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Why California Droughts Could Increase Due to Arctic Sea Ice Loss

Climate
Scene from Ed R. Levin County Park in Milpitas, California. Don DeBold / Flickr

Receding ice cover in the Arctic ocean could produce more droughts in California, according to a new study.

Published last week in Nature Communications, the study found that sea ice loss in the Arctic—of the proportion expected in coming years—could set off an atmospheric effect that will steer precipitation away from California. Notably, the study linked Arctic sea ice loss with the development of an atmospheric ridging system that also played a central role in the state's 2012-2016 drought.


"The recent California drought appears to be a good illustration of what the sea-ice driven precipitation decline could look like," said Ivana Cvijanovic of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the study's lead researcher, in a release.

Sea ice loss in the Arctic will push precipitation that historically headed to California and send it to Canada and Alaska. By altering convection patterns over the tropical Pacific, the loss of sea ice will drive the formation of an atmospheric ridge in the North Pacific.

In coming years, this could magnify the effect of the state's recent lack of precipitation. "On average, when considering the 20-year mean, we find a 10-15 percent decrease in California's rainfall. However, some individual years could become much drier, and others wetter," Cvijanovic said.

Arctic sea ice loss is expected to increase over the next century, and even within the next few decades, the Arctic Ocean is projected to become ice-free during the summer.

A number of other studies have posited that California's recent drought had an anthropogenic component related to rising temperatures and that such occurrences are expected to increase in the future.

"Our study identifies one more pathway by which human activities could affect the occurrence of future droughts over California—through human-induced Arctic sea ice decline," Cvijanovic said. "While more research should be done, we should be aware that an increasing number of studies, including this one, suggest that the loss of Arctic sea ice cover is not only a problem for remote Arctic communities, but could affect millions of people worldwide. Arctic sea ice loss could affect us, right here in California."

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Aerial view of Ruropolis, Para state, northen Brazil, on Sept. 6, 2019. Tthe world's biggest rainforest is under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation. JOHANNES MYBURGH / AFP via Getty Images

By Kate Martyr

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest last month jumped to the highest level since records began in 2015, according to government data.

A total of 563 square kilometers (217.38 square miles) of the world's largest rainforest was destroyed in November, 103% more than in the same month last year, according to Brazil's space research agency.

From January to November this year an area almost the size of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico was destroyed — an 83% overall increase in destruction when compared with the same period last year.

The figures were released on Friday by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and collected through the DETER database, which uses satellite images to monitor forest fires, forest destruction and other developments affecting the rainforest.

What's Behind the Rise?

Overall, deforestation in 2019 has jumped 30% compared to last year — 9,762 square kilometers (approximately 3769 square miles) have been destroyed, despite deforestation usually slowing during November and December.

Environmental groups, researchers and activists blamed the policies of Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro for the increase.

They say that Bolosonaro's calls for the Amazon to be developed and his weakening support for Ibama, the government's environmental agency, have led to loggers and ranchers feeling safer and braver in destroying the expansive rainforest.

His government hit back at these claims, pointing out that previous governments also cut budgets to environment agencies such as Ibama.

The report comes as Brazil came to loggerheads with the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) over climate goals during the UN climate conference in Madrid.

AOSIS blasted Brazil, among other nations, for "a lack of ambition that also undermines ours."

Last month, a group of Brazilian lawyers called for Bolsonaro to be investigated by the International Criminal Court over his environmental policies.

Reposted with permission from DW.

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