Republican Representative Louie Gohmert from Texas made headlines Wednesday after comments he made about climate change and the orbit of the Earth and moon went viral.
In a virtual House Natural Resources Committee hearing, Gohmert asked Jennifer Eberlien, the associate deputy chief for the U.S. Forest Service, whether the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management can "change the course of the moon's orbit or the Earth's orbit around the sun" because "obviously, that would have profound effects on our climate."
This was not the first time Gohmert made comments like this. Last month, in an interview with Fox Business Network, he said, "We can't do anything substantive about the climate change right now, when the moon's orbit is apparently changing some, the Earth's orbit is changing some, according to NASA." It's unclear if the comments, which were widely mocked on social media, were made in earnest, or if they were Gohmert's way of insinuating that addressing climate change is impossible.
He may also have been referring to a debunked myth that solar flares are to blame for climate change, as he stated "there's been significant solar flare activity" before posing the question. Gohmert is a long-time climate change denier, having repeated other classic climate denier talking points over the years.
"The 'science-y sounding' reasons most politicians use to reject climate change are not primarily due to lack of education or knowledge. No: they are deliberately manufactured and offered as palatable excuses to hide the real problem: solution aversion. They don't want to fix it," climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained on Twitter.
The "science-y sounding" reasons most politicians use to reject climate change are not primarily due to lack of edu… https://t.co/55CIhfssBW— Prof. Katharine Hayhoe (@Prof. Katharine Hayhoe)1623265741.0
For a deeper dive:
Those living in northern and eastern sections of North America will be able to witness the eclipse as it overlaps with the sunrise, according to a report made by Space.com. The entirety of the eclipse will last about 100 minutes.
People in parts of Canada, Greenland and northern Russia will be able to see the full eclipse. At sunrise, the eclipse can be seen in Ontario, Canada, according to EarthSky. The eclipse's path will then be visible at local noon in northern Greenland. The annual solar eclipse's path will end at sunset over northeastern Siberia, EarthSky reported. At any given point along the path, the eclipse will be visible for a maximum length of 3 minutes and 51 seconds.
For those getting a partial view of the eclipse, the sun will look dented, crescent-shaped, and even ring-shaped, according to Space.com.
In this annular solar eclipse, the moon, in its first lunar phase, will not cover the entirety of the sun, leaving a sliver of sunlight visible, Space.com reported. For an annular eclipse to occur, the moon needs to be farther away from the Earth in its orbit, creating an annulus, or ring of light.
"As the pair rises higher in the sky, the silhouette of the Moon will gradually shift off the sun to the lower left, allowing more of the Sun to show until the eclipse ends," NASA said.
Like all eclipses, to watch the "ring of fire" eclipse, protection should be worn to avoid eye damage. Wearing solar eclipse glasses will allow spectators to harmlessly view the eclipse. Another method for safely viewing the eclipse is to use a pinhole projector, according to AL.com. This homemade camera allows viewers to see a reflection of the eclipse, rather than looking at it directly.
This year, there will be another solar eclipse in addition to the "ring of fire": a total solar eclipse on Dec. 4.
The best time to see the "ring of fire" eclipse is at 6:53 a.m. ET, but you'll need a clear view of the horizon at sunrise to see the celestial event.
You can also watch the eclipse online. This live stream begins on June 10 at 5 a.m. ET:
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.
While many homeowners are switching to solar power to help reduce or even eliminate month-to-month utility costs, there's no arguing that the startup cost of solar panels can be high. One way to save money upfront is with DIY solar panels, but is the challenge of building your own system worth what you save on installation costs?
In this article, we'll take a closer look at the pros and cons of DIY solar panel installation, including important safety factors and whether it's really guaranteed to save you money.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
DIY Solar: Considering the Cost Savings
To begin with, let's talk dollars and cents.
According to Energy Sage, the average gross cost of DIY solar system installation is $16,680. In other words, that's what you'll pay for your actual solar components, before taking into account rebates and other tax incentives.
By contrast, the average cost of having your installation done by one of the top solar companies can exceed $20,000 — and that's after tax credit incentives and rebates.
In other words, choosing DIY solar panels can definitely be less expensive. But why is this, exactly? When you go with a professional installation company, a big chunk of your overall cost is going to the design of your new solar power system, as well as labor costs. By eliminating those two expenses, you can shave several thousand dollars off the total price tag.
The flip side is that professional installers are generally able to buy solar panels, solar inverters and the best solar batteries from wholesale distributors, which means they can access a wider range of products and get them for lower prices than what's available to the general public.
In thinking about the cost of solar panels, it's also important to factor in the longevity of your system. After all, $16,680 is still a steep investment, so how much value can you expect in the long run? In general, a residential renewable energy system built with the best solar panels should last anywhere from 25 to 35 years. Average that out to 30 years, and the cost of installation can be annualized to around $556.
Pros and Cons of DIY Solar Panel Installation
Beyond price, there are a number of DIY solar energy pros and cons to consider before attempting to create your own solar panel system.
Advantages of DIY Solar Panels
Here are a few of the major benefits of DIY solar:
- DIY system design: Another main reason to consider DIY solar panels is that you have total control over the design of your system. So, if you're an amateur solar enthusiast, electrician or DIYer and have a very specific vision for how you want your solar array to be assembled, going the do-it-yourself route can give you free rein to do as you please.
- Cost savings: The most obvious advantage of DIY solar panels is the cost savings they offer. If you go for a DIY project, you'll be racking up the savings — both on your electric bill and solar system installation. By eliminating the need for design and labor expenses, you can potentially save a decent chunk of change on your residential solar energy system.
- Easing into solar: DIY solar panels can also be a really smart option for those who are looking to start small, with a more modest home solar project. For example, maybe you're not looking to go completely off-grid just yet, but want to try out a couple of panels to see how much they offset your energy costs. The DIY route can be very cost-effective, especially if you have low energy needs.
These are all notable perks to the DIY solar route, but there are also some drawbacks worth noting.
Disadvantages of DIY Solar Panels
While there are notable perks to the DIY solar approach, there are also some drawbacks worth noting:
- Product availability: One of the primary disadvantages of DIY solar panels is that you're much more limited in the range of products available to you. As mentioned, professional installers have direct access to the most efficient solar panels from leading distributors. As a consumer, your selections are going to be significantly more limited. In other words, there may be top-of-the-line solar panels that you can only get if you go through a professional installer.
- Potential safety hazards: DIY solar installation can be dangerous. To do it right, you need to be pretty knowledgeable about electrical systems and how solar panels work. Without that know-how, you run the risk of loose connections and other wiring problems. These issues can be real fire hazards, jeopardizing the safety of yourself, your home and your family.
