Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.
Plastic waste breaks down into smaller pieces until it becomes microscopic and gets swept up into the atmosphere, where it rides the jet stream and travels across continents, the Cornell Chronicle reported. Researchers discovered this has led to a global plastic cycle as microplastics permeate the environment, according to The Guardian.
"We found a lot of legacy plastic pollution everywhere we looked; it travels in the atmosphere and it deposits all over the world," Janice Brahney, lead author of the study and Utah State University assistant professor of natural resources, told the Cornell Chronicle. "This plastic is not new from this year. It's from what we've already dumped into the environment over several decades."
In the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers tested the most likely sources of more than 300 samples of airborne microplastics from 11 sites across the western U.S. To their surprise, the researchers found that almost none of the atmospheric microplastics came from plastic waste in cities and towns. "It just didn't work out that way," Professor Natalie Mahowald from Cornell University, who was part of the research team, told The Guardian.
It turns out that 84 percent of atmospheric microplastics came from roads, 11 percent from oceans and five percent from agricultural soil dust, the scientists wrote.
"We did the modeling to find out the sources, not knowing what the sources might be," Mahowald told the Cornell Chronicle. "It's amazing that this much plastic is in the atmosphere at that level, and unfortunately accumulating in the oceans and on land and just recirculating and moving everywhere, including remote places."
The scientists say the level of plastic pollution is expected to increase, raising "questions on the impact of accumulating plastics in the atmosphere on human health. The inhalation of particles can be irritating to lung tissue and lead to serious diseases," The Guardian reported.
The study coincides with other recent reports by researchers, who confirmed the existence of microplastics in New Zealand and Moscow, where airborne plastics are turning up in remote parts of snowy Siberia.
In the most recent study, scientists also learned that plastic particles were more likely to be blown from fields than roads in Africa and Asia, The Guardian reported.
As plastic production increases every year, the scientists stressed that there remains "large uncertainties in the transport, deposition, and source attribution of microplastics," and wrote that further research should be prioritized.
"What we're seeing right now is the accumulation of mismanaged plastics just going up. Some people think it's going to increase by tenfold [per decade]," Mahowald told The Guardian. "But maybe we could solve this before it becomes a huge problem, if we manage our plastics better, before they accumulate in the environment and swirl around everywhere."
- Microplastics Are Increasing in Our Lives, New Research Finds ... ›
- Microplastics Found in Human Organs for First Time - EcoWatch ›
- New Study: 15.5 Million Tons of Microplastics Litter Ocean Floor ... ›
By Kristie Pladson
Russian scientists are excavating the well-preserved skeleton of a woolly mammoth found in a lake in northern Siberia, The Associated Press reported Friday.
Fragments of the skeleton, which still has some ligaments attached, were discovered by local reindeer herders near the shore of Pechevalavato Lake in Russia's Yamal-Nenets region earlier this week.
The herders found part of the mammoth's skull, several ribs and a fragment of its foot with ligament still attached.
"The lake bottom mud may hold the rest of the mammoth skeleton," Dmitry Frolov, the head of the Research Center for Arctic Studies, told Russian news agency TASS.
"It is necessary to record the exact location of the remains for further studies," he added.
Full Excavation Will Take Time
On Friday, Russian television stations showed footage of scientists looking for more mammoth bones in the lakeside silt.
Several larger fragments have already been found following the original discovery this week. However, excavating the rest of the skeleton will require significant time and special equipment, assuming it all survived in position together, the scientists said.
Finding a complete mammoth skeleton is relatively rare, said Yevgeniya Khozyainova of the Shemanovsky Institute in Salekhard in televised remarks.
Heat Wave Melting Siberia's Permafrost
Experts believe woolly mammoths died out around 10,000 years ago. Reaching 5.5 meters (18 feet) in height and weighing up to 12 tons, they were around twice the size and weight of today's elephant.
The carcasses of several well-preserved mammoths have been uncovered in the permafrost of northern Siberia in recent years, as the region faces a rapid change of climate.
Siberia is currently experiencing a heat wave, in another warning sign to climate experts who believe rising temperatures could melt the permafrost and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere . On Friday, the UN weather agency warned that last month's average temperatures there were 10 degrees Celsius (18 Fahrenheit) above normal.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
The sprawling size and sunny days of Texas make it one of the top states for solar energy. If you live in the Lone Star State and are interested in switching to a solar energy system, you may be wondering: What's the average solar panel cost in Texas?
In this article, we'll discuss the cost of solar panels in Texas, what factors affect pricing, Texas' solar incentives and more. Of course, the only way to know for sure how much you would pay to install a solar panel system on your roof is to receive a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company near you. You can get started by filling out the quick form below.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in Texas?
Thanks to the growing investment in renewable energy technology statewide, homeowners now enjoy a below-average cost of solar in Texas. Based on market research and data from top brands, we've found the average cost of solar panels in Texas to be $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is especially valuable when you take into account the unpredictable Texas energy rates.
Here's how that average calculates into the cost of the most common sizes of home solar panel systems:
|Size of Solar Panel System||Texas Solar Panel Cost||Cost After Federal Tax Credit|
Though this data reflects the statewide averages, you'll need to contact a solar installer near you to get an accurate quote for your home. Savvy customers will get free quotes from multiple companies and compare them to the state averages to make sure they receive the best value possible. Bear in mind that the biggest providers of solar won't always have the best prices.
What Determines the Cost of Solar Panels in Texas?
The main factor determining the cost of solar panel installations in Texas is the homeowner's energy needs. No two homes are the same, and installation costs will look far different for a home needing a basic 5kW system and a home needing 10kW with backup power capabilities. The solar financing and installation company a homeowner chooses will also affect a customer's overall solar costs in Texas. Here's how each factor comes into play:
Similar to phones, cars and other technology, solar products and system costs vary greatly based on their quality, scale and included features. Some customers may be satisfied with a modest array of affordable solar panels and inverters, while others may opt for a system with premium panels, full-home backup power and cutting-edge energy monitoring technology.
