Tag Archives: Warming

Can batteries help to limit bushfire horrors?

The Australian inferno has yet to reach its worst, but already minds are seeking ways to reduce the bushfire horrors. Could batteries help next time?

LONDON, 9 January, 2020 − With at least 27 human fatalities and a scarcely credible estimate by scientists that more than one billion animals have been killed nationwide by the unprecedented blazes  since September 2019, Australia’s bushfire horrors have stunned the world.

The climate crisis is contributing to the catastrophe, at least to its scale and intensity, whether or not it is its primary cause. And scientists revealed only this month that global heating is causing daily weather change.

But something else happened in Australia in 2019 which could point the way towards a fast route, not for Australia alone but globally, to renewable energy and a safer future.

In the state of South Australia the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery – 129MWh, able to power 30,000 homes for an hour during a blackout – was switched on just 60 days after the contract to build it was signed.

So ways of cutting the use of fossil fuels and reducing their contribution to climate heating, now clearly implicated in Australia’s catastrophe, are within reach.

The battery was commissioned in order to bring greater reliability and stability to the state’s electricity grid, preventing blackouts, improving reliability across the network and helping to even out price spikes.

The state’s efforts to increase its proportion of renewable energy had previously been hampered by freak weather which caused outages, which in turn sparked a political brawl over energy policy. The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies.

40 days to spare

The state premier challenged the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk,  who replied by saying he would build a massive battery within 100 days of signing the deal. He managed it with 40 days to spare.

His approach − a familiar one in the renewable energy world − was to charge the battery packs when excess power was available and the cost of production very low, and then discharge them when the cost of power production rose.

The world is becoming increasingly reliant on battery power, largely because of the need to reduce carbon in the transport sector; almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report expects global battery demand to increase by more than 19 times its current levels in the next decade.

Batteries have historically been a dirty but convenient product, requiring the mining of metals such as nickel and zinc, yet considered disposable; landfills are strewn with these hazardous toxins, with more arriving every day. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each year Americans throw away more than three billion batteries – 180,000 tons of waste.

Yet the WEF report projects that new generation batteries could not only enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors, providing access to electricity to 600 million people who currently have no access; they will also create 10 million safe and sustainable jobs around the world.

Batteries will probably play a large part in future energy supply systems; in 2018, South Australia invested $100 million in a scheme to encourage householders to fit batteries to their solar systems, enabling them to use their own power on site rather than exporting it to the grid. This helps to reduce demand at peak times.

“The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies”

Electric cars are not the only part of the transportation sector that will be in need of batteries. A number of companies are currently working on electric-powered commercial aircraft designs, and Norway is working on battery technology for shipping, with an all-electric passenger vessel already operating.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles . . . to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”, with the slogan “Evidence-based hope for a warming world”.

It believes there is evidence that batteries can offer hope for Australia  and other countries facing similar lethal threats − provided they absorb several crucial lessons.

First, it says, technological leaps need both the flair of individual effort and the clout of institutional backing if they are to work at scale.

Then behavioural change must be practical and economically viable, because only a small minority of people will ever change for green reasons alone. Simply switching to electricity as a fuel source is not enough: to hit climate targets and maintain a habitable world, there needs to be an absolute reduction in energy consumption.

And finally, as batteries increasingly form part of the energy infrastructure, safeguards must be put in place around the mining involved in obtaining the minerals needed to make them, to ensure that poorer communities in the global South do not pay the price for cutting carbon emissions in richer countries. − 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.

The Australian inferno has yet to reach its worst, but already minds are seeking ways to reduce the bushfire horrors. Could batteries help next time?

LONDON, 9 January, 2020 − With at least 27 human fatalities and a scarcely credible estimate by scientists that more than one billion animals have been killed nationwide by the unprecedented blazes  since September 2019, Australia’s bushfire horrors have stunned the world.

The climate crisis is contributing to the catastrophe, at least to its scale and intensity, whether or not it is its primary cause. And scientists revealed only this month that global heating is causing daily weather change.

But something else happened in Australia in 2019 which could point the way towards a fast route, not for Australia alone but globally, to renewable energy and a safer future.

In the state of South Australia the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery – 129MWh, able to power 30,000 homes for an hour during a blackout – was switched on just 60 days after the contract to build it was signed.

So ways of cutting the use of fossil fuels and reducing their contribution to climate heating, now clearly implicated in Australia’s catastrophe, are within reach.

The battery was commissioned in order to bring greater reliability and stability to the state’s electricity grid, preventing blackouts, improving reliability across the network and helping to even out price spikes.

The state’s efforts to increase its proportion of renewable energy had previously been hampered by freak weather which caused outages, which in turn sparked a political brawl over energy policy. The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies.

40 days to spare

The state premier challenged the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk,  who replied by saying he would build a massive battery within 100 days of signing the deal. He managed it with 40 days to spare.

His approach − a familiar one in the renewable energy world − was to charge the battery packs when excess power was available and the cost of production very low, and then discharge them when the cost of power production rose.

The world is becoming increasingly reliant on battery power, largely because of the need to reduce carbon in the transport sector; almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report expects global battery demand to increase by more than 19 times its current levels in the next decade.

Batteries have historically been a dirty but convenient product, requiring the mining of metals such as nickel and zinc, yet considered disposable; landfills are strewn with these hazardous toxins, with more arriving every day. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each year Americans throw away more than three billion batteries – 180,000 tons of waste.

Yet the WEF report projects that new generation batteries could not only enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors, providing access to electricity to 600 million people who currently have no access; they will also create 10 million safe and sustainable jobs around the world.

Batteries will probably play a large part in future energy supply systems; in 2018, South Australia invested $100 million in a scheme to encourage householders to fit batteries to their solar systems, enabling them to use their own power on site rather than exporting it to the grid. This helps to reduce demand at peak times.

“The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies”

Electric cars are not the only part of the transportation sector that will be in need of batteries. A number of companies are currently working on electric-powered commercial aircraft designs, and Norway is working on battery technology for shipping, with an all-electric passenger vessel already operating.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles . . . to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”, with the slogan “Evidence-based hope for a warming world”.

It believes there is evidence that batteries can offer hope for Australia  and other countries facing similar lethal threats − provided they absorb several crucial lessons.

First, it says, technological leaps need both the flair of individual effort and the clout of institutional backing if they are to work at scale.

Then behavioural change must be practical and economically viable, because only a small minority of people will ever change for green reasons alone. Simply switching to electricity as a fuel source is not enough: to hit climate targets and maintain a habitable world, there needs to be an absolute reduction in energy consumption.

And finally, as batteries increasingly form part of the energy infrastructure, safeguards must be put in place around the mining involved in obtaining the minerals needed to make them, to ensure that poorer communities in the global South do not pay the price for cutting carbon emissions in richer countries. − 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.

Little time left to arrest Greenland’s melting

Humans may still have time to stop Greenland’s melting, preventing Arctic ice sheet collapse and devastating sea level rise. But the time left may be short.

LONDON, 30 December, 2019 – It’s still possible, but it’s far from certain: stopping Greenland’s melting can be done, but it must be done soon.

Norwegian and US scientists have taken a close look at the ice age history of Greenland and come to a grim conclusion. All it takes to set the island’s ice cap melting away is a mean sea surface temperature higher than seven degrees Celsius. And the present mean sea surface temperature is already 7.7°C.

Greenland is the northern hemisphere’s single richest store of frozen water: the island’s bedrock holds enough to raise global sea levels by seven metres and drown or wash away the world’s coastal communities, including the great cities of New York and Miami, Shanghai and Kolkata, Amsterdam and London.

And the pattern of geological evidence – outlined in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – combined with climate models suggests that any sustained temperature rise could trigger an irreversible melt of the entire southern Greenland ice sheet.

The scientists suggest that the threshold for this calamity could be between 0.8°C above the post-Ice Age norm, and 3.2°C.

