A field in Bac Lieu Province, Vietnam, that was abandoned due to the region's worst drought on record, 1 March 2016. Irrigation canals and lakes are also dried up and the biggest fear of the farmer is saltwater intrusion. If they try to pump water from canals to their fields, their rice will die faster. Photo: VietNamNet Bridge

HANOI, Vietnam, 17 March 2016 (AP) – Vietnam's southern Mekong Delta, the country's main rice growing region, is experiencing the worst drought and saline intrusion in recent history that has affected more than half a million people, officials said Thursday.

The drought could result in the loss of up to 1 million tons of rice, but is not expected to affect Vietnam's status as the world's third largest exporter of grain, said Ma Quang Trung, a department director at the Agriculture Ministry.

Vietnam exports an average 7 million tons a year, behind Thailand and India. Thailand too has been hit hard by the drought.

The water shortage could drive many farmers into poverty, especially if there are no rains between now and the peak of the dry season in late April, Trung said.

He blamed the drought on the El Nino weather phenomenon and excessive construction of more than 10 hydropower dams on the upper stream of the river.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told reporters that neighboring China has doubled the amount of water discharged from a dam to help alleviate the crisis.

Binh also said the ministry was working with China and other Mekong River countries toward sustainable use of the river's resources.

The level of inland saline intrusion was unprecedented, resulting in damage to some 180,000 hectares (444,780 acres) of paddy fields, Trung said.

The government has provided some $1.5 million in aid to farmers in three most affected provinces in the delta, according to state media.

Vietnam's southern delta faces worst drought in history

At noon on 22 February 2016, Mr. Ba Toi, a farmer in Tan Hung Commune, Long Phu District of Soc Trang Province, Vietnam, was still on his scorched rice field in Tan Quy A Hamlet. Photo: VietNamNet Bridge

31 March 2016 (VietNamNet Bridge) – Just within five days, the rice price in Mekong River Delta increased by VND300-350 per kilo after the forecast about poor crop.

Pham Thanh Tho, a rice merchant at Ba Dac wholesale market in Tien Giang province, said on March 19 that fresh IR 50404 is now priced at VND5,000 per kilo, higher by VND350 per kilo than five days before, while IR 50404 material rice is being traded at VND7,100 per kilo.

Tho said the price has soared because of strong demand and short supply.

“The demand is very high. A big volume of rice is carried to the north,” he said.

Nguyen Dinh Bich, a rice analysis expert, said the demand from China is very high. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicted that China would import 5 tons of rice this year.

“They (China) know the drought is occurring in Mekong River Delta and they have boosted purchases,” Bich said.

Huynh The Nang, chair of the Vietnam Food Association (VFA) and CEO of Vinafood 2, the Vietnamese biggest rice export corporation, said Vietnam had signed contracts on exporting 2.248 million tons by the end of February, up by 63.25 percent compared to the last year’s same period. This includes the contracted 1.12 million tons carried forward from 2015.

As Vietnam has delivered 856,000 tons, it would still have to deliver 1.392 million tons from March, an increase of 46 percent compared with the same period last year. This includes 365,000 tons for government-to-government contracts and 1.027 million tons for commercial contracts.

Meanwhile, the supply is getting short because of the serious drought and saline intrusion in Mekong River Delta, the rice granary of Vietnam.

Le Thanh Tung from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) told the press on March 18 that the rice output in Mekong Delta in the 2015-2016 winter-spring crop may decrease by 300,000 tons compared to last year. Some other sources said the decrease may be up to 1 million tons.

Nguyen Thanh Phong, director of Van Loi Food Company in Tien Giang province, noted the domestic price has increased sharply in recent days because exporters need rice for both unofficial and official export. […]

“Those who have rice in hands will make fat profits,” Phong said.

Rice prices rise as drought continues

A dried canal in Soc Trang Province, Vietnam, 1 March 2016. Photo: VietNamNet Bridge

HANOI, 5 March 2010 (IRIN) – As temperatures rise in Vietnam, a nationwide drought has dried up riverbeds, sparked forest fires and now threatens one of the world's richest agricultural regions, upon which millions depend for their livelihoods.

"The Mekong Delta is facing a serious drought," Nguyen Minh Giam, deputy director of the National Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Centre for the southern region, told IRIN.

Water levels on the Mekong River are at an almost 20-year low, largely as a result of the rainy season ending early and a precipitous drop in water flow upstream, he said.

With virtually no rainfall in the north since September, fires have burned through the northern provinces of Lao Cai and Lai Chau. In central Vietnam, sustained temperatures of about 38 degrees Celsius have sent hundreds to local hospitals.

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the heat and humidity have sparked a plague of insects and worms, which have eaten through thousands of hectares of rice paddies.

The drought conditions in the delta are also being felt in other Mekong countries because of the early end to the 2009 wet season, as well as low monsoon rainfall.

The Mekong River Commission, a regional monitoring body, on 26 February warned of significantly lower than average water levels on the Mekong River in Laos and Thailand, which it says will affect the economic development of already impoverished people there.

The Red River, upon which millions of Vietnamese in the north depend for fishing and irrigation, is at its lowest in more than 100 years, according to records beginning in 1902. The drought has turned sections of the normally bustling river into sand dunes, bringing river traffic to a halt.

"Never before has the water been so low that most ships cannot move," said Nguyen Manh Khoa, from Phu Tho province, whose debts are piling up as his new boat sits idle. [more]

Record drought threatens livelihoods

A farmer on his dried field in Soc Trang Province, Vietnam, 1 March 2016. Photo: VietNamNet Bridge

2 March 2016 (Al Jazeera) – Months of below-average rainfall have conspired to produce the worst drought in Vietnam in the best part of 100 years. It has been reported that the Mekong River is at its lowest level since 1926.

The ongoing El Nino weather pattern is thought to be the main cause of the lack of rainfall affecting the country.

Vietnam is not alone in suffering drought. Neighbouring Cambodia, and Laos, as well as Thailand and Myanmar, have been experiencing water shortages as a result of the weather phenomenon.

Vietnam's need for water is partly driven by its high reliance on agriculture as a source of income. The country is the world's second largest producer of coffee and rice, both high users of water. In addition, coffee is vulnerable to frosts and cold weather. In both 2013 and 2014 severe cold reduced the yield of the coffee crop.

The Mekong Delta has been worst affected by the lack of rainfall. The area has 2.2 million hectares of arable land. According to Le Anh Tuan, professor of climate change at Can Tho University, as much as 40 to 50 percent of this land has been hit by salinisation.

