Climate Letter #1057

Climate change is increasing the amount of dust that is blowing around the world (Yale e360).  While there are some benefits the harmful consequences are surprisingly significant.  This fine article is full of interesting information.
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An interview with a former lead author of an IPCC report (Carbon Brief).  This man should be as well-informed about the current science as anyone alive.  You can check through brief capsules of the questions and answers and then pick out the ones you want to hear more about.  I picked out one about climate sensitivity, where he expanded thusly:  “I personally think the evidence points towards climate sensitivity being at least on a 100-200 year timescale. The first steps of the changes are right around 3C. That’s just a personal opinion. I also think it’s fairly clear that the climate sensitivity increases with further warming; that it’s not a stable quantity.”  The last sentence gibes with points made in the lead story earlier this week in CL #1055.
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Why do CO2 emissions go up so much during El Nino years?  An article in Scientific American tells how scientists have recently pinned down a number of different reasons, most of which involve an unusual release of carbon that is stored in vegetation in tropical regions or an impaired ability to store new carbon.  The potential for recovery in some cases faces a lengthy delay, otherwise it is not shown that these periodic emission excesses accumulate over time.
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How important is the preservation of biodiversity?  A continuous study that began in 2002, known as the Jena Experiment, has found evidence of how the loss of biodiversity is destructive to ecosystems.  Many of the basic processes that humans depend on are irretrievably weakened.  One of the findings has been that high-diversity areas achieve better carbon  storage, the loss of which implies an influence on the progress of climate change.
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The Republican tax bill threatens to curtail the benefit of wind and solar tax credits.  This provision, like many others that are largely unpopular, has not been well-publicized, which impedes the efforts of those trying to block it.
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Today’s picture of the global temperature anomaly.  It is the worst I can ever remember seeing, especially the readings all around the Arctic Ocean.  What’s happening?  How long will it continue?
Carl
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Climate Letter #1056

Major heatwave affecting North America, Greenland, the Arctic (and more.)  Here it is described by Joe Romm, plus commentary on how Greenland is also being attacked by melting from below.  The addendum has my comments about the new look at the Climate Reanalyzer weather maps, which are fresher than ever and more informative.
–Addendum.  Starting today, the whole set of maps has been expanded and revised, mostly for the better except now there is no way to read temperatures in Fahrenheit.  The anomaly chart that first comes up is the warmest I have ever seen for the Arctic region, plus 5.3C over just three decades.  There is a big improvement in the precipitation link, where it appears that much more data is being gathered for both rain and snow.  The amount of daily rain cover in some large regions, like the entire western Pacific, is truly amazing.  The old Jet Stream is now called 250 hPa Wind Speed, OK, but  the new “500 hPa Geopot Height” is all about what ???
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Without oceans (and with the current atmosphere) the surface temperature would average 122F.  They presently absorb over 90% over the heat that cannot escape, which is a fortunate arrangement for now.  (Without any greenhouse gas at all we would be more like the moon, around zero F and with huge variations between day and night.  The oceans’ surface today ranges from about 32 F near the poles to 80 F (30 C) in the tropics.  The entire bottom is within a few degrees of the freezing level.)
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Storm waves can heave massive boulders out of the ocean and over cliffs.  A study of boulders along the coast of western Ireland adds new information that backs this controversial belief.  Climate scientists like James Hansen have made similar arguments with respect to dislocated boulders found in the Bahamas, which are believed to signify a potential for superstorms in the Atlantic under certain climate scenarios that include considerably higher sea level.
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Cities exposed to sea level rise now have to worry about their credit ratings along with higher insurance premiums.  This post also starts out with a short video that includes pictures and other material tied to James Hansen’s theories about Atlantic superstorms and flying boulders as mentioned in the previous story.
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How native life in Alaska is being decimated by climate change and thawing permafrost.  This high quality presentation was jointly produced by Inside Climate News and the Weather Channel.
–Also, there is new research about the potential loss of historic sites along the southeastern coast of the US because of impending sea level rise.  Just a one-meter rise could wipe out 13,000 sites, with no real prospect for saving them.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1055

