What's Happening in the Night Sky in 2020?
By Dirk Lorenzen
2020 will be the year of Mars. The red planet will approach Earth in early October to within 62 million kilometers. Four space agencies are set to take advantage of this close encounter and send spacecraft to Mars. The European Space Agency (ESA) will launch its ExoMars rover on a Russian Proton rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome. ExoMars is set to land on the surface, dig into the soil and look for traces of past life. They will be looking for possible living microbes about half a meter below the Martian surface. Above it, harmful cosmic radiation makes life as we know it impossible.
Next in line is NASA, which is preparing Mars 2020, a rover that will land on the surface as well. It is supposed to look for organic molecules, chemical stuff that contains carbon. It will also try to get the oxygen out of the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. This could be critical proof for future manned missions.
Most exciting: Mars 2020 is slated to collect and store samples from the Martian soil for a mission - yet to be planned in detail - that will bring them back to Earth about ten years from now.
Two New Players in the Mars Game: China and UAE
After its successful lunar missions, China is aiming for Mars too. It looks to begin a mission consisting of an orbiter that will fly around Mars for years and a lander with a rover. If their missions succeed, China and Europe will join Russia and the U.S. in landing a spacecraft safely on Mars.
The United Arab Emirates are also planing their first interplanetary mission. The Hope spacecraft will launch with a Japanese rocket and is supposed to orbit the red planet. UAE is looking to gain experience in deep space, and as the name suggests, the team hopes to successfully navigate the spacecraft into Mars' orbit.
China's Next Step in Lunar Exploration
China will most likely launch its Chang'e 5 mission some time in 2020. Early last year, Chang'e 4 landed on the far side of the moon, a feat no other space nation has achieved so far. Chang'e 5 will land on the moon's near side, analyze surface material and bring samples back to Earth. If China manages to do that, for the first time since the mid-70s, samples from the Moon will make it into labs on Earth. Back then, three Soviet Luna missions collected lunar dust.
German Technology on Its Way to the Moon
If everything goes extremely smoothly, the Orion spaceship will launch its maiden voyage in late 2020. Orion, built on the basis of a unique cooperation between NASA and ESA by U.S. and European companies, will spend about four weeks in space. The goal of this Artemis-1 mission, the first within the new lunar exploration framework of the U.S., is to be in lunar orbit for some days and check out all systems.
However, on this first trip, no humans will be on board. But two dummies from the German Aerospace Center DLR equipped with thousands of sensors are going to collect information about the flight conditions. The Orion spaceship consists of two parts: The crew capsule is provided by NASA. The service module with engines, navigation and attitude control systems, fuel, water and air are supplied by Airbus in Bremen, Germany.
Four Lunar Eclipses, Four Disappointments
The Moon is an exciting body in terms of space flight activities. It is a great sight in the sky as well. However, the lunar eclipses of 2020 won't be much for the naked eye. Four times the Moon will cross the Earth's penumbra. During a penumbral eclipse, however, the Moon is still a full circle. But some areas are slightly dimmer than others and appear in a more brown or gray color.
On Jan. 10, the Moon's southern hemisphere will be in the penumbra, visible from 18:00 to 20:00 UTC. On June 5, the same will happen from 18:30 until 20:30 UTC. On July 5, observers will note from 03:00 until 04:00 UTC that the northern hemisphere of the Moon is in Earth's penumbral shadow as well as on Nov. 30 from 09:00 until 10:30 UTC. These eclipses are visible everywhere on Earth where the Moon is above the horizon.
Two Solar Eclipses
2020 is a much better year in terms of solar eclipses. On June 21, less than a day after the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, there is an annular solar eclipse. The Moon will be in front of the Sun, but it won't be big enough to block the sunlight entirely. It will be akin to a 1-Euro-coin sitting on top of a 2-Euro-coin.
Observers in a long but very narrow zone will experience the annular eclipse: This zone extends for more than 14.000 kilometers, but it is only about 20 kilometers wide. It passes through Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, Saudi-Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Northern India, Southern China, Taiwan all the way into the Pacific Ocean to an area south of Guam.