- Efficiency issues: Professional solar installers have the knowledge needed to design a solar system that helps you achieve your energy goals. An installer can recommend the exact types of solar panels, roof mounts, inverters and battery banks you need, as well as the proper placement of those components. Without their expertise, you may wind up with a solar system that isn't as optimized or as efficient as it could be.
- Legality: In some municipalities, DIY solar panels may actually be illegal. You should always check with your local zoning board to ensure that you're even permitted to do a DIY solar installation, especially if you're planning a completely off-grid system.
- Navigating savings opportunities: Professional installers can help you claim all of the rebates and tax incentives you're eligible for. Identifying and securing these opportunities on your own can sometimes be a bit of a hassle.
The bottom line: Installing your own residential solar system can yield some notable advantages, including cost savings, but that doesn't always mean it's the wisest option. Due to the safety hazards, limited product options and lack of real solar expertise, many homeowners will conclude that DIY solar system installation just isn't worth it.
Get a Free Quote for Professional Solar Installation
Curious to see how much you'd save by opting for DIY solar panels vs. a professional installation? Fill out the 30-second form below to get a free, no-obligation quote from a top installer near you. By going solar, you could save up to $2,500 per year on utility bills and get a tax rebate all while reducing your carbon footprint.
Deciding Whether DIY Solar Panels Are Right for You
So after weighing the pros and cons of DIY solar, what are the next steps? One thing to keep in mind is that many solar installers offer no-obligation estimates. Even if you're leaning toward a DIY solar system, there's no harm in considering your options and learning a bit more about the solar installation process.
And if you do decide to go with DIY solar panels, one important step is to check local zoning ordinances to be certain you can legally install your own system. From there, start researching different solar panels, batteries and inverters, while also ensuring you have the right baseline knowledge regarding electrical work.
A massive chunk of ice broke off of Antarctica this month, and it is now the largest iceberg in the world.
The iceberg, known as A-76, was first spotted by a British Antarctic Survey researcher May 13. It was then confirmed by the U.S. National Ice Center (USNIC) the next day using images from the Sentinel-1A satellite.
"New giant #iceberg breaking away from the Ronne Ice Shelf," researcher Keith Makinson announced on Twitter.
New giant #iceberg breaking away from the Ronne Ice Shelf 13-05-2021 roughly 160 km x 25 km satellite image from… https://t.co/TXrwIl1ClT— Keith Makinson (@Keith Makinson)1620892929.0
The iceberg first broke off from the western edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf, which is located in Antarctica's Weddell Sea, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). It is 89 nautical miles long by 14 nautical miles wide, according to USNIC, and has an area of 1,668 square miles, according to Reuters. To put that in perspective, it is larger than both the Spanish island of Mallorca, at 1,405 square miles, and the state of Rhode Island, at 1,034 square miles. It is also almost six times larger than New York City, HuffPost calculated.
The iceberg's size makes it the largest in the world, according to the ESA. It dwarfs the A-23A iceberg, which is also floating in the Weddell Sea and is around 3,880 square kilometers (approximately 1,498 square miles).
Relive the birth of the #A76 iceberg with this stunning animation! The animation was created using four… https://t.co/k3JfIX3Cbk— ESA EarthObservation (@ESA EarthObservation)1621513726.0
While the iceberg is large in size, its calving isn't necessarily a big deal from a climate perspective. In fact, iceberg calving can be a natural part of an ice shelf's cycle, as long as the ice shelf gains as much mass through snowfall as it loses to icebergs.
"Even relatively large calving events, where tabular ice chunks the size of Manhattan or bigger calve from the seaward front of the shelf, can be considered normal if the ice sheet is in overall balance," NASA explained.
The Ronne Ice Shelf is the second largest in Antarctica, according to HuffPost. It and another ice shelf, the Ross Ice Shelf, have "behaved in a stable, quasi-periodic fashion" for the past 100 years or more, University of Colorado at Boulder research glaciologist Ted Scambos told Reuters.
He said he did not think the calving had anything to do with the climate crisis. However, some ice shelves near the Antarctic Peninsula are disintegrating rapidly, which may be because of rising temperatures, Reuters explained.
While A-76's calving is part of a natural cycle, that doesn't mean it wasn't surprising.
"We could watch them for years and they won't do anything and elsewhere there will be this perfectly solid ice shelf that will suddenly collapse unexpectedly," Christopher Readinger, the lead analyst for the USNIC's Antarctic team, told HuffPost.
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Previously, researchers thought they could measure ice melt simply by looking at the amount of meltwater sitting on top of glaciers and in moulins — shafts in the glacier that empty rivers from the surface to the interior, Earther explained. But the new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters on Monday, found that a glacier's speed increased when water pressure rapidly changed beneath the ice sheet, NASA explained.
"These findings will help to refine ice sliding models, which are critically important for predicting future ice sheet contributions to global sea level rise," Laurence Smith, study coauthor and Brown University environmental studies professor, told Earther.
The Greenland ice sheet is extremely important when it comes to global sea level rise. The size of Mexico, it currently contributes more to rising sea levels than any other source, NASA reported. If all of Greenland's ice sheet were to melt, it would increase water levels by 20 feet, according to Earther.
"The number one reason we are here is all about global sea level rise," Smith said in a video documenting the research. "Greenland is the single largest melting chunk of ice in the world. What really matters is how much of that water in the ice sheet gets out to the ocean."
To better understand the dynamics driving this melt, Smith and his team traveled to the Russell Glacier in southwestern Greenland in 2016 and studied a glacial river, NASA said. The researchers recorded the forward motion of the glacier itself, the amount of meltwater pouring into the moulin and the amount of meltwater pouring out from beneath the glacier at the water's edge. They determined that changes in subterranean water pressure were driving the glacier's overall speed.
"Even if the cavities are small, as long as the pressure is ramping up very fast, they will make the ice slide faster," Smith explained.
NASA Glaciologist Dr. Lauren Andrews compared a glacier moving over subterranean meltwater to car tires sliding on a wet road.
"If you have a rapid perturbation of water going into the subglacial system, you overwhelm the system, and so you create essentially a layer of water at the interface that's not contained in channels or cavities anymore," Andrews said.
The way that water pressure drives glacier speed had never been studied in the field before, NASA said. This new research now adds 168 hours of "rare in situ" measurements to understand the dynamics of glacial rivers, which had previously been overlooked.
"In 2015 when we started this study, there was surprisingly little attention paid to the hydrology of streams and rivers on the ice sheet, especially inland away from the ice edge, and we felt that this was a critical scientific gap," Smith said in the video.
The research supports the team's initial feeling.