The overall cost of solar depends significantly on how a customer chooses to finance their system. The three most common solar financing options include paying in cash, taking out a solar loan and solar leasing.
- The most economical way to purchase solar, an upfront cash purchase provides the best long-term return on investment and the lowest overall cost.
- Customers can choose to take out a solar loan to purchase the system outright and make monthly payments to repay the loan. The typical payback period for a solar loan averages around 10 years. Systems purchased with a loan are still eligible for the federal solar tax credit.
- Signing a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) allows a solar customer to rent solar panels from a company or third party. Though requiring the least amount of money upfront, solar leases provide the least amount of overall value. Also, solar leases aren't eligible for the federal tax credit, as the homeowner doesn't actually own the system.
Solar Installation Company
Texas has seen some of the strongest solar energy market growth over the last few years, and the SEIA reports that there are now nearly 600 solar companies based in Texas, and each is looking to expand its market share.
Price ranges can differ significantly based on the installer. Larger solar providers like Sunrun offer the advantage of solar leases and quick installations. Local providers, on the other hand, provide more personalization and competitive prices to undercut the biggest national companies.
Because of this, it's wise to get quotes from a few local and national installers and compare rates — because of the stiff competition between companies, you could end up saving several thousand dollars.
Texas Solar Incentives
For the most part, Texas taxes are administered by local governments. As a result, the state doesn't offer a large number of statewide solar-related policies, and incentives will depend more on the locality in which you live.
However, all homeowners in the state remain eligible for the federal solar tax credit, and there are some statewide local property tax exemptions for both photovoltaic solar and wind-powered renewable energy systems. Let's walk through how to find what incentives are available to you.
Federal Solar Tax Credit
All Texans can claim the federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC, for PV solar panels and energy storage systems. By claiming the ITC on your tax returns, the policy allows you to deduct 26% of the total cost of the solar system from the taxes you owe the federal government.
The tax credit is available to both residential and commercial system owners who have installed solar panels at any point since 2006. The credit is worth 26% through the end of 2022 and will drop to 22% in 2023. It is set to expire at the end of 2023 unless congress extends it.
Net Metering Policies in Texas
Net metering programs allow customers to sell unused solar energy back to their local utility company in exchange for credits that can be cashed in when panels aren't producing energy. Due to the energy bill savings, this incentive can greatly reduce the solar investment payback period.
As is true with most of Texas' solar rebates and incentives, there is not one net metering program that is offered throughout the entire state. Rather, your eligibility will depend on the policy of your local utility company or municipality. Most utilities in the state have a net metering policy, including American Electric Power (AEP), CPS Energy, Green Mountain Energy, El Paso Electric, TXU Energy in Dallas and more.
The rate at which your local utility will compensate for this excess energy will depend on your local policy, so we encourage you to look into the policy offered by your utility company.
Local Solar Rebates in Texas
In addition to identifying your local net metering program, look into any local rebates available to you. Homeowners who live in the top cities for solar in Texas, like Austin, San Marcos or Sunset Valley might have more luck than customers in other areas. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency has a full list of local rebates, solar loan programs and more.
FAQ: Solar Panel Cost Texas
Is it worth going solar in Texas?
Long, sunny days and below-average solar installation costs make Texas one of the best states in the U.S. for generating energy with solar panels. The ample sunshine provides more than enough energy for most families, serving up huge benefits to homes in Texas equipped with solar panels.
How much does it cost to install solar panels in Texas?
As of 2021, the average cost of solar panels in Texas is $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is slightly below the national average due to the resource availability in Texas, current energy costs and the state's available sunlight. The best way to assess how much solar would cost you is to consult local providers near you for a free estimate.
Do solar panels increase home value in Texas?
Solar panels increase home value everywhere, but mostly in areas with generous net metering policies and solar rebates. As such, the proportion at which solar panels increase home value in Texas corresponds with the areas with the most solar-friendly policies.
How much do solar panels cost for a 2,500 sq foot house?
Though knowing the size of a house is helpful in determining how many solar panels could fit on its roof, the energy use of the house is the more important factor in determining solar panel cost in Texas. The higher your energy use, the greater your solar needs will be.
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.
A new study published Wednesday found that the destruction of primary forest increased by 12% in 2020, impacting ecosystems that store vast amounts of carbon and shelter abundant biodiversity.
Brazil saw the worst losses, three times higher than the next highest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the report from Global Forest Watch (GFW) citing satellite data.
The driving factor of deforestation has been a combination of a demand for commodities, increased agriculture, and climate change.
2020 was meant to be a "landmark year" in the fight against deforestation in which companies, countries and international organizations had pledged to halve or completely stop forest loss, said the report.
What Were the Main Takeaways?
The report, which included data from the University of Maryland, study cited in the report registered the destruction of 10.4 million acres (4.2 million hectares) of primary forest.
The loss of tree cover ー which refers to plantations as well as natural forest ー was a total of 30 million acres. Australia saw a ninefold increase in tree cover loss from late 2019 to early 2020 compared to 2018 primarily driven by extreme weather.
Heat and drought also stoked huge fires in Siberia and deep into the Amazon, researchers said.
The findings did, however, show signs of hope, particularly in southeast Asia. Indonesia and Malaysia saw downward trends for deforestation after implementing regulations such as a temporary palm oil license ban — although that is set to expire in 2021.
Researchers Voice Concern
These losses constitute a "climate emergency. They're a biodiversity crisis, a humanitarian disaster, and a loss of economic opportunity," said Frances Seymour of the World Resources Institute, which is behind the
The destruction of tropical forests released vast amounts of CO2 in 2020, a total of 2.6 million tons. That equals the annual amount of emissions from India's 570 million cars, researchers said.
COVID's Impact on Deforestation
The study suggested that COVID-19 restrictions may have had an effect when it came to illegal harvesting because forests were less protected or the return of large numbers of people to rural areas.
