Annual probability of occurrence of a heat waves with apparent temperature peaks greater than 40 °C and 55 °C. (a–c), Probability of occurrence of heat waves with AT peak  ≥ 40 (AT40C) calculated at each grid point for all model years with global mean temperature anomaly relative to 1861–1880 at 1.5, 2, and 4 degrees warming (see Fig. 2), respectively. (d–f), as (a–c) but for occurrence of heat waves with AT peak  ≥ 55 (AT55C). Graphic: Russo, et al., 2017 / Scientific Reports

8 August 2017 (JRC) – Heatwaves amplified by high humidity can reach above 40°C and may occur as often as every two years, leading to serious risks for human health. If global temperatures rise with 4°C, a new super heatwave of 55°C can hit regularly many parts of the world, including Europe.

A recently published study by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) – the European Commission's science and knowledge service – analyses the interaction between humidity and heat. The novelty of this study is that it looks not only at temperature but also relative humidity to estimate the magnitude and impact of heat waves.

It finds out that the combinations of the two, and the resulting heatwaves, leave ever more people exposed to significant health risks, especially in East Asia and America's East Coast.

Warm air combined with high humidity can be very dangerous as it prevents the human body from cooling down through sweating, leading to hyperthermia. As a result, if global warming trends continue, many more people are expected to suffer sun strokes, especially in densely populated areas of India, China, and the US.

The study analyses changes in yearly probability for a high humidity heatwaves since 1979 under different global warming scenarios. If global temperatures increase up to 2 C above pre-industrial levels the combined effect of heat and humidity (known as apparent temperature or Heat Index) will likely exceed 40°C every year in many parts of Asia, Australia, Northern Africa, South and North America. Europe will be least affected with up to 30% chance of having such strong heat wave annually.

However, if temperatures rise to 4°C a severe scenario is on the horizon. Scientists predict that a new super-heatwave will appear with apparent temperature peaking at above 55°C– a level critical for human survival.  It will affect densely populated areas such as USA's East coast, coastal China, large parts of India and South America. Under this global warming scenario Europe is likely to suffer annual heatwaves with apparent temperature of above 40°C regularly while some regions of Eastern Europe may be hit by heatwaves of above 55°C.

The authors highlight that although some urban areas such as Chicago and Shanghai are not considered to have high risk for heatwaves based on temperature only, the probability of extreme weather strongly increased when considering relative humidity.

According to the study, the effect of relative humidity on heatwaves' magnitude and peak might be underestimated in current research. The results of the study support the need for urgent mitigation and adaptation action to address the impacts of heatwaves, and indicate regions where new adaptation measures might be necessary to cope with heat stress.

The study draws on the Apparent Heat Wave Index (AHWI), a composite index for humidity and heat developed by JRC's Competence Centre on Composite Indicators and Scoreboards.

The paper is published in Scientific Reports (Nature Springer) and brings valuable data and visualisations for future adaptation and mitigation policies.

Super-heatwaves of 55°C to emerge if global warming continues

Probability of occurrence of extreme humid heat waves at different warming levels relative to 1861–1880. (a), Simulated global mean surface temperature increase as a function of time. Decadal model median over the historical period (1860–2010) are represented by black crosses. Decadal model median over the future period (2011–2100) for the three Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5) scenarios are represented by black squares, circle and triangles, respectively. (b–d), Probability of occurrence of heat waves with magnitude greater than the maximum magnitude detected in Russia in 2010 (HWMId > 60) calculated at each grid point for all model years with global mean temperature anomaly relative to 1861–1880 between 1.4° and 1.6° (1.5° warming level, see method), 1.9°–2.1° (2° warming level) and 3.9°–4.1° (4° warming level), respectively. e-g, as b-d but for humid heat waves and the relative Apparent Heat Wave Index (AHWI > 60). Graphic: Russo, et al., 2017 / Scientific Reports

ABSTRACT: The co-occurrence of consecutive hot and humid days during a heat wave can strongly affect human health. Here, we quantify humid heat wave hazard in the recent past and at different levels of global warming. We find that the magnitude and apparent temperature peak of heat waves, such as the ones observed in Chicago in 1995 and China in 2003, have been strongly amplified by humidity. Climate model projections suggest that the percentage of area where heat wave magnitude and peak are amplified by humidity increases with increasing warming levels. Considering the effect of humidity at 1.5° and 2° global warming, highly populated regions, such as the Eastern US and China, could experience heat waves with magnitude greater than the one in Russia in 2010 (the most severe of the present era). The apparent temperature peak during such humid-heat waves can be greater than 55 °C. According to the US Weather Service, at this temperature humans are very likely to suffer from heat strokes. Humid-heat waves with these conditions were never exceeded in the present climate, but are expected to occur every other year at 4° global warming. This calls for respective adaptation measures in some key regions of the world along with international climate change mitigation efforts.