"These findings affirm the importance of supraglacial rivers to subglacial water pressure and ice dynamics, even in relatively thick ice," the researchers wrote.
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By Sharon Kelly
What's the single word that fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil's flagship environmental reports to investors and the public tie most closely to climate change and global warming?
According to newly published research from Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes and Harvard research associate Geoffrey Supran, it's a simple four-letter word, one that carries overtones not only of danger, but also — crucially — of uncertainty: risk.
Oreskes and Supran argue in the peer-reviewed study published in the journal One Earth, that by repeating that word over and over as it discusses climate change ExxonMobil continues to connect climate change to uncertainty, even in its most carefully worded and most scrutinized discussions of the topic.
That tiny word is one sign of a massive change underway in how fossil fuel companies talk about climate change in places where it's no longer considered credible to contest climate science. Instead, Oreskes and Supran write, ExxonMobil's statements subtly shift responsibility for climate change onto the shoulders of consumers, while avoiding the need to describe in detail the risks that are posed by climate change.
And that, for the record, is a lot to gloss over — not just in terms of what scientists predict about the future, but in terms of what climate change has already played a role in bringing about. Last year, for example, tied with 2016 as the "warmest" year on record, according to NASA — 2020 brought a brutal drumbeat of climate-linked calamities, including a record-obliterating wildfire season on the West Coast that memorably turned skies orange and red and an extraordinarily intense Atlantic hurricane season.
The way that ExxonMobil talks about climate change, the paper suggests, lets the company thread a very specific rhetorical needle, communicating two ideas that fundamentally benefit their interests. "On the one hand, 'risk' rhetoric is weak enough to allow the company to maintain a position on climate science that is ambiguous, flexible, and unalarming," the researchers write. "On the other, it is strong enough — and prominent enough, in [New York Times] advertorials and elsewhere — that ExxonMobil may claim that the public has been well informed about [anthropogenic global warming]."
And if that approach feels a little familiar, maybe that's because it's very similar to the tactics used by another industry in the past: Big Tobacco.
"Akin to early, tepidly worded warning labels on cigarette packages, ExxonMobil's advertorials in America's newspaper of record help establish this claim, sometimes explicitly: 'Most people acknowledge that human-induced climate change is a long-term risk,' a 2001 advertorial states (emphases added)," the paper continues. "'The risk of climate change and its potential impacts on society and the ecosystem are widely recognized,' says another the following year."
And that's just one example of the ways that ExxonMobil's favored ideas about climate change — ideas like "we are all to blame" or "society must inevitably rely on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future" — can become embedded in conventional wisdom and creep into how people think and talk about climate change, the paper argues.
While the new paper is hardly the first to draw parallels between the fossil fuel and tobacco industries, what sets it apart is how the research was done.
"Our analysis is the first computational study illustrating how the fossil fuel industry has encouraged and embodied AGW [anthropogenic global warming] narratives fixated on individual responsibility," the paper says. The study used automated methods to analyze 180 ExxonMobil documents, 32 previously published internal company documents, and 76 New York Times "advertorials" where the company took positions on climate change. The authors believe that these methods of efficiently reviewing a large number of company records could prove useful later in litigation, where larger batches of documents may need review.
The number of climate liability lawsuits worldwide and in the U.S. continues to grow. A January 2021 United Nations report tallied 1,200 cases in the U.S. and 350 other lawsuits in nearly 40 other jurisdictions worldwide — nearly double the number of lawsuits underway three years ago by the report authors' count. Not all of those cases involve ExxonMobil — but some of the highest profile lawsuits include those filed by state attorneys general and state and local governments alleging that the company misled investors or consumers or others.
Supran and Oreskes have both assisted with legal briefs or served as expert witnesses in climate liability cases, but in an email to DeSmog, Supran noted that virtually all of that work has been done pro bono (with the sole exception that Oreskes once billed 3.5 hours for her work reviewing the historical accuracy of allegations in one 2017 case). Supran called their work and testimony in climate liability cases "a logical application of our knowledge and expertise."
ExxonMobil did not respond to a request for comment about their study from DeSmog.
As it has become less credible to contest the legitimacy of climate science, the paper notes, the company has shifted its rhetoric on climate to focus on "risk."
"In ExxonMobil Corp's 2005 Corporate Citizenship Report, for instance, which extensively questions whether AGW is human caused and serious, a member of the public [is quoted asking]: 'Why won't ExxonMobil recognize that climate change is real…?'" Oreskes and Supran write. "The company replies: 'ExxonMobil recognizes the risk of climate change and its potential impact' (emphases added)."
That subtle shift lets ExxonMobil "inject uncertainty" into conversations about climate change, the paper continues, "even while superficially appearing not to."
"We have also observed that, starting in the mid-2000s, ExxonMobil's statements of explicit doubt about climate science and its implications (for example, that 'there does not appear to be a consensus among scientists about the effect of fossil fuel use on climate') gave way to implicit acknowledgments couched in ambiguous statements about climate 'risk' (such as discussion of lower-carbon fuels for 'addressing the risks posed by rising greenhouse gas emissions,' without mention of [anthropogenic global warming])," the paper reports.
It's also a way of talking that also lets ExxonMobil leave out any description of what, exactly, is being put at risk, the paper notes.
The company's public messaging pits clear-cut descriptions of the benefits of using fossil fuels against the risks of climate change — but while it offers examples of the ways people find fossil fuels useful, ExxonMobil is a lot more vague about what, exactly, the risks associated with climate change are, the paper argues.
That's not for a lack of available scientific data. "Today, we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and already witnessing unprecedented climate extremes and volatility in every region and on every continent," U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a December 2020 address. "The science is crystal clear: to limit temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world needs to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6 per cent every year between now and 2030."
The biggest remaining questions about climate change don't concern the ways that our lives will be increasingly disrupted by extreme weather, wildfires, rising seas and the like. There's a strong body of scientific evidence that lets scientists make good predictions about what happens when we collectively burn fossil fuels at different rates. And a peer-reviewed study published last year in the journal Geophysical Research found that climate models dating back to the 1970s through 2007 have proved remarkably accurate
The biggest open questions are about policy and products, not about what the science shows.
The real source of uncertainty, in other words, is how long we will continue doing the things that cause climate change.
Polling shows that Americans' understandings of climate science have shifted dramatically in recent years. In 2014, NBC News recently reported, less than half of Americans polled believed that climate change was caused by human activity. Polls from 2020, however, show that now 57 percent of Americans cite human activity as causing climate change, a jump of roughly ten percent.
But there may still be times and places where not only is discussion of risk familiar and habitually framed in terms of risk management, but also where ExxonMobil's framing might find a particularly receptive audience.
