Nenana Ice Classic competition ice break-up dates, 1916-2017. Graphic: Gavin Schmidt / RealClimate

By Gavin Schmidt
2 May 2017

(RealClimate) – As I’ve done for a few years, here is the updated graph for the Nenana Ice Classic competition, which tracks the break up of ice on the Tanana River near Nenana in Alaska. It is now a 101-year time series tracking the winter/spring conditions in that part of Alaska, and shows clearly the long term trend towards earlier break up, and overall warming.

2017 was almost exactly on trend – roughly one week earlier than the average break up date a century ago. There was a short NPR piece on the significance again this week, but most of the commentary from last year and earlier is of course still valid.

My shadow bet on whether any climate contrarian site will mention this dataset remains in play (none have since 2013 which was an record late year).

Nenana Ice Classic 2017

Ensemble mean modelled global temperature before and after correction for the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) is applied. Graphic: Henley and King, 2017 / Geophysical Research Letters

By Chelsea Harvey
9 May 2017

(The Washington Post) – Global temperatures could exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above their preindustrial levels within the next 15 years, according to a new scientific study, crossing the first threshold under the Paris climate agreement and placing the world at a potentially dangerous level of climate change.

The report comes as climate agreement participants are watching the United States — where the Trump administration is debating whether to withdraw from the Paris accord — and as scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are working on a special report about the 1.5-degree goal (equivalent to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) and the consequences of overshooting it.

That IPCC’s upcoming special report and the increasing urgency about minimizing global warming were one impetus for the study, according to co-author Benjamin Henley, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne in Australia. “We are working on a number of scientific avenues to help inform that report,” he told The Washington Post.

The study focuses on a natural planetary system known as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, or IPO (it’s also sometimes referred to as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation). It’s an alternating pattern of ocean temperatures that shifts periodically between warm and cool phases, helping to drive temperature and weather patterns all over the world.

During cool, or “negative,” phases, tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean tend to be colder, and the global mean temperature is lower. The system is similar to the El Niño/La Niña cycle, the major difference being that phases of the IPO tend to last much longer — sometimes a decade or more. The phenomenon is believed to be a natural form of climate variability unrelated to human-caused climate change, although it does have the potential to influence the progression of global warming.

For most of the 2000s, the IPO has been in a negative phase, and scientists think its cooling effect has helped to slightly offset the effect of climate change, an explanation for the so-called global warming pause in the first part of the 21st century. As multiple studies have pointed out, this temporary slowdown is consistent with the overall long-term warming trend and in no way suggests that human-induced climate change is not occurring. Rather, this natural variation in the global climate helped to slightly blunt those effects.

Many scientists believe that the planet is now transitioning back into a positive, or warm, phase, which could amplify, rather than offset, human-caused climate warming. This means we could reach milestone temperature thresholds faster than we would if the IPO had remained in its negative phase.  

That’s the conclusion of the new study, written by Henley and Andrew King of the University of Melbourne. Using model projections of future climate warming under a business-as-usual scenario, they suggest that the Earth could hit the 1.5-degree temperature threshold as early as 2025, while the continuation of the negative phase probably would delay this event until after 2030. […]

And the 2025 date for hitting the 1.5-degree temperature threshold is looking more and more likely. Multiple studies in the past few years suggest that the transition to a positive IPO phase has  begun. Henley said there’s some uncertainty about whether that has happened, but other scientists are more confident. Scientists John Fasullo and Kevin Trenberth, also of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, have published research to this effect, and both told The Post that we have been in a positive phase for several years now. [more]

Earth could break through a major climate threshold in the next 15 years, scientists warn

ABSTRACT: Global temperature is rapidly approaching the 1.5°C Paris target. In the absence of external cooling influences, such as volcanic eruptions, temperature projections are centered on a breaching of the 1.5°C target, relative to 1850–1900, before 2029. The phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) will regulate the rate at which mean temperature approaches the 1.5°C level. A transition to the positive phase of the IPO would lead to a projected exceedance of the target centered around 2026. If the Pacific Ocean remains in its negative decadal phase, the target will be reached around 5 years later, in 2031. Given the temporary slowdown in global warming between 2000 and 2014, and recent initialized decadal predictions suggestive of a turnaround in the IPO, a sustained period of rapid temperature rise might be underway. In that case, the world will reach the 1.5°C level of warming several years sooner than if the negative IPO phase persists.