Globally, the eclipse starts at 03:46 and ends at 09:34 UTC. On a given location, the eclipse lasts at best slightly more than two hours. Observers in most parts of Africa and Asia as well as in the northernmost regions of Australia will experience a partial eclipse.
Black Sun Over Chile and Argentina
The 2020 highlight in the sky will be the total solar eclipse on Dec. 14. Again, in a very long zone that is about 90 kilometers wide, the New Moon will block the Sun completely. For at best 2 minutes and 10 seconds, the day will turn into night.
During totality the brightest stars in the sky light up and the black lunar disk is surrounded by the bright and beautiful corona, the Sun's atmosphere. Unfortunately the zone of totality runs almost exclusively over the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.
Totality starts at 14:33 UTC in the South Pacific and it ends at 17:54 UTC off the Namibian coast. But eclipse chasers can count their lucky stars, because the greatest eclipse occurs over land. Between 16:00 and 16:25 UTC, the Moon's shadow will cross the southern parts of Chile and Argentina. The partial phase of this eclipse is visible in most areas of the southern Pacific, South America, Antarctica, Namibia and South Africa.
Attention! Looking into the Sun without special eclipse filters (regular sun glasses are no protection!) is extremely dangerous. In the worst case, the observer can lose his or her eye sight.
Solar Orbiter: ESA's Spacecraft for the Sun
On Feb. 5 the Solar Orbiter is scheduled to lift off from Cape Caneveral. This joint ESA/NASA mission is set to study the energetic particles constantly emitted by the Sun, to take pictures in X-ray, ultraviolet and visible light. It is set to study the Sun's surface and atmosphere.
It will provide a unique viewing angle as its orbital inclination will increase to about 33 degrees against the Sun's equator over the 10-year span of the mission. The Solar Orbiter will be in a unique position to observe the poles of the Sun, which are out of reach for telescopes on Earth. The spacecraft will get as close to the Sun as 42 million kilometers, well within the orbit of Mercury.
The Year of the Three Planets
Mars, the favorite object for space flight engineers in 2020, will be visible in the sky throughout the year. Until June, Mars shows up in the morning sky. By July it will rise before midnight and from September until December the bright reddish spot in the constellation Pisces is visible all night long. Jupiter, the biggest planet in the solar system, will be visible brilliantly from May until the end of the year.
On July 14, it is in its best position. Jupiter is in the constellation Sagittarius as well as the ring planet Saturn which is brightest on July 20. Jupiter and Saturn are the gems of the long winter nights in the southern hemisphere.
On Dec. 21, Jupiter gets very close to Saturn as the bigger and faster planet passes the slower ring planet. Such encounters of Saturn and Jupiter happen only once in 20 years!
Venus, our inner neighbor in the solar system, is a bright evening star until mid May. Then it will disappear and reemerge in mid June in the morning sky.
New U.S. Space Ships for the Station?
2020 could see a shift in paradigm for U.S. space flight activities. SpaceX and Boeing want to bring humans to the International Space Station and back to Earth. So far, both companies only deliver cargo. However, there have been significant delays in developing the Crew Dragon and the Starliner spaceships. If all goes well, the first manned flights of these capsules could occur in the second quarter of this year. For the first time since the shuttle fleet was retired in 2011, NASA astronauts would launch from US territory into space.
Ariane-6, Europe's New Rocket
Forty years ago, on Christmas Eve 1979, Europe's rocket Ariane took off for the very first time. Ariane has logged more than 250 flights since then. The current Ariane-5 is set to be phased out over the next years.
Late this year, Ariane-6 is scheduled to go on its maiden voyage into Earth's orbit. The new version of Europe's work horse for space activities is much cheaper, versatile and flexible, yet it's equally powerful in terms of payload capacity as its predecessor.
ESA and the European industry are facing strong competition from new commercial players like SpaceX in the U.S. and were forced to come up with a newly developed rocket.
