Tag Archives: Oceans

Seas and forests are muddying the carbon budget

As climates change, forests may not absorb more carbon as expected. But a new carbon budget could appeal to the oceans.

LONDON, 18 September 2020 – Two new studies could throw long-term climate forecasts into confusion. The planetary carbon budget – the all-important traffic of life’s first element between rocks, water, atmosphere and living things – that underpins planetary temperatures and maintains a stable climate needs a rethink.

A warming climate makes trees grow faster. The awkward finding is that  faster-growing trees die younger. Therefore they must surrender their carbon back to the atmosphere quicker.

So tomorrow’s forests may not be quite such reliable long-term banks of carbon pumped into the atmosphere as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use by human economies.

The more reassuring news is that the ocean – that’s almost three fourths of the planet’s surface – may absorb and store a lot more atmospheric carbon than previous estimates suggest.

All calculations about the future rate of global heating, and the potential consequences of climate change, rest upon the carbon budget.

Forest doubts

This is the intricate accounting of the mass of carbon in continuous circulation from air to plant to animal and then to shell, skeleton and sediment, and the expected flow of carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels stored hundreds of millions of years ago, and exhumed in the last two centuries.

To make sense of the factors at work, climate scientists have to make calculations about all the carbon stored in the permafrost, in the soils, in the forests, dissolved in the oceans, free in the atmosphere and being released from power station chimneys, vehicle exhausts and ploughed or scorched land.

But for decades, one component of the equation has been automatically accepted: more forests must mean more carbon absorbed, and better protected natural forests would store the most carbon, the most efficiently.

Now a new report in the journal Nature Communications introduces some doubt into this cornerstone of the carbon budget. In an already warming world, much more of the carbon stored in tomorrow’s forests might find its way back into the atmosphere.

Researchers looked at 200,000 tree ring records from 82 tree species from sites around the planet. They found what they describe as trade-offs that are near universal: faster-growing trees have shorter lives.

“There is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality”

This was true in cool climates and warm ones, and in all species. So the hope that natural vegetation will respond to warmer temperatures by absorbing even more carbon becomes insecure, especially if it means that the more vigorous growth means simply swifter death and decay.

“Our modeling suggests that there is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality,” said Roel Brienen of the University of Leeds in the UK, who led the research. “They estimate that global increases in tree death don’t kick in until after sites show accelerated growth.”

All such research is provisional: the findings gain currency only when supported by other teams using different approaches. So it has yet to be confirmed.

But recent studies have suggested that climate change has already begun to complicate calculations. Just in recent months, research teams have found that forest trees are growing shorter and dying younger; that higher temperatures may affect plant germination; and that forests already hit by drought may start surrendering carbon more swiftly than they absorb it. Planting more trees is not an alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, the carbon budget may still make sense: the oceans may be responding to ever-higher concentrations of carbon dioxide by absorbing more from the atmosphere, which also makes the oceans more acidic, which is not necessarily helpful.

Oceans’ effect

All such calculations are based on sea surface temperatures. Gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen dissolve well in colder water, not so well in warm lagoons and tropical tides.

But a British group reports in the same journal that calculations so far may have been under-estimates. This is because, on balance, researchers have tended to ignore the small difference between the temperatures at the surface, and a few metres down, where the measurements of dissolved greenhouse gas were actually made.

A team from the University of Exeter worked from a global database to make new estimates of the oceans’ appetite for carbon between 1992 and 2018.

“We used satellite data to correct for these temperature differences, and when we do that, it makes a big difference – we get a substantially larger flux going into the ocean,” said Andrew Watson, who led the study.

“The difference in ocean uptake we calculate amounts to 10% of global fossil fuel emissions.” – Climate News Network

As climates change, forests may not absorb more carbon as expected. But a new carbon budget could appeal to the oceans.

LONDON, 18 September 2020 – Two new studies could throw long-term climate forecasts into confusion. The planetary carbon budget – the all-important traffic of life’s first element between rocks, water, atmosphere and living things – that underpins planetary temperatures and maintains a stable climate needs a rethink.

A warming climate makes trees grow faster. The awkward finding is that  faster-growing trees die younger. Therefore they must surrender their carbon back to the atmosphere quicker.

So tomorrow’s forests may not be quite such reliable long-term banks of carbon pumped into the atmosphere as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use by human economies.

The more reassuring news is that the ocean – that’s almost three fourths of the planet’s surface – may absorb and store a lot more atmospheric carbon than previous estimates suggest.

All calculations about the future rate of global heating, and the potential consequences of climate change, rest upon the carbon budget.

Forest doubts

This is the intricate accounting of the mass of carbon in continuous circulation from air to plant to animal and then to shell, skeleton and sediment, and the expected flow of carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels stored hundreds of millions of years ago, and exhumed in the last two centuries.

To make sense of the factors at work, climate scientists have to make calculations about all the carbon stored in the permafrost, in the soils, in the forests, dissolved in the oceans, free in the atmosphere and being released from power station chimneys, vehicle exhausts and ploughed or scorched land.

But for decades, one component of the equation has been automatically accepted: more forests must mean more carbon absorbed, and better protected natural forests would store the most carbon, the most efficiently.

Now a new report in the journal Nature Communications introduces some doubt into this cornerstone of the carbon budget. In an already warming world, much more of the carbon stored in tomorrow’s forests might find its way back into the atmosphere.

Researchers looked at 200,000 tree ring records from 82 tree species from sites around the planet. They found what they describe as trade-offs that are near universal: faster-growing trees have shorter lives.

“There is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality”

This was true in cool climates and warm ones, and in all species. So the hope that natural vegetation will respond to warmer temperatures by absorbing even more carbon becomes insecure, especially if it means that the more vigorous growth means simply swifter death and decay.

“Our modeling suggests that there is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality,” said Roel Brienen of the University of Leeds in the UK, who led the research. “They estimate that global increases in tree death don’t kick in until after sites show accelerated growth.”

All such research is provisional: the findings gain currency only when supported by other teams using different approaches. So it has yet to be confirmed.

But recent studies have suggested that climate change has already begun to complicate calculations. Just in recent months, research teams have found that forest trees are growing shorter and dying younger; that higher temperatures may affect plant germination; and that forests already hit by drought may start surrendering carbon more swiftly than they absorb it. Planting more trees is not an alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, the carbon budget may still make sense: the oceans may be responding to ever-higher concentrations of carbon dioxide by absorbing more from the atmosphere, which also makes the oceans more acidic, which is not necessarily helpful.

Oceans’ effect

All such calculations are based on sea surface temperatures. Gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen dissolve well in colder water, not so well in warm lagoons and tropical tides.

But a British group reports in the same journal that calculations so far may have been under-estimates. This is because, on balance, researchers have tended to ignore the small difference between the temperatures at the surface, and a few metres down, where the measurements of dissolved greenhouse gas were actually made.

A team from the University of Exeter worked from a global database to make new estimates of the oceans’ appetite for carbon between 1992 and 2018.

“We used satellite data to correct for these temperature differences, and when we do that, it makes a big difference – we get a substantially larger flux going into the ocean,” said Andrew Watson, who led the study.

“The difference in ocean uptake we calculate amounts to 10% of global fossil fuel emissions.” – Climate News Network

Melting Arctic needs new name to match reality

Change in the far north is happening so fast that soon the melting Arctic won’t be arctic any more.

