By Jessica Corbett
As Louisiana residents and officials begin the recovery process in the wake of Hurricane Ida, environmental campaigners responded Thursday to reporting of a suspected oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by saying such scenes "are reminders that when we drill, we spill."
"On top of the devastation that people are still experiencing onshore, we are now learning about an oil slick in the Gulf, not far from the Louisiana coast," said Kelsey Lamp, Protect our Oceans campaign director with Environment America, in a statement.
"The Americans whose lives Ida has upended have enough to deal with already—they shouldn't have to worry about poisoned ocean life and polluted shorelines," she declared.
The campaigner's comments came in response to the Associated Press reviewing aerial survey imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showing "what appears to be a miles-long oil slick near an offshore rig" following the Category 4 hurricane.
"The government imagery, along with additional photos taken by the AP from a helicopter Tuesday, also show Louisiana port facilities, oil refineries, and shipyards in the storm's path where the telltale rainbow sheen typical of oil and fuel spills is visible in the water of bays and bayous," the news outlet noted.
According to the AP:
Both state and federal regulators said Wednesday that they had been unable to reach the stricken area, citing challenging conditions in the disaster zone.
The NOAA photos show a black slick floating in the Gulf near a large rig with the name Enterprise Offshore Drilling painted on its helipad. The company, based in Houston, did not respond to requests for comment by phone or email Wednesday.
Aerial photos taken by NOAA on Tuesday also show significant flooding to the massive Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery along the bank of the Mississippi River, just south of New Orleans. In some sections of the refinery, rainbow sheen is visible on the water leading toward the river.
Lamp said that "this is yet another reminder of the major risks posed by offshore drilling for dirty, dangerous fossil fuels we increasingly don't need because of our increased capacity for solar and other renewable energy."
"Simply put, when oil companies drill, they spill," she added. "That's why we are continuing to urge the Biden administration to consider the true cost of offshore drilling, and end the practice for good."
fossil fuels fuel hurricanes cause oil spills https://t.co/Gb4iCx0ZMy— Chris D'Angelo (@Chris D'Angelo) 1630542058.0
The deadly hurricane—the remnants of which wreaked havoc on the New York City area overnight Wednesday, causing more deaths and damage—hit as the Biden administration resumed leasing sales for public lands and waters.
Climate campaigners on Tuesday blasted the administration for resuming oil and gas lease sales—in compliance with a federal court order—given President Joe Biden's campaign promises.
In addition to taking aim at the government policies enabling planetary destruction, activists are calling out the corporations responsible for polluting the air, lands, and waters.
Regarding the suspected spill off the Louisiana coast, Lamp said that "we urge the owners of nearby rigs to act quickly to assess and resolve the situation. And we urge the government to act with great speed to determine the source of the slick and address the risk it poses to marine and shoreline wildlife in the Gulf."
That potential spill isn't the only pollution generating concern after Ida, as the New York Times reported Wednesday:
A fertilizer plant battered by Hurricane Ida belched highly toxic anhydrous ammonia into the air. Two damaged gas pipelines leaked isobutane and propylene, flammable chemicals that are hazardous to human health. And a plastic plant that lost power in the storm's aftermath is emitting ethylene dichloride, yet another toxic substance.
Early incident reports filed with the federal authorities are starting to paint a clearer picture of the damage wrought by the hurricane to Louisiana's industrial corridor, complicating relief efforts and adding to the conditions that make it perilous for residents to return.
Shortly after Ida—which one reporter described as "the poster child for a climate change-driven disaster"—struck Louisiana, Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash charged that "Biden must declare a climate emergency to mobilize the federal government towards addressing these climate disasters and tackling the climate crisis head on."
Following the fatal flooding in and around New York City, the youth-led climate group pointed to the storm as evidence that the president and Congress can't compromise on a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better reconciliation package Democrats are developing to pass without GOP support.
"New York is collapsing, New Orleans is still powerless, our loved ones are still missing, and compromise on our infrastructure is still on the table. This is unacceptable," said Sunrise communications director Ellen Sciales, whose family home flooded late Wednesday. "We are running out of time to act on the climate crisis and we need a Green New Deal now."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
Hurricane Larry formed early Thursday, NOLA.com reported. It currently has maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour, according to an 11 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time (AST) update from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), making it a Category 1 storm for now.
"Steady to rapid strengthening is forecast during the next couple of days, and Larry is expected to become a major hurricane by Friday night," NHC wrote.
Further, the NHC predicted that it could reach wind speeds of 130 miles per hour by Sunday night, making it a Category 4 storm, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
Larry first became a hurricane around 5 a.m. AST, according to the NHC. At the time, it had winds of up to 75 miles per hour. Within six hours, it had gotten "larger and a bit stronger," NHC said.
Hurricane #Larry Advisory 8: Larry is Larger and a Bit Stronger. Steady to Rapid Intensification Likely in the Comi… https://t.co/MErb5lWNRh— National Hurricane Center (@National Hurricane Center) 1630593724.0
As of the most recent update, the storm is located about 660 miles west from the southernmost Cape Verde Islands. There are currently no coastal watches or warnings in effect, and NOLA.com reported that it does not immediately threaten any land.
However, the South Florida Sun Sentinel said that the forecast showed its path moving west and then northwest towards the Caribbean Sea through Sunday. Hurricane forecast maps can only predict a storm's movement five days out, but NHC said the storm could become one of the longest-running tropical systems on record.
At the same time, forecasters are tracking two low pressure areas, Orlando.com reported. One has a 20 percent chance of development over the next five days and is moving towards the Yucatán Peninsula. The other formed about 300 miles east-southeast of the southernmost Cabo Verde Islands. It has a 30 percent chance of development over the next two days.
11 AM EDT, Sep 2nd -- A Special Tropical Weather Outlook has been issued to introduce a new system ESE of the Cabo… https://t.co/rJbRDsAjzx— National Hurricane Center (@National Hurricane Center) 1630595953.0
The 2021 hurricane season was forecast to be more active than usual. In early August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put the chances of an above average season at 65 percent.
"A mix of competing oceanic and atmospheric conditions generally favor above-average activity for the remainder of the Atlantic hurricane season, including the potential return of La Nina in the months ahead," Matthew Rosencrans, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said at the time.