Researchers, however, said that little had changed when it comes to the trajectory of forest destruction. They warned the worst could still be to come if countries slash protections in an attempt to ramp up economic growth, hampered by the pandemic.
If deforestation goes unchecked it could lead to a negative feedback loop ー where trees lost leads to more carbon in the air, which in turn leads to increased climate change impacts leading to more trees being lost, researchers said.
The aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic could offer and opportunity to reimagine policies and economies in a way that protects forest before it is too late, the report suggests.
Seymour said the most "ominous signal" from the 2020 data is the instances of forests themselves falling victim to climate change.
"The longer we wait to stop forestation, and get other sectors on to net zero trajectories, the more likely it is that our natural carbon sinks will go up in smoke," she said.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Charli Shield
Local authorities in the eastern Russian city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy have been warning people against visiting the nearby Khalaktyrsky beach, after surfers complained of partially losing their eyesight and experiencing headaches, fevers and nausea when venturing into the water.
"I noticed the ocean had a strange taste and didn't smell like it usually does. My eyes hurt, I had a dry, scratchy throat and my body itched horribly," Anton Morozov, founder of local surfing school, Snowave, told DW.
He and his team first noticed their symptoms in early September, but didn't associate them with the ocean until later in the month, when they reported them to the authorities.
Since then, images of dead octopuses, seals, sea urchins and starfish littered along the beach have been shared on social media, with some beachgoers saying dead fish look as if they have been boiled.
Local Authorities Investigate Three Causes
The authorities took samples from the ocean, where by the end of September, Morozov said a "yellowish-greenish liquid" had appeared along a 20 to 30-kilometer (12-18-mile) stretch of the shoreline.
Local investigators are now looking into three main reasons for the water pollution, including a toxic spill, volcanic activity in the area and naturally occurring deadly algal blooms, governor of the Kamchatka region, Vladimir Solodov, told a press conference on Monday.
On a video posted to Instagram, the governor said the situation was normalizing due to the ocean's unique ability to self-regenerate.
"As I said, we will push for a full and meticulous investigation of the reasons behind what happened, but now we can observe that the situation has significantly improved in the past few days."
The region's natural resources minister, Alexei Kumarkov, said tests on samples had thus far only detected unusually high levels of the chemical phenol and oil products in the water.
However, later on Monday, Russia's Natural Resources Minister said that the pollution was unlikely to be manmade, the RIA news agency reported.
Ecology Minister Dmitry Kobylkin said that so far research had only uncovered slightly raised levels of iron and phosphates.
He also said that the incident might have been prompted by the stormy conditions recently experienced in the region of eastern Russia.
Little Evidence for Oil Spill
Environmentalist Dmitry Lisitsyn, head of local NGO Sakhalin Environmental Watch, told DW there have been no visible signs of oil on the surface of the water, and the bottom-dwelling sea creatures that have been found dead are not normally linked to oil spills.
"Petroleum products are lighter than water — they form a film at the top of the water, which mainly kills birds. Oil products aren't poisonous enough to kill such a huge amount of animals," he said.
Nicky Cariglia, an independent marine pollution advisor, said oil spill events are often "very obvious", and that though in some cases it is possible for spills of very light oil to kill marine animals that live on the sea floor, oil tends to float on the surface of the water.
"The first thing you see when you have an oil spill is the presence of oil — whether it's crude oil or bunker oil or even lighter types of oil," she told DW.
As to the high concentrations of phenol in the water, Cariglia said it is not enough to indicate whether the event is a result of human activity or a naturally occurring phenomenon.
"High levels of phenol concentration can result from land-based runoff — if there have been, for example, a lot of fires — or from harmful algal blooms, or also from other decomposing organic materials," she said.
Deeper Research Needed
Lisitsyn is "convinced" the water pollution is linked to a leak of decades-old expired rocket fuel from the Radygino military base located 10 kilometers from Khalaktyrsky beach.
"It's very likely that the waste disposal site there started to leak, maybe the storage tanks broke and a large amount of rocket fuel was washed into the ocean," Lisitsyn told DW, speculating that the noxious liquid could have been washed into the ocean during a cyclone that hit the area on September 9.
He says it is now up to authorities to launch a thorough investigation into the source of the contamination, which includes determining whether there is an ongoing leak.
"The military base needs to be examined, as do the storage locations and all the streams of water that flow down from it into the ocean," he said, adding that the components of rocket fuel are carcinogenic and that if it were spilling uncontained into the ocean, it could have long-term effects — not just for marine life.
"They are very harmful to people. I wouldn't recommend walking along this beach or breathing in the fumes there."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
- Wildfires Are Burning 5 Million Acres in Siberia and Eastern Russia ... ›
- 20,000 Ton Oil Spill in Russian Arctic Has 'Catastrophic ... ›
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›
By Tim Schauenberg
Although wetlands cover less than 4% of the Earth's surface, 40% of all animal species live or reproduce in them. One-third of all organic matter on our planet is stored in places like the gigantic Pantanal wetland in western Brazil, the Sudd floodplain in southern Sudan or the Wasjugan Marsh in western Siberia.
Wetlands filter, store and supply the planet with water and food — more than a billion people worldwide depend on them for sustenance.
They also play a key role in regulating the planet's climate, according to James Dalton of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), an umbrella organization of numerous international governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Globally, peatlands and peat soils store twice as much carbon as the total biomass of all the world's forests combined.
From Storing CO2 to Releasing It
Dams, groundwater usage, increasing water pollution, and industrial and agricultural production have reduced wetlands worldwide by 35% since 1970. Latin America tops the table with an estimated 60% of areas destroyed — not including losses in the Orinoco River region of Colombia and Venezuela and the Amazon. In Asian countries, about a third of all wetlands have been destroyed, and in Africa more than 40% have been lost.