LONDON, 16 September, 2020 − The word Arctic may be up for redefinition. The conditions within the melting Arctic Circle are changing so fast that what was once a frozen seascape could now be entering a new climate regime in which nothing is predictable.

Even in an unusually cold year, the sea ice may not return to the summer limits normal in the last century. For some months of autumn and even winter, rain will fall instead of snow, US scientists report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“The rate of change is remarkable,” said Laura Landrum, of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, who led the study.

“It’s a period of such rapid change that observations of past weather patterns no longer show what you can expect next year. The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago.”

She and a colleague looked at four decades of satellite data and ground observations and hundreds of computer simulations to confirm that polar warming is happening at such a rate that any change year to year is no longer within the extremes of the past. Conditions that were once normally changeable are now abnormally so.

“The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago … We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is”

Climate in the northern hemisphere is moderated by temperature differences that vary with latitude: between them, a torrid equator and a frozen Arctic drive the prevailing winds and ocean currents and the mix of cloud, sunshine, rainfall, frost, windstorm, dry spells and seasonal flooding in which agriculture, industry and civilisation have evolved for the last 10,000 years.

But as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere soar in response to rapidly-increasing use of fossil fuels, the melting Arctic has been warming far more swiftly than the planet as a whole.

The extent of summer sea ice in each of the last 13 years has been lower than any minimum observed since 1979, when systematic observation began. Winters have been warmer, winter sea ice has been reduced, rain has been falling on snow ever earlier.

The climate scientists posed themselves the simple question: “While these changes appear extreme compared with the recent past, are they climate extremes in a statistical sense, or do they represent expected events in a new Arctic climate?”

New climate develops

The answer seems to be: yes. The researchers tested their statistical techniques on five different climate simulations. Each of these showed the sea ice retreating so dramatically that a new climate had emerged some time in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The finding fits a pattern of foreboding delivered by recent research. In the last two months, researchers have warned that ice loss in the Arctic regions has been so severe that the region’s most charismatic predator, the polar bear, may be gone by the century’s end.

Another group has warned that the Arctic ocean in late summer may be effectively ice-free within the next 15 years.

One group has concluded that ice loss from Greenland is now at such a rate as to be irreversible, and another has confirmed that the rate of ice melt from the northern hemisphere’s biggest reserve – enough to raise sea levels six or seven metres – last year reached new records.

And this month an international research team reported that the rate of change in the Arctic has exceeded the “worst-case” scenario proposed by climate researchers.

Unknown extremes ahead

Dr Landrum and her colleague report that − if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate − some of their climate forecasts predict a mostly ice-free Arctic for between three and 10 months a year, every year, by the end of the century.

Air temperatures over the ocean in autumn and winter will become warmer before or by mid-century, and then start warming over land in the second half.

In a warmer world, more water will evaporate and fall again as rain. Over Alaska, northern Canada and northern Siberia there will be more rain rather than snow: by mid-century, perhaps an extra 20 to 60 days, and by 2100, perhaps from 60 to an extra 90 days. In some parts of the Arctic, by the century’s end, rain might fall in any month of the year.

“The Arctic is likely to experience extremes in sea ice, temperature and precipitation that are far outside anything we’ve experienced before,” Dr Landrum said. “We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is.” − Climate News Network

Change in the far north is happening so fast that soon the melting Arctic won’t be arctic any more.

LONDON, 16 September, 2020 − The word Arctic may be up for redefinition. The conditions within the melting Arctic Circle are changing so fast that what was once a frozen seascape could now be entering a new climate regime in which nothing is predictable.

Even in an unusually cold year, the sea ice may not return to the summer limits normal in the last century. For some months of autumn and even winter, rain will fall instead of snow, US scientists report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“The rate of change is remarkable,” said Laura Landrum, of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, who led the study.

“It’s a period of such rapid change that observations of past weather patterns no longer show what you can expect next year. The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago.”

She and a colleague looked at four decades of satellite data and ground observations and hundreds of computer simulations to confirm that polar warming is happening at such a rate that any change year to year is no longer within the extremes of the past. Conditions that were once normally changeable are now abnormally so.

“The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago … We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is”

Climate in the northern hemisphere is moderated by temperature differences that vary with latitude: between them, a torrid equator and a frozen Arctic drive the prevailing winds and ocean currents and the mix of cloud, sunshine, rainfall, frost, windstorm, dry spells and seasonal flooding in which agriculture, industry and civilisation have evolved for the last 10,000 years.

But as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere soar in response to rapidly-increasing use of fossil fuels, the melting Arctic has been warming far more swiftly than the planet as a whole.

The extent of summer sea ice in each of the last 13 years has been lower than any minimum observed since 1979, when systematic observation began. Winters have been warmer, winter sea ice has been reduced, rain has been falling on snow ever earlier.

The climate scientists posed themselves the simple question: “While these changes appear extreme compared with the recent past, are they climate extremes in a statistical sense, or do they represent expected events in a new Arctic climate?”

New climate develops

The answer seems to be: yes. The researchers tested their statistical techniques on five different climate simulations. Each of these showed the sea ice retreating so dramatically that a new climate had emerged some time in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The finding fits a pattern of foreboding delivered by recent research. In the last two months, researchers have warned that ice loss in the Arctic regions has been so severe that the region’s most charismatic predator, the polar bear, may be gone by the century’s end.

Another group has warned that the Arctic ocean in late summer may be effectively ice-free within the next 15 years.

One group has concluded that ice loss from Greenland is now at such a rate as to be irreversible, and another has confirmed that the rate of ice melt from the northern hemisphere’s biggest reserve – enough to raise sea levels six or seven metres – last year reached new records.

And this month an international research team reported that the rate of change in the Arctic has exceeded the “worst-case” scenario proposed by climate researchers.

Unknown extremes ahead

Dr Landrum and her colleague report that − if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate − some of their climate forecasts predict a mostly ice-free Arctic for between three and 10 months a year, every year, by the end of the century.

Air temperatures over the ocean in autumn and winter will become warmer before or by mid-century, and then start warming over land in the second half.

In a warmer world, more water will evaporate and fall again as rain. Over Alaska, northern Canada and northern Siberia there will be more rain rather than snow: by mid-century, perhaps an extra 20 to 60 days, and by 2100, perhaps from 60 to an extra 90 days. In some parts of the Arctic, by the century’s end, rain might fall in any month of the year.

“The Arctic is likely to experience extremes in sea ice, temperature and precipitation that are far outside anything we’ve experienced before,” Dr Landrum said. “We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is.” − Climate News Network

Hotter oceans harm seabed life survival prospects

Seabed life is tough: only the young can migrate. But climate change is taking many of them the wrong way.

LONDON, 14 September, 2020 – It can be hard being a junior part of seabed life – a young starfish, say, or an adolescent worm. Down in the ocean depths, the environment is conspiring against you.

Marine biologists have just identified – and explained – a climate change paradox: while most fish are migrating towards the poles as the world’s oceans warm, one part of a potentially valuable commercial fishery is heading in the wrong direction – and perhaps to extinction.

Why? Once again, the finger of suspicion points to global climate change, and its impact on ocean tides and currents.

Throughout this century, researchers have repeatedly confirmed a pattern of ocean warming – and acidification – driven by ever-rising ratios of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; a pattern that could affect both established commercial fishing industries and ocean life as a whole.