It is not clear whether the climate crisis is making hurricanes more frequent, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. However, it does increase the chances that the storms that do form will be more dangerous, as they are wetter, more intense and slower moving.
This was the case with Hurricane Ida, CNN noted.
"We've always had hurricanes, we've always had heat waves, we've always had floods and droughts, but what climate change is doing is loading the weather dice against us," Nature Conservancy chief scientist and Texas Tech University professor Katharine Hayhoe told CNN. "It's sneaking in when we're not looking, changing the numbers as we're rolling and asking what is this, how could this happen? The answer to that is climate change."
- Hurricanes and the Climate Crisis: What You Need to Know ... ›
- 2021 Hurricane Season: NOAA Predicts More Storms Than Usual ... ›
- Heat Threatens Louisiana Residents Without Power Following Ida ... ›
Weighing the pros and cons of solar can help you make the best decision for your home.
The solar boom is underway; the best solar companies are becoming household names, and the benefits of solar energy are taking the spotlight from oil, coal and gas. However, with so much literature to sort through these days, it can be tough to gauge the real solar energy pros and cons — especially since they're so dependent on the customer.
Though a sound investment, solar is a significant one, and we want our readers to fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy before making a purchase. Of course, using the sun as a renewable energy source can reduce your household's monthly electric bills and minimize your carbon footprint. However, there are some factors that make solar a little less valuable for some than others.
We'll go over the full pros and cons of solar energy in this article, but for many homeowners, the decision to go solar comes down to cost. To see how much solar panels would cost for your home, you can get a free quote from an installer near your by using this tool or filling out the form below.
Pros and Cons of Solar Energy: What You Need to Know
By installing a home solar system, you can use photovoltaic solar cells to capture and convert the sun's clean energy into electricity that can power your home or business. This can partially or completely offset the energy you'd typically purchase from your utility company.
While the advantages of solar energy are well advertised, there are also some drawbacks our readers should be aware of. Consider the following pros and cons of solar energy to help you decide if solar panels are worth it for your home.
Benefits of Solar Energy
Let's begin with the fun part — the biggest advantages of solar energy.
1) You can significantly reduce or even eliminate your household electric bills.
One of the most significant benefits of solar energy is also the most obvious: by generating your own energy, you can partially or completely offset the electricity you purchase from your utility. The average solar system lasts for two to three decades, which means most residents enjoy at least a decade or two of free energy after paying off their system with their energy savings and tax credit.
2) Going solar can reduce your carbon emissions.
The clean and natural energy harnessed by your solar system offsets the energy you'd typically purchase from local utilities. For the most part, local utilities carry a large impact stemming from the generation, transportation and distribution of electricity to your community. By using solar panels to generate your own electricity, you offset a portion of the greenhouse gases associated with fossil fuels, lowering your community's overall environmental impact.
3) Investing in a solar power system can increase the value of your home.
Homes with solar are becoming considerably more appealing, and installing the best solar panels can raise an estate's resale value by a decent amount. Note that this helps offset one of the primary cons of solar energy, which is the steep startup cost of solar panels — but more on that later.
4) Going solar can make you eligible for rebates and tax incentives.
Over the past couple of decades, the federal government has implemented numerous plans to incentivize solar energy, including solar tax credits and rebates. Many state governments have followed suit, particularly those where sun exposure is most consistent. Thanks to this, there are some significant ways to recoup part of your solar investment almost immediately. Again, this can help offset the initial cost of your solar panel system, allowing you to generate savings even before those utility reductions begin to stack up.
5) Solar + storage provides reliable backup power.
A solar battery storage system can provide backup power for homes in areas prone to power outages, which seem to be growing each year with the extreme weather brought on by climate change. With a backup battery like a Tesla Powerwall, you can keep your essential appliances powered during a prolonged outage. Even in mild weather, backup batteries let you store and use more of your solar energy, generating more savings.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
Unfortunately, there are benefits of solar that won't prove effective for all homes. A few of the most notable disadvantages around solar include:
1) Not every roof can accommodate a solar system.
Solar panel installation requires you to have a certain kind of roof. If you have an older home, especially one with slate or cedar tiles on the roof, then you may not be able to buy solar panels for your personal use. Additionally, homes with skylights and other rooftop features may not have the surface area needed for solar panels.
If you don't have a lot of space or you're unsure about your home's solar capability, contact a local solar installer near you for a consultation. Most top solar companies will send out a representative free of charge.
Keep in mind that you can also install a ground-mounted solar panel system if you don't have a suitable roof.
2) Solar energy can be very location-dependent.
You can have a roof that's ideal for solar panel installation and still not be a good candidate for solar energy. Why? Because to take full advantage of solar power, you need to live in a place that gets consistent daily sun exposure. So, if you live in a part of the country that tends to be pretty cloudy, you may not produce the amount of energy necessary to justify your investment. Also, if your roof is partly shaded by trees or by neighboring homes, you may not get the best mileage from a solar energy system.
Location goes beyond just the amount of sunlight you receive, however. Some readers may live within the jurisdiction of a utility company without a favorable net metering policy. In the most unfortunate cases, utilities will charge hefty interconnection fees that can outweigh the savings solar provides.
3) Solar savings tend to correspond with energy bills.
The higher your electricity bills, the more energy you'll be able to offset with solar. But the inverse is also true: if you live somewhere with low utility costs, then the savings from switching to solar energy are going to be more modest. In other words, there are some parts of the country where the financial advantages of solar energy are going to be pronounced, and other places where those financial advantages are going to be nominal. It all depends on the cost of electricity where you live, and how much of it you use.
4) The upfront cost of going solar can be significant.
After adding up panels, labor, inverters and more, the average solar system investment ranges from $10,000 to $20,000. The specific number will vary according to the size of your home, if you need energy storage technology, your household energy use and the type of solar panels you choose. For example, if you make your own DIY solar panels, you'll cut down on installation fees, or if you want to get the most efficient solar panels, they'll cost significantly more.
There are plenty of ways to offset the cost of solar, including tax incentives, utility savings, increased home value and financing options. Still, there's no getting around it: Making the switch to solar is a significant investment.
5) Solar is getting more expensive with supply chain issues.