SIGNIFICANCE: Global temperature is rapidly approaching the 1.5°C Paris target. In this study, we find that in the absence of external cooling influences, such as volcanic eruptions, the midpoint of the spread of temperature projections exceeds the 1.5°C target before 2029, based on temperatures relative to 1850–1900. We find that the phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), a slow-moving natural oscillation in the climate system, will regulate the rate at which global temperature approaches the 1.5°C level. A transition to the positive phase of the IPO would lead to a projected exceedance of the target centered around 2026. If the Pacific Ocean remains in its negative phase, however, the projections are centered on reaching the target around 5 years later, in 2031. Given the temporary slowdown in global warming between 2000 and 2014, and recent climate model predictions suggestive of a turnaround in the IPO, a sustained period of rapid temperature rise might be underway. In that case, the world will reach the 1.5°C level of warming several years sooner than if the negative IPO phase persists.

Trajectories toward the 1.5°C Paris target: Modulation by the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation

Diagram showing the light curve of the star KIC 8462852 during the 19 May 2017 event. The Kepler light curve data from Event 2 from Epoch 2 (black dotted curve) is aligned with the new event, suggesting similar structure. Graphic: David Kipping / Cool Worlds

By Jim Galasyn
21 May 2017

(Desdemona Despair) – The most interesting star in the galaxy just got more interesting. Recall that in October 2015,  The Atlantic reported on KIC 8462852, a star that’s about 1,500 light-years away, and how it was caught exhibiting strange fluctuations in its light emissions. The Atlantic interviewed Yale Postdoc Tabetha Boyajian, the lead author of the now-famous paper, “Planet Hunters X. KIC 8462852 – Where’s the flux?”. She said, “We’d never seen anything like this star. It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.” The Internet hive mind unleashed its imagination, and almost immediately, there was serious speculation that humans had witnessed the first tangible evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI).

Desdemona became obsessed with the light-curve data and threw in with an off-topic blog post, “Did the Kepler space telescope discover alien megastructures? The mystery of Tabby’s star solved”, which turned out to be the most popular post in the blog’s history, earning Des fifteen minutes of Internet fame. The Boyajian team predicted that given the orbital parameters for hypothetical objects revolving around KIC 8462852, we should see another set of dimming events in May 2017, and Des settled in to wait.

So it was immensely exciting to read Friday’s story in The Atlantic, “The ‘Alien Megastructure’ Star Is Dimming Again”. This time, there are numerous telescopes trained on KIC 8462852, so we can collect much more data in near real-time, as events unfold. Here’s a wrap-up of the situation on Sunday.

The Planet Hunters team successfully predicted the current dimming event

A measure of success for a scientific theory is how well it makes testable predictions, and the WTF paper scores a big hit with one of its predictions:

4.4.3 Aftermath of giant impact in planetary system

A more robust prediction is that future dimming events should occur roughly every 750 days, with one in 2015 April and another in 2017 May. [...] following the prediction in Section 4.4.3, if a collision took place, we should see re-occurring dipping events caused from debris in 2017 May. Unfortunately, the 2015 April event likely went unobserved, as all available photometric archives we checked came up with nothing. [p. 11, p. 13]

This hypothesis explains the dimming as dust and debris from a single, giant collision between planets, similar to the event that formed the Earth-Moon system.

The biggest objection to this hypothesis is the lack of a detectable infra-red signature around the star, which should be present if the dimming is caused by dust.

As of Sunday morning, the dimming event is ongoing

At 10:20am on 21 May 2017, Professor Boyajian tweeted the following data:

the newest light curve for #TabbysStar from LCO 0.4m scopes shows it has a complex shape.

Tabby's star light curve 21 May 2017

So the dimming event continues, which is a surprise if we were expecting a light curve similar to the Day 1540 event. David Kipping helpfully aligned the original Kepler data with the current event (top graph), and with yesterday’s data, they appeared quite similar, but with today’s data, the curves have diverged significantly.

The planetary impact hypothesis gets a boost

Given the successful periodicity prediction and the novel shape of the current event, the “aftermath of giant impact” idea seems to be favored by the data. This theory predicts that the clumps should be expanding and shearing out, so the light curves will change with each transit.

In “Thoughts on Neslušan & Budaj”, Jason Wright discusses another idea, “with a relatively simple but physically motivated model of massive objects (small planets) with very large, extended dust shrouds moving on highly eccentric orbits”.

No spectrum change during the current dimming event

Preliminary spectra show no change during the current dimming event. Researchers at the Liverpool Telescope report: “In an initial analysis we find no difference between the two spectra apart from in features that are attributable to the expected variable telluric absorption features in the Earth's atmosphere.”