2020: 30 Years of Hubble and Lots of Shooting Stars
On April 24, the Hubble Space Telescope will be in orbit for 30 years. A car on Earth as old as Hubble is considered antique. But the space telescope is still in perfect shape, doing first class science and sending mesmerizing pictures of planets, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies to Earth, reaching out to billions of people.
Stargazers are looking forward to this year's meteor showers. Last year, all three major showers were spoiled by the light of a full Moon. This year is different. While the Perseids in August will be slightly affected by the Moon, the Leonids in November and the Geminids in December will light up in a perfect dark sky. But remember: There can be a bright meteor in the sky at any time. Just look up - and be patient.
Reposted with permission from DW.
- August Astronomical Highlights: Summer's Best Meteor Shower ... ›
- What 21 Stars Reveal About the Universe ›
Global inequality isn't just a problem for human populations. A new study has found that it is also a major factor in the wildlife trade.
The research, published in Science Advances Wednesday, found that wild animals were more likely to be traded from poorer nations to wealthier ones, and this could be the key to reducing a traffic that harms endangered species and public health.
"Our findings suggest that international policies for reducing the global wildlife trade should address inequalities between signatory states," the study authors wrote.
The trade in wildlife is a major cause of biodiversity loss, the study authors noted. Not only does it remove species from their ecosystems at unsustainable rates, it also risks introducing invasive species into new environments and bringing diseases like amphibian chytrid fungus to new populations. This last threat is a problem for humans too, and the wildlife trade has been linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
To better understand this problem, researchers looked at data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates the trade on an international level. The study authors, who are based in Hong Kong and Singapore, compared CITES data on international wild animal sales with socioeconomic information about the countries involved, as Phys.org explained.
They found that around 420 million wild animals were trafficked between 226 countries from 1998 to 2018. These animals were more likely to be traded from poorer to wealthier countries. For example, BBC News pointed out, wild frogs travel from Madagascar to the U.S., while fish caught in Thailand are sent to Hong Kong.
Overall, the U.S. was the No. 1 importer of wild animals, with France and Italy trailing behind in second and third place, the study found. Indonesia, Jamaica, and Honduras were the largest exporters on a country-by-country basis, while most wild animals on the market either came from Asia or the Panamanian region.
While the scale of this trade is enormous, the findings also suggest a solution, as study lead author Jia Huan Liew of the University of Hong Kong told BBC News. Liew argued that poorer, exporting countries should be given financial help to stop the trade over a period of time. The money would only become available if the country met its reduction targets.
"Funding would ideally be drawn from wealthy countries, given their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and the fact that they play a disproportionately large role in the global wildlife market," Liev told BBC News.
The findings also come at a crucial moment for change, as the world has woken up to the dangers posed by wildlife trafficking in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This has led to a temporary ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals in China.
"To avoid returning to business as usual, we should take advantage of the public's awareness of the possible consequences of consuming wildlife products to reduce demand, and make the Chinese ban on wildlife consumption permanent," Liew told BBC News.
- Biden Must Take a Leadership Role Against Wildlife Crime - EcoWatch ›
- Who Eats Lemurs — and Why? - EcoWatch ›
By Rich Collett-White and Rachel Sherrington
Fossil fuel companies could face legal challenges over their misleading advertising, after a DeSmog investigation uncovered the extent of their "greenwashing."
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have put companies on notice with the publication of the Greenwashing Files. The analyses, which use DeSmog's research, show how adverts of major fossil fuel companies and energy producers continue to overemphasize their green credentials, giving the public a misleading impression of their businesses.
DeSmog analyzed the advertising output of Aramco, Chevron, Drax, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Ineos, RWE, Shell and Total, and compared this with the reality of the companies' current and future business activities.
ClientEarth submitted a complaint against BP's advertising in 2019, before the company decided to withdraw its "Possibilities Everywhere" campaign. The lawyers say other fossil fuel companies could face similar challenges if they mislead the public through their advertising. The group is calling for tobacco-style advertising bans and health warnings to counter fossil fuel companies' "deceptive" marketing.
DeSmog's investigation found messaging that touts companies' climate pledges without being transparent about their large emissions contributions is widespread across advertising campaigns and social media promotions.
