Tag Archives: Glaciers

Greenland ice melt feeds glacier instability

In a runaway effect, the Greenland ice melt lets surface water gurgle down to the bedrock – and at unexpected speeds.

LONDON, 6 December, 2019 – British scientists have caught a huge ice sheet in the act of draining away, with significant effects on its surroundings: they have seen what happens to the water created by the Greenland ice melt.

For the first time – and with help from drones – researchers have witnessed water flowing at a million cubic metres an hour from the surface of ice sheets through caverns in the ice and down to the glacial bedrock.

The study does not change the big picture of increasingly rapid melt as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, and ever more of the northern hemisphere’s biggest ice cap flows downhill to raise global sea levels.

But it does throw light on the mechanisms by which glaciers turn to sea water, and it does suggest that many estimates of melt rate so far might prove to be under-estimates.

Greenland is the planet’s second largest ice sheet and the biggest single contributor to global sea level rise. Researchers have been alarmed for years about the increasing rate of summer melt and the accelerating speed of what had once been imperceptible glacial flows.

“These glaciers are already moving quite fast, so the effect of the lakes may not appear as dramatic as on slower-moving glaciers elsewhere, but the overall effect is in fact very significant”

And researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Aberystwyth and Lancaster have now been able to put a measure on water surface loss.

They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they used custom-built aerial drones and complex computer modelling to work out how fractures form below vast lakes of meltwater that collect on the surface of the Store Glacier on the island’s northwestern sheet.

They watched splits form in the glacial ice, to suddenly open up an escape route for the supraglacial pool. As they watched, such fractures became caverns called moulins, down which in one case five million cubic metres of water – think of 2,000 Olympic swimming pools – flowed in just five hours.

The ice of the glacier is typically a kilometre thick, so the scientists may have observed the planet’s longest waterfall. And as the ice drained away to the bottom of the ice sheet, it may have served as a lubricant to speed up glacier flow over the bedrock.

The ice sheet lifted by half a metre, presumably in response to the sub-surface flood, and four kilometres downstream glacial speed picked up from a speed of two metres to more than five metres a day.

Daily billion-tonne loss

“It’s possible we’ve under-estimated the effects of these glaciers on the overall instability of the Greenland ice sheet. It’s a rare thing to observe these fast-draining lakes – we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” said Tom Chudley, of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, one of the authors.

Until now, scientists have been able to estimate glacial flow and surface melt only by satellite studies – which reveal little of the detail – or direct on-the-ground measurement under conditions that are difficult even in good weather.

But even with these constraints researchers have been able to calculate the shrinkage of the Greenland ice sheet at the rate of a billion tonnes a day, as temperatures rise in response to ever-increasing use of fossil fuels around the globe.

The next step is to deploy drilling equipment for a closer look at how the water gets below the glacier to reach the bedrock, and calculate how the ice sheet may change not just over hours but over the coming decades as well.

“These glaciers are already moving quite fast, so the effect of the lakes may not appear as dramatic as on slower-moving glaciers elsewhere,” said Poul Christofferson, who led the project, “but the overall effect is in fact very significant.” – Climate News Network

In a runaway effect, the Greenland ice melt lets surface water gurgle down to the bedrock – and at unexpected speeds.

LONDON, 6 December, 2019 – British scientists have caught a huge ice sheet in the act of draining away, with significant effects on its surroundings: they have seen what happens to the water created by the Greenland ice melt.

For the first time – and with help from drones – researchers have witnessed water flowing at a million cubic metres an hour from the surface of ice sheets through caverns in the ice and down to the glacial bedrock.

The study does not change the big picture of increasingly rapid melt as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, and ever more of the northern hemisphere’s biggest ice cap flows downhill to raise global sea levels.

But it does throw light on the mechanisms by which glaciers turn to sea water, and it does suggest that many estimates of melt rate so far might prove to be under-estimates.

Greenland is the planet’s second largest ice sheet and the biggest single contributor to global sea level rise. Researchers have been alarmed for years about the increasing rate of summer melt and the accelerating speed of what had once been imperceptible glacial flows.

“These glaciers are already moving quite fast, so the effect of the lakes may not appear as dramatic as on slower-moving glaciers elsewhere, but the overall effect is in fact very significant”

And researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Aberystwyth and Lancaster have now been able to put a measure on water surface loss.

They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they used custom-built aerial drones and complex computer modelling to work out how fractures form below vast lakes of meltwater that collect on the surface of the Store Glacier on the island’s northwestern sheet.

They watched splits form in the glacial ice, to suddenly open up an escape route for the supraglacial pool. As they watched, such fractures became caverns called moulins, down which in one case five million cubic metres of water – think of 2,000 Olympic swimming pools – flowed in just five hours.

The ice of the glacier is typically a kilometre thick, so the scientists may have observed the planet’s longest waterfall. And as the ice drained away to the bottom of the ice sheet, it may have served as a lubricant to speed up glacier flow over the bedrock.

The ice sheet lifted by half a metre, presumably in response to the sub-surface flood, and four kilometres downstream glacial speed picked up from a speed of two metres to more than five metres a day.

Daily billion-tonne loss

“It’s possible we’ve under-estimated the effects of these glaciers on the overall instability of the Greenland ice sheet. It’s a rare thing to observe these fast-draining lakes – we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” said Tom Chudley, of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, one of the authors.

Until now, scientists have been able to estimate glacial flow and surface melt only by satellite studies – which reveal little of the detail – or direct on-the-ground measurement under conditions that are difficult even in good weather.

But even with these constraints researchers have been able to calculate the shrinkage of the Greenland ice sheet at the rate of a billion tonnes a day, as temperatures rise in response to ever-increasing use of fossil fuels around the globe.

The next step is to deploy drilling equipment for a closer look at how the water gets below the glacier to reach the bedrock, and calculate how the ice sheet may change not just over hours but over the coming decades as well.

“These glaciers are already moving quite fast, so the effect of the lakes may not appear as dramatic as on slower-moving glaciers elsewhere,” said Poul Christofferson, who led the project, “but the overall effect is in fact very significant.” – Climate News Network

New water for old as glaciers vanish

Voids left as glaciers vanish could be used to store spring snowmelt and rainfall to save the valleys below from summer droughts.

LONDON, 4 December, 2019 – Building dams in high mountains to store water as glaciers vanish could produce much-needed hydropower as well as saving people in the valleys below from summer droughts.

Following an earlier study of their own crisis of retreating glaciers in the Alps, Swiss glaciologists have carried out a worldwide study of 185,000 retreating rivers of ice to assess whether the empty valleys they leave behind could usefully be turned into holding dams.

The issue is urgent, because even with an average climate change scenario about three-quarters of the storage potential of these valleys could become ice-free by 2050 – and all of them by the end of the century.

The retreating ice – apart from spelling the end for some magnificent natural monuments – will dramatically affect the water cycle, leaving large river systems with seriously low flows, and some perhaps drying up altogether in the summer. This would have serious consequences for hydro-electricity production, agriculture and even drinking water for cities downstream.

Although water shortage is a potential problem in many high mountain regions, it is already affecting cities like Peru’s capital, Lima, which lies below the Andes. It also has the potential to cause serious problems in India, Pakistan and China, all of them reliant on summer run-off from the Himalayas.

“This theoretical total potential corresponds to about one third of current hydropower production worldwide. But, in reality, only part of it would be realisable”

The idea of the dams would be to capture the water from winter rainfall and spring snowmelt and retain it for gradual release during the summer – so, at least partly, replicating the current summer glacier melt.

ETH Zurich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research report, in a study published in the journal Nature, that the scheme could be viable in many countries.

The team calculated that theoretically the storage potential of these glacier valleys was 875 cubic kilometres of water, providing enormous hydropower potential.

Daniel Farinotti, professor of glaciology at ETH Zurich, who led the team, said: “This theoretical total potential corresponds to about one third of current hydropower production worldwide. But in reality, only part of it would be realisable.”

Since it was neither realistic nor desirable to build a dam in each of the thousands of the valleys vacated by glaciers, the researchers carried out a suitability assessment for all sites.

Significant addition

They identified around 40% of the theoretical total as “potentially” suitable, equalling a storage volume of 355 cubic km and a hydropower potential of 533 TWh per year. The latter corresponds to around 13% of current global hydropower production, or nine times Switzerland’s annual electricity demand.

“Even this potentially suitable storage volume would be sufficient to store about half of the annual runoff from the studied glacierised basins,” Professor Farinotti said.

The results show that basins which have lost their glaciers could contribute significantly to energy supply and water storage in a number of countries, particularly in the high mountain countries of Asia.

Among those with the largest potentials are Tajikistan, where the calculated hydropower potential could account for up to 80% of current electricity consumption, Chile (40%) and Pakistan (35%).

In Canada, Iceland, Bolivia and Norway, the potential equals 10–25% of their current electricity consumption. For Switzerland, the study shows a potential of 10%. – Climate News Network

Voids left as glaciers vanish could be used to store spring snowmelt and rainfall to save the valleys below from summer droughts.

