areas of what conservationists define as tropical intact forested landscapes; that is, the jungles of the Amazon and the Congo, and South-east Asia.

Avoiding disturbance

These intact forests store around two-fifths of all tropical forest carbon, and at least a third of their area is home to − and is protected by − groups recognised as politically and economically marginalised indigenous people.

So undisturbed forest is important for the myriad as-yet-unidentified wild plants and animals that define an ecosystem; it is also an important part of the human mosaic.

The study is only a first measure of the risk to the remaining tropical wilderness. Although extractive industries are more interested in the oil, gas and minerals that lie beneath the forest floor, they depend on roads, pipelines and power lines, housing settlements and supply chains that divide and disturb what had once been wilderness.

That triggers a cascade of other consequences. Loss and disturbance become inevitable and may be permanent. As the researchers point out: “It is almost impossible to restore the myriad values of intact forests once they are lost.” − Climate News Network

Once vital barriers to climate change, Amazonia’s forests now show how that and other human action can harm the rainforest.

LONDON, 11 August, 2021 − Part of Brazil − home to the world’s greatest rainforest − is becoming a source of greenhouse gases. What had once been a powerful machine in the climate system for absorbing carbon dioxide and cooling the planet is now playing a role in accelerating climate change. Much of Amazonia’s forests are no longer carbon sinks: now they are sources instead.

Why? Drought, and forest fires made increasingly likely by drought, have lately killed an estimated 2.5 billion trees and vines, to turn what had once been forest too wet to catch fire into a tinderbox.

And the process is not likely to stop as human numbers multiply and global temperatures soar. Yet another study has found that even those parts of the tropical forest worldwide that are defined as “intact” are at risk: mining, quarrying and extractive industries have concessions that overlap with at least a fifth of the world’s remaining tropical forest.

In the first 13 years of this century alone, an estimated 919,000 sq kms of forest − an area the size of Nigeria − was degraded, destroyed or converted. The area of surviving forest now identified as at risk is 975,000 sq kms, an area almost the size of Egypt.

The restoration and conservation of the world’s forests is a vital part of the global strategy to contain and limit climate change: all three studies confirm the worst fears of conservationists and climate scientists.

East-West split

Researchers have repeatedly warned that what had once been a vast, rich rainforest could − as global temperatures rise and human demands multiply − collapse to something more like dry savannah.

The latest study, in the journal Nature, is a progress report on an ecological catastrophe. Researchers flew 590 missions from four locations above the forest between 2010 and 2018 to make precise measurements of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide released from stressed and damaged vegetation below.

They found that eastern Amazonia on the whole surrendered more carbon than the forest to the west: over the past 40 years, this region has been more systematically invaded, felled, burned and baked by rising temperatures.

South-eastern Amazonia, in particular, now releases more carbon than it absorbs. Carbon that had once been stored in timber, foliage and soils is now escaping into the atmosphere to make climate change even more hazardous. Researchers estimate that the entire forest is home to 123 billion metric tons of carbon: as more escapes, so much the higher the planetary thermometer could rise.

“It is almost impossible to restore the myriad values of intact forests once they are lost”

And extreme drought and extended wildfires will be among the agents that do the damage, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers looked at a tract of forest about twice the size of Belgium in eastern Amazonia − it would amount to just 1.2% of the entire Brazilian Amazon rainforest − after the drought triggered by a largely natural climate phenomenon known as El Niño in 2015 and 2016.

They calculate that drought and fire accounted for 2.5 billion trees and shrubs, and the loss of these released 495 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air above them. Although, as the rains resumed, the vegetation started to recover, three years later only about a third of the emitted carbon dioxide had been re-absorbed.

But drought and wildfire are not the only agents of destruction: human intrusion is even more destructive, and tends to change the forest forever.

The Wildlife Conservation Society and the WorldWide Fund for Nature  report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that the extractive industries authorised by governments have gained concessions over huge areas of what conservationists define as tropical intact forested landscapes; that is, the jungles of the Amazon and the Congo, and South-east Asia.

