Archive for Climatic Phenomena
Treehugger has just posted a series of photographs from the Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection, ca. 1940-1950, from the Archives Service Center at the University of Pittsburgh. See a selection of the photographs below. They demonstrate how it is not just modern-day cities such as Beijing, Mexico City, and Rio de Janeiro that experience severe air pollution. Many cities that have relatively clear skies today such as Chicago, London, and Berlin also used to have dangerous smogs but these were tackled with curbs on emissions and stricter controls on air quality. Let us hope the industrialising nations manage to implement their own restrictions soon. These beautiful yet terrifying images are taken from war-time Chicago. The air quality is much the same as that LMV saw in the Beijing of today.
www.sciencedaily.com 1st March 2012
A new study by Colombia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory indicates that today’s ocean acidification through human carbon emissions is happening faster than at any time during the past 300 million years. Over this time there have been four mass extinctions caused by natural ‘pulse’ emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, which sent temperatures soaring. According to lead author Bärbel Hönisch, ”What we’re doing today really stands out. We know that life during past ocean acidification events was not wiped out — new species evolved to replace those that died off. But if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about — coral reefs, oysters, salmon.” The study is the first to explore the geological record for signs of ocean acidification over time. The research team behind the study came from five different countries and reviewed hundreds of paleoceanographic papers to come to their conclusion. In the past 300 million years, there was only one time period where the ocean acidified as quickly as it is today. Spanning 5,000 years roughly 56 million years ago, a mysterious surge of carbon into the atmosphere caused an estimated 6 degree rise in global temperatures. The carbonic acid created in the ocean by the absorption of CO2 led to the dissolving of carbonate plankton shells on the seafloor creating a layer of mud. Normally these shells help regulate the acidity of the oceans.
www.bbc.co.uk 3rd August 2011
The UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit has reported that in the next 4 to 6 weeks all regions of southern Somalia will be affected by famine. Three new regions have been declared in a state of famine over the past few days bringing the number of people affected in the entire Horn of Africa to around 11 million. These regions are the Balcad and Cadale districts of the middle Shabelle region and areas surrounding the capital of Mogadishu. The drought causing such mass starvation is the worst the country has seen in 60 years and the UN have warned that an end is not in sight until at least December of this year. In Somalia alone, almost half of the entire population (3.2 million) are in need of immediate life-saving assistance. The situation is compounded by rising food prices, which have doubled since 2010, and even tripled in some areas. It is the first time in 19 years that the country has experienced famine.
www.bbc.co.uk 22nd July 2011
Parts of the central and eastern United States have been hit by a strong heat-wave, which has caused 22 deaths already. Temperatures have peaked at 39 degrees C (99F) and as much as 50% of the entire country is under heat advisory, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The heat-wave has been caused by an unusually durable ridge of high pressure that is causing the air to sink, compress, and heat up. Due to the aridity of the phenomenon, cloud formation is low reducing the amount of solar radiation reflected back up into the atmosphere. The humidity at ground level however makes it very hard for human sweat to evaporate easily, disrupting our natural cooling system. As well as human fatalities, livestock have been hard hit with 1,500 head of cattle reported dead in South Dakota alone. Other effects of the heat-wave include power cuts in New York and unhealthy levels of smog in Chicago. Heat is the number one weather related killer in the US, according to the NWS, with an average of 162 people dying every year because of it.
www.latimes.com 19th July 2011
A group of environmental and public health organisations have lodged a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to the latter’s perceived failure to curtail pollution levels, and therefore smog, in the city. The EPA had recently missed a deadline in May to calculate whether ozone levels in the area were hazardous to human health, a decision that could trigger tougher limits on vehicle and industry pollution. Los Angeles already has the highest rates of ozone in the country according to the American Lung Association. It is also has the highest rates if asthma with 1 million adults and 300,000 children diagnosed with the condition. The suit was filed by several organisations including Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Communities for a Better Environment and the Natural Resources Defense Council. In nearby San Joaquin Valley, a similar lawsuit was filed by the Sierra Club and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. If the EPA does end up determining that ozone levels in LA are too high then the regions regulatory agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, would have one year to submit a clean-up plan. The EPA have refused to comment on the lawsuit.