“The critical temperature threshold for past Greenland ice sheet decay will likely be surpassed this century”

In fact, because of profligate use of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the planet has already warmed by around 1°C above the level for most of human history, and warming of at least 3.2°C by the end of this century now seems almost certain.

Researchers publish their conclusions with the intention that they should be examined, tested, challenged and perhaps overturned. But widespread alarm at the rate of melt and mass loss in Greenland has been consistent and increasing with the years.

Researchers have repeatedly established that melting each summer is increasing the rate at which glaciers flow and deliver ice to increasingly warmer northern seas, and that this rate of melting has itself begun to accelerate.

So Nil Irvali of the University of Bergen and colleagues took a closer look at the story told by microfossils within cores from the ice and the ocean floor during four interglacial periods over the last 450,000 years.

During those warm spells ocean levels rose dramatically, and in two episodes Greenland’s vanishing ice could have contributed more than five metres in one case, and up to seven metres of sea level rise in the other.

Triggers identified

And in all four of those interglacials, conditions reached temperatures higher than they are right now.

Concern about the stability of the Greenland icecap is no surprise: the Arctic is already warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, thanks to profligate use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the rainforests, and researchers worldwide have begun to identify triggers that feed back into further warming: rain, for instance, in winter; the loss of cloud cover in summer; and the deposits of soot from polar wildfires that darken the snows and enhance the absorption of the sun’s rays.

Years ago, the phrase “at a glacial pace” ceased to be a valid cliché: US scientists clocked one river of ice moving at a rate of 46 metres a day.

So the new study simply confirms fears that already are widespread. What remains to be settled is the point at which the decline of the ice sheet becomes irreversible, the Bergen scientists say. As the ocean warms, this feeds back into the process of melting and triggers longer-term feedbacks.

“The exact point at which these feedbacks are triggered remains equivocal,” say Dr Irvali and her co-authors. “Notably, the critical temperature threshold for past Greenland ice sheet decay will likely be surpassed this century. The duration for which this threshold is exceeded will determine Greenland’s fate.” – Climate News Network

Humans may still have time to stop Greenland’s melting, preventing Arctic ice sheet collapse and devastating sea level rise. But the time left may be short.

LONDON, 30 December, 2019 – It’s still possible, but it’s far from certain: stopping Greenland’s melting can be done, but it must be done soon.

Norwegian and US scientists have taken a close look at the ice age history of Greenland and come to a grim conclusion. All it takes to set the island’s ice cap melting away is a mean sea surface temperature higher than seven degrees Celsius. And the present mean sea surface temperature is already 7.7°C.

Greenland is the northern hemisphere’s single richest store of frozen water: the island’s bedrock holds enough to raise global sea levels by seven metres and drown or wash away the world’s coastal communities, including the great cities of New York and Miami, Shanghai and Kolkata, Amsterdam and London.

And the pattern of geological evidence – outlined in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – combined with climate models suggests that any sustained temperature rise could trigger an irreversible melt of the entire southern Greenland ice sheet.

The scientists suggest that the threshold for this calamity could be between 0.8°C above the post-Ice Age norm, and 3.2°C.

“The critical temperature threshold for past Greenland ice sheet decay will likely be surpassed this century”

In fact, because of profligate use of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the planet has already warmed by around 1°C above the level for most of human history, and warming of at least 3.2°C by the end of this century now seems almost certain.

Researchers publish their conclusions with the intention that they should be examined, tested, challenged and perhaps overturned. But widespread alarm at the rate of melt and mass loss in Greenland has been consistent and increasing with the years.

Researchers have repeatedly established that melting each summer is increasing the rate at which glaciers flow and deliver ice to increasingly warmer northern seas, and that this rate of melting has itself begun to accelerate.

So Nil Irvali of the University of Bergen and colleagues took a closer look at the story told by microfossils within cores from the ice and the ocean floor during four interglacial periods over the last 450,000 years.

During those warm spells ocean levels rose dramatically, and in two episodes Greenland’s vanishing ice could have contributed more than five metres in one case, and up to seven metres of sea level rise in the other.

Triggers identified

And in all four of those interglacials, conditions reached temperatures higher than they are right now.

Concern about the stability of the Greenland icecap is no surprise: the Arctic is already warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, thanks to profligate use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the rainforests, and researchers worldwide have begun to identify triggers that feed back into further warming: rain, for instance, in winter; the loss of cloud cover in summer; and the deposits of soot from polar wildfires that darken the snows and enhance the absorption of the sun’s rays.

Years ago, the phrase “at a glacial pace” ceased to be a valid cliché: US scientists clocked one river of ice moving at a rate of 46 metres a day.

So the new study simply confirms fears that already are widespread. What remains to be settled is the point at which the decline of the ice sheet becomes irreversible, the Bergen scientists say. As the ocean warms, this feeds back into the process of melting and triggers longer-term feedbacks.

“The exact point at which these feedbacks are triggered remains equivocal,” say Dr Irvali and her co-authors. “Notably, the critical temperature threshold for past Greenland ice sheet decay will likely be surpassed this century. The duration for which this threshold is exceeded will determine Greenland’s fate.” – Climate News Network

Marine climate impacts are intensifying

Fish catches are falling in the Gulf of Maine, Baltic cod are getting smaller. Sharks suffer acid waters’ effects as marine climate impacts grow.

LONDON, 20 December, 2019 – Marine climate impacts are starting to make their mark on marine life at almost every level, according to a range of entirely unrelated scientific studies published in the last month.

Baltic codfish – a valuable commercial catch – have steadily become smaller, scrawnier and less valuable because of the loss of oxygen in ocean waters as a consequence of an increasingly warmer world.

Changes in climate over the last two decades have cost the fishermen of New England their jobs: their numbers have fallen by 16% since 1996 as the total catch has fallen, along with fishermen’s incomes.

The change may be linked to a natural ocean climate cycle, but nobody can be sure the decline will not continue as waters warm in response to ever higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, driven by ever greater use of fossil fuels to power modern economic growth.

That steady rise in carbon dioxide means that marine waters are also becoming steadily more acidic, and this could be bad news for the sharks. Laboratory experiments suggest they can respond to short-term changes in water chemistry, but in the long term increasingly acidic waters can begin to dissolve not just the characteristic skin scales of the shark family, but the teeth as well.

And if environmental change goes on hitting tropical corals and the anemones that co-exist with them, then one of the world’s most iconic and culturally popular species could also disappear: the clownfish sub-family Amphiprioninae may not survive the continued bleaching of the coral reefs. Amphiprion ocellaris swam into the world’s hearts as the much sought-after cartoon character in the 2003 film Finding Nemo.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year”

Scientists based in the US and Sweden report in the journal Biology Letters that the average weight of specimens of Gadus morhua or the cod fish 40 cms long had dropped from 900 to 600 grams in the last 30 years.

They examined the otoliths or ear stones of 134 individuals trawled in the last months of the Baltic winter to read the evidence from trace elements such as magnesium and manganese and identify the cause: the continued fall in sea water oxygen levels as a consequence of global warming and pollution.

“The cod themselves are telling us through their internal logbooks that they’re affected by hypoxia [reduced oxygen availability], which we know is driven by climate change and nutrient loading,” said Karin Limburg, an ecologist at the State University of New York, who led the study. “Our findings suggest fish are in a worse condition because of hypoxia.”

In the Gulf of Maine, off the US Atlantic coast, catches of fish and shellfish have been falling, and with them the number of people employed in the fishery. Kimberly Oremus of the University of Delaware reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that successive warm winters have hit the catch, and incomes.

Pattern found

She matched decades of climate data, landing figures and sales data to identify a pattern of decline linked principally to a hot-and-cold pattern of change known as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

“New England waters are among the fastest-warming in the world,” she said. “Warmer than average sea surface temperatures have been shown to impact the productivity of lobsters, sea scallops, groundfish and other fisheries important to the region, especially when they are most vulnerable, from spawning through their first year of life.”