Avoiding disturbance

These intact forests store around two-fifths of all tropical forest carbon, and at least a third of their area is home to − and is protected by − groups recognised as politically and economically marginalised indigenous people.

So undisturbed forest is important for the myriad as-yet-unidentified wild plants and animals that define an ecosystem; it is also an important part of the human mosaic.

The study is only a first measure of the risk to the remaining tropical wilderness. Although extractive industries are more interested in the oil, gas and minerals that lie beneath the forest floor, they depend on roads, pipelines and power lines, housing settlements and supply chains that divide and disturb what had once been wilderness.

That triggers a cascade of other consequences. Loss and disturbance become inevitable and may be permanent. As the researchers point out: “It is almost impossible to restore the myriad values of intact forests once they are lost.” − Climate News Network

Gulf Stream puzzles science − but don’t panic yet

Could an ocean circulation system − the Gulf Stream, say − sort of  shut down? And what would that do to the world’s climate?

LONDON, 9 August, 2021 − Once again, new research has warned that one of the great engines of global climate, known variously as the Atlantic conveyor belt, a current that spans the entire ocean from the surface to its lowest depths, or (not very accurately) the Gulf Stream, could be about to falter.

That is, thanks to global heating, it could be about to switch from a relatively stable state to a “critical transition” towards a much feebler regime.

If it does so, that’s bad news for Europe, because part of what oceanographers call the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is the Gulf Stream, a surface flow that brings tropical warmth to what would otherwise be chilly north-western European nations.

And it could be very bad news for billions in tropical Africa, Asia and South America, because it could trigger changes in the tropical monsoon system.

Repeated warnings

Climate scientists have been measuring indicators of possible change in the ocean circulation system for at least two decades: any shift in ocean behaviour could signal a tipping point, a serious shift in climate for the terrestrial world.

The current brings warm, dense salty water north to the Arctic, where it meets less dense meltwater from Greenland and the Arctic glaciers and dives to the ocean floor, to flow south all the way to Antarctica before it surfaces again.

Researchers have warned on an almost yearly basis that as greenhouse gas emissions grow, and global temperatures creep up, the ocean currents could become less stable: Europe’s relatively mellow climate could cool; it could do so some time this century; and when it did, it would disrupt global weather patterns.

The latest study, in the journal Nature Climate Change, is partly based on long-term climate data and reconstructions of past climates, themselves based on ice cores, fossil evidence and ocean deposits.

“If AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system”

These suggest that AMOC can exist in a stable state, or a weak one: more to the point, as it weakens, it could suddenly shift or tip into a new circulation mode. And what could be one of the agents of sudden change might be the increasing flow of cold fresh water from the warming Arctic.

This is consistent with many of the observations of the last decade. What isn’t certain is whether a sudden change is imminent. Is the seeming weakening of the flow part of a long-term natural pattern, or does it herald a dramatic loss of stability? What is the Gulf Stream really up to?

“The difference is crucial, because the loss of dynamical stability would imply that AMOC has approached its critical threshold, beyond which a substantial and in practice likely irreversible transition to the weak mode could occur,” said Niklas Boers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, the author of the research.

“I wouldn’t have expected that the excessive amounts of fresh water added in the course of the last century would already produce such a response in the overturning circulation.”

Winners and losers

Dr Boers calls for more and more detailed research, and for better climate models that would allow climate scientists to make a more precise judgment of the consequences of what could be a shutdown of ocean circulation. The case is not closed, and Professor Tim Palmer of the University of Oxford, UK, points out that the study is based on indirect evidence.

Direct observations of the deep ocean current do not, he says, suggest that the Atlantic conveyor belt could be close to collapse or shutdown. But he too has argued for a concerted international effort to build better computer simulations of the planetary climate system. This could help to show what is happening to the Gulf Stream.