[…] The occurrence of heat waves with AT55C, never recorded in our data records in the recent past, is likely to cause heat strokes by limiting the human thermoregulation. The exceedance of this apparent temperature across these regions is in agreement with other measures accounting for the combined effect of temperature and relative humidity. As an example, the wet-bulb temperature peak during a heat wave is expected to exceed the value of 35 °C (see Supplementary Fig. S9), a threshold likely to induce hyperthermia in humans and other mammals as dissipation of metabolic heat becomes impossible25, 31 While this never happens in the present climate, and it is unlikely at 1.5 °C and 2 °C, it would occur on a regular basis in many highly populated regions with global-mean warming of about 4 °C, questioning the habitability of some of these regions.

Humid heat waves at different warming levels

Logo for NOAA's  Advisory Committee for the sustained National Climate Assessment. On 19 August 2017, The Trump administration announced that it had decided to disband the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment. Graphic: NOAA

By Juliet Eilperin
20 August 2017

(The Washington Post) – The Trump administration has decided to disband the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment, a group aimed at helping policymakers and private-sector officials incorporate the government’s climate analysis into long-term planning.

The charter for the 15-person Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment — which includes academics as well as local officials and corporate representatives — expires Sunday. On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting administrator, Ben Friedman, informed the committee’s chair that the agency would not renew the panel.

The National Climate Assessment is supposed to be issued every four years but has come out only three times since passage of the 1990 law calling for such analysis. The next one, due for release in 2018, already has become a contentious issue for the Trump administration.

Administration officials are currently reviewing a scientific report that is key to the final document. Known as the Climate Science Special Report, it was produced by scientists from 13 different federal agencies and estimates that human activities were responsible for an increase in global temperatures of 1.1 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951 to 2010.

The committee was established to help translate findings from the National Climate Assessment into concrete guidance for both public and private-sector officials. Its members have been writing a report to inform federal officials on the data sets and approaches that would best be included, and chair Richard Moss said in an interview Saturday that ending the group’s work was shortsighted.

“It doesn’t seem to be the best course of action,” said Moss, an adjunct professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences, and he warned of consequences for the decisions that state and local authorities must make on a range of issues from building road projects to maintaining adequate hydropower supplies. “We’re going to be running huge risks here and possibly end up hurting the next generation’s economic prospects.”

But NOAA communications director Julie Roberts said in an email Saturday that “this action does not impact the completion of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which remains a key priority.” [more]

The Trump administration just disbanded a federal advisory committee on climate change

Trump shakes hands with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is tasked with dismantling the EPA in secret. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

By David Roberts
14 August 2017

(Vox) – The New York Times had a big story on Friday about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s propensity to operate in secret. It offers a detailed and damning review of the evidence, but it stops short of drawing the broader conclusion: namely, that the approach of serving industry under cover of secrecy is not idiosyncratic to Pruitt, nor is it distinctively Trumpian. Rather, it is the standard approach of today’s GOP, as reflected in such recent initiatives as the failed health care bill. It is, in fact, the only approach possible to advance an agenda that is unpopular and intellectually indefensible.

Before painting that bigger picture, though, let’s look more closely at Pruitt’s brief but memorable stint at the EPA so far.

Pruitt is radically remaking the EPA, mostly in secret

Things got off to an inauspicious start in February, when a story at E&E revealed that Pruitt was requesting a full-time, around-the-clock security detail — not the first act of a man confident in his agenda.

