By Jon Erdman and Nick Wiltgen
4 July 2015
(The Weather Channel) – While it may not be quite as hot as last weekend in some areas, there appears to be no end in sight to this torrid heat wave in the West.
June and even a few all-time record highs have already been shattered in parts of the interior Northwest, northern Rockies and Great Basin. The extreme heat is likely to last into next week and may end up breaking records for longevity as well. For example, the six-day period ending Thursday was the hottest stretch of six days on record dating to 1877 in Boise, Idaho.
Through the holiday weekend, daily record high temperatures will be threatened in some cities, including Seattle, Yakima, and Spokane in Washington, Portland and Eugene in Oregon, and Helena, Montana.
Medford, Oregon, tied its daily record on Wednesday (108 degrees). Eugene, Oregon, set daily record highs Wednesday (99 degrees), Thursday (101 degrees) and Friday (100 degrees). Seattle also set daily record highs on Thursday (93 degrees) and Friday (92 degrees). In Montana, daily records were set on Friday in Kalispell (95 degrees) and Helena (98 degrees).
The culprit in this hot setup is a dome of high pressure aloft, surging northwestward to encompass a large area of the western states. The center of this high will shift around through the holiday weekend, but overall it will remain a dominant feature.
This will allow the sizzling early-July sun to send temperatures soaring in the Pacific Northwest, northern California, interior Northwest and northern Rockies.
Highs well into the 90s and triple digits are expected in many lower-elevation locations west of the Continental Divide and inland from the Pacific Coast this holiday weekend and into next week.
This includes the Salt Lake Valley, Idaho's Snake River Plain, much of Oregon's lower elevations east of the immediate coast, and areas to the east of the Cascades in Washington State.
In particular, parts of the Columbia Basin and lower Snake River Valley will see particularly extreme and persistent heat. This includes cities such as Yakima, Kennewick, and Walla Walla in Washington as well as Lewiston, Idaho. Temperatures will surge towards the low to middle 100s through the holiday weekend.
These very hot conditions have led to heat advisories for portions of the Northwest including Seattle, Portland, and Eugene. [more]
By Chris Mooney
25 June 2015
(Washington Post) – If Greenland goes, it is becoming clear that it won’t go quietly.
Scientists have already documented entire meltwater lakes vanishing in a matter of hours atop the vast Greenland ice sheet, as huge crevasses open beneath them. And now, they’ve cast light on the mechanisms behind another dramatic geophysical effect brought on by the rumbling and melting of this mass of often mile-thick ice: earthquakes.
In a new paper [pdf] in the journal Science, a team of researchers from Swansea University in the UK, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, and several other institutions explain how the loss of Greenland’s ice can generate glacial earthquakes. In brief: When vast icebergs break off at the end of tidal glaciers, they tumble in the water and jam the glaciers themselves backwards. The result is a seismic event detectable across the Earth.
“These are all around magnitude 4.6 to 5.2, they’re all pretty close to magnitude 5,” says Meredith Nettles of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, a co-author of the study. “Which is a pretty big earthquake.”
Granted, these earthquakes aren’t caused by faults – they’re caused by massive movements of ice and how those impact the ground beneath. Compared with the early 1990s, Nettles says, scientists are now measuring seven times as many of these glacial earthquakes coming from Greenland — the rate has shot up as the ice sheet has begun to lose more mass from the calving of icebergs at the front end of glaciers.
To understand the dynamics behind how these glacial earthquakes are happening, the researchers put GPS instruments atop Greenland’s fast moving Helheim Glacier, which is located in the southeast part of Greenland, across the Denmark strait from Iceland. They also monitored the glacier’s calving front, where it meets the water, by camera, and used global seismic data to track earthquake occurrences.
To get a better sense of what they discovered, you first have to wrap your mind around how big these calving icebergs actually are. The amount of ice mass that breaks off in large iceberg calvings from Helheim Glacier, explains Nettles, is around a gigaton, or a billion metric tons. “If you took the whole National Mall, and covered it up with ice, to a height about four times as high as the [Washington] monument,” says Nettles, you’d have about a gigaton of ice. “All the way down from the Capitol steps to the Lincoln Memorial.”