LONDON, 4 December, 2019 – Building dams in high mountains to store water as glaciers vanish could produce much-needed hydropower as well as saving people in the valleys below from summer droughts.

Following an earlier study of their own crisis of retreating glaciers in the Alps, Swiss glaciologists have carried out a worldwide study of 185,000 retreating rivers of ice to assess whether the empty valleys they leave behind could usefully be turned into holding dams.

The issue is urgent, because even with an average climate change scenario about three-quarters of the storage potential of these valleys could become ice-free by 2050 – and all of them by the end of the century.

The retreating ice – apart from spelling the end for some magnificent natural monuments – will dramatically affect the water cycle, leaving large river systems with seriously low flows, and some perhaps drying up altogether in the summer. This would have serious consequences for hydro-electricity production, agriculture and even drinking water for cities downstream.

Although water shortage is a potential problem in many high mountain regions, it is already affecting cities like Peru’s capital, Lima, which lies below the Andes. It also has the potential to cause serious problems in India, Pakistan and China, all of them reliant on summer run-off from the Himalayas.

“This theoretical total potential corresponds to about one third of current hydropower production worldwide. But, in reality, only part of it would be realisable”

The idea of the dams would be to capture the water from winter rainfall and spring snowmelt and retain it for gradual release during the summer – so, at least partly, replicating the current summer glacier melt.

ETH Zurich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research report, in a study published in the journal Nature, that the scheme could be viable in many countries.

The team calculated that theoretically the storage potential of these glacier valleys was 875 cubic kilometres of water, providing enormous hydropower potential.

Daniel Farinotti, professor of glaciology at ETH Zurich, who led the team, said: “This theoretical total potential corresponds to about one third of current hydropower production worldwide. But in reality, only part of it would be realisable.”

Since it was neither realistic nor desirable to build a dam in each of the thousands of the valleys vacated by glaciers, the researchers carried out a suitability assessment for all sites.

Significant addition

They identified around 40% of the theoretical total as “potentially” suitable, equalling a storage volume of 355 cubic km and a hydropower potential of 533 TWh per year. The latter corresponds to around 13% of current global hydropower production, or nine times Switzerland’s annual electricity demand.

“Even this potentially suitable storage volume would be sufficient to store about half of the annual runoff from the studied glacierised basins,” Professor Farinotti said.

The results show that basins which have lost their glaciers could contribute significantly to energy supply and water storage in a number of countries, particularly in the high mountain countries of Asia.

Among those with the largest potentials are Tajikistan, where the calculated hydropower potential could account for up to 80% of current electricity consumption, Chile (40%) and Pakistan (35%).

In Canada, Iceland, Bolivia and Norway, the potential equals 10–25% of their current electricity consumption. For Switzerland, the study shows a potential of 10%. – Climate News Network

Iceland put people first to save melting economy

Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its priority.

LONDON, 27 November, 2019 − What can you do if you’re a smallish island in the North Atlantic with a lot of snow and a melting economy? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you’re prepared to put local people’s needs first.

Iceland was hailed recently for erecting a memorial plaque to one of its most striking features, Okjökull, which shrank so drastically because of climate breakdown that it lost its status as a glacier. It was the first in Iceland to do so, and is now known, fittingly, by a diminutive, as Ok.

Barely 10 years ago, when the country was in the grip of a different crisis, the pace of its far from glacial response showed how quickly rapid changes of government policy can turn a crisis around.

Iceland was at the heart of the global financial crisis in late 2008 and was nearly destroyed by it; 97% of its banking sector collapsed in just three days. its three largest banks − Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbankinn − had accumulated a debt of $85 billion (£66bn), equivalent to 10 times the country’s national income (GDP), or 20 times the national budget.

These losses amounted to $330,000 for every man, woman and child on the island, whose stock market then collapsed, with huge numbers of businesses going bankrupt. Iceland approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid − the first western country to do so since 1976 − and obtained a loan of $2.1bn (£1.4bn).

“It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?”

So how did it manage to survive? First, it allowed a default on the $85bn in debt accumulated by the banks. A new national mood set in, creating lasting conditions for change and the desire for new economic approaches.

Other countries had largely let banks off the hook, but in 2015 Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld convictions against bankers at the heart of the crisis. Finance is now so sensitive that when the Prime Minister was caught up in revelations from the release of the so-called Panama Papers, he was forced from office.

The debts are now largely paid off, but most multinational businesses have left Iceland, for fear of the capital controls. A huge expansion in tourism has rescued the nation’s economy, though average wages are now much lower.

The government protected Icelanders’ bank deposits and forgave debts for a quarter of the population. As Bloomberg News reported in 2012, “Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, believes Iceland’s way of extricating itself quickly from the global crisis has lessons for other countries, some of which are still paying a heavy price for the events of 2008 and the way they reacted.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that individual countries cannot independently follow radically different economic policy and control capital flows, says the RTA, Iceland shows they can, and quickly;

Radical change can usher in a virtuous circle, by becoming a habit: once you’ve started, new opportunities may open up for yet more change;

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Alliance says, it is possible to put people before the demands of financial markets and still run a successful economy. Citizen engagement and economic reform can go hand in hand.

Iceland’s economy had thrived on speculative finance but, after the meltdown, rather than making the public pay for the crisis, as the Nobel economist Paul Krugman points out, Iceland “let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net”. Instead of placating financial markets, it introduced temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.

Following this, a “pots and pans” revolution kick-started a process that led to a new citizen-drafted constitution, which succeeded in engaging half the electorate.

The constitutional exercise proposed a new approach to the ownership of natural resources for the public good, which has had a lasting effect on the country’s choices: all its electricity and heat today comes from renewable sources, and transparency has become a central part of Icelandic public life.

The RTA thinks there were several key factors that enabled such rapid and fundamental change: the extent to which the economic system was irreparably damaged; the decision by the government to respond to the people’s demands and not to those of the banks; and the decision to punish those at fault and start anew.

It concludes: “It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part, because they have a longstanding history of deeply embedded democracy and a culture that discourages hierarchy. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its priority.

LONDON, 27 November, 2019 − What can you do if you’re a smallish island in the North Atlantic with a lot of snow and a melting economy? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you’re prepared to put local people’s needs first.

Iceland was hailed recently for erecting a memorial plaque to one of its most striking features, Okjökull, which shrank so drastically because of climate breakdown that it lost its status as a glacier. It was the first in Iceland to do so, and is now known, fittingly, by a diminutive, as Ok.

Barely 10 years ago, when the country was in the grip of a different crisis, the pace of its far from glacial response showed how quickly rapid changes of government policy can turn a crisis around.

Iceland was at the heart of the global financial crisis in late 2008 and was nearly destroyed by it; 97% of its banking sector collapsed in just three days. its three largest banks − Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbankinn − had accumulated a debt of $85 billion (£66bn), equivalent to 10 times the country’s national income (GDP), or 20 times the national budget.

These losses amounted to $330,000 for every man, woman and child on the island, whose stock market then collapsed, with huge numbers of businesses going bankrupt. Iceland approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid − the first western country to do so since 1976 − and obtained a loan of $2.1bn (£1.4bn).

“It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?”

So how did it manage to survive? First, it allowed a default on the $85bn in debt accumulated by the banks. A new national mood set in, creating lasting conditions for change and the desire for new economic approaches.

Other countries had largely let banks off the hook, but in 2015 Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld convictions against bankers at the heart of the crisis. Finance is now so sensitive that when the Prime Minister was caught up in revelations from the release of the so-called Panama Papers, he was forced from office.

The debts are now largely paid off, but most multinational businesses have left Iceland, for fear of the capital controls. A huge expansion in tourism has rescued the nation’s economy, though average wages are now much lower.

The government protected Icelanders’ bank deposits and forgave debts for a quarter of the population. As Bloomberg News reported in 2012, “Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, believes Iceland’s way of extricating itself quickly from the global crisis has lessons for other countries, some of which are still paying a heavy price for the events of 2008 and the way they reacted.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that individual countries cannot independently follow radically different economic policy and control capital flows, says the RTA, Iceland shows they can, and quickly;

Radical change can usher in a virtuous circle, by becoming a habit: once you’ve started, new opportunities may open up for yet more change;

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Alliance says, it is possible to put people before the demands of financial markets and still run a successful economy. Citizen engagement and economic reform can go hand in hand.

Iceland’s economy had thrived on speculative finance but, after the meltdown, rather than making the public pay for the crisis, as the Nobel economist Paul Krugman points out, Iceland “let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net”. Instead of placating financial markets, it introduced temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.

Following this, a “pots and pans” revolution kick-started a process that led to a new citizen-drafted constitution, which succeeded in engaging half the electorate.

The constitutional exercise proposed a new approach to the ownership of natural resources for the public good, which has had a lasting effect on the country’s choices: all its electricity and heat today comes from renewable sources, and transparency has become a central part of Icelandic public life.