“The Gulf Stream is forced by atmospheric winds and these will continue to blow. If the AMOC does shut down, the Gulf Stream will flow a little further south than where it flows now. This will lead to cooler temperatures over the North Atlantic and hence over Northern Europe. This may help offset the effects of climate change in these regions (and potentially help stabilise Greenland ice loss − which would be a good thing),” Professor Palmer said.

“On the other hand, if AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system and the moisture flow into the Amazon.” − Climate News Network

Could an ocean circulation system − the Gulf Stream, say − sort of  shut down? And what would that do to the world’s climate?

LONDON, 9 August, 2021 − Once again, new research has warned that one of the great engines of global climate, known variously as the Atlantic conveyor belt, a current that spans the entire ocean from the surface to its lowest depths, or (not very accurately) the Gulf Stream, could be about to falter.

That is, thanks to global heating, it could be about to switch from a relatively stable state to a “critical transition” towards a much feebler regime.

If it does so, that’s bad news for Europe, because part of what oceanographers call the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is the Gulf Stream, a surface flow that brings tropical warmth to what would otherwise be chilly north-western European nations.

And it could be very bad news for billions in tropical Africa, Asia and South America, because it could trigger changes in the tropical monsoon system.

Repeated warnings

Climate scientists have been measuring indicators of possible change in the ocean circulation system for at least two decades: any shift in ocean behaviour could signal a tipping point, a serious shift in climate for the terrestrial world.

The current brings warm, dense salty water north to the Arctic, where it meets less dense meltwater from Greenland and the Arctic glaciers and dives to the ocean floor, to flow south all the way to Antarctica before it surfaces again.

Researchers have warned on an almost yearly basis that as greenhouse gas emissions grow, and global temperatures creep up, the ocean currents could become less stable: Europe’s relatively mellow climate could cool; it could do so some time this century; and when it did, it would disrupt global weather patterns.

The latest study, in the journal Nature Climate Change, is partly based on long-term climate data and reconstructions of past climates, themselves based on ice cores, fossil evidence and ocean deposits.

“If AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system”

These suggest that AMOC can exist in a stable state, or a weak one: more to the point, as it weakens, it could suddenly shift or tip into a new circulation mode. And what could be one of the agents of sudden change might be the increasing flow of cold fresh water from the warming Arctic.

This is consistent with many of the observations of the last decade. What isn’t certain is whether a sudden change is imminent. Is the seeming weakening of the flow part of a long-term natural pattern, or does it herald a dramatic loss of stability? What is the Gulf Stream really up to?

“The difference is crucial, because the loss of dynamical stability would imply that AMOC has approached its critical threshold, beyond which a substantial and in practice likely irreversible transition to the weak mode could occur,” said Niklas Boers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, the author of the research.

“I wouldn’t have expected that the excessive amounts of fresh water added in the course of the last century would already produce such a response in the overturning circulation.”

Winners and losers

Dr Boers calls for more and more detailed research, and for better climate models that would allow climate scientists to make a more precise judgment of the consequences of what could be a shutdown of ocean circulation. The case is not closed, and Professor Tim Palmer of the University of Oxford, UK, points out that the study is based on indirect evidence.

Direct observations of the deep ocean current do not, he says, suggest that the Atlantic conveyor belt could be close to collapse or shutdown. But he too has argued for a concerted international effort to build better computer simulations of the planetary climate system. This could help to show what is happening to the Gulf Stream.

“The Gulf Stream is forced by atmospheric winds and these will continue to blow. If the AMOC does shut down, the Gulf Stream will flow a little further south than where it flows now. This will lead to cooler temperatures over the North Atlantic and hence over Northern Europe. This may help offset the effects of climate change in these regions (and potentially help stabilise Greenland ice loss − which would be a good thing),” Professor Palmer said.

“On the other hand, if AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system and the moisture flow into the Amazon.” − Climate News Network

UK says a failure to act on the climate ‘is justified’

Three months before hosting the UN conference, COP-26, the UK says a failure to act on the climate treaty can be justified.