Measured in space rather than mass, a big iceberg breaking off Helheim can be 4 kilometers in length — or over two miles. So maybe it is no surprise that a body this large can shake the Earth when it moves — and especially when it throws its weight against another solid object, as occurs during iceberg calving. [more]
ABSTRACT: Nearly half of Greenland’s mass loss occurs through iceberg calving, but the physical mechanisms operating during calving are poorly known and in situ observations are sparse. We show that calving at Greenland’s Helheim Glacier causes a minutes-long reversal of the glacier’s horizontal flow and a downward deflection of its terminus. The reverse motion results from the horizontal force caused by iceberg capsize and acceleration away from the glacier front. The downward motion results from a hydrodynamic pressure drop behind the capsizing berg, which also causes an upward force on the solid Earth. These forces are the source of glacial earthquakes, globally detectable seismic events whose proper interpretation will allow remote sensing of calving processes occurring at increasing numbers of outlet glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.
3 July 2015 (Desdemona Despair) – Will world agriculture be able to support a human population of 12 billion people in the year 2100? The answer largely turns on how much land is available for growing crops. Unfortunately, the world’s arable land area is declining at an enormous rate. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) estimates that “land covering 12 million hectares, equivalent to Bulgaria or Benin, is lost every year.” (Desertification pdf, p. 12)
Causes of desertification
This loss of arable land is caused by humans wrecking the soil and lowering water tables:
In countries where major economic resources are dependent on agricultural activities, there are few alternative sources of income, or none at all. Soil is damaged by excessive use when farmers neglect or shorten fallow periods, which are necessary to allow the soil to recover sufficiently to produce enough food to feed the population. This in turn causes the soil to lose organic matter, limiting plant growth and reducing vegetation cover. The bare soil is more vulnerable to the effects of erosion. Four human activities are the most immediate causes:
- Over-cultivation exhausts the soil;
- Overgrazing removes the vegetation cover that protects it from erosion;
- Deforestation destroys the trees that bind the soil to the land; and
- Poorly drained irrigation systems turn croplands salty.
Extractive industries advance land degradation by lowering water tables, disturbing land, and accelerating soil erosion. Inadequate knowledge on sustainable land management, unfavourable trade conditions in developing countries, non-ecological tourism, and other socio-economic and political factors, which intensify the effects of desertification, create another form of impact. These factors interact with the causes above and are often the underlying drivers of man-made desertification. (Desertification pdf, p. 14)
The world supply of arable land
The World Bank maintains an extensive database of economic information, including arable land for all nations. Plotting the raw data for total arable land gives us this graph:
The most obvious feature is the discontinuity in 1992: this is when nations of the Former Soviet Union (FSU) began reporting statistics to the World Bank.
The other obvious feature is that growth of arable land has been flat since about that time: for the last 25 years or so, the area of arable land has not increased or decreased significantly.
Making up for desertification
Given that we’re losing 12 million hectares of arable land annually, how is the total area remaining stable? The answer is conversion of wildlands to agricultural land.
- Deforestation accounts for about 7.3 million hectares per year (“Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects”). Using World Bank data for forest area, I estimate a loss rate of about 7 million hectares per year (Forest area (sq km) World Bank.xslx).
- The total area of freshwater wetlands and floodplains was reduced by nearly two-thirds between 1997 and 2011, from an estimated 165 million hectares to 60 million hectares (“Changes in the global value of ecosystem services” [pdf]), so assume an average loss rate of around 7.5 million hectares per year.
- Add these numbers, and there are at least 14.5 million hectares per year of wildlands being converted to human uses, probably mostly for agriculture.
Arable land for every person
Humans are destroying soil at a rate of 12 million hectares per year, and we’re making up for it by destroying forest and wetlands at a comparable rate. But is all of this destruction of the natural world enabling us to keep up with the ever-growing human population?