The Golden Padlock Award: Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2013 launched a new award - dubbed the Golden Padlock - recognizing the most secretive publicly-funded agency or person in the United States. the winner in 2017 was EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Photo: IREIn May, the New Republic’s Emily Atkin, noting Pruitt’s refusal to meet with media or make his schedule public, asked, “What is Scott Pruitt hiding?” Another story in May found that political leadership at the EPA had begun “occasionally inserting new data and other information into public statements without final review from career policy specialists,” data and information officials inside EPA describe as “misleading and incompatible with extensive agency research.” Another covered Pruitt firing several scientists from the agency’s science review board, planning to replace them with people more sympathetic to industry.

An AP story in June uncovered an email record showing that Pruitt coordinated tightly with fossil fuel groups as attorney general in Oklahoma. E&E revealed that Pruitt’s calendar in his early weeks at EPA was filled with meetings with energy executives (though he met with no environmentalists).

A story in July showed that Pruitt is rolling back regulations “without the input of the 15,000 career employees at the agency he heads.” Instead, the Times’s Coral Davenport writes, “Pruitt has outsourced crucial work to a network of lawyers, lobbyists and other allies, especially Republican state attorneys general.” Another noted that he had traveled back home to Oklahoma — where he hopes to run for Senate — 10 times in his first three months, huddling with industry allies from his AG days.

Also in July, Rolling Stone ran a long expose by Jeff Goodell that focused on, among other things, Pruitt’s secrecy.

Except for his victory lap after Paris, he mostly avoids mainstream media. (Pruitt's office refused numerous requests to interview him for this story.) And despite his often-professed belief in "the rule of law," he has steadfastly resisted and evaded Freedom of Information Act requests for e-mail records and other public documents. He's so good at operating in the shadows, in fact, that he was recently given the Golden Padlock Award by investigative journalists, which recognizes the most secretive publicly funded person or agency in the United States.

Here’s the Golden Padlock Award, which a group of investigative reporters and editors gave to Pruitt for “steadfastly refusing to provide emails in the public interest and removing information from public websites about key environmental programs.” [more]

Scott Pruitt is dismantling EPA in secret for the same reason the GOP health care bill was secret

The Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) aboard the Suomi satellite recorded the largest aerosol index values ever seen since TOMS measurements started in 1978 for smoke over Canada, 14 August 2017. Here's what August 13 and 14 looked like from VIIRS and with the OMPS Aerosol Index overlaid. Graphic: NASA / OMPS Science Team

By Colin Seftor
15 August 2017

(NASA) – I plan to post more about smoke from the fires burning both in Canada and Russia. But I did want to post this particular item.

Over the last couple of days, OMPS has recorded the largest aerosol index values ever seen since TOMS measurements started in 1978 for smoke over Canada. Here's what the last couple of days looked like from VIIRS and with the OMPS AI overlaid (notice the scale).

On 13 August 2017, the maximum AI was a value of 39.9. That was topped by yesterday's maximum value of 49.4. These are remarkably high values.

The AI calculation assumes a simple model of the atmosphere that essentially just includes Rayleigh scattering and some assumption about reflections off the surface (including clouds). The model usually works quite well (including handling clouds), so any deviation of the AI from zero indicates that the atmosphere doesn't correspond to the model. That usually means the presence of aerosols like smoke and dust (or the presence of sun glint). Well, we certainly have smoke here. And the magnitude of the AI indicates that the simple model is not working well at all and that indicates some interesting conditions (including dense smoke high in the atmosphere).

Most of the smoke is (still) being generated by the fires burning in British Columbia, although some fires in the Northwest Territories are also contributing. [more]

Record Breaking Aerosol Index Values Over Canada

The Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) aboard the Suomi satellite recorded the largest aerosol index values ever seen since TOMS measurements started in 1978 for smoke over Canada, 12 August 2017 - 17 August 2017. Here's what it looked like from VIIRS and with the OMPS Aerosol Index overlaid. Graphic: NASA / OMPS Science Team

By Colin Seftor
18 August 2017

(NASA) – The massive, high altitude, and dense cloud of smoke still covers a huge area over Canada, and now a finger of that cloud has curled its way over New England. Here are the last 6 days.

You'll notice that I've had to expand the scale once again; the largest aerosol index value recorded by OMPS now stands at 55.4, seen on 16 August 2017. Besides the sheer size of the cloud and the magnitude of the aerosol index, the persistence of the feature as well as the persistence of the extremely high values are amazing. Here are the maximum AI values for the last 6 days:

12 August: 17.2
13 August: 39.9
14 August: 49.4
15 August: 49.7
16 August: 55.4
17 August: 47.2

It will be interesting how long this event lasts (and how far the smoke travels).