The adverts regularly highlight the companies' preferred solutions to climate change — from carbon capture and storage, to experimental algae biofuels, and investment in renewable energy sources — without being open about the small percentage of overall investment allocated to these technologies, nor their various limitations.
The Greenwashing Files lay bare the contrast between the public image these adverts create, and the reality of the fossil fuel companies' activities.
All companies featured in this article were contacted for comment.
ExxonMobil – 'Powering Progress'
"We're working on ways to provide energy while addressing the risks of climate change, producing clean-burning natural gas to reduce emissions from power plants, capturing CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere, and exploring unexpected energy sources like biofuels made from algae," a reassuring voice tells us in Exxon's "Powering Progress" advert – one of several released in recent years that present the US oil giant as a leader in green technologies.
But while the ad shows Exxon scientists hard at work developing "algae farms" and technology designed to suck carbon dioxide from the air, its business activities tell a different story.
Exxon is increasingly an outlier among fossil fuel companies and other major emitters, having refused to set an absolute emissions reduction target, opting instead for gradual "carbon intensity" reductions which still allow for overall emissions to increase. It has no plans to cut oil and gas production, which energy analysts say is urgently needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
While Exxon remains responsible for a significant portion of global emissions – with documents in 2019 revealing a total annual output roughly equivalent to that of Canada – its spending on clean energies has been a tiny fraction of its investments, with just 0.2 percent of its investment in new projects going to low carbon sources between 2010 and 2018.
And while "Powering Progress" and other ads put Exxon's investments in algae biofuels at the fore, it has spent just $300 million on the technology in a decade, compared with yearly capital investment of around $20 billion. Experts doubt whether the technology will ever be commercially viable or usable at scale.
RWE – 'We are the new RWE'
A video by German energy giant RWE takes the viewer through landmark inventions that have spurred on human civilisation since the industrial revolution – the light bulb, the radio, mass transport – before arriving at the present day. "Every time has its energy," the ad tells us, adding that "times are changing. Society is changing. Companies are changing, and we are changing too."
The images cut to wind turbines, and the forces of nature that are powering what we are told is today's "renewable age." The company positions itself at the heart of this transition, telling the viewer it is "focusing on renewable energies and storage, for a sustainable world," and that it is providing "clean, reliable and affordable" energy as part of its transition to "the new RWE."
The campaign accompanies pledges to become "carbon neutral" by 2040 and oversee a significant expansion into wind and solar energy.
But the growth of RWE's low-carbon activities has not been matched by an exit from fossil fuels. RWE remains the largest emitter in Europe, according to a recent study by Greenpeace, and its three major lignite coal-fired power stations all feature in the EU's top five highest-emitting plants. Under current plans, it will continue to generate coal-fired electricity until the end of 2038, almost a decade after the deadline recommended for OECD countries by climate experts, at the same time as expanding its already significant fossil gas business.
Despite its claims to focus on clean energy, 80 percent of the company's energy still comes from non-renewable sources, mostly highly-polluting brown coal, hard coal and gas. The company also counts controversial and carbon-intensive biomass amongst its "renewable" energy sources despite warnings from scientists over its use.
Drax – 'Beyond Coal'
Drax, another energy company that now relies heavily on biomass and operates the UK's largest power station in North Yorkshire, has worked hard to bolster its green credentials in recent years, positioning itself as an ally in the fight against climate change.
Last year, it released an advert celebrating the company's shift away from coal-fired energy production, which it completed in March. Set to an uplifting soundtrack, the video calls the move a "major step towards Drax's ambition to become carbon negative by 2030," while touting a new "Zero Carbon Skills Taskforce" to ensure the surrounding area "isn't defined by its past, but by its future."
A 2020 year-in-review video meanwhile describes Drax as "among Europe's lowest carbon intensity power generators," producing "77 percent renewable electricity."