The RTA thinks there were several key factors that enabled such rapid and fundamental change: the extent to which the economic system was irreparably damaged; the decision by the government to respond to the people’s demands and not to those of the banks; and the decision to punish those at fault and start anew.

It concludes: “It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part, because they have a longstanding history of deeply embedded democracy and a culture that discourages hierarchy. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

New land height metric raises sea level rise risk

Millions of us now live in danger: we could be at risk from future high tides and winds, says a new approach to measuring land height.

 

LONDON, 4 November, 2019 – Researchers have taken a closer look at estimates of coastal land height – and found that the numbers of people already at risk from sea level rise driven by global heating have multiplied threefold.

More than 100 million people already live below the high tide line, and 250 million live on plains that are lower than the current annual flood heights. Previous estimates have put these numbers at 28 million, and 65 million.

And even if the world takes immediate drastic action and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century, at least 190 million people will find themselves below sea level.

If the world’s nations continue on the notorious business-as-usual track and go on burning ever greater volumes of fossil fuels, then around 630 million will, by the year 2100, find themselves on land that will be below the expected annual flood levels.

Protection in question

“These assessments show the potential of climate change to reshape cities, economies, coastlines and entire global regions within our lifetime,” said Scott Kulp of Climate Central, who led a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“As the tideline rises higher than the ground people call home, nations will increasingly confront questions about whether, how much, and how long coastal defences can protect them.”

At the heart of the new research is a revised estimate of what constitutes sea level, and how it should be measured. Individuals and communities find out the hard way how the highest tides can rise to poison their farmlands with salt and wash away the foundations of their homes.

But the big picture – across nations and regions worldwide – is harder to estimate: for decades researchers have relied on satellite readings, confirmed by flights over limited spaces with radar equipment.

“There is still a great need for . . . more accurate elevation data. Lives and livelihoods depend on it”

But space-based readings by Nasa’s radar topography programme tend to be over-estimates, the researchers argue. That is because the technology measures the height of the first reflecting surface the radar signal touches. In open country, this may not matter. But forests and high buildings in densely-peopled cities distort the picture.

In parts of coastal Australia, and using a new approach, the researchers found that satellite readings delivered over-estimates of 2.5 metres. So global averages in the past have over-estimated, by around 2 metres, the elevation of lands that are home to billions.

Research of this kind helps clarify the challenge that faces governments, civic authorities and private citizens: communities grow up along low-lying coasts and estuaries because these provide good land, reliable water supplies and easy transport. But the catch with flood plains is that, sooner or later, they flood.

The repeated evidence of a decade of climate science is that floods will become more devastating, more frequent and more prolonged for a mix of reasons.

Multiple risks

Soils will subside because of the growing demand for groundwater and for clays and stone for bricks and mortar; because global average temperatures will rise and oceans expand as they warm; glaciers will melt and tip more water into the sea to raise ocean levels; and tropical cyclones will become more intense to drive more destructive storm surges.

Researchers have already warned that sea level rise could be accelerating, to bring more flooding to, for instance, the great cities of the US coasts, while some cities can expect ever more battering from Atlantic storms.

Coastal flooding is likely to create millions of climate refugees even within the US, and the worldwide costs of coastal flooding could reach $1 trillion a year by the end of the century.

The latest study confirms that the hazards are real, and may have so far been under-estimated. The researchers calculated that, in parts of China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and Thailand, places now home to 237 million people could face coastal flooding every year by 2050 – a figure 183 million higher than previous estimates.

US coasts threatened

The same study highlights faulty estimates of ground elevation even in the richest and most advanced nations. In some parts of the crowded coastal cities of New York, Boston and Miami, for instance, the researchers believe satellite readings have over-estimated ground height by almost five metres. They say their new approach reduces the margin of error to 2.5 cms.

Right now, around a billion people live on lands less than 10 metres above high tide levels. Around 250 million live within one metre above high tide.

“For all of the critical research that’s been done on climate change and sea level projections, it turns out that for most of the global coast we didn’t know the height of the ground beneath our feet,” said Benjamin Strauss, president and chief scientist of Climate Central, and co-author.

“Our data improves the picture, but there is still a great need for governments and insurance companies to produce and release more accurate elevation data. Lives and livelihoods depend on it.” – Climate News Network

Millions of us now live in danger: we could be at risk from future high tides and winds, says a new approach to measuring land height.

 

LONDON, 4 November, 2019 – Researchers have taken a closer look at estimates of coastal land height – and found that the numbers of people already at risk from sea level rise driven by global heating have multiplied threefold.

More than 100 million people already live below the high tide line, and 250 million live on plains that are lower than the current annual flood heights. Previous estimates have put these numbers at 28 million, and 65 million.

And even if the world takes immediate drastic action and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century, at least 190 million people will find themselves below sea level.

If the world’s nations continue on the notorious business-as-usual track and go on burning ever greater volumes of fossil fuels, then around 630 million will, by the year 2100, find themselves on land that will be below the expected annual flood levels.

Protection in question

“These assessments show the potential of climate change to reshape cities, economies, coastlines and entire global regions within our lifetime,” said Scott Kulp of Climate Central, who led a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“As the tideline rises higher than the ground people call home, nations will increasingly confront questions about whether, how much, and how long coastal defences can protect them.”

At the heart of the new research is a revised estimate of what constitutes sea level, and how it should be measured. Individuals and communities find out the hard way how the highest tides can rise to poison their farmlands with salt and wash away the foundations of their homes.

But the big picture – across nations and regions worldwide – is harder to estimate: for decades researchers have relied on satellite readings, confirmed by flights over limited spaces with radar equipment.

“There is still a great need for . . . more accurate elevation data. Lives and livelihoods depend on it”

But space-based readings by Nasa’s radar topography programme tend to be over-estimates, the researchers argue. That is because the technology measures the height of the first reflecting surface the radar signal touches. In open country, this may not matter. But forests and high buildings in densely-peopled cities distort the picture.

In parts of coastal Australia, and using a new approach, the researchers found that satellite readings delivered over-estimates of 2.5 metres. So global averages in the past have over-estimated, by around 2 metres, the elevation of lands that are home to billions.

Research of this kind helps clarify the challenge that faces governments, civic authorities and private citizens: communities grow up along low-lying coasts and estuaries because these provide good land, reliable water supplies and easy transport. But the catch with flood plains is that, sooner or later, they flood.

The repeated evidence of a decade of climate science is that floods will become more devastating, more frequent and more prolonged for a mix of reasons.

Multiple risks

Soils will subside because of the growing demand for groundwater and for clays and stone for bricks and mortar; because global average temperatures will rise and oceans expand as they warm; glaciers will melt and tip more water into the sea to raise ocean levels; and tropical cyclones will become more intense to drive more destructive storm surges.

Researchers have already warned that sea level rise could be accelerating, to bring more flooding to, for instance, the great cities of the US coasts, while some cities can expect ever more battering from Atlantic storms.

Coastal flooding is likely to create millions of climate refugees even within the US, and the worldwide costs of coastal flooding could reach $1 trillion a year by the end of the century.

The latest study confirms that the hazards are real, and may have so far been under-estimated. The researchers calculated that, in parts of China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and Thailand, places now home to 237 million people could face coastal flooding every year by 2050 – a figure 183 million higher than previous estimates.

US coasts threatened

The same study highlights faulty estimates of ground elevation even in the richest and most advanced nations. In some parts of the crowded coastal cities of New York, Boston and Miami, for instance, the researchers believe satellite readings have over-estimated ground height by almost five metres. They say their new approach reduces the margin of error to 2.5 cms.

Right now, around a billion people live on lands less than 10 metres above high tide levels. Around 250 million live within one metre above high tide.

“For all of the critical research that’s been done on climate change and sea level projections, it turns out that for most of the global coast we didn’t know the height of the ground beneath our feet,” said Benjamin Strauss, president and chief scientist of Climate Central, and co-author.

“Our data improves the picture, but there is still a great need for governments and insurance companies to produce and release more accurate elevation data. Lives and livelihoods depend on it.” – Climate News Network

Warming forces world of ice into retreat

warming

New evidence from the air, space, atmospheric chemistry and old records is testament to global warming impacts on the speed of change in the frozen world.

LONDON, October, 21, 2019 – Just as Scottish scientists deliver dramatic visual evidence of the retreat of Europe’s most famous glacier over the course of a century because of global warming, German scientists have mapped an even more devastating retreat of Andean glaciers in just 16 years.

In another demonstration of the impact of warming on what had always been considered the cryosphere, the world of ice and snow, Swedish scientists have shown that the chemistry of the northern forests has begun to change in ways that could even accelerate rising temperatures.

And in the US, researchers have shown that winter is on the wane and the snows in retreat – with dramatic consequences for wildlife, water supplies and human wealth and health.

Warming faster

All four studies are further confirmation of what climate scientists have already shown – that the high latitudes and high altitudes are warming faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with ominous consequences.