Very Smoky Skies Persist Over Canada and, Now, New England

The surveyor's stakes marking the 150 ft “clearing zone” for Trump’s Border Fence appeared at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, TX, on Thursday, 20 July 2017, along with a work crew with chainsaws and heavy equipment. #FightNABAFight Photo: National Butterfly Center

20 July 2017 (National Butterfly Center) – The surveyor's stakes marking the 150 ft “clearing zone” for Trump’s Border Fence appeared at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, TX, on Thursday, 20 July 2017, along with a work crew with chainsaws and heavy equipment. 

When Marianna Trevino Wright, executive director of the nonprofit center confronted them, the crew explained they were hired by the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection to remove trees and brush along a 1.2 mile road from the levee to the Rio Grande River; this is a private road, on private property, held by the North American Butterfly Association. About halfway down the road lay a big, white X marking the spot where engineers had taken a core soil sample to determine the suitability of this place for construction.

Bugs vs. Americans. Bugs lose.

One short-sighted commentator’s glib response to the situation summarizes part of the ignorance surrounding everything at stake here. This isn’t all about the butterflies.

No permission was requested to enter the property or begin cutting down trees. The center was not notified of any roadwork, nor given the opportunity to review, negotiate or deny the workplan. Same goes for the core sampling of soils on the property, and the surveying and staking of a “clear zone” that will bulldoze 200,000 square feet of habitat for protected species like the Texas Tortoise and Texas Indigo, not to mention about 400 species of birds.  The federal government had decided it will do as it pleases with our property, swiftly and secretly, in spite of our property rights and right to due process under the law.

Why should you care?

  1. If you own property or value your Constitutional right to due process, you should be very concerned about the government doing entering property without permission or due process. Altering it. Destroying it. Coming onto it and killing creatures that live there with reckless indifference. Your home or property could be next.
  2. If you think the “Border Fence” will stop illegal immigration, you are mistaken. The fence has gates and gaps every mile or so where people can pass through; so the fence is actually a FUNNEL, designed to direct those crossing into our country to areas where Border Patrol agents may more easily monitor and intercept traffic—that is, unless people use ladders or scale the fence on their own, which they do.
  3. If you pay taxes, you should understand the Border Fence is not a solution to the problem of illegal immigration. It is a waste of tax dollars.

In this 38-mile length of fence the Trump Administration seeks to build, more than 30 million square feet of vegetation may be cleared. Some of this will be private land, such as ours, but some of it will be public land, like the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.  These are YOUR lands.

These lands hold our history as a nation; our cultural history and natural history. They are home to our natural treasures and, in many cases, the last foothold for endangered species, like the Ocelot.

For this reason, the National Butterfly Center is taking a stand. We are joining dozens of private property owners in taking legal action against the efforts of the federal government to deprive us of our property rights. 

If the federal government succeeds in tossing due process and usurping private property rights, all Americans lose.


You can stand with us by contributing to our Legal Defense Fund or by joining the National Butterfly Center, today.

The National Butterfly Center is a nonprofit environmental conservation and education project of the North American Butterfly Center.  Members receive admission to the property, discounts on purchases in our gift shop and native plant nursery, and reciprocal admission benefits to almost 300 botanical gardens across the United States through our participation in the American Horticultural Association’s RAP.  Members also receive NECTAR, our monthly e-newsletter.

Please help us preserve this land and the precious habitat and wildlife it contains! [more]

And so it begins

Flood affected villagers have to move to find safer places in Araria district, Bihar, India, 16 August 2017. Heavy monsoon rains have unleashed landslides and floods that have killed scores of people in August 2017 and displaced millions more across northern India, southern Nepal, and Bangladesh. Photo: Aftab Alam Siddiqui / AP

18 August 2017 (Hindustan Times) – A humanitarian crisis is unfolding across large areas of South Asia, with more than 16 million people affected by monsoon floods in Nepal, Bangladesh and India, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in statement in Kathmandu on Friday. 