As water availability decreases, salinity from irrigation tends to increase. All water contains dissolved salts; when plants have absorbed the water, they leave behind the salts which accumulate. Over time, increasing salinity makes it difficult for plants to absorb soil moisture, and these salts can only be removed by the roots of the plants by the application of additional water.

"We do not have any specific measures to mitigate the situation," Tuan told the AFP news agency. He added that residents had been asked to save water for domestic rather than agricultural use. [more]

Vietnam hit by worst drought in nearly a century

11 March 2016, the canal connecting the Ganges to coal-fired power station dried up because of a lack of water. By next day, authorities were forced to suspend generation at the 2,300-megawatt plant in Farakka town causing shortages in India's power grid. Photo: Ronny Sen / BBC News

By Soutik Biswas
27 March 2016

(BBC News) – On 11 March 2016, panic struck engineers at a giant power station on the banks of the Ganges river in West Bengal state.

Readings showed that the water level in the canal connecting the river to the plant was going down rapidly. Water is used to produce steam to run the turbines and for cooling vital equipment of coal-fired power stations.

By next day, authorities were forced to suspend generation at the 2,300-megawatt plant in Farakka town causing shortages in India's power grid. Next, the vast township on the river, where more than 1,000 families of plant workers live, ran out of water. Thousands of bottles of packaged drinking water were distributed to residents, and fire engines rushed to the river to extract water for cooking and cleaning.

The power station - one of the 41 run by the state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation, which generates a quarter of India's electricity - was shut for 10 days, unprecedented in its 30-year history.

"Never before have we shut down the plant because of a shortage of water," says Milan Kumar, a senior plant official.

"We are being told by the authorities that water levels in the river have receded, and that they can do very little."

Further downstream, say locals, ferries were suspended and sandbars emerged on the river. Some 13 barges carrying imported coal to the power station were stranded midstream because of insufficient water. Children were seen playing on a near-dry river bed.

Nobody is sure why the water level on the Ganges receded at Farakka, where India built a barrage in the 1970s to divert water away from Bangladesh. Much later, in the mid-1990s, the countries signed a 30-year agreement to share water. (The precipitous decline in water levels happened during a 10-day cycle when India is bound by the pact to divert most of the water to Bangladesh. The fall in level left India with much less water than usual.)

Monsoon rains have been scanty in India for the second year in succession. The melting of snow in the Himalayas - the mountain holds the world's largest body of ice outside the polar caps and contributes up to 15% of the river flow - has been delayed this year, says SK Haldar, general manager of the barrage. "There are fluctuations like this every year," he says.

But the evidence about the declining water levels and waning health of the 2,500km (1,553 miles)-long Ganges, which supports a quarter of India's 1.3 billion people, is mounting. […]

The three-month-long summer is barely weeks away but water availability in India's 91 reservoirs is at its lowest in a decade, with stocks at a paltry 29% of their total storage capacity, according to the Central Water Commission. Some 85% of the country's drinking water comes from aquifers, but their levels are falling, according to WaterAid.

No wonder then that conflicts over water are on the rise.

Thousands of villagers in drought-hit region of Maharashtra depend on tankers for water; and authorities in Latur district, fearing violence, have imposed prohibitory orders on gatherings of more than five people around storage tanks. Tens of thousands of farmers and livestock have moved to camps providing free fodder and water for animals in parched districts. The government has asked local municipalities to stop supplying water to swimming pools.

States like Punjab are squabbling over ownership of river waters. In water-scarce Orissa, farmers have reportedly breached embankments to save their crops. […]

It is a concern you hear a lot on the river these days. At the power plant, Milan Kumar says he is "afraid that this can happen again".

"We are being told that water levels in the Ganges have declined by a fourth. Being located on the banks of one of the world's largest rivers, we never thought we would face a scarcity of water.

"The unthinkable is happening." [more]

Is India facing its worst-ever water crisis?

On 11 March 2016, extensive drought forced Farakka town in India's West Bengal state to pump water from the Ganges river for washing and cleaning. Photo: Ronny Sen / BBC News

By Bob Burton and Ashish Fernandes
24 March 2016

(RenewEconomy) – Despite the Indian Government’s determination to double or even triple domestic coal production, the power sector is now being hit by water scarcity – with a new report warning the crisis could get far, far worse.

A little over a week ago the operators of the 2100 megawatt (MW) coal-fired Farakka power station in West Bengal shut down five of the six turbines due to lack of water.

A few days later the 500 MW sixth unit was shut down as well. There wasn’t even enough water to supply the taps for workers at the plant or the adjoining township.

With the plant supplying five states, power network operators scrambled to cover demand. It is currently estimated there won’t be sufficient water to allow the plant to run until at least March 25, 13 days after the first units went offline.

The 1720 MW Raichur Thermal Power Station in Karnataka state has been hit by lack of water too. Since March 15 it has had to shut down several of its units indefinitely. With the power station shut down the plant operators are now running out of space to stockpile coal, more of which arrives by the day.

The problem is far larger than just the shutdowns of the Farakka and the Raichur plants: India is in the grip of a growing water crisis.

As of March 17 the Central Water Commission calculated water in 91 major reservoirs across the country was down to just 27 per cent of total storage capacity. This represents more than one-quarter less than the average over the last decade.

With the monsoon not due until June, the next few months could be very lean times for coal, hydro and gas power generators reliant on large volumes of water for boilers, cooling and to run turbines.

Water for power plants will either come at the expense of water for drinking, agriculture and other industries, or the power sector will be forced to do with less – or without – in times of low-flows. [more]

Drought hits Indian coal plants and expansion plans

Surrounded by prosecutors, Rafael Mora, center, the father of slain environmentalist Jairo Mora, awaits a verdict in his son's murder trial on Tuesday, 29 March 2016. Photo: Lindsay Fendt / The Tico Times

[See Desdemona’s coverage of this story: Jairo.]

29 March 2016 (AFP) – A Costa Rican court has sentenced four men to decades in prison for the 2013 murder of an environmentalist and the rape of four western female volunteers who were with him.

The judgment capped a nine-week retrial of seven men accused of killing Jairo Mora, a 26-year-old Costa Rican working to protect sea turtle nests on the country’s Caribbean coast.

The court in the eastern coastal city of Limón found four of the men – Hector Cash, Ernesto Centeno, Brayan Quesada and Donal Salmon – guilty of murder, illegal detention, sexual assault and aggravated robbery.

It handed down terms of 74 to 90 years for each of the four convicted men, but under Costa Rican law the lengthy sentences automatically revert to a maximum of 50 years each.

The three other men accused in the trial were acquitted.