An important new study sees an increase in the future sensitivity of temperature increases to increases in the CO2 level.  Sensitivity depends not just on the radiation blocking of CO2 alone but on the impact of all the various feedbacks from contemporary circumstances that are driven by the CO2 increase.  During the ice ages the albedo feedback from growing and shrinking ice sheets had every bit as much influence on temperature as CO2 and all other greenhouse gases, but that particular influence will be greatly diminished in the future.  The absence of that one effect implies much lower sensitivity in the future, but scientists are always on the lookout for other feedbacks, either positive or negative, that could arise because of warming due to the current CO2 expansion.  This study has found some which are tied to expected changes in cloud cover and other effects in the upper atmosphere which will combine to accelerate the amount of warming in the lower atmosphere.  This is not good news—“These results emphasize the importance of rapidly reducing human caused emissions of greenhouse gases to avoid the worst impacts from ongoing climate change.”  The study, which has been peer-reviewed and is supported by observations, appeared in a prestigious journal, thereby demanding a high level of attention.
–Added note:
A number of studies have been published in recent years suggesting that during ancient times when temperatures were known to be much higher than at present the concurrent level of CO2 in the atmosphere may have been only moderately higher than that which we have lately accomplished.  They have various ways of calculating what the true CO2 level may have been in the deep past, all of which are subject to a wide range of errors, but there is growing confidence that the range of errors is well on the way to being reduced.  Here is one such study which you can look at to see how they go about it, in this case concluding that CO2 stayed below 1000 ppm for at least the last 65 million years.
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The connection between deforestation, climate change and drought in Brazil.  Sao Paulo, with a population of 21 million, is not getting as much rainfall as it needs and is facing a real crisis.  Antonio Nobre, a climatologist at the Space Research Institute, calls the Amazon a “biotic pump” that provides the energy for “rivers in the sky” to flow thousands of miles to São Paulo. “Without this booster, he warns, the southeast of Brazil would likely be a desert like many other regions at the same latitude.”  (I.e., in southern Africa and Australia.)
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The clothing industry is seldom mentioned as a major contributor to climate change.  A new report says it “has created a business which creates greenhouse emissions of 1.2bn tonnes a year – larger than that of international flights and shipping combined.”  Statistics reveal it as “incredibly wasteful” and in need of a thorough overhaul.
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How often do volcanic super-eruptions occur?  A new study calculates a frequency that is quite a bit lower than most common estimates, with the new figure showing a most likely average of just 17,000 years.  Such an eruption, as defined, would wreak havoc on weather conditions for a number of decades.  There were two of these between 20 and 30 thousand years ago but none since on that scale.
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The cost of solar panels continues to plunge.  Joe Romm brings us some of the latest numbers.  It is all but guaranteed that the decline will continue and demand will accelerate as a consequence.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1054