Here are graphs of human population and world arable land. I’ve patched up the arable land trace by adding the FSU delta from 1991 to 1992 (229,924,500 hectares) to all of the values before 1991, which gives a tolerably smooth curve. (Doing the analysis with only data from 1992 onward doesn’t change the result by much.)
With these two data sets, it’s easy to calculate arable land per capita.
This graph makes it clear that arable land per capita is monotonically decreasing. The decline isn’t linear; in fact, it’s almost perfectly exponential, with R2 = 0.996 for the default Excel curve fit. Currently, the world has 0.2 hectares (0.49 acres) of arable land per person, down from 0.4 in 1962. Extrapolating the exponential curve, we’ll be down to 0.1 by around 2050, and 0.05 by 2100. So, every 50 years, arable land per capita declines by half. By the year 2100, each person will be supported by just 0.05 hectares (0.12 acres) of agricultural land.
A note about deforestation
At the current rate of depletion (7.5 million ha/yr), wild wetlands and floodplains will be gone within a decade, so most of the wildlands conversion will come from forests. Once we run out of wetlands, we’ll need to increase the deforestation rate. Assuming converted wetland has the same agricultural yield as converted forest, the deforestation rate would nearly double.
Using the World Bank forest area data, I estimate that it will take humans around 550-650 years to burn through all of the remaining forest at the current rate; half that time if the burn rate doubles when the wetland/floodplain supply runs out. The sudden decline in forest area in 2011-2012 may be the beginning of substitution away from wetlands/floodplains and toward deforestation.
Feeding the ever-increasing human population requires the continuous destruction of wildlands, but it also requires continuously increasing agricultural intensity: if, in 2050, arable land per capita is half of its current value, crop yields must double to maintain the status quo. But agricultural intensification may raise the desertification rate, and even without considering the problem of soil degradation, there are serious doubts about increasing agricultural yields enough to keep up with human population growth (cf. Graph of the Day: The Global Agricultural Productivity Gap, 2010-2050; Graph of the Day: Global food production projected to the year 2050).
You can get the data and related graphs here: Arable land (hectares) World Bank.xlsx.
Temperatures soar to danger point for sun-loving creatures – ‘They don’t have the flexibility in heat tolerance to keep up with global warming’2 comments Posted by Jim at Wednesday, July 01, 2015
By Tim Radford
16 June 2015
LONDON (Climate News Network) – Scientists in California have identified a cold-blooded killer as global warming brings new hazards for ectotherms − creatures that cannot regulate their own body heat.
The suggestion may seem counter-intuitive, as vipers, lizards, fish and frogs all depend on ambient warmth to keep their metabolisms busy. But while endotherms – among them mammals − have ways of keeping themselves cool on hot days, lizards and their like might not be so flexible and could overheat.
Alex Gunderson and Jonathon Stillman, biologists at the Romberg Tiburon Centre for Environmental Studies at San Francisco State University, report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that they tested their suspicions about overheating risks by combing through 112 published studies that delivered 394 estimates of potential temperature tolerance in 232 species of ectotherm − laboratory species that had been tested in extremes of hot and cold.
Their sample of the cold-blooded living things included amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans and insects, land-dwellers and water-dwellers.
They found evidence that all had some ability to acclimate – that is, adapt to different temperatures – and some, such as fish, crab, lobster and shrimp, had more tolerance to acclimation than others. But, overall, many of them proved less likely to tolerate increasingly extreme climate swings.
“Because animals have some ability to acclimate to higher temperatures, scientists hoped that they might be able to adjust their physiology to keep up with global warming,” Dr Gunderson says.
“We found by compiling these data in the first large-scale study of hundreds of different animals that the amount they can actually adjust is pretty low. They don‘t have the flexibility in heat tolerance to keep up with global warming.”