The crime occurred on Moín beach, just to the north of Limón, on 31 May 2013. The savagery of the attack dealt a severe blow to the Central American country’s image as a safe, eco-tourist-friendly destination.

Prosecutors said the convicted men were part of a turtle-egg poaching gang who grabbed Mora. They beat him unconscious, tied him to a pickup truck and dragged him along the beach until he suffocated in the sand.

The four female volunteers with him – three Americans and a Spaniard – were tied up, held for hours and raped.

The retrial was ordered by an appeals court after the seven suspects were acquitted in a trial early last year because of police errors in handling the investigation.

Costa Rican men convicted for killing conservationist and raping volunteers

The word 'justice' accompanies graffiti depicting slain turtle conservationist Jairo Mora on a wall near the shore in Limón. Photo: Lindsay Fendt / The Tico Times

By Lindsay Fendt
29 March 2016

LIMÓN (Tico Times) – A Limón court delivered guilty verdicts for four of seven defendants in the 2013 killing of sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora and the kidnapping and robbery of four foreign volunteers. The same defendants were acquitted in a previous trial last year, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.

Héctor Cash, Ernesto Centeno, José Bryan Quesada and Donald Salmón were found guilty; Donald’s brother Darwin Salmón, Felipe Arauz and William Delgado were cleared of all charges. All seven defendants were acquitted on charges of sexual assault against one of the female volunteers captured with Mora because prosecutors were unable to prove which of the defendants had committed the assault.

The four men found guilty on Tuesday received sentences ranging from 74 to 90 years for both the crimes on the night of Mora’s murder and another rape and robbery that was tried at the same time. Each of those defendants will serve 50 years in prison, the maximum allowed by Costa Rican law.

In an explanation of the ruling that lasted more than two hours, the court’s panel of three judges highlighted Mora’s work with sea turtles as the primary motivation for his murder.

“The court rejects that there is any other motive for this murder,” said Carlos Álvarez, the trial’s chief judge. “The killing of Mr. Jairo Mora Sandoval was the straw that broke the camel’s back in this war that was taking place between poachers and environmentalists on the beach.”

At the time of his death, Mora was working as a sea turtle monitor for the conservation group Widecast, now renamed LAST, on the crime-ridden Moín Beach in Limón. Notoriously headstrong, Mora had gained a reputation on the beach as a vocal advocate against turtle egg poaching, earning himself enemies among the beach’s poaching gangs.

Despite receiving numerous threats from poachers, Mora and four foreign female volunteers headed to the beach on the night of May 30, 2013 in hopes of catching a glimpse of a leatherback sea turtle. On their way back to the rescue center where they worked, their car was overtaken by a group of men in masks.

The attackers beat Mora and threw him in the trunk of the conservationists’ car before taking the women to an abandoned house and sexually assaulting at least one of them. The men then took Mora to the beach where they stripped him, beat him and dragged him behind a car in the sand.

Judges said witness testimony from Almudena Amador, a Spanish veterinarian kidnapped with Mora, and the victims of the previous rape and robbery provided consistent physical descriptions of each of the accused men along with each of their roles within the gang. Recorded phone calls, text messages and a cell tower investigation also placed each of the men on the beach at the time of the murder. […]

In his closing remarks regarding the judges’ decision to give the defendants the maximum penalty for murder, 35 years, Álvarez again looked to Mora’s work with turtles as a critical factor.

“Jairo was someone dedicated to the environment,” Álvarez said. “This crime is more than just a horrible murder, it has also damaged Costa Rica’s reputation as a green country. It has scared away environmentalists.” [more]

UPDATE: 4 convicted, 3 acquitted in Jairo Mora murder trial

Environment Minister Robert Habeck (left) and Gerd Meurs-Scher show plastic parts which were found in the stomachs of sperm whales that stranded near the town of Toenning in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Photo: Claußen / LKN.SH

By Helena Horton
29 March 2016

(The Telegraph) – The heartbreaking effect of human waste was discovered when a post-mortem was conducted on 13 beached sperm whales.

The plastic we discard into the ocean often makes its way into the mouths and stomachs of sea creatures.

A post-mortem of the creatures, found ashore near the town of Toenning in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, showed their stomachs were full of plastic.

This plastic included a 13-metre-long (43-foot-long) fisherman’s net and a 70-centimetre (28-inch) piece of plastic from a car.

A man posted a shocking image on Instagram of some of the plastic found in their stomachs. […]

Rob Deaville, project manager for the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), said: “This is the 29th beached whale around the North Sea coast. I have never dealt with anything like this in 20 years,” he said.

"Historically we have had mass strandings but nothing of this scale for decades."

Scientists are investigating whether man-made pollution is to blame. [more]

Post-mortem on thirteen dead sperm whales finds their stomachs full of plastic

A sperm whale lies dead after becoming stranded on a beach between Old Hunstanton and Holme on 5 February 2016 in Hunstanton, England. The whale is the 29th to have died after beaching in Europe in the past two weeks. Photo: Ben Pruchnie / Getty Images

By Mary Bowerman
29 March 2016

(USA TODAY) – A necropsy on dead sperm whales that washed up on the shore of Germany earlier this year revealed the ill-fated Giants had an array of plastics in their stomachs, according to researchers.

Four of the 13 whales that washed up on the coast of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany had the plastic and other man-made items in their stomachs, according to a statement from the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park.

Researchers found a fishing net, part of a car engine cover and a plastic bucket in the whales' stomachs, according to the March 23 statement.

"These findings show us the effects of our plastic society," Robert Habeck, the environment minister of Schleswig-Holstein, said in a statement. Adding that the animals suffer. "Some starve with full stomachs."

All of the whales were “bachelor” or juvenile males that were not yet sexually mature, according to the statement.

According to researchers, the whales died of acute cardiovascular failure, after they were stranded in the shallow waters of the Wadden Sea. According to the statement, their bodies pressed together in the shallows, which compressed their blood vessels, lungs and organs. [more]

Researchers find plastic, nets in stomachs of dead sperm whales

23 March 2016 (Nationalpark Wattenmeer) – [Translation by Microsoft Translator.] Large amounts of waste have been discovered in the investigation of sperm whales stranded in Schleswig-Holstein. Four of the 13 whales had partly large quantities of plastic waste in their stomachs. While this was not the cause of the stranding and death of animals, but reflect the situation on the open sea. Veterinarians and biologists suspect that particularly affected animals could get major health problems through the remains of the waste. That was evident in the presentation of the findings on 23 March 2016, in the Multimar wattage Forum in Tönning.