Tropical fish have been shifting away from the equator; further north and south, pelagic (open-ocean) and demersal (seabed-dwelling) fish have been seeking more suitable grounds. Warmer seas can affect spawning patterns.

“As the seas continue to warm, spawning times will get ever earlier and the currents will sweep many of the next generation to oblivion”

But the ocean is a vast living space, and the speed at which it warms tends to vary with depth.

US researchers report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they worked through 60 years of data on 50 species of benthic invertebrates – creatures without backbones that dwell on the sea floor – to find that the populations of four-fifths of these had begun to disappear from the shelves and fishing grounds of the Georges Bank and the outer shelf that runs from New Jersey and east of the Delmarva Peninsula occupied by the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

More to the point, they identified the mechanism that had begun to limit life on the submarine sediments. Bottom-dwellers – shellfish, snails, starfish, worms and so on – can’t migrate: they are stuck where they are. But their larvae can, and at spawning time the infant shellfish are at the mercy of the ocean currents.

The waters of the north-east Atlantic coast are warming at three times the global average rate. Warming has affected the time at which benthic invertebrates spawn. Because the larvae appear earlier in spring and summer, they are swept away by currents they would not encounter in a cooler, more stable world.

And these currents, driven by river discharge and seasonal winds, tend to bring them south-west and inshore, where waters are warmer and the larvae are even less likely to survive.

Nowhere to go

Those adults that remain are stuck where they are: as the seas continue to warm, spawning times will get ever earlier and the currents will sweep many of the next generation to oblivion.

These bottom-dwelling denizens could survive, if they could colonise cooler waters. Instead they are condemned to a submarine version of what terrestrial biologists call the elevator to extinction: on land, hotter temperatures drive birds and butterflies and plants ever further uphill: in the end, nearer the summit, there’s nowhere to go.

The researchers, from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, call it the downwelling effect, and identify a paradox: as the area habitable by bottom-dwellers gets bigger, their ranges dwindle.

The finding so far is true only for the north-east Atlantic waters, and some species seem less affected. Scallops could flourish, because they spawn at a wider range of temperatures. But clams and mussels are adapted to low temperatures, and their ranges have warmed and contracted.

And, the scientists warn, as global heating reduces yields from traditional fisheries, the seafood industry is likely to rely increasingly on shellfish. But this industry, too, is vulnerable to ocean change. – Climate News Network

Seabed life is tough: only the young can migrate. But climate change is taking many of them the wrong way.

LONDON, 14 September, 2020 – It can be hard being a junior part of seabed life – a young starfish, say, or an adolescent worm. Down in the ocean depths, the environment is conspiring against you.

Marine biologists have just identified – and explained – a climate change paradox: while most fish are migrating towards the poles as the world’s oceans warm, one part of a potentially valuable commercial fishery is heading in the wrong direction – and perhaps to extinction.

Why? Once again, the finger of suspicion points to global climate change, and its impact on ocean tides and currents.

Throughout this century, researchers have repeatedly confirmed a pattern of ocean warming – and acidification – driven by ever-rising ratios of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; a pattern that could affect both established commercial fishing industries and ocean life as a whole.

Tropical fish have been shifting away from the equator; further north and south, pelagic (open-ocean) and demersal (seabed-dwelling) fish have been seeking more suitable grounds. Warmer seas can affect spawning patterns.

“As the seas continue to warm, spawning times will get ever earlier and the currents will sweep many of the next generation to oblivion”

But the ocean is a vast living space, and the speed at which it warms tends to vary with depth.

US researchers report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they worked through 60 years of data on 50 species of benthic invertebrates – creatures without backbones that dwell on the sea floor – to find that the populations of four-fifths of these had begun to disappear from the shelves and fishing grounds of the Georges Bank and the outer shelf that runs from New Jersey and east of the Delmarva Peninsula occupied by the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

More to the point, they identified the mechanism that had begun to limit life on the submarine sediments. Bottom-dwellers – shellfish, snails, starfish, worms and so on – can’t migrate: they are stuck where they are. But their larvae can, and at spawning time the infant shellfish are at the mercy of the ocean currents.

The waters of the north-east Atlantic coast are warming at three times the global average rate. Warming has affected the time at which benthic invertebrates spawn. Because the larvae appear earlier in spring and summer, they are swept away by currents they would not encounter in a cooler, more stable world.

And these currents, driven by river discharge and seasonal winds, tend to bring them south-west and inshore, where waters are warmer and the larvae are even less likely to survive.

Nowhere to go

Those adults that remain are stuck where they are: as the seas continue to warm, spawning times will get ever earlier and the currents will sweep many of the next generation to oblivion.

These bottom-dwelling denizens could survive, if they could colonise cooler waters. Instead they are condemned to a submarine version of what terrestrial biologists call the elevator to extinction: on land, hotter temperatures drive birds and butterflies and plants ever further uphill: in the end, nearer the summit, there’s nowhere to go.

The researchers, from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, call it the downwelling effect, and identify a paradox: as the area habitable by bottom-dwellers gets bigger, their ranges dwindle.

The finding so far is true only for the north-east Atlantic waters, and some species seem less affected. Scallops could flourish, because they spawn at a wider range of temperatures. But clams and mussels are adapted to low temperatures, and their ranges have warmed and contracted.

And, the scientists warn, as global heating reduces yields from traditional fisheries, the seafood industry is likely to rely increasingly on shellfish. But this industry, too, is vulnerable to ocean change. – Climate News Network

Pandemic’s impacts are damaging climate research

Climate research is suffering permanent damage from some of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impacts, a UN report says.

LONDON, 9 September, 2020 − Whatever else the coronavirus onslaught is doing to humankind, some of the pandemic’s impacts are clear. It is making it harder for researchers to establish just what effect climate change is having on the planet.

A group of United Nations and other agencies is today launching a report, United in Science 2020, (webcast at 1600 hours New York time) which it calls “a high-level compilation of the latest climate science information”. It is being launched by the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, with a virtual link to his counterpart at the World Meteorological Organisation,  Petteri Taalas, in Geneva.

Much of what the report says will already be familiar, but its detailed finding that the pandemic is causing long-term damage to climate change monitoring is sobering.

Science advances by combining knowledge of the past with experience of the present and then combining them to forecast the probable future. That is how climate scientists have been able very recently to state that their earlier worst case scenario isn’t just an awful warning, but describes what is happening right now.

Several contenders have vied to be identified as the one who wrote: “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Which of them − if any − really did write that may not matter much. But it certainly matters for today’s researchers to know where the biosphere came from and where it is now if they are to have any idea where we shall all be in a few years.

Recalled to port

So it’s alarming that United in Science 2020, in its section on earth system observations, says: “The Covid-19 pandemic has produced significant impacts on the global observing systems, which in turn have affected the quality of forecasts and other weather, climate and ocean-related services.

“The reduction of aircraft-based observations by an average of 75% to 80% in March and April degraded the forecast skills of weather models. Since June, there has been only a slight recovery. Observations at manually-operated weather stations, especially in Africa and South America, have also been badly disrupted.”

In March this year, it says, nearly all oceanographic research vessels were recalled to home ports. Commercial ships have been unable to contribute vital ocean and weather observations, and ocean buoys and other systems could not be maintained.