“This is fast becoming one of the most serious humanitarian crises this region has seen in many years and urgent action is needed to meet the growing needs of millions of people affected by these devastating floods,” said Martin Faller, deputy regional director for Asia Pacific, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“Millions of people across Nepal, Bangladesh, and India face severe food shortages and disease caused by polluted flood waters,” he said.

Flood levels have already reached record highs in Bangladesh, according to local authorities. Flooding of major rivers such as the Jamuna has surpassed levels since 1988 - the deadliest floods Bangladesh ever faced.

Young men move their buffaloes through rushing floodwaters in Birgunj, Parsa district, south of Kathmandu, 16 August 2017.  Families have been climbing into trees to escape the rapidly rising water. Photo: The Guardian

“More than one-third of Bangladesh and Nepal have been flooded and we fear the humanitarian crisis will get worse in the days and weeks ahead,”  Faller said.

In Nepal, many areas remain cut off after the most recent floods and landslides on August 11 and 12. Villages and communities are stranded without food, water and electricity. […]

Food crops have been wiped out by the floods in Nepal’s major farming and agricultural lands in the south of the country. “We fear that this destruction will lead to severe food shortages,” Dhakhwa said. 

In India, more than 11 million people have been affected by floods in four states across the country’s north. India's meteorological department is forecasting more heavy rain in the coming days.  Volunteers from Indian Red Cross and Bangladesh Red Crescent are working non-stop along with local authorities to help communities be safe and prepare for worsening floods. [more]

Floods affect 16 million in Nepal, Bangladesh and India: Red Cross

In this Friday, 18 August 2017 photo, the carcass of a tiger lies in floodwaters at the Bagori range inside Kaziranga National Park in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. About 80 per cent of the 480-square-kilometer (185-square-mile) park has been flooded and more than 100 animal carcass recovered, according to news reports. Deadly landslides and flooding are common across South Asia during the summer monsoon season that stretches from June to September. pHOTO: Uttam Saikia / AP Photo

20 August 2017 (India Times) – The north-eastern provinces of India are blessed with immense natural beauty, full of unique flora and fauna. But under the relentless assault of monsoon rains this year, one of Assam's most visited tourist destination is nothing but a watery graveyard of animals.

It's not just humans who have been affected in Assam. As many as 286 animals have perished due to rising water levels across the state's several national parks, including nine rhinos, the majority of which drowned when the Brahmaputra was in spate last week and had inundated large swathes of land. Despite rescue efforts, the images below tell their own haunting stories. [more]

14 Chilling Images Of Innocent Animals Getting Displaced By Record Rainfall In Assam This Year

Bangladeshi school children walk through a flooded field as they return home after school at Demra, 16 August 2017. The mix of rainwater and toxic waste from industries has turned the water green. Photo: Suvra Kanti Das / ZUMA / REX Shutterstock

By Hannah Summers
16 August 2017

(The Guardian) – Nearly 250 people have died in the last few days as a result of flooding and landslides that have devastated parts of northern India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Millions of people have been displaced across the region, and 245 people are recorded to have been killed by collapsed buildings or by drowning.

In Nepal, incessant rain has flooded hundreds of villages leaving 110 people dead. The government has come under fire for not responding fast enough to the disaster.

As security forces scrambled to rescue those marooned on rooftops and helicopters distributed food and water to the worst-hit districts yesterday, the home ministry spokesman Ram Krishna Subedi said relief supplies were being mobilised as soon as possible. Elephants were deployed to help rescue those stranded following three days of torrential rain, including 700 tourists in the popular town of Chitwan.

Across Nepal’s southern border, 13 districts have been hit by severe flooding in the Indian state of Bihar, leaving 41 people dead. [more]

Floods and devastation in India, Nepal and Bangladesh – in pictures

Medical officials of the Jhargaon Public Health Centre travel in a boat to a medical camp in flood-affected Morigaon district in India's northeastern Assam state on 18 August 2017. At least 221 people have died and more than 1.5 million have been displaced by monsoon floods across India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, officials have said. Photo: AFP

GUAHATI, India, 19 August 2017 (AP) – Rising floodwaters have inundated large parts of a famous wildlife reserve park in northeastern India, killing more than 225 animals and forcing hundreds of other animals to flee, the park director said Saturday.

Around 15 rhinos, 185 deer and at least one Royal Bengal tiger have died in the devastating floods that have submerged almost the entire Kaziranga National Park in Assam state, Satyendra Singh said.