www.telegraph.co.uk 10th June 2011
The latest spell of warm weather across the UK has been the declared the driest spring in 100 years, according to the UK’s Environment Agency, causing parts of Eastern England to be given ‘drought’ status. This means farmers may have to stop taking water from local waterways and businesses such as food processors and breweries reduce water use and share resources. Despite this, the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has said that a hosepipe ban is not yet needed as reservoirs remain quite full. She did suggest people take showers instead of baths though to save water. Only one water company, Severn Trent in the Midlands, has openly said that a hosepipe ban is likely this summer. Although East Anglia is the worst affected part of the country, areas of the South West, South East, the Midlands, and Wales are designated as having ‘near-drought’ conditions. The WWF have expressed concerns that water companies make take too much water from waterways threatening such species as otters, water voles, and salmon. A spokesman said, “our water supplies have been taken for granted for far too long and now we’re facing a drought that could devastate our wildlife, rivers and crops. Ministers must act to ensure we change the way we use our water instead of wasting it through badly designed buildings and appliances, poor planning and inadequate investment.” Most cereal crops such as Barley and Wheat in East Anglia and the South East have already been lost due to dry conditions but fruits such as strawberries and cherries are having bumper yields.
www.bbc.co.uk 26th April 2011
A US government report has highlighted the growing concern of water supplies in the western United States. Climate change, according to the report, could cut water flow into the area’s largest river basins by as much as 20% this century. This coincides with the fastest demographic growth rate in the country, indicating water shortages will become a likelihood for millions of people from Texas and Arizona, to California and Nevada. The American southwest is already experiencing water problems with inadequate supplies for drinking water, irrigation, and electricity production. Texas, Arizona, and Nevada are the driest states in the country, as well as having the fastest population growth, yet they are also the ones experiencing greatest water shortages. The report, put together by the Bureau of Reclamation, also outlined some other projections about future weather patterns related to water supply. These include: ‘a temperature increase of 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit (2.8-3.9 degrees Celsius); a precipitation increase over the north-western and north-central portions of the western US and a decrease over the south-western and south-central area; a decrease for almost all of the 1 April snowpack, a standard benchmark measurement used to project river basin run-off.’ The aim of the report is to create effective measures of response to these predictions.
www.bbc.co.uk 6th April 2011
One of the less contentious forms of geo-engineering, or the deliberate changing of the earth’s climate to reduce climate change, would see clouds sprayed with seawater to make them whiter thereby reflecting more of the sun’s energy. However, new research by the European Geosciences Union has found that depending on the size of the water droplets, the action could have a warming effect, rather than a cooling one. The theory was thought up in the 1990s by John Latham, now of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, USA. It has since been championed by numerous academics as one of the less environmentally detrimental forms of geo-engineering to combat global warming (see here for other proposed methods). One version of the idea would see wind-powered ships sail the oceans were reflective stratocumulus clouds are scarce. They would then spray a constant spray of seawater into the atmosphere where tiny salt crystals would act as nuclei around which water would vaporise and create clouds. However, Kari Alterskjaer of the European Geosciences Union has claimed that the wrong-sized water droplets would actually decrease cloud cover. There is a fine balance between too large, which would just fall back down from the sky, and too small, which would influence particles already in the sky. Geo-engineering is one of the more dramatic ways researchers are studying to limit the effects of global warming.
www.telegraph.co.uk 4th February 2011
The Amazonian rainforest has been struck by two severe floods in the past six years causing a large number of trees to die. The first hit in 2005 and was described as a 1 in a 100 year event. However, new research of 5.3 million square kilometres of forest by a team led by Dr Simon Lewis from the University of Leeds has discovered that another drought last year may have been even worse. The first drought alone was responsible for releasing 5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere due to rotting vegetation and the forest’s reduced capacity to absorb greenhouse gases (the Amazon usually absorbs about 1.5 billion tonnes annually). The second brought the Rio Negro tributary of the Amazon to its lowest recorded level. If these droughts continue the researchers, who published their findings in the journal Science, believe that the Amazon forest could go from being carbon absorber to a carbon emitter.