Asked by DeSmog, Supran said that investors may be particularly vulnerable to what he called ExxonMobil's "fossil fuel savior" framing.
"Within this frame, the company is an innocent supplier, simply giving consumers what they demand. That is, ExxonMobil are the good guys who we should trust to address the climate risks that we, the public, brought upon ourselves," he said. "It's also worth noting that these modern forms of propaganda are increasingly subtle and insidious, and so being exposed to them ad nauseam, as shareholders are, could make them more vulnerable to this 'discursive grooming'."
Going forward, the new paper predicts that companies like ExxonMobil may continue to rely on the strategies developed by the tobacco industry.
"In their public relations messaging, industry asserts smokers' rights as individuals who are at liberty to smoke," the paper says. "In the context of litigation, industry asserts that those who choose to smoke are solely to blame for their injuries."
"ExxonMobil's framing is reminiscent of the tobacco industry's effort 'to diminish its own responsibility (and culpability) by casting itself as a kind of neutral innocent, buffeted by the forces of consumer demand,'" it continues. "It is widely recognized that the tobacco industry used, and continues to use, narrative frames of personal responsibility — often marketed as 'freedom of choice' — to combat public criticism, influence policy debates, and defend against litigation and regulation."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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Less than three years after California governor Jerry Brown said the state would launch "our own damn satellite" to track pollution in the face of the Trump administration's climate denial, California, NASA, and a constellation of private companies, nonprofits, and foundations are teaming up to do just that.
Under the umbrella of the newly-formed group Carbon Mapper, two satellites are on track to launch in 2023. The satellites will target, among other pollution, methane emissions from oil and gas and agriculture operations that account for a disproportionate amount of pollution.
Between 2016 and 2018, using airplane-based instruments, scientists found 600 "super-emitters" (accounting for less than 0.5% of California's infrastructure) were to blame for more than one-third of the state's methane pollution. Now, the satellite-based systems will be able to perform similar monitoring, continuously and globally, and be able to attribute pollution to its source with previously impossible precision.
"These sort of methane emissions are kind of like invisible wildfires across the landscape," Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona research scientist Riley Duren said. "No one can see them or smell them, and yet they're incredibly damaging, not just to the local environment, but more importantly, globally."
For a deeper dive:
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If you thought 2020 couldn't get any more dramatic, think again.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) predicts that an asteroid with a 0.41 percent chance of hitting Earth will pass by our planet Nov. 2, the day before U.S. election day, The Independent reported.
But you shouldn't worry about the asteroid doing any real damage, NASA was quick to point out.
"Asteroid 2018VP1 is very small, approx. 6.5 feet, and poses no threat to Earth!" NASA Asteroid Watch tweeted Sunday. "It currently has a 0.41% chance of entering our planet's atmosphere, but if it did, it would disintegrate due to its extremely small size."
Asteroid 2018VP1 is very small, approx. 6.5 feet, and poses no threat to Earth! It currently has a 0.41% chance of… https://t.co/gPuMmJzvSm— NASA Asteroid Watch (@NASA Asteroid Watch)1598201273.0
2018VP1 was first discovered in November 2018 from the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, WGME reported. At the time, it was 450,000 kilometers (280,000 miles) away from Earth, ScienceAlert explained. But it follows a two-year orbital cycle and is currently headed back in our direction.
It is expected to pass within 4,994.76 kilometers (approximately 3,104 miles) of Earth, which is close for a celestial object, and the reason it has a one in 240 chance of hitting us. The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said there were three potential impacts, according to The Independent.
But, "based on 21 observations spanning 12.968 days," it did not think a direct hit was likely.
Further, its small size means it would burn up if it entered the atmosphere. To be considered dangerous, an asteroid must be at least 460 feet, according to ScienceAlert. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was six miles across when it struck.
Congress has tasked NASA with finding 90 percent of the near-Earth asteroids that are 460 feet or more in diameter, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But these larger, more threatening asteroids are actually much easier to detect from far away.
On Aug. 16, an SUV-sized asteroid called 2020 QG broke a record for coming closer to Earth than any other known near-Earth asteroid when it passed 1,830 miles above the Southern Indian Ocean.
"It's quite an accomplishment to find these tiny close-in asteroids in the first place, because they pass by so fast," CNEOS Director Paul Chodas said in a press release. "There's typically only a short window of a couple of days before or after close approach when this small of an asteroid is close enough to Earth to be bright enough but not so close that it moves too fast in the sky to be detected by a telescope."
2020 QG was 10 to 20 feet across, about double the size of 2018VP1, and it too would have disintegrated into a fireball if it made impact.
#asteroid 2020 QG, discovered by @ztfsurvey and roughly 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters) across, is very small by aste… https://t.co/KDYzdvQbpX— NASA Asteroid Watch (@NASA Asteroid Watch)1597840264.0
This happens several times a year without incident, according to NASA.
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People across New England witnessed a dramatic celestial event Sunday night.
A bright meteor known as a "fireball" streaked across the sky over northern Vermont and made a loud banging noise when it entered the atmosphere, the Burlington Free Press reported.
"I actually thought my apartment was being knocked off its foundation," one resident of Essex Junction, Vermont wrote in the comments of a NASA Meteor Watch Facebook post about the incident.
Eyewitness reports from Canada and the Northeastern U.S. said that the meteor flashed across the sky at around 5:38 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, NASA wrote on Facebook. From these reports, the agency has calculated that the meteor first appeared over Vermont at a height of 52 miles above Mount Mansfield State Forest. It then sped northeast at a rate of 47,000 miles per hour. It traveled for 33 miles across the upper atmosphere before burning up 33 miles above Beach Hill in Vermont's Orleans County, NASA said.
The agency said it was working on a more detailed trajectory based on reports and hopefully video evidence. So far, its Facebook post has more than 500 comments. In addition to Vermont, people also reported seeing it in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and the Canadian province of Québec.
"It was dusk, so the sky was a deep blue, and I saw a bright red, orange and yellow streak to the north of me," one Massachusetts eyewitness commented on the NASA post. "I thought it must have been something much bigger than a standard 'shooting star' to be so visible when not totally dark yet."
Video footage of the meteor has also emerged. Local news station WCAX recorded it from the Burlington International Airport at 5:40 p.m.
You called us from all over the state Sunday evening, reporting a loud boom and a body-rattling vibration. Well, we… https://t.co/xMVsLC2dkt— Christina Guessferd (@Christina Guessferd)1615178941.0
NASA said the meteor was a "fireball," a meteor with a magnitude of brightness greater than negative four, or the brightness of Venus in the morning or evening sky, Newsweek explained. A meteor, also known as a shooting star, is the name for the light we see when an asteroid or meteoroid enters Earth's atmosphere. If a meteoroid does not burn up before it lands, it is called a meteorite, according to NASA. However, much of the object burns up as it travels rapidly through the atmosphere. Usually less than five percent of an original meteoroid ever lands on Earth as a meteorite, and space rocks smaller than a football field usually disintegrate entirely. Around 48.5 tons of material from meteoroids enters the atmosphere every day, scientists estimate.