But the company's claims about the climate-friendliness of biomass, which has now taken over from coal as the principal source of energy at its power station thanks to generous government subsidies, have been widely disputed. Burning wood pellets has been found to be more carbon-intensive than fossil fuels in most circumstances, while experts doubt that trees planted in their place can re-absorb the carbon dioxide emitted, on a meaningful timescale.
Carbon capture and storage – another key plank of Drax's low-carbon strategy – remains uneconomical at scale, with the company's own use of the technology still in the pilot phase.
In response to questions from DeSmog, Drax said emissions from biomass energy are "already accounted for in the land-use sector and therefore considered carbon neutral at the point of combustion," in line with "established global best practice" set out by the UN IPCC.
It also said biomass should be considered renewable "because the forests we source from are growing and storing more carbon" and pointed to its plans for a bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) unit by 2027, "creating tens of thousands of jobs" and "permanently removing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year."
Aramco – 'The Moment is Now'
The Saudi Arabian state-owned oil and gas giant, Aramco, became the most valuable listed company in history when it floated on the stock market at the end of 2019. But the fossil fuel behemoth is at pains to assure viewers it is concerned about more than just its bottom line.
In an advert titled "The Moment is Now," an Aramco employee tells a lecture theatre full of colleagues that "as we open up to the world, we know more than ever before that we must continue towards a sustainable future."
"We value the natural resources we discover but never forget it is our human energy that drives us to create a better world," she says to the audience, who reward her presentation with a standing ovation.
Elsewhere, the company insists it is driven by a "commitment to preserving the environment because protecting our planet is one of our most important values."
That's despite the company being the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitter, responsible for an estimated four percent of all global emissions since 1965.
Aramco's oil and gas reserves total more than those of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total combined, while the company refuses to disclose its full emissions. Its majority shareholder, the Saudi Arabian government, has been at the forefront of efforts to stall international action on climate change for decades. At the last UN climate talks in Madrid, over a third of Saudi Arabia's representatives were associated with the oil and gas industry, many with Aramco.
Equinor – 'This is what changed us.'
Previously trading under the name Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned oil and gas company Equinor rebranded in 2018, with the hope of highlighting its transformation into a "broad energy company" and its growing low-carbon energy division.
Equinor explained its reasons for the name change in an advert called "Equinor. This is what changed us." Scenes of raging storms and melting ice caps are displayed while the narrator says: "Some changes are so profound that they transcend everything. Changes that require us to find a new balance."
In a more recent ad, the company insists that "emissions must come down and it must happen fast."
Equinor is certainly taking steps to increase its investments in low-carbon technologies, with plans to up its renewable energy capacity to 4-6 gigawatts by 2026, and has set a "net zero" emissions target for 2050.
But this shift is largely in addition to, rather than in place of, its core oil and gas business. The company is still exploring for more oil and gas reserves and does not intend to start reducing its fossil fuel production before 2030. Last year, it opened the largest oil field in Western Europe and is heavily involved in ventures in the Arctic.
Equinor promotes natural gas as the "perfect fuel to balance renewable energy" and was given a warning two years ago by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority for claiming the fuel was a "low-carbon" energy source.
Another technology the company touts is carbon capture and storage (CCS), but all of the projects it is involved in currently amount to less than three percent of its overall emissions.
ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White said the collection of adverts showed the fossil fuel companies were involved in a "great deception."
"We need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But instead of leading a low-carbon transition, these companies are putting out advertising which distracts the public and launders their image," he said.
"These adverts are misrepresenting the true nature of companies' businesses, of their contribution to climate change, and of their transition plans," he added, saying that "we cannot underestimate the real world impact this advertising has on the pace of change."
You can find the full set of adverts and analyses here.
Additional research by Michaela Herrmann. Edited by Mat Hope.
Disclaimer: ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac sits on the board of DeSmog UK Ltd.
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
By Mark Patrick Taylor, Neda Sharifi Soltani and Scott P. Wilson
Australians are eating and inhaling significant numbers of tiny plastics at home, our new research shows.
These “microplastics," which are derived from petrochemicals extracted from oil and gas products, are settling in dust around the house.