"Carcasses of animals were seen floating in the floodwaters. It's a heartbreaking scene," Singh said.

Meanwhile, across northern India and neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh, the death toll from drowning, collapsed houses and landslides triggered by annual monsoon rains climbed to around 578 on Saturday.

Army soldiers and disaster management workers in the three countries have launched mammoth rescue efforts to evacuate and provide food and shelter to the nearly 16 million people affected by the floods in South Asia. […]

At Kaziranga, nearly 80 percent of the 430-square-kilometer (250-square-mile) wildlife park was under water. Some of the animals had crossed a highway and moved to higher land. The Assam government has deployed security guards on the highway to protect the rhinos from poachers, said Singh, the park director. [more]

India wildlife reserve park devastated by monsoon floods

Villagers offer prayers for the floodwaters to recede, in Chandrapur village, east of Gauhati, 16 August 2017. Photo: The Guardian

17 August 2017 (Hindustan Times) – There was no let up in the flood situation in Assam, Bihar and north Bengal on Wednesday with more deaths being reported from the states due to the natural calamity.

The number of lives lost in the third wave of floods in Assam increased by 11, taking the toll to 39. Around 33.45 lakh [3.345 million] people in 24 of the 32 districts in the state remained affected due to the floods.

The number of lives claimed by the floods in Assam so far this year stood at 123, including eight in Guwahati.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Wednesday left for Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and apprise him of the preliminary damage caused by the third wave of floods.

According to a report by the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), Dhubri, with 8.5 lakh [850 thousand] affected people, was the worst hit, followed by Morigaon where 5.1 lakh [510 thousand] people were affected.

As many as 2,970 villages were under water and 1.43 lakh [143 thousand] hectares of crop area were damaged, the report said.

A man wades through -chest-deep floodwaters, carrying his cattle on his shoulder, as he moves to safer ground at Topa village in Saptari, India, 16 August 2017. Photo: Narendra Shrestha / EPA

The ASDMA said the authorities were running 304 relief camps and distribution centres in 21 districts, where 1,38,648 people had taken shelter. […]

Most of the forest areas in the Kaziranga National Park, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and Lawkhua Wildlife Sanctuary were under the flood waters, they said.

In Bihar, the toll mounted to 72 from 56 on Tuesday and around 73.44 lakh [7.344 million] people in 14 districts were affected by the floods, triggered by incessant rains in Nepal and the northern parts of the state. [more]

No let up in flood situation in Assam, Bihar, north Bengal

Cyanobacterial bloom in Taihu Lake in China. Photo: Hans W. Paerl / University of North Carolina

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, 15 August 2017 (Tufts Now) – Harmful algal blooms known to pose risks to human and environmental health in large freshwater reservoirs and lakes are projected to increase because of climate change, according to a team of researchers led by a Tufts University scientist.

The team developed a modeling framework that predicts that the largest increase in cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CyanoHABs) would occur in the Northeast region of the United States, but the biggest economic harm would be felt by recreation areas in the Southeast.

The research, which is published in print today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, is part of larger, ongoing efforts among scientists to quantify and monetize the degree to which climate change will impact and damage various U.S. sectors.

“Some of the biggest CyanoHAB impacts will occur in more rural regions, such as those in the Southeast and Midwest – areas that don’t often come up in conversation about unavoidable effects of climate change,” said Steven C. Chapra, Ph.D., lead author and Louis Berger Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering at Tufts. “The impact of climate change goes way beyond warmer air temperatures, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers.”

“Our study shows that higher water temperature, changes in rainfall, and increased nutrient inputs will combine to cause more frequent occurrence of harmful algal blooms in the future,” he added.

Cyanobacteria are the earth’s oldest oxygenic photosynthetic organisms. Throughout their 3.5 billion-year-old evolutionary history, these organisms have proven resilient and adaptable to a wide range of climates. Consequently, many cyanobacteria exhibit optimal growth and bloom potentials at high water temperatures relative to other aquatic plants. Therefore, global warming plays a key role in their expansion and persistence, said Chapra.