The most striking parts of waste include remains of 13 meters long and 1.2 meters wide protection network, which is used in the shrimp fishing, a 70 centimeter-long plastic cover from the engine compartment of a car and the sharp-edged remains of a plastic bucket. "These findings show us the impact of our plastic society: animals unintentionally take plastic and other plastic waste, suffer, in the worst case, some with full stomachs starve. This is an urgent reminder to increasingly tackle waste in the sea. Schleswig-Holstein will continue intensively its efforts to do this," said Environment Minister Robert Habeck.

Sperm whales ran aground - cause of death cardiovascular and circulatory failure

The 13 whales were stranded in January and February on Schleswig-Holstein's North Sea. Professor Ursula Siebert, Director of the Institute for terrestrial and aquatic wildlife research of Foundation veterinary University of Hannover (ITAW), the whales then with her team thoroughly investigated. All the animals were young, immature bulls, 10 to 15 years of age and 12 to 18 tonnes. All of them were in good health and nutritional status. Important for orientation hearing of the animals showed no signs of a severe acoustic trauma and the infestation in the various organs with parasites was age according to normal.

All the animals fell into the shallow water of the Wadden Sea. There is running off water lying on the ground, the weight of her body squeezed their blood vessels, lungs and other organs, so that the animals died of acute heart circulatory failure.

In their stomachs Dr. Uwe Piatkowski, marine biologist of the Kiel GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for ocean research, found with his students as a whole about 110,000 squid beaks, as the indigestible upper and lower jaw of squid are called. 95 percent come from the Nordic Kalmar of bait, the European flying squid. These species occur primarily in the Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea and the waters around Iceland, major wintering areas of the sperm whale bulls. The beaks were found in a stomach by 21,000 of up to 35 cm long bait squid, which corresponds to a live weight of about 4.2 tons.

Last food intake in the Norwegian Sea

Siebert and Piatkowski have suggested that the dead whales had last eaten in the Norwegian Sea. The first group with three animals had probably just stayed in the North Sea, the second with ten animals probably somewhat longer. Bones and other remains of North Sea fish such as monkfish, cod, whiting, and sea hare were found in some of their stomachs.

Since the beginning of the year, 30 sperm whales were stranded on the North Sea coast in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Germany, alive or dead. In addition, killer whales, fin whales, and minke whales beached on the North and Baltic Sea of Denmark and Germany. Porpoises and a blue-white dolphin in February alive on the shores of Schleswig-Holstein found on, but could be brought up on a porpoise back into deep waters.

The causes of this heaping occurrence are unknown according to the two scientists. Unusually high temperatures and strong storms, which have been registered in the past few weeks in the northern North Atlantic, might have pushed southward water masses from the Norwegian Sea in the North Sea and the cuttlefish with them. The sperm  whales may have followed their main food and arrived, as well as other whale species in the North Sea. A plausible explanation, which is however not proven, since such ecological relationships only with great effort to prove.

Siebert and Piatkowski make clear that the occurrence of sperm whales in the North Sea needs no extraordinary statements. All migratory species occasionally stray outside their actual range. So, relocate them to new habitats and can adapt to new conditions. Sperm whale strandings were also not a new phenomenon. More than 200 discoveries on the North Sea coast are documented since the 16th century, including 21 animals that beached in 1723 in the Elbe estuary in new work.

The sperm whales occurring occasionally in the North Sea are attributed to the Azores stock. The males of this population spend the winter in the North Atlantic. On their migrations, individual animals mistakenly entering the too shallow for them and food-poor North Sea. With their acoustic sense, it can refer there bad. […]

Background to the garbage in the sea

In Schleswig-Holstein, was the subject of "Waste in the sea" a focus of the State Government in 2015 and was accompanied by an intensive information campaign and public relations. "Our joint"fishing for litter' initiative with NABU, the support of plastic-free model regions and waste campaigns help already, to draw attention to the real problem and to bring about a change in society. "Only we not can solve the problem that still long," said h.. The Cabinet has therefore just approved a comprehensive catalogue of measures for the protection of the sea, should be applied also to the source of waste in the manufacturing industry, where. The implementation of these measures will be coordinated at the federal level by a round table of various stakeholders in the future. "Schleswig-Holstein is committed to necessary legal regulations at national or EU level, also for a micro plastic ban", Habeck said.

(Press release of the Ministry of energy, agriculture, environment and rural areas in Schleswig-Holstein)

Untersuchung der gestrandeten Pottwale: Große Mengen Plastikmüll in den Mägen gefunden – Umweltminister Habeck: „Das mahnt uns, verstärkt gegen Müll im Meer vorzugehen.“

One of five eagles found in the Dagsboro, Delaware, area on 19 March 2016. Photo: DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife Natural Resources Police

By Erik Ortiz
27 March 2016

(NBC News) – A single bald eagle found dead in southern Delaware last Saturday didn't raise red flags for state wildlife officials.

But then a few hours later and a mile away, a startling scene unfolded: Eight bald eagles — distressed and disoriented — were discovered on the ground, barely moving on a fallow farm field.

"Seeing one in a field wouldn't be irregular, but then so many of them — and they weren't sitting up," said Sgt. John McDerby of Delaware's Fish and Wildlife Natural Resources Police. "It was a devastating sight."

Three of the eagles died, two were rescued and the rest flew away, officials said. The following day, another dead bird was found during a sweep.

The cluster of deaths comes just a month after 13 bald eagles died about 35 miles away on the Eastern Shore of Maryland — the largest single die-off of bald eagles in the state in three decades.

This mystery surrounding the bird species that has soared back from the brink of extinction has investigators and wildlife advocates asking: Is someone poisoning or intentionally harming these national symbols?

At this point, investigators can't say, but they aren't ruling out a criminal act.

In Maryland, necropsies indicated the birds did not die from natural causes, meaning diseases such as avian influenza can be ruled out. But they did not pinpoint a cause of death. [more]

Raptor Riddle: Deaths of Eagles in Delaware, Maryland Baffle Investigators

Aerial view of bleached coral in the Great Barrier Reef. This aerial survey in March 2016 found 95 per cent bleached coral off Cape Grenville in north Queensland. Photo: ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies

By Peter McCutcheon
28 March 2016

(ABC News) – An aerial survey of the northern Great Barrier Reef has shown that 95 per cent of the reefs are now severely bleached — far worse than previously thought.

Professor Terry Hughes, a coral reef expert based at James Cook University in Townsville who led the survey team, said the situation is now critical.

"This will change the Great Barrier Reef forever," Professor Hughes told 7.30.