Worldwide supply chain issues have squeezed the costs of solar materials, shipping and labor. As a result, investing in solar in 2022 is proving a touch costlier than in years past. Still, solar technology itself continues to improve in efficiency and value while declining in price. We wouldn't recommend waiting to install a system, however, as the federal solar tax credit will be reduced in 2023 and will phase out altogether in 2024.
Weighing Solar Energy Pros and Cons
So, do the advantages of solar energy outweigh the disadvantages? Unfortunately, there's no easy answer here, as different homeowners may experience different levels of value when they make the jump to solar.
Before investing in a system, make sure you do your due diligence. Consider local sun exposure, the size and direction of your roof, local tax incentives and your own household energy expenses. Also, think about whether you want (or need) a solar battery.
Getting quotes from a few solar providers can give you more details about how much a new system will cost you. By weighing the pros and cons of solar energy for your home, you can make the best decision possible.
To get connected with a solar installer near you for a free consultation, you can use this tool or fill out the form below.
FAQ: Solar Energy Pros and Cons
When is solar energy a bad choice?
We aren't naive enough to claim that solar is always a good choice. For homeowners with low energy costs, shady roofs or insufficient space, the cost of solar can outweigh its benefits. Your location is important, too — not just in terms of sunshine, but also the financial incentives available to you. Check your local net metering policy and statewide and local incentives to see if you can save money on solar.
What are three disadvantages of solar energy?
The three biggest disadvantages to solar energy include:
- The long-term nature of the investment: Life happens. Things change. Unfortunately, transferring solar loans or leases over to new homes or homeowners can be tricky. Some solar companies charge to have the panels relocated, and not all new homeowners will accept the solar lease or loan should you wish to transfer it.
- Not every roof can accommodate a solar system: Small roofs, roofs with obstructions or roofs made with alternative materials can have trouble accommodating solar panels.
- The cost of solar: Purchasing 25 years' worth of electricity upfront can make a lot of customers uncomfortable — and we understand why! The upfront cost of solar won't be feasible for all homeowners. Luckily, solar leases, flexible loan plans and incentives are making solar accessible to a wider range of home and business owners.
What are the advantages of solar?
Solar panels provide a reliable, low-maintenance way to avoid the carbon dioxide emissions associated with conventional energy generation. In addition to the environmental benefits, solar typically provides a great deal of energy savings for customers weighed down by rising utility costs. When properly designed and installed, solar is one of the best and most sustainable investments you can make.Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
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By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Earth had its second-warmest year on record in 2020, just 0.02 degrees Celsius (0.04°F) behind the record set in 2016, and 0.98 degrees Celsius (1.76°F) above the 20th-century average, NOAA reported January 14.
NASA and the European Copernicus Climate Change Service rated 2020 as tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record (NASA rates the margin of error at .05 degrees C); the Japan Meteorological Agency rated 2020 as the warmest year on record. Minor differences in rankings often occur among various research groups, the result of different ways they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.
Global ocean temperatures in 2020 were the third-warmest on record, global land temperatures the warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in 2020 for the lowest eight kilometers of the atmosphere were the second-warmest or warmest in the 42-year record, according to the University of Alabama, Huntsville and Remote Sensing Solutions, respectively.
The Northern Hemisphere had its warmest year on record in 2020 and the Southern Hemisphere its fifth-warmest. By continent, here are the 2020 temperature rankings:
Europe: first warmest
Asia: first warmest
South America: second warmest
Africa: fourth warmest
Australia (and Oceania): fourth warmest
North America: 10th warmest
As detailed in a January 12 post at this site by Bob Henson, 2020 for the U.S. was the fifth-warmest year in history going back to 1895. Ten states had their second-warmest year on record and four had their third-warmest year. None of the contiguous 48 states was below-average in temperature in 2020.
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for 2020, the second-warmest year the globe has seen since record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. Record-high annual temperatures over land and ocean surfaces were measured across parts of Europe, Asia, southern North America, South America, and across parts of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. No land or ocean areas were record cold for the year. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information
The remarkable global warmth of 2020 means that the seven warmest years on record since 1880 were the most recent seven years — 2014 through 2020. The near-record global warmth in 2020 is all the more striking since it occurred during the minimum of the weakest solar cycle in more than 100 years and during a year without a strong El Niño. Record-warm global temperatures typically occur during strong El Niño events and when the solar cycle is near its maximum. The warmth of 2020 is a testament to how significantly human-caused global warming is heating the planet.
Figure 2. Total ocean heat content (OHC) in the top 2000 meters from 1958-2020. Cheng et al., Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences
Warmest Year on Record for Total Ocean Heat Content
Despite the presence of a prominent La Niña event that began in August, the total heat content of the world's oceans in 2020 was the warmest in recorded human history, according to a January 13, 2021 paper by Cheng et al., Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020, published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. In the uppermost 2,000 meters of the oceans, there were 211 to 234 zettajoules more heat in 2020 than the 1981-2010 average, and 2020 had 1 to 20 zettajoules more ocean heat content than in 2019 (a zettajoule is one sextillion joules — ten to the 21st power). For comparison, in 2010, humans used a total of 0.5 zettajoules of energy.
More than 90% of the increasing heat from human-caused global warming accumulates in the ocean because of its large heat capacity. The remaining heating manifests as atmospheric warming, a drying and warming landmass, and melting land and sea ice. Increasing ocean heat content causes sea-level rise through thermal expansion of the water and melting of glaciers in contact with the ocean. It also produces stronger and more rapidly intensifying hurricanes; causes more intense precipitation events that can lead to destructive flooding; contributes to "marine heat waves" that damage or destroy coral reefs; and disrupts atmospheric circulation patterns.
A Slew of Heat Records in 2020
International records researcher Maximiliano Herrera keeps the pulse of the planet in remarkable detail, and he logged 11 nations or territories that set or tied their all-time heat records in 2020. That total fell far short of the record of 24 such records in 2019. No nations or territories set or tied an all-time cold record in 2020. Here are the all-time heat records set in 2020:
Colombia: 42.6°C (108.7°F) at Jerusalem, February 19 (tie);
Ghana: 44.0°C (111.2°F) at Navrongo, April 6;
Cuba: 39.2°C (102.6°F) at Palo Seco, April 10; broken again April 11 with 39.3°C (102.7°F) at Veguitas, and again on April 12 with 39.7°C (103.5°F) at Veguitas;
Mayotte, France department: 36.4°C (97.5°F) at Trevani, April 14;
Taiwan: 40.5°C (104.9°F) at Taimali Research Center, July 16;
Lebanon: 45.4°C (113.7°F) at Houche Al Oumara, July 27;
United States: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, California, August 16;
Japan: 41.1°C (106.0°F) at Hamamatsu, August 17;
Dominica: 35.7°C (96.3°F) at Canefield Airport, September 15;
Puerto Rico (U.S. territory): 37.8°C (100.0°F ) at Aguirre, September 17; and
Paraguay: 45.5°C (113.9°F ) at Pozo Hondo, September 26.