In August 1919, pioneer aviator Walter Mittelholzer flew near the summit of Mont Blanc in Europe in a biplane to photograph Europe’s highest peak and the Mer de Glace glacier, one of the great tourist attractions and celebrated by artists and poets for two centuries

Exactly one century later, researchers from the University of Dundee in Scotland used global positioning satellite guidance and digital help to take a helicopter to exactly the same position and altitude of 4,700 metres to repeat the 1919 aerial study.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades”

Kieran Baxter, aerial photographer, digital media practitioner and researcher at the University of Dundee, says: “The scale of ice loss was immediately evident as we reached altitude, but it was only by comparing the images side by side that the last 100 years of change were made visible.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades.”

Glaciers store rainy season ice and snow, and release it as meltwater in the hot dry summers. They keep the rivers flowing, the crops growing, and the hydroelectric turbines turning.

Scientists from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany report in the The Cryosphere journal that they used satellite imagery to calculate glacier loss in Peru this century.

Almost three-quarters of all tropical glaciers and 90% of their area of ice are concentrated in the Peruvian Andes, at around 4000 metres or more.

At the beginning of this century, there had been a count of 1,973 rivers of ice in the region. Of these, 170 have vanished altogether, while the others have retreated uphill, and their accumulated area has dwindled by around 550 square kilometres.

Loss of ice mass

Eight billion tonnes of ice have melted away, and at an ever-faster rate. The loss of ice mass between 2013 and 2016 was around four times higher than in the previous 12 years, perhaps because of local climate changes triggered by a periodic climate phenomenon known worldwide as an El Niño.

Glaciers are an important part of the climate machine, but the great forests that flourish in the snows below them are even more important.

They add up to 14% of the planet’s vegetation coverage, they absorb atmospheric carbon to cool the climate in one way, and counter the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming in another, subtle way. The conifers exude terpene aerosols – the pine-fresh fragrance from their resins – that have a cooling effect on the air over the forests.

But scientists from Sweden report in Nature Communications journal that, thanks to atmospheric pollution driven by global agriculture and industrialisation, the terpene particles from the forests are getting smaller in diameter – some smaller than a wavelength of optical light.

That means that the same particles are now less effective at reflecting solar radiation back into space. Ammonia and sulphur dioxide discharged by humankind have changed the chemistry of the forests: there are now more aerosols, but their diameter is dwindling.

Study leader Pontus Rodin, a researcher at Lund University, Sweden, says: “The heavily-oxidized organic molecules have a cooling effect on the climate. With a warmer climate, it is expected that forests will release more terpenes, and thus create more cooling organic aerosols.

“However, the extent of that effect also depends on the emission volumes of sulphur dioxide and ammonia in the future. It’s very clear, though, that this increase in organic aerosols cannot by any means compensate for the warming of the climate caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Weather station data

And while European scientists examined the detail of loss, scientists in the US looked at 100 years of weather station data from the forests of the US and Canada.

They report in Ecological Applications journal that they found a significant decline in the number of “frost days” when the temperature dropped below freezing, and “ice days” in which the thermometer stayed below freezing.

Snow and ice sustain ecosystems by preventing disease spread and reducing beetle and aphid numbers. Deep snow insulates tree roots, provides wildlife habitat, and promotes soil nutrient recycling.

“Winter conditions are changing more rapidly than any other season, and it could have serious implications,” says Alexandra Contosta, assistant professor in the Earth Systems Research Centre at the University of New Hampshire.

“Whether precipitation falls as snow or rain makes a big difference, whether you are talking about a forest stream, a snowshoe hare, or even a skier.” –Climate News Network

New evidence from the air, space, atmospheric chemistry and old records is testament to global warming impacts on the speed of change in the frozen world.

LONDON, October, 21, 2019 – Just as Scottish scientists deliver dramatic visual evidence of the retreat of Europe’s most famous glacier over the course of a century because of global warming, German scientists have mapped an even more devastating retreat of Andean glaciers in just 16 years.

In another demonstration of the impact of warming on what had always been considered the cryosphere, the world of ice and snow, Swedish scientists have shown that the chemistry of the northern forests has begun to change in ways that could even accelerate rising temperatures.

And in the US, researchers have shown that winter is on the wane and the snows in retreat – with dramatic consequences for wildlife, water supplies and human wealth and health.

Warming faster

All four studies are further confirmation of what climate scientists have already shown – that the high latitudes and high altitudes are warming faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with ominous consequences.

In August 1919, pioneer aviator Walter Mittelholzer flew near the summit of Mont Blanc in Europe in a biplane to photograph Europe’s highest peak and the Mer de Glace glacier, one of the great tourist attractions and celebrated by artists and poets for two centuries

Exactly one century later, researchers from the University of Dundee in Scotland used global positioning satellite guidance and digital help to take a helicopter to exactly the same position and altitude of 4,700 metres to repeat the 1919 aerial study.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades”

Kieran Baxter, aerial photographer, digital media practitioner and researcher at the University of Dundee, says: “The scale of ice loss was immediately evident as we reached altitude, but it was only by comparing the images side by side that the last 100 years of change were made visible.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades.”

Glaciers store rainy season ice and snow, and release it as meltwater in the hot dry summers. They keep the rivers flowing, the crops growing, and the hydroelectric turbines turning.

Scientists from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany report in the The Cryosphere journal that they used satellite imagery to calculate glacier loss in Peru this century.

Almost three-quarters of all tropical glaciers and 90% of their area of ice are concentrated in the Peruvian Andes, at around 4000 metres or more.

At the beginning of this century, there had been a count of 1,973 rivers of ice in the region. Of these, 170 have vanished altogether, while the others have retreated uphill, and their accumulated area has dwindled by around 550 square kilometres.

Loss of ice mass

Eight billion tonnes of ice have melted away, and at an ever-faster rate. The loss of ice mass between 2013 and 2016 was around four times higher than in the previous 12 years, perhaps because of local climate changes triggered by a periodic climate phenomenon known worldwide as an El Niño.

Glaciers are an important part of the climate machine, but the great forests that flourish in the snows below them are even more important.

They add up to 14% of the planet’s vegetation coverage, they absorb atmospheric carbon to cool the climate in one way, and counter the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming in another, subtle way. The conifers exude terpene aerosols – the pine-fresh fragrance from their resins – that have a cooling effect on the air over the forests.

But scientists from Sweden report in Nature Communications journal that, thanks to atmospheric pollution driven by global agriculture and industrialisation, the terpene particles from the forests are getting smaller in diameter – some smaller than a wavelength of optical light.

That means that the same particles are now less effective at reflecting solar radiation back into space. Ammonia and sulphur dioxide discharged by humankind have changed the chemistry of the forests: there are now more aerosols, but their diameter is dwindling.

Study leader Pontus Rodin, a researcher at Lund University, Sweden, says: “The heavily-oxidized organic molecules have a cooling effect on the climate. With a warmer climate, it is expected that forests will release more terpenes, and thus create more cooling organic aerosols.

“However, the extent of that effect also depends on the emission volumes of sulphur dioxide and ammonia in the future. It’s very clear, though, that this increase in organic aerosols cannot by any means compensate for the warming of the climate caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Weather station data

And while European scientists examined the detail of loss, scientists in the US looked at 100 years of weather station data from the forests of the US and Canada.

They report in Ecological Applications journal that they found a significant decline in the number of “frost days” when the temperature dropped below freezing, and “ice days” in which the thermometer stayed below freezing.

Snow and ice sustain ecosystems by preventing disease spread and reducing beetle and aphid numbers. Deep snow insulates tree roots, provides wildlife habitat, and promotes soil nutrient recycling.

“Winter conditions are changing more rapidly than any other season, and it could have serious implications,” says Alexandra Contosta, assistant professor in the Earth Systems Research Centre at the University of New Hampshire.

“Whether precipitation falls as snow or rain makes a big difference, whether you are talking about a forest stream, a snowshoe hare, or even a skier.” –Climate News Network

‘Upside-down rivers’ speed polar ice loss

polar ice

Researchers move closer to understanding the invisible dynamics that drive the loss of polar ice shelves – but what it means for global warming is still uncertain.

LONDON, October 16, 2019 – Scientists in the US believe they have now identified the machinery that drives the break-up of great chunks of polar ice shelves. What they call “upside down rivers” of warm, less dense, less saline water, tens of miles long and miles wide, find weaknesses in the massive ice shelves.

And because global temperature rise is causing polar currents to get warmer, the effect could be to accelerate the collapse of great tracts of ice shelf, and allow glacial flow to speed up – resulting in rising sea levels.

Call it subversion: these unexpected channels of water rise from underneath to concentrate their effect on fracture zones that form as land-bound glaciers flow slowly onto the marine surface.

“Warm water circulation is attacking the undersides of these ice shelves at their weakest points,” says Earth scientist Karen Alley, who did her research at the University of Colorado in Boulder, but is now at the College of Wooster in Ohio, US. “These effects matter. Exactly how much, we don’t yet know. But we need to.”