"We're seeing huge levels of bleaching in the northern thousand-kilometre stretch of the Great Barrier Reef."

Of the 520 reefs he surveyed, only four showed no evidence of bleaching.

From Cairns to the Torres Strait, the once colourful ribbons of reef are a ghostly white.

"It's too early to tell precisely how many of the bleached coral will die, but judging from the extreme level even the most robust corals are snow white, I'd expect to see about half of those corals die in the coming month or so," Professor Hughes said.

Coral bleaching is caused by abnormally high sea temperatures that kill the tiny marine algae essential to coral health.

This is the third global coral bleaching since 1998, and scientists have found no evidence of these disasters before the late 20th century.

"We have coral cores that provide 400 years of annual growth," explains Dr Neal Cantin from the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

"We don't see the signatures of bleaching in reduced growth following a bleaching event until the recent 1998/2000 events." […]

Aerial view of bleached coral in the Great Barrier Reef. This aerial survey in March 2016 found 95 per cent bleached coral off Cape Grenville in north Queensland. Photo: ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies

Professor Justin Marshall, a reef scientist from the University of Queensland, said the reason for these bleaching events was clear.

"What we're seeing now is unequivocally to do with climate change," he told 7.30.

"The world has agreed, this is climate change, we're seeing climate change play out across our reefs."

Professor Hughes said he is frustrated about the whole climate change debate.

"The government has not been listening to us for the past 20 years," he said.

"It has been inevitable that this bleaching event would happen, and now it has.

"We need to join the global community in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"For me, personally, it was devastating to look out of the chopper window and see reef after reef destroyed by bleaching.

"But really the emotion is not so much sadness as anger.

"I'm really angry that the government isn't listening to us, to the evidence we've been providing to them since 1998." [more]

Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching at 95 per cent in northern section, aerial survey reveals

This graph shows Arctic sea ice extent as of 27 March 2016, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years. 2015 to 2016 is shown in blue, 2014 to 2015 in green, 2013 to 2014 in orange, 2012 to 2013 in brown, and 2011 to 2012 in purple. The 1981 to 2010 average is in dark gray. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Sea Ice Index data. Graphic: National Snow and Ice Data Center 

BOULDER, Colorado, 28 March 2016 (NSIDC) – Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the second straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.

“I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze. “The heat was relentless.” Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean for the months of December, January and February were 2 to 6 degrees Celsius (4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in nearly every region.

Sea ice extent over the Arctic Ocean averaged 14.52 million square kilometers (5.607 million square miles) on March 24, beating last year’s record low of 14.54 million square kilometers (5.612 million square miles) on February 25. Unlike last year, the peak was later than average in the 37-year satellite record, setting up a shorter than average ice melt season for the coming spring and summer.

According to NSIDC, sea ice extent was below average throughout the Arctic, except in the Labrador Sea, Baffin Bay, and Hudson Bay. It was especially low in the Barents Sea. As noted by Ingrid Onarheim at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Bergen, Norway: “A decrease in Barents Sea ice extent for this winter was predicted from the influence of warm Atlantic waters from the Norwegian Sea.”

Scientists are watching extent in this area because it will help them understand how a slower Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) may affect Arctic sea ice. “Some studies suggest that decreased heat flux of warm Atlantic waters could lead to a recovery of all Arctic sea ice in the near future,” said NSIDC senior research scientist Julienne Stroeve. “I think it will have more of a winter impact and could lead to a temporary recovery of winter ice extent in the Barents and Kara seas.”

This year’s maximum extent is 1.12 million square kilometers (431,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average of 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles) and 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) below the previous lowest maximum that occurred last year.

This late winter, ice extent growth in the Arctic has been sluggish. “Other than a brief spurt in late February, extent growth has been slow for the past six weeks,” said Walt Meier, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Meier is an affiliate scientist at NSIDC and is part of NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis team.

Ice extent increases through autumn and winter, and the maximum typically occurs in mid March. Sea ice then retreats through spring and summer and shrinks to its smallest or minimum extent typically by mid September.

The September Arctic minimum began drawing attention in 2005 when it first shrank to a record low extent over the period of satellite observations. It broke the record again in 2007, and then again in 2012. The March Arctic maximum has typically received less attention. That changed last year when the maximum extent was the lowest in the satellite record.

“The Arctic is in crisis. Year by year, it’s slipping into a new state, and it’s hard to see how that won’t have an effect on weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere,” said Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist.

NSIDC will release a full analysis of the winter season in early April, once monthly data are available for March.

To read the current analysis from NSIDC scientists, see NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis.
For more about Arctic sea ice, see NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice 101.
See the NASA release here.
View the NASA animation here.

The Arctic sets yet another record low maximum extent

28 March 2016 (NSIDC) – Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its annual maximum extent on March 24, and is now the lowest maximum in the satellite record, replacing last year’s record low. This year’s maximum extent occurred later than average. A late season surge in ice growth is still possible. NSIDC will post a detailed analysis of the 2015 to 2016 winter sea ice conditions in early April.

On 24 March 2016, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.52 million square kilometers (5.607 million square miles). This year’s maximum ice extent was the lowest in the satellite record, with below-average ice conditions everywhere except in the Labrador Sea, Baffin Bay, and Hudson Bay. The maximum extent is 1.12 million square kilometers (431,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average of 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles) and 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) below the previous lowest maximum that occurred last year. This year’s maximum occurred twelve days later than the 1981 to 2010 average date of March 12. The date of the maximum has varied considerably over the years, occurring as early as February 24 in 1996 and as late as April 2 in 2010.

Sea ice extent was below average throughout the Arctic, except in the Labrador Sea, Baffin Bay, and Hudson Bay. However, it was especially low in the Barents Sea. Below average winter ice conditions in the Kara and Barents seas have been a persistent feature in the last several years, while the Bering Sea has overall seen slightly positive trends towards more sea ice during winter.

Below average sea ice extent is in part a result of higher than average temperatures that have plagued the Arctic all winter. Air temperatures at the 925 hPa level from December 2015 through February 2016 were above average everywhere in the Arctic, with hotspots near the Pole and from the Kara Sea towards Svalbard exceeding 6 Celsius degrees (11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. These higher than average temperatures continued into March, with air temperatures during the first two weeks reaching 6 degrees Celsius (11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in a region stretching across the North Pole toward northern Greenland, and up to 12 degrees Celsius (22 degrees Fahrenheit) above average north of Svalbard.