Among global weather stations having at least 40 years of record-keeping, Herrera documented 348 that exceeded their all-time heat record in 2020; only eight stations with a long-term period of record set an all-time cold record in 2020. For comparison, 632 stations set their all-time heat record in 2019 and 11 their all-time cold record.
Notable Global Heat and Cold Records for 2020
Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, U.S., August 16;
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -66.0°C (-86.8°F) at Summit, Greenland, January 2;
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 48.9°C (120.0°F) at Penrith Lakes, Australia, January 4;
Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -80.8°C (-113.4°F) at Dome Fuji, Antarctica, August 16;
Highest 2020 average temperature worldwide: 31.5°C (88.7°F) at Yelimane, Mali, and Matam, Senegal; and
Highest 2020 average temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 29.8°C (85.6°F) at Surabaya Airport, Indonesia, and Wyndham, Australia.
Earth's record for hottest yearly average temperature was 32.9°C (91.2°F) at Makkah, Saudi Arabia, in 2010 and 2016.
126 Additional Monthly National/Territorial Heat Records Beaten or Tied
In addition to the 11 all-time national heat records, 126 other national monthly heat records were set in 2020, for a total of 137 national monthly heat records:
– January (13): Norway, South Korea, Angola, Congo Brazzaville, Dominica, Mexico, Indonesia, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Cuba, British Indian Ocean Territory, Singapore;
– February (12): Spain, Antarctica, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, The Bahamas, Switzerland, Maldives, Gambia, Russia, Seychelles, Dominican Republic, U.S. Virgin Islands;
– March (7): Paraguay, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Seychelles, United States, Thailand, Northern Mariana Islands;
– April (14): Paraguay, Niger, St. Barthelemy, Honduras, Guernsey, Haiti, Congo Brazzaville, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, China, Saba, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic;
– May (10): Niger, Greece, Saba, Cyprus, Solomon Islands, Turkey, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Chile, Uzbekistan;
– June (6): Maldives, Thailand, U.S. Virgin Islands, Saba, Kenya, Ghana;
– July (7): Mozambique, U.S. Virgin Islands, Laos, Myanmar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Northern Mariana Islands;
– August (6): Solomon Islands, Mexico, Australia, Cocos Islands, Paraguay, U.S. Virgin Islands;
– September (18): Laos, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Mexico, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Botswana, St. Barthelemy, Mayotte, Argentina, Brazil, British Indian Ocean Territory;
– October (11): Algeria, Brazil, Tunisia, Turkey, Cyprus, Jordan, Peru, Myanmar, Northern Marianas Islands, Botswana, Maldives;
– November (11): Luxembourg, Finland, Nepal, Mexico, Aland Islands, Sweden, Maldives, Northern Marianas, Taiwan, Swaziland, Sudan; and
– December (11): Mexico, Ghana, Pakistan, Algeria, Qatar, Maldives, Niger, Taiwan, Dominica, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands.
One Monthly National/Territorial Cold Record Beaten or Tied in 2020
– April: St. Eustatius.
An October monthly record reported in Aruba was judged to be unreliable.
Hemispherical and Continental Temperature Records in 2020
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere in January: 29.1°C (84.4°F) at Bonriki, Kiribati, January 17;
– Highest maximum temperature ever recorded in North America in January: 42.0°C (107.6°F) at Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, January 21;
– Highest temperature ever recorded in continental Antarctica and highest February temperature ever recorded in Antarctica plus the surrounding islands: 18.4°C (65.1°F) at Base Esperanza, February 6;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in February in Antarctica: 7.6°C (45.7°F) at Base Marambio, February 9;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in February in the Northern Hemisphere: 32.0°C (89.6°F) at Yelimane, Mali, February 23;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in April in the Southern Hemisphere: 31.1°C (88.0°F) at Argyle, Australia, April 2;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in May in Europe: 30.1°C (86.2°F) at Emponas, Greece, May 17;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in May in North America: 35.0°C (95.0°F) at Death Valley, California (U.S.), May 28;
– Highest temperature ever recorded in the polar regions: 38.0°C (100.4°F) at Verkhoyansk, Russia, June 20;
– Highest reliable temperature ever recorded on Earth: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, California, August 16;
– Highest reliable minimum temperature ever recorded in August in North America: 40.0°C (104.0°F) at Death Valley, California (U.S.), August 17;
– Highest temperature ever recorded in Australia and Oceana in August: 40.7°C (105.3°F) at Yampi Sound, Australia, August 22; beaten again with 41.2°C (106.2°F) at West Roebuck, Australia, on August 23; and
– Highest temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere in November: 44.8°C (112.6°F) at San Francisco and Tubares, Mexico, November 5.
December 2020: Earth's Eighth-Warmest December on Record
December 2020 was the eighth-warmest December since global record-keeping began in 1880, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information reported January 14. NASA and the European Copernicus Climate Change Service rated the month as the sixth-warmest December on record, and the Japan Meteorological Agency rated it as the tenth-warmest. Again: Minor differences in rankings often occur among various research groups, the result of different ways they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.
Figure 3. Departure of sea surface temperature from average in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W). Sea surface temperature were approximately one degree Celsius below average over the past month, characteristic of moderate La Niña conditions. Tropical Tidbits
A Moderate La Niña Event Continues
La Niña conditions remained in the moderate range during December and early January, prompting NOAA to continue its La Niña advisory in a January 14 monthly discussion of the state of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, or ENSO.
Over the past month, sea surface temperatures in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W) have been approximately 1 degree Celsius below average. The threshold for "strong" La Niña conditions is 1.5 degrees Celsius below average; "moderate" La Niña conditions are 1.0-1.5 degrees below average.