The biggest contributor to rising water stress worldwide is agriculture. According to World Bank figures, 70% of the annual drinking water demand flows into agriculture. Much of the water is used to raise livestock and grow livestock feed, such as soybeans.
The draining of areas for peat extraction is doubly damaging to the climate. Not only is CO2 storage capacity destroyed, but "When you drain these lands, you also release the gases that are stored in these areas," Dalton warned. That includes methane, a gas that is particularly harmful to the climate.
As temperatures rise and wetlands dry out, they can go from vast greenhouse gas stores to greenhouse gas sources. When they are still wet, they store carbon. But if they dry, decomposition of the biological material begins. This process releases carbon. This is also true of permafrost soils in Antarctica and Canada. As temperatures rise, the melting accelerates. Their disappearance would release about as much CO2 as if the United States continued burning fossil fuel at the current annual rate until 2100. Record temperatures in Siberia last year also caused huge fires on peat soils. Burning peat releases 10 to 100 times more CO2 than burning trees.
Wetlands Can Help Combat Natural Disasters
Climate change is rendering environmental disasters such as storms and floods more severe. Wetlands such as mangrove forests and salt marshes and swamps near the coast can help counteract this.
Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz calculated that salt marshes and swamps reduced the damage to homes from Hurricane Sandy on the US East Coast in 2012 by a total of $625 million. In some places, damage was averted by as much as 70%. The reason: Wetlands reduce the force of the waves. Aside from the ecological contribution, "that's the value of our wetlands today — and that's why we need to invest in better protection and make sure they're protected," said Siddharth Narayan, one of the study's authors. "If they are lost, the damage we see will increase."
Can Lost Wetlands Be Restored?
The process of restoring destroyed wetlands is long and costly.
After almost 10 years, some 600 hectares (148 acres) of salt marshes and parts of a natural lagoon in the east of the UK were restored in 2018. More than 500 years ago, people drained the area for agriculture, largely destroying the natural wetland. Aside from providing a natural habitat for countless plants and animals, the wetland eases the pressure on the water conservation dams. The value to coastal protection alone is estimated at a billion pounds.
"Of course, restoration will be needed in many places. But if we can protect what we have for now, I think we should focus on that," Narayan said.
"We can't replicate these systems," added Dalton of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The irony, he said, is that we are de facto destroying some of the most efficient systems for achieving climate and biodiversity goals. Peaty forests in the Congo, the Amazon, Indonesia and Siberia, and mangrove forests urgently require better protection, Dalton said. To date, less than one-fifth of the world's wetlands, covering an area the size of Mexico, are protected. The majority of this area is in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Zachary Lawrence and Amy Butler
At the start of February 2021, a major snowstorm hit the northeast United States, with some areas receiving well over two feet of snow. Just a few weeks earlier, Spain experienced a historic and deadly snowstorm and dangerously low temperatures. Northern Siberia is no stranger to cold, but in mid-January 2021, some Siberian cities reported temperatures below minus 70 F. Media headlines hint that the polar vortex has arrived, as if it were some sort of ice tornado that wreaks wintry havoc wherever it strikes.
As atmospheric scientists, we cringe when the term polar vortex is used to loosely refer to blasts of cold weather. The actual polar vortex can't put snow in your backyard, but changes in the polar vortex can load the dice for wintry weather – and this year, the dice rolled Yahtzee.
The Winds of Winter
The polar vortex is an enormous, three-dimensional ring of winds that surrounds the North and South poles during each hemisphere's winter. These winds are located about 10 to 30 miles above Earth's surface, in the layer of the atmosphere known as the stratosphere. They blow from west to east with sustained speeds easily exceeding 100 mph. In the darkness of the winter polar night, temperatures within the polar vortex can easily get lower than minus 110 F.
Fortunately for everyone, the stratospheric polar vortex itself won't appear outside your front door. The polar vortex does influence winter weather, but it is more like a domino – when it is knocked over, it can start a chain of events that later result in wild weather.
The strength of the polar vortex can vary widely during winter, and these variations can lead to shifts in the strength and position of the jet stream, the fast-flowing river of air in the troposphere beneath the polar vortex. When the jet stream changes, it affects the movement of weather systems, causing different parts of the world to see much warmer or colder, or much wetter or drier conditions.
The Domino Effect
Since the Earth's atmosphere is one giant shell of air that moves like a fluid, the polar vortex is interconnected with the weather that moves around the Earth at lower altitudes. Normal variations in the jet stream and weather can disturb the structure of the vortex in the stratosphere. Like an elastic band, the vortex usually rebounds back to its normal shape and size, maintaining its strong winds and low temperatures.
Between December (left) and January (right), the polar vortex moved entirely off the North Pole and lost much of its structural integrity. Zachary Lawrence/CIRES/NOAA
But sometimes, these weather and jet stream variations can knock the polar vortex off balance, causing significant wobbles in its shape, location, temperatures and winds. When this happens, the structural integrity of the polar vortex begins to break down. If this happens often enough over a period of time, everything can go haywire with the polar vortex as the winds break down and the vortex warms up.
As the polar vortex deforms between December and January, the jet stream became much wavier and brought cold storms farther south. Zachary Lawrence/CIRES/NOAA
This is precisely what has unfolded this year: On Jan. 5, the polar vortex was completely thrown out of whack by an event called a sudden stratospheric warming. Sudden stratospheric warming is the technical name for these violent disturbances that severely distort and weaken the vortex, knocking it off of the pole or even ripping it apart. When this happens, temperatures in the normally cold polar stratosphere explosively rise by as much as 90 F over the span of a few days – hence the name of these events.
Here is my "official" 3D animation of this year's stratospheric #PolarVortex split. Another beautiful event! https://t.co/ml59N1cDoh— Zac Lawrence (@Zac Lawrence)1547503640.0
At this point, the domino has tipped over: Eventually the jet stream feels the effects of the weakened polar vortex above, and it can begin to undulate. When the jet stream gets wavy, it can dip farther south, bringing cold air and winter storms with it.