Frozen sheets

The research could explain the persistent appearance, at roughly the same place every year, of polynyas. These are great pools of open sea water in the ice shelves, and scientists have been puzzling for decades about the mechanisms that make them possible.

About 80% of Antarctica is bounded by frozen sheets of sea ice, many of them anchored by bumps and chasms on the sea floor, and this is what slows the flow of ice from high ground to ocean.

But satellite studies have long exposed crevasses in this ice, formed at what scientists call “shear margins” – weak points in flowing ice.

Once part of the floating shelf, these fracture zones are more vulnerable to plumes of more buoyant – that is, less saline and warmer – water that flow as “basal channels” to create long wrinkles or sags in the shelf.

Dr Alley and her colleagues report in Science Advances journal that they pieced together this picture of polar dynamism far below the surface by combing satellite data to expose patterns of surface change made possible only by some consistent erosion by warmer current.

Climate – winds, rainfall, heat and drought patterns – is driven by the temperature gradient. Large-scale weather systems happen because the poles are cold and the tropics are hot, and this difference powers the stratospheric jet stream and the most profound ocean flow.

So climate scientists are intensely interested in change in both Greenland and the Antarctic.

“Now we’re seeing a new process, where warm water cuts into the ice shelf from below”

Other teams have already established that ice shelves are melting ever faster in the coldest places on the planet, that this melting is happening ever faster, that the ice is being attacked from below, and that this can only accelerate sea-level rise in a world subject to global heating driven by human use of fossil fuels that deposit huge volumes of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The latest study focused on Antarctica, but the findings could also be applied to Greenland, which has the greatest reserve of Arctic ice, and where ice loss is accelerating even faster.

Report co-author Ted Scambos, senior research scientist in the Earth Science and Observation Centre at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says: “Now we’re seeing a new process, where warm water cuts into the ice shelf from below.

“Like scoring a plate of glass, the trough renders the shelf weak and, in a few decades, it’s gone, freeing the ice sheet to ride out faster into the ocean.” – Climate News Network

Researchers move closer to understanding the invisible dynamics that drive the loss of polar ice shelves – but what it means for global warming is still uncertain.

LONDON, October 16, 2019 – Scientists in the US believe they have now identified the machinery that drives the break-up of great chunks of polar ice shelves. What they call “upside down rivers” of warm, less dense, less saline water, tens of miles long and miles wide, find weaknesses in the massive ice shelves.

And because global temperature rise is causing polar currents to get warmer, the effect could be to accelerate the collapse of great tracts of ice shelf, and allow glacial flow to speed up – resulting in rising sea levels.

Call it subversion: these unexpected channels of water rise from underneath to concentrate their effect on fracture zones that form as land-bound glaciers flow slowly onto the marine surface.

“Warm water circulation is attacking the undersides of these ice shelves at their weakest points,” says Earth scientist Karen Alley, who did her research at the University of Colorado in Boulder, but is now at the College of Wooster in Ohio, US. “These effects matter. Exactly how much, we don’t yet know. But we need to.”

Frozen sheets

The research could explain the persistent appearance, at roughly the same place every year, of polynyas. These are great pools of open sea water in the ice shelves, and scientists have been puzzling for decades about the mechanisms that make them possible.

About 80% of Antarctica is bounded by frozen sheets of sea ice, many of them anchored by bumps and chasms on the sea floor, and this is what slows the flow of ice from high ground to ocean.

But satellite studies have long exposed crevasses in this ice, formed at what scientists call “shear margins” – weak points in flowing ice.

Once part of the floating shelf, these fracture zones are more vulnerable to plumes of more buoyant – that is, less saline and warmer – water that flow as “basal channels” to create long wrinkles or sags in the shelf.

Dr Alley and her colleagues report in Science Advances journal that they pieced together this picture of polar dynamism far below the surface by combing satellite data to expose patterns of surface change made possible only by some consistent erosion by warmer current.

Climate – winds, rainfall, heat and drought patterns – is driven by the temperature gradient. Large-scale weather systems happen because the poles are cold and the tropics are hot, and this difference powers the stratospheric jet stream and the most profound ocean flow.

So climate scientists are intensely interested in change in both Greenland and the Antarctic.

“Now we’re seeing a new process, where warm water cuts into the ice shelf from below”

Other teams have already established that ice shelves are melting ever faster in the coldest places on the planet, that this melting is happening ever faster, that the ice is being attacked from below, and that this can only accelerate sea-level rise in a world subject to global heating driven by human use of fossil fuels that deposit huge volumes of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The latest study focused on Antarctica, but the findings could also be applied to Greenland, which has the greatest reserve of Arctic ice, and where ice loss is accelerating even faster.

Report co-author Ted Scambos, senior research scientist in the Earth Science and Observation Centre at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says: “Now we’re seeing a new process, where warm water cuts into the ice shelf from below.

“Like scoring a plate of glass, the trough renders the shelf weak and, in a few decades, it’s gone, freeing the ice sheet to ride out faster into the ocean.” – Climate News Network

Extreme sea level events ‘will hit once a year by 2050’

This story originally appeared in The Guardian. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Extreme sea level events that used to occur once a century will strike every year on many coasts by 2050, no matter whether climate heating emissions are curbed or not, according to a landmark report by the world’s scientists.

25 September, 2019 − The stark assessment of the climate crisis in the world’s oceans and ice caps concludes that many serious impacts are already inevitable, from more intense storms to melting permafrost and dwindling marine life.

But far worse impacts will hit without urgent action to cut fossil fuel emissions, including eventual sea level rise of more than 4 metres in the worst case, an outcome that would redraw the map of the world and harm billions of people.

The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and approved by its 193 member nations, says that “all people on Earth depend directly or indirectly on the ocean” and ice caps and glaciers to regulate the climate and provide water and oxygen. But it finds unprecedented and dangerous changes being driven by global heating.

Sea level rise is accelerating as losses from Greenland and Antarctica increase, and the ocean is getting hotter, more acidic and less oxygenated. All these trends will continue to the end of the century, the IPCC report said.

Half the world’s megacities, and almost 2 billion people, live on coasts. Even if heating is restricted to just 2C, scientists expect the impact of sea level rise to cause several trillion dollars of damage a year, and result in many millions of migrants.

“The future for low-lying coastal communities looks extremely bleak,” said Prof Jonathan Bamber at Bristol University in the UK, who is not one of the report’s authors. “But the consequences will be felt by all of us. There is plenty to be concerned about for the future of humanity and social order from the headlines in this report.”

The new IPCC projections of likely sea level rise by 2100 are higher than those it made in 2014, due to unexpectedly fast melting in Antarctica. Without cuts in carbon emissions, the ocean is expected to rise between 61cm and 110cm, about 10cm more than the earlier estimate. A 10cm rise means 10 million additional people exposed to flooding, research shows.

The IPCC considers the likely range of sea level rise but not the worst-case scenario. Recent expert analysis led by Bamber concluded that up to 238cm of sea level rise remains possible by 2100, drowning many megacities around the world. “This cannot be ruled out,” said Zita Sebesvari at the United Nations University, a lead author of the IPCC report.

Even if huge cuts in emissions begin immediately, between 29cm and 59cm of sea level rise is already inevitable because the ice caps and glaciers melt slowly. Sea level will rise for centuries without action, Sebesvari warned. “The dramatic thing about sea level rise is if we accept 1 metre happening by 2100, we accept we will get about 4 metres by 2300. That is simply not an option we can risk.”

Extreme sea level impacts will be felt in many places very soon and well before 2050, Sebesvari said. The IPCC report states: “Extreme sea level events that [occur] once per century in the recent past are projected to occur at least once per year at many locations by 2050 in all scenarios.”

The heating oceans are causing more intense tropical storms to batter coasts, the IPCC report found, with stronger winds and greater deluges of rain. For example, Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented deluge, which caused catastrophic flooding, was made three times more likely by climate change.

Ocean heating also harms kelp forests and other important ecosystems, with the marine heatwaves that sear through them like underwater wildfires having doubled in frequency in the last 40 years. They are projected to increase by at least 20 times by 2100, the IPCC reported.

Extreme El Niño events, which see heatwaves in some regions and floods in others, are projected to occur twice as often this century whether emissions are cut or not, the report said. Coral reefs, vital nurseries for marine life, will suffer major losses and local extinctions. Across the ocean, heat, acidification and lower oxygen is set to cut fisheries by a quarter and all marine life by 15% if emissions are not slashed.

The IPCC report also records the large reduction in Arctic ice. This loss exacerbates global heating, because the exposed darker ocean absorbs more heat from the sun than highly reflective ice. On Monday, scientists announced that the Arctic sea ice in 2019 shrank to its second lowest extent in the 41-year satellite record.

The world’s high mountain glaciers, upon which almost 2 billion people rely for water, are also melting fast, the IPCC found, while landslides are expected to increase. A third of the great Himalayan range is already doomed, with two-thirds projected to vanish if emissions are not cut.