Forecasters at NOAA and at Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society expect La Niña conditions will continue through the winter (95% chance during January-February-March), and potentially transition to "neutral" during the spring (55% chance during April-May-June). About half of all La Niña events continue into a second year, but fewer than 20% of the ENSO models predicted that La Niña conditions would last into the summer of 2021.
Arctic Sea Ice: Third-Lowest December Extent on Record
Arctic sea ice extent during December 2020 was the third-lowest in the 42-year satellite record, behind 2016 and 2017, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice extent in December 2020 was near-average.
Notable Global Heat and Cold Marks for December 2020
– Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 41.5°C (106.7°F) at Matam, Senegal, December 2;
– Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -57.5°C (-71.5°F) at Oymykon, Russia, December 29;
– Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 48.7°C (119.7°F) at Birdsville, Australia, December 5; and
– Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -44.9°C (-48.8°F) at Dome A, Antarctica, December 3.
Major Weather Stations' New All-Time Heat or Cold Records in December 2020
Among global stations with a record of at least 40 years, two stations set all-time cold records in December, and no stations set an all-time heat record:
Hamamasu (Japan) min. -21.5°C (-6.7°F), December 31; and
Bibai (Japan) min. -26.5°C (-15.7°F), December 31.
Statistics courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Global warming is rapidly changing the Arctic into a region that is, "warmer, less frozen, and biologically changed in ways that are scarcely imaginable even a generation ago," according to NOAA's annual Arctic report card, released Tuesday.
That description, from Rick Thoman, a University of Alaska scientist and one of the editors of the assessment, describes not just the region's dramatic loss of sea ice, but also its soaring temperatures and the wildfires that burned an estimated 23 million acres across Siberia.
As global warming caused by burning fossil fuels heats the planet, it has an outsized impact on the Arctic, which in turn has an outsized impact on the rest of the globe. "Changes in the Arctic climate are important because the Arctic acts as a refrigerator for the rest of the world — it helps cool the planet," Lawrence Mudryk, a report contributor and a climate scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, told The Associated Press. "How much of the Arctic continues to be covered by snow and sea ice reflects part of how efficiently that refrigerator is working."
An animation shows Arctic sea ice from this year's maximum to minimum, along with the 30-year average minimum. Trent L. Schindler / NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio
As reported by The New York Times:
"Nearly everything in the Arctic, from ice and snow to human activity, is changing so quickly that there is no reason to think that in 30 years much of anything will be as it is today," [Thoman] said.
While the whole planet is warming because of emissions of heat-trapping gases through burning of fossil fuels and other human activity, the Arctic is heating up more than twice as quickly as other regions. That warming has cascading effects elsewhere, raising sea levels, influencing ocean circulation and, scientists increasingly suggest, playing a role in extreme weather.
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While the bulk of the fires themselves are burning in the West, the smoke is projected to fill skies across the entire country, reaching as far east as New York.
"It's becoming an unfortunate new feature of New York City's summer weather -- wildfire smoke from the West Coast billowing east, adding to the haze here," NBC4 New York reported Friday.
Every state in the nation is expected to experience at least light, surface level smoke with the exception of the Four Corners states and the coastal Southeast, CNN reported. This is because the smoke is being lifted high enough into the atmosphere to reach the upper air masses, which push it east.
However, the states seeing the biggest impact from the smoke are still the states closer to the fires themselves. Minnesota and North Dakota are experiencing unhealthy air as fire smoke from Canada moved across the border Thursday into Friday. Air quality alerts are also in place in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, in addition to Minnesota.
#SATELLITE SPOTLIGHT: @NOAA's #GOES17🛰️ is tracking a lot of #smoke from the numerous #wildfires burning across the… https://t.co/4X2X44lcKo— NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs (@NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs) 1626286235.0
The smoke is so dense it can be seen from space, as Space.com reported. The largest fire is the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which has burned 241,497 acres and is only seven percent contained, according to the most recent update from InciWeb. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been monitoring the massive fire and its smoke with its GOES-17 satellite.
UPDATE: Oregon's #BootlegFire showed explosive growth last evening, with its #smoke and #pyrocumulus clouds seen he… https://t.co/KyQJunXgCX— NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs (@NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs) 1626355259.0
Wildfire smoke is a problem because it contributes to air pollution.
"The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explained. "These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death."
There is even evidence that wildfire smoke can help spread COVID-19. A study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology Tuesday found a 17.7 percent increase in coronavirus cases in Reno, Nevada during the period when the city was most exposed to wildfire smoke from Aug. 16 to Oct. 10 of 2020.
That makes wildfire smoke another example of how the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis compound each other. Climate change makes fires in the West more frequent, bigger, faster and more severe, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
"Climate affects how long, how hot and how dry fire seasons are," Natasha Stavros, who studies wildfires as an applied science system engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained. "As climate warms, we're seeing a long-term drying and warming of both air and vegetation."
2020 was a record-breaking season for fires in the West, but 2021 has already surpassed it, helped along by historic heat wave and drought conditions.
So far this year, there have been 6,271 more wildfires than in 2020 that have burned 511,427 more acres, CNN reported.
And states in the region don't expect relief any time soon.
"We are looking at a couple of months at least with wildfire smoke in areas," Idaho Department of Environmental Quality regional airshed coordinator Mike Toole told KTVB7. "Long term, I think we are going to see the smoke through the summer and into the fall."
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By Jake Johnson
This past weekend, researchers at the National Science Foundation's Summit Station observed rainfall at the peak of Greenland's rapidly melting ice sheet for the first time on record — an event driven by warming temperatures.
"This was the third time in less than a decade, and the latest date in the year on record, that the National Science Foundation's Summit Station had above-freezing temperatures and wet snow," the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said in a press release earlier this week. "There is no previous report of rainfall at this location (72.58°N 38.46°W), which reaches 3,216 meters (10,551 feet) in elevation."
Temperatures at the summit of the ice sheet rose above freezing at around 5:00 am local time on Saturday, "and the rain event began at the same time," NSIDC noted. "For the next several hours, rain fell and water droplets were seen on surfaces near the camp as reported by on-station observers."
The anomalous rainfall at the ice sheet's peak marked the start of a three-day period during which "above-freezing temperatures and rainfall were widespread to the south and west of Greenland... with exceptional readings from several remote weather stations in the area," said NSIDC. "Total rainfall on the ice sheet was 7 billion tons."
