Earth: Crossing Into Danger

From the always worrisome Earthweek: January 23

An international team of 18 researchers warns that a potent combination of human activities has pushed four of the planet’s nine ecological boundaries into “danger zones,” threatening life on Earth.

The four boundaries that have been crossed are climate change, loss of biodiversity, improvident land use and an altered nitrogen cycle due in part to fertilizer use.

“For the first time in human history, we need to relate to the risk of destabilizing the entire planet,” study author Johan Rockström of Stockholm University told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Enormous Ocean Die Off and Hottest Year in Recorded History

Like kids playing with matches in a barn full of hay, we have been warned repeatedly.  But we just can’t quit.  Something about the excitement of risk, perhaps.  Now, again, it comes:

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science. … humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

Just a few examples:

Coral reefs, for example, have declined by 40 percent worldwide, partly as a result of climate-change-driven warming.

Some fish are migrating to cooler waters already. Black sea bass, once most common off the coast of Virginia, have moved up to New Jersey. Less fortunate species may not be able to find new ranges. At the same time, carbon emissions are altering the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic.

“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.”

Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are projected to provide most of the fish we consume within 20 years.  NY Times

Timeline of Defaunation

Timeline of Defaunation (click for full)

Humans have profoundly decreased the abundance of both large (e.g., whales) and small (e.g., anchovies) marine fauna. Such declines can generate waves of ecological change that travel both up and down ma­rine food webs and can alter ocean ecosystem functioning. Human harvesters have also been a major force of evolutionary change in the oceans and have reshaped the genetic structure of marine animal populations. Climate change threatens to accelerate marine defaunation over the next century.

Says the abstract at Science

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And, methane emissions from the well-fed conferees at climate change conferences are adding to the warming problem…

Last year was the hottest in earth’s recorded history, scientists reported on Friday, underscoring scientific warnings about the risks of runaway emissions and undermining claims by climate-change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped.

Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States last year. Several European countries set temperature records. And the ocean surface was unusually warm virtually everywhere except around Antarctica, the scientists said, providing the energy that fueled damaging Pacific storms.

In the annals of climatology, 2014 now surpasses 2010 as the warmest year in a global temperature record that stretches back to 1880. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997, a reflection of the relentless planetary warming that scientists say is a consequence of human emissions …  NY Times

Warmest Year Ever and Going Higher

Hate the soundtrack, hate the visuals, hate the extremism of ignorance….

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A Japanese team has confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on record. Moreover, ten of the warmest years have occurred since 1998.

What the scientists are measuring is that average temperature of the earth’s surface, including the oceans, throughout the world. Thus, the cold winter in North America last year was offset by torrid temperatures in California, Australia, Europe and in the Pacific Ocean. 2014 was a startling half a degree F. warmer than the 20th century average.

The earth has not warmed so quickly in millions of years, and perhaps not since its volatile beginnings 4.5 billion years ago. While there have been previous epochs in which the parts per million of carbon dioxide spiked, mostly because of volcanic activity, it did not happen so rapidly but rather over hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.  Read ALL

Led-ites in Copenhagen

On a day of otherwise ghastly leading news — The Senate summary of their CIA Torture Report -- take a moment to applaud one city’s efforts to reach a carbon zero stage by the year 2025: Copenhagen.

COPENHAGEN — On a busy road in the center of town here, a string of green lights embedded in the bike path — the “Green Wave” — flashes on, helping cyclists avoid red traffic lights.

On a main artery into the city, truck drivers can see on smartphones when the next light will change. And in a nearby suburb, new LED streetlights brighten only as vehicles approach, dimming once they pass.

Aimed at saving money, cutting the use of fossil fuels and easing mobility, the installations are part of a growing wireless network of streetlamps and sensors that officials hope will help this city of roughly 1.2 million meet its ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

Eventually, the network will serve other functions, like alerting the sanitation department to empty the trash cans and informing bikers of the quietest or fastest route to their destinations.  NY Times

The city is also testing systems to prioritize buses or bikes over cars at intersections during certain hours, and has already installed one that flashes a warning to truck drivers in a right-turn lane when cyclists are present. ….

