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By Scott L. Montgomery
The Trump administration has announced that it is opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development – the latest twist in a decades-long battle over the fate of this remote area. Its timing is truly terrible.
Years of Debate<p>ANWR is inarguably an ecological treasure. With 45 species of mammals and over 200 species of birds from six continents, the refuge <a href="https://www.amnh.org/explore/science-bulletins/earth/documentaries/reading-the-rocks-the-search-for-oil-in-anwr/essay-northern-alaska-rich-in-wildlife-and-oil/" target="_blank">is more biodiverse</a> than almost any area in the Arctic.</p><p>This is especially true of the 1002 <a href="https://www.fws.gov/refuge/arctic/wildlife_habitat.html" target="_blank">coastal plain portion</a>, which has the largest number of polar bear dens in Alaska. It also supports <a href="https://theconversation.com/scientist-at-work-tracking-muskoxen-in-a-warming-arctic-70378" target="_blank">muskoxen</a>, Arctic wolves, foxes, hares, migrating waterfowl and Porcupine caribou, which calve there. Most of ANWR is designated as wilderness, which puts it off-limits for development. But this <a href="https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33872.pdf" target="_blank">does not include the 1002 Area</a>, which was recognized as a promising area for energy development when the refuge was created in 1980 and left that way after a 1987 study confirmed its potential.</p><p>Climate change is causing <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">especially rapid warming in the Arctic</a>, with probable negative effects for many of these species. Environmental advocates argue that fossil fuel production in ANWR will <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/protect-arctic-national-wildlife-refuge" target="_blank">add to this process</a>, damaging habitat and impacting the <a href="https://www.alaskapublic.org/2019/07/02/in-arctic-village-gwichin-leaders-say-the-fight-to-stop-drilling-in-the-arctic-refuge-isnt-over/" target="_blank">Indigenous people who rely on the wildlife</a> for subsistence. But the situation is complex: There are also <a href="https://www.ktoo.org/2019/07/02/in-the-alaska-village-where-anwr-is-the-backyard-many-see-drilling-as-an-opportunity/" target="_blank">Indigenous groups who support ANWR development</a> for the jobs and income it would bring.</p><p>Energy companies' interest in ANWR, meanwhile, has risen and fallen over time. The discovery of oil at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prudhoe_Bay_Oil_Field" target="_blank">Prudhoe Bay</a> in 1968, followed by <a href="https://www.cfr.org/timeline/oil-dependence-and-us-foreign-policy" target="_blank">two oil shocks in the 1970s</a>, sparked support for exploration and production in the region. But this enthusiasm faded in the late 1980s and '90s in the face of fierce political and legal opposition and years of low oil prices.</p>
A majority of Americas of all political leanings believe the U.S. should develop alternative energy sources rather than expanding production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pew Research Center, CC BY-ND
Is ANWR Oil Worth It?<p>Today the oil industry is facing its greatest set of challenges in modern history. They include:</p><ul><li>A collapse in oil demand and prices due to the global pandemic, with a sluggish and <a href="https://www.iea.org/reports/oil-market-report-august-2020" target="_blank">uncertain recovery</a></li><li>Companies canceling and reducing activity worldwide, with bankruptcies in the U.S. shale industry and <a href="https://energynow.com/2020/08/u-s-oil-gas-rig-count-falls-to-record-low-for-14th-week-baker-hughes/" target="_blank">drilling rig counts</a> falling back to 1940 levels</li><li>New uncertainty about future global oil demand as climate concerns push public interest and government policy toward electric vehicles, and automakers respond with new EV designs</li><li>The growing possibility of Democratic victories in the November 2020 elections, which would likely lead to policies reducing fossil fuel use</li><li>Increasing <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-barclays/barclays-pressured-by-shareholders-to-cut-fossil-fuel-financing-idUSKBN1Z700F" target="_blank">investor pressure</a> on banks and investment firms to reduce or eliminate support for fossil fuel projects.</li></ul><p>All of these factors compound the challenges of leasing and drilling in ANWR. Well costs there would be among the highest anywhere onshore in the U.S. Only one well has ever been drilled in the area, so new drilling would be purely exploratory and have a lower chance of success than in better-studied areas. Under these conditions, it would make more sense for companies that are active on Alaska's North Slope to pursue sites they currently have under lease, which pose much lower risk.</p>