The region has 34,000 commercial fishermen, a significant proportion of the 166,000 or so throughout the whole of the US. The oscillation is a shift in ocean temperatures over decades, and catches could improve in decades to come – but marine waters worldwide are warming.

“This is an important signal to incorporate into the fisheries management process,” she said. “We need to figure out what climate is doing to fisheries in order to cope with it.”

Acid hazard

One important part of the marine ecosystem might not in the long run be able to cope: short episodes of hypercapnia, or a dramatic rise in dissolved carbon dioxide, are a feature linked to seasonal oceanic upwellings, and can last for days in some waters before normal ocean chemistry is restored.

In the journal Scientific Reports, European and South Africa researchers offer evidence that though cartilaginous fishes – the huge and varied family to which sharks belong – have evolved to cope with such spells, ever more acidic oceans offer a new hazard.

They caught a number of puffadder shysharks, known to scientists as Haploblepharus edwardsii and a species small enough for laboratory tanks, from shallow waters off South Africa and exposed them to acidic conditions predicted by the year 2300.

The increasingly acid environment was, literally, corrosive. Their specimens lost a quarter of their skin denticles – the shark equivalent of scales. Sharks’ teeth are made of the same biological fabric as the skin, and the implication is that such losses could, in their words “compromise hydrodynamics and skin protection.” In other words, some of the ocean’s most feared predators might have trouble both swimming and feeding.

Poor adapters

Australian and US scientists have more bad news for Nemo, the film star from the clownfish family. Rather than experiment in a laboratory tank, they monitored the numbers and the DNA of real life specimens for decades in Kimbe Bay off Papua-New Guinea. As waters warmed and began to bleach the coral reefs, the anemones that live in the reefs were put at risk.

They report in Ecology Letters that the tiny clownfish that live in the anemone tentacles proved bad at adapting to environmental change. The implication is that, as the coral reefs are lost, many species could be homeless and helpless.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year,” said Serge Planes of the French National Centre of Scientific Research, and one of the authors.

“To expect a clownfish to genetically adapt at a pace that would allow it to persist is unreasonable.” And Simon Thorrold of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US added: “It seems Nemo won’t be able to save himself.” – Climate News Network

Fish catches are falling in the Gulf of Maine, Baltic cod are getting smaller. Sharks suffer acid waters’ effects as marine climate impacts grow.

LONDON, 20 December, 2019 – Marine climate impacts are starting to make their mark on marine life at almost every level, according to a range of entirely unrelated scientific studies published in the last month.

Baltic codfish – a valuable commercial catch – have steadily become smaller, scrawnier and less valuable because of the loss of oxygen in ocean waters as a consequence of an increasingly warmer world.

Changes in climate over the last two decades have cost the fishermen of New England their jobs: their numbers have fallen by 16% since 1996 as the total catch has fallen, along with fishermen’s incomes.

The change may be linked to a natural ocean climate cycle, but nobody can be sure the decline will not continue as waters warm in response to ever higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, driven by ever greater use of fossil fuels to power modern economic growth.

That steady rise in carbon dioxide means that marine waters are also becoming steadily more acidic, and this could be bad news for the sharks. Laboratory experiments suggest they can respond to short-term changes in water chemistry, but in the long term increasingly acidic waters can begin to dissolve not just the characteristic skin scales of the shark family, but the teeth as well.

And if environmental change goes on hitting tropical corals and the anemones that co-exist with them, then one of the world’s most iconic and culturally popular species could also disappear: the clownfish sub-family Amphiprioninae may not survive the continued bleaching of the coral reefs. Amphiprion ocellaris swam into the world’s hearts as the much sought-after cartoon character in the 2003 film Finding Nemo.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year”

Scientists based in the US and Sweden report in the journal Biology Letters that the average weight of specimens of Gadus morhua or the cod fish 40 cms long had dropped from 900 to 600 grams in the last 30 years.

They examined the otoliths or ear stones of 134 individuals trawled in the last months of the Baltic winter to read the evidence from trace elements such as magnesium and manganese and identify the cause: the continued fall in sea water oxygen levels as a consequence of global warming and pollution.

“The cod themselves are telling us through their internal logbooks that they’re affected by hypoxia [reduced oxygen availability], which we know is driven by climate change and nutrient loading,” said Karin Limburg, an ecologist at the State University of New York, who led the study. “Our findings suggest fish are in a worse condition because of hypoxia.”

In the Gulf of Maine, off the US Atlantic coast, catches of fish and shellfish have been falling, and with them the number of people employed in the fishery. Kimberly Oremus of the University of Delaware reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that successive warm winters have hit the catch, and incomes.

Pattern found

She matched decades of climate data, landing figures and sales data to identify a pattern of decline linked principally to a hot-and-cold pattern of change known as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

“New England waters are among the fastest-warming in the world,” she said. “Warmer than average sea surface temperatures have been shown to impact the productivity of lobsters, sea scallops, groundfish and other fisheries important to the region, especially when they are most vulnerable, from spawning through their first year of life.”

The region has 34,000 commercial fishermen, a significant proportion of the 166,000 or so throughout the whole of the US. The oscillation is a shift in ocean temperatures over decades, and catches could improve in decades to come – but marine waters worldwide are warming.

“This is an important signal to incorporate into the fisheries management process,” she said. “We need to figure out what climate is doing to fisheries in order to cope with it.”

Acid hazard

One important part of the marine ecosystem might not in the long run be able to cope: short episodes of hypercapnia, or a dramatic rise in dissolved carbon dioxide, are a feature linked to seasonal oceanic upwellings, and can last for days in some waters before normal ocean chemistry is restored.

In the journal Scientific Reports, European and South Africa researchers offer evidence that though cartilaginous fishes – the huge and varied family to which sharks belong – have evolved to cope with such spells, ever more acidic oceans offer a new hazard.

They caught a number of puffadder shysharks, known to scientists as Haploblepharus edwardsii and a species small enough for laboratory tanks, from shallow waters off South Africa and exposed them to acidic conditions predicted by the year 2300.

The increasingly acid environment was, literally, corrosive. Their specimens lost a quarter of their skin denticles – the shark equivalent of scales. Sharks’ teeth are made of the same biological fabric as the skin, and the implication is that such losses could, in their words “compromise hydrodynamics and skin protection.” In other words, some of the ocean’s most feared predators might have trouble both swimming and feeding.

Poor adapters

Australian and US scientists have more bad news for Nemo, the film star from the clownfish family. Rather than experiment in a laboratory tank, they monitored the numbers and the DNA of real life specimens for decades in Kimbe Bay off Papua-New Guinea. As waters warmed and began to bleach the coral reefs, the anemones that live in the reefs were put at risk.

They report in Ecology Letters that the tiny clownfish that live in the anemone tentacles proved bad at adapting to environmental change. The implication is that, as the coral reefs are lost, many species could be homeless and helpless.

“We find that Nemo is at the mercy of a habitat that is degrading more and more every year,” said Serge Planes of the French National Centre of Scientific Research, and one of the authors.

“To expect a clownfish to genetically adapt at a pace that would allow it to persist is unreasonable.” And Simon Thorrold of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US added: “It seems Nemo won’t be able to save himself.” – Climate News Network

Glacial melt creates Andes time bomb

The speed of glacial melt in parts of Latin America is threatening water supplies – and life and limb in cities downstream.

LONDON, 16 December, 2019 – Rising regional temperatures in the Andes and the warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean, off Latin America’s west coast, are driving the mountains’ glacial melt to alarming new speeds.

Long-term water supplies to many millions of people are under threat. Capital cities like Lima in Peru and La Paz in Bolivia, largely dependent on water from glacier melt flows, face an uncertain future.

The prospects for agriculture – a mainstay of the economies of countries in the region – will be imperilled as land dries up.