LONDON, 6 August, 2021 − In a remarkable challenge to the global consensus that the climate crisis is an urgent threat to the planet, the  United Kingdom has argued that a failure to act on the climate treaty agreed in 2015 can be justified.

Its stance is all the more bizarre as in less than three months the UK government is to host the crucial United Nations climate conference, COP-26, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, starting on 1 November.

The government’s case set out in its response to a legal action brought in May by three young Britons, Adetola Stephanie Onamade, Marina Tricks and Jerry Amokwandoh, who said their human rights were being breached by the government’s failure to act decisively on the climate crisis.

The action is also being brought by Plan B, the legal charity behind a failed attempt to block the expansion of Heathrow airport, and its director, Tim Crosland.

The government claims that it is doing enough to comply legally with the Paris Agreement, concluded six years ago in the French capital. Even if it is not, it argues, there are no grounds for the courts to intervene: it is for it alone to weigh the economic and environmental arguments.

In its reply to the claimants’ case, it says of its climate policies: “Any inadvertent and indirect discriminatory impacts would fall well within the UK’s margin of appreciation, and be objectively and reasonably justified, if they could be established by the claimants.

“I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage”

Tim Crosland said: “The Government’s real position is that the devastating, disproportionate and discriminatory impacts for the younger generation and for whole regions of the world − those who have contributed least to the crisis − can be ‘objectively and reasonably justified’.

“Presumably, that means it considers our young people ‘collateral damage’ in its pursuit of vast short-term profits for the few. But I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage.”

The government claims to be responding to the advice it has received from the Climate Change Committee, an independent body advising it on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The joint foreword to the Committee’s latest report, however, tells a different story. It says: “It is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen [from the government] in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities  . . . We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices.

“Our planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments.”

Bid for recognition

The Glasgow conference will be an acutely anxious occasion for the British prime minister Boris Johnson, who is committed to making good on the UK’s attempts to be recognised as a world leader on the climate crisis.

The meeting’s main aim is to put flesh on the bones of the Paris Agreement, reached with the backing of 195 of the world’s governments. That planned a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions progressively: Glasgow’s task is to make the real progress which Paris did little more than foreshadow.

If Johnson can leave Glasgow with substantial progress assured, he will be able to lay claim to success of a sort which has eluded his predecessors for 20 years or more. If he fails, he will struggle to be taken seriously again either at home or in most foreign capitals

The United Kingdom has a record that deserves at least qualified praise, notably for its commitment, announced in April, to cut carbon emissions by 78% before 2035. That date is 15 years earlier than the target date already in place, and if the government ensures that it is achieved it really will count for something. But that is a massive “if”.

Leadership material?

There are questions too over its commitment to ending the exploitation and use of fossil fuels fast enough and to improving adaptation to rising temperatures.

It is easy to criticise Johnson for the deficiencies in his climate policies, and for his patchy record in implementing many of them. He is not alone in his failure so far to act with the vision and energy the crisis demands.

But that’s what we reasonably expect from genuine leaders: an ability to be different, to step beyond business-as-usual to something so radically different that few of us can even imagine it.

If Johnson can show that sort of world-leading ability in Glasgow he will confound his critics, and make the world a little safer too. The “ifs” grow more demanding with every repetition. − Climate News Network

Three months before hosting the UN conference, COP-26, the UK says a failure to act on the climate treaty can be justified.

LONDON, 6 August, 2021 − In a remarkable challenge to the global consensus that the climate crisis is an urgent threat to the planet, the  United Kingdom has argued that a failure to act on the climate treaty agreed in 2015 can be justified.

Its stance is all the more bizarre as in less than three months the UK government is to host the crucial United Nations climate conference, COP-26, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, starting on 1 November.