In order to capture the range of possible futures, the analysis used climate change projections from five general circulation models, two greenhouse gas emission scenarios, and two cyanobacterial growth scenarios. It is among the few studies to combine climate projections with a hydrologic/water quality network model of U.S. lakes and reservoirs. The modeling approach is unique in its practice of coupling climate, hydrologic, and water quality models into a unified computational framework that is applied on a national scale.

The model chain starts with projections of alternative future climates from General Circulation Models (GCMs). The GCM projections of temperature and precipitation are then entered into two other models:

  • a rainfall-runoff model to simulate monthly runoff in each of the 2,119 watersheds of the continental U.S.; and
  • a water demand model, which projects water requirements of each watershed’s municipal, industrial, and agriculture sectors. Given these runoff and demand projections, a water resources systems model produces a time series of reservoir storage, release, and demand allocations (e.g., agriculture, environmental flows, and hydropower).

Finally, these water flows and reservoir states are entered into a water quality model to simulate a number of water quality characteristics, including cyanobacteria concentrations, in each of the nation’s waterbodies. The end result is a framework that can predict the combined impact of climate, population growth, and other factors on future water quality for different U.S. regions.

It has been estimated that lakes and reservoirs serving as drinking water sources for 30 million to 48 million Americans may be contaminated periodically by algal toxins. Researchers cited an example in 2014, when nearly 500,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio, lost access to drinking water after water drawn from Lake Erie revealed the presence of cyanotoxins.

Beyond the human health effects, CyanoHABs have a variety of negative consequences for aquatic ecosystems, including the creation of unsightly surface scums and a reduction in recreational use and access to shorelines. Also, because most cyanobacteria are inedible by zooplankton and planktivorous fish, they represent a “dead end” in the aquatic food chain – a scenario that ultimately hurts both commercial and recreational fishing industries.

Chapra noted that the research indicates that as water temperatures increase, more stringent and costly nutrient controls would be necessary in order to maintain current water quality.

“The study provides a framework that offers insights on cause and effect linkages to help support planning, policy, and identify data gaps for future research,” said Chapra.

Additional authors on this paper are Brent Boehlert, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Industrial Economics, Inc.; Charles Fant, Ph.D., Industrial Economics, Inc.; Victor J. Bierman, Jr., Ph.D., LimnoTech; Jim Henderson, Corona Environmental Consulting; David Mills, Abt Associates; Diane M.L. Mas, Ph.D., Fuss & O’Neill, Inc.; Lisa Rennels, Industrial Economics; Lesley Jantarasami, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Jeremy Martinich, EPA; Kenneth M. Strzepek, Ph.D., MIT, and Hans W. Paerl, Ph.D., professor of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Institute of Marine Sciences.

The research was supported by the U.S. EPA and the U.S. National Science Foundation, and access to the reservoir datasets from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Chapra, S., Boehlert, B., Fant, C., Bierman, V., Henderson, J., Mills, D., Mas, D., Rennels, L., Jantarasami, L., Martinich, J., Strzepek, K., Paerl, H. “Climate Change Impact on Harmful Algal Blooms in U.S. Freshwater: A Screening-Level Assessment.” Environmental Science & Technology. Published online June 26, 2017; published in print 15 August 2017. DOI 10.1021/acs.est.7b01498.

Climate change projected to significantly increase harmful algal blooms in U.S. freshwaters

Effect of climate change on cyanobacteria concentrations in large reservoirs in the contiguous U.S. Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CyanoHABs) have serious adverse effects on human and environmental health. Graphic: Chapra, et al., 2017 / Environmental Science & Technology

ABSTRACT: Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CyanoHABs) have serious adverse effects on human and environmental health. Herein, we developed a modeling framework that predicts the effect of climate change on cyanobacteria concentrations in large reservoirs in the contiguous U.S. The framework, which uses climate change projections from five global circulation models, two greenhouse gas emission scenarios, and two cyanobacterial growth scenarios, is unique in coupling climate projections with a hydrologic/water quality network model of the contiguous United States. Thus, it generates both regional and nationwide projections useful as a screening-level assessment of climate impacts on CyanoHAB prevalence as well as potential lost recreation days and associated economic value. Our projections indicate that CyanoHAB concentrations are likely to increase primarily due to water temperature increases tempered by increased nutrient levels resulting from changing demographics and climatic impacts on hydrology that drive nutrient transport. The combination of these factors results in the mean number of days of CyanoHAB occurrence ranging from about 7 days per year per waterbody under current conditions, to 16–23 days in 2050 and 18–39 days in 2090. From a regional perspective, we find the largest increases in CyanoHAB occurrence in the Northeast U.S., while the greatest impacts to recreation, in terms of costs, are in the Southeast.