The January 2021 event pushed the polar vortex from its normal position over the North Pole all the way over to Europe and Siberia, nearly pulling it apart multiple times in the process. It can take weeks or months for the polar vortex to recover from something like this. While the vortex pieces itself back together, the undulating, curvy jet stream can bring frigid Arctic air and winter storms to the U.S. and Europe while allowing unusually warm weather to get into the far north.
A Strong Polar Vortex Means Warmer, Not Colder, Weather
In some winters, weather systems barely affect the polar vortex at all, allowing the vortex to grow colder with faster winds. This can have the opposite effect on the jet stream, causing it to keep cold Arctic air from the polar regions locked up north. This is what happened during the Northern Hemisphere winter of 2020, when the polar vortex was extraordinarily strong and many regions experienced an exceptionally warm and mild winter.
Calling any blast of cold air a polar vortex is wrong. The behavior of the polar vortex doesn't just portend colder weather – it can also foreshadow much warmer weather. Most of the time the polar vortex has little influence on winter weather as it flows like normal, miles above the surface. But forecasting and monitoring huge disturbances to the polar vortex allows us to anticipate the chain of events that may leave feet of snow and frigid weather at your doorstep.
Zachary Lawrence is a Research Scientist, University of Colorado Boulder.
Amy Butler is a Chemistry & Climate Processes Research Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Disclosure statement: Zachary Lawrence has received funding from NOAA. Amy Butler has received funding from NOAA and NSF.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- How Wind Power is Saving Millions During Polar Vortex - EcoWatch ›
- Why the 'Polar Vortex' Does Not Disprove Global Warming - EcoWatch ›
- Polar Vortex: Everything You Need to Know - EcoWatch ›
- Polar Vortex Power Outages: 6 Things to Know about Supply, Demand, and our Electricity Future - EcoWatch ›
- Record Snow Hits Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Causing Mass Power Outages - EcoWatch ›
By Anthony Richardson, Chhaya Chaudhary, David Schoeman, and Mark John Costello
The tropical water at the equator is renowned for having the richest diversity of marine life on Earth, with vibrant coral reefs and large aggregations of tunas, sea turtles, manta rays and whale sharks. The number of marine species naturally tapers off as you head towards the poles.
Ecologists have assumed this global pattern has remained stable over recent centuries — until now. Our recent study found the ocean around the equator has already become too hot for many species to survive, and that global warming is responsible.
In other words, the global pattern is rapidly changing. And as species flee to cooler water towards the poles, it's likely to have profound implications for marine ecosystems and human livelihoods. When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90% of all marine species died.
The Bell Curve is Warping Dangerously
If you look at each line in this chart, you can see a slight dip in total species richness between 1955 and 1974. This deepens substantially in the following decades. Anthony Richardson, Author provided
This global pattern — where the number of species starts lower at the poles and peaks at the equator — results in a bell-shaped gradient of species richness. We looked at distribution records for nearly 50,000 marine species collected since 1955 and found a growing dip over time in this bell shape.
So, as our oceans warm, species have tracked their preferred temperatures by moving towards the poles. Although the warming at the equator of 0.6℃ over the past 50 years is relatively modest compared with warming at higher latitudes, tropical species have to move further to remain in their thermal niche compared with species elsewhere.
As ocean warming has accelerated over recent decades due to climate change, the dip around at the equator has deepened.
We predicted such a change five years ago using a modeling approach, and now we have observational evidence.
For each of the 10 major groups of species we studied (including pelagic fish, reef fish and molluscs) that live in the water or on the seafloor, their richness either plateaued or declined slightly at latitudes with mean annual sea-surface temperatures above 20℃.
Today, species richness is greatest in the northern hemisphere in latitudes around 30°N (off southern China and Mexico) and in the south around 20°S (off northern Australia and southern Brazil).
This Has Happened Before
We shouldn't be surprised global biodiversity has responded so rapidly to global warming. This has happened before, and with dramatic consequences.
252 million years ago…
At the end of the Permian geological period about 252 million years ago, global temperatures warmed by 10℃ over 30,000-60,000 years as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from volcano eruptions in Siberia.
A 2020 study of the fossils from that time shows the pronounced peak in biodiversity at the equator flattened and spread. During this mammoth rearranging of global biodiversity, 90% of all marine species were killed.
125,000 years ago…
A 2012 study showed that more recently, during the rapid warming around 125,000 years ago, there was a similar swift movement of reef corals away from the tropics, as documented in the fossil record. The result was a pattern similar to the one we describe, although there was no associated mass extinction.
Authors of the study suggested their results might foreshadow the effects of our current global warming, ominously warning there could be mass extinctions in the near future as species move into the subtropics, where they might struggle to compete and adapt.
During the last ice age, which ended around 15,000 years ago, the richness of forams (a type of hard-shelled, single-celled plankton) peaked at the equator and has been dropping there ever since. This is significant as plankton is a keystone species in the foodweb.
Our study shows that decline has accelerated in recent decades due to human-driven climate change.
The Profound Implications
Losing species in tropical ecosystems means ecological resilience to environmental changes is reduced, potentially compromising ecosystem persistence.
In subtropical ecosystems, species richness is increasing. This means there'll be species invaders, novel predator-prey interactions, and new competitive relationships. For example, tropical fish moving into Sydney Harbour compete with temperate species for food and habitat.
This could result in ecosystem collapse — as was seen at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods — in which species go extinct and ecosystem services (such as food supplies) are permanently altered.
The changes we describe will also have profound implications for human livelihoods. For example, many tropical island nations depend on the revenue from tuna fishing fleets through the selling of licenses in their territorial waters. Highly mobile tuna species are likely to move rapidly toward the subtropics, potentially beyond sovereign waters of island nations.
Similarly, many reef species important for artisanal fishers — and highly mobile megafauna such as whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles that support tourism — are also likely to move toward the subtropics.