There is another, potentially lethal consequence of the melting of the Andes’ glaciers. In 1941, large chunks of ice breaking off a glacier and falling into Lake Palcacocha, more than 4,500 metres up in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in the Peruvian Andes, are said to have triggered what’s known as a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF).

“As temperatures in the region continue to rise, the danger level increases”

The sudden influx of ice caused the lake to burst, its waters racing down a canyon to burst another glacial lake below and then on to flood the city of Huarez, more than 20 kilometres away. It’s estimated that more than 4,000 people – about a third of the city’s population at the time – were killed.

Rising temperatures caused by climate change in mountain ranges around the world are leading to an ever-increasing number of GLOF incidents. Mountainous countries like Peru and Nepal, in the Himalayas, are particularly vulnerable to the sudden flooding caused when glacial lakes burst.

In the aftermath of the 1941 flood, a dam was built on Lake Palcacocha: at first the lake slowly refilled, but in recent years the process accelerated due to increased temperatures and more glacial melt.

Flexible pipes have been used to siphon waters off from the lake but experts say it’s only a matter of time before Lake Palcacocha again bursts its banks. The dam, they say, will be swept away. The consequences would be devastating as a wave up to 30 metres tall is unleashed.

Increased population

The city of Huarez has become a big tourist destination and its population has grown to more than 120,000. Large numbers of farmers have moved onto lands below Lake Palcacocha. Mine workers are also active in the area, searching for valuable minerals in ground uncovered by the melting of the glaciers.

Various safety measures are being installed. After years of wrangling and bureaucratic delays, a flood early warning system is about to be activated in the area.

Installation of the system has also been subject to sabotage by local farmers who say that the introduction of the technology has somehow interfered with natural weather patterns.

Monitoring systems have improved – with often daily glacial avalanches being recorded. Inaigem, the national research institute on glaciers and mountain ecosystems, provides a live video of Lake Palcacocha water flows. But as temperatures in the region continue to rise, the danger level increases. – Climate News Network

The speed of glacial melt in parts of Latin America is threatening water supplies – and life and limb in cities downstream.

LONDON, 16 December, 2019 – Rising regional temperatures in the Andes and the warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean, off Latin America’s west coast, are driving the mountains’ glacial melt to alarming new speeds.

Long-term water supplies to many millions of people are under threat. Capital cities like Lima in Peru and La Paz in Bolivia, largely dependent on water from glacier melt flows, face an uncertain future.

The prospects for agriculture – a mainstay of the economies of countries in the region – will be imperilled as land dries up.

There is another, potentially lethal consequence of the melting of the Andes’ glaciers. In 1941, large chunks of ice breaking off a glacier and falling into Lake Palcacocha, more than 4,500 metres up in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in the Peruvian Andes, are said to have triggered what’s known as a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF).

“As temperatures in the region continue to rise, the danger level increases”

The sudden influx of ice caused the lake to burst, its waters racing down a canyon to burst another glacial lake below and then on to flood the city of Huarez, more than 20 kilometres away. It’s estimated that more than 4,000 people – about a third of the city’s population at the time – were killed.

Rising temperatures caused by climate change in mountain ranges around the world are leading to an ever-increasing number of GLOF incidents. Mountainous countries like Peru and Nepal, in the Himalayas, are particularly vulnerable to the sudden flooding caused when glacial lakes burst.

In the aftermath of the 1941 flood, a dam was built on Lake Palcacocha: at first the lake slowly refilled, but in recent years the process accelerated due to increased temperatures and more glacial melt.

Flexible pipes have been used to siphon waters off from the lake but experts say it’s only a matter of time before Lake Palcacocha again bursts its banks. The dam, they say, will be swept away. The consequences would be devastating as a wave up to 30 metres tall is unleashed.

Increased population

The city of Huarez has become a big tourist destination and its population has grown to more than 120,000. Large numbers of farmers have moved onto lands below Lake Palcacocha. Mine workers are also active in the area, searching for valuable minerals in ground uncovered by the melting of the glaciers.

Various safety measures are being installed. After years of wrangling and bureaucratic delays, a flood early warning system is about to be activated in the area.

Installation of the system has also been subject to sabotage by local farmers who say that the introduction of the technology has somehow interfered with natural weather patterns.

Monitoring systems have improved – with often daily glacial avalanches being recorded. Inaigem, the national research institute on glaciers and mountain ecosystems, provides a live video of Lake Palcacocha water flows. But as temperatures in the region continue to rise, the danger level increases. – Climate News Network

Worst hurricanes both more frequent and harmful

The worst hurricanes are increasing. It’s not just that there are more potential victims than before. There are also more disastrous storms.

LONDON, 3 December, 2019 – Danish researchers have settled a problem of US disaster accounting, confirming that in the last century North America’s worst hurricanes have become three times more frequent – and significantly more destructive.

Such calculations sound as though they ought to be simple. They are not. In 1900, the entire population of the planet was about 1.6 billion people, most of whom lived in rural areas. By 2018, global population had reached 7.5 billion, and more than half of the world was concentrated in cities. In effect, any hurricane would threaten more victims, and there would be more, and more expensive, property to be destroyed.

So the damage from hurricanes would tend always to rise, and the count of destructive hurricanes would grow, because any violent windstorm would be more likely to slam into an urban area rather than sweep over a few farms.

Tropical cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes start at sea, as sea surface temperatures rise. With ever-increasing global temperatures, driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels, more hurricanes would be expected, with higher windspeeds and ever-greater burdens of rain to bring disastrous floods as well as severe damage.

“The frequency of the most damaging hurricanes has increased at the rate of 350% per century”

But it is harder to show that the climate crisis is intrinsically more dangerous, even though windstorm damage is on the rise. Researchers tend to use economic accounting to try to work out what a hurricane in, for example 1950, would cost if it swept in from the ocean today.

Hurricanes are the costliest natural disasters in the US. Scientists at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen set about making their comparisons in a new way. Rather than match financial losses on a case by case basis, they tried to calculate how large an area would have to be completely destroyed to account for a particular financial loss.

They extended this “area of total destruction” accounting back to 1900, to see what the new comparison approach would reveal.

And, they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they found what they call “an emergent positive trend in damage, which we attribute to a detectable change in extreme storms due to global warming.” And they add: “The frequency of the most damaging hurricanes has increased at the rate of 350% per century.” – Climate News Network.

The worst hurricanes are increasing. It’s not just that there are more potential victims than before. There are also more disastrous storms.

LONDON, 3 December, 2019 – Danish researchers have settled a problem of US disaster accounting, confirming that in the last century North America’s worst hurricanes have become three times more frequent – and significantly more destructive.

Such calculations sound as though they ought to be simple. They are not. In 1900, the entire population of the planet was about 1.6 billion people, most of whom lived in rural areas. By 2018, global population had reached 7.5 billion, and more than half of the world was concentrated in cities. In effect, any hurricane would threaten more victims, and there would be more, and more expensive, property to be destroyed.

So the damage from hurricanes would tend always to rise, and the count of destructive hurricanes would grow, because any violent windstorm would be more likely to slam into an urban area rather than sweep over a few farms.

Tropical cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes start at sea, as sea surface temperatures rise. With ever-increasing global temperatures, driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels, more hurricanes would be expected, with higher windspeeds and ever-greater burdens of rain to bring disastrous floods as well as severe damage.

“The frequency of the most damaging hurricanes has increased at the rate of 350% per century”

But it is harder to show that the climate crisis is intrinsically more dangerous, even though windstorm damage is on the rise. Researchers tend to use economic accounting to try to work out what a hurricane in, for example 1950, would cost if it swept in from the ocean today.

Hurricanes are the costliest natural disasters in the US. Scientists at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen set about making their comparisons in a new way. Rather than match financial losses on a case by case basis, they tried to calculate how large an area would have to be completely destroyed to account for a particular financial loss.

They extended this “area of total destruction” accounting back to 1900, to see what the new comparison approach would reveal.