The government’s case set out in its response to a legal action brought in May by three young Britons, Adetola Stephanie Onamade, Marina Tricks and Jerry Amokwandoh, who said their human rights were being breached by the government’s failure to act decisively on the climate crisis.

The action is also being brought by Plan B, the legal charity behind a failed attempt to block the expansion of Heathrow airport, and its director, Tim Crosland.

The government claims that it is doing enough to comply legally with the Paris Agreement, concluded six years ago in the French capital. Even if it is not, it argues, there are no grounds for the courts to intervene: it is for it alone to weigh the economic and environmental arguments.

In its reply to the claimants’ case, it says of its climate policies: “Any inadvertent and indirect discriminatory impacts would fall well within the UK’s margin of appreciation, and be objectively and reasonably justified, if they could be established by the claimants.

“I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage”

Tim Crosland said: “The Government’s real position is that the devastating, disproportionate and discriminatory impacts for the younger generation and for whole regions of the world − those who have contributed least to the crisis − can be ‘objectively and reasonably justified’.

“Presumably, that means it considers our young people ‘collateral damage’ in its pursuit of vast short-term profits for the few. But I don’t consent to my children being treated as collateral damage.”

The government claims to be responding to the advice it has received from the Climate Change Committee, an independent body advising it on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The joint foreword to the Committee’s latest report, however, tells a different story. It says: “It is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen [from the government] in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities  . . . We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices.

“Our planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments.”

Bid for recognition

The Glasgow conference will be an acutely anxious occasion for the British prime minister Boris Johnson, who is committed to making good on the UK’s attempts to be recognised as a world leader on the climate crisis.

The meeting’s main aim is to put flesh on the bones of the Paris Agreement, reached with the backing of 195 of the world’s governments. That planned a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions progressively: Glasgow’s task is to make the real progress which Paris did little more than foreshadow.

If Johnson can leave Glasgow with substantial progress assured, he will be able to lay claim to success of a sort which has eluded his predecessors for 20 years or more. If he fails, he will struggle to be taken seriously again either at home or in most foreign capitals

The United Kingdom has a record that deserves at least qualified praise, notably for its commitment, announced in April, to cut carbon emissions by 78% before 2035. That date is 15 years earlier than the target date already in place, and if the government ensures that it is achieved it really will count for something. But that is a massive “if”.

Leadership material?

There are questions too over its commitment to ending the exploitation and use of fossil fuels fast enough and to improving adaptation to rising temperatures.

It is easy to criticise Johnson for the deficiencies in his climate policies, and for his patchy record in implementing many of them. He is not alone in his failure so far to act with the vision and energy the crisis demands.

But that’s what we reasonably expect from genuine leaders: an ability to be different, to step beyond business-as-usual to something so radically different that few of us can even imagine it.

If Johnson can show that sort of world-leading ability in Glasgow he will confound his critics, and make the world a little safer too. The “ifs” grow more demanding with every repetition. − Climate News Network

Flood risk will rise as climate heat intensifies

A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets fill up.

LONDON, 5 August, 2021 − In a world of climate change, the flood risk will be more intense and more frequent, presenting higher danger to ever more people in a greater number of countries.

In this century alone, the global population has increased by 18%. But the number of people exposed to damage and death by rising waters has increased by more than 34%.

This finding is not based on mathematical simulations powered by weather data. It is based on direct and detailed observation. Researchers report in the journal Nature that they looked at more than 12,700 satellite images, at a resolution of 250 metres, of 913 large flood events between the years 2000 and 2015.

During those years, and those floods, water spilled from the rivers to inundate a total of 2.23 million square kilometres. This, considered as one event, would cover a total area larger than Saudi Arabia. And during those first 15 years of the century, the number of people directly affected by the floods was at least 255m, and possibly 290m.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions . . . This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need”

In those 15 years, the numbers of people in the way of the ever more devastating floods rose by at least 58m, and possibly as many as 86m. That’s a rise of as much as 24%.