Alaska's North Slope outside of ANWR remains rich in oil, according to the latest U.S. Geological Survey assessment. USGS<p>What's more, as I have <a href="https://theconversation.com/large-scale-fracking-comes-to-the-arctic-in-a-new-alaska-oil-boom-75683#comment_1264055" target="_blank">argued previously</a>, it's not clear that there's a need to drill in ANWR. Energy companies have made new discoveries elsewhere south and west of Prudhoe Bay – most recently, the <a href="https://www.rigzone.com/news/pantheon_resources_makes_alaska_north_slope_discovery-13-apr-2020-161730-article/" target="_blank">Talitha Field</a>, which could yield 500 million barrels or more.</p><p>Companies that pursue leases in ANWR also will have to weigh the prospects of litigation, investor anger and a tarnished brand – especially large firms with public name recognition. Shell's experience in 2015, when it <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/28/shell-backtracks-on-controversial-arctic-drilling-plan/" target="_blank">abandoned plans to drill offshore in the Arctic</a> under heavy pressure, indicate what other companies can expect.</p><p>If Trump is voted out of office, I expect that a Biden administration would quickly move to <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/06/most-trump-environmental-rollbacks-will-take-years-to-be-reversed/" target="_blank">reverse</a> the directive for leasing in ANWR. In my view, this contested area will have far more meaning and value as a wildlife refuge in a warming world that is starting to seriously move away from hydrocarbon energy.</p>
The human body needs protein to build muscle and perform basic metabolic functions. However, many Americans (especially older adults) do not consume enough protein in their everyday diet to meet their recommended daily intake. That's why protein powders and shakes aren't just for bodybuilders. In fact, supplementing with protein powder is an easy and tasty way to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs not just to function, but to thrive.
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Russia's Norilsk Nickel ran into trouble earlier this month when one of its subsidiaries accidentally spilled 21,000 tons of diesel that ended up polluting a pristine Arctic lake. Now the company admits that it has been dumping wastewater into the Arctic tundra, as Agence-France Press, (AFP) reported.
By Alex Kirby
The temperature of the Arctic matters to the entire world: it helps to keep the global climate fairly cool. Scientists now say that by 2035 there could be an end to Arctic sea ice.
Melt Ponds Crucial<p>"The prospect of loss of sea ice by 2035 should really be focusing all our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humanly feasible."</p><p><a href="http://www.reading.ac.uk/search/search-staff-details.aspx?id=10813" target="_blank">Dr. David Schroeder from the University of Reading</a>, UK, who co-led the implementation of the melt pond scheme in the climate model, says, "This shows just how important sea ice processes like melt ponds are in the Arctic, and why it is crucial that they are incorporated into climate models."</p><p>The extent of the areas <a href="https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/seaice/characteristics/formation.html" target="_blank">sea ice</a> covers varies between summer and winter. If more solar energy is absorbed at the surface, and temperatures rise further, a cycle of warming and melting occurs during summer months.</p><p>When the ice forms, the ocean water beneath becomes saltier and denser than the surrounding ocean. Saltier water sinks and moves along the ocean bottom towards the equator, while warm water from mid-depths to the surface travels from the equator towards the poles.</p><p>Scientists refer to this process as the ocean's global "conveyor-belt." Changes to the volume of sea ice can disrupt normal ocean circulation, with consequences for global climate. </p>
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By Sharon Guynup
At this time of year, in Russia's far north Laptev Sea, the sun hovers near the horizon during the day, generating little warmth, as the region heads towards months of polar night. By late September or early October, the sea's shallow waters should be a vast, frozen expanse.
Comparison of autumn sea ice formation for the first half of October 2012 (the record year for Arctic sea ice extent loss) and in 2020 (second place for sea ice extent loss). The satellite record goes back to 1979. @Icy_Samuel, data provided by NSIDC
Arctic sea ice extent on Oct. 25, 2020 was at a record low 5.613 million square kilometers for this date, surpassing the record set in 2019 of 6.174 million square kilometers. ChArctic NSIDC
The Arctic appears to be changing into an entirely new climate state due to rapid warming. The extent of sea ice in the late summer, when it reaches its minimum each year, has already entered a statistically different climate, with surface air temperatures and the number of days with rain instead of snow also beginning to transition. Simmi Sinha, ©UCAR
A polar bear prowls the Arctic shoreline. VisualHunt.com
A fire burning through northern forest in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in July 2020. Greenpeace International
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By Krissy Waite
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By Mark Kaufman
Some fires won't die.