Global warming and attendant climate change is believed to threaten one species in six with extinction. It can do this by amplifying and adding to a range of existing hazards, threats and pressures such as habitat destruction, or over-hunting, or by changing in a few decades a whole climatic regime to which species have adapted over tens of thousands of years. […]
“Our results suggest that their ability to acclimate to increasing temperatures will not buffer them from the changes that are occurring, and that they are going to have to depend on behavioural or evolutionary change to persist,” Dr Gunderson says. [more]
ABSTRACT: Global warming is increasing the overheating risk for many organisms, though the potential for plasticity in thermal tolerance to mitigate this risk is largely unknown. In part, this shortcoming stems from a lack of knowledge about global and taxonomic patterns of variation in tolerance plasticity. To address this critical issue, we test leading hypotheses for broad-scale variation in ectotherm tolerance plasticity using a dataset that includes vertebrate and invertebrate taxa from terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats. Contrary to expectation, plasticity in heat tolerance was unrelated to latitude or thermal seasonality. However, plasticity in cold tolerance is associated with thermal seasonality in some habitat types. In addition, aquatic taxa have approximately twice the plasticity of terrestrial taxa. Based on the observed patterns of variation in tolerance plasticity, we propose that limited potential for behavioural plasticity (i.e., behavioural thermoregulation) favours the evolution of greater plasticity in physiological traits, consistent with the ‘Bogert effect’. Finally, we find that all ectotherms have relatively low acclimation in thermal tolerance and demonstrate that overheating risk will be minimally reduced by acclimation in even the most plastic groups. Our analysis indicates that behavioural and evolutionary mechanisms will be critical in allowing ectotherms to buffer themselves from extreme temperatures.
By Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Letitia Stein and Sandra Maler
29 June 2015
MIAMI, Florida (Reuters) – New revelations that a long strip of protected mangrove trees were illegally razed amid preparations for the 2016 Miami International Boat Show has outraged Florida environmentalists.
The lost trees, critical to the marine ecosystem, were hacked away in mid-May by a Miami city contractor in advance of the five-day show expected to draw about 100,000 attendees and 1,500 boats.
Environmental activists said in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that staging the show in an environmentally sensitive region could violate a number of federal laws including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.
The federal agency is currently weighing permits for the boat show, slated to be held next February at the Miami Marine Stadium.
"You've got sea grasses, corals, manatees, all sorts of protected birds," said Mayra Peña Lindsay, mayor of nearby Key Biscayne, one of the show's staunchest opponents.
The affluent city, on an island just outside Miami city limits, has hired a public relations firm to demand the National Marine Manufacturers Association move its event elsewhere.
But the city of Miami, which has agreed to replant the trees that could take more than five years to grow to full size, continues to support the boat show. [more]
By Leila Carvalho
26 June 2015
(The Conversation) – Exceptional drought, extreme temperatures, unprecedented drops in reservoir levels, and threatening water shortages for millions of people have dominated headlines in California in recent years. Unfortunately, Californians are not the only people being stressed with the “water crisis.”
Citizens of one of the most densely populated areas in South America – the São Paulo metropolitan area (SPMA) in southeastern Brazil – are struggling with one of the nastiest water crises in decades.
With over 20 million people and the main financial and economic center of Brazil, this region is under the influence of the South American monsoon system and receives the largest fraction of its precipitation during the Austral summer, from October to March. Yet in the last four years, rain gauge stations near the most important reservoirs supplying water to the city have been reporting growing deficits in precipitation. Last year saw the worst since at least 1961, which has been followed by another dry year.
To aggravate these conditions, daily records of high temperatures during these summers have increased evapotranspiration, accelerating drought conditions, similar to what has been observed in California.
A planet with over seven billion people and limited freshwater resources is already showing environmental exhaustion and signaling humans have crossed the line of sustainability. Our capacity to mitigate the negative effects of environmental changes and how fast we can adapt is limited by multiple factors. But as a megacity – a complex and often disorganized human conglomerate – the population of São Paulo, Brazil is particularly exposed to the effects of extreme weather events.