These unusually warm conditions have no doubt played a role in the record low ice extent this winter. Another contributing factor has been a predominance of southerly winds in the Kara and Barents seas that have helped to keep the ice edge northward of its typical position. This area has also seen an influx of warm Atlantic waters from the Norwegian Sea. [more]

Another record low for Arctic sea ice maximum winter extent

Conditions for major California reservoirs, 28 March 2016. Graphic: California Department of Water Resources / CDEC

28 March 2016 (Rabett Run) – Last week I was asked by my Rotary Club to give opening comments before a guest speaker from Lockheed Martin talked about new technology developments, so I decided to talk about water and technology.

To set the stage, we're having an unusually average water year in California. The story about Bill Gates walking into a bar and making the average patron a millionaire applies - California has lots of below-average years and a few really wet ones.

This year's precipitation is kind of average - most of the state had slightly above average rainfall, some slightly below. The snowpack's water content is at or slightly below average. The reservoirs shown above are mostly below average due to the multi-year drought. Groundwater conditions are much harder to find, but we already know the answer - they range from not-good to extremely bad. What little more rain we'll get, however welcome, will not change any of this. We're still in a drought. [more]

California water dreaming

By Jim Galasyn
27 March 2016

(Desdemona Despair) – The Global Footprint Network has published their latest ecological footprint analysis for the world and for individual nations. Not surprisingly, the ecological footprint of human civilization continues to rise at a steady rate of about 235 million global hectares per year.

World ecological footprint, 1961-2012. Graphic: James P. Galasyn

Over the period from 1961 to 2012, humanity’s ecological footprint has nearly tripled.

During this time, Earth’s biocapacity declined at a steady rate of about 55 million global hectares per year. Biocapacity is defined as the amount of biologically productive land and sea area available to provide the resources that a population consumes and to absorb its wastes, given current technology and management practices (Methodology and Sources).

Total world biocapacity, 1961-2012. Graphic: James P. Galasyn

From the biocapacity data and the known human population, it’s easy to compute biocapacity per capita, which looks like this:

Global biocapacity per capita, 1961-2012. Graphic: James P. Galasyn

Biocapacity per capita is declining at an exponential rate. Extrapolating the curve fit shows that it will fall to half of its 1961 value by around the year 2020. By the year 2100, biocapacity per capita will fall to about one-sixth of its 1961 value, which means that each human will be supported by about 17 percent of the ecosystem services that each human was supported by in 1961.

Global biocapacity per capita, projected to 2100. Graphic: James P. Galasyn

This curve is likely to be related to other measures of habitability discussed in a recent Desdemona post. Clearly, the biocapacity-per-capita metric is closely related to arable land per capita:

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. (Is the epoch of habitability on Earth drawing to a close?)

Also, it’s likely that biocapacity per capita is related to Schramski’s Ω metric, phytomass per capita (Human domination of the biosphere: Rapid discharge of the earth-space battery foretells the future of humankind).

You can get the data and related graphs here: Global Footprint Network for World 2016.

Americans' perception of global warming as a serious threat, 1998-2016. Graphic: Gallup

By Lydia Saad and Jeffrey M. Jones
16 March 2016

PRINCETON, N.J. (Gallup) – Americans are taking global warming more seriously than at any time in the past eight years, according to several measures in Gallup's annual environment poll. Most emblematic is the rise in their stated concern about the issue. Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say they are worried a "great deal" or "fair amount" about global warming, up from 55% at this time last year and the highest reading since 2008.

Mirroring this, the March 2-6 survey – conducted at the close of what has reportedly been the warmest winter on record in the U.S. – documents a slight increase in the percentage of Americans who believe the effects of global warming have already begun. Nearly six in 10 (59%) today say the effects have already begun, up from 55% in March 2015. Another 31%, up from 28% in 2015, believe the effects are not currently manifest but will be at some point in the future. That leaves only 10% saying the effects will never happen, down from 16% last year and the lowest since 2007.

A third key indicator of public concern about global warming is the percentage of U.S. adults who believe the phenomenon will eventually pose a serious threat to them or their way of life. Forty-one percent now say it will, up from 37% in 2015 and, by one point, the highest in Gallup's trend dating back to 1997.

Americans' clear shift toward belief in global warming follows a winter that most described in the same poll as being unusually warm. Sixty-three percent say they experienced an unusually warm winter, and the majority of this group ascribes the warm weather pattern to human-caused climate change. [more]

U.S. Concern About Global Warming at Eight-Year High

Correlation of historical energy production and world population, 1900–2014. Data from (ASPO, 2006, BP, 2015, Gerland et al., 2014, Laherrere, 2004, McEvedy and Jones, 1978 and Rutledge, 2011). Global energy does not include the solid fuel renewable energy sources (RES), i.e. wood and peat. Graphic: Jones and Warner, 2016 / Energy Policy

GALVESTON, 23 March 2016 (Texas A&M Today) – Last December, officials representing more than 190 countries met in Paris to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The historic outcome from that conference was the “Paris Agreement” in which each country agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above temperatures seen near the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1850s. Such a level was considered acceptable, or “safe,” by all participating countries, but the goal is unrealistic and almost impossible to achieve, according to a new study by two Texas A&M University at Galveston researchers.

Glenn Jones (professor of marine sciences) and Kevin Warner (Ph.D. candidate in marine biology), have had their paper published in the international journal Energy Policy.

The Texas A&M researchers modelled the projected growth in global population and per capita energy consumption, as well as the size of known reserves of oil, coal and natural gas, and greenhouse gas emissions to determine just how difficult it will be to achieve the less-than-2 degree Celsius warming goal.

“It would require rates of change in our energy infrastructure and energy mix that have never happened in world history and that are extremely unlikely to be achieved,” explains Jones.

The Paris Agreement’s overall goal is to replace fossil fuels, which emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which in turn leads to higher temperatures, with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power and biofuels.

“Just considering wind power, we found that it would take an annual installation of 485,000 5-megawatt wind turbines by 2028. The equivalent of about 13,000 were installed in 2015. That’s a 37-fold increase in the annual installation rate in only 13 years to achieve just the wind power goal,” adds Jones.

Similar expansion rates are needed for other renewable energy sources.

Recent statistics show that the month of February 2016 was the warmest February ever, while 2015 was also the warmest year since records have been kept.

Jones and Warner point out that every hour of every day:

  • 3.7 million barrels of oil are extracted from the Earth
  • 932,000 tons of coal are removed from Earth
  • 395 million cubic meters of natural gas are removed from Earth
  • 4.1 million tons of carbon dioxide are put into the Earth’s atmosphere
  • 9,300 more people inhabit the Earth

“There will be about 11 billion people on Earth by 2100 (compared to 7.2 billion today),” Jones adds.