www.bbc.co.uk 6th December 2010
The heaviest rainfall in four decades has caused a huge landslide in the Colombian Andes, possibly killing as many as 50 people in the city of Medellin. Although only one body has been recovered from the rubble so far by rescue teams with sniffer dogs, more than 50 homes were buried in the La Gabriela district of Bello, north of Medellin. One Red Cross worker has claimed that as many as 200 are missing. Seven have been rescued alive. The confirmed dead bring the total amount of lost life due to landslides this year to 176 in Colombia alone, according to the Red Cross. Many more have had to leave their homes. In response to the devastation, the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said: “this tragedy we are experiencing, not only in the Atlantic coast but across the country, has no precedent in our history. We estimate that there will be more than two million people affected”. In the adjacent country of Venezuela, 70,000 have been displaced by similar flooding. The President Hugo Chavez has stated that he will seize private land to shelter those who have lost their homes. The extreme weather has been caused by the La Nina climatic phenomenon.
www.telegraph.co.uk 29th November 2010
A series of papers published by the Royal Society has revealed that scientists believe current plans to tackle climate change are not enough. Organisations such as Oxford University and the Met Office have contributed to the publication which states that unless more drastic measures are taken global temperatures could rise as much as 4 degrees centigrade by the 2060s. This would cause catastrophic floods, drought, and mass migrations across the world. One drastic example of the severity of the situation, according to the contributors, is from Professor Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who believes that the only way to reduce global emissions enough, while continuing to allow poorer nations to grow, is to stop growth in the developed world for twenty years. This would mean people in countries like the UK and USA would have to live less carbon intensive lifestyles. One way this could be achieved is by adopting a strict rationing system much like that of world war two. Electricity restrictions and less food from abroad are examples of this measure. Other authors wrote that the aim of reducing emissions by 50% relative to 1990 levels by 2050, the target the current climate summit in Cancun hopes to secure, is not enough and will not prevent temperature sensitive ecosystems such as coral reefs from being wiped out.
e360.yale.edu 16th November 2010
Quoted from source:
‘The steady loss of sea ice in the eastern Arctic could produce significant changes in the region’s atmospheric circulation, possibly resulting in a period of colder winters in the planet’s northern latitudes, even as the global climate warms, according to a new study. Using computer simulations to model decreases in sea cover in the eastern Arctic, scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found what they called a “pronounced nonlinear response” of air temperatures and winds in the eastern Arctic. Specifically, the decrease in winter sea ice in the Barents-Kara Sea area, located north of Norway and Russia, may well direct colder winds over much of Europe. “These anomalies could triple the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and northern Asia,” said Vladimir Petoukhov, a climate scientist and lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. “Recent severe winters like last year’s or the one of 2005-06 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it.”’
www.telegraph.co.uk 10th November 2010
Quoted from source:
A study of whales in the Gulf of California over the past few years showed blisters and other symptoms typically associated with the skin damage that humans suffer from exposure to the ultraviolet radiation. Whales would be particularly vulnerable to sunburn in part because they need to spend extended periods of time on the ocean’s surface to breathe, socialise, and feed their young. Without fur or feathers to protect their skin, they are effectively sunbathing naked. Laura Martinez-Levasseur, the study’s lead author, said: “Humans can put on clothes or sunglasses – whales can’t.” Ms Martinez-Levasseur, who works at Zoological Society of London, spent three years studying whales in the Gulf of California. Photographs were taken of the whales to chart any visible damage, and small samples – taken with a crossbow-fired dart – were collected to examine the state of their skin cells. Her study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, seemed to confirm suspicions first raised by one of her whale-watching colleagues: The mammals were showing lesions associated with sun damage, and many of their skin samples revealed patterns of dead cells associated with exposure to UV radiation. As with humans, the lighter-skinned whales seemed to have the most difficulty dealing with the sun. Blue whales had more severe skin damage than their darker-skinned counterparts, fin whales and sperm whales, even though the latter spend bigger chunks of time at the surface. So far, there were no indications of skin cancer among the whales studied, although Ms Martinez-Levasseur, who is also a PhD student at Queen Mary, University of London, noted that only tiny samples were taken.