By Tara Lohan
It's hard not to think about how hot it's been — even if you live somewhere that has escaped the heat in the past few weeks. When British Columbia clocks temperatures of 121° F, it gets the world's attention. As it should.
Here are six reasons why we need to be paying more attention to heat waves.
1. Deadly Numbers
Heatwaves may seem to lack the drama of other weather events with named storms and categorized wind speeds, but they're actually the most deadly severe weather event.
Last week's heat dome that locked the Pacific Northwest in a sweltering vice is an apt reminder. The prolonged stretch of record-high temperatures in British Columbia is estimated to have claimed around 300 lives. Another 76 deaths were reported in Washington and Oregon.
Across the world, things have been heating up — with deadly results. Between 1998 and 2017, heatwaves killed 166,000 people, the World Health Organization reports. That includes 70,000 who perished in Europe's 2003 heatwave.
2. Yep, Climate Change
Not surprisingly, climate change is making things worse. An increase in global temperatures has resulted in a rise in the frequency of heatwaves. In the years to come, climate change is expected to also make heatwaves more severe and longer lasting.
As people pump up the air conditioning and stay indoors, that also puts increased pressure on the electrical grid. New research found that these extreme weather events are triggering more failures of critical infrastructure.
Power failures, for example, have jumped 60% since 2015. The combination of excessive heat and blackouts in major U.S. cities would have calamitous results. In Detroit, the researchers found in their modeling, that could mean 450,000 exposed to dangerous temperatures and a whopping 1.7 million in air conditioning-reliant Phoenix.
3. The Dangers of Humidity
The most recent deadly heatwave hit the arid West, increasing concerns about wildfires.
An aerial image of the McKay Creek fire in British Columbia acquired by the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8 on June 30, 2021 during the region's record-breaking heatwave. NASA
Our bodies sweat to help keep us cool. But when the relative humidity is too high that moisture from our skin can't evaporate as well and we don't cool down. Scientists have identified the related wet bulb temperature of 95° F as the upper limit of what we can tolerate when conditions are both hot and extremely humid.
By midcentury, models predict, climate change will make wet bulb temperatures near 95° F a reality. But new research shows that areas in South Asia, the coastal Middle East and the coastal southwest of North America are already hitting that critical point.
4. Inequity Makes It Hotter
Not all people will face the same risks — even if they live in the same cities. Neighborhoods that lack tree canopy and green space, and have more road surfaces and large buildings, could be as much as 20° F hotter.
A 2020 study of 108 cities published in the journal Climate found that areas with higher temperatures are almost always the same neighborhoods that have experienced historic racist housing policies such as "redlining."
"This study reveals that historical housing policies may, in fact, be directly responsible for disproportionate exposure to current heat events," the researchers wrote. Another recent study in Nature Communications found that people of color have a higher risk than whites of high heat exposure in all but six of the largest 175 cities in the United States.
5. Wildlife at Risk
People aren't the only ones feeling the heat. The Pacific Northwest's recent heatwave also threatens cold-water-loving salmon. The Columbia and Snake rivers this year are seeing temperatures within two degrees of the "slaughter zone" that killed 250,000 sockeye in 2015, The Seattle Times reported.
When water temps rise above 62, #salmon are "more vulnerable to disease, and as temperatures climb higher, they wil… https://t.co/idBET1J1Vy— NWF - Idaho (@NWF - Idaho)1624993175.0
The heatwave hit at the peak of the sockeye run, and also when spring and summer chinook and steelhead are migrating. Some fish are being pulled out of the river and trucked to hatcheries for spawning.
"We are crossing the line to temperatures that can be disastrous for fish," Michele DeHart, manager of the Fish Passage Center, told The Seattle Times. "I would say the outlook is pretty grim."
6. Vicious Circle
The hotter it gets, the more fortunate people who have air conditioning crank up the dial and the longer they'll need to leave it running. In a fossil-fuel driven world, that means even more emissions that will continue heating the planet.
Already 10% of global electrical use is from people trying to stay cool with air conditioning and electric fans, according to the International Energy Agency. Expect that number to climb as temperatures get hotter and more people become able to afford A/C.
The International Energy Agency reports that over the next 30 years, air conditioning may be one of the top drivers of electricity demand. "Without action to address energy efficiency, energy demand for space cooling will more than triple by 2050 — consuming as much electricity as all of China and India today," the agency reports.
That makes the need for high-efficiency cooling extremely vital. Not to mention more widespread use of renewable energy and, of course, drastically curbing climate emissions.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Emily Ury
Trekking out to my research sites near North Carolina's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, I slog through knee-deep water on a section of trail that is completely submerged. Permanent flooding has become commonplace on this low-lying peninsula, nestled behind North Carolina's Outer Banks. The trees growing in the water are small and stunted. Many are dead.
Throughout coastal North Carolina, evidence of forest die-off is everywhere. Nearly every roadside ditch I pass while driving around the region is lined with dead or dying trees.
As an ecologist studying wetland response to sea level rise, I know this flooding is evidence that climate change is altering landscapes along the Atlantic coast. It's emblematic of environmental changes that also threaten wildlife, ecosystems, and local farms and forestry businesses.
Like all living organisms, trees die. But what is happening here is not normal. Large patches of trees are dying simultaneously, and saplings aren't growing to take their place. And it's not just a local issue: Seawater is raising salt levels in coastal woodlands along the entire Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Maine to Florida. Huge swaths of contiguous forest are dying. They're now known in the scientific community as "ghost forests."
Deer photographed by a remote camera in a climate change-altered forest in North Carolina. Emily Ury / CC BY-ND
The Insidious Role of Salt
Sea level rise driven by climate change is making wetlands wetter in many parts of the world. It's also making them saltier.
In 2016 I began working in a forested North Carolina wetland to study the effect of salt on its plants and soils. Every couple of months, I suit up in heavy rubber waders and a mesh shirt for protection from biting insects, and haul over 100 pounds of salt and other equipment out along the flooded trail to my research site. We are salting an area about the size of a tennis court, seeking to mimic the effects of sea level rise.
After two years of effort, the salt didn't seem to be affecting the plants or soil processes that we were monitoring. I realized that instead of waiting around for our experimental salt to slowly kill these trees, the question I needed to answer was how many trees had already died, and how much more wetland area was vulnerable. To find answers, I had to go to sites where the trees were already dead.