“So the question becomes, how will they be fed and housed and what will be their energy source? Currently 1.2 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity, and there are plans to try to get them on the grid. The numbers you start dealing with become so large that they are difficult to comprehend.

“To even come close to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, 50 percent of our energy will need to come from renewable sources by 2028, and today it is only 9 percent, including hydropower. For a world that wants to fight climate change, the numbers just don’t add up to do it.

“If we don’t worry about global warming and the 2-degree Celsius goal, we can continue to burn known fossil fuel reserves, but even here we will have to achieve more than 50 percent renewable energy by 2054, but warming will exceed 2.5 to 3 degrees Celsius.

“A person living today uses about four times as much energy as a person did in the early 1900s,” Jones notes.

“By 2100, that figure goes up to five times. And 87 to 94 percent of all energy used will be from renewable sources regardless of whether we achieve and maintain the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

The authors note history shows that rarely — if ever – have government officials gotten together to agree on making such large-scale changes happen in such a short timeframe.

“Our study does not present an either-or situation, rather the world will require a significant shift to renewable energy sources whether we care about global warming or whether we are more concerned with providing society’s energy needs,” Jones says.

“Hopefully, our work will serve as a wake-up call.”

Media contact

Glenn Jones at (409) 741-4360 jonesg@tamug.edu

Bob Wright, Marketing and Communications at Texas A&M-Galveston, at (409) 740-4840 wright@tamug.edu

Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 keith-randall@tamu.edu

Goal To Reduce World Temps Will Fail

ABSTRACT: World population is projected to reach 10.9 billion by 2100, yet nearly one-fifth of the world's current 7.2 billion live without access to electricity. Though universal energy access is desirable, a significant reduction in fossil fuel usage is required before mid-century if global warming is to be limited to <2 °C. Here we quantify the changes in the global energy mix necessary to address population and climate change under two energy-use scenarios, finding that renewable energy production (9% in 2014) must comprise 87–94% of global energy consumption by 2100. Our study suggests >50% renewable energy needs to occur by 2028 in a <2 °C warming scenario, but not until 2054 in an unconstrained energy use scenario. Given the required rate and magnitude of this transition to renewable energy, it is unlikely that the <2 °C goal can be met. Focus should be placed on expanding renewable energy as quickly as possible in order to limit warming to 2.5–3 °C.

The 21st century population-energy-climate nexus

A Google Street View photo showing abandoned Detroit homes that are overgrown and decaying. Promotional graphic for the GooBing Detroit's show at Prizer Gallery in Austin, Texas, 'A Hurricane Without Water', 11 March 2016. Photo: Alex Alsup / goobingdetroit.com

[The blog is here: GooBing Detroit.]

By Kate Abbey-Lambertz
26 March 2016

(The Huffington Post) – Google Street View’s trove of data and visuals has been used to collect images of streets that made history, of colorful glitches and surreal scenes of oblivious bystanders. For Alex Alsup, it’s a tool to track Detroit’s rapid and continuing devastation following the financial crisis.

Alsup has spent thousands of hours exploring the city virtually. A selection of the images of foreclosed homes he’s captured through Google and Bing’s mapping services is currently on view at Prizer Gallery in Austin, Texas, and closes Saturday. 

The chief product officer at Detroit-based property data company Loveland Technologies is quick to clarify that he’s not an artist. He instead described his show, “A Hurricane Without Water,” as archaeological, documenting the impact of foreclosure on properties over time.

Heat map of the 17,000 properties that went to the 2013 tax foreclosure auction in Detroit. Between 2002 and 2013 there were more than 83,000 tax foreclosures in Detroit. Graphic: goobingdetroit.com

Alsup uses Google’s Time Machine feature to look back several years, and returns to properties he saved in past years to compile records of properties year after year, mostly between 2009 and 2014. He started the ongoing project three years ago and publishes it on his blog, GooBing Detroit [“GooBing”, because Alsup also uses Bing Maps].

In the worst cases, you can see vacancy spreading through entire blocks in just a few years, blight taking over empty homes, and foliage growing over the blight.

Before he moved to Detroit five years ago, Alsup assumed the city had been in a steady downward decline since the 1960s and that the worst of the damage had been done.

“It was really surprising and striking to see how much destruction there had been since the financial crisis and to try and unpack what was going on there to cause it,” he said. “The financial crisis has been far more destructive than, I think, any other moment outside of the fire of 1805.” [more]

Watch Detroit Neighborhoods Fall Into Ruin Through Google Street View Images

Bison bulls fighting in snow, Białowieża Forest. Photo: Andrzej Petryna

25 March 2016 (AFP) – Poland has approved large-scale logging in Europe’s last primeval woodland in a bid to combat a beetle infestation despite protests from scientists, ecologists and the European Union.

The action in the Białowieża forest is intended to fight the spread of the spruce bark beetle.

“We’re acting to curb the degradation of important habitats, to curb the disappearance and migration of important species from this site,” the environment minister, Jan Szyszko, said.

Szyszko vowed that the logging plans would not apply to strictly protected areas of the primeval forest that was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1979.

But under the new plan, loggers will harvest more than 180,000 cubic metres (6.4m cubic feet) of wood from other areas of the forest over a decade, dwarfing previous plans to harvest 40,000 cubic metres over the same period.

Vowing to protect the forest, Greenpeace accused Szyszko of “ignoring the voices of citizens and scientists, the European Commission, Unesco, and conservation organisations.”

Along with other environmental groups protesting the move, Greenpeace also said the logging could trigger the EU to launch punitive procedures against Poland for violating its Natura 2000 program. [more]

Poland approves large-scale logging in Europe's last primeval forest

Surface air temperature (◦C) relative to 1880–1920 in (a) 2065, (b) 2080, and (c) 2096. Top row is IPCC scenario A1B. Ice melt with 10-year doubling is added in other scenarios. Graphic: Hansen, et al., 2016 / Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics

By Brian Mastroianni
23 March 2016

(CBS News) – A sobering new report on the impact of climate change finds that extreme weather like killer storms and high-rising seas could be mere decades, not centuries, away.

The report, "Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms" [pdf] published Tuesday in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, says that the 2-degree Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) global warming threshold previously agreed upon by global leaders and scientists is too high. The research in the 52-page report is derived from observations of ancient climate change -- "paleo-climatology" -- as well as observations of current climate shifts, and data from computer modeling to forecast where the planet is headed.

"So, the question arises again: Have we passed the point of no return?" asked lead author James Hansen, a former NASA climate scientist, in a video message that accompanied the study release.

