February 28 2018

February 28 2018

Dark archaeology, future California floods, migration from the Mekong delta, sinking New Orleans

The New York Times has a sad but important article about how the implications of climate change are causing young people from all over the world to wonder if it is ethical to bring children into a damaged world. The Washington Post reports on the situation in Cape Town, South Africa, which is in the midst of an extreme drought. “Day Zero,” when the City will shut off municipal water supplies and ration water to residents at central stations, is now projected for May. As an article in Mother Jones notes, “If there is no rain, Cape Town will be the first major city in the world to run out of water, but it probably won’t be the last,” a warning Reuters reports is echoed by the global accounting firm Deloitte. In Fortune, Peter Gleick talks about how we must adapt to this new reality.

The Washington Post reports that a recent study led by USGS scientists concluded that the arctic permafrost contains large volumes of mercury, a toxic element humans have been releasing into the environment by burning coal among other activities. Some portion of this pool of mercury will be mobilized as arctic soils warm. It is not clear what its fate will be, although mercury has the capacity to enter many environmental pathways as it has a gaseous form and can bioaccumulate in the food web.

Weather.com devoted its entire splash page to climate change on January 25th, reports the Washington Post. This is part of a national story on weather.com called The United States of Climate Change. Particularly noteworthy is that weather.com (owned by IBM) used the headline “There is no climate change debate.” The website’s executive editor observed that at present “America is unwilling to invest in mitigating the effects of climate change to the degree that future safety and stability requires.”

The feature article for California on the weather.com site is a well-written and comprehensive account of flooding in California that I highly recommend. The article takes a deep dive into California’s flooding history, the science of atmospheric rivers (including our ability to predict these events, which is currently poor but improving), flood protection standards, steps underway to prepare for large floods in the future, and our remarkable vulnerability to a major event (such as a 500-year flood). The article notes that scientists consider it likely that future ARs will be more frequent, with some being stronger due to the fact that there is more water vapor in the atmosphere.

Melting glaciers in Norway are revealing a rich array of artifacts to archaeologists, including many in materials such as cloth and wood that are not often preserved, reports Newsweek. One of the researchers calls this “dark archaeology,” as the field is benefiting from climatic change that is likely to cause much suffering. Norway is also the nation leading efforts to electrify commercial shipping, as reviewed in YaleEnvironment360.

Inside Climate News reports that the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council concludes technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the air aren’t yet feasible on the scale needed to slow global warming. This is a critical issue because most of the 2°C pathways laid out by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) rely on deploying negative emissions approaches by the middle of this century. The article reviews the methods and technologies for removing carbon from the air (including natural carbon solutions such as afforestation and altered agricultural practices). An article in Quartz notes that changing agricultural practices hold the possibility of removing carbon from the atmosphere while at the same time enhancing agricultural production. Much research still is required to understand the best approach for making this happen.

An article on the blog of the Union of Concerned Scientists examines the current and projected impacts of sea level rise along the coast of Oregon. The New York Times reports on chemical spills caused by flooding during major storms, and notes that these spills underscore the vulnerability of America’s industrial sites to rising sea levels and extreme weather. The Atlantic reviews the history of development of New Orleans in an interesting article How Humans Sank New Orleans. “While the vast majority of New Orleans’s 300,000 residents lived above sea level in the early 1900s, only 48 percent remained above the water in 1960, when the city’s population peaked at 627,525.” An article on The Conversation describes how impacts from climate change (salt water intrusion and sea level rise) are interacting with other factors to generate human migration from the Mekong Delta.

Inside Climate News reports on a recent study that documents the acceleration of global sea level rise over the last 25 years. This acceleration has been predicted by models and is projected to continue into the future. The Trump administration has responded to this threat by rescinding a requirement that future infrastructure projects take climate change into account (especially future flood potential). The New York Times reviews the implications of this short-sighted decision.

Landscape Architecture Magazine has an article describing some of the initial concepts developed by the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge. The Atlantic reports on our nation’s first climate museum in Manhattan. The founder hopes this will contribute to creating “climate citizenship” in the United States.