www.nationalgeographic.com 18th October 2010
A new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience has revealed that wind speeds around the world are slowing down. However, the main culprits are not global warming nor increased numbers of high-rise buildings, but trees. Data from over 800 weather stations,mainly in the Northern Hemisphere due to reliability, collected over 30 years was compared to reach the findings. On average, wind speeds in mid-latitude northern countries dropped by 15% from 10.3 to 9 miles an hour. As global wind speeds copy each other, it is likely that wind in the Southern Hemisphere has also dropped velocity as it is impossible for average wind to speed up in one latitude and slow down in another. Although the research team behind the study, from the Climate and Environment Science Laboratory in France, insists that they are not “saying whether it is a good or bad thing”, study leader Robert Vautard said the drop in velocity could affect the dispersal of atmospheric pollutants and even the spread of windblown seeds. Wind-power could also be affected. Interestingly, areas experiencing the greatest wind reductions also experienced remarkable tree growth indicating that the flora itself is at least partly responsible for the phenomenon (the research team estimates about 60% of reductions can be explained in this way). Expansion of temperate forests due to the collapse of the Soviet farming system for example would have increased the total wind-break effect of the area. Changes in air circulation due to global warming could also be a factor but more tests have to be done to confirm this, said Dr. Vautard.
www.nationalgeographic.com 8th October 2010
New research has revealed another indicator for climate change. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a new report compiled by NASA and several university institutions has stated that 18% more freshwater entered the oceans in 2006 than in 1994. This increase is equivalent to an increase of one Mississippi river every year. It is believed that global warming is a major cause in this rise. A hotter climate means that more water evaporates from the oceans and form clouds over land. It also increases the amount of snow and ice-melt. However, although this may sound like good news in a time where water shortages are a global concern, much of this extra water is flowing where it isn’t needed like in tropical and polar regions. Also, the sheer volume of water means that where it does flow near human habitation, it frequently causes widespread flooding. The recent deluges in Pakistan are an example. The results from the report are the first of their kind and are based on a 13 year study of satellite records of sea-levels, evaporation, and precipitation. The research was led by Jay Famiglietti of the University of California at Irvine.
www.bbc.co.uk 13th October 2010
A new project is seeking to use logbooks from World War One era navy vessels to chart how climate has changed in the last century. Current weather data is mainly based on information from land-based monitoring stations which have been systematically recording for the past 150 years. However, the record is far from complete, particularly prior to 1920 and at sea, says Dr Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution at the UK Met Office. This new project, called OldWeather.org, aims to use weather data from ships logbooks to try and fill in some of these gaps, effectively turning the 280 odd WW1 vessels into mobile weather stations. Volunteers are encouraged to transcribe information from old logbooks posted online, including HMS Caroline which survived the Battle of Jutland and can still be seen moored at Belfast. The more transcription a volunteer does, the higher he/she rises up the rank system of that ship. According to Dr. Scott: “Historical weather data is vital because it allows us to test our models of the Earth’s climate: if we can correctly account for what the weather was doing in the past, then we can have more confidence in our predictions of the future.”
e360.yale.edu 11th October 2010
Quoted from source:
‘Soils in large areas of the Southern Hemisphere have been drying up in the past decade as temperatures have risen in Australia, Africa, and South America, according to the first major study of evapotranspiration on a global basis. The study found that from 1982 to 1998, the evaporation of water from the soil and plants to the atmosphere increased steadily in the Southern Hemisphere as temperatures climbed. But beginning in 1998, the rates of evaporation slowed dramatically in many parts of the Southern Hemisphere as soils became increasingly dry, an indication that the planet’s water cycle is being pushed to the limit, according to the study by U.S. scientists, which was published in the journal Nature. In some regions, rising temperatures have simply removed all of the available moisture from the ground, said Steve Running, an ecologist at the University of Montana in Missoula and one of the researchers involved in the study. While the moisture returns to the land in the form of rainfall, it often falls in different regions of the planet, leaving some regions increasingly dry, he said.’