They survive underground during the winter and then reemerge the following spring, as documented in places like Alaska. They're called "overwintering," "holdover," or "zombie" fires, and they may have now awoken in the Arctic Circle — a fast-warming region that experienced unprecedented fires in 2019. The European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service is now watching these fires, via satellite.
<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.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.yB-jOVJDGUG2KvIAwskuRZUTW3jlMjjlCTI8DcG3tAI/img.jpg" id="d48aa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79880bae7db4253c569739c541d26709" />Zombie fires could be awakening in the Arctic
<div id="48215" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e094a6eb3039925709e345158051f4b"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1258045476731002882" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Are these 'zombie' fires? As the snow melted in Arctic Siberia last week, a number of fires have been detected by s… https://t.co/MBZbBYqA2o</div> — Dr Thomas Smith 🔥🌏 (@Dr Thomas Smith 🔥🌏)<a href="https://twitter.com/DrTELS/statuses/1258045476731002882">1588776389.0</a></blockquote></div>
So What Happens Now?<p>In the future, fire researchers expect an uptick in zombie fires. That's because the <a is="" href="https://mashable.com/article/climate-change-business-as-usual-catastrophic/" target="_blank">planet is relentlessly warming</a>, particularly in the Arctic, which means more ready-to-burn vegetation. It's already happening. "Arctic fires<strong> </strong>are becoming more common overall," explained Miami University's McCarty.</p><p is="">And some of these fires will inevitably smolder all winter, under the snow. "With a warmer Arctic, we're more likely to see overwintering fires," noted Smith.</p><p is="">It's challenging to stop zombie fires. They can happen in extremely remote places, without any roads or means of dousing them before they erupt. "We have no way of fighting them," said McCarty. "They're often fairly far-removed. How are we going to put them out?"</p><p is="">It's a question of profound importance in the decades ahead. Preventing human-caused Arctic wildfires will be critical, emphasized McCarty. That's because Arctic fires aren't just burning trees, they're often burning through <a is="" href="https://blogs.agu.org/geospace/2019/12/06/peatlands-release-more-methane-when-disturbed-by-roads/" target="_blank">peatlands</a>, which release bounties of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas methane into the air. When it comes to trapping heat, methane is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases" target="_blank">25 times more potent</a> than carbon dioxide over the course of a century.</p><p is="">It's a vicious cycle. The warming Arctic produces more fires. More fires burn more forests and peatlands. This releases more methane and carbon dioxide into the air. This contributes to ever more planetary heating.</p><p is="">"Not stopping these zombie fires means further degrading these Arctic ecosystems," said McCarty. "Further warming leads to more zombie fires. It's not great."</p><a target="_blank"></a><blockquote><a href="https://mashable.com/article/zombie-fires-arctic/#" target="_blank"></a></blockquote>
- The Arctic Is on Fire and Warming Twice as Fast as the Rest of the Earth - EcoWatch ›
- Arctic Wildfires Are Changing, With Big Implications for the Global Climate - EcoWatch ›
The Earth has experienced its warmest September since record-keeping began, according to a European Union agency's report published Wednesday.
Paris Agreement Temperature Rise Maximum Is Close<p>Monitors of the Paris Climate Agreement will view the figures with particular alarm: for the 12-month period through to September 2020, the planet was nearly 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than pre-industrial levels.</p><p>This is close to the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold for severe impacts to the planet detailed in a 2018 UN climate report.</p><p>The Paris Agreement, of which many UN nations are signatories, has nations aim to cap global warming "well below" 2 degrees Celsius and at 1.5 degrees if possible.</p><p>Overall, September 2020 was 0.05 degrees Celsius warmer than September 2019.</p>
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The record-breaking heat in the Arctic saw temperatures soar above 100 degrees for the first time in recorded history. Now, a new analysis has put to rest any notion that the heat was caused by natural temperature fluctuations.