Rising seas are inundating North Carolina's coast, and saltwater is seeping into wetland soils. Salts move through groundwater during phases when freshwater is depleted, such as during droughts. Saltwater also moves through canals and ditches, penetrating inland with help from wind and high tides. Dead trees with pale trunks, devoid of leaves and limbs, are a telltale sign of high salt levels in the soil. A 2019 report called them "wooden tombstones."
As the trees die, more salt-tolerant shrubs and grasses move in to take their place. In a newly published study that I coauthored with Emily Bernhardt and Justin Wright at Duke University and Xi Yang at the University of Virginia, we show that in North Carolina this shift has been dramatic.
The state's coastal region has suffered a rapid and widespread loss of forest, with cascading impacts on wildlife, including the endangered red wolf and red-cockaded woodpecker. Wetland forests sequester and store large quantities of carbon, so forest die-offs also contribute to further climate change.
Researcher Emily Ury measuring soil salinity in a ghost forest. Emily Bernhardt / CC BY-ND
Assessing Ghost Forests From Space
To understand where and how quickly these forests are changing, I needed a bird's-eye perspective. This perspective comes from satellites like NASA's Earth Observing System, which are important sources of scientific and environmental data.
Since 1972, Landsat satellites, jointly operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, have captured continuous images of Earth's land surface that reveal both natural and human-induced change. We used Landsat images to quantify changes in coastal vegetation since 1984 and referenced high-resolution Google Earth images to spot ghost forests. Computer analysis helped identify similar patches of dead trees across the entire landscape.
A 2016 Landsat8 image of the Albemarle Pamlico Peninsula in coastal North Carolina. USGS
Google Earth image of a healthy forest on the right and a ghost forest with many dead trees on the left. Emily Ury
The results were shocking. We found that more than 10% of forested wetland within the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge was lost over the past 35 years. This is federally protected land, with no other human activity that could be killing off the forest.
Rapid sea level rise seems to be outpacing the ability of these forests to adapt to wetter, saltier conditions. Extreme weather events, fueled by climate change, are causing further damage from heavy storms, more frequent hurricanes and drought.
We found that the largest annual loss of forest cover within our study area occurred in 2012, following a period of extreme drought, forest fires and storm surges from Hurricane Irene in August 2011. This triple whammy seemed to have been a tipping point that caused mass tree die-offs across the region.
Should Scientists Fight the Transition or Assist It?
As global sea levels continue to rise, coastal woodlands from the Gulf of Mexico to the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere around the world could also suffer major losses from saltwater intrusion. Many people in the conservation community are rethinking land management approaches and exploring more adaptive strategies, such as facilitating forests' inevitable transition into salt marshes or other coastal landscapes.
For example, in North Carolina the Nature Conservancy is carrying out some adaptive management approaches, such as creating "living shorelines" made from plants, sand and rock to provide natural buffering from storm surges.
A more radical approach would be to introduce marsh plants that are salt-tolerant in threatened zones. This strategy is controversial because it goes against the desire to try to preserve ecosystems exactly as they are.
But if forests are dying anyway, having a salt marsh is a far better outcome than allowing a wetland to be reduced to open water. While open water isn't inherently bad, it does not provide the many ecological benefits that a salt marsh affords. Proactive management may prolong the lifespan of coastal wetlands, enabling them to continue storing carbon, providing habitat, enhancing water quality and protecting productive farm and forest land in coastal regions.
Emily Ury is a Ph.D. candidate in Duke University's Program in Ecology.
Disclosure statement: Emily Ury received funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the North Carolina Sea Grant. Additional support for this project came from the National Science Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Jessica Corbett
Lead partners of a global consortium of news outlets that aims to improve reporting on the climate emergency released a statement on Monday urging journalists everywhere to treat their coverage of the rapidly heating planet with the same same level of urgency and intensity as they have the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since Covering Climate Now (CCNow) was co-founded in 2019 by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation in association with The Guardian and WNYC, over 460 media outlets — including Common Dreams — with a combined reach of two billion people have become partner organizations.
CCNow and eight of those partners are now inviting media outlets to sign on to the Climate Emergency Statement, which begins: "It's time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here. This is a statement of science, not politics."
The statement notes that a growing number of scientists are warning of the "climate emergency," from James Hansen, formerly of NASA, to the nearly 14,000 scientists from over 150 countries who have endorsed an emergency declaration.
"Why 'emergency'? Because words matter," the CCNow statement explains. "To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately. Failure to slash the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make the extraordinary heat, storms, wildfires, and ice melt of 2020 routine and could 'render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable,' warned a recent Scientific American article."
CCNow's initiative comes after U.S. government scientists said last week that "carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at anytime in the past 3.6 million years," with 2020 featuring a global surface average for CO2 of 412.5 parts per million (PPM) — which very likely would have been higher if not for the pandemic.
As Common Dreams reported last week, amid rising atmospheric carbon and inadequate emissions reduction plans, an international coalition of 70 health professional and civil society groups called on world leaders to learn from the pandemic and "make health a central focus of national climate policies."
"The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that health must be part and parcel of every government policy — and as recovery plans are drawn up this must apply to climate policy," said Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance.
CCNow also points to the public health crisis as a learning opportunity, describing the media's handling of it as "a useful model," considering that "guided by science, journalists have described the pandemic as an emergency, chronicled its devastating impacts, called out disinformation, and told audiences how to protect themselves (with masks, for example)."
"We need the same commitment to the climate story," the statement emphasizes.
Journalism should reflect what science says. https://t.co/MCbSRQMFch— The Nation (@The Nation)1618240621.0
CCNow executive director Mark Hertsgaard echoed that message Monday in The Nation, for which he serves as environment correspondent. He also addressed reservations that some reporters may have about supporting such a statement:
As journalists ourselves, we understand why some of our colleagues are cautious about initiatives like this Climate Emergency Statement, but we ask that they hear us out. Journalists rightly treasure our editorial independence, regarding it as essential to our credibility. To some of us, the term "climate emergency" may sound like advocacy or even activism — as if we're taking sides in a public dispute rather than simply reporting on it.
But the only side we're taking here is the side of science. As journalists, we must ground our coverage in facts. We must describe reality as accurately as we can, undeterred by how our reporting may appear to partisans of any stripe and unintimidated by efforts to deny science or otherwise spin facts.
According to Hertsgaard, "Signing the Climate Emergency Statement is a way for journalists and news outlets to alert their audiences that they will do justice to that story."
"But whether a given news outlet makes a public declaration by signing the statement," he added, "is less important than whether the outlet's coverage treats climate change like the emergency that scientists say it is."