Good stuff and other cities are seeing the light, Los Angeles, for example

…has almost completed the switch to outdoor LED lighting and is using sensors embedded in the pavement to detect traffic congestion and synchronize signals.

Ecosystem Services

James Surowiecki of the New Yorker, brings to our attention the concept of wealthy countries paying for ‘ecosystem services’ as one tool in the vast array needed to mitigate climate change and associated environmental destruction.  As in many things, Norway is showing by example.

It was notable when Norway announced a deal with Liberia: Norway will give Liberia up to a hundred and fifty million dollars in aid, in exchange for which Liberia will work to stop the rapid destruction of its trees.

Liberia has much of what remains of West Africa’s rain forest, but logging is rampant. The initiative is not an act of charity but a trade: Liberia gets income, which it needs; Norway gets to preserve biodiversity and take a small step against climate change. A similar deal that Norway struck with Brazil years ago helped slow deforestation there. Economists call arrangements of this kind “payments for ecosystem services,” and they follow a rationale known as the Coase theorem. In 1960, the economist Ronald Coase argued that bargaining between parties could, under certain conditions, produce a mutually beneficial and efficient solution to problems like pollution. Trying to force Liberia to stop chopping down trees (by using, say, sanctions) would be high-handed and probably ineffective. Paying Liberia to do so makes both sides better off.

… For the West, which is historically responsible for most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today, paying developing countries to make the transition away from carbon is not only the right thing to do but also squarely in our self-interest. Greenhouse gases emitted in Africa harm us as much as those emitted here. “If Africa just burns the coal and oil that it has at home in order to industrialize, it’ll do trillions of dollars of damage…

Good, thoughtful stuff

Missing Heat Hiding in the Southern Oceans

Those who have done the science know that CO2 drives rising temperatures on earth. They’ve been puzzled, though, about why the predicted rises in the atmosphere have been greater than measurements show.  Those who don’t do, and don’t believe in science, have crowed that the un-met predictions show that a con-job is being run.

Sadly, no.  New findings of water temperature in the remote southern seas show the heat is hiding there.

Research published Sunday concluded that the upper 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought. Gathering reliable ocean data in the Southern Hemisphere has historically been a challenge, given its remoteness and its relative paucity of commercial shipping, which helps gather ocean data…

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“We continue to be stunned at how rapidly the ocean is warming,” said Sarah Gille, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor. Gille was not involved with this paper, nor was she involved with a similar one published Sunday that examined the role of ocean warming in rising sea levels. She described both of them as “tremendously interesting” studies.

“Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, we’d still have an ocean that is warmer than the ocean of 1950, and that heat commits us to a warmer climate,” Gille said. “Extra heat means extra sea level rise, since warmer water is less dense, so a warmer ocean expands.”

Ocean warming is exacerbating flooding caused by the melting of glaciers and other ice. Seas have risen 8 inches since the industrial revolution, and they continue to rise at a hastening pace, worsening floods and boosting storm surges near shorelines around the world. Another 2 to 7 feet of sea level rise is forecast this century, jeoparizing the homes and neighborhoods of the 5 million Americans who live less than 4 feet above high tide, as well as those of the hundreds of millions living along coastlines in other countries.

Climate Central

The report Nature Climate Change, here

Rising Waters Sagging Cities

Walking in barefeet through three inches of water on a bayfront drive may seem like a lark to the young — once or twice in a childhood.  When that water comes in a dozen times, when cars can’t get through, when basements flood, when foundations begin to shift in muddy jelly, it’s no longer fun.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report today based on tidal gauges in 52 sites along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts that not only show a marked increase in coastal flooding since the 1970s but project much more.

From the Executive Summary:

To analyze how often flooding now occurs at locations along the East and Gulf Coasts—and the frequency and extent of flooding that communities along these coasts can expect, on average, 15 and 30 years from now—we relied on 52 tidegauges from Portland, ME, to Freeport, TX. We limited our analysis to locations where flooding thresholds, defined at the gauges, correlate well with coastal flood advisories issued by the National Weather Service.