- A Siberian Town Just Hit 100 F Degrees - EcoWatch ›
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By Pep Canadell and Rob Jackson
The Paris climate agreement seeks to limit global warming to 1.5℃ this century. A new report by the World Meteorological Organization warns this limit may be exceeded by 2024 – and the risk is growing.
Greenhouse Gases Rise as CO₂ Emissions Slow<p>Concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO₂), methane (CH₄) and nitrous oxide (N₂O), have all increased over the past decade. Current concentrations in the atmosphere are, respectively, 147%, 259% and 123% of those present before the industrial era began in 1750.</p><p>Concentrations measured at Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory and at Australia's Cape Grim station in Tasmania show concentrations continued to increase in 2019 and 2020. In particular, CO₂ concentrations reached 414.38 and 410.04 parts per million in July this year, respectively, at each station.</p>
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO₂), methane (CH₄) and nitrous oxide (N₂0) from WMO Global Atmosphere Watch.<p>Growth in CO₂ emissions from fossil fuel use slowed to around 1% per year in the past decade, down from 3% during the 2000s. An unprecedented decline is expected in 2020, due to the COVID-19 economic slowdown. Daily CO₂ fossil fuel emissions declined by 17% in early April at the peak of global confinement policies, compared with the previous year. But by early June they had recovered to a 5% decline.</p><p>We estimate a decline for 2020 of about 4-7% compared to 2019 levels, depending on how the pandemic plays out.</p><p>Although emissions will fall slightly, atmospheric CO₂ concentrations will still reach another <a href="https://theconversation.com/carbon-dioxide-levels-over-australia-rose-even-after-covid-19-forced-global-emissions-down-heres-why-144119" target="_blank">record high</a> this year. This is because we're still adding large amounts of CO₂ to the atmosphere.</p>
Global daily fossil CO₂ emissions to June 2020. Updated from Le Quéré et al. 2020, Nature Climate Change.
Warmest Five Years on Record<p>The global average surface temperature from 2016 to 2020 will be among the warmest of any equivalent period on record, and about 0.24℃ warmer than the previous five years.</p><p>This five-year period is on the way to creating a new temperature record across much of the world, including Australia, southern Africa, much of Europe, the Middle East and northern Asia, areas of South America and parts of the United States.</p><p>Sea levels rose by 3.2 millimeters per year on average over the past 27 years. The growth is accelerating – sea level rose 4.8 millimeters annually over the past five years, compared to 4.1 millimeters annually for the five years before that.</p><p>The past five years have also seen many extreme events. These include record-breaking heatwaves in Europe, Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, major bushfires in Australia and elsewhere, prolonged drought in southern Africa and three North Atlantic hurricanes in 2017.</p>
Left: Global average temperature anomalies (relative to pre-industrial) from 1854 to 2020 for five data sets. UK-MetOffice. Right: Average sea level for the period from 1993 to July 16, 2020. European Space Agency and Copernicus Marine Service.
1 in 4 Chance of Exceeding 1.5°C Warming<p>Our report predicts a continuing warming trend. There is a high probability that, everywhere on the planet, average temperatures in the next five years will be above the 1981-2010 average. Arctic warming is expected to be more than twice that the global average.</p><p>There's a one-in-four chance the global annual average temperature will exceed 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels for at least one year over the next five years. The chance is relatively small, but still significant and growing. If a major climate anomaly, such as a strong El Niño, occurs in that period, the 1.5℃ threshold is more likely to be crossed. El Niño events generally bring warmer global temperatures.</p><p>Under the Paris Agreement, crossing the 1.5℃ threshold is measured over a 30-year average, not just one year. But every year above 1.5℃ warming would take us closer to exceeding the limit.</p>
Global average model prediction of near surface air temperature relative to 1981–2010. Black line = observations, green = modelled, blue = forecast. Probability of global temperature exceeding 1.5℃ for a single month or year shown in brown insert and right axis. UK Met Office.