Climate Change Impacts on Harmful Algal Blooms in U.S. Freshwaters: A Screening-Level Assessment

Annual US CO2 emissions and reductions by source (in million metric tonnes), 1990-2017, from energy in black, with estimated reductions by factor shown by colored wedges. Top chart shows zoomed-in reductions with a truncated y-axis, while bottom chart shows the same chart with a y-axis starting at zero. Graphic: Carbon Brief

By Zeke Hausfather
15 August 2017

(CarbonBrief) – Before 2005, U.S. carbon emissions were marching upwards year after year, with little sign of slowing down. After this point, they fell quickly, declining 14% from their peak by the end of 2016.

Researchers have given a number of different reasons for this marked turnaround. Some have argued that it was mainly due to natural gas and, to a lesser extent, wind both replacing coal for generating electricity. Others have suggested that the declines were driven by the financial crisis and its lasting effects on the economy.

Here Carbon Brief presents an analysis of the causes of the decline in US CO2 since 2005. There is no single cause of reductions. Rather, they were driven by a number of factors, including a large-scale transition from coal to gas, a large increase in wind power, a reduction in industrial energy use and changes in transport patterns.

Declines in US CO2 have persisted despite an economic recovery from the financial crisis. While the pace of reductions may slow, many of these factors will continue to push down emissions, notwithstanding the inclinations of the current administration.

Carbon Brief’s analysis shows that in 2016:

  • Overall, CO2 emissions were around 18% lower than they would have been, if underlying factors had not changed, and 14% lower than their 2005 peak.
  • Coal-to-gas switching in the power sector is the largest driver, accounting for 33% of the emissions reduction in 2016.
  • Wind generation was responsible for 19% of the emissions reduction.
  • Solar power was responsible for 3%.
  • Reduced electricity use – mostly in the industrial sector – was responsible for 18%.
  • Without these changes, electricity sector CO2 emissions would have been 46% higher than they are today.
  • Reduced fuel consumption in homes and industry was responsible for an additional 12% of the overall emissions reductions.
  • Changes in transport emissions from fewer miles per-capita, more efficient vehicles, and less air travel emissions per-capita account for the final 15%.

The “big picture”

US emissions peaked in 2005 at just below 6,000 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2), and have declined to below 5,200 Mt CO2 in 2016. The figure [above] shows actual US emissions in black, as well as the reductions in emissions due to each different cause as a colored “wedge”.

If underlying factors driving emissions had not changed, a growing population would have led to emissions increasing rather than declining over the past decade. [more]

Analysis: Why US carbon emissions have fallen 14% since 2005

Two helicopters land beneath a column of smoke from a forest fire in British Columbia, 8 August 2017. Photo: BC Wildfire Service

By Greg Fry
19 August 2017

Williams Lake, B.C. (250 News) – This summer has been the worst wildfire season on record in British Columbia and as a result those fighting the blazes and others working in emergency management have been working harder than ever.

However, Chris Duffy, executive director of operations with Emergency Management BC, says there are rules in place to help employees get through this grueling season.

“There are safe worker guidelines that outline how many duty days you are allowed and so right now for us, folks are working generally 10 days on and then days off,” he says.

“But given how long this event is sustained, some folks are on shorter rotations than that even. So, it’s a little bit flexible given people’s health and wellness.”

Rules are also in place for those working with the BC Wildfire Service.

“We have safe work standards – not only for hours worked in a day and hours between shifts but maximum days that need to be worked,” says chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek.

A firefighter looks out of a helicopter flying near a forest fire in British Columbia, 12 August 2017. Photo: BC Wildfire Service‏

“Our max is 14 days consecutively. But echoing what Chris said, given that this has been a protracted season and given that the Wildfire Service as well was quite engaged in flood support in the spring, certainly it’s been a long few months. So, in a lot of cases we’ve been shortening that 14-day window as well whenever it’s practical for us to do so.” [more]

Long Wildfire Season Exhausting for Firefighters, Emergency Personnel


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