CO2 emissions from human activity are growing again, following a “unique hiatus” that lasted two years.  This study, which has all the numbers and plenty of charts, projects a gain of 2.0% in 2017 over 2016.  The outlook for 2018 is not too hopeful, primarily because the trend of economic growth is unusually strong all across the globe.  The conclusion:  “At current annual rates of ~41 Gt CO2 for fossil fuels, industrial and land-use emissions combined, time is running out on our ability to keep global average temperature increases below 2 °C and, even more immediately, anything close to 1.5 °C.  Nothing short of deep and rapid decarbonization will keep the Earth from surpassing the 1.5 °C average temperature threshold in as little as a decade, and 2 °C a few decades after that.”  (In my view the highly-evident addiction to economic growth, even when it is not needed for survival, is the primary impediment to decarbonization.)
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China’s addiction to economic growth has reached a point of no return, and may soon be taking a hit (CNN Money).  Several decades of extraordinarily rapid and reckless growth have created problems far beyond that of excessive carbon emissions and much more immediate.  The people are very concerned and want changes.  The changes are in fact starting to happen, at the expense of economic growth.  “Analysts generally agree that China’s economy is strong enough to handle more disruption — for now.  But should growth dip too sharply, the government may ease the pressure on big polluters.”
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In Peru, melting glaciers that have brought prosperity are now being depleted.  In this mountainous region there will fairly soon be no other meaningful source of water and the good times will end.  The full story of this tragic situation has been covered by the New York Times, including a set of magnificent photographs.
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Climate science:  This story will interest anyone who wonders why ice age cycles switched from about every 40,000 years to every 100,000, starting 800,000 years ago.  It was because of a sharp drop in the CO2 level toward the bottom of each cycle, and researchers have now found reasons for the drop, as explained.  Of course there won’t be a “next time” to see if the phenomenon repeats itself again.
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Also for climate historians, going quite a bit further back.  Researchers have uncovered the story of how the Earth was able to climb out of a snowball situation more than one-half billion years ago, allowing the explosion of life in multicellular forms that headed our way.  On this occasion the CO2 level got a much-needed boost from an unusual source.  (Today, something comparable is rescuing the planet, so to speak, from those persistent ice age cycles described in the previous story.)
Carl
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Climate Letter #1053

How the effects of climate change are destroying a key link in the marine food chain.  Zooplankton are tiny aquatic animals that feed voraciously on phytoplankton, which originate the bulk of oceanic food supply through photosynthesis.  Their quantity is now being seriously threatened in several ways. “Without them, we break the food chain.  There’s no way to transfer the energy from phytoplankton to the fish, and all the other animals we’re familiar with, without zooplankton.”
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Testament to a story about humanity’s impact on the planet.  How a graduate student quickly learned to appreciate all of the destructive forces that make up the Anthropocene, including carbon emissions:
–This is the link to that article, as published by the Guardian in 2016, still fully relevant:
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An update on the current rate of expansion of plastic waste, which along with other types of oceanic pollution is a key marker of the Anthropocene:
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Nuclear weapons testing, now in a state of sharp decline, is a major component of the Anthropocene that has created markers of the most highly durable type.  This piece of photojournalism from ABC News tells what life is like on Enewetak Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands, where a huge amount of nuclear waste lies buried within a concrete tomb that is now threatened by rising sea level.  (The story is beautifully done, should win a prize.)
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Road building, which may or may not be a permanent part of the geological record, is nevertheless a major contributor to the planetary destabilization that constitutes the Anthropocene, as explained herein by Climate News Network.  “Within the next 30 years, according to two scientists, there could be another 25 million kilometres of road worldwide – enough to encircle the planet 600 times.” The wide-ranging damage from this activity is monumental.
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Mercedes-Benz has been quietly developing a whole array of electric trucks and buses.  One model is already on the road, with UPS being one of the first customers.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1052

New information about why carbon does or does not remain stored in soil.  This may at first come as a surprise, but the amount of CO2 that is released from the soil each year as plant matter decays is constrained by how much oxygen finds its way into the soil.  There are tiny little dead zones naturally scattered around that prevent bacteria from working on the carbon inside, and that is a good thing.  The study tells how those zones can be broken down, releasing CO2—quite fascinating.
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In the case of lakes it is a completely different story, as a shortage of oxygen is destructive to their ecosystems.  This story is about a study that shows how lakes are suffocating, in part because as their water gets warmer it does not mix as well from the top down, plus the damage done by a number of fertilizing effects.  There is special attention given to the overloading of sediments on lake bottoms with organic matter.
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Climate change can have a significant effect on volcanic activity in Iceland.  In times past it can be shown that activity was reduced when the island’s glacial ice was building up.  With ice now rapidly melting the opposite effect is expected, probably with a time lag.  “Changes in surface pressure can alter the stress on shallow chambers where magma builds up.”  Icelandic eruptions can have devastating effects, especially over Europe.
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An analysis of the way different countries are reaching their peak of CO2 emissions.  By the year 2020, 53 countries will have peaked, representing 40% of total global emissions.  That figure will rise to 60% when China peaks in following decade, and as things now stand that is when year-by-year declines should get started in earnest.
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An update on the advantages of electric cars.  It’s all pretty amazing, and sales globally are on the same fast track.  Cars with a 500-mile range and superfast charging will soon be available.
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Germany will have fourteen hydrogen-powered trains in operation by late 2021, replacing diesel engines.  A French company is the manufacturer.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1051