Four “valuable” full-depth ocean surveys of variables such as carbon, temperature, salinity, and water alkalinity, completed only once every decade, have been cancelled. Surface carbon measurements from ships, which cast light on the evolution of greenhouse gases, also effectively stopped.

The impacts on climate change monitoring are long-term. They are likely to prevent or restrict measurement of glaciers and the thickness of permafrost, usually conducted at the end of the thawing period.

In an ominous warning the report notes that the overall disruption of observations will introduce gaps in the historical time series of Essential Climate Variables, vital for understanding what is happening to the planetary climate.

“The reduction of aircraft-based observations by an average of 75% to 80% in March and April degraded the forecast skills of weather models”

The report’s authors are also concerned about climate and water, where they expect the pandemic’s impacts to intensify existing problems. By 2050, they say, the number of people at risk of floods will increase from 1.2 billion now to 1.6 bn.

In the early to mid-2010s, 1.9 bn people, or 27% of the global population, lived in potential severely water-scarce areas. In 2050, this number will increase to between 2.7 and 3.2 bn people.

It is estimated that central Europe and the Caucasus have already reached peak water, and that the Tibetan Plateau region will do so between 2030 and 2050.

Runoff from snow cover, permafrost and glaciers in this region provides up to 45% of the total river flow, so a decrease would affect water availability for 1.7 bn people.

United in Science 2020 also says the world is a very long way from living up to its promises, with the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change nowhere near being met.

The UN’s Emissions Gap Report 2019 compares “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The annual series of Gap Reports use gigatonnes (Gt) as units of measurement: one gigatonne is a billion metric tons.

Record emissions

Another frequent formula is GtCO2e, an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”. That’s a simplified way to put emissions of various GHGs on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect.

The 2019 Report says GHG emissions reached a record high of 55.3 GtCO2e in 2018. It continues: “There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years; every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required.

“By 2030, emissions would need to be 25% and 55% lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2 ̊C and 1.5°C respectively” [the two Paris Agreement targets].

The Gap in 2030 is estimated at 12-15 gigatonnes if the world is to limit global warming to below 2 °C. For the 1.5 °C goal, it is estimated at 29-32 Gt, roughly equivalent to the combined emissions of the world’s six largest emitters.

That’s an awful lot of GHGs which, as things stand, are going to be adding their heat to a torrid world a decade from now. − Climate News Network

Climate research is suffering permanent damage from some of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impacts, a UN report says.

LONDON, 9 September, 2020 − Whatever else the coronavirus onslaught is doing to humankind, some of the pandemic’s impacts are clear. It is making it harder for researchers to establish just what effect climate change is having on the planet.

A group of United Nations and other agencies is today launching a report, United in Science 2020, (webcast at 1600 hours New York time) which it calls “a high-level compilation of the latest climate science information”. It is being launched by the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, with a virtual link to his counterpart at the World Meteorological Organisation,  Petteri Taalas, in Geneva.

Much of what the report says will already be familiar, but its detailed finding that the pandemic is causing long-term damage to climate change monitoring is sobering.

Science advances by combining knowledge of the past with experience of the present and then combining them to forecast the probable future. That is how climate scientists have been able very recently to state that their earlier worst case scenario isn’t just an awful warning, but describes what is happening right now.

Several contenders have vied to be identified as the one who wrote: “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Which of them − if any − really did write that may not matter much. But it certainly matters for today’s researchers to know where the biosphere came from and where it is now if they are to have any idea where we shall all be in a few years.

Recalled to port

So it’s alarming that United in Science 2020, in its section on earth system observations, says: “The Covid-19 pandemic has produced significant impacts on the global observing systems, which in turn have affected the quality of forecasts and other weather, climate and ocean-related services.

“The reduction of aircraft-based observations by an average of 75% to 80% in March and April degraded the forecast skills of weather models. Since June, there has been only a slight recovery. Observations at manually-operated weather stations, especially in Africa and South America, have also been badly disrupted.”

In March this year, it says, nearly all oceanographic research vessels were recalled to home ports. Commercial ships have been unable to contribute vital ocean and weather observations, and ocean buoys and other systems could not be maintained.

Four “valuable” full-depth ocean surveys of variables such as carbon, temperature, salinity, and water alkalinity, completed only once every decade, have been cancelled. Surface carbon measurements from ships, which cast light on the evolution of greenhouse gases, also effectively stopped.

The impacts on climate change monitoring are long-term. They are likely to prevent or restrict measurement of glaciers and the thickness of permafrost, usually conducted at the end of the thawing period.

In an ominous warning the report notes that the overall disruption of observations will introduce gaps in the historical time series of Essential Climate Variables, vital for understanding what is happening to the planetary climate.

“The reduction of aircraft-based observations by an average of 75% to 80% in March and April degraded the forecast skills of weather models”

The report’s authors are also concerned about climate and water, where they expect the pandemic’s impacts to intensify existing problems. By 2050, they say, the number of people at risk of floods will increase from 1.2 billion now to 1.6 bn.

In the early to mid-2010s, 1.9 bn people, or 27% of the global population, lived in potential severely water-scarce areas. In 2050, this number will increase to between 2.7 and 3.2 bn people.

It is estimated that central Europe and the Caucasus have already reached peak water, and that the Tibetan Plateau region will do so between 2030 and 2050.

Runoff from snow cover, permafrost and glaciers in this region provides up to 45% of the total river flow, so a decrease would affect water availability for 1.7 bn people.

United in Science 2020 also says the world is a very long way from living up to its promises, with the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change nowhere near being met.

The UN’s Emissions Gap Report 2019 compares “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The annual series of Gap Reports use gigatonnes (Gt) as units of measurement: one gigatonne is a billion metric tons.

Record emissions

Another frequent formula is GtCO2e, an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”. That’s a simplified way to put emissions of various GHGs on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect.

The 2019 Report says GHG emissions reached a record high of 55.3 GtCO2e in 2018. It continues: “There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years; every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required.

“By 2030, emissions would need to be 25% and 55% lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2 ̊C and 1.5°C respectively” [the two Paris Agreement targets].

The Gap in 2030 is estimated at 12-15 gigatonnes if the world is to limit global warming to below 2 °C. For the 1.5 °C goal, it is estimated at 29-32 Gt, roughly equivalent to the combined emissions of the world’s six largest emitters.

That’s an awful lot of GHGs which, as things stand, are going to be adding their heat to a torrid world a decade from now. − Climate News Network

Hotter oceans make the tropics expand polewards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clear link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clear link

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

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

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

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

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

Changing oceans reveal clear human thumbprint

Climate heating must have already begun to result in changing oceans. The next step is to confirm and monitor this change.

LONDON, 26 August, 2020 – Humankind has already begun to reshape the biggest available living space on the planet and to leave its mark in the changing oceans.

New research suggests that somewhere between 20% and 55% of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans now have temperatures and salt levels that should be measurably different because of climate change driven by profligate human combustion of fossil fuels.

And forecasts suggest that by mid-century the scale of human impact will only have increased – to between 40% and 60%. By 2080, human impact on the oceans will have begun to change between 55% and 80% of the blue planet.

Although the researchers – they report in the journal Nature Climate Change – have based their predictions on computer models, they are confident that the thumbprint of human-induced climate change began to leave its mark on the seas of the Southern Hemisphere as long ago as the 1980s.

