April 15 2018

April 15 2018

Arctic methane, environmentalist satellite, Tabasco, underwater glacial melt, Shell Oil knew the truth

Inside Climate News reports on research documenting underwater melting of glaciers in Antarctica at a much faster rate than previously expected (article includes a useful animation). In west Antarctica, at eight of the ice sheet’s 65 biggest glaciers, the speed of retreat was more than five times the average rate of deglaciation since the last ice age. Accelerated underwater (or grounding line) melting is one of several mechanisms that could contribute to ice sheet collapse, which could deliver 8-10 feet of sea level rise by 2100 (see the H++ scenario in the Ocean Protection Council’s Update on Sea Level Rise Science).

John Abraham in the Guardian reviews issues related to large-scale biofuels production, including a recent study that suggests a carbon tax can provide incentives for farmers to make climate-friendly choices when growing crops for biofuels. An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times notes recent research projecting a 64% decline in the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, and other changes to the hydrologic cycle, over the 21st century if greenhouse gas emissions are not controlled.

The Guardian reports that climate change is threatening Tabasco (actually, Avery Island, Louisiana, where the hot sauce has been manufactured by the McIlhenny family for 150 years). The Washington Post summarizes a recent study concluding that plans to restore sediment delivery by the Mississippi river will be unable to save much of the river’s delta from sea level rise. Science Daily reports on recent research documenting that roads along the East Coast have experienced a 90 percent increase in flooding — often making the roads in these communities impassable, causing delays, as well as stress, and impacting transportation of goods and services.

Science Daily summarizes a recent study that concludes restoration of marshes and oyster reefs are among the most cost-effective solutions for reducing risks from tidal flooding along the Gulf Coast, and a California SeaGrant study notes that seaweeds and seagrasses have the potential to mitigate some effects of ocean acidification along the California coast.

The Washington Post summarizes a recent study that suggests warming arctic soils will produce more methane than previously thought, accelerating warming and counteracting human attempts to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The authors tracked microbial activity in soil samples warmed in the laboratory for seven years, noting that it was only later in the experiment that methane production increased. Other scientists note that in the natural environment there are factors that would slow this response, but this finding underscores the risk of arctic soils becoming an uncontrollable source of greenhouse gases.

The Washington Post reports that the Environmental Defense Fund is planning to launch a satellite to more accurately measure methane emissions, which account for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. EDF recently estimated methane emissions from Pennsylvania’s shale oil and gas sites may be more than five times higher than what has been reported, primarily due to leaky, outdated and malfunctioning equipment.

The Washington Post has an excellent article about the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a period of the earth’s history about 56 million years ago when the earth warmed 5 – 8°C over about 5,000 years. The results were devastating to life on the planet, as rapid climate change disrupted weather, transformed landscapes, acidified oceans and triggered extinctions. A vast increase in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere appears to have triggered this climatic change, and scientists are studying this period as an analog to the path we are currently on as we increase the amount of carbon in the atmosphere at an even faster pace than during the PETM (humans burning fossil fuels have produced the same kind of carbon isotope spike researchers find in 55-million-year-old rocks). It took life on earth more than 150,000 years to recover from the impact of the PETM.

The New York Times reports on phenological mismatch; how global warming is changing the timing of biological phenomena and producing ecological impacts. The article reviews five such changes in detail, such as migrating birds arriving to find that the insects they depend on food have emerged weeks earlier, or snowshoe hares with their white winter coats more susceptible to predation due to earlier snowmelt.

An article in New York Magazine lays out the unfortunate reality that at present we are failing in our effort to achieve the goals of the Paris Accord. The human suffering this implies is difficult to comprehend; tens of millions dying from air pollution and other causes. The Guardian reports on how conversion of forest and grasslands to soya production has altered the hydrology in the Morro Basin (Argentina), resulting in surface water flows causing massive erosion. 

The Washington Post reports that a working group at Shell Oil understood three decades ago that climate change was real and formidable, warning that it would affect living standards and food supplies and have social, economic and political consequences. As with ExxonMobil, despite having reached this understanding, Shell decided to support organizations that produced deceptive arguments to sow doubt and delay action on climate change. The Guardian summarizes several of the ongoing legal cases regarding climate change.

Scientific American reports (Guardian summary here) on a World Bank analysis that concludes up to 140 million people might be forced to migrate due to climate change in three regions examined: sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America. The analysis note that a large portion of this migration will occur within national borders, and some of the projected disruption can be mitigated with advanced planning. However, even rich countries are struggling with this issue, as has been seen in the U.S. with the migration of many Puerto Ricans to the mainland after Hurricane Maria. The New York Times visits the Greek Island of Lesbos, where thousands of migrants from north Africa, Afghanistan, and other nations are held in camps that are overcrowded and dangerous.