The movement of commercial and artisanal fish and marine megafauna could compromise the ability of tropical nations to meet the Sustainable Development Goals concerning zero hunger and marine life.
Is There Anything We Can Do?
One pathway is laid out in the Paris Climate Accords and involves aggressively reducing our emissions. Other opportunities are also emerging that could help safeguard biodiversity and hopefully minimise the worst impacts of it shifting away from the equator.
Currently 2.7% of the ocean is conserved in fully or highly protected reserves. This is well short of the 10% target by 2020 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
But a group of 41 nations is pushing to set a new target of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030.
This "30 by 30" target could ban seafloor mining and remove fishing in reserves that can destroy habitats and release as much carbon dioxide as global aviation. These measures would remove pressures on biodiversity and promote ecological resilience.
Designing climate-smart reserves could further protect biodiversity from future changes. For example, reserves for marine life could be placed in refugia where the climate will be stable over the foreseeable future.
We now have evidence that climate change is impacting the best-known and strongest global pattern in ecology. We should not delay actions to try to mitigate this.
Anthony Richardson: Professor, The University of Queensland. Chhaya Chaudhary: University of Auckland, David Schoeman: Professor of Global-Change Ecology, University of the Sunshine Coast, Mark John Costello: Professor, University of Auckland
Disclosure statement: Anthony Richardson receives funding from the Australian Research Council.
Chhaya Chaudhary works for Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. During her PhD studies (2014- 2019), she received part- funding from the European Marine Observation Data Network (EMODnet) Biology project funded by the European Commission's Directorate—General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE), and received U21 Doctoral Mobility Scholarship from the University of Auckland in 2016.
David Schoeman receives funding from the Australian Research Council.
Mark John Costello does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- Netflix's 'Seaspiracy': Viewers React to Fishing Documentary ... ›
- Mysterious Circling Behavior Observed in Large Marine Animals ... ›
- National Geographic Recognizes Unique Southern Ocean as Earth's Fifth Ocean ›
- Earth Lost 14% of Coral Reefs in Just One Decade of Climate Crisis, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
As of April 27, ten times the amount of land was on fire in the Krasnoyarsk region compared to the same time last year, The Siberian Times reported. In Transbaikal, meanwhile, three times as much land was burning, and in the Amur region, there were 1.5 times as many fires.
"A critical situation with fires has developed in Siberia and the Far East," Emergencies Minister Evgeny Zinichev said in a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin reported by The Siberian Times.
Wildfires ‘critical’ in Siberia and Russian Far East, up to ten times worse than last year. People are flouting cor… https://t.co/OeLh97anyO— The Siberian Times (@The Siberian Times)1588367484.0
Experts and agencies outside Russia have also reported on the extent of the fires. London School of Economics geographer Thomas Smith told Earther that around five million acres of Russian forest and grassland were on fire, and the largest fire was one million acres total, around the size of Glacier National Park.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also captured the fires from space April 27.
NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)
"On April 23, 2020, strong winds helped to push fires set by locals to dry grass out of control," NASA wrote. "The regions of Kemerovo and Novosibirsk among others have been the hardest hit to date. Nine Siberian regions have been affected by these wildfires. Clouds of smoke have swept across the Siberian landscape."
In Novosibirsk, around 50 homes were burned and in Kemerovo, 27, The Siberian Times reported.
Human activity provides the immediate spark for the fires. Farmers burn dry grass even though the practice was banned in 2015, and, this year, the coronavirus lockdown has made the situation worse.
"People self-isolated outdoors and forgot about fire safety rules," Russian forestry chief Sergei Anoprienko told The Siberian Times. "In some regions, the temperature is already around 30C, and people just can't keep themselves in their apartments. People rushed outdoors, and as a result we have a surge of thermal points."
But human activity is also behind the conditions that make the fires more likely. Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the rest of the planet, and last winter was so warm that Moscow had to truck in artificial snow for a New Year's display, The Guardian reported. Wildfires in Siberia in summer 2019 got so bad that the government was forced to declare a state of emergency. The fires came as June 2019 temperatures in Siberia were almost ten degrees Celsius warmer than average. 2020 is now shaping up to be a difficult fire year as well.
"A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements," Zinichev told The Siberian Times. He also said unusually hot weather was combining with strong winds to fan the flames.
2020 could be a bad year for wildfires across the globe, Earther pointed out. The Amazon's fire season could be worse than last year's and California only got half of its normal precipitation this winter.
- Australia Wildfires Were Far Worse Than Climate Models Predicted ... ›
- 'Unprecedented' Wildfires in Arctic Have Scientists Concerned ... ›
- A Siberian Town Just Hit 100 F Degrees - EcoWatch ›
- Siberian Heat Wave Was Made 600x More Likely by the Climate Crisis, Scientists Say - EcoWatch ›
- Unexplained Eco-Disaster in Russia Kills Scores of Marine Life - EcoWatch ›
By Anke Rasper
"Today's interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
The report, released Friday, looks at the national climate efforts of 75 states that have already submitted their updated "nationally determined contributions," or NDCs. The countries included in the report are responsible for about 30% of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions.
While most have increased their individual climate efforts, only two of the worst emitters, including the UK and the EU, have stepped up their goals considerably. And the member states' plans to tackle the climate crisis "are very far from putting us on a pathway that will meet our Paris Agreement goals," said Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of UN Climate Change.
The individual contributions submitted to date would only cut about 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions — a far cry from the 45% cut needed by 2030 to meet the 1.5 degree goal, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In 2015, 195 countries and the European Union had agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global heating way below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius.
UN Chief Guterres urged major emitters to "step up with much more ambitious emissions reductions targets for 2030" well before the next UN Climate Conference, slated for Glasgow in November.
The interim report also stressed that poor countries were banking on the funds pledged under the Paris agreement to protect forests and other ecosystems, to carry out climate measures.
Nations Need to Improve Their Targets
The UN's interim report, which looked at the NDCs available as of December, provides a snapshot ahead of the COP 26 climate conference in November. The remaining 122 signatory countries have yet to define their updated contributions, including the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases: China and the U.S.