“We have been detecting ocean temperature change at the surface due to climate change for several decades now,” said Eric Guilyardi, of the University of Reading in the UK and the Laboratory of Oceanography and Climate in Paris, France.

“Our results highlight the importance of maintaining and augmenting an ocean observing system capable of detecting and monitoring persistent anthropogenic changes”

“But changes in vast areas of the ocean, particularly deeper parts, are much more challenging to detect.”

The problem of measurement is simple: the ocean is enormous. It covers 70% of the planet to an average depth of 3.7 kms. It defines the planet.

It is almost certainly where life on Earth first emerged; it was life’s only home for the first three billion years.

And it is in a state of constant change, constantly evaporating, and continually replenished with freshwater from rainfall, river flow and melting polar ice. So temperature and salinity change naturally, and with the seasons, and with much longer cyclic swings driven by the atmosphere.

Scientists have been measuring surface conditions for many decades. The ocean at depth is a bit more of a challenge. The question the researchers put was a simple one: could temperature and salinity levels in parts of the ocean have risen or fallen higher or lower than they would in normal peaks and troughs?

Beyond natural variability

It’s not an easy question: oceanography is expensive, the ocean is huge, much of it has never been studied and the ways in which the ocean layers mix is still a bit of a puzzle.

So the scientists started with two models, with and without the impact of human action. They then worked on an analysis of salt levels and temperatures to detect significant change, and then tried to predict the dates at which this change ought to declare itself.

Their readings tell them that changes beyond natural variability in the northern hemisphere – all the seas from the Arctic Ocean to the equatorial waters – could have emerged between 2010 and 2030. That is, change is already happening.

Their simulations also predicted that whatever shifts occurred at depth in the temperature and chemistry of the southern oceans, these could have been identified up to 40 years ago, had researchers had the technology, the funding, the people and the ships and submersibles to do so.

“Our results highlight the importance of maintaining and augmenting an ocean observing system capable of detecting and monitoring persistent anthropogenic changes,” they report. – Climate News Network

Climate heating must have already begun to result in changing oceans. The next step is to confirm and monitor this change.

LONDON, 26 August, 2020 – Humankind has already begun to reshape the biggest available living space on the planet and to leave its mark in the changing oceans.

New research suggests that somewhere between 20% and 55% of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans now have temperatures and salt levels that should be measurably different because of climate change driven by profligate human combustion of fossil fuels.

And forecasts suggest that by mid-century the scale of human impact will only have increased – to between 40% and 60%. By 2080, human impact on the oceans will have begun to change between 55% and 80% of the blue planet.

Although the researchers – they report in the journal Nature Climate Change – have based their predictions on computer models, they are confident that the thumbprint of human-induced climate change began to leave its mark on the seas of the Southern Hemisphere as long ago as the 1980s.

“We have been detecting ocean temperature change at the surface due to climate change for several decades now,” said Eric Guilyardi, of the University of Reading in the UK and the Laboratory of Oceanography and Climate in Paris, France.

“Our results highlight the importance of maintaining and augmenting an ocean observing system capable of detecting and monitoring persistent anthropogenic changes”

“But changes in vast areas of the ocean, particularly deeper parts, are much more challenging to detect.”

The problem of measurement is simple: the ocean is enormous. It covers 70% of the planet to an average depth of 3.7 kms. It defines the planet.

It is almost certainly where life on Earth first emerged; it was life’s only home for the first three billion years.

And it is in a state of constant change, constantly evaporating, and continually replenished with freshwater from rainfall, river flow and melting polar ice. So temperature and salinity change naturally, and with the seasons, and with much longer cyclic swings driven by the atmosphere.

Scientists have been measuring surface conditions for many decades. The ocean at depth is a bit more of a challenge. The question the researchers put was a simple one: could temperature and salinity levels in parts of the ocean have risen or fallen higher or lower than they would in normal peaks and troughs?

Beyond natural variability

It’s not an easy question: oceanography is expensive, the ocean is huge, much of it has never been studied and the ways in which the ocean layers mix is still a bit of a puzzle.

So the scientists started with two models, with and without the impact of human action. They then worked on an analysis of salt levels and temperatures to detect significant change, and then tried to predict the dates at which this change ought to declare itself.

Their readings tell them that changes beyond natural variability in the northern hemisphere – all the seas from the Arctic Ocean to the equatorial waters – could have emerged between 2010 and 2030. That is, change is already happening.

Their simulations also predicted that whatever shifts occurred at depth in the temperature and chemistry of the southern oceans, these could have been identified up to 40 years ago, had researchers had the technology, the funding, the people and the ships and submersibles to do so.

“Our results highlight the importance of maintaining and augmenting an ocean observing system capable of detecting and monitoring persistent anthropogenic changes,” they report. – Climate News Network

In Arctic heat Greenland’s ice loss grows faster still

Greenland’s ice loss tipped a new record last year. This ominous milestone is just the latest in a run of alarming news.

LONDON, 24 August, 2020 – Its icecap is now smaller than at any time since measurements began: Greenland’s ice loss means it lost mass in 2019 at a record rate.

By the close of the year, thanks to high summer melt and low snowfall, the northern hemisphere’s biggest reservoir of ice had shed 532 billion tonnes into the sea – raising global sea levels by around 1.5mm in a year.

The previous record loss for Greenland was in 2012. In that year, the island lost 464 billion tonnes, according to studies of satellite data published by European scientists in the journal Communications Earth and Environment.

Greenland’s ice cap has been shrinking, if unsteadily, for many years. In 2017 and 2018, the losses continued, but only at around 100bn tonnes a year.

“After a two-year breather, the mass loss increased steeply and exceeded all annual losses since 1948, and probably for more than 100 years,” said Ingo Sasgen of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, who led the study.

“There are increasingly frequent, stable high-pressure areas over the ice sheet, which promote the influx of warm air from the middle latitudes. We saw a similar pattern in the previous record year, 2012.”

“The ice sheet has lost ice every year for the past 20. If everyone’s alarm bells were not already ringing, they must be now”

He and colleagues made their calculations from data delivered by two Nasa satellites, GRACE and GRACE-FO, that measure changes in the surface gravity of the planet: a way of calculating the mass of water stored as ice, or in aquifers, and observing sea level change.

The finding is the latest in a succession of polar climate alarms. It follows closely on a warning from US scientists that ice loss from Greenland may  have reached the point of no return.

And it also follows a sober calculation of the alarming rate of planetary temperature rise in response to ever-higher use of fossil fuels that trigger ever-higher measures of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

And that in turn followed a warning that the entire Arctic was now warming so swiftly that the Arctic sea ice might be all but gone in the summer of 2035.

And that was only days after another research team, looking at the big picture of climate change, warned that the scenario climate forecasters liked to use as an example of their “worst case” was now a simple description of what was already happening.

“It is devastating that 2019 was another record year of ice loss. In 2012, it had been about 150 years since the ice sheet had experienced similar melt extent, and then a further 600-plus years back to find another similar event,” said Twila Moon, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who was not involved in the research.

Damage off the scale

“We have now had record-breaking ice loss twice in less than 10 years, and the ice sheet has lost ice every year for the past 20. If everyone’s alarm bells were not already ringing, they must be now.”

The implications of continued loss of Greenland ice have been explored repeatedly: the run-off of fresh water from the ice cap to the sea is now so great that the North Atlantic is now “fresher” than at any time in the last 100 years.