Some of these particles are toxic to humans — they can carry carcinogenic or mutagenic chemicals, meaning they potentially cause cancer and/or damage our DNA.
We still don't know the true impact of these microplastics on human health. But the good news is, having hard floors, using more natural fibers in clothing, furnishings and homewares, along with vacuuming at least weekly can reduce your exposure.
What Are Microplastics?
Microplastics are plastic particles less than five millimeters across. They come from a range of household and everyday items such as the clothes we wear, home furnishings, and food and beverage packaging.
Our study demonstrates it's an inescapable reality that we're living in a sea of microplastics — they're in our food and drinks, our oceans, and our homes.
What We Did and What We Found
People spend up to 90% of their time indoors and therefore the greatest risk of exposure to microplastics is in the home.
Our study is the first to examine how much microplastic we're exposed to in Australian homes. We analyzed dust deposited from indoor air in 32 homes across Sydney over a one-month period in 2019.
Here's how microplastics can be generated, suspended, ingested and inhaled inside a house. Monique Chilton
We found 39% of the deposited dust particles were microplastics; 42% were natural fibers such as cotton, hair and wool; and 18% were transformed natural-based fibers such as viscose and cellophane. The remaining 1% were film and fragments consisting of various materials.
Between 22 and 6,169 microfibers were deposited as dust per square meter, each day.
Homes with carpet as the main floor covering had nearly double the number of petrochemical-based fibers (including polyethylene, polyamide and polyacrylic) than homes without carpeted floors.
Conversely, polyvinyl fibers (synthetic fibers made of vinyl chloride) were two times more prevalent in homes without carpet. This is because the coating applied to hard flooring degrades over time, producing polyvinyl fibers in house dust.
Microplastics Can Be Toxic
These chemicals can leach from the plastic surface once in the body, increasing the potential for toxic effects. Microplastics can have carcinogenic properties, meaning they potentially cause cancer. They can also be mutagenic, meaning they can damage DNA.
However, even though some of the microplastics measured in our study are composed of potentially carcinogenic and/or mutagenic compounds, the actual risk to human health is unclear.
How Much Are We Exposed To? And Can This Be Minimized?
Roughly a quarter of all of the fibers we recorded were less than 250 micrometers in size, meaning they can be inhaled. This means we can be internally exposed to these microplastics and any contaminants attached to them.
Using human exposure models, we calculated that inhalation and ingestion rates were greatest in children under six years old. This is due to their lower relative body weight, smaller size, and higher breathing rate than adults. What's more, young children typically have more contact with the floor, and tend to put their hands in their mouths more often than adults.
Children under six inhale around three times more microplastics than the average — 18,000 fibers, or 0.3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per year. They would also ingest on average 6.1 milligrams of microplastics in dust per kg of body weight per year.
For a five-year-old, this would be equivalent to eating a garden pea's worth of microplastics over the course of a year. But for many of these plastics there is no established safe level of exposure.
Our study indicated there are effective ways to minimize exposure.
First is the choice of flooring, with hard surfaces, including polished wood floors, likely to have fewer microplastics than carpeted floors.
Also, how often you clean makes a difference. Vacuuming floors at least weekly was associated with less microplastics in dust than those that were less frequently cleaned. So get cleaning!
Mark Patrick Taylor is a Professor of Environmental Science and Human Health, Macquarie University.
Neda Sharifi Soltani is an Academic Casual, Macquarie University
Scott P. Wilson works at Macquarie University.