How temperature change affects natural methane emissions from watery environments.  This important study goes far to help explain why atmospheric methane levels went up and down as they did during every major ice age cycle.  “Never before have such unequivocal, strong relationships between temperature and emissions of methane bubbles been shown on such a wide, continent-spanning scale.”  This particular source of methane is important, but today is considerably outweighed by other sources that originate with human activities.  Changes in the “human group” are not controlled by temperature change feedback but do have a similar effect on temperature whenever they rise or fall.
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How rapidly will sea level rise in this century?  This review of current thinking was written by a meteorologist who is also a frequent climate journalist.  Many scientists apparently believe the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse quickly enough to add as much as eleven feet to sea level in this century.  The reasons are all included in this story, which thankfully also includes some reasons for doubt.
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A situation update on ocean acidification.  This report was prepared for the UN conference in Bonn by a German research group.  It highlights the negative effects being felt by a wide variety of marine species, in particular those that inhabit the polar regions where the corrosive nature of the waters is greatest.  The report also foresees a reduction in the oceans’ normal ability to sequester up to 25% of human CO2 emissions.  The scientists warn that “the only way to halt further ocean acidification is a drastic cut in CO2 emissions.”
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A commentary on the methods and benefits of carbon farming.  The is the best of all ideas for how to put carbon back from doing harm to where it can do some good, but it does not get enough attention or promotion.  “Farmers often make decisions in response to short-term economic pressures and government policies. Improved soil management is a public good. We need economic tools and short-term incentives that encourage producers to adopt these practices for the good of all.”
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What the new Tesla truck means for the future of transportation.  This story has a rundown of all the major advantages over existing trucks, including a surprising advantage in costs.  Even if the company should fail for some reason a pattern for the industry’s future has clearly been established.  Imagine running these things on fully renewable energy some day!
Carl
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Climate Letter #1050

Spain and Portugal are struggling with extreme drought.  “Spain has since 1980 shown signs of climate change, which have increased since 2000….The country’s climate tends to have more subtropical characteristics. Higher temperatures and rarer and more intense rains. So climate-related risks—heatwaves and rain and droughts and floods, will increase in the coming decades.”  For many individuals this is a catastrophic level of climate change, and it only took one degree of global warming.

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The so-called temperature hiatus from 1998-2012 now has a complete explanation, showing how it never even existed.  More accurate data from the Arctic corrects mistaken estimates that were previously employed. The Arctic was actually warming at five times the global rate during that period, which was completely unknown until now.
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The economic effect of higher CO2 levels on agriculture has been recalculated.  It is no longer viewed as a net positive because of how it stimulates increased plant growth.  Science has now found that higher temperature by itself, also caused by the rise in CO2, has negative effects on crop yields.  The conclusion was based on a meta-analysis of 1010 previous studies of yield response to changing climate conditions.
–The full study can be viewed at  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-01792-x
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Insurance companies have had unacceptable losses in the last six months.  Their risk assumptions are likely to change, resulting in sharply higher rates.  Banks also need to consider more conservative lending practices and government aid policies will come under review.  The cost of climate change is beginning to hit home for everyone, requiring many kinds of adjustments (Thomson Reuters Foundation).
–This study about the frequency and intensity of future thunderstorms is of no help:
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Ocean kelp forests are disappearing because of higher water temperatures.  The devastation is completed when sea urchins move in and chew up the remnants, preventing recovery.  The loss of these large ecosystems, happening across the world, is comparable in many ways to that of coral reefs.
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Utilities can now save money by shutting down existing coal and nuclear facilities.  Their operating costs alone exceed the total cost of building and operating new wind or solar plants in many locations.  That is where the trend of falling costs has taken the latter, and it continues.
Carl
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Climate Letter#1049

