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Anything But the Wine! Climate Change Takes Its Toll on Grapes

A new Global Wine Index outlines the most at-risk wine regions according to natural disasters, rising temperatures and other climate change factors. Unfortunately, some of the world's finest grapes are unlikely to survive.

The index was created by a multidisciplinary European-Australian research team of engineers, seismologists, meteorologists, scientists and wine lovers, who analyzed 110,000 wineries in 131 countries that produce a combined total of 26 billion liters of wine a year.

At the top of the list is Argentina's Mendoza region, which experiences a smorgasbord of obstacles for growing grapes.

"We see that Mendoza in Argentina, which has earthquakes, hail, floods, the whole gamut of natural hazards... is number one," said James Daniell of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and co-author of the research.

Just behind Argentina, the most at-risk regions are in the following order: Kakheti and Racha regions in Georgia, the southern Cahul region in Moldova, northwestern Slovenia in fourth place, and tied for fifth are the Yaraqui Valley in Ecuador and Nagano, Japan. All in all, wine contributes a staggering $300 billion to the world economy every year.

Most at-risk wine regions.

So wine is kind of a big deal, but is it enough to send a message about climate change? The new site offers enlightening advice on some of the most common risks associated with our most beloved wine regions. Italy, which contributes 4.9 billion liters annually, is facing hail, frost and earthquakes as the number one threats to vino. In France, it's frost, hail and storms. And in Spain, it's hail in the northwest, frost and heat. As for American wine, since most of it comes from California, one of the biggest threats is earthquakes.

According to the site, by looking at climate models, wine regions will generally shift both southward and northward. Southern Italy and southern Spain, therefore, will see the biggest losses. This data is meant to help winemakers make better decisions about their grapes to stave off any effects of climate change.

"This uses data going back from 1900 onwards," said Daniel. "They can at least identify that they are at risk and... do something about it to mitigate it."

Some of those methods are using anti-hail nets for the vineyards, tying up stored wine bottles to withstand the shock of an earthquake, using a "hail cannon" as France's Burgundy region is doing to seed clouds with stone-shrinking silver iodine or by simply just taking out some old-fashioned crop insurance.

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NOAA

NOAA's Interactive Maps Show How Your Climate Is Changing

New interactive maps from NOAA show you how your region's vegetation has shifted due to climate change.

The maps are based off of the official U.S. Climate Normal, which are updated every 10 years and last updated in 2010. By averaging the coldest days each year for the 30-year window and sorting those averages into 10-degree Fahrenheit "planting zone" bins, they were able to make a continuous map with similar minimum temperatures between the two time periods.

This map shows the planting zones between 1971 and 2000.

This map shows the planting zones between 1981 and 2010.

As a whole it may not look like much has changed. But, when you zoom in on your region, you'll see that those slight changes made a huge difference. The 1970s was an unusually cool decade, while the 10 year period between 2001 and 2010 was the warmest ever recorded, causing for drastic shifts. For this reason, according to NOAA, planting zones have shifted northward and upward in elevation in many parts of the country, because warming winter nights are allowing plants to migrate. This is evident in the third map, which shows shifts in planting zones:

By basing it off of winter averages, we know that plants that used to survive in the region, may no longer make it in these changing times. Some plants need a long enough winter to go into dormancy and return in the spring to flower while other plants can't survive at all in sub-freezing temperatures. Climate.gov said these changes are also causing longer and more severe wildfire seasons, and allowing pests to thrive and spread to what used to be colder regions. Overall, this could be having adverse effects on pollination patterns, the food chain and ultimately the biodiversity of any given region.

"Species, including many iconic species, may disappear from regions where they have been prevalent or become extinct, altering some regions so much that their mix of plant and animal life will become almost unrecognizable," reported the Third National Climate Assessment in 2014.

These new "climate normals" can help people know exactly what to plant to ensure their garden is a healthy environment for native species.

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A mountaintop removal site near Pikeville, Kentucky. Photo credit: Kenny Stanley/Berkeley Energy Group

Mountaintop Removal Site Could Become Kentucky's Largest Solar Farm

Kentucky, like most of the Appalachian region, has been in economic distress since the bust of the coal mining industry. But, new hope for jobs and the ravaged environment may come in the form of the state's largest solar farm.

The company spearheading the initiative, Berkeley Energy Group, used to be a coal mining company and still owns thousands of acres of land in the area, including the abandoned mountaintop removal site in Pike County, Kentucky, just outside of Pikeville in the heart of coal country. Berkeley Energy is working with EDF Renewable Energy and former Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen to build a 50-100 megawatt farm right on top of the old mine. The project was announced on Tuesday.

"This is really a history-making project for the region," said Ryan Johns, an executive with Berkeley Energy Group.

"Bringing together major players in both coal and renewable energy to build a solar farm on a mountaintop removal site, creating opportunity for out-of-work miners, is a once-in-a-lifetime project," Edelen told the Herald-Leader.

Coal production has drastically dropped over the last few years since the boom of natural gas and lower installation costs for renewables. According to Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet, in 2016 alone, coal production in the region, including Pike County, dropped by 40 percent from 2015, and the number of coal jobs in the county decreased by 30 percent.