And this change in water temperature and chemistry could – on the evidence of the distant past – possibly slow or switch off the circulation of the North Atlantic current, which for most of the history of human civilisation has kept the United Kingdom and north-western Europe from five to 10°C warmer than similar latitudes elsewhere.

“This tipping point in the climate system is one of the potential climate disasters facing us,” said Stuart Cunningham of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, commenting on the study.

“To transform the way we power, finance and run the world in the way we know we should is proving entirely beyond us,” said Chris Rapley, now a climate scientist at University College London, but once director of the British Antarctic Survey.

“Torpor, incompetence and indifference at the top may kill people in a health crisis, and torpedo the careers of young students in an education crisis; but the damage they are generating in the pipeline from climate change is on another scale.” – Climate News Network

Greenland’s ice loss tipped a new record last year. This ominous milestone is just the latest in a run of alarming news.

LONDON, 24 August, 2020 – Its icecap is now smaller than at any time since measurements began: Greenland’s ice loss means it lost mass in 2019 at a record rate.

By the close of the year, thanks to high summer melt and low snowfall, the northern hemisphere’s biggest reservoir of ice had shed 532 billion tonnes into the sea – raising global sea levels by around 1.5mm in a year.

The previous record loss for Greenland was in 2012. In that year, the island lost 464 billion tonnes, according to studies of satellite data published by European scientists in the journal Communications Earth and Environment.

Greenland’s ice cap has been shrinking, if unsteadily, for many years. In 2017 and 2018, the losses continued, but only at around 100bn tonnes a year.

“After a two-year breather, the mass loss increased steeply and exceeded all annual losses since 1948, and probably for more than 100 years,” said Ingo Sasgen of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, who led the study.

“There are increasingly frequent, stable high-pressure areas over the ice sheet, which promote the influx of warm air from the middle latitudes. We saw a similar pattern in the previous record year, 2012.”

“The ice sheet has lost ice every year for the past 20. If everyone’s alarm bells were not already ringing, they must be now”

He and colleagues made their calculations from data delivered by two Nasa satellites, GRACE and GRACE-FO, that measure changes in the surface gravity of the planet: a way of calculating the mass of water stored as ice, or in aquifers, and observing sea level change.

The finding is the latest in a succession of polar climate alarms. It follows closely on a warning from US scientists that ice loss from Greenland may  have reached the point of no return.

And it also follows a sober calculation of the alarming rate of planetary temperature rise in response to ever-higher use of fossil fuels that trigger ever-higher measures of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

And that in turn followed a warning that the entire Arctic was now warming so swiftly that the Arctic sea ice might be all but gone in the summer of 2035.

And that was only days after another research team, looking at the big picture of climate change, warned that the scenario climate forecasters liked to use as an example of their “worst case” was now a simple description of what was already happening.

“It is devastating that 2019 was another record year of ice loss. In 2012, it had been about 150 years since the ice sheet had experienced similar melt extent, and then a further 600-plus years back to find another similar event,” said Twila Moon, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who was not involved in the research.

Damage off the scale

“We have now had record-breaking ice loss twice in less than 10 years, and the ice sheet has lost ice every year for the past 20. If everyone’s alarm bells were not already ringing, they must be now.”

The implications of continued loss of Greenland ice have been explored repeatedly: the run-off of fresh water from the ice cap to the sea is now so great that the North Atlantic is now “fresher” than at any time in the last 100 years.

And this change in water temperature and chemistry could – on the evidence of the distant past – possibly slow or switch off the circulation of the North Atlantic current, which for most of the history of human civilisation has kept the United Kingdom and north-western Europe from five to 10°C warmer than similar latitudes elsewhere.

“This tipping point in the climate system is one of the potential climate disasters facing us,” said Stuart Cunningham of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, commenting on the study.

“To transform the way we power, finance and run the world in the way we know we should is proving entirely beyond us,” said Chris Rapley, now a climate scientist at University College London, but once director of the British Antarctic Survey.

“Torpor, incompetence and indifference at the top may kill people in a health crisis, and torpedo the careers of young students in an education crisis; but the damage they are generating in the pipeline from climate change is on another scale.” – Climate News Network

Oceans’ plastic tide may be far larger than thought

Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 − The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.

“Plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there. We don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard”

Scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that at 12 places along a 10,000 km north-south voyage in the Atlantic late in 2015, the waters were sampled for evidence of just three forms of plastic litter: polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.

These samples were taken at depths of 10 metres below the surface, between 10 and 30 metres below what oceanographers call the mixed layer, and then 100 metres even deeper.

They then looked for fragments of the three plastics right down to the scale of 25 millionths of a metre, and began counting. They found up to 7,000 particles of all three types in a cubic metre of seawater.

Then they did the sums: people have been throwing plastic bags, packets, bottles, cups, nets and packaging away since 1950, and it has been getting into the Atlantic since 1950, with the estimated mass so far ranging from 17 million to 47 million tonnes.

The Atlantic has an average depth of 3000 metres. The discovery that the mass of plastic just in the upper 200 metres of one ocean lies somewhere between 12 and 21 million tonnes suggests that the flow of plastic into the seas everywhere may have been seriously under-estimated.

Missing measurement

“Previously, we couldn’t balance the mass of floating plastic we observed with the mass we thought had entered the ocean since 1950,” said Katsiaryna Pabortsava of the UK National Oceanography Centre, at Southampton, who led the study.

“This is because earlier studies hadn’t been measuring the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface. Our research is the first to have done this across the entire Atlantic, from the UK to the Falklands.”

Large plastic fragments disfigure the landscape and represent a direct threat to animals that mistake them for food.

Nobody yet knows how dangerous microplastic fibres might be, but if they are consumed by little animals they soon get concentrated in bigger predators, including the greatest predators of all: humans.

Scientists told the American Chemical Society – at a virtual meeting – that they had developed the techniques needed to identify microplastic fibres in 47 samples from donated lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys: that is, such fragments did more than simply pass through a gastrointestinal tract. They became part of human flesh.

Seabird vulnerability

“There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there,” said Charles Rolsky of Arizona State University. “And at this point we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard.”

Although plastic seems to be durable and indestructible, there may be evidence that it can react with biology. The journal Frontiers in Environmental Science reports that fragments of plastic, collected from beaches and incubated in natural oils from the stomachs of a seabird known as the northern fulmar – hunted for food in the Faroe Islands – eventually released chemicals.

These were agents that had been added in the process of making that plastic: among them flame retardants, stabilisers and plasticisers. Once again, there is no certainty that such releases would harm the birds, but some of these chemicals have been identified in other tests as hormone disruptors.

“I’ve been working on northern fulmars for almost 10 years,” said Susanne Kühn of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands.

“As these seabirds ingest plastics regularly, and 93% of the fulmars from the North Sea have some plastic in their stomachs, it is important to understand the potential harm this could cause.” − Climate News Network

Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 − The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.

“Plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there. We don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard”

Scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that at 12 places along a 10,000 km north-south voyage in the Atlantic late in 2015, the waters were sampled for evidence of just three forms of plastic litter: polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.

These samples were taken at depths of 10 metres below the surface, between 10 and 30 metres below what oceanographers call the mixed layer, and then 100 metres even deeper.