The climatic factors influencing the drought in California and in São Paulo are likely interconnected. Cycles in the Pacific sea surface temperature that occur on decadal timescales are coupled to changes in atmospheric circulation that affect weather patterns worldwide. In some regions, atmospheric conditions are such that they block the passage of cold fronts that cause the storms to bring precipitation, changing the path of these rain events. [more]
By Glenn Farley
26 June 2015
NEAR BLEWETT PASS, Washington (KING 5 News) – From the crest of the Cascade Mountains running east to the sagebrush and desert country along the Columbia River, a map shows years of damage from the Western Spruce Budworm, which is killing trees by the thousands.
The state's worst patch of budworm damage is an area bordered by I-90 to the south, as Highway 97 runs right through it.
Moths living in one tree will lay eggs on the tree next to it. And when the caterpillars come out, the damage begins.
"It's a little bit of a zombie tree. It's dead, and it doesn't know it yet," said Aaron Everett, state forester with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. "They eat the terminal buds, then they eat the new foliage because it's the most nutritious."
The tree starves, as more and more needles fall victim to the caterpillar before it turns into a month. A single infected tree can have thousands of budworms feeding on it. And dead and drying trees are more flammable. The ongoing drought stress in eastern Washington also makes the trees even more vulnerable to bugs.
Everett says the problem is worse in mixed forests of eastern Washington, as the caterpillars go after fir trees: Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, Noble Fir. It does not go west of the Cascade crest, largely because the wetter side of the mountains tends to be too wet and cold in the spring when the caterpillars emerge.
One concern is over a warming climate. If western Washington sees continuing seasons like this one, with drier and warmer springs, "you see potential expansion in those species ranges, if the climate factors that keep them in check are no longer there," says Everett. [more]
The baffling, gruesome plague that is causing sea stars to tear themselves to pieces – ‘It’s the stuff of nightmares’0 comments Posted by Jim at Tuesday, June 30, 2015
By Nathaniel Rich
13 May 2015
(Vice) – Allison Gong is a marine biologist, so she knows perfectly well that a sea star has no blood, brain, or central nervous system. Still, she can't help thinking of the stars in her lab as pets. "Because of my weird personality," she told me, "I form an emotional attachment, even though obviously they can't reciprocate."
This attachment has deepened during the 20 years that she has worked in the Long Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she exhibits the stars to undergraduates in her marine-biology classes. (One of her first lessons: The term "starfish" is a misnomer, because stars are not fish.) Until recently, Gong had 15 stars in her care: eight bat stars, five ochres, one leather, and a rainbow. She had developed a daily routine. Nearly every morning she entered her lab at 8:30 AM and saluted her menagerie with a cheerful "Hey, guys!" She checked "to make sure everybody's fine": If a star was climbing off the table, for instance, she'd prod it back into the water, with a gentle reprimand: "Guys! You know you need to get back in there." She recorded the temperature of the water, which is piped in from the shallows of Terrace Point, the reef on which the Long Marine Lab is situated; from the lab's windows it is common to see cresting dolphins, back-paddling sea lions, and breaching humpback whales in the surf below. Finally, Gong fed the stars frozen squid or lake smelt that she carefully diced into small, digestible bites. None of the stars, which typically live about 35 years in the wild and can survive more than three times as long in captivity, had ever died. At least not of natural causes. Some years ago Gong accidentally dropped a tank on a star, crushing it. "I thought it would recover, but it didn't. I felt bad about that."
Gong was therefore unprepared for the discovery she made during Labor Day weekend in 2013. No sooner had she greeted her charges ("Hey, guys!") than she realized that "somebody had died." The bat stars, aggressive scavengers, had glommed together in a single ball—an ominous sign. Gong peeled them off, one by one, until she found what they had been consuming: the corpse of an ochre sea star, their tablemate for the past five years.