www.guardian.co.uk 26th September 2010
There is one scientific discipline who seem to be benefitting the rapid melting of the world’s perma-frosted terrain. The gradual warming of the ground frost has allowed archaeologists to excavate in areas previously not available to them. In doing so they are allowed a rare glimpse of how early humankind survived in these regions. One particularly successful excavation is under way in Norway where the receding ice has revealed hundreds of artefacts dating back several millennia to before the vikings. Most of the items are related to reindeer hunting and have been discovered in the Jotunheimen mountains. Similar discoveries have been found from Alaska to Siberia. However, the ice is melting at such a rate that archaeological teams are in a desperate rush to find revealed sites before frozen artefacts degrade in the warmer air. In most cases the only reason ancient items have survived to the present day is because the ice prevented natural degradation. Without the ice, there is nothing to preserve the items.
news.sky.com 18th September 2010
Two tornados have struck New York City, becoming the 9th and 10th to do so since 1950. With winds of up to 125 mph, the 30 minute storm caused one death and a large amount of structural damage. The tornados stampeded 14 miles through Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn causing 14,000 to lose power. According to Kyle Struckmann, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, it was a miracle that more people didn’t die. The one victim, 30 year old Aline Levakis, was killed when a falling branch crushed the car she was in with her husband, 60 year old Billy. Mr. Levakis escaped with minor scrapes.
news.sky.com 19th September 2010
The second natural disaster in a fortnight has struck the islands of New Zealand. A storm the size of Australia has passed over the islands causing widespread blackouts and roof collapses. Lightning storms caused fires and trees were toppled disrupting transport links. So far 100,000 are reported to have lost power over Friday night due to the weather with 17,000 failing to be reconnected by Saturday afternoon. The effects of the storm has been diverse across the archipelago with the North experiencing the brunt of the lightning and winds and the South being subjected to heavy snow that has caused a stadium roof to collapse. Despite the string of natural disasters that have beset the island, no casualties have been reported either from this hurricane force storm or the Earthquake that struck off Christchurch two weeks ago.
www.nationalgeographic.co.uk 17th September 2010
The National Hurricane Center in Miami has confirmed that Hurricane Karl has struck land in Mexico just North of Veracruz. Although the tropical storm that Karl evolved from struggled at first to gain strength, a sudden drop in wind shear on the night of the 16-17th September allowed the storm to radically gain intensity hitting category 2 hurricane strength shortly after. Keith Blackwell of the University of South Alabama’s Coastal Weather Research Center described Karl’s sudden increase in strength as an explosion. Although Mexico will not experience dramatic winds, the hurricane is expected to drop around 50-70 cms of rain causing flashfloods. However, its power will diminish rapidly as it crosses the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.
Further East, Hurricane Igor has diminished to a Category 3 storm as it continues up the Eastern seaboard of the US. Following close behind is Hurricane Julia which stands at Category 4. However, it seems that Julia has been caught in the wind shear of Igor causing her strength to drop considerably. Both have so far missed the US coast.
www.independent.co.uk 18th September 2010
A recent report by the UN called the “Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion 2010″ has announced that the depletion of the Ozone due to harmful man-made chemicals has stopped. The Montreal Treaty of 1987 banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and was sign by 197 countries following the discovery of the ozone hole in the 1970s. 300 scientists worked on the assessment and suggested that the hole should repair itself between 2040 and 2060. However, the relationship between global warming and the ozone layer is still not fully understood. CFCs are persistent chemicals that accumulate and could make the situation worse. They are also a greenhouse gas so the reduction of around 10 gigatonnes of CFCs a year helps prevent global warming. Paradoxically, those ozone friendly gases that have been used to replace CFCs, such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are also greenhouse gases. HFCs alone are believed to be 14,000 times more potent than CO2.
