November 15 2018

November 15 2018

a warmer ocean (maybe), fish summer farther north, low water on the Rhine – high water in Venice, weather whiplash in California, clean energy a winning election strategy in 2018

The amount of heat stored in the ocean, as reflected by its temperature, is the ultimate driver of climate change. Estimates of global ocean temperature improved with remote measurement techniques in the mid 2000s (i.e., Argo Float program). There remains uncertainty about ocean temperatures in the 20th century, which leads to uncertainty about how quickly ocean temperatures climbed to their current levels. The faster the oceans warm due to increased greenhouse gas concentrations, the more quickly our climate will change and the faster impacts will be upon us.

The Washington Post reports on a study that concludes the ocean has absorbed heat at a rate near the highest end of the range of previous calculations. The new study uses a completely different technique for estimating temperature by measuring the outgassing of oxygen and carbon dioxide from the ocean (which are temperature dependent processes), and using those measurements to estimate the warming of the oceans. Testing a hypothesis using an independent line of evidence is one of the most powerful techniques available in science, which is one reason this study has received so much attention.

The fact that this study suggests ocean heat content is on the higher end of previous estimates is very important, as it suggests we have even less time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. However, in an example of science in action, post-publication critique of the statistical methods has led the authors to acknowledge their estimate of heating contains more uncertainty than previously stated (details on RealClimate). Consequently, the question about how fast the oceans were heating in the 20th century remains unanswered… and it may be that we have more time to act and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

InsideClimate News has a great in-depth look at sea level rise on Cape Cod, focusing on a family that is responding to flooding by raising their home. Even among these Trump voters (one of whom now says his vote was a mistake because Trump “is a moron”) is the realization that sea level is rising and a response is required. The New York Times reviews how Fiji is responding to climate change impacts, including engaging tourists in coral reef restoration activities.

In North Carolina, the summer flounder fishery has drastically declined as waters have warmed and these migratory fish have stayed farther north in the summer. Reuters has an in-depth look at the impact of this climate-driven shift on the local fishing economy, and how fishing regulations keep boats landing fish in North Carolina even when they are caught in New England.

An article at InsideClimate News describes the implications of FEMA flood maps being out of date (and not accounting for climate change), focusing on the damage in Mexico Beach, FL, after hurricane Michael. Climate change and continued development in low-lying areas will only make the problem worse, and the Thomson-Reuters Foundation reports on how coastal and riverine communities are beginning to think about “managed retreat” after seeing flood frequencies change.

The Washington Post reports on how climate change is impacting the wine industry in Italy, and how vineyard owners and wine makers are beginning to respond. Anthropocene reviews the growing field of agrovoltaics, the practice of growing food under solar panels. With the correct spacing and tilt of the panels, it is possible (particularly with more shade tolerant crops) to greatly increase the productivity of farms. “Hypothetically, if all the lettuce production in the US were converted to agrovoltaic systems, photovoltaic power generation could increase by 40 to 70 gigawatts. To put that into perspective, this amount would nearly double the entire installed photovoltaic capacity in the US at the end of 2017.”

The Guardian reports on the highest water levels to hit Venice in a decade due to a combination of wind and tides, and on how food insecurity driven by climate change in Central America is one reason people are heading north in caravans. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that a drought in Europe has led to the lowest water levels in years on the Rhine, which is disrupting the German economy (80 percent of the 223 million tons of cargo transported by ship in Germany each year travels the Rhine).

Vox reports that recent research concludes more “weather whiplash” is in store for California in the future, where our weather patterns move from drought to deluge more often. This poses a significant threat to transportation and other infrastructure. The research also concluded that the chances of another mega-flood such as the 1861-62 winter (when you could sail a boat from Fresno to Sacramento) increase by a factor of three. An article in Yale e360 describes long-term changes in climatic zones on the planet (such as the size of the Sahara, wet/dry zones in North America or the location of the permafrost zone) and how climate change has a role in these shifts.

InsideClimate News reports on how the shipping industry is struggling to identify low-carbon strategies that would help them meet their target of halving emissions by 2050 (reducing ship speeds by 10% could reduce emissions by 30%, but time is money [as long as you only consider the short term]). Another report describes the beginning of the electrification of trucking, starting with urban delivery trucks. An article in Forbes describes ten key policies to promote decarbonization, and the New York Times reports that while the world is making progress on carbon-free energy the rate of progress is still inadequate to meet climate goals.

An op-ed in the New York Times ponders if people’s opinions about climate action would change if they knew they were going to be reincarnated as a poor person living in a country ravaged by climate change impacts. Bloomberg reports on the fact that credit rating agencies are still giving AAA ratings to cities despite mixed evidence of actual efforts to reduce identified risk from climate change.

An article in the New Republic claims “the climate lost” in the election, as massive spending by the fossil fuel industry defeated state ballot measures that would advance climate action. However, Joe Romm notes that despite these setbacks Democratic candidates demonstrated that addressing climate and renewable energy are winning issues, and Vox points out that in three states (NM, NV and ME) Republican governors who vetoed renewable energy standards were voted out. Governor-elect Sisolak in NV wants to move his state toward 100% clean energy, Governor-elect Mills in ME ran on a platform of reducing her state’s carbon emissions 80% by 2030 and the new Governors of CO, MI and IL are committed to expansions of renewable energy. InsideClimate News reports on how the Democratic House will be working to advance climate action despite the voting roadblock the Senate represents, and profiles several new house members committed to climate action.