One of the most worrying alarms sounded by the IPCC report is about melting tundra and increasing wildfires in northern latitudes: “Widespread permafrost thaw is projected for this century and beyond.” A quarter is already near certain to melt, it said, and 70% or more would go if emissions are not curbed. In the latter case, hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane could be released, supercharging the climate emergency.

“That risks taking us beyond the point where climate change could be easily constrained,” said Richard Black, at the UK’s Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. “Nevertheless, the IPCC’s 2018 report concluded that governments can shrink emissions quickly enough to keep global warming to 1.5C if they choose. None can claim to be unaware of both the dangers of untrammelled climate change nor the feasibility of preventing it.”

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and chair of the C40 Cities climate coalition, said the IPCC report was shocking. “Around 1.9 billion people and over half of the world’s megacities are all in grave danger if we don’t act immediately. Several cities, home to hundreds of thousands of people, are already disappearing underwater. This is what the climate crisis looks like now.”

Taehyun Park, of Greenpeace East Asia, said: “The science is both chilling and compelling. The impacts on our oceans are on a much larger scale and happening way faster than predicted. It will require unprecedented political action to prevent the most severe consequences to our planet.”

As well as cutting fossil fuel emissions, preparing for the inevitable impacts is also vital, said Sebesvari, especially in poorer nations that lack the funds to build sea walls, move settlements or restore protective coastal marshes.

“Action is needed now to secure the coast for our children and coming generations,” she said. The pressure now being exerted by the global school strikes for climate was important, she said. “I have very strong motivation. I have two kids and we are really being tested by our kids on our actions.”

* * * * * * *

Damian Carrington is The Guardian’s environment editor.

This story originally appeared in The Guardian. It is republished here as part of the Climate News Network’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Extreme sea level events that used to occur once a century will strike every year on many coasts by 2050, no matter whether climate heating emissions are curbed or not, according to a landmark report by the world’s scientists.

25 September, 2019 − The stark assessment of the climate crisis in the world’s oceans and ice caps concludes that many serious impacts are already inevitable, from more intense storms to melting permafrost and dwindling marine life.

But far worse impacts will hit without urgent action to cut fossil fuel emissions, including eventual sea level rise of more than 4 metres in the worst case, an outcome that would redraw the map of the world and harm billions of people.

The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and approved by its 193 member nations, says that “all people on Earth depend directly or indirectly on the ocean” and ice caps and glaciers to regulate the climate and provide water and oxygen. But it finds unprecedented and dangerous changes being driven by global heating.

Sea level rise is accelerating as losses from Greenland and Antarctica increase, and the ocean is getting hotter, more acidic and less oxygenated. All these trends will continue to the end of the century, the IPCC report said.

Half the world’s megacities, and almost 2 billion people, live on coasts. Even if heating is restricted to just 2C, scientists expect the impact of sea level rise to cause several trillion dollars of damage a year, and result in many millions of migrants.

“The future for low-lying coastal communities looks extremely bleak,” said Prof Jonathan Bamber at Bristol University in the UK, who is not one of the report’s authors. “But the consequences will be felt by all of us. There is plenty to be concerned about for the future of humanity and social order from the headlines in this report.”

The new IPCC projections of likely sea level rise by 2100 are higher than those it made in 2014, due to unexpectedly fast melting in Antarctica. Without cuts in carbon emissions, the ocean is expected to rise between 61cm and 110cm, about 10cm more than the earlier estimate. A 10cm rise means 10 million additional people exposed to flooding, research shows.

The IPCC considers the likely range of sea level rise but not the worst-case scenario. Recent expert analysis led by Bamber concluded that up to 238cm of sea level rise remains possible by 2100, drowning many megacities around the world. “This cannot be ruled out,” said Zita Sebesvari at the United Nations University, a lead author of the IPCC report.

Even if huge cuts in emissions begin immediately, between 29cm and 59cm of sea level rise is already inevitable because the ice caps and glaciers melt slowly. Sea level will rise for centuries without action, Sebesvari warned. “The dramatic thing about sea level rise is if we accept 1 metre happening by 2100, we accept we will get about 4 metres by 2300. That is simply not an option we can risk.”

Extreme sea level impacts will be felt in many places very soon and well before 2050, Sebesvari said. The IPCC report states: “Extreme sea level events that [occur] once per century in the recent past are projected to occur at least once per year at many locations by 2050 in all scenarios.”

The heating oceans are causing more intense tropical storms to batter coasts, the IPCC report found, with stronger winds and greater deluges of rain. For example, Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented deluge, which caused catastrophic flooding, was made three times more likely by climate change.

Ocean heating also harms kelp forests and other important ecosystems, with the marine heatwaves that sear through them like underwater wildfires having doubled in frequency in the last 40 years. They are projected to increase by at least 20 times by 2100, the IPCC reported.

Extreme El Niño events, which see heatwaves in some regions and floods in others, are projected to occur twice as often this century whether emissions are cut or not, the report said. Coral reefs, vital nurseries for marine life, will suffer major losses and local extinctions. Across the ocean, heat, acidification and lower oxygen is set to cut fisheries by a quarter and all marine life by 15% if emissions are not slashed.

The IPCC report also records the large reduction in Arctic ice. This loss exacerbates global heating, because the exposed darker ocean absorbs more heat from the sun than highly reflective ice. On Monday, scientists announced that the Arctic sea ice in 2019 shrank to its second lowest extent in the 41-year satellite record.

The world’s high mountain glaciers, upon which almost 2 billion people rely for water, are also melting fast, the IPCC found, while landslides are expected to increase. A third of the great Himalayan range is already doomed, with two-thirds projected to vanish if emissions are not cut.

One of the most worrying alarms sounded by the IPCC report is about melting tundra and increasing wildfires in northern latitudes: “Widespread permafrost thaw is projected for this century and beyond.” A quarter is already near certain to melt, it said, and 70% or more would go if emissions are not curbed. In the latter case, hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane could be released, supercharging the climate emergency.

“That risks taking us beyond the point where climate change could be easily constrained,” said Richard Black, at the UK’s Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. “Nevertheless, the IPCC’s 2018 report concluded that governments can shrink emissions quickly enough to keep global warming to 1.5C if they choose. None can claim to be unaware of both the dangers of untrammelled climate change nor the feasibility of preventing it.”

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and chair of the C40 Cities climate coalition, said the IPCC report was shocking. “Around 1.9 billion people and over half of the world’s megacities are all in grave danger if we don’t act immediately. Several cities, home to hundreds of thousands of people, are already disappearing underwater. This is what the climate crisis looks like now.”

Taehyun Park, of Greenpeace East Asia, said: “The science is both chilling and compelling. The impacts on our oceans are on a much larger scale and happening way faster than predicted. It will require unprecedented political action to prevent the most severe consequences to our planet.”

As well as cutting fossil fuel emissions, preparing for the inevitable impacts is also vital, said Sebesvari, especially in poorer nations that lack the funds to build sea walls, move settlements or restore protective coastal marshes.

“Action is needed now to secure the coast for our children and coming generations,” she said. The pressure now being exerted by the global school strikes for climate was important, she said. “I have very strong motivation. I have two kids and we are really being tested by our kids on our actions.”

* * * * * * *

Damian Carrington is The Guardian’s environment editor.

Unique climate change has no natural cause

The planet is warming faster than ever, worldwide. Scientists know this unique climate change is not caused by nature. But they checked again, to be certain.

LONDON, 19 August, 2019 – European and US scientists have cleared up a point that has been nagging away at climate science for decades: not only is the planet warming faster than at any time in the last 2,000 years, but this unique climate change really does have neither a historic precedent nor a natural cause.

Other historic changes – the so-called Medieval Warm Period and then the “Little Ice Age” that marked the 17th to the 19th centuries – were not global. The only period in which the world’s climate has changed, everywhere and at the same time, is right now.

And other shifts in the past, marked by advancing Alpine glaciers and sustained droughts in Africa, could be pinned down to a flurry of violent volcanic activity.

The present sustained, ubiquitous warming is unique in that it can be coupled directly with the Industrial Revolution, the clearing of the forests, population growth and profligate use of fossil fuels.

The finding is part of a sustained examination of global climate history, based not just on written and pictorial records but also studies of ancient lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings and other proxy evidence assembled by an international partnership called the Past Global Changes Consortium. It is reported in the journal Nature.

“This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle”

Research like this is a tidying-up operation. Climate scientists, conservationists, glaciologists, marine biologists, geologists and economists all know that climate change is happening, and that it is happening as a consequence of accelerated human activity over the last two centuries.

But from the start, there have always been gnawing questions: hasn’t the climate always changed? If global temperatures rose between 700 AD and 1400 AD, and then fell again, is what is happening now not part of some similar long-term cycle? And until now, that has remained without a confident, categorical answer.