It will get worse. According to the researchers, climate change and the multiplication of human numbers will extend the reach of flood risk: 32 nations already experience ever more flooding. By 2030, another 25 countries will have joined them.

The humans caught up in the sickening flow of mud, sewage and silt spilling from the rising rivers will mostly be in south and south-east Asia − think of the Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra and Mekong Rivers − and many of them will have migrated to the danger zones: poverty and population pressure will leave them no choice.

None of this should come as a surprise. In the past 50 years, according to a new compilation by the World Meteorological Organisation, weather, climate and water were implicated in 50% of all disasters of any kind; in 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all economic losses. Floods have claimed 58,700 lives in the last five decades. Between them, floods and storms − the two are often linked − cost Europe at least US$377bn in economic losses.

Higher flooding frequency

And things will certainly get much worse for Europe as global average temperatures continue to rise in response to ever higher greenhouse gas emissions from ever greater use of fossil fuels. That is because what had once been relatively rare events will grow in force and frequency.

More heat means more evaporation, and a warmer atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour. So it will rain harder. And the arrival, say researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, of intense, slow-moving storms that precipitate devastating flash floods of the kind that swept Belgium and Germany this summer will by the close of the century become 14 times more frequent.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming continues apace,” said Hayley Fowler, a climate scientist at Newcastle University in the UK, and one of the researchers.

“This study suggests that changes to extreme storms will be significant and cause an increase in the frequency of devastating flooding across Europe. This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need.” − Climate News Network

A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets fill up.

LONDON, 5 August, 2021 − In a world of climate change, the flood risk will be more intense and more frequent, presenting higher danger to ever more people in a greater number of countries.

In this century alone, the global population has increased by 18%. But the number of people exposed to damage and death by rising waters has increased by more than 34%.

This finding is not based on mathematical simulations powered by weather data. It is based on direct and detailed observation. Researchers report in the journal Nature that they looked at more than 12,700 satellite images, at a resolution of 250 metres, of 913 large flood events between the years 2000 and 2015.

During those years, and those floods, water spilled from the rivers to inundate a total of 2.23 million square kilometres. This, considered as one event, would cover a total area larger than Saudi Arabia. And during those first 15 years of the century, the number of people directly affected by the floods was at least 255m, and possibly 290m.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions . . . This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need”

In those 15 years, the numbers of people in the way of the ever more devastating floods rose by at least 58m, and possibly as many as 86m. That’s a rise of as much as 24%.

It will get worse. According to the researchers, climate change and the multiplication of human numbers will extend the reach of flood risk: 32 nations already experience ever more flooding. By 2030, another 25 countries will have joined them.

The humans caught up in the sickening flow of mud, sewage and silt spilling from the rising rivers will mostly be in south and south-east Asia − think of the Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra and Mekong Rivers − and many of them will have migrated to the danger zones: poverty and population pressure will leave them no choice.

None of this should come as a surprise. In the past 50 years, according to a new compilation by the World Meteorological Organisation, weather, climate and water were implicated in 50% of all disasters of any kind; in 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all economic losses. Floods have claimed 58,700 lives in the last five decades. Between them, floods and storms − the two are often linked − cost Europe at least US$377bn in economic losses.

Higher flooding frequency

And things will certainly get much worse for Europe as global average temperatures continue to rise in response to ever higher greenhouse gas emissions from ever greater use of fossil fuels. That is because what had once been relatively rare events will grow in force and frequency.

More heat means more evaporation, and a warmer atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour. So it will rain harder. And the arrival, say researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, of intense, slow-moving storms that precipitate devastating flash floods of the kind that swept Belgium and Germany this summer will by the close of the century become 14 times more frequent.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming continues apace,” said Hayley Fowler, a climate scientist at Newcastle University in the UK, and one of the researchers.

“This study suggests that changes to extreme storms will be significant and cause an increase in the frequency of devastating flooding across Europe. This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need.” − Climate News Network