"We have the opportunity to combine the strengths of both companies to bring jobs and economic development to Appalachia," Doug Copeland, EDF development manager, said.

Though the developers aren't sure how many jobs would be supplied by the solar farm, the project would be a massive undertaking and several hundred acres would be used to operate the facility.

Pike County is in eastern Kentucky, which doesn't get quite as much annual sunlight as western parts of the state. But, building it in this specific location would help the developers work with the electric grid supplied by PJM, an electric company that works with homeowners to allocate renewable energy resources.

But, before they can establish anything with PJM, the developers must complete geological and energy studies to measure the potential for solar on the property. EDF said this could take until the end of the year. But, Johns said, "if it can be done, we'll get it done."

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Health

2 Billion People Drink Contaminated Water, Says WHO

The World Health Organization urges cleaner sanitation practices after new data reveals that at least two billion people do not have access to clean water.

The drinking water that is causing nearly 500,000 deaths a year is contaminated with feces, causing cholera, dysentery, intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma, typhoid and polio.

The most serious threats are in impoverished and developing areas. Although there has been a push for safe drinking water by the UN General Assembly, which led to a 4.9 percent increase in budgets worldwide, most countries say it is not enough.

The report found that 80 percent of countries are not adequately meeting the UN standards. In a statement WHO said when people can't provide the most basic necessities, like repairing infrastructure, water safety and reliability is sacrificed first.

"This is a challenge we have the ability to solve," Guy Ryder, chair of UN-Water and director-general of the International Labour Organization, said. "Increased investments in water and sanitation can yield substantial benefits for human health and development, generate employment and make sure that we leave no one behind."

This is a heavy burden on local communities, but as Ryder said, it is possible. To really meet UN standards, the world budget for drinking water would have to triple, that's $114 billion annually, to provide underserved areas. Governments can also step up their game by increasing and sustaining WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) access for vulnerable groups, especially in rural areas.

This graphic shows budget for WASH funding worldwide. Photo credit: World Health Organization

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BP Arctic Oil Well Still Leaking, Too Unstable to Shut Down

BP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials spent the holiday weekend trying to repair a leaking oil well on Alaska's North Slope. Officials said the well is too unstable to shut down because of frigid temps in the high Arctic, but have released the pressure on one of the main leaks.

It appears that 1.5 acres of the remote area near Deadhorse, Alaska have been affected by the spill. Native communities were notified and non-essential workers were forced to evacuate. However, no injuries to crew or wildlife have been reported.

"Crews are on the scene and are developing plans to bring the well under control," said BP spokesperson Brett Clanton, in a release on Saturday. "Safety will remain our top priority as we move through this process."

There were initially two main leaks, one near the top of the rig that was releasing methane and the other down the assembly line spraying crude oil in a mist over the ice. Officials were able to detect both leaks using infrared cameras.

"Based on an overflight with infrared cameras, the release appears to be contained to the gravel pad surrounding the wellhead and has not reached the tundra," Clanton said.

Crews are still getting the situation under control and no updates have been reported in the last 12 hours.

As natural gas operations have begun taking shape in Alaska, reports of leaks have become more frequent. There had been an ongoing, very large leak occurring at Cook Inlet, which was spewing 210,000 cubic feet of gas per day for nearly four months, but finally Hilcorp Alaska announced Friday that a temporary repair has stopped the leak. However, the effects on marine life, including critically endangered beluga whales, is still unknown.

"Oil companies continue to treat Alaska with reckless abandonment, threatening its pristine waters, wildlife and communities," said Dan Ritzman, director of Sierra Club's Alaska Program.

"Big Oil has repeatedly proven it can't drill for fossil fuels safely, it has repeatedly proven they can't transport it safely, and it has repeatedly proven they can't be trusted with the safety and well-being of the state and its habitat. It's past time that Donald Trump and his friends in the fossil fuel industry put Alaska ahead of corporate polluter's profits which only threaten the state's beauty and environment."

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Average carbon dioxide concentrations, Oct. 1 - Nov. 11, 2014, measured by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite. Photo credit: NASA

NASA Launches Satellite to Watch Earth Breathe From Space

In an effort to understand how climate change is altering the carbon cycle, a project between the University of Oklahoma and NASA is headed to space. Orbiting 22,000 miles above Earth's surface, this host of instruments will track carbon as it flows through the Earth delivering real-time data and helping scientists quantify just how much humans are affecting the planet.

The carbon cycle is an inconspicuous, but vital, system in all ecosystems, including marine habitats, forests and even deserts. All plants need carbon to complete photosynthesis, and when they die, that carbon is either released back into the atmosphere, or buried deep under ground to create fossil fuels over thousands of years. As we are seeing today, the carbon cycle plays a huge role in temperature fluctuation and weather patterns and unfortunately, the more carbon we trap in the atmosphere, the more unpredictable these fluctuations become.