A summary of what was accomplished at the climate conference in Bonn.  ” The main achievement may have been cementing a firebreak to prevent the Trump administration from torching the whole process.”  Other than that the talks “made only incremental progress toward resolving disputes that have been lingering since the Paris Agreement of 2015.”
–Carbon Brief has a far more detailed accounting of a dozen key outcomes:
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On the possibility of a political consensus toward climate change forming in the US.  This is a fine article by David Roberts, writing for Vox, containing a link to another article on the same subject by Robinson Meyer for the Atlantic.  They both think the Democrats could put together a sensible program that would attract broad public support and support from a number of moderate Republican politicians as well, and are missing a huge opportunity by not doing so.
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New poll results show how Americans think and feel about climate change.  This survey from Yale and George Mason universities has been updated regularly since 2008 and is very comprehensive.  Americans have clearly been affected by all the extreme weather events in 2017, with a record 22% now saying they are “very worried.”  The number who will talk about it socially has risen but is still quite low.
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New record low bid for solar energy production contract.  A contractor from Italy bid 1.77 cents per kWh on two separate projects in an auction in Mexico.  “Green says the major factors contributing to these reduced costs are decreased financing costs, combined with reductions in PV module, inverter and other balance of system costs, due to increased volumes, streamlining of processes and improved module conversion efficiency.”  Some people are looking for bid prices below one cent in just a few years.  (There is still a separate need for partial storage not included.)
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How a period of rapid warming in the distant past caused massive increases in flooding events.  Researchers have found a way to show exactly what happened 56 million years ago when temperatures rose by 4C or more over a period of five to ten thousand years.  “From records of the PETM, like this one, it has become very clear that global warming causes major changes in the patterns and intensity of rainfall events. These changes are so large that we see evidence of them in the geological record, as a many-fold increase in the mass of sediments transported from land to the oceans.”
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Climate Letter #1048

The drought situation in the Horn of Africa, updated as of October 31.  The humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating as a result of three consecutive years of failed rains, affecting millions of people.
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Because of the way climate has changed, areas of deforestation in the Amazon do not have potential for full recovery.  A study finds that because of a drier climate new growth will only collect two-thirds of the carbon that was lost.  This finding supports other recent studies which show that tropical forests have lost their ability to act as a carbon sink for much the same reason, thus reducing the carbon budget still available for human activities.
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Research in carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) seen as a lifeline for big oil.  This article explains how industry is promoting optimism toward future research success as a way to ease the fear of rising emissions.  There was a big sideshow to that effect at the UN conference in Bonn, aimed at delegates.  Also, industry is pushing for more government subsidies to support and speed up the research, “for the benefit of society.”
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An argument for why the US should be drilling for oil in the Arctic.  The Alaska Pipeline has technical problems when the normal flow of oil inside of it is reduced, which is now the case, accompanied by financial problems for its owners and the state of Alaska.  More oil is required just so fields currently in production can keep operating.  “Closure of the pipeline would shut down all northern Alaska oil production, devastating Alaska’s economy and deepening U.S. dependence on unstable countries throughout the world.”  A trenchant report from Yale e360.
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The story of one Alaskan village with very little time left.  Like two dozen others it sits on a coastline that is rapidly eroding due to effects of climate change.  Getting relocated is an immediate problem for the residents of Newtok.  The 8-minute video produced by HBO is absorbing and raises questions about future government policies as more citizens become affected, not just in Alaska.
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Why are East Antarctica and West Antarctica so different?  Researchers have found that the land below West Antarctica is much the warmer of the two, making it easier for glacial ice to slide toward the sea.  “The East is a giant chunk of old, cold continental crust. The West, however, underwent recent rifting in the Cretaceous (100 million years ago) that has pulled it apart.  This rifting has thinned the crust and brought hot material from deep down in the Earth to within 100km or so, or even maybe less, of the rock surface.”  Beautiful map included.
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