They then looked for fragments of the three plastics right down to the scale of 25 millionths of a metre, and began counting. They found up to 7,000 particles of all three types in a cubic metre of seawater.

Then they did the sums: people have been throwing plastic bags, packets, bottles, cups, nets and packaging away since 1950, and it has been getting into the Atlantic since 1950, with the estimated mass so far ranging from 17 million to 47 million tonnes.

The Atlantic has an average depth of 3000 metres. The discovery that the mass of plastic just in the upper 200 metres of one ocean lies somewhere between 12 and 21 million tonnes suggests that the flow of plastic into the seas everywhere may have been seriously under-estimated.

Missing measurement

“Previously, we couldn’t balance the mass of floating plastic we observed with the mass we thought had entered the ocean since 1950,” said Katsiaryna Pabortsava of the UK National Oceanography Centre, at Southampton, who led the study.

“This is because earlier studies hadn’t been measuring the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface. Our research is the first to have done this across the entire Atlantic, from the UK to the Falklands.”

Large plastic fragments disfigure the landscape and represent a direct threat to animals that mistake them for food.

Nobody yet knows how dangerous microplastic fibres might be, but if they are consumed by little animals they soon get concentrated in bigger predators, including the greatest predators of all: humans.

Scientists told the American Chemical Society – at a virtual meeting – that they had developed the techniques needed to identify microplastic fibres in 47 samples from donated lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys: that is, such fragments did more than simply pass through a gastrointestinal tract. They became part of human flesh.

Seabird vulnerability

“There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there,” said Charles Rolsky of Arizona State University. “And at this point we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard.”

Although plastic seems to be durable and indestructible, there may be evidence that it can react with biology. The journal Frontiers in Environmental Science reports that fragments of plastic, collected from beaches and incubated in natural oils from the stomachs of a seabird known as the northern fulmar – hunted for food in the Faroe Islands – eventually released chemicals.

These were agents that had been added in the process of making that plastic: among them flame retardants, stabilisers and plasticisers. Once again, there is no certainty that such releases would harm the birds, but some of these chemicals have been identified in other tests as hormone disruptors.

“I’ve been working on northern fulmars for almost 10 years,” said Susanne Kühn of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands.

“As these seabirds ingest plastics regularly, and 93% of the fulmars from the North Sea have some plastic in their stomachs, it is important to understand the potential harm this could cause.” − Climate News Network

Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change

Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. A new book makes it sound almost easy. Well, it’s not impossible.

LONDON, 19 August, 2020 – The world is nowhere near tackling the climate crisis, says a new book by an Oxford scholar, Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. But at least we know how to.

Year on year, the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rising. The ability of oceans, forests and soils to absorb and recycle CO2 is fast diminishing. Like an out-of-control coal train, climate change is thundering towards us.

International agreements and protocols – countless meetings and mega amounts of jaw-jaw – have manifestly failed to address the challenge ahead.

Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at Oxford University in the UK and the author of several books on climate change, throws up his hands in frustration.

“Thirty years on from the UN’s drive to address climate change, we are still going backwards at an alarming rate”, he says.

The wrong policies have been followed, governments have misled people and we, the public, have failed to come to terms with what’s happening.

“In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”

The Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C compared to the level in 1990 is unattainable, says Helm.

“Stop pretending and recognise the brutal facts about what has been going on for the last 30 years and why it has been such an abject failure. It is realism, not spin and fake optimism about progress and costs, that we need.”

For the most part, Helm talks of events in the industrialised world, in particular in Europe. He argues that countries such as the UK and Germany delude themselves by thinking they are tackling climate change simply by cutting the production of greenhouse gases within their own borders.

Much of Europe, he argues, is post-industrial: it imports vast amounts of goods – steel from China, textiles from Bangladesh, avocados from Peru. All these products have heavy carbon footprints.

It is the consumption of all these goods that is doing the damage. Only when countries – and we, their citizens – stop buying and accumulating such products will progress be made.

Dangerous delusion

“It is not enough to clean up our own backyard. This does not stop us contributing to global warming.

“It is fantasy, propagated by politicians, the [UK] Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and some activists, that if we could only get to net zero for our own territorial emissions – for our carbon production – that would mean that we would have crossed the Rubicon and no longer be causing any further global warming. It is an extremely dangerous delusion.”

The solution, says Helm, is going to be painful, at least in the short to medium term. There have to be substantial carbon taxes, on both domestic produce and imports.

A whole range of goods will become more expensive. Standards of living will fall, we will be worse off. We have to adapt to a whole new way of life.

The top-down approach to tackling the climate crisis, through what Helm describes as the UN cartel and other bodies, has just not worked. It is we, the consumers, who must act.

“You and I, the ultimate polluters, will have to pay the price of our carbon-intensive lifestyles”, says Professor Helm.

Tiny renewable share

Public finances have to be transformed: massive spending on zero carbon infrastructure is a priority. Agriculture – an environmental disaster area – has to be changed completely.

Helm has an edgy, no-nonsense style of writing. “In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”, he says.

He rails against people fooling themselves. Those who think China is leading the way towards a green future are seriously mistaken. Activists who prophesy the end of coal and other fossil fuels are deluded.

With exploding demand, the past 30 years have been a golden age for the fossil fuel industry, and for all the hype, renewables still contribute only a minuscule amount of the total world energy mix.

Yet if we, the consumers, act, there will certainly be pain but the reward will be worthwhile. “There are many aspects to our individual lives which would be better in 2050 than they are now”, Dieter Helm says. “A greener world is a healthier one.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

  • Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change   By Dieter Helm   William Collins: to be published on 3 September 2020   £20.00

Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. A new book makes it sound almost easy. Well, it’s not impossible.

LONDON, 19 August, 2020 – The world is nowhere near tackling the climate crisis, says a new book by an Oxford scholar, Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change. But at least we know how to.

Year on year, the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rising. The ability of oceans, forests and soils to absorb and recycle CO2 is fast diminishing. Like an out-of-control coal train, climate change is thundering towards us.

International agreements and protocols – countless meetings and mega amounts of jaw-jaw – have manifestly failed to address the challenge ahead.

Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at Oxford University in the UK and the author of several books on climate change, throws up his hands in frustration.

“Thirty years on from the UN’s drive to address climate change, we are still going backwards at an alarming rate”, he says.

The wrong policies have been followed, governments have misled people and we, the public, have failed to come to terms with what’s happening.

“In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”

The Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C compared to the level in 1990 is unattainable, says Helm.

“Stop pretending and recognise the brutal facts about what has been going on for the last 30 years and why it has been such an abject failure. It is realism, not spin and fake optimism about progress and costs, that we need.”

For the most part, Helm talks of events in the industrialised world, in particular in Europe. He argues that countries such as the UK and Germany delude themselves by thinking they are tackling climate change simply by cutting the production of greenhouse gases within their own borders.

Much of Europe, he argues, is post-industrial: it imports vast amounts of goods – steel from China, textiles from Bangladesh, avocados from Peru. All these products have heavy carbon footprints.

It is the consumption of all these goods that is doing the damage. Only when countries – and we, their citizens – stop buying and accumulating such products will progress be made.

Dangerous delusion

“It is not enough to clean up our own backyard. This does not stop us contributing to global warming.

“It is fantasy, propagated by politicians, the [UK] Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and some activists, that if we could only get to net zero for our own territorial emissions – for our carbon production – that would mean that we would have crossed the Rubicon and no longer be causing any further global warming. It is an extremely dangerous delusion.”