Annapolis, MD, in December 2012, when wind, rain, and high tides combined to cause disruptive flooding

Annapolis, MD, in December 2012, when wind, rain, and high tides combined to cause disruptive flooding

Our analysis shows that many East Coast communities now see dozens of tidal floods each year. Some of these communities have seen a fourfold increase in the annual number of days with tidal flooding since 1970.

Using a mid-range scenario for future sea level rise, we find that, by 2030, more than half of the 52 communities we analyzed on the East and Gulf Coasts can expect to average more than two dozen tidal floods per year. The rise in the frequency of tidal flooding by 2030 represents an extremely steep increase for some, and two-thirds could see a tripling or more in the number of high-tide floods each year.

Executive Summary

Al Jazeera has a good report

Or, as the Washington Post, eye on local concerns, has it:

Daily flooding caused by high tides will occur in the District and Annapolis within three decades as sea levels continue to rise due to global warming, a new study says

Algae to Diesel: The Next Big Thing?

I’ve posted about Algae Systems before and am glad to see the New York Times picking up on what is going on in Mobile Bay.  Besides having an interest in another tool to slow the saturation of the atmosphere with CO2 I have a personal interest: my brother is part of the development team. [The big floating greenhouses are his design and implementation.]

Climate Algae Systems

…a Nevada company, Algae Systems, has a pilot plant in Alabama that, it says, can turn a profit making diesel fuel from algae by simultaneously performing three other tasks: making clean water from municipal sewage (which it uses to fertilize the algae), using the carbon-heavy residue as fertilizer and generating valuable credits for advanced biofuels.

If it works, the company says, the process will remove more carbon from the atmosphere than is added when the fuel is burned.

NY Times:Matthew Wald

Hope this proves out… the preliminary, 1/2 scale model seems to be working. Now, on to a full-scale beta, perhaps on a Pacific island which needs an energy source and can provide warm water, human waste and not too many hurricanes!

Fire Season In Full Flame

The Year to date fire statistics for 2014 are gaining fast on those of previous years though it looks like 2011 with over 6 million acres and 2006 with over 74 thousand separate fires will continue to hold the leads in those unhappy categories.

Climate Fires Statistics

 

The Lodge Fire in Mendocino County, a couple of hours north of San Francisco, has bitten 8 firefighters and is still burning — over 8,500 acres as of Sunday morning.

Further north in Siskiyou county two fires are burning, and it’s not rain but wind coming in to make things more difficult.

In Washington State, 12 fires are burning and in Oregon there are 9 with the biggest, the South Fork complex has roasted 63,500 acres.

Rowena Fire, August 2014, Moving towards the Dalles, Oregon

Rowena Fire, August 2014, Moving towards the Dalles, Oregon

I know, I know, some fire is good some of the time, and many homes should not be built in fire-prone areas, but I’d like to see the stats for rise in local temperature against rise in local fires. With every tenth of a degree rise in average daily temperature, the evaporation rate from leaves has got to increase, leaving the trees drier and closer to kindling…

Fools at the Fire

Timothy Egan has a trenchant piece in the NY Times on Thursday, Aug 7: Fools at the Fire

…it seems as if half of Washington State is on fire. Smoke, devastation, ashen orchards of charred fruit, standing dead pines. More than 250,000 acres have burned in the largest fire in the state’s history, the Carlton Complex. About 300 homes have been destroyed. A small army of firefighters, at a cost of $50 million so far, is trying to hold the beast in the perimeter, between days when the mercury tops 100 degrees.

Climate Change Fire Washington

Smart foresters had been warning for years that climate change, drought and stress would lead to bigger, longer, hotter wildfires. They offered remedies, some costly, some symbolic. We did nothing. We chose to wait until the fires were burning down our homes, and then demanded instant relief.

and, a great irony: People who hate government most are the loudest voices demanding government action to save their homes.

We all share some of the blame [for doing nothing]; procrastination is part of our character of the moment. Still, if want to put a face on this inaction, you can look no further than the member of Congress whose district in Washington State is now choked by smoke and harassed by flames — Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

She is part of the leadership of a Republican majority that is hostile to the point of negligence on the basic science of climate change.

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