www.cnn.com 15th September 2010
Yet another storm has brewed in the Gulf of Mexico and is now heading towards Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Tropical Storm Karl is nearing hurricane strength with winds of 65 miles an hour (75 mph winds are needed for a storm to be classified as a hurricane). Karl should hit landfall later today (Wednesday) with warnings being announced in Mexico and Belize. In the Atlantic, the two fully-fledged hurricanes of Igor and Julia are both at Category 4 but are not likely to cause much damage on the US coast due to an advancing low pressure front that should keep the storms off shore. Several Caribbean islands may experience dangerous surf and some wind and rain purely due to Igor’s size.
www.nationalgeographic.co.uk 13th September 2010
Meteorological ‘force-fields’ seem to be protecting the US Coast this hurricane season but the strongest storm so far is fast approaching. Hurricane Igor is currently positioned 1,000 miles East of the Virgin Islands with wind speeds of 150 miles an hour making it a Category 4 storm. This makes it the most powerful tropical storm so far outdoing Danielle, Earl, and Fiona. However, a low pressure front is passing from West to East across the US mainland which is likely to keep hurricane Igor at bay. With little chance Igor will hit landfall, scientists are excited about studying a hurricane likely to hit Category 5 in the next few days without having to worry about potential damage on land.
Sources: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment 8th September 2010
The environmental group Friends of the Earth have reported that in the first six months of 2010, Hong Kong’s air quality has reached record lows. The quality hit ‘unhealthy’ around 10% of the time between January to June. Health experts have stated that the poor quality of the city’s air has resulted in 3.8 million visits to the doctor this year alone as well as £99 million in lost productivity and doctor’s bills. The government has warned people with respiratory problems to stay away from traffic hot-spots where the air is more likely to fall into the ‘unhealthy’ category. Sandstorms from Northern China exaggerated the problem in March causing air quality to soar off the charts. Air pollution has contributed in Hong Kong’s relatively low position in city quality of life standings. A recent survey by Mercer Consulting put the city at 71st out of 221 compared to Singapore at 28th. However, officials noted that although roadside pollution was experiencing record highs, overall air pollution had actually declined in the past 6 months.
Sources: http://www.guardian.com/environment 5th September 2010
Research by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has shown that the Antarctic Ice Sheet, one of the largest masses of ice on our plant, is actually more unstable than originally thought. The study by the BAS, as part of the ongoing Consensus of Antarctic Marine Life, focussed on minuscule marine creatures called Bryozoans, which have similar properties to moss. Samples from two seas either side of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Ross and Weddell Seas, showed that the Bryozoans in each were extremely similar in structure. This result indicates that a sea-passage must have connected the two seas as little as 125,000 years ago allowing Bryozoans access to both. If the Antarctic Ice Sheet had been in existence for millions of years, as previously supposed, then the Bryozoans would have evolved separately and in different manners. The discovery highlights the fragile nature of the world’s ice sheets and could indicate that they are more vulnerable to climate change than has been suggested. If the Antarctic Ice Sheet alone collapsed the world’s sea levels would rise between 11 and 16 feet.
Sources: http://www.newscientist.com 3rd September 2010
This years hurricane season was predicted to be a busy one with Colorado State University predicting 18 tropical storms of which 10 would reach hurricane force. Record sea-temperatures and a weather system known as La Niña were cited as the cause to such activity. However, compared to the last few years which saw larger hurricanes forming before 20th August, this year has been unusually quiet, defying predictions. The reason for this is a weather pattern over Pakistan and Russia that has disrupted the jet stream. This weather pattern is also responsible to the severe floods in Pakistan and the heat-wave that struck Russia over the Summer (causing widespread wildfires and food shortages). As a result, instead of the humid air needed for the development of tropical storms, dry air is sitting above the Atlantic’s surface.
Is this the beginning of a wider shift in climatic patterns? Are anomalies such as this merely that, i.e.: a glitch in the records? Or is it due to something more disturbing such as global warming? Although the USA and the Caribbean Islands may have been given some much needed respite from hurricane season, the environmental consequences of Russia’s extreme weather may prove to have a far more profound impact on the world.