And, they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they found what they call “an emergent positive trend in damage, which we attribute to a detectable change in extreme storms due to global warming.” And they add: “The frequency of the most damaging hurricanes has increased at the rate of 350% per century.” – Climate News Network.

Earth nears irreversible tipping points

Changes afoot now in at least nine areas could drastically alter the Earth’s climate. There’s no time left to act on these tipping points.

LONDON, 28 November, 2019 – On the eve of a global climate summit in Madrid, seven distinguished climate scientists have issued an urgent warning of approaching planetary tipping points: within a few years, they say, humankind could enter a state of potentially catastrophic climate change on a new “hothouse” Earth.

They warn that dramatic changes to planetary stability may already be happening in nine vulnerable ecosystems. As these changes happen, they could reinforce each other and at the same time amplify planetary temperature rise, commit the oceans to inexorable sea level rise of around 10 metres, and threaten the existence of human civilisations.

Their warning is issued in a commentary in the journal Nature. Their conclusions are not – and perhaps cannot be – confirmed by direct evidence or the consensus of other scientists. They present an opinion, not a set of facts that can be scrutinised and challenged or endorsed by their peers.

And the seven researchers recognise that although such changes are happening at speed, some of the consequences of those changes will follow more slowly. Their point is that the risks of irreversible change are too great not to act – and to act now.

Happening now

But the fact that they have chosen to issue such an alarm at all is a measure of the concern raised by the rapid retreat of the Arctic ice, the steady loss of the Greenland ice cap, the damage to the boreal forests, the thaw of the polar permafrost, the slowing of a great ocean current, the loss of tropical corals and the collapse of ice sheets in East and West Antarctica.

Each of these happenings – and many more – was identified more than a decade ago as a potential “tipping point”: an irreversible change that would amplify global heating and trigger a cascade of other climate changes.

“Now we see evidence that over half of them have been activated,” said Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter, UK. “The growing threat of rapid, irreversible changes means it is no longer responsible to wait and see.”

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this”

The idea of a climate tipping point – a threshold beyond which dramatic climate change would be irreversible – is an old one. Two decades ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change examined the idea and proposed that, were the planet to warm by 5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then it could tip into a new climate regime.

But in the last few decades, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have gone from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have risen by more than 1°C. And the rate of change, driven by profligate use of fossil fuels that deposit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, has been alarming.

“It is not only human pressures on Earth that continue rising to unprecedented levels. It is also that, as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming. This is what we are seeing already at 1°C global warming,” said Johan Rockström, who directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and who is another signatory.

“Scientifically, this provides strong evidence for declaring a state of planetary emergency, to unleash world action that accelerates the path towards a world that can continue evolving on a stable planet.”

Inadequate pledges

In 2015, at a climate summit in Paris, 195 nations promised to contain planetary heating to “well below” 2°C, and ideally to 1.5°C, by 2100. But the Nature signatories point at that even if the pledges those nations made are implemented – a “big if”, they warn – then they will ensure only that the world is committed to at least 3°C warming.

The scientists believe there is still time to act – but their dangerous tipping points are now dangerously close.

The arguments go like this. In West Antarctica, ice may already be retreating beyond the “grounding line” where ice, ocean and bedrock meet. If so, then the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse, and sea levels could rise by three metres.

New evidence suggests the East Antarctic ice sheet could be similarly unstable, and precipitate further sea level rise of up to four metres. Hundreds of millions are already at risk from coastal flooding.

Timescale controlled

The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate, and once past a critical threshold could lose enough water to raise sea levels by seven metres. Even a 1.5°C warming might condemn Greenland to irreversible melting – and on present form the world could warm by 1.5°C by 2030.

“Thus we might have already committed future generations to living with sea level rises of around 10m over thousands of years. But the timescale is still under our control,” the authors warn.

They also warn that a “staggering 99% of tropical corals” could be lost if the planet heats by even 2°C – at a profound cost to both marine sea life and human economies.

They say 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost since 1970: a loss of somewhere between 20% and 40% could tip the entire rainforest into a destabilised state, increasingly at risk from drought and fire.

Risks multiply

In the boreal forests of northern Asia, Europe and Canada, insect outbreaks, fire and dieback could turn some regions into sources of more carbon, rather than sinks that soak up the extra carbon dioxide.

Permafrost thaw could release ever-greater volumes of stored methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent, over a century, than carbon dioxide, and so on. The dangers multiply, and each one amplifies planetary heating.

“If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping point cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilisation,” the authors warn.

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this.” – Climate News Network

Changes afoot now in at least nine areas could drastically alter the Earth’s climate. There’s no time left to act on these tipping points.

LONDON, 28 November, 2019 – On the eve of a global climate summit in Madrid, seven distinguished climate scientists have issued an urgent warning of approaching planetary tipping points: within a few years, they say, humankind could enter a state of potentially catastrophic climate change on a new “hothouse” Earth.

They warn that dramatic changes to planetary stability may already be happening in nine vulnerable ecosystems. As these changes happen, they could reinforce each other and at the same time amplify planetary temperature rise, commit the oceans to inexorable sea level rise of around 10 metres, and threaten the existence of human civilisations.

Their warning is issued in a commentary in the journal Nature. Their conclusions are not – and perhaps cannot be – confirmed by direct evidence or the consensus of other scientists. They present an opinion, not a set of facts that can be scrutinised and challenged or endorsed by their peers.

And the seven researchers recognise that although such changes are happening at speed, some of the consequences of those changes will follow more slowly. Their point is that the risks of irreversible change are too great not to act – and to act now.

Happening now

But the fact that they have chosen to issue such an alarm at all is a measure of the concern raised by the rapid retreat of the Arctic ice, the steady loss of the Greenland ice cap, the damage to the boreal forests, the thaw of the polar permafrost, the slowing of a great ocean current, the loss of tropical corals and the collapse of ice sheets in East and West Antarctica.

Each of these happenings – and many more – was identified more than a decade ago as a potential “tipping point”: an irreversible change that would amplify global heating and trigger a cascade of other climate changes.

“Now we see evidence that over half of them have been activated,” said Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter, UK. “The growing threat of rapid, irreversible changes means it is no longer responsible to wait and see.”

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this”

The idea of a climate tipping point – a threshold beyond which dramatic climate change would be irreversible – is an old one. Two decades ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change examined the idea and proposed that, were the planet to warm by 5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then it could tip into a new climate regime.

But in the last few decades, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have gone from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have risen by more than 1°C. And the rate of change, driven by profligate use of fossil fuels that deposit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, has been alarming.

“It is not only human pressures on Earth that continue rising to unprecedented levels. It is also that, as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming. This is what we are seeing already at 1°C global warming,” said Johan Rockström, who directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and who is another signatory.

“Scientifically, this provides strong evidence for declaring a state of planetary emergency, to unleash world action that accelerates the path towards a world that can continue evolving on a stable planet.”

Inadequate pledges

In 2015, at a climate summit in Paris, 195 nations promised to contain planetary heating to “well below” 2°C, and ideally to 1.5°C, by 2100. But the Nature signatories point at that even if the pledges those nations made are implemented – a “big if”, they warn – then they will ensure only that the world is committed to at least 3°C warming.

The scientists believe there is still time to act – but their dangerous tipping points are now dangerously close.

The arguments go like this. In West Antarctica, ice may already be retreating beyond the “grounding line” where ice, ocean and bedrock meet. If so, then the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse, and sea levels could rise by three metres.

New evidence suggests the East Antarctic ice sheet could be similarly unstable, and precipitate further sea level rise of up to four metres. Hundreds of millions are already at risk from coastal flooding.

Timescale controlled

The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate, and once past a critical threshold could lose enough water to raise sea levels by seven metres. Even a 1.5°C warming might condemn Greenland to irreversible melting – and on present form the world could warm by 1.5°C by 2030.