The Paris agreement is a voluntary process and leaves it up to national governments to decide how they want to achieve their self-imposed targets. There is no provision for sanctions or punitive mechanisms against countries that fail to meet their climate targets.
Will the U.S. Take the Lead on Climate Change?
Many hope that the U.S. rejoining the Paris agreement will provide a much-needed boost to international climate ambitions. U.S. special envoy for climate John Kerry has already announced that the U.S. will present "very aggressive, strong NDCs" ahead of the special climate summit in Washington on April 22.
The U.S. under the Biden administration also wants to expand its climate diplomacy to include China in particular, currently the largest emitter. China has already announced plans to increase its national targets this year.
Other major emitters, such as Russia and Brazil, have so far shown little ambition to commit to more. Former head of the UN Climate Secretariat, Christiana Figueres, was optimistic nonetheless that "many large emitters such as the U.S., China, Japan and others" would submit ambitious plans, because it was "in their own competitive interests to reach 50% emissions reductions by 2030."
Together with Canada, the U.S. is also considering slapping higher import duties on countries that are not doing enough to save the climate. However, it is unclear whether such sanctions are compatible with the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Climate Change Existential Threat to Humanity
UN Climate Change Chief Patricia Espinosa pointed out that the last 10 years had been the hottest decade in human history. The record rise in temperatures, for example in the Arctic winter and northern Siberia, and dramatic winter weather slamming the traditionally mild southern U.S., were being amplified by the now measurably slowing Gulf Stream in the Atlantic — something that could be irreversible.
"It's time for all remaining Parties to step up, fulfill what they promised to do under the Paris Agreement and submit their NDCs as soon as possible," Espinosa said, adding "if this task was urgent before, it's crucial now."
And with the world focused largely on the coronavirus crisis, Espinosa stressed that any economic measures to offset the pandemic needed to take the climate crisis into account.
According to Espinosa, this is precisely why it is so important to tackle the global crises — such as COVID-19, the climate crisis, and the dramatic loss of biodiversity — as a whole.
"As we rebuild, we cannot revert to the old normal. The NDCs must reflect this reality and major emitters, especially G20 nations, must lead the way," she said.
The expanded final report, which will include all national climate contributions, will be released shortly before the UN climate conference in November. COP 26 President Alok Sharma urged all member states to "recognize that the window for action to safeguard our planet is closing fast."
Reposted with permission from DW.
- World Leaders Fall Short of Meeting Paris Agreement Goal - EcoWatch ›
- UN Climate Change Conference COP26 Delayed to November ... ›
- 5 Years After Paris: How Countries' Climate Policies Match up to ... ›
- Biden Win Puts World 'Within Striking Distance' of 1.5 C Paris Goal ... ›
- Biden Reaffirms Commitment to Rejoining Paris Agreement ... ›
- U.S., China Announce Climate Actions at UN General Assembly - EcoWatch ›
The river crosses the huge herd's migration route south, and provides Kirillin's one chance to tag them with radio transmitters. It's not a job for the faint of heart, but it is the only way to gather vital data on these animals' migration patterns — and try to uncover why their numbers are falling.
Meanwhile, Kirillin's colleague at the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, ethnologist Alexander Volkovitsky is researching the life and customs of the Nenets.
Nomadic reindeer herders who move with their domesticated herds animals by season, the Nenets cover exhausting distances across the Russian Arctic. Even small climatic changes can have a dramatic effect on their environment, and Volkovitsky wants to understand what global warming will mean for the Nenets' traditional way of life.
A film by Boas Schwarz
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
- A Siberian Town Just Hit 100 F Degrees - EcoWatch ›
- The Arctic Is on Fire and Warming Twice as Fast as the Rest of the ... ›
- Siberian Forest Fires Increase Fivefold in Week Since Record High ... ›
By Stuart Braun
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the dire threat of climate change Wednesday in a speech on the state of the planet delivered at Columbia University in New York.
"The state of the planet is broken, humanity is waging war on nature," he said. "Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury."
Referring to the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) provisional report, The State of the Global Climate 2020, that was released Wednesday, he reiterated that the last decade was the hottest on record, and that ice sheet decline, permafrost melting, vast climate fires and unprecedented hurricanes were just some of the consequences.
"Stop the plunder," Guterres added, referring to the ongoing deforestation that is also fueling climate change. "And start the healing."
Climate policies have failed to rise to the challenge, Guterres said, noting that emissions in 2020 are 60% higher than in 1990. "We are heading for a temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (by 2100)."
Yet the secretary-general sees hope for 2021, saying it's time to "build a truly global coalition towards carbon neutrality."
This goal will require net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. More than 110 countries are already committed to carbon neutrality by this date, he noted, representing more than 65% of emissions. Central to achieving this goal will be to encourage renewable energy by instituting a carbon price and phasing out fossil fuel financing and subsidies.
"There is no vaccine for the planet," he said regarding the need to build a global climate action movement.
Last Six Years Are Six Hottest on Record
The WMO state of climate report referenced by Guterres confirms that 2020 is currently placed as the second warmest for the year-to-date when compared to equivalent periods in the past.
The annual climate scorecard details a litany of symptoms of a heating planet: a high frequency of severe droughts, unparalleled major hurricanes, retreating sea ice, heavy rain and flooding across Asia and Africa and extensive marine heat waves.
Headlining the global climate report is confirmation in 2020 that global heating is accelerating. Though 2016 remains the warmest year on record to date, it kicked off with a very strong El Niño warm phase, via which hotter oceans elevate global temperatures.
Four years later, these peak temperatures have continued, despite a cooler La Niña weather phase that started in September, and comparatively weak El Niño conditions. The global mean temperature for January to October 2020 was around 1.2°C above the 1850–1900 baseline.