Hansen said that preventing such dire outcomes is all dependent on how quickly we act to "slow down" man-made climate change.

"I think the conclusion is clear, we are in a position of potentially causing irreparable harm to our children, grandchildren, and future generations," he said in the video.

So, what does the paper's doomsday scenario look like? The research points to the significant melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets happening so quickly that they lead to as much as several meters of sea level rise within the next 50 to 150 years.

What will happen during this time is a "stratification" of the polar oceans, with a pool of cooler meltwater trapped at the ocean's surface while warmer water rests just underneath. This is dangerous, the paper argues, because the warmer water layer would hit the base of the polar ice sheets, melting them from below. This would result in accelerated ice melting and continued stratification, along with more rapid sea level increases.

Unfortunately, as you go through the paper, the news gets worse and worse. The North Atlantic area would actually cool, creating a bigger disparity between the ever-warming equatorial region, which in turn whips up huge storms and giant ocean waves.

"Many of the most significant and devastating storms in eastern North America and western Europe, popularly known as superstorms, have been winter cyclonic storms, though sometimes occurring in late fall or early spring, that generate near-hurricane-force winds and often large amounts of snowfall," the report states. "Continued warming of low-latitude oceans in coming decades will provide a larger water vapor repository that can strengthen such storms."

None of this is unprecedented. Hansen's team looked at events traced by paleoclimate scientists and geologists who determined that similar climate events took place 80,000 to 130,000 years ago, when temperatures warmed before the last ice age.

During that period, storms were so powerful they generated waves 40 meters (130 feet) high that could pick up and hurl huge boulders inland. "On rocky, steep coasts, giant limestone boulders were detached and catapulted onto and over the coastal ridge by ocean waves," the report says. [more]

Climate report warns of killer storms, rising seas in near future

A massive boulder on a coastal ridge in North Eleuthera, the Bahamas. A new research paper claims it was most likely moved there by powerful storms during the last warm period of Earth history, 120,000 years ago, and warns that such stormy conditions could recur because of human emissions of greenhouse gases. Photo: Charles Ommanney / The Washington Post / Getty Images

By Justin Gillis
22 March 2016

(New York Times) – The nations of the world agreed years ago to try to limit global warming to a level they hoped would prove somewhat tolerable. But leading climate scientists warned on Tuesday that permitting a warming of that magnitude would actually be quite dangerous.

The likely consequences would include killer storms stronger than any in modern times, the disintegration of large parts of the polar ice sheets and a rise of the sea sufficient to begin drowning the world’s coastal cities before the end of this century, the scientists declared.

“We’re in danger of handing young people a situation that’s out of their control,” said James E. Hansen, the retired NASA climate scientist who led the new research. The findings were released Tuesday morning by a European science journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

A draft version of the paper was released last year, and it provoked a roiling debate among climate scientists. The main conclusions have not changed, and that debate seems likely to be replayed in the coming weeks.

The basic claim of the paper is that by burning fossil fuels at a prodigious pace and pouring heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, humanity is about to provoke an abrupt climate shift.

Specifically, the authors believe that fresh water pouring into the oceans from melting land ice will set off a feedback loop that will cause parts of the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to disintegrate rapidly. […]

The paper, written by Dr. Hansen and 18 other authors, dwells on the last time Earth warmed naturally, about 120,000 years ago, when the temperature reached a level estimated to have been only slightly higher than today. Large chunks of the polar ice disintegrated then, and scientists have established that the sea level rose 20 to 30 feet.

Climate scientists agree that humanity is about to cause an equal or greater rise in sea level, but they have tended to assume that such a large increase would take centuries, at least. The new paper argues that it could happen far more rapidly, with the worst case being several feet of sea-level rise over the next 50 years, followed by increases so precipitous that they would force humanity to beat a hasty retreat from the coasts.

“That would mean loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history,” Dr. Hansen said in a video statement that accompanied the new paper. [more]

Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries

ABSTRACT: We use numerical climate simulations, paleoclimate data, and modern observations to study the effect of growing ice melt from Antarctica and Greenland. Meltwater tends to stabilize the ocean column, inducing amplifying feedbacks that increase subsurface ocean warming and ice shelf melting. Cold meltwater and induced dynamical effects cause ocean surface cooling in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic, thus increasing Earth's energy imbalance and heat flux into most of the global ocean's surface. Southern Ocean surface cooling, while lower latitudes are warming, increases precipitation on the Southern Ocean, increasing ocean stratification, slowing deepwater formation, and increasing ice sheet mass loss. These feedbacks make ice sheets in contact with the ocean vulnerable to accelerating disintegration. We hypothesize that ice mass loss from the most vulnerable ice, sufficient to raise sea level several meters, is better approximated as exponential than by a more linear response. Doubling times of 10, 20 or 40 years yield multi-meter sea level rise in about 50, 100 or 200 years. Recent ice melt doubling times are near the lower end of the 10–40-year range, but the record is too short to confirm the nature of the response. The feedbacks, including subsurface ocean warming, help explain paleoclimate data and point to a dominant Southern Ocean role in controlling atmospheric CO2, which in turn exercised tight control on global temperature and sea level. The millennial (500–2000-year) timescale of deep-ocean ventilation affects the timescale for natural CO2 change and thus the timescale for paleo-global climate, ice sheet, and sea level changes, but this paleo-millennial timescale should not be misinterpreted as the timescale for ice sheet response to a rapid, large, human-made climate forcing. These climate feedbacks aid interpretation of events late in the prior interglacial, when sea level rose to +6–9 m with evidence of extreme storms while Earth was less than 1 °C warmer than today. Ice melt cooling of the North Atlantic and Southern oceans increases atmospheric temperature gradients, eddy kinetic energy and baroclinicity, thus driving more powerful storms. The modeling, paleoclimate evidence, and ongoing observations together imply that 2 °C global warming above the preindustrial level could be dangerous. Continued high fossil fuel emissions this century are predicted to yield (1) cooling of the Southern Ocean, especially in the Western Hemisphere; (2) slowing of the Southern Ocean overturning circulation, warming of the ice shelves, and growing ice sheet mass loss; (3) slowdown and eventual shutdown of the Atlantic overturning circulation with cooling of the North Atlantic region; (4) increasingly powerful storms; and (5) nonlinearly growing sea level rise, reaching several meters over a timescale of 50–150 years. These predictions, especially the cooling in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic with markedly reduced warming or even cooling in Europe, differ fundamentally from existing climate change assessments. We discuss observations and modeling studies needed to refute or clarify these assertions.

Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming could be dangerous


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