“Thus we might have already committed future generations to living with sea level rises of around 10m over thousands of years. But the timescale is still under our control,” the authors warn.

They also warn that a “staggering 99% of tropical corals” could be lost if the planet heats by even 2°C – at a profound cost to both marine sea life and human economies.

They say 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost since 1970: a loss of somewhere between 20% and 40% could tip the entire rainforest into a destabilised state, increasingly at risk from drought and fire.

Risks multiply

In the boreal forests of northern Asia, Europe and Canada, insect outbreaks, fire and dieback could turn some regions into sources of more carbon, rather than sinks that soak up the extra carbon dioxide.

Permafrost thaw could release ever-greater volumes of stored methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent, over a century, than carbon dioxide, and so on. The dangers multiply, and each one amplifies planetary heating.

“If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping point cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilisation,” the authors warn.

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this.” – Climate News Network

Arctic’s oldest ice shows signs of change

There’s change afoot even where scientists least expect it, among the Arctic’s oldest ice. If it goes, so does the wildlife.

LONDON, 21 November, 2019 – Stretches of the Arctic’s oldest ice, and its thickest – the last refuge ice that should survive even when the Arctic Ocean technically becomes ice-free in summers later this century – are now disappearing twice as fast as the rest of the Arctic icecap.

Although the north polar ice is vulnerable to global heating, and has been thinning and retreating at an accelerating rate for the last 40 summers, researchers have always expected some winter ice to survive: they define an “ice-free Arctic Ocean” as one with less than 1 million square kilometres of surviving ice pack.

But this supposedly ancient remnant of the polar winters, concentrated north of Greenland and the Canadian polar archipelago, is showing signs of change.

Researchers do not explicitly finger climate change driven by ever-greater human use of fossil fuels as the direct agent of this change: this is an area of polar ice difficult to observe and explore, is little known, and may always have been subject to change.

“This area will be a refuge where species can survive and hopefully expand their regions once the ice starts returning”

But scientists know why it is important. From submarine algae to polar bears, an entire Arctic ecosystem is dependent on the ice sheet. As the ice disappears, so will the seals, and their predators too.

Conservation-minded governments that want to establish protected areas need to know where protection will work best. “Eventually, the Last Ice Area will be the region that will repopulate the Arctic with wildlife,” said Kent Moore of the University of Toronto in Canada. “This area will be a refuge where species can survive and hopefully expand their regions once the ice starts returning.”

Dr Moore and his colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they used computer models and satellite observation data to build up a picture of what they call “spatiotemporal variability” in their Last Ice Area.

They found two distinct places where ice thickness fluctuated by up to 1.2 metres from year to year. In some patches, the ice was thinning by the decade: a loss of 1.5 metres since the late 1970s.

No monolith

Most north polar ice is youthful: seldom more than four years old. The Last Ice Area is certainly more than five years old, and has been measured at a thickness of four metres. It is not a static region: ice moves with the ocean beneath it.

And even the levels of melting are affected by natural cyclic ocean shifts as well as higher temperatures fuelled by greenhouse gas build-up in the atmosphere.

The race is on to understand the forces at work in what might be – one day – the only surviving ice in the polar summer.

“We can’t treat the Last Ice Area as a monolithic area of ice which is going to last a long time,” said Dr Moore. “There’s actually lots of regional variability.” – Climate News Network

There’s change afoot even where scientists least expect it, among the Arctic’s oldest ice. If it goes, so does the wildlife.

LONDON, 21 November, 2019 – Stretches of the Arctic’s oldest ice, and its thickest – the last refuge ice that should survive even when the Arctic Ocean technically becomes ice-free in summers later this century – are now disappearing twice as fast as the rest of the Arctic icecap.

Although the north polar ice is vulnerable to global heating, and has been thinning and retreating at an accelerating rate for the last 40 summers, researchers have always expected some winter ice to survive: they define an “ice-free Arctic Ocean” as one with less than 1 million square kilometres of surviving ice pack.

But this supposedly ancient remnant of the polar winters, concentrated north of Greenland and the Canadian polar archipelago, is showing signs of change.

Researchers do not explicitly finger climate change driven by ever-greater human use of fossil fuels as the direct agent of this change: this is an area of polar ice difficult to observe and explore, is little known, and may always have been subject to change.

“This area will be a refuge where species can survive and hopefully expand their regions once the ice starts returning”

But scientists know why it is important. From submarine algae to polar bears, an entire Arctic ecosystem is dependent on the ice sheet. As the ice disappears, so will the seals, and their predators too.

Conservation-minded governments that want to establish protected areas need to know where protection will work best. “Eventually, the Last Ice Area will be the region that will repopulate the Arctic with wildlife,” said Kent Moore of the University of Toronto in Canada. “This area will be a refuge where species can survive and hopefully expand their regions once the ice starts returning.”

Dr Moore and his colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they used computer models and satellite observation data to build up a picture of what they call “spatiotemporal variability” in their Last Ice Area.

They found two distinct places where ice thickness fluctuated by up to 1.2 metres from year to year. In some patches, the ice was thinning by the decade: a loss of 1.5 metres since the late 1970s.

No monolith

Most north polar ice is youthful: seldom more than four years old. The Last Ice Area is certainly more than five years old, and has been measured at a thickness of four metres. It is not a static region: ice moves with the ocean beneath it.

And even the levels of melting are affected by natural cyclic ocean shifts as well as higher temperatures fuelled by greenhouse gas build-up in the atmosphere.

The race is on to understand the forces at work in what might be – one day – the only surviving ice in the polar summer.

“We can’t treat the Last Ice Area as a monolithic area of ice which is going to last a long time,” said Dr Moore. “There’s actually lots of regional variability.” – Climate News Network

Greenhouse gases drive Australia’s bushfires

Australia’s bushfires are feeding on heat from the climate change happening in the tropics, but its government doesn’t want to know.

NEW SOUTH WALES, 14 November, 2019 − Australia has earned a formidable reputation for being the driest and most agriculturally disappointing continent on Earth. Droughts and floods have followed each other like day and night, spawning a laconic and resilient breed of agriculturalists known for taking climatic adversity and variability in their stride.

Everyone in the industry believes both good and bad times are cyclical, each replacing the other. The continent is surrounded by three oceans which, depending on their temperature fluxes, deliver or deny precious rainfall, as moisture-bearing ocean winds blow either toward the continent or away.

A knowledge of the state of each ocean can help farmers to understand how long it will be before the situation changes. Preparation for the next drought in good times is a no-brainer and is supported with Government policy. Water supply augmentation systems, fodder storage and stockpiling money are modern tricks used by graziers to abate the ravages of drought.

That’s been the traditional pattern. This year, though, after three consecutive failed springs in eastern Australia, there’s a level of despair which is taking an enormous toll on families, businesses and ecosystems. Farming communities are suffering mental anguish as they run out of options.

We haven’t seen the usual cyclical return to wetter seasons. No-one has ever seen the likes of this drought and no-one knows when it will end. We are out of tricks, out of water and out of feed.

Livestock breeding herds  and flocks that have taken generations to build are now depleted because the only option is to send them to slaughter. It’s unclear anyway whether there’ll be sufficient fodder-grade grain to keep them alive.

Breadbasket on fire

Modern cropping systems are designed to store soil moisture until the next crop can be planted. But in the bread basket of the nation, soil moisture is now at record lows, and severe bush fires ravage the landscape.

As I write this in the second week of November, we’re in the third day of gale-force winds, high temperatures and low humidity. The sky is full of dust, smoke and fire-fighting aircraft, when we should be planning what to do with excess stock feed.

Yesterday the government announced further assistance to farmers, in the billions. But the problem is that the federal government will not acknowledge there is a climate problem at all, let alone a catastrophe.

Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack aroused anger when he dismissed the possibility of climate change causing the crisis as the ravings of “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians. “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began”, he said.