This is surprising. If the dimming is due to dust or some other material, there should be some filtering of the light from the star that would reveal the composition of the occulting medium.

Extraterrestrial intelligence is still a viable explanation

Many ideas have been proposed to explain the anomalous light curves from Boyajian's Star. One of the most interesting ETI theories invokes the concept of star lifting, which has been explored by blogger Eduard Heindl, who gets a very good curve fit for a simple model of artificial jets of plasma being pulled from the star:


If the dimming is caused by star material, it may be reasonable to expect that the spectra wouldn’t change during a transit event, since the occulting material is the same as the star’s.

Get the latest updates from the scientists:

Under President Obama Under Trump
The impacts of climate change are forcing us to change how we manage these resources. Climate change may dramatically affect water supplies in certain watersheds, impact coastal wetlands and barrier islands, cause relocation of and stress on wildlife, increase wildland fires, further spread invasive species, and more. The impacts of climate change have led the department to focus on how we manage our nation’s public lands and resources.

By Oliver Milman and Sam Morris
14 May 2017

(The Guardian) – During inauguration day on 20 January, as Donald Trump was adding “American carnage” to the presidential lexicon, the new administration also took a hammer to official recognition that climate change exists and poses a threat to the US.

One of the starkest alterations to the White House’s website following Trump’s assumption of office was the scrapping of an entire section on climate change, stuffed with graphs on renewable energy growth and pictures of Barack Obama gazing at shriveling glaciers, to be replaced by a perfunctory page entitled “An America first energy plan”.

In the more than 100 days since, the administration has largely opted for a chisel and scalpel approach to refashioning its online content, but the end result is much the same – mentions of climate change have been excised, buried or stripped of any importance.

Federal government websites are being combed through to apply new verbiage. The state department’s office of global change, for example, has removed links to the Obama administration’s 2013 climate action report and mention of the latest UN meeting on climate change. Text relating to climate change and greenhouse gases has also been purged. […]

Groups such as DataRefuge and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) have swung into action to monitor and archive climate and other data, just in case. EDGI uses a team of volunteer analysts to track changes to around 25,000 pages across multiple government agencies.

Comparison of text on the EIA Kids website's page on Coal, under President Obama (left) and after Trump's censorship (right). Graphic: The Guardian

Maya Anjur-Dietrich, member of EDGI’s website tracking committee, said the initiative has “observed several emerging patterns, which notably concern climate change and renewable energy”.

“Across multiple agency websites, we have seen a reduction in usage of terms like ‘climate change’ and ‘greenhouse gases’, and an overall reduction in access to information pertaining to climate change,” she said.

“In a few cases, we have also observed shifts in economy- and business-oriented language, where the descriptions of the office focuses have increased their mentions of helping to grow infrastructure, create jobs, and stimulate the economy.

“On certain DOE (Department of Energy) pages, in particular, we have seen a shift in emphasis away from renewable energy and, in some cases, towards usage of fossil fuels.” [more]

Trump is deleting climate change, one site at a time

Difference in obesity prevalence in Europe between 2002 and 2014, for girls (above) and boys (below). Graphic: WHO

17 May 2017 (United Nations) – Citing eating habits, physical activity, and sedentary behaviours, the United Nations health agency launched a new publication today at the European Congress on Obesity in Portugal which revealed a rising number of obese adolescents in many countries across Europe.

“Despite sustained efforts to tackle childhood obesity, one in three adolescents is still estimated to be overweight or obese in Europe, with the highest rates found in southern European and Mediterranean countries,” said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Regional Director for Europe of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Noting with particular concern that the epidemic is on the rise in eastern European countries, where historically rates have been lower, she called for ambitious policy action to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target to halt the increase in childhood obesity. “Governments must target efforts and break this harmful cycle from childhood into adolescence and beyond.”

The latest WHO study on Adolescent obesity and related behaviours: trends and inequalities in the WHO European Region, 2002-2014 points to evidence suggesting that up to one in three boys and one in five girls aged six to nine is now obese.

Childhood obesity is considered one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century, according to the study. Globally, around one in 10 young people aged five to 17 is overweight or obese – with rapidly increasing levels in recent years.

According to the publication, “the primary causes of overweight and obesity can be traced to energy-related behaviours – physical activity, sedentary behaviour, eating behaviour and sleep – which contribute to an energy imbalance between calorie intake and energy expenditure.”