Two days later she noticed that some of the other stars in the water table did not look well. "Their behavior was a little off," she said, putting it mildly. Some of their arms were twisted around their stomachs, as if the animals were trying to hug themselves. Healthy stars, especially ochres, have a rough texture and a firm consistency. But these looked "kind of mushy," like deflating party balloons. "It got to the point where I was afraid to open the door," she said. The next day a disturbed lab assistant reported that one of the stars had lost an arm. When Gong returned the day after that, the table looked "like an asteroid battlefield." The stars were squishy and pockmarked with pullulating white lesions. Sometimes their guts spilled out of the lesions. More arms had detached. The arms continued to crawl, disembodied, around the tank. […]
Today they are the only stars remaining in the lab. "It's the stuff of nightmares," Gong said. "I had never seen anything like that. I'd seen animals die, but it's just a one-off. Something dies, and you get on with your life. But there was no getting on." […]
This has been a familiar pattern along the Pacific Coast this winter. As the Wasting has persisted, stars have disappeared almost completely in many locations. In others, stars survived a brush with the epidemic and seemed to recover, as if having developed immunity—only to be wiped out months later. Raimondi estimates that between 1 and 10 million stars have died so far. In the intertidal region alone, the mortality rate averages about 75 percent. But smaller sea stars have been observed at a number of sites in which the larger ones have vanished. […]
Peter Raimondi, the chair of UCSC's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department —unflappable, seasoned, sober — said he is not especially concerned. "A lot people ask me, 'Are they going to go extinct? Is there going to be a catastrophe? Is the whole ecosystem going to collapse?' The answer is no. I've seen this before, and the system recovered."
Some of the younger scientists and volunteer surveyors I met were less sanguine. They have been traumatized by observing in their own lifetime extinction events and environmental calamities that are unprecedented in the history of human civilization. The idea that the sea stars might be evidence of some decisive, more profound transformation of the marine ecology does not seem to them so far-fetched. […]
"It feels apocalyptic," said Mary Ellen Hannibal. "Whatever is going on with the sea stars has the sense of an immersive event that's not visible to the eye, that's pulling species out from underneath." [more]
30 June 2015 (The Weather Channel) – A torrid heat wave is easing a bit, but will kick into high gear yet again later this week into the July 4th holiday weekend, and possibly beyond.
June record highs have been broken in at least 31 cities in the Northwest, five of which appear to have tied or broken their all-time record highs. The extreme heat is likely to last into next week and may end up breaking records for longevity as well.
An unofficial weather station located in Hell's Canyon along the Oregon/Idaho border (Pittsburg Landing) recorded an incredible 116 degrees for a high Sunday.
The culprit in this hot setup is a dome of high pressure aloft, surging northwestward to encompass a large area of the western states. The center of this high will shift around through the week ahead, but overall it will remain a dominant feature.
This will allow the sizzling late-June and early-July sun to send temperatures soaring not simply in the typically hot Desert Southwest, but also locations well to the north including the Pacific Northwest, interior Northwest, and northern Rockies.
Highs well into the 90s and triple digits are expected in many lower-elevation locations west of the Continental Divide and inland from the Pacific Coast.
This includes much of Nevada, California's Central Valley, the Salt Lake Valley, Idaho's Snake River Plain, much of Oregon's lower elevations east of the immediate coast, and areas to the east of the Cascades in Washington State.
In particular, parts of the Columbia Basin and lower Snake River Valley will see particularly extreme and persistent heat. This includes cities such as Yakima, Kennewick and Walla Walla in Washington as well as Lewiston, Idaho, as noted in the records below. Temperatures will get knocked down a bit into the 90s or low 100s to start the new workweek, but will then surge towards the middle or upper 100s again late in the week.
The extreme heat has even surged north into Canada. Cranbrook, in far southeast British Columbia at an elevation of about 3,000 feet, set a new all-time record high of 98 degrees (36.8 degrees Celsius) Sunday, according to The Weather Network.
Even Revelstoke, British Columbia – 130 miles north of the U.S. border, about 1,500 feet above sea level and better known for skiing – reached an amazing 103 degrees (39.5 degrees Celsius) Sunday. [more]