Disclosure statement: Mark Patrick Taylor received research support for this project via an Australian Government Citizen Science Grant, CSG55984, 'Citizen insights to the composition and risks of household dust' (the DustSafe project). Participant questionnaires for collecting meta-data were approved by Macquarie University's ethics panel, project ID 2446. Cochlear Sydney provided access to their Nicolet iN10-MX FTIR instrument to undertake the research. Neda Sharifi Soltani receives funding from the Australian Government as a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship no.2017678. Scott Wilson receives funding from the Total Environment Centre and NSW EPA to conduct research on microplastics in the environment. He is the Research Director of the Australian Microplastic Assessment Project (AUSMAP), which is a citizen science focussed program.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- Paint: The Big Source of Ocean Microplastics You Didn't Know ... ›
- Microplastics Found in Antarctica's Food Chain for First Time ... ›
- Microplastics Are Increasing in Our Lives, New Research Finds ... ›
- Microplastics Are Wafting in on the Sea Breeze - EcoWatch ›
- Microplastics Found in Human Organs for First Time - EcoWatch ›
- New Study: 15.5 Million Tons of Microplastics Litter Ocean Floor ... ›
By Jake Johnson
A new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature warns that if the world's governments fail to meet warming targets set by the Paris climate accord, sea level rise from the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet will accelerate at a "rapid and unstoppable" rate in the coming decades.
Authored by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the new paper finds that if planetary warming continues at its current rate—which is headed toward 3° Celsius above pre-industrial levels—Antarctic melting will reach a tipping point by 2060, beyond which the consequences would be "irreversible on multi-century timescales."
"If the world warms up at a rate dictated by current policies we will see the Antarctic system start to get away from us around 2060," Robert DeConto, the lead author of the study, told The Guardian. "Once you put enough heat into the climate system, you are going to lose those ice shelves, and once that is set in motion you can't reverse it."
"It's really the next few decades that will determine the sea level rise from Antarctica," DeConto added. "These ice shelves won't be able to just grow back."
The researchers find that if the most optimistic Paris goal of no more than 1.5° Celsius of warming by the end of the century is met, the Antarctic ice sheet would contribute around six centimeters of sea level rise by 2100.
"But if the current course toward 3 degrees is maintained, the model points to a major jump in melting," the study warns. "Unless ambitious action to rein in warming begins by 2060, no human intervention, including geoengineering, would be able to stop 17 to 21 centimeters of sea-level rise from Antarctic ice melt alone by 2100."
Under a scenario in which no further action is taken to limit planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, the research paper finds, Antarctic melting would contribute a "globally catastrophic" 10 meters or more to sea level rise by 2300.
"If we did nothing at all to reduce emissions we could get five meters of sea level rise just from Antarctica by 2200, at which point you'd have to remap the world from space," said DeConto. "It would be unimaginable."
The study comes days after U.S. President Joe Biden hosted a climate summit with 40 world leaders to discuss ways to bring the world into line with Paris warming targets. Biden, for his part, pledged to cut U.S. emissions at least 50% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade—a goal climate activists slammed as nowhere near sufficient.
"Science and justice demand that we reduce emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 on the road to zero emissions by mid-century," Janet Redman of Greenpeace USA said last month. "The White House can get this done by removing government subsidies to fossil fuel companies, investing in an equitable and sustainable economic recovery, and stopping fishy carbon offset deals."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
Though giant sequoias have historically been resilient to wildfire, the Castle Fire was so severe it likely killed more than 1,000 of the trees including many that had stood for more than 1,000 years. Climate change is making droughts more likely to occur, and more severe when they do, and thus makes wildfires more extreme as forests and other fuels sources are turned into proverbial tinder boxes.
"The fact areas are still smoldering and smoking from the 2020 Castle Fire demonstrates how dry the park is," Leif Mathiesen, assistant fire management officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, told The Associated Press. California's current severe and extreme drought conditions covering the Sierra Nevada mountains set a dire stage for the upcoming wildfire season.
As reported by The Associated Press:
According to AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dave Samuhel, fires are projected to burn 14,844 square miles (38,445 square kilometers) of land across the Western U.S.
"Unfortunately, in a nutshell, it looks like it's going to be another busy season," he said in a statement. "We're seeing a lot of drought. Almost half of the country is experiencing drought, and the bulk of that is to the West."
For a deeper dive:
- 1,000 Giant Sequoias Likely Killed in Castle Fire, Many Had Lived ... ›
- California National Parks' Archives Are Saved From Wildfires ... ›
- California Wildfires Burn 10,000 Acres in a Single Day - EcoWatch ›
- 11 Surprising Facts About Trees - EcoWatch ›