Europe's Hot Summer Weather Could Worsen the Effects of COVID-19
By Roman Goncharenko
Unseasonably warm temperatures, blue skies and gardens in full bloom — most of Europe is currently enjoying dreamy spring weather. But that's not how farmers see it. They are hoping for rain, and fear that without it their crops will suffer greatly. And experts say there is a very real prospect that beyond the continuing coronavirus pandemic, Europe could be facing weather-induced crop failures in the very near future.
Right now, there is little talk of that threat as farmers are more concerned with an acute lack of seasonal harvesters from abroad. The labor shortage is the direct result of travel bans put in place in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Quarantine-related stories like this one have dominated headlines for weeks, leaving no space for the climate change stories they replaced — stories about massive forest fires raging across Australia and Brazil, for instance.
Global Warming Hasn't Gone Away
"January was too warm. There is no evidence that global warming has paused or slowed," says Andreas Becker of the German Weather Service (DWD) in Frankfurt am Main. Moreover, he says, January and March were far too dry and February too wet. Water levels in Germany's largest river, the Rhine, were more than 6 meters (20 feet) above average in early March, though they are now falling once again. Currently, the Rhine is close to its average depth of 3.5 meters, but water levels are continuing to drop.
Meteorologist Becker says the good thing about having such a wet February is that it helped offset some of the groundwater loss that occurred over the past two years as temperatures soared above 40℃ (104℉). He says plants, which draw water from the top 20-50 centimeters (8-20 inches) of soil, have been doing better than trees, which draw theirs from depths closer to two meters. Becker says there is very little water remaining at those levels.
Now, he warns, things will have deteriorated further still as March was such a dry month. This year, Germany only received 50-75% of the rainfall that it usually gets for the month. For meteorologists, that comes close to qualifying as a drought.
Eastern Europe Especially Dry
Andreas Marx from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research's Central Germany Office in Leipzig points out that the past three years have seen unusually low amounts of precipitation. He says that has been the case not only in northern Germany, but also in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Romania.
The expert says three-week cycles without rain are normal for Europe, but says what has been unusual over the past three years has been the increasing stabilization of the jet stream, which normally meanders around the North Pole some 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) above the Earth. A veritable conveyor belt for winds, the jet stream normally winds and shifts its path, changing weather patterns on the Earth's surface.
"Climate change has caused the North Pole to warm far faster than the Equator. Now the jet stream is increasingly moving in a north-south direction," says Marx. As a result, the jet stream is not moving around as much as it once did, leading to stable weather patterns such as the extended dry periods that Germany suffered in 2018.
How Dry Will Things Get This Summer?
Since weather predictions for even a week or two are considered uncertain, meteorologists shy away from making long-term weather predictions about things such as how the upcoming summer might be. Both Becker and Marx add that due to Europe's varied geography — including its mountains and oceans — it is far more difficult to predict the weather in Europe than in places like Australia, which is surrounded by water. Still, both expect this summer to be warmer than usual. The German Weather Service, for instance, has already suggested that temperatures in Germany could be half a degree (Celsius) warmer than average.
Marx, who is currently basing his modeling on data from the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), says not only does he expect the coming summer to be warmer than usual, but also drier. He points out that hot periods have changed all over the world.
"Technically, hot days are those over 30℃. Statistically, one can expect seven or eight such days each year in Leipzig. But we had 36 of them in 2018, and 29 in 2019. That means heat waves last three to four times longer than average." Marx says that has serious consequences for farmers but also for human health.
Heat Could Amplify the Effects of the Coronavirus
If things go as the experts expect, Europeans will not only face the prospect of movement restrictions necessitated by COVID-19, but will also have to suffer under extended periods of extreme heat. That heat is something that already plagues elderly citizens — who are also most at risk from the coronavirus — and it makes wearing a face mask all the more uncomfortable.
Long droughts also increase the chance of forest fires and the massive amounts of smoke that they produce. That would be yet another burden on peoples' lungs, especially those infected with the coronavirus.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Tara Lohan
Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.
Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.
"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."
Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.
It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.
Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.
Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.
One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.
The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.
They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.
"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."
That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.
And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.
"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."
Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.
"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.
The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.
"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.
The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.
"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."
The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.
The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.
The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.
To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.
Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.
"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.
"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."
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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.