So the latest study surprises nobody. But it matters, because the Nature study clarifies a point of possible confusion. There have been changes in modern human history, but none of them global and synchronous (happening at the same time). They were random fluctuations within the climate system, and even changes in solar activity or volcanic surges could not affect all of the planet at any one time.

“It’s true that during the Little Ice Age it was generally colder across the whole world,” says Raphel Neukom of the University of Bern in Switzerland, and first author, “but not everywhere at the same time. The peak periods of pre-industrial warm and cold periods occurred at different times in different places.”

And his Bern colleague Stefan Brönnimann clears up another point in a related study in the pages of Nature Geoscience.

Volcanic influence

The Little Ice Age began in Europe with no obvious trigger, but it was certainly reinforced and extended by more violent than usual volcanic activity in the tropics between 1808 and 1835. Mt Tambora in what is now Indonesia put so much ash into the stratosphere to screen sunlight and drop temperatures that 1816 became known as the Year without a Summer.

But there were also four other eruptions. Between 1820 and 1850, Alpine glaciers – now in alarming retreat – actually advanced. African and Indian monsoon systems weakened, and rain that should have fallen on hot soils dropped as more snow over Europe.

“Given the large climatic changes seen in the early 19th century, it is difficult to define a pre-industrial climate, a notion to which all our climate targets refer,” said Professor Brönnimann. “Frequent volcanic eruptions caused an actual gear shift in the global climate system.”

Commenting on the Nature finding, Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London, said: “Over the last 2000 years the only time the global climate has changed synchronically has been in the last 150 years when over 98% of the surface of the planet has warmed. This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle.

“This paper shows the truly stark difference between regional and localised changes in climates of the past and the truly global effect of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions.” – Climate News Network

The planet is warming faster than ever, worldwide. Scientists know this unique climate change is not caused by nature. But they checked again, to be certain.

LONDON, 19 August, 2019 – European and US scientists have cleared up a point that has been nagging away at climate science for decades: not only is the planet warming faster than at any time in the last 2,000 years, but this unique climate change really does have neither a historic precedent nor a natural cause.

Other historic changes – the so-called Medieval Warm Period and then the “Little Ice Age” that marked the 17th to the 19th centuries – were not global. The only period in which the world’s climate has changed, everywhere and at the same time, is right now.

And other shifts in the past, marked by advancing Alpine glaciers and sustained droughts in Africa, could be pinned down to a flurry of violent volcanic activity.

The present sustained, ubiquitous warming is unique in that it can be coupled directly with the Industrial Revolution, the clearing of the forests, population growth and profligate use of fossil fuels.

The finding is part of a sustained examination of global climate history, based not just on written and pictorial records but also studies of ancient lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings and other proxy evidence assembled by an international partnership called the Past Global Changes Consortium. It is reported in the journal Nature.

“This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle”

Research like this is a tidying-up operation. Climate scientists, conservationists, glaciologists, marine biologists, geologists and economists all know that climate change is happening, and that it is happening as a consequence of accelerated human activity over the last two centuries.

But from the start, there have always been gnawing questions: hasn’t the climate always changed? If global temperatures rose between 700 AD and 1400 AD, and then fell again, is what is happening now not part of some similar long-term cycle? And until now, that has remained without a confident, categorical answer.

So the latest study surprises nobody. But it matters, because the Nature study clarifies a point of possible confusion. There have been changes in modern human history, but none of them global and synchronous (happening at the same time). They were random fluctuations within the climate system, and even changes in solar activity or volcanic surges could not affect all of the planet at any one time.

“It’s true that during the Little Ice Age it was generally colder across the whole world,” says Raphel Neukom of the University of Bern in Switzerland, and first author, “but not everywhere at the same time. The peak periods of pre-industrial warm and cold periods occurred at different times in different places.”

And his Bern colleague Stefan Brönnimann clears up another point in a related study in the pages of Nature Geoscience.

Volcanic influence

The Little Ice Age began in Europe with no obvious trigger, but it was certainly reinforced and extended by more violent than usual volcanic activity in the tropics between 1808 and 1835. Mt Tambora in what is now Indonesia put so much ash into the stratosphere to screen sunlight and drop temperatures that 1816 became known as the Year without a Summer.

But there were also four other eruptions. Between 1820 and 1850, Alpine glaciers – now in alarming retreat – actually advanced. African and Indian monsoon systems weakened, and rain that should have fallen on hot soils dropped as more snow over Europe.

“Given the large climatic changes seen in the early 19th century, it is difficult to define a pre-industrial climate, a notion to which all our climate targets refer,” said Professor Brönnimann. “Frequent volcanic eruptions caused an actual gear shift in the global climate system.”

Commenting on the Nature finding, Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London, said: “Over the last 2000 years the only time the global climate has changed synchronically has been in the last 150 years when over 98% of the surface of the planet has warmed. This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle.

“This paper shows the truly stark difference between regional and localised changes in climates of the past and the truly global effect of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions.” – Climate News Network

Humans cause Antarctic ice melt, study finds

Yes, it’s us. Human activities are to blame for at least part of what’s melting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, scientists say.

LONDON, 13 August, 2019 − A team of British and American scientists has found what it says is unequivocal evidence that humans are responsible for significant Antarctic ice melt.

They say their study provides the first evidence of a direct link between global warming from human activities and the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

The discovery is fundamentally important to international efforts to limit climate change, as a small number of scientists still argue that global warming results from natural rather than human causes. That argument should from now on be harder to sustain.

Ice loss in West Antarctica has increased substantially in the last few decades, and is continuing. Scientists have known for some time that the loss is caused by melting driven from the ocean, and that varying winds in the region cause transitions between relatively warm and cool ocean conditions around key glaciers. But until now it was unclear how these naturally-occurring wind variations could cause the ice loss.

“We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities”

The UK-US team report in the journal Nature Geoscience that, as well as the natural wind variations, which last about a decade, there has been a much longer-term change in the winds that can be linked with human activities.

This result is important for another reason as well: continued ice loss from the WAIS could cause tens of centimetres of sea level rise by the year 2100.

The researchers combined satellite observations and climate model simulations to understand how winds over the ocean near West Antarctica have changed since the 1920s in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

Their investigation shows that human-induced climate change has caused the longer-term change in the winds, and that warm ocean conditions have gradually become more prevalent as a result.

The team’s members are from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, and the University of Washington.

Galloping speed-up

BAS is one of the organisations researching a huge West Antarctic ice mass in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, aimed at finding out how soon it and its neighbour, the Pine Island glacier, may collapse, with implications for sea levels worldwide.

The fact that melting at both poles has been accelerating fast has been known for some time, though not the reason. Since 1979 Antarctica’s ice loss has grown six times faster, and Greenland’s four times since the turn of the century.

One British scientist, Professor Martin Siegert, has said what is happening in the Antarctic means the world “will be locked into substantial global changes” unless it alters course radically by 2030.

The lead author of the new study, Paul Holland from BAS, said the impact of human-induced climate change on the WAIS was not simple: “Our results imply that a combination of human activity and natural climate variations have caused ice loss in this region, accounting for around 4.5 cm of sea level rise per century.”

Act now

The team also looked at model simulations of future winds. Professor Holland added: “An important finding is that if high greenhouse gas emissions continue in future, the winds keep changing and there could be a further increase in ice melting.

“However, if emissions of greenhouse gases are curtailed, there is little change in the winds from present-day conditions. This shows that curbing greenhouse gas emissions now could reduce the future sea level contribution from this region.”

One co-author, Professor Pierre Dutrieux from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said: “We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles lasting about a decade, but these didn’t necessarily explain the ice loss. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities.”

Another co-author, Professor Eric Steig from the University of Washington, said: “These results solve a long-standing puzzle.  We have known for some time that varying winds near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have contributed to the ice loss, but it has not been clear why the ice sheet is changing now.

“Our work with ice cores drilled in the Antarctic Ice Sheet have shown, for example, that wind conditions have been similar in the past. But the ice core data also suggest a subtle long-term trend in the winds. This new work corroborates that evidence and, furthermore, explains why that trend has occurred.” − Climate News Network

Yes, it’s us. Human activities are to blame for at least part of what’s melting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, scientists say.

LONDON, 13 August, 2019 − A team of British and American scientists has found what it says is unequivocal evidence that humans are responsible for significant Antarctic ice melt.

They say their study provides the first evidence of a direct link between global warming from human activities and the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

The discovery is fundamentally important to international efforts to limit climate change, as a small number of scientists still argue that global warming results from natural rather than human causes. That argument should from now on be harder to sustain.

Ice loss in West Antarctica has increased substantially in the last few decades, and is continuing. Scientists have known for some time that the loss is caused by melting driven from the ocean, and that varying winds in the region cause transitions between relatively warm and cool ocean conditions around key glaciers. But until now it was unclear how these naturally-occurring wind variations could cause the ice loss.

“We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities”

The UK-US team report in the journal Nature Geoscience that, as well as the natural wind variations, which last about a decade, there has been a much longer-term change in the winds that can be linked with human activities.