The warmer-than-usual temperatures caused significant melting of the ice sheet, with melt extent peaking at 337,000 square miles on August 14.
"Warm conditions and the late-season timing of the three-day melt event coupled with the rainfall led to both high melting and high runoff volumes to the ocean," NSIDC observed. "On August 15 2021, the surface mass lost was seven times above the mid-August average... At this point in the season, large areas of bare ice exist along much of the southwestern and northern coastal areas, with no ability to absorb the melt or rainfall. Therefore, the accumulated water on the surface flows downhill and eventually into the ocean."
On August 14, 2021, temperatures rose above freezing on the summit of Greenland for only the third time this decade… https://t.co/xpMdQ5SDim— National Snow and Ice Data Center (@National Snow and Ice Data Center) 1629324290.0
Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told The Washington Post on Thursday that while the three-day melting event "by itself does not have a huge impact," it is "indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland."
"Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it's something that's hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change," said Scambos. "Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing. We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell."
In a landmark report released earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that "it is very likely that human influence has contributed to the observed surface melting of the Greenland ice sheet over the past two decades."
In July — which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently deemed the hottest month ever recorded on Earth — a heat wave in Greenland caused enough melting to cover the entire state of Florida with two inches of water.
"What is going on is not simply a warm decade or two in a wandering climate pattern," Scambos told CNN in response to the rainfall at the ice sheet's summit. "This is unprecedented."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Tara Lohan
Summer in the Gulf of Mexico is a time to celebrate the region's bounty, including its prized shrimp, which are the star of local festivals. But shrimpers this summer found themselves contending with another, competing event — the annual measuring of the Gulf's "dead zone."
This one doesn't draw tourists, but instead scientists who calculate how large an area has become low enough in oxygen that it can kill fish and other marine life like shrimp.
This hypoxia stems from activities on land. When it rains, excess nutrients — mostly nitrogen and phosphorus from Midwest farm and livestock operations — wash into the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers. Those nutrients make their way to the Gulf, fueling an overgrowth of algae which deprive the waters of oxygen, driving away or killing marine life.
Over the past five years the average size of the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone has stretched to more than 5,400 square miles. But these hypoxic areas are also found in other parts of the United States and across the world. And climate change, experts predict, will cause them to get bigger and persist for longer.
Map of the measured Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone, July-August 2020. LUMCON / NOAA
Efforts to curb excess nutrients in waterways have so far included reducing the use of fertilizers or animal waste applied to agricultural fields and planting cover crops to limit runoff.
Protecting wetlands can also help. They slow the flow of water running off fields, and the roots of the plants absorb nutrient pollutants.
But do these types of efforts work? In a recent study published in Nature, researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Illinois Chicago found that efforts to restore wetlands in the United States "are often carried out in an ad hoc manner," meaning they lack comprehensive strategy.
Most notably, they found that the areas where wetland restoration has been undertaken don't necessarily coincide with nitrogen hotspots.
That means we're not making the best use of these natural water purifiers.
If we were to target restoration efforts in these heavily farmed areas, however, we could greatly maximize the water quality benefits of wetlands. The researchers calculated that a 10% increase in wetlands in the United States focused in heavily farmed areas could remove up to 40 times more nitrogen.
That could go a long way in helping to achieve water quality goals. It would be especially helpful for areas that have high amounts of nitrogen, which they advise should get preferential placement. So, while they recommend a 10% increase across the country, some areas would see more wetlands restored. Under one their models, the Mississippi Basin, where nitrogen runoff is high, would actually see a 22% increase in wetlands, which in turn would provide about a "54% decrease in nitrogen loading to the Gulf of Mexico," the researchers found.
They estimate this nationwide 10% bump in targeted restoration would cost $3.3 billion annually, twice as much as restoration of non-agricultural lands, but the costs "are in line with current expenditures to achieve water quality goals," they wrote.
It could also go a long way to helping coastal economies. A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that nitrogen loading from upstream agriculture has caused between $552 million and $2.4 billion annually in damages to Gulf of Mexico fisheries and the marine habitat.
There are other benefits, too. Wetlands provide ecosystem services such as flood prevention, carbon sequestration and critical habitat. And, after environmental rollbacks by the Trump administration, water quality is likely to be an even bigger concern.
As the researchers concluded, "These results provide critical context to discussions of wetland restoration and water quality that are especially important today when a new Clean Water Act rule is reducing protections offered to existing wetlands."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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The agency said that there were only 366 of the whales as of January 2019, down from 412 in January of 2018, The Associated Press reported. But their numbers are likely even lower than that. NOAA Fisheries has documented the deaths or likely fatal injuries of a further 15 whales since, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) pointed out.
"These population estimates are devastating," CLF senior attorney Erica Fuller said in response to the news. "The outlook is grim if we do not act today. We know human activities are decimating this population, what will it take for federal fishery managers to finally take action to protect these magnificent animals?"
In dire news for an already critically endangered species, @NOAAFisheries just announced that they're estimating th… https://t.co/PYM2rNAlXo— David Abel (@David Abel) 1603736250.0
Atlantic right whales have been protected by the U.S. government since 1972, according to The Associated Press. Their numbers were initially devastated by commercial whaling. Today, the leading causes of death for the whales are being struck by vessels and getting entangled in fishing gear, Boston Globe reporter David Abel wrote on Twitter.
Right whales have also struggled to reproduce in recent years, according to The Associated Press. Thirteen whales were born in the last two years, but two are already thought to have died, Abel reported in The Boston Globe. One was actually found dead, and another was hit by a boat just hours after being born. Another alarming data point from NOAA Fisheries is that there are only 94 breeding females left in the species.
Further, the decline in numbers between 2018 and 2019 is partly because the whales' numbers were overestimated in 2018, NOAA marine mammal take reduction team coordinator Colleen Coogan told The Boston Globe. She said that updated photo identification data suggested there were only 383 whales in 2018, not 412. Coogan noted that the 2019 numbers were preliminary and would be reviewed before a federal assessment of the species due next year.
The population of right whales peaked in 2011 at 481. Since then, an average of 24 whales have died every year. But the population can only withstand less than one death a year to avoid extinction.