Editor's Note: Common Dreams has signed on to the Climate Emergency Statement, which can be read in full below:
COVERING CLIMATE NOW STATEMENT ON THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY:
Journalism should reflect what the science says: the climate emergency is here.It's time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here.
This is a statement of science, not politics.
Thousands of scientists — including James Hansen, the NASA scientist who put the problem on the public agenda in 1988, and David King and Hans Schellnhuber, former science advisers to the British and German governments, respectively — have said humanity faces a "climate emergency."
Why "emergency"? Because words matter. To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately. Failure to slash the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make the extraordinary heat, storms, wildfires, and ice melt of 2020 routine and could "render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable," warned a recent Scientific American article.
The media's response to Covid-19 provides a useful model. Guided by science, journalists have described the pandemic as an emergency, chronicled its devastating impacts, called out disinformation, and told audiences how to protect themselves (with masks, for example).
We need the same commitment to the climate story.
We, the undersigned, invite journalists and news organizations everywhere to add your name to this Covering Climate Now statement on the climate emergency.
- Covering Climate Now
- Scientific American
- Columbia Journalism Review
- The Nation
- The Guardian
- Noticias Telemundo
- Al Jazeera English
- Asahi Shimbun
- La Repubblica
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Daniel Henryk Rasolt
On a recent, pre-pandemic journey to the High Andes of Colombia, I found myself surrounded by one of the region's emblematic species, the flowering shrubs known locally as frailejones or "big monks." These giant plants, relatives of sunflowers from the Espeletia genus, mesmerized me, their yellow buds and silvery hairs glistening in the intense, ephemeral sunlight.
Looking out over the vast, rolling landscape, I wondered how such a stunning, incomparable ecosystem can be taken for granted.
I'd accompanied National University of Colombia agricultural scientist Jairo Cuervo, that day, to Sumapaz — about 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Bogotá — to better understand the impacts of an expanding agricultural frontier on rich páramo soils.
Sumapaz is the world's largest páramo — a type of high-altitude moorland ecosystem found in the South and Central American neotropics that functions as a sort of sponge, efficiently absorbing and storing rainwater and moisture into its vegetation and rich soils. The water is then released slowly and steadily, which is particularly important in dry seasons. Sumapaz and the nearby Chingaza páramo, for example, provide most of the water for the entire Bogotá savanna.
Páramos, experts say, may also serve as a sort of buffer against climate-change-induced recession of tropical mountain glaciers and extended droughts — if we can protect them.
Cuervo pointed to a potato farm and some grazing cows in the distance, where they'd taken over from the native vegetation. "Despite the páramo providing us with water to live, they are largely forgotten, neglected and at terrible risk," he says.
Agriculture is just one of many interconnected pressures threatening these unique ecosystems and the people and wildlife who depend on them.
High Risk in the High Andes
In an exquisitely diverse country, no ecosystem is as unique and directly integrated into the health and well-being of Colombian society as the High Andean páramo.
Some of Colombia and Ecuador's major rivers also rise in the páramos, and large cities such as Bogotá, Medellin and Cali in Colombia and Quito in Ecuador are almost completely dependent on them for their water supplies. Tens of millions of people in the region rely on the páramo ecosystem for drinking water and a range of agricultural and industrial activities — an estimated 70% to 80% of the Colombian populace.
Coconucos Páramo. Cauca, Colombia. D.H. Rasolt
These "water towers," as they're commonly known, are also one of the world's most rapidly evolving ecosystems.
"Páramos are a hotspot within a global hotspot, as they're located mostly within the threatened tropical Andes," says Santiago Madriñan, a botanist from the Universidad de los Andes and an expert on páramos.
In an influential 2013 study, Madriñan and his team made the claim that páramos are the planet's coolest and fastest evolving biodiversity hotspots, a conclusion established through genetic analysis of páramo plant species and comparison to other rapidly evolving biodiversity hotspots, such as the Mediterranean Basin, the Hawaiian Archipelago and the California Floristic Region. Some analogous processes being uncovered in parts of the Tibetan Plateau may give the páramos competition to this "hotspot of all hotspots" claim, but even so the páramos are undoubtedly special.
"The páramo, like the famed Galápagos Islands, are like a laboratory for studying the process of evolution," Madriñan says. "We can learn how these species adapted to changing climatic conditions over a relatively short period of geological time. The páramo only came into existence within the last 2 to 3 million years, at which time uplift of the Northern Andes mountains rose above the tree line."
For extended periods, especially during past glacial periods, páramo ecosystems remained more connected and evolved more uniformly at lower altitudes within mountain valleys due to a lower tree line. Since then, they've shrunk dramatically, while their evolutionary potential has practically exploded.
"The ensuing warmer epochs such as our present Holocene disconnected and isolated páramo complexes, creating 'sky islands' with very high species diversification and endemism," explains Madriñan. "Most of the more than 3,000 plant species so-far discovered are highly specialized to the extreme conditions of the páramo." These conditions include powerful ultraviolet radiation, drastic day-night temperature swings and abrupt changes in weather.
And páramos are not only rich in plant life. They contain hundreds of endemic and threatened bird, reptile, amphibian, insect and mammal species, including the majestic Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) and spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus).
Rising Temperatures Threaten Páramos
While páramos serve as a buffer against climate change and water scarcity, they're threatened by rapidly rising temperatures themselves — as are the plants and animals that live there.
The high altitude, isolation and specialization of many species limits their so-called "adaptive capacity" and ability to migrate upwards.
"There is no time or space to adapt to present trends of rising temperatures for many of the páramo plant species, including the Espeletias," says Madriñon, who co-authored a recent study that showed Espeletias' vulnerability to climate change. "They will be pushed out of existence."
Rising temperatures in the páramo are also bringing some unwelcome guests.
"With climate change, insects often migrate upwards much faster than other species," says Thomas Walschburger, a conservation biologist and science coordinator for TNC-Colombia. "There are some species arriving in the páramo ecosystem, such as beetles, caterpillars and other potential pests, that can have an unwanted impact, including on the frailejones. It's unknown if the frailejones will have the time and ability to adapt to their presence."
Climate change may also bring increased risk of fires within the páramos. Research has shown that fires in the páramo are mostly of human origin, sparked to clear vegetation and create open grassland. The higher temperatures and potentially drier conditions under climate change will make these fires both easier to start and harder to control. In February 2020 a massive fire burned at least 11 square miles (30 square km) in Sumapaz. The flames were bad enough to mobilize Colombia's Disaster Risk Management Agency and cause air-pollution alerts in nearby Bogotá.