Arctic Ocean Sea-Ice Disappearing<p>Satellite records between 1979 and 2019 show sea ice in the Arctic summer declined at about 13% per decade, and this year reached its lowest July levels on record.</p><p>In Antarctica, summer sea ice reached its lowest and second-lowest extent in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and 2018 was also the second-lowest winter extent.</p><p>Most simulations show that by 2050, the Arctic Ocean will practically be free of sea ice for the first time. The fate of Antarctic sea ice is less certain.</p>
Urgent Action Can Change Trends<p>Human activities emitted 42 billion tons of CO₂ in 2019 alone. Under the Paris Agreement, nations committed to reducing emissions by 2030.</p><p>But our report shows a shortfall of about 15 billion tons of CO₂ between these commitments, and pathways consistent with limiting warming to well below 2℃ (the less ambitious end of the Paris target). The gap increases to 32 billion tons for the more ambitious 1.5℃ goal.</p><p>Our report models a range of climate outcomes based on various socioeconomic and policy scenarios. It shows if emission reductions are large and sustained, we can still meet the Paris goals and avoid the most severe damage to the natural world, the economy and people. But worryingly, we also have time to make it far worse.</p>
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A town in Siberia recorded a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius, or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit Saturday.
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A 21,000 tonne (approximately 23,000 U.S. ton) oil spill that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare an emergency last week has now reached a pristine Arctic lake, and there are concerns it could contaminate the Arctic Ocean.
Environmentalists and local officials have raised alarms about the disaster, which they say is the worst of its kind in the Russian Arctic, according to BBC News. So far, the oil has spread 12 miles from the initial spill site, a fuel tank that collapsed May 29.
"The fuel has got into Pyasino as well. This is a beautiful lake about 70 kilometres (45 miles) long. Naturally, it has both fish and a good biosphere," Krasnoyarsk region governor Alexander Uss told Interfax news agency Tuesday, as AFP reported.
A catastrophe is taking place right before our eyes. The diesel spill in Norilsk has become the first accident of such a scale in the Arctic. 20 thousand tonnes of diesel fuel have been spilled in local rivers. pic.twitter.com/PXEXkTuACE— Greenpeace Russia (@greenpeaceru) June 4, 2020
Lake Pyasino flows into the Pyasina river, which in turn flows into the Arctic Ocean's Kara Sea, BBC News explained.
Greenpeace Russia director Vladimir Chuprov told AFP it would be a "disaster" if 10,000 tonnes (approximately 11,000 U.S. tons) of fuel or more had reached the lake. He said he feared it would reach the Kara Sea as well, which would have "harmful consequences."
Uss, however, was committed to preventing that from happening.
"Now it's important to prevent it from getting into the Pyasina river, which flows north. That should be possible," he said, as BBC News reported.
The news that the spill had reached the lake came a week after a spokeswoman for the team in charge of cleanup efforts told AFP the spill had been contained.
But regional officials told a different story.
"We can see a large concentration of diluted oil products beyond the booms," Krasnoyarsk region deputy environment minister Yulia Gumenyuk said, according to BBC News.
Norilsk Nickel, the company that ultimately owns the power plant where the tank collapsed, denied that any oil had reached the lake.
"Our samples at the Pyasino Lake show 0.0 percent contamination results," Sergei Dyachenko, the company's first vice-president and chief operating officer, said in a Tuesday video conference reported by AFP.
He also said it was unlikely the fuel would reach the ocean.
"The distance from Pyasino Lake to the Kara Sea is more than 5,000 kilometres (approximately 3,107 miles)," he said.
The spill has also contaminated rivers and soil. So far, cleanup efforts have removed 812,000 cubic feet of contaminated dirt, according to BBC News.
"[The spill] will have a negative effect on the water resources, on the animals that drink that water, on the plants growing on the banks," Vasily Yablokov of Greenpeace Russia said, according to BBC News.
The polluted Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers may take ten years to clean, The Guardian reported.
Norilsk Nickel has said the collapse that caused the spill was probably due to melting permafrost, but environmental groups have accused the company of using the climate crisis to downplay its own culpability.
"It's an attempt to write off Nornickel's failure in risk management and ecological safety on the fashionable topic of climate change," Alexey Knizhnikov of the World Wildlife Fund told The Guardian. "The main factor is mismanagement."
Greenpeace said it had reported on the threat posed by thawing permafrost to oil and gas infrastructure in the fast-warning Russian Arctic as far back as 2009. But Dyachenko said in a conference call Tuesday that the company had not been monitoring the permafrost before the accident.
"It's not possible that the company did not know about [thawing permafrost], but it is possible that the company used a dangerous facility irresponsibly," Greenpeace Russia's Yablokov told The Guardian.
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