"Given the low population numbers … it is essential that we work together to protect every North Atlantic right whale in order to avoid extinction for this endangered species," Coogan wrote in an email to members of a federal advisory board organized to find ways to protect the whales from mortality.
CLF, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other groups sued NOAA Fisheries to better protect right whales from getting entangled in lobster lines in the Gulf of Maine. A judge ruled in their favor, and the agency now has until May 2021 to issue new regulations.
"If we don't act quickly, right whales are headed rapidly toward extinction," HSUS marine issues field director Sharon Young told The Boston Globe. "It is appalling to think this nation would permit the extinction of a whale species in our waters. It's time to stop talking and take action."
The new NOAA figures weren't the only warning sign for North Atlantic right whales to be reported this week. For the first time in four decades, marine scientists with the New England Aquarium did not observe any right whales in the Bay of Fundy this year, the Bangor Daily News reported.
They were able to confirm that citizen scientists took pictures of two whales in or near the bay. However, in past years, as many as 50 to 150 whales would forage in the body of water between Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The numbers have been falling since 2010 because of another threat: the climate crisis."It's just a reflection of how the ocean is changing with climate change, and their food resource, plankton, they're not blooming at the same time and in the same areas that they used to, so it's a reflection that for them and for our oceans things are changing pretty dramatically," New England Aquarium researcher Amy Knowlton told the Bangor Daily News.
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted a mild winter for most of the U.S. Thursday, forecasting that the drought that now covers nearly half the country will get worse, according to The New York Times.
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center released its winter outlook for 2020-2021 Thursday and predicted that much of the South and Southwest will remain dry this winter, while areas in the Pacific Northwest and the Upper Plains will have the opposite problem — they will have a wetter than average winter, as CNN reported.
That means that the current drought that blankets just under 47 percent of the continental U.S. will only get worse during the months that usually bring relief. The country is currently in its most widespread drought since 2013.
NOAA's prediction model said that this year's La Niña will drive warmer and drier weather through the southern part of the country this winter. This zone includes areas where wildfires are currently burning, like Southern California and Colorado.
"With La Niña well established and expected to persist through the upcoming 2020 winter season, we anticipate the typical, cooler, wetter North, and warmer, drier South, as the most likely outcome of winter weather that the U.S. will experience this year," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, in a news release, as The Washington Post reported.
The model splits the lower 48 states into three stripes. One massive stripe runs coast-to-coast from Southern California to North Carolina. It will see a dry winter. A band that encompasses Oregon and Washington and runs along the northern part of the country to Michigan will see a wet winter. The rest of the country will see fairly normal conditions, as the AP reported.
Halpert added in a call with reporters that La Ninas, which are periodic cooling of waters in the tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean, usually reduce the odds of large snowstorms on the East Coast. However, the model cannot predict extreme events months ahead of time, according to the AP.
The climate prediction model is also forecasting above average temperatures for much of the country, with the largest spikes above the average in southern Texas. However, each month may see fluctuations that differ from the overall trend toward warming, as The Weather Channel reported.
"The typical La Niña response is for warm November, cold December, and warm January/February; however, January and February can have significant volatility depending on if high-latitude blocking occurs," said Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist at The Weather Company, as The Weather Channel reported. High-latitude blocking stymies the flow of La Niña from west to east and allows cold air from the Arctic to make its way south.
Studies show that the Southwest, which has been in a drought for the past two decades, is in the grips of its worst megadrought in 1,200 years, as EcoWatch reported.
Halpert said the high likelihood of a worsening drought in the region this winter is directly linked to La Niña, which started in August and is expected to continue through December, as The New York Times reported.
Halpert also emphasized that the prediction is based on mathematical models and that sometimes the impacts of La Niña and El Niño systems do not play out.
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Now, new research published in Oceanography on Tuesday reveals that the climate crisis is the ultimate culprit in their decline as changing conditions have forced them to move into less protected waters.
"They moved so fast that our policies didn't move with them," study co-author and University of South Carolina marine ecologist Erin Meyer-Gutbrod told The New York Times. "The environment is just not as predictable as it used to be, so I think that we all need to think on our feet more."
North Atlantic right whales used to feed in the Gulf of Maine, where protections were in place to guard them against vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglements. Then, in 2010, something changed. Warm water entered the gulf and caused the whales' food source — fatty crustaceans that prefer cold water — to plummet.
"Due to a warming climate, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is slowing down, causing the Gulf Stream to move North, injecting warmer and saltier slope water into the Gulf of Maine," senior author Charles Greene of Cornell University said in a press release.
This caused two problems for the whales. First, the reduced food harmed their reproductive capabilities and their birth rates declined starting in 2010.
"When they can't build those thick layers of blubber, they're not able to successfully get pregnant, carry the pregnancy and nurse the calf," Meyer-Gutbrod told The Guardian.
Then, the whales moved northeast to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada, where protections against vessel strikes and fishing gear were not in place. Since 2010, the whales' population has fallen by around 26 percent, from more than 500 to just 356, according to the press release.
"We're slowing their births and we're increasing their deaths," Meyer-Gutbrod told The New York Times. "You don't have to be a super mathematician to guess what that change is going to cause."
The Canadian Government did institute more protections in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in response to the shift, the study authors noted, and this seemed to do the trick when only three whales died in 2018, and none of them in the southern gulf. However, the next year 10 whales died. The researchers therefore call for more protections, including rope-free fishing gear and vessel speed limits, according to the press release.
Further, they note the importance of conducting more research to understand how species are moving in response to the climate crisis."The case of the North Atlantic right whale provides a cautionary tale for the management of protected species in a changing ocean," the study authors wrote.
A North Atlantic right whale and calf. NOAA
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When a Fraser's dolphin washed up dead in Maui in 2018, researchers did not suspect that this could be the first sign of a deadly outbreak.
But now, a paper published in Scientific Reports on Monday reveals that the dolphin was infected with a previously unknown strain of morbillivirus, a disease related to human measles and smallpox that has killed off large numbers of cetaceans — whales, dolphins and porpoises — around the world.
"This finding identifies an important threat to Fraser's dolphins and to the approximately 20 other species of cetaceans that call Hawaii home," study lead author and University of Hawaii at Mānoa's Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology associate researcher Kristi West told EcoWatch in an email.
Cetacean morbillivirus is an airborne virus that can spread rapidly between very social species like whales and dolphins. It can also travel between different whale and dolphin species and between a pregnant mother and her calf.