Our understanding of the climatic drivers of this drought has been severely challenged. The Pacific Ocean is in a neutral phase, so ENSO is not a major issue. The Southern Ocean is in a negative mode, which should bring rain-bearing westerlies at least to southern Australia. But the Indian Ocean is in a phase which prevents tropical moisture inflow.

“The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases”

None of these by itself is enough to produce a drought as long and intense as this. In some places it is in its eighth year, and mostly at least the third. On our farm less than half of the annual rainfall of the previous worst year so far has been recorded. Apart from an intense La Niña in 2010-2011 there have been no significantly wet or average years this century.

In 2010 a report was released by a government agency, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, which showed conclusively that there has been a serious and persistent decline in rainfall in southwestern and more recently southeastern Australia. It is clearly visible, it is anthropogenic in nature, and its mechanism can be easily understood by non-scientists. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology published an update on this year’s drought in September.

Superimposed on the oceans’ tableau is a natural phenomenon known as the Sub-Tropical Ridge (STR). This is a belt of high atmospheric pressure which encircles the planet at about 35 degrees of latitude in both hemispheres, where many of the world’s deserts occur. This high pressure is caused by the descent of cool dry air at these latitudes.

This air originated in the tropics, rose, rained out and then descended, depleted of moisture. Meteorologists call this cycle the Hadley Circulation.

The trouble is that the dry high pressure cells are becoming more frequent and more intense because of growing heating in the sub-tropics, which are increasing in aridity.

Heat blocks rains

Until now, though, it was happening slowly enough for no-one to notice. However, recent analysis can now detect the signature as far back as the World War Two drought.

The STR is like a string of pearls under high pressure, with the gaps allowing rain-bearing systems to penetrate from either the tropics or the poles. But now the extra heat caused by climate change in the tropics is making the highs more frequent and more intense.

It is now a regular feature of Australian weather that rain-bearing fronts are pushed to the south and rarely penetrate the persistent highs. Similar changes have been seen in the northern hemisphere in southern Europe and California.

There is a direct linear relationship between these changes and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases.

This should have been front-page news at least in the agricultural press, but instead the news is about government handouts to needy farmers.

Worse in store

So it looks as if the plight of Australian agriculture is set to worsen because of the tropical oceanic heating. The strengthening STR is not an oceanic phenomenon, but an atmospheric one, so its effects are not as apparent to the casual observer. Nevertheless, it seems to be putting the already nasty changes of the oceans on steroids.

Somehow we need to persuade the government that as well as providing welfare, and mitigation strategies, we have to stop venting novel carbon dioxide and avoid exposing Australian agriculture to the ravages of an angry atmosphere.

Yet there are now two strong reasons why governments in Australia will not acknowledge that the drought is attributable to climate change. Firstly, at the last election, there was an enormous voter backlash against proponents of the closure of coal mining.

Secondly, there is political mileage to be grafted out of massive welfare payments to the agricultural community. There is no doubt that there is enormous hardship in the sector, but you need to wonder whether they can see a connection between budgetary pain and carbon policy, or whether any government has sought briefing on the matter.

Clearly courage and leadership matching that required in warfare is needed to address this dreadful situation. Instead we have cowardice and schizophrenia. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Burgess is a sheep farmer in New South Wales whose family has raised animals in the same area for more than a century. He has now sold his farm because he finds the drought has made his work and survival there impossible.

Australia’s bushfires are feeding on heat from the climate change happening in the tropics, but its government doesn’t want to know.

NEW SOUTH WALES, 14 November, 2019 − Australia has earned a formidable reputation for being the driest and most agriculturally disappointing continent on Earth. Droughts and floods have followed each other like day and night, spawning a laconic and resilient breed of agriculturalists known for taking climatic adversity and variability in their stride.

Everyone in the industry believes both good and bad times are cyclical, each replacing the other. The continent is surrounded by three oceans which, depending on their temperature fluxes, deliver or deny precious rainfall, as moisture-bearing ocean winds blow either toward the continent or away.

A knowledge of the state of each ocean can help farmers to understand how long it will be before the situation changes. Preparation for the next drought in good times is a no-brainer and is supported with Government policy. Water supply augmentation systems, fodder storage and stockpiling money are modern tricks used by graziers to abate the ravages of drought.

That’s been the traditional pattern. This year, though, after three consecutive failed springs in eastern Australia, there’s a level of despair which is taking an enormous toll on families, businesses and ecosystems. Farming communities are suffering mental anguish as they run out of options.

We haven’t seen the usual cyclical return to wetter seasons. No-one has ever seen the likes of this drought and no-one knows when it will end. We are out of tricks, out of water and out of feed.

Livestock breeding herds  and flocks that have taken generations to build are now depleted because the only option is to send them to slaughter. It’s unclear anyway whether there’ll be sufficient fodder-grade grain to keep them alive.

Breadbasket on fire

Modern cropping systems are designed to store soil moisture until the next crop can be planted. But in the bread basket of the nation, soil moisture is now at record lows, and severe bush fires ravage the landscape.

As I write this in the second week of November, we’re in the third day of gale-force winds, high temperatures and low humidity. The sky is full of dust, smoke and fire-fighting aircraft, when we should be planning what to do with excess stock feed.

Yesterday the government announced further assistance to farmers, in the billions. But the problem is that the federal government will not acknowledge there is a climate problem at all, let alone a catastrophe.

Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack aroused anger when he dismissed the possibility of climate change causing the crisis as the ravings of “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians. “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began”, he said.

Our understanding of the climatic drivers of this drought has been severely challenged. The Pacific Ocean is in a neutral phase, so ENSO is not a major issue. The Southern Ocean is in a negative mode, which should bring rain-bearing westerlies at least to southern Australia. But the Indian Ocean is in a phase which prevents tropical moisture inflow.

“The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases”

None of these by itself is enough to produce a drought as long and intense as this. In some places it is in its eighth year, and mostly at least the third. On our farm less than half of the annual rainfall of the previous worst year so far has been recorded. Apart from an intense La Niña in 2010-2011 there have been no significantly wet or average years this century.

In 2010 a report was released by a government agency, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, which showed conclusively that there has been a serious and persistent decline in rainfall in southwestern and more recently southeastern Australia. It is clearly visible, it is anthropogenic in nature, and its mechanism can be easily understood by non-scientists. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology published an update on this year’s drought in September.

Superimposed on the oceans’ tableau is a natural phenomenon known as the Sub-Tropical Ridge (STR). This is a belt of high atmospheric pressure which encircles the planet at about 35 degrees of latitude in both hemispheres, where many of the world’s deserts occur. This high pressure is caused by the descent of cool dry air at these latitudes.

This air originated in the tropics, rose, rained out and then descended, depleted of moisture. Meteorologists call this cycle the Hadley Circulation.

The trouble is that the dry high pressure cells are becoming more frequent and more intense because of growing heating in the sub-tropics, which are increasing in aridity.

Heat blocks rains

Until now, though, it was happening slowly enough for no-one to notice. However, recent analysis can now detect the signature as far back as the World War Two drought.

The STR is like a string of pearls under high pressure, with the gaps allowing rain-bearing systems to penetrate from either the tropics or the poles. But now the extra heat caused by climate change in the tropics is making the highs more frequent and more intense.

It is now a regular feature of Australian weather that rain-bearing fronts are pushed to the south and rarely penetrate the persistent highs. Similar changes have been seen in the northern hemisphere in southern Europe and California.

There is a direct linear relationship between these changes and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases.

This should have been front-page news at least in the agricultural press, but instead the news is about government handouts to needy farmers.

Worse in store

So it looks as if the plight of Australian agriculture is set to worsen because of the tropical oceanic heating. The strengthening STR is not an oceanic phenomenon, but an atmospheric one, so its effects are not as apparent to the casual observer. Nevertheless, it seems to be putting the already nasty changes of the oceans on steroids.