While trends have previously been reported on separately, this study compiles together the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) data on obesity and obesity-related behaviours – reviewing the latest evidence and studying the range and complexity of influences on childhood obesity.

The health consequences of excess body weight are well documented. As the report points out, obesity increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnoea and cardiovascular disease. It also diminishes adolescents' quality of life and is related to various emotional and behavioural problems.

Additionally, the chronic nature of obesity can limit social mobility and perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty and ill health. Many inequalities in obesity and related behaviours exist, with young people from lower socioeconomic groups generally reporting worse outcomes.

The study also notes that longitudinal studies have found that obesity early in life relates to less educational attainment and lower incomes in adulthood – even after differences in childhood socioeconomic position (SEP) are controlled. Furthermore, low SEP in childhood increases the risk for becoming obese in adulthood over and above the impact of adult SEP on obesity.

“Most young people will not outgrow the condition: about four in every five adolescents who become obese will continue to have weight problems as adults,” the study underscores.

The HBSC survey is a WHO collaborative cross-national study that monitors the health behaviours, health outcomes and social environments of boys and girls aged 11, 13 and 15 years every four years.

Amid 'alarming rise' in obesity, UN study finds one in three European adolescents overweight

Banner for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources site. Graphic: USACE

By Don Hopey
15 May 2017

(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) – A soon-to-be-released federal report on climate change for the Ohio River basin predicts accelerating temperature increases over the next 80 years, coupled with significant and dramatic precipitation changes in the eastern and western portions of the watershed.

Although the region’s climate is already changing, the data suggest that the bigger and more rapid changes in temperature, precipitation and stream flows won’t speed up until around 2040, according to the draft summary of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of projected impacts to the Ohio River basin, which includes Western Pennsylvania and all or parts of a dozen other states.

Eventually, the region will likely experience increased flooding, altered aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and new demands on the operation of reservoirs, dams and other water infrastructure. The changes could also impact water suppliers, hydroelectric generation, power plants and other industries using cooling water, state and local capital improvement projects, even water-based recreation.

“The potential impacts to infrastructure, energy production and both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems … range from minimal in some sub-basins to dramatic and potentially devastating in others,” the summary states.

The study, which began in 2010, also addresses potential adaptation strategies that could be used for both short and long-term infrastructure planning, policy analysis and operational changes.

“The study was done because we want to be positioned for changing conditions today and into the future,” said Kathleen White, who is an author of the report and leads the Corps’ Institute for Water Resources Climate and Global Change team. “Just like any military operation must be aware of and adapt to changing threats, we must do the same thing.” [more]

Climate report predicts dramatic changes for Ohio River basin

Regional Map of the Antarctic Peninsula Showing Moss Bank Sites and Meteorological Records of Recent Mean Annual Temperature. Black dots are new locations used in this analysis; gray dot is previously published [14]; white dots are meteorological records, with decadal trends [22]. Approximate position of −5°C and −9°C isotherms [23, 24] illustrates lack of significant latitudinal temperature gradients over western AP study area. Graphic: Amesbury, et al., 2017 / Current Biology

By Zamira Rahim
20 May 2017

(CNN) – Antarctica is home to ice, penguins and -- thanks to climate change -- rapidly increasing levels of moss, scientists say.

Moss banks, found across parts of the western Antarctic Peninsula, have grown dramatically over the past 50 years, according to a study published in the scientific journal Current Biology.

Moss growth has "increased by 4 or 5 times" in the past five decades, according to Tom Roland, one of the co-authors of the report.

    Higher temperatures and less ice are "likely open up more land for the moss ecosystems to expand into," Roland said, leading to the "'greening' of the Peninsula."

    "If you'd taken a photograph of these parts of the Peninsula 50 years ago it would have been a monochrome shot of ice," Dominic Hodgson, another of the study's co-authors, told CNN. "Nothing but glaciers.

    "Today that photo would show extensive patches of green," he noted. [more]