This isn't just a local or regional problem. The waterlogged páramo soils are rich in organic matter and extremely dense in carbon, on the range of 0.2 – 1.4 tons per hectare, depending on depth. Scientists say the loss of the páramos' carbon storage capacity will likely lead to a net-release of carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change.
Encroaching Mining and Agriculture
Other threats continue to chip away at páramo ecosystems.
Legal loopholes are at the center of ongoing conflicts regarding hundreds of mining concessions granted within and around the páramos in Colombia. The ecosystems are supposed to be protected by law from such extractive activities, but that has done little to deter the ambitions of shortsighted corporations looking to exploit their mineral wealth.
Nowhere has this battle been more contentious than Minesa's massive gold-mining concession within and around the Santurbán páramo, in Colombia's Santander department.
Lagunas Negras, Santurbán páramo circa 12,000 feet (3,800 meters). Santander, Colombia. D.H. Rasolt
In a 2018 letter for Science, Madriñan and 13 other highly regarded researchers from around the world emphasized that the protection of biodiverse páramos and Andean forests has been largely neglected in Colombia. They wrote:
"We urge environmental authorities to take the necessary action to stop the Santurbán [Minesa] goldmining project and instead promote the active preservation and restoration of the páramos and Andean forests, particularly in this biologically important area of the country."
Meanwhile the rapidly expanding high-Andean agricultural frontier, particularly for cow pastures and potato farming, poses perhaps the most tangible and immediate threat to páramos. Cow grazing requires large swaths of grassland and ruins páramo soil quality, while potato farmers drain bogs and often intensively deploy agrochemicals.
Cows grazing in the subpáramo, 10,000 feet (3,100 meters), in Cauca, Colombia. D.H. Rasolt
"With cattle, their weight compacts this naturally sponge-like soil, so if cattle grazing becomes even more extensive in the páramos, it could lead to the loss of the páramos' vital function of efficient water absorption and slow release," explained Jairo Cuervo while we were in the Sumapaz páramo. "There would also be increased runoff, soil erosion and flood risk, accompanied by decreased water quality that is exacerbated by agrochemical use for expanding potato cultivations in the páramos and subpáramos."
The Challenge of Delimiting and Protecting the Páramo
The success of conservation efforts and attempts to limit the expansion of mining and agriculture into páramos will depend greatly on one critical element: maps.
But delimiting individual páramos and the entire global area of páramo, which exist at altitudes between the tree line and the snow line, is no easy task.
A widely cited statistic for the global páramo area estimates them at 13,500 square miles (35,000 square km), and within this estimate, more than half of the páramo area (7,300 square miles, or 19,000 square km) is within Colombia's delimited páramo complexes. But that may leave a lot of these ecosystems unrecognized and unprotected.
"The most current accepted area of páramo in Colombia is around 3 million hectares [11,500 square miles]," said Brigitte Baptiste, a Colombian biologist and the former director of the Humboldt Institute, the entity responsible for delimiting Colombia's páramos.
The remaining páramo is found in parts of Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Costa Rica.
What holds back efforts to draw more conclusive lines around the páramos? "I think the top challenges for the delimitation are not technical but social," says Baptiste. "There are different ways of dealing with physical and biological issues by local people as well as by institutions and at other scales. Therefore it's quite difficult to get an agreement about where to draw the line, and to get a science policy process in place which allows us to negotiate this definition."
Regardless of the challenges, it is critical that the páramos' limits be properly defined if they're to be conserved. "The effects of páramo delimitation are clear: no mining, no agriculture, within the accepted legal area of páramo," says Baptiste.
The Need for Socio-Ecological Balance
There are clearly conflicting interests among farming communities living within or around the páramo, mining companies looking to exploit the region, researchers enthralled by the unique ecosystem, and the multitude downstream who depend on páramos for water.
It wasn't always this out of balance between humans and the páramo.
Indigenous peoples such as the Muisca lived in harmony with and worshipped the páramo for thousands of years, before their lands were stolen and cultures destroyed. Today some resilient Indigenous peoples remain and continue to protect the vital sacred páramo.
"The páramo is the originator of life and connects us to our ancestors. It should never be mined, burned, grazed or cultivated, as many shortsighted people do today," Nasa leader Maria Pito told me in November 2019 from within the Pisxnu Páramo in Cauca, Colombia.
Pisxnu Páramo. Cauca, Colombia. D.H. Rasolt
Science is just starting to catch up with holistic traditional knowledge by providing data-driven socio-ecological reasons for protecting these ecosystems. For example, integrated modeling of the páramos' complex and still largely unknown hydrological processes by the Stockholm Environmental Institute in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru has uncovered some important trends. It's a difficult task, as researcher Cristo Pérez explained to me: "To properly model the páramos' hydrology, one must account for the dynamic interplay between large amounts of groundwater, surface water, precipitation and the many rivers born in the páramos."
But that complex hydrology is already suffering, and the problems are expected to get worse. In a 2016 SEI study of Peru's Quiroz-Chipillico watershed, the authors concluded: "As expected, the model showed that rising temperatures and reduced precipitation would affect water availability. But land use change — specifically, the conversion of páramo to new uses and degradation of the páramo — had an even greater effect." These projections further enforce that water availability will decrease not just for local communities and biodiversity, but for millions of people and ecosystems downstream.
The Time for Coordinated Action
The experts I spoke with all agreed that the interconnected pressures of climate change and human land use pose an existential threat to the páramos. Climate change will both directly affect specialized páramo species and will make the clearing of their vegetation by fire more common and efficient. As fires clear more land, cow pastures and potato cultivations will reach progressively higher altitudes within the páramos unless there are stronger efforts to limit their expansion. This, in turn, will further degrade soils and affect species' ability to adapt and migrate.
Then there's the question of water. Some research suggests that upward-migrating Andean forests may help to fill part of the dynamic hydrological function left by the disappearing páramos, but not if those lands are simply cleared for human activities.
"Maybe some of the water regulation can be made by High Andean forest, but we don't know for sure as there would be changes to the structure and composition of water-retaining páramo soils," says Walschburger. "Regardless, the impacts on biodiversity will be terrible if the páramo disappears."
My own time in the páramos working with Indigenous peoples and a diverse spectrum of researchers has often given me the opportunity to venture alone to absorb the tranquility, complexity and breathtaking biodiversity of this neglected high-altitude paradise. These experiences have instilled in me that the páramos are an irreplaceable ecosystem in need of the highest levels of local, regional and global protection.
Whether they're a vital source of water for tens of millions of people, megadiverse "sky islands" that can serve as a laboratory for the study of endemic species and evolutionary biology, buffers against climate change, or a sacred and awe-inspiring source of biocultural heritage, their loss would be an irreparable tragedy for both the region and the planet.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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