The solution, says Helm, is going to be painful, at least in the short to medium term. There have to be substantial carbon taxes, on both domestic produce and imports.

A whole range of goods will become more expensive. Standards of living will fall, we will be worse off. We have to adapt to a whole new way of life.

The top-down approach to tackling the climate crisis, through what Helm describes as the UN cartel and other bodies, has just not worked. It is we, the consumers, who must act.

“You and I, the ultimate polluters, will have to pay the price of our carbon-intensive lifestyles”, says Professor Helm.

Tiny renewable share

Public finances have to be transformed: massive spending on zero carbon infrastructure is a priority. Agriculture – an environmental disaster area – has to be changed completely.

Helm has an edgy, no-nonsense style of writing. “In terms of the scale of the damage over the 30 wasted years, we are the most selfish generation in history”, he says.

He rails against people fooling themselves. Those who think China is leading the way towards a green future are seriously mistaken. Activists who prophesy the end of coal and other fossil fuels are deluded.

With exploding demand, the past 30 years have been a golden age for the fossil fuel industry, and for all the hype, renewables still contribute only a minuscule amount of the total world energy mix.

Yet if we, the consumers, act, there will certainly be pain but the reward will be worthwhile. “There are many aspects to our individual lives which would be better in 2050 than they are now”, Dieter Helm says. “A greener world is a healthier one.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

  • Net Zero: How we stop causing climate change   By Dieter Helm   William Collins: to be published on 3 September 2020   £20.00

Annual planetary temperature continues to rise

More than 500 scientists from 61 countries have again measured the annual planetary temperature. The diagnosis is not good.

LONDON, 17 August, 2020 – Despite global promises to act on climate change, the Earth continues to warm. The annual planetary temperature confirms that the last 10 years were on average 0.2°C warmer than the first 10 years of this century. And each decade since 1980 has been warmer than the decade that preceded it.

The year 2019 was also one of the three warmest years since formal temperature records began in the 19th century. The only warmer years – in some datasets but not all – were 2016 and 2015. And all the years since 2013 have been warmer than all other years in the last 170.

The link with fossil fuel combustion remains unequivocal: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increased by 2.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2019 alone. These now stand at 409 ppm. The global average for most of human history has hovered around 285 ppm.

Two more greenhouse gases – nitrous oxide and methane, both of them more short-lived – also increased measurably.

“This millennium has been warmer than any comparable period since the Industrial Revolution”

The study, in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is a sobering chronicle of the impact of climate change in the decade 2010-2019 and the year 2019 itself. It is the 30th such report, it is signed by 528 experts from 61 countries, and it is a catalogue of unwelcome records achieved and uncomfortable extremes surpassed.

July 2019 was the hottest month on record. Record high temperatures were measured in more than a dozen nations across Africa, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. In North America, Alaska scored its hottest year on record.

The Arctic as a whole was warmer than in any year except 2016. Australia achieved a new nationally average daily temperature high of 41.9°C on 18 December, breaking the previous 2013 record by 1.6°C. But even Belgium and the Netherlands saw temperatures higher than 40°C.

For the 32nd consecutive year, the world’s alpine glaciers continued to get smaller and retreat further uphill. For the first time on record in inland Alaska, when measured at 26 sites, the active layer of permafrost failed to freeze completely. In September, sea ice around the Arctic reached a minimum that tied for the second lowest in the 41 years of satellite records.

Catalogue of extremes

Global sea levels set a new high for the eighth consecutive year and are now 87.6mm higher than the 1993 average, when satellite records began. At a depth of 700 metres, ocean temperatures reached new records, and the sea surface temperatures on average were the highest since 2016.

Drought conditions led to catastrophic wildfires in Australia, in Indonesia, Siberia and in the southern Amazon forests of Bolivia, Brazil and Peru. And around the equator, meteorologists catalogued 96 named tropical storms: the average for 1981 to 2010 was 82. In the North Atlantic, just one storm, Hurricane Dorian, killed 70 people and caused $3.4bn (£2.6bn) in damage in the Bahamas.

“This millennium has been warmer than any comparable period since the Industrial Revolution. A number of extreme events, such as wildfires, heatwaves and droughts, have at least part of their root linked to the rise in global temperature,” said Robert Dunn, of the UK Met Office, one of the contributors.

“And of course the rise in global temperature is linked to another climate indicator, the ongoing rise in emissions in greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane.” – Climate News Network

More than 500 scientists from 61 countries have again measured the annual planetary temperature. The diagnosis is not good.

LONDON, 17 August, 2020 – Despite global promises to act on climate change, the Earth continues to warm. The annual planetary temperature confirms that the last 10 years were on average 0.2°C warmer than the first 10 years of this century. And each decade since 1980 has been warmer than the decade that preceded it.

The year 2019 was also one of the three warmest years since formal temperature records began in the 19th century. The only warmer years – in some datasets but not all – were 2016 and 2015. And all the years since 2013 have been warmer than all other years in the last 170.

The link with fossil fuel combustion remains unequivocal: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increased by 2.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2019 alone. These now stand at 409 ppm. The global average for most of human history has hovered around 285 ppm.

Two more greenhouse gases – nitrous oxide and methane, both of them more short-lived – also increased measurably.

“This millennium has been warmer than any comparable period since the Industrial Revolution”

The study, in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is a sobering chronicle of the impact of climate change in the decade 2010-2019 and the year 2019 itself. It is the 30th such report, it is signed by 528 experts from 61 countries, and it is a catalogue of unwelcome records achieved and uncomfortable extremes surpassed.

July 2019 was the hottest month on record. Record high temperatures were measured in more than a dozen nations across Africa, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. In North America, Alaska scored its hottest year on record.

The Arctic as a whole was warmer than in any year except 2016. Australia achieved a new nationally average daily temperature high of 41.9°C on 18 December, breaking the previous 2013 record by 1.6°C. But even Belgium and the Netherlands saw temperatures higher than 40°C.

For the 32nd consecutive year, the world’s alpine glaciers continued to get smaller and retreat further uphill. For the first time on record in inland Alaska, when measured at 26 sites, the active layer of permafrost failed to freeze completely. In September, sea ice around the Arctic reached a minimum that tied for the second lowest in the 41 years of satellite records.

Catalogue of extremes

Global sea levels set a new high for the eighth consecutive year and are now 87.6mm higher than the 1993 average, when satellite records began. At a depth of 700 metres, ocean temperatures reached new records, and the sea surface temperatures on average were the highest since 2016.

Drought conditions led to catastrophic wildfires in Australia, in Indonesia, Siberia and in the southern Amazon forests of Bolivia, Brazil and Peru. And around the equator, meteorologists catalogued 96 named tropical storms: the average for 1981 to 2010 was 82. In the North Atlantic, just one storm, Hurricane Dorian, killed 70 people and caused $3.4bn (£2.6bn) in damage in the Bahamas.

“This millennium has been warmer than any comparable period since the Industrial Revolution. A number of extreme events, such as wildfires, heatwaves and droughts, have at least part of their root linked to the rise in global temperature,” said Robert Dunn, of the UK Met Office, one of the contributors.

“And of course the rise in global temperature is linked to another climate indicator, the ongoing rise in emissions in greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane.” – Climate News Network