    Moss is turning Antarctica's icy landscape green

    ABSTRACT: Recent climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula is well documented [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], with warming, alongside increases in precipitation, wind strength, and melt season length [1, 6, 7], driving environmental change [8, 9]. However, meteorological records mostly began in the 1950s, and paleoenvironmental datasets that provide a longer-term context to recent climate change are limited in number and often from single sites [7] and/or discontinuous in time [10, 11]. Here we use moss bank cores from a 600-km transect from Green Island (65.3°S) to Elephant Island (61.1°S) as paleoclimate archives sensitive to regional temperature change, moderated by water availability and surface microclimate [12, 13]. Mosses grow slowly, but cold temperatures minimize decomposition, facilitating multi-proxy analysis of preserved peat [14]. Carbon isotope discrimination (Δ13C) in cellulose indicates the favorability of conditions for photosynthesis [15]. Testate amoebae are representative heterotrophs in peatlands [16, 17, 18], so their populations are an indicator of microbial productivity [14]. Moss growth and mass accumulation rates represent the balance between growth and decomposition [19]. Analyzing these proxies in five cores at three sites over 150 years reveals increased biological activity over the past ca. 50 years, in response to climate change. We identified significant changepoints in all sites and proxies, suggesting fundamental and widespread changes in the terrestrial biosphere. The regional sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises suggests that terrestrial ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region—an Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic [20].

    Widespread Biological Response to Rapid Warming on the Antarctic Peninsula

    The dried swim bladders of the totoaba have an average price of $20,000 per kilogram, causing them to be dubbed “aquatic cocaine”. Photo: Anthony Wallace / AFP / Getty Images

    By Damian Carrington
    16 May 2017

    (The Guardian) – The world’s rarest marine mammal is on the verge of extinction due to the continuing illegal demand in China for a valuable fish organ, an undercover investigation has revealed.

    There are no more than 30 vaquita – a five-foot porpoise – left in the northern Gulf of California today and they could be extinct within months, conservationists have warned. The population has been all but eradicated by pirate fishermen catching the large totoaba fish and killing the vaquita in the process.

    The totoaba, which is itself highly endangered, is caught for its swim bladders which are smuggled to China for sale on the black market. Undercover investigators found the swim bladders, called maws, for sale in Shantou in Guandong province, at an average price of $20,000 per kilogram. The cost has led to the maws being dubbed “aquatic cocaine”.

    “The demand is still strong and stable – it is not going down – and prices are climbing again,” said Andrea Crosta, from the Elephant Action League, an intelligence-led group now targeting all wildlife crime and which conducted the totoaba investigation.

    “Because it is very expensive, it remains a product for wealthy people,” he said. “The law enforcement is very weak because it is not top priority and probably because it involves rich and powerful people.”

    One trader in the illegal maws told the investigators: “When the government comes to check, they call and inform us earlier and we will hide them when they come.” However, the trade is less open than it once was. Chinese buyers of maws prefer those from domestic waters but these are exceedingly rare now, having been intensively fished for many decades. […]

    “Time is rapidly running out for the vaquita – we could tragically lose [it] in a matter of months,” said WWF’s Chris Gee. “The last hope for the species is the Mexican government immediately putting in place and properly enforcing a permanent ban.” [more]

    Chinese appetite for totoaba fish bladder kills off rare porpoise

    Hundreds of survivors of Typhoon Haiyan found shelter in a Tacloban church after the disaster. Photo: Damir Sagolj / Reuters

    By Justine Calma
    2 May 2017

    (Quartz) – When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013, it was, at the time, the strongest storm in history ever to make landfall. A “super typhoon” with wind speeds that reached 196 miles per hour, Haiyan displaced more than 4 million people and nearly wiped out the coastal city of Tacloban. Residents like Kristine still recall the smell of death that floated on the sea breeze and permeated streets.

    “Too many people died,” Kristine says, somberly. But the storm, known locally as Yolanda, was just the beginning of the painful journey she was about to take.

    After the skies cleared, a second humanitarian disaster unfolded in the Tacloban Astrodome, a sports arena where thousands took shelter. An underground economy took root as women and girls were sold for food and scarce aid supplies, or trafficked into forced labor and sex work by recruiters offering jobs and scholarships. Kristine says she was sold to men every night; some of the men were foreign-aid workers, she believes. The men raped her, and took graphic pictures and videos. Kristine was 13.

    As severe storms and rising sea levels wear down coastal regions, women and girls are at ever-greater risk. Climate change is a new push factor for human trafficking; its effects destroy livelihoods and place women and children in post-catastrophe situations that traffickers exploit.

    The Philippines is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, which scientists have linked to an increased frequency and severity of extreme-weather events like Haiyan. The country consistently ranks within the top five nations most prone to extreme weather and natural disasters. It’s getting worse; temperatures have been recorded at the highest levels in history in recent years, and five of the 10 deadliest storms to ever hit the country have taken place since 2006. The Eastern Visayas, of which Tacloban is the largest city, is often ground zero for the typhoons that make landfall in the Philippines. [more]

    Climate change has created a new generation of sex-trafficking victims


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