The University of Oklahoma is calling the mission the Earth Venture Mission, and the payload (the part that will attach to one of Earth's satellites) is called the Geostationary Carbon Observatory, or GeoCarb. Although it may seem like an extreme measure to take, scientists believe it is necessary. The increase of carbon in the atmosphere well surpassed the point of no return—or carbon threshold—in 2016 and has continued to steadily rise above 400 parts per million. This is rapid warming compared to the 280 ppm that persisted for thousands of years before the industrial revolution. Scientists say we've reached a state of unknown, and launching the GeoCarb is our best bet in being able to predict where we go from here.

From 1958 to 2017, carbon has been shy rocketing. Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The GeoCarb will rotate in tandem with Earth at 85 degrees west longitude where it will be able to record human activity in developed nations from urbanized areas to agricultural lands. It will take measurements of carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide once or even twice daily. It will also measure solar induced fluorescence, which is the light that plants can't absorb and is therefore repelled from Earth. This measurement will be closely tied to the rate of photosynthesis, and will help map out where carbon sinks exist. The map will also help scientists understand where there is a natural release in carbon, such as when a plant dies and decays, versus when human-induced carbon is released. It will be the first time scientists are able to watch the Western Hemisphere breathe in and out every day.

"Knowing what fraction of these changes is caused by human activities is important for understanding our impact on the planet, and observing and measuring it is essential to any conversation about strategies for reducing CO2 emissions," Berrien Moore, director of the National Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma, told The Conversation.

"These observations, along with direct measurements of photosynthetic activity from SIF observations, will raise our understanding of the carbon cycle to a new level."

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Scientists Say Only 10 Years Left to Save the Planet

The planet, as we know it, has been given a deadline: 10 years. According to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, if humans don't reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically and maintain carbon sinks, like forests, then the results will be catastrophic for the climate. But the researchers have developed a model that they believe could do the trick.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, outlines a plan that could simultaneously account for carbon uptake by plants and carbon release by anthropogenic (human-induced) activities.

"The study shows that the combined energy and land-use system should deliver zero net anthropogenic emissions well before 2040 in order to assure the attainability of a 1.5°C target by 2100," said Michael Obersteiner, coauthor and IIASA director.

The target is in line with the Paris agreement on climate change, which 194 countries signed, promising to limit future global average temperature increases to below 2ºC in hopes efforts would limit the average increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. But the agreement allows countries to accomplish this in whatever way they see necessary and doesn't give clear instructions.

The IIASA model calls for fossil fuel consumption to be reduced to less than 25 percent of the global energy supply by 2100, a drastic cut from the 95 percent being used right now. Deforestation would also need to be cut significantly to lead to a 42 percent decrease in cumulative emissions.

Atmospheric carbon concentration [ppm] in the various scenarios, shown with CDIAC data and RCP projections. Credit: © Walsh et al, 2017

The study shows that in a "high-renewable" scenario, renewable energy like wind, solar and bioenergy would need to increase by around five percent a year for net emissions to peak by 2022. However, there also needs to be negative emissions technologies like reforestation and revitalizing ocean ecosystems or the global average temperature will still reach 2.5 degrees, missing the Paris agreement target.

China has bumped up their renewable energy consumption, and entire counties like Denmark have committed to 100 percent renewables. In the U.S., President Donald Trump is attempting to rollback climate regulations and even withdraw from the agreement. But that isn't stopping some states like California and Kansas from developing renewable energy options.

These are some tall orders, but science is showing some countries are moving in the right direction. Overall, there is hope. And the IIASA believes that "success in these areas may explain the difference between reaching 1.5°C instead of 2°C."

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Photo credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Kathryn Mersmann

NASA's Earth at Night Images Are 'Mind-Boggling'

NASA scientists created the most complete map of Earth at night to date—showing humans in all of their electric glory. But, while the photos are magical, they also show human's extreme effect on the planet.

The map, which shows a nightly Earth as it was in 2016, was made through a composite of images collected from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite.

According to NASA, creating a night map is very challenging and can only be updated every four or fives years. One large glowing obstacle is the moon, which can effect the clarity of the night lights depending on where it is positioned during each month of observation. So, the scientists had to gather moonlight-free images and color correct the ones that weren't so it all matched.

The goal of the partnership is to create a real-time night map that shows the earth as it is in any given moment. This will help scientists understand how light evolves throughout a certain period.

"We can monitor cyclical changes driven by reoccurring human activities such as holiday lighting and seasonal migrations," said Miguel Román of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "We can also monitor gradual changes driven by urbanization, out-migration, economic changes and electrification. The fact that we can track all these different aspects at the heart of what defines a city is simply mind-boggling."

Electricity has really only taken hold in human life in the past century. So, this map opens a lot of doors for scientists still trying to understand how humans are creating light pollution and the effect it has on natural habitats.

Light is most disruptive to nocturnal wildlife, and can confuse an animal's migratory patterns, affect their ability to compete for and catch prey, and even cause physiological harm. Life depends on the natural fluctuation of light and dark; so disruption to these patterns impacts the ecosystem in a major way.

Now, thanks to NASA, we have a more complete understanding that will help humans and wildlife alike.

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