Somehow we need to persuade the government that as well as providing welfare, and mitigation strategies, we have to stop venting novel carbon dioxide and avoid exposing Australian agriculture to the ravages of an angry atmosphere.

Yet there are now two strong reasons why governments in Australia will not acknowledge that the drought is attributable to climate change. Firstly, at the last election, there was an enormous voter backlash against proponents of the closure of coal mining.

Secondly, there is political mileage to be grafted out of massive welfare payments to the agricultural community. There is no doubt that there is enormous hardship in the sector, but you need to wonder whether they can see a connection between budgetary pain and carbon policy, or whether any government has sought briefing on the matter.

Clearly courage and leadership matching that required in warfare is needed to address this dreadful situation. Instead we have cowardice and schizophrenia. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Burgess is a sheep farmer in New South Wales whose family has raised animals in the same area for more than a century. He has now sold his farm because he finds the drought has made his work and survival there impossible.

Rising heat drives hungry people to hospital

When the heat is on, hospital admissions rise for already undernourished and hungry people. As the mercury rises, so do the case loads.

LONDON, 6 November, 2019 – Australian and Chinese scientists have identified a new hazard in the summer heat waves – more undernourished and hungry people are driven into hospitals.

They combed the records of Brazil’s hospitals, matched them against temperature readings and found that for every 1°C increase in temperature, there was a 2.5% increase in hospital admissions for undernutrition.

Undernutrition is defined as “inadequate intake of energy and nutrients to meet an individual’s needs to maintain good health.” That is: with extremes of heat come the ravages of hunger. The researchers also found that the very young and the very old were the most vulnerable.

Undernutrition is a global public health concern, especially in the low- and middle-income nations. In 2016, around 420 million adults of 20 years and more, and 192 million children and adolescents between 5 and 19, were underweight.

Of children under 5 years of age, 150 million were stunted, and 52 million were wasted. Around 45% of deaths of children under 5 were associated with undernutrition.

“The malnourished are more often from the poorest communities: they cannot stay indoors with the air-conditioning switched on”

And now the climate emergency, which brings with it ever greater extremes of heat, could make a global problem even worse.

Quite how dangerous heat and dangerous hunger are linked is uncertain, but the researchers report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Medicine that they have confirmed that the link is a real one.

Yuming Guo of Monash University in Australia and colleagues gathered data from the 5,570 cities in Brazil’s unified health system from January 2000 to December 2015. However, they included data only from the 1,814 cities – with more than 78% of Brazil’s population, in five regions – that could produce 16 complete years of records.

They had already established that hospital admissions rose with the thermometer. This time they established that one in six of the hospitalisations for undernutrition – that is, 37,129 cases – could be attributed to heat exposure. This proportion had risen from 14% in 2000 to 17.5% in 2015, during which time average temperatures rose by 1.1°C.

Spreading heat extremes

The links between heat and health have been repeatedly confirmed. Heat extremes, driven by global average temperature rises, in turn powered by profligate fossil fuel use, are on the increase: by the end of the century, they will be more intense, more frequent and more prolonged. And by the end of the century, three-fourths of the world could be at potentially lethal risk from the baking days and sweltering nights.

Researchers have repeatedly established that extremes of heat can affect harvest yields, and that high growing season temperatures, driven by ever higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, can reduce protein and vital nutrient levels in crops, to amplify global hunger and malnourishment. One research group even catalogued 27 ways in which heat extremes could kill.

These are long-term consequences. What the latest study does is put a measure to the short-term effect of heat upon illness linked to undernourishment. How the connection works is – the scientists concede – “not well understood.”

They suggest that high temperatures could reduce appetites, provoke more alcohol consumption, or reduce motivation to shop and cook, which would make any existing under-nutrition even worse. They also think that the sweltering heat could worsen already-impaired digestion and increase the frequencies of gastroenteritis.

Less healthy targeted

And, of course, those already undernourished are less healthy and less able to naturally regulate their own body temperatures. Finally, the malnourished are more often from the poorest communities: they cannot stay indoors with the air-conditioning switched on.

There could be many factors. But one thing is clear: heatwaves most harm those already less healthy because of undernutrition. By 2050, climate change could reduce global food supplies by more than 3% and cause around 30,000 underweight-related deaths.

But, the researchers warn, this now looks like an under-estimate, because it does not take into account the short-term and direct effects of temperature rise on future undernutrition-related morbidity and mortality.

“This direct, short-term effect will be increasingly important with global warning,” the scientists warn. – Climate News Network

When the heat is on, hospital admissions rise for already undernourished and hungry people. As the mercury rises, so do the case loads.

LONDON, 6 November, 2019 – Australian and Chinese scientists have identified a new hazard in the summer heat waves – more undernourished and hungry people are driven into hospitals.

They combed the records of Brazil’s hospitals, matched them against temperature readings and found that for every 1°C increase in temperature, there was a 2.5% increase in hospital admissions for undernutrition.

Undernutrition is defined as “inadequate intake of energy and nutrients to meet an individual’s needs to maintain good health.” That is: with extremes of heat come the ravages of hunger. The researchers also found that the very young and the very old were the most vulnerable.

Undernutrition is a global public health concern, especially in the low- and middle-income nations. In 2016, around 420 million adults of 20 years and more, and 192 million children and adolescents between 5 and 19, were underweight.

Of children under 5 years of age, 150 million were stunted, and 52 million were wasted. Around 45% of deaths of children under 5 were associated with undernutrition.

“The malnourished are more often from the poorest communities: they cannot stay indoors with the air-conditioning switched on”

And now the climate emergency, which brings with it ever greater extremes of heat, could make a global problem even worse.

Quite how dangerous heat and dangerous hunger are linked is uncertain, but the researchers report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Medicine that they have confirmed that the link is a real one.

Yuming Guo of Monash University in Australia and colleagues gathered data from the 5,570 cities in Brazil’s unified health system from January 2000 to December 2015. However, they included data only from the 1,814 cities – with more than 78% of Brazil’s population, in five regions – that could produce 16 complete years of records.

They had already established that hospital admissions rose with the thermometer. This time they established that one in six of the hospitalisations for undernutrition – that is, 37,129 cases – could be attributed to heat exposure. This proportion had risen from 14% in 2000 to 17.5% in 2015, during which time average temperatures rose by 1.1°C.

Spreading heat extremes

The links between heat and health have been repeatedly confirmed. Heat extremes, driven by global average temperature rises, in turn powered by profligate fossil fuel use, are on the increase: by the end of the century, they will be more intense, more frequent and more prolonged. And by the end of the century, three-fourths of the world could be at potentially lethal risk from the baking days and sweltering nights.

Researchers have repeatedly established that extremes of heat can affect harvest yields, and that high growing season temperatures, driven by ever higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, can reduce protein and vital nutrient levels in crops, to amplify global hunger and malnourishment. One research group even catalogued 27 ways in which heat extremes could kill.

These are long-term consequences. What the latest study does is put a measure to the short-term effect of heat upon illness linked to undernourishment. How the connection works is – the scientists concede – “not well understood.”

They suggest that high temperatures could reduce appetites, provoke more alcohol consumption, or reduce motivation to shop and cook, which would make any existing under-nutrition even worse. They also think that the sweltering heat could worsen already-impaired digestion and increase the frequencies of gastroenteritis.

Less healthy targeted

And, of course, those already undernourished are less healthy and less able to naturally regulate their own body temperatures. Finally, the malnourished are more often from the poorest communities: they cannot stay indoors with the air-conditioning switched on.

There could be many factors. But one thing is clear: heatwaves most harm those already less healthy because of undernutrition. By 2050, climate change could reduce global food supplies by more than 3% and cause around 30,000 underweight-related deaths.

But, the researchers warn, this now looks like an under-estimate, because it does not take into account the short-term and direct effects of temperature rise on future undernutrition-related morbidity and mortality.

“This direct, short-term effect will be increasingly important with global warning,” the scientists warn. – 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