This result is important for another reason as well: continued ice loss from the WAIS could cause tens of centimetres of sea level rise by the year 2100.

The researchers combined satellite observations and climate model simulations to understand how winds over the ocean near West Antarctica have changed since the 1920s in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

Their investigation shows that human-induced climate change has caused the longer-term change in the winds, and that warm ocean conditions have gradually become more prevalent as a result.

The team’s members are from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, and the University of Washington.

Galloping speed-up

BAS is one of the organisations researching a huge West Antarctic ice mass in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, aimed at finding out how soon it and its neighbour, the Pine Island glacier, may collapse, with implications for sea levels worldwide.

The fact that melting at both poles has been accelerating fast has been known for some time, though not the reason. Since 1979 Antarctica’s ice loss has grown six times faster, and Greenland’s four times since the turn of the century.

One British scientist, Professor Martin Siegert, has said what is happening in the Antarctic means the world “will be locked into substantial global changes” unless it alters course radically by 2030.

The lead author of the new study, Paul Holland from BAS, said the impact of human-induced climate change on the WAIS was not simple: “Our results imply that a combination of human activity and natural climate variations have caused ice loss in this region, accounting for around 4.5 cm of sea level rise per century.”

Act now

The team also looked at model simulations of future winds. Professor Holland added: “An important finding is that if high greenhouse gas emissions continue in future, the winds keep changing and there could be a further increase in ice melting.

“However, if emissions of greenhouse gases are curtailed, there is little change in the winds from present-day conditions. This shows that curbing greenhouse gas emissions now could reduce the future sea level contribution from this region.”

One co-author, Professor Pierre Dutrieux from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said: “We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles lasting about a decade, but these didn’t necessarily explain the ice loss. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities.”

Another co-author, Professor Eric Steig from the University of Washington, said: “These results solve a long-standing puzzle.  We have known for some time that varying winds near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have contributed to the ice loss, but it has not been clear why the ice sheet is changing now.

“Our work with ice cores drilled in the Antarctic Ice Sheet have shown, for example, that wind conditions have been similar in the past. But the ice core data also suggest a subtle long-term trend in the winds. This new work corroborates that evidence and, furthermore, explains why that trend has occurred.” − Climate News Network

Ancient water-saving can help modern Peru

Ancient water-saving methods may help Lima, Peru’s capital, through its water crisis, caused by climate change and population growth.

LONDON, 2 July, 2019 − There’s plenty to learn in modern Peru from the designers of ancient water-saving methods, scientists are finding. Our forebears could even keep the capital’s taps running through the summer heat.

Lima, Peru’s desert capital, a city of 12 million people, expects to run out of water by 2025. It already faces a crisis each summer as the supply from the mountains dwindles to a trickle. Yet the quantity of rain in the wet season can be overwhelming.

Between the Andes and the Pacific ocean, Lima sits on a coastal plain where the average rainfall is a tiny 9 mm a year, and it has to rely on the snow melt from the mountains and glaciers to provide summer drinking water and the needs of industry and farming.

But with the glaciers disappearing because of climate change, and the population increasing, the city will soon become untenable for many of the poor in summer, unless water supplies can be improved.

A group of scientists has found that reviving systems developed 1,400 years ago by local people before the Inca empire existed could harvest water from the winter rainy season in the mountains to ensure Lima’s summer supplies.

“You’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills”

Researchers from Imperial College London and their colleagues at the Regional Initiative for Hydrological Monitoring of Andean Ecosystems studied a water system in Huamantanga, in the central Andes, one of the last of its kind.

The local people still use a method developed in 600 AD by Peruvian civilisations that created systems in the mountains to divert excess rainwater from source streams through ponds and canals onto mountain slopes and down through fissures in the rocks.

The water would take weeks or even months to trickle through the system and resurface downstream – just in time for the dry season.

The researchers used dye tracers and hydrological monitoring to study the system from the wet to dry seasons of 2014–2015 and 2015–2016. Social scientists involved also worked with Huamantanga’s local people to understand the practice and help map the landscape.

Big increase

They found the water took between two weeks and eight months to re-emerge, with an average time of 45 days. From these timescales, they calculated that, if governments upscale the systems to cater for today’s population size, they could reroute and delay 35% of wet season water, equivalent to 99 million cubic metres per year of water flowing through Lima’s natural terrain.

This could increase the water available in the dry season by up to 33% in the early months, and an average of 7.5% for the rest of the summer.

The method could essentially extend the wet season, providing more drinking water and longer crop-growing periods for local farmers.

The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, is the first to examine the pre-Inca system in this much detail to find answers to modern problems. The authors say their research shows how indigenous systems could complement modern engineering solutions for water security in coastal Peru.

Lead author Dr Boris Ochoa-Tocachi, from Imperial’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: “With the advent of modern science, you’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However, it turns out that we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills.”

Growing too fast

Senior author Dr Wouter Buytaert, from the same department, said: “Like many tropical cities, Lima’s population is growing fast – too fast for water reserves to keep up during dry seasons. Upscaling existing pre-Inca systems could help relieve Peru’s wet months of water and quench its dry ones.”

The seasonal variability typical of coastal Peru is worsened by human impacts. Apart from glacier melting caused by global warming, humans also contribute to erosion, which renders soil too weak to support dams big enough to hold all the water needed in the summer.

Climate change also makes wet seasons wetter, and dry seasons drier − making the need for effective water storage in Peru even more urgent.

The authors say combining pre-Inca systems with classic structures, such as smaller dams, could also help to improve adaptability and water supply in an unpredictable climate. − Climate News Network

Ancient water-saving methods may help Lima, Peru’s capital, through its water crisis, caused by climate change and population growth.

LONDON, 2 July, 2019 − There’s plenty to learn in modern Peru from the designers of ancient water-saving methods, scientists are finding. Our forebears could even keep the capital’s taps running through the summer heat.

Lima, Peru’s desert capital, a city of 12 million people, expects to run out of water by 2025. It already faces a crisis each summer as the supply from the mountains dwindles to a trickle. Yet the quantity of rain in the wet season can be overwhelming.

Between the Andes and the Pacific ocean, Lima sits on a coastal plain where the average rainfall is a tiny 9 mm a year, and it has to rely on the snow melt from the mountains and glaciers to provide summer drinking water and the needs of industry and farming.

But with the glaciers disappearing because of climate change, and the population increasing, the city will soon become untenable for many of the poor in summer, unless water supplies can be improved.

A group of scientists has found that reviving systems developed 1,400 years ago by local people before the Inca empire existed could harvest water from the winter rainy season in the mountains to ensure Lima’s summer supplies.

“You’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills”

Researchers from Imperial College London and their colleagues at the Regional Initiative for Hydrological Monitoring of Andean Ecosystems studied a water system in Huamantanga, in the central Andes, one of the last of its kind.

The local people still use a method developed in 600 AD by Peruvian civilisations that created systems in the mountains to divert excess rainwater from source streams through ponds and canals onto mountain slopes and down through fissures in the rocks.

The water would take weeks or even months to trickle through the system and resurface downstream – just in time for the dry season.

The researchers used dye tracers and hydrological monitoring to study the system from the wet to dry seasons of 2014–2015 and 2015–2016. Social scientists involved also worked with Huamantanga’s local people to understand the practice and help map the landscape.

Big increase

They found the water took between two weeks and eight months to re-emerge, with an average time of 45 days. From these timescales, they calculated that, if governments upscale the systems to cater for today’s population size, they could reroute and delay 35% of wet season water, equivalent to 99 million cubic metres per year of water flowing through Lima’s natural terrain.

This could increase the water available in the dry season by up to 33% in the early months, and an average of 7.5% for the rest of the summer.

The method could essentially extend the wet season, providing more drinking water and longer crop-growing periods for local farmers.

The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, is the first to examine the pre-Inca system in this much detail to find answers to modern problems. The authors say their research shows how indigenous systems could complement modern engineering solutions for water security in coastal Peru.

Lead author Dr Boris Ochoa-Tocachi, from Imperial’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: “With the advent of modern science, you’d be forgiven for wondering how ancient methods could apply to modern-day problems. However, it turns out that we have lots to learn from our ancestors’ creative problem-solving skills.”

Growing too fast

Senior author Dr Wouter Buytaert, from the same department, said: “Like many tropical cities, Lima’s population is growing fast – too fast for water reserves to keep up during dry seasons. Upscaling existing pre-Inca systems could help relieve Peru’s wet months of water and quench its dry ones.”

The seasonal variability typical of coastal Peru is worsened by human impacts. Apart from glacier melting caused by global warming, humans also contribute to erosion, which renders soil too weak to support dams big enough to hold all the water needed in the summer.

Climate change also makes wet seasons wetter, and dry seasons drier − making the need for effective water storage in Peru even more urgent.

The authors say combining pre-Inca systems with classic structures, such as smaller dams, could also help to improve adaptability and water supply in an unpredictable climate. − Climate News Network