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Arid West Invading Fertile Eastern U.S.
Theres an invasion going on down the middle of the U.S., as America's arid West advances eastwards. Imperceptibly, decades of climate change have shifted the natural boundary between the dry west and the fertile farmlands of the eastern states by more than 225 kilometers (approximately 140 miles), according to a new study by U.S. scientists.
In effect, what was once marked by the 100th meridian is now at 98 degrees of longitude.
The 100th meridian is one of those astronomically-determined lines that emerge from what the researchers call "psychogeography." Just as the historic 38th parallel separates the hostile states of North and South Korea, the Mason-Dixon line marks a notional but blood-stained boundary between the northern states and the American South, and the Greenwich meridian formally replaced the Paris meridian as the notional ground zero for the measure of universal time, so the 100th meridian has entered U.S. consciousness.
It was first cited 140 years ago when a pioneer geologist and surveyor identified a divide running from north to south between land that received ample rainfall, and soils in the so-called rain-shadow of the Rockies that could be classed as arid.
And, conveniently, it could be measured as 100 degrees west of Greenwich in the UK, the starting point for lines of longitude. In two papers in the journal Earth Interactions, researchers have taken a closer look at the reality of this historic divide and the changing nature of the U.S. landscape as a consequence of climate change driven by ever-greater ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, in response to ever-more profligate human use of fossil fuels.
They confirm that in the 140 years since the first observation of that divide, the line through North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas has shifted eastwards by 140 miles, or 225 km: in the state of Texas, this is a shift from Abilene to Fort Worth.
In 1878, the geologist John Wesley Powell noted the transformation observed as he crossed a north-south band of terrain in the U.S. "On the east, luxuriant growth of grass is seen, and the gaudy flowers of the order Compositae make the prairie landscape beautiful.
"Passing westward, species after species of luxuriant grass and brilliant flowering plants disappear; the ground gradually becomes naked, with 'bunch' grasses here and there; now and then a thorny cactus is seen, and the yucca plant thrusts out its sharp bayonets," he later wrote.
Big Change Ahead
Today, west of the line, population drops away sharply and farms are fewer but bigger. To the east, most of the crop is maize, a plant greedy for water. To the west, the dominant harvest is wheat, which is more resistant to aridity.
The researchers predict that drylands will continue to move eastward with the century, as global temperatures continue to rise, and eventually trigger large-scale changes.
Such research is simply another way of identifying the impacts of climate change. None of it should be a surprise. Researchers have repeatedly warned that the U.S. climate is changing with ever-greater risks of climate extremes, including ever-more devastating droughts, and with increasing risks of forest fire.
So the 100th meridian study is another way of telling the story again. "Powell talked eloquently about the 100th meridian, and this concept of a boundary line has stayed with us down to the current day," said Richard Seager of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who led the study "We wanted to ask whether there really is such a divide, and whether it's influenced human settlement."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
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Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
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The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.