"With 2020 on course to be one of the three warmest years on record, the past six years, 2015–2020, are likely to be the six warmest on record," states the WMO climate report.
In the Siberian Arctic, temperatures were more than 5 degrees Celsius above average in 2020, reaching as high as 38 Celsius at Verkhoyansk in late June, provisionally the highest known temperature anywhere north of the Arctic Circle.
"We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the U.S. West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe."
Despite Pandemic, Greenhouse Gases Still Rising
The lockdowns implemented to slow the coronavirus pandemic have only resulted in a "temporary reduction in emissions" in 2020, according to the report. As a result, there will be a "practically indistinguishable" slowing of the fast-increasing CO2 concentrations recorded in 2019.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations generated largely by fossil fuel burning reached new highs in 2019, with carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) levels rising to a larger degree from 2018 (2.6 parts per million) than the increases from the previous two years.
"Real-time data from specific locations, including Mauna Loa (Hawaii) and Cape Grim (Tasmania) indicate that levels of CO2, CH4 and N2O continued to increase in 2020," stated the report.
This increase comes at a time when there should be rapid cuts in emissions in line with the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C.
Global Heating Symptoms Getting Worse
The report also notes that sea levels have risen at a higher rate year-on-year due partly to increased melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.
Meanwhile, over 80% of the ocean area has experienced at least one marine heat wave in 2020. In addition, 43% of the ocean experienced marine heat waves that were classified as "strong."
2019 also saw the highest ocean heat content on record.
Heavy rain and extensive flooding affected large parts of Africa and Asia in 2020, especially across much of the Sahel, the Greater Horn of Africa, the India subcontinent and neighboring areas, China, Korea and Japan. With 30 named storms (as of November 17, 2020), the north Atlantic hurricane season recorded the highest ever number of named storms.
Moreover, severe drought affected much of the interior of South America in 2020, with the badly affected areas including northern Argentina, Paraguay and western border areas of Brazil.
"Climate and weather events have triggered significant population movements and have severely affected vulnerable people on the move, including in the Pacific region and Central America," the climate report said.
Reposted with permission from DW.
- UN: Climate Crisis Has Doubled Natural Disasters in Last 20 Years ... ›
- Countries Pledge to Reverse Destruction of Nature After Missing ... ›
- 13 Must-Read Climate Change Reports for 2020 - EcoWatch ›
- The UN Wants to Protect 30% of the Planet by 2030 - EcoWatch ›
The most immediate impacts of the climate crisis are in the nether-regions world of the world where temperatures are extreme and inhospitable. One of the most alarming examples is playing out in Siberia, which just saw temperatures reach triple digits as it endured its warmest month ever. That June heatwave in Siberia has led to some staggering numbers, according to scientists, as CNN reported.
The wildfires in Siberia started much earlier in the spring than ever before, according to The Washington Post. Permafrost is thawing, infrastructure is crumbling, and sea ice is dramatically vanishing.
"We always expected the Arctic to change faster than the rest of the globe," said Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, to The Washington Post. "But I don't think anyone expected the changes to happen as fast as we are seeing them happen."
The wildfires released an estimated 59 megatonnes of carbon dioxide across Siberia in June, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). This spate of fires on landscapes that are typically too cold, wet, and icy to burn is raising alarms for ecologists and climate scientists, according to National Geographic. They fear the rash of blazes is another sign that the Arctic is undergoing rapid changes that could set off a series of consequences on a global scale.
The fires can be a double whammy for the Siberian ecosystem. If they become a regular occurrence, it could cause new species to colonize the area, which would set the stage for more fires. Also, the increased intensity and duration of the fires may accelerate the climate crisis by thawing the ground and releasing trapped carbon that has accumulated in frozen organic matter, as National Geographic reported.
"By how big they are and how hot they are, I would say there's no way they're not burning down," said Amber Soja, an associate research fellow with the National Institute of Aerospace and an expert on Siberian wildfires, to National Geographic.
Already, the area's carbon dioxide emissions for June were its highest in the 18 years of the CAMS dataset, surpassing the record of 53 megatonnes set just one year ago in June 2019.
"Higher temperatures and drier surface conditions are providing ideal conditions for these fires to burn and to persist for so long over such a large area," said CAMS senior scientist Mark Parrington, as CNN reported.
"We have seen very similar patterns in the fire activity and soil moisture anomalies across the region in our fire monitoring activities over the last few years."
Siberia also had a warmer than average winter. CAMS said that the warm winter meant that "zombie" blazes were able to smolder through the winter and may have reignited this spring, according to Phys.org.
Globally, June 2020 was more than half a degree Celsius warmer than the 1981-2010 average for the same month, and on a par with June 2019 as the warmest ever registered. Siberia, which is larger than the U.S. and Mexico combined, was more than 5 degrees Celsius above normal for June, according to Copernicus Climate Change Services satellite data, as Phys.org reported.
Some parts of Siberia had an average temperature that was 10 degrees Celsius, or 18 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than average. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet through a process known as Arctic amplification, as CNN reported. Arctic ice melt has accelerated, which leads to seasonal snow cover that isn't as white and absorbs more sunlight, which leads to more warming, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"To me what's really shocking is how warm it's been relative to average for so many weeks and months," said Zack Labe, a climate scientist at Colorado State University, as National Geographic reported.
- Zombie Fires Could Be Awakening in the Arctic - EcoWatch ›
- Siberian Forest Fires Increase Fivefold in Week Since Record High ... ›
- Rewilding the Arctic Could Slow the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- 550,000 Acres on Fire in Alaska in Latest Sign of the Climate Crisis ... ›
- 'Unprecedented' Wildfires in Arctic Have Scientists Concerned ... ›
- Siberian Heat Wave Was Made 600x More Likely by the Climate Crisis, Scientists Say - EcoWatch ›
- Reindeer and Their Nomadic Herders Face Climate Change - EcoWatch ›
- Arctic Wildfires Are Changing, With Big Implications for the Global Climate - EcoWatch ›