"Cetacean morbillivirus has been identified as one of the biggest disease threats because it has been responsible for mass mortalities of dolphins and whales that have occurred worldwide," West said.
For example, an outbreak in 2013 and 2014 caused a mass mortality event that killed more than 1,500 bottlenose dolphins along the U.S. East Coast.
This is especially a problem if a species or population is already under threat for other reasons, Whale and Dolphins Conservation policy manager Nicola Hodgins, who was not involved in the research, told EcoWatch in an email.
"Morbillivirus has been show[n] to spread rapidly through populations – especially as cetaceans are especially social and travel in large groups – therefore if it were to spread through a population that was already classed as vulnerable it could have a devastating impact," she wrote.
In the case of the waters off Hawaii, this is a real risk, the study authors noted. That is because the islands are home to many unique populations that are already low in numbers. For example, the endangered Hawaiian false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) only number around 167.
"Novel disease is considered a major hurdle to endangered population recovery and even poses the threat of extinction," the study authors wrote.
Further, there is evidence that the Hawaiian populations of Spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata), spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris longirostris), bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris), Blainville's beaked whales (Mesoplodon densirostris), pilot whales, pygmy killer whales (Feresa attenuata), and Melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra) are unique.
The latter may be especially at risk. Fraser's dolphins have only been seen six times in Hawaiian waters within the past 20 years or so, and they were seen near Melon-headed whales for four of them.
"The presence of many small resident populations makes Hawaii an especially vulnerable location when considering the potential for disease outbreaks among cetaceans," the authors noted.
At the same time, disease outbreaks in the Hawaiian Islands are difficult to study. This is because scientists are able to recover fewer than five percent of the animals that die in these waters, meaning scientists might not even know if an outbreak is occurring.
These low stranding rates also make it difficult to determine what other threats might impact these species and how those threats might interact with a morbillivirus outbreak.
This is especially true of Fraser's dolphins, which are a relatively unknown species who live mostly in offshore waters. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List labels them a species of least concern, but also said that it does not know if their population is stable, increasing or declining.
To understand more about whether an outbreak is occurring or how great a risk it might be, West said the next step is to conduct antibody testing on Hawaiian dolphins and whales.
"Research involving antibody testing is first needed to understand if Hawaiian dolphins and whales may have acquired immunity through prior exposure to this virus," she said.
Researchers study a Fraser's dolphin. UH Health and Stranding Lab
One way that concerned individuals can help scientists learn more about Hawaii's dolphins and whales is by reporting any strandings to the state's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA's) Marine Wildlife Hotline at 1(888) 256-9840, a University of Hawaii press release advised.
NOAA is also working to protect a different species from morbillivirus with the first ever vaccination program against the disease in marine mammal populations. This program targets endangered Hawaiian monk seals, who are vaccinated while sleeping on the beach.
"A similar mass vaccination program for whales or dolphins that live an entirely aquatic lifestyle would be much more difficult," West acknowledged to EcoWatch.
While human researchers are working to understand and counteract the morbillivirus threat, human activity generally does not play a known role in spreading the virus among whales and dolphins in the wild, West said.
However, Hodgins noted that diseases like these are another argument against whale and dolphin captivity.
"Keeping them confined in captivity is a sure fire way to ensure the spread of this disease," she said. "If for example there were an outbreak within a captive facility it would likely infect all those contained."
The spill was likely caused by a leak in a pipeline operated by Beta Offshore, about five miles from the coast of Orange County, NBC4 Los Angeles reported. It has shuttered beaches from Huntington Beach south to Laguna, and oil has entered the ecologically important Talbert Marshlands. As of Monday, four oiled birds had been recovered and one, a brown pelican, had to be euthanized.
"Big Oil's offshore drilling puts the health of our communities, our local economies, and our planet at risk," Representative Katie Porter, whose district lies adjacent to Huntington Beach, tweeted in response. "Cleaning up this spill is not enough; we need to stop these disasters from happening in the first place."
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) further pointed out that offshore drilling in California relies on aging infrastructure. The spill occurred on a drilling platform called Platform Elly, which was built four decades ago. In 1999, its operator was fined for another spill.
"I've seen the aging oil platforms off Huntington Beach up close, and I know it's past time to decommission these time bombs," CBD oceans program director Miyoko Sakashita said in a statement. "Even after fines and criminal charges, the oil industry is still spilling and leaking into California's coastal waters. The only solution is to shut this dirty business down."
A sign at Huntington Beach warns against entering the water following a major oil spill in Orange County. Center for Biological Diversity
This isn't the first time that California's oil industry has harmed its unique coastal wildlife. In 2015, the failure of the Plains All American Pipeline's coastal oil pipeline caused the Refugio Oil Spill. This disaster leaked more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil, most of which ended up in the ocean where it killed fish, birds and marine mammals, according to NOAA. The pipeline owner was found criminally responsible by a jury in 2018, and since then seven offshore drilling platforms in the state have been shuttered, CBD reported.
However, the history of the oil industry's devastation in California goes back further than that. The site of the Huntington Beach spill isn't far from the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, The AP noted.
This disaster was caused by a blowout on the Union Oil offshore drilling platform that spilled around 3.5 million to 4.2 million gallons of crude into the Santa Barbara Channel, making it the third largest oil spill in U.S. history. The spill killed thousands of birds and drew attention to how little say local communities had in the use of their waters. The incident helped inspire the first Earth Day, but now activists worry that not enough has changed.
"It's frustrating that spills like this keep happening," Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Damon Nagami told The AP. "I grew up near here, so this feels really personal."
While there are steps that can be taken to better regulate offshore drilling, environmental advocates ultimately argue that the best way to prevent oil spills is also the best way to solve the climate crisis: stop relying on fossil fuels."This spill is yet another reminder that we can have healthy and safe communities, thriving coastal economies, and a stable climate — or we can continue drilling for oil. We can't have both," Monica Embrey, senior associate director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement. "It's long past time to choose a transition away from dirty oil drilling and toward a healthier, safer, clean energy future."
A veterinarian examines a sanderling, a small shore bird brought to the Huntington Beach Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center on Oct. 4, 2021 due to the oil spill. Mindy Schauer / MediaNews Group / Orange County Register via Getty Images
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