By Tierney Smith
From unprecedented storms and flooding in the UK to severe drought in California and Brazil, 2014 has kicked off with some exceptional and weird weather events.
In the UK, the country is experiencing its most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years, with hundreds of flood alert warnings covering much of the country and hundreds of home left inundated.
The prolonged storms have played havoc across the country since December, with more than 130 severe flood risk warnings—meaning a potential threat to life—issued and more than 5,000 homes flooded.
This week fourteen severe warnings remain in place, with no let up of the rain in sight.
And as the country tries to get a grip on the situation, the UK Met Office has said that “all evidence suggests there is a link to climate change.”
Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the Met Office said:
Nobody has come forward to counter the basic premise that if you have a warmer world you are doing to get more intense heavy rain rates … We know that warmer air holds more water.
Across the globe in Brazil, residents in Sao Paulo—South America’s largest city—are facing the opposite problem, as record heat and drought have sparked fears of water shortages. The city is on alert following warnings the system that provides half the its drinking water could run dry in the next 40 days.
Like cities across Brazil, Sao Paulo is experiencing its worst drought in 50 years, with last month the hottest January on record.
The combination of low precipitation and extreme heat right across the country are not only sparking fears of water shortages but also of crop damage and higher energy prices.
The Western U.S. is facing similar problems, as the state of California is in the grips of what is likely to be the region’s worst drought in 500 years.
Low snowpack in the mountains are leaving the state’s creeks, rivers and reservoirs—which provide essential water and hydroelectric power for cities and the agricultural industry—dry, putting food prices at risk.
Meanwhile, wildfires continue to plague the region at increased rates.
Brazil and California aren’t the only places experiencing record drought and heat.
In Alaska, record high temperatures have triggered a series of extremely large avalanches, with debris piles more than 30-metres thick blocking off towns from highway access.
Stifling heat in Australia is also causing havoc, after the country suffered through its hottest January in 13 years—the fourth hottest on record.
The dry and hot conditions have left scores of wildfires raging across southeast Australia, and are threatening the country’s agriculture production, as farmers struggle to provide water for their cattle and crops.
Scientists warn that “climate change is loading the dice” for more extreme heat, with a new Climate Council report warning that climate change’s influence on the doubling number of hot days Australia experienced in 2008 compared to 1971.
A slew of deadly flooding events are also hitting communities around the world.
In Bolivia flooding and landslides have so far claimed 42 lives this year, while flooding in northern Indonesia has killed 13 people and driven tens of thousands more from their homes, and in Mozambique 11 people have been killed in flooding.
Extreme rainfall is also hitting countries across mainland Europe. Large parts of France and Italy are under flood alert, with hundreds of people being forced out of their homes. The heavy rain and flooding have also claimed three lives in Italy and two in France.
In Romania heavy snowfall has been the problem, blocking roads and railways across the country and leaving schools closed and thousands stranded both in their homes and on the roads.
Cold weather has also been playing havoc in Slovenia, where trees, buildings and cars have been encased in thick ice, causing perilous conditions as power lines and tress tumbling to the ground.
The government estimates that around 40 percent of the country’s forests have been damaged by the cold snap.
The latest examples of extreme weather come as research from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) showed that the planet continues to warm and that 2013 was among the ten warmest years since modern records began in 1850.
Analyzing data from the three main global records of surface temperatures—the UK’s Met Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA in the U.S.—the WMO concluded that 2013 was the sixth warmest year since records began more than 160 years ago.
With WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud warning that without drastic action to curb carbon emissions, global temperatures would continue to rise for years to come, the world should further brace itself for more weird weather events in the future.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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