By Hannah Fuchs
Let's not waste time. You will need: warm clothes, plenty of firewood and enough supplies (flour, yeast, toilet paper — the usual) to not have to leave the house for the next week or two.
No, just kidding. For pandemic control, it would be helpful if we all stayed home, but as a precautionary measure against the approaching polar vortex, this would really be over the top. It's probably indeed going to be bitterly cold in much of the Northern Hemisphere, but we're not in for an apocalyptic winter scenario.
In the past few years, especially during the cold North American winter of 2013-2014, the term "polar vortex" has been increasingly used in people's weather vocabulary and blamed — sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly — for any outbreak of wintry weather or very cold temperatures. So, for example, the unusual extreme snowfalls in Spain could have had something to do with the phenomenon. Key word here is could.
Out of this world! Spain is a winter wonderland right now. Bitterly cold after historic snow. Cencellada, Albacete… https://t.co/LwEvXSQ2tc— Scott Duncan (@Scott Duncan)1610469572.0
However, when we use phrases like "The polar vortex is coming" or "The polar vortex is here," we probably break the icy heart of every meteorologist. The polar vortex does not come and go — it is often present in our atmosphere during winter and spins around the hemispheres like a stormy roundabout, so to speak.
That actually means: There is not one vortex, but two — one at the North Pole and one at the South Pole. Their dynamics and potential are expressed with the help of the Arctic Oscillation and Antarctic Oscillation Index. To keep it short: AO and AAO.
What Exactly Is a Polar Vortex?
The Arctic polar vortex is a circulation of wind high up in the atmosphere — a very ordinary phenomenon, in other words. It forms every year in autumn, when the sun barely reaches the North Pole. In spring, it slowly dissipates again.
The air up there is extremely cold in winter. The polar vortex can strengthen and weaken. Wind speeds exceeding 320 kilometers per hour (200 miles per hour) are typical at an altitude of 10 to 50 kilometers (6 to 30 miles) in the stratosphere, where it is sometimes well below minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit). This is directly above the troposphere, the part where weather occurs.
The polar vortex thus has no direct effect on our weather, but there are still interactions: It influences the jet stream. This band of high velocity wind blows at an altitude of 10 kilometers (6 miles) and controls the high- and low-pressure systems.
In a typical winter, the jet stream is quite strong and brings mild windy and rainy weather from the Atlantic to Europe. The polar air stays in the vortex. However, if the jet stream is weak, there are bumps in the jet stream, and a polar vortex split could happen.
The Collapse: Will It Become Frosty Now?
Every now and then, about every two winters, there is a strong warming of the stratosphere due to warmer air flowing in. Greenland and the North Atlantic, for example, are said to throw the vortex particularly out of balance with their warmth.
Another split of the #PolarVortex is set to happen 15th-17th Jan. A stratospheric ridge noses in between two vortex… https://t.co/nPj0wmRuSc— James Peacock (@James Peacock)1610363099.0
The polar vortex stumbles — or rather squiggles — and air currents can assert themselves more frequently. This split causes temperatures in the stratosphere to rise by 60 to 80 degrees Celsius within a very short time.
To put it more graphically, you can imagine a flying circle of pizza dough that is jerking through the air out of shape. In the worst case, the pizza (the vortex!) loses its shape completely or even splits.
Then there is a lot of whirling up there, which also has an effect on the entire Northern Hemisphere: Arctic air provides for icy temperatures.
This is exactly what happened on January 5, 2021, and will probably hit us again soon. Forecasters say we can expect the cold snap in mid to late January, and it could last in spurts into February. Again, key word: could.
Or Maybe Not ...
But the phenomenon of the interaction between the polar vortex and wind circulation is complicated — and not yet fully understood. Meteorologists disagree on whether there really will be a freezing winter onset.
A strong example of knock-on effect in latest #Forecast model runs. The further west a low moves cold air (C) Mond… https://t.co/qnE7piXtH3— James Peacock (@James Peacock)1610620050.0
The reason: the approaching Atlantic depressions. They are supposed to cause the winter air to move from the west further to Russia, and the snow line is supposed to rise to over 1,000 meters. But that does not mean that it will stay that way for the rest of winter. The cold may well return.
In the end, the weather just does what it wants — whatever our forecasts.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Sam Baker
What really makes this reporter's stomach churn thinking about climate change? Thawing permafrost. A scenario where it all melts, releasing copious amounts of CO2 and methane (it holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere holds right now), and there's no going back.
But what's at the top of the list of concerns for those who study how climate change is unfolding – on ice sheets and urban street corners, in oceans and farm fields – the climate scientists themselves?
DW asked a dozen experts spanning climatology, entomology, oceanography and yes, permafrost research, what keeps them up at night when it comes to the climate.
The Greatest Unknown – People
Nana Ama Browne Klutse studies changing weather with climate models at the University of Ghana. While she says tipping points like permafrost thaw worry her, she also worries how individuals will handle changing climates.
"What can you do as an individual to avoid the impact of climate change?" she asked. "We need government policies for resilience, building of community, city resilience. Then we need that global action."
Climate scientist Ruth Mottram studies the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and sea level rise for the Danish Meteorological Institute, but it's not the science that worries her.
"I'm less concerned that there are unknown processes going on that we don't understand, and there could potentially be some unforeseen catastrophe on the way," she said. "We know what a lot of the impacts are going to be. I think what keeps me awake at night in a metaphorical sense is really the interaction between the physical system and how human societies are going to handle it."
Giving the example of sea level, she says we will see a meter rise this century — in our lifetimes or that of our children — and will have to make tough decisions about our coastal cities. But she says it won't end there.
"I think that human societies have not really grasped what that means and that adaptation to sea level rise is going to be a long process and we are going to be doing it for hundreds of years," said Mottram, suggesting that we start thinking in terms of the lifetimes of cities (hundreds of years) rather than just human lifetimes.
Protecting the Vulnerable
Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Permafrost Laboratory, said that while he thinks about how what happens in the Arctic will affect the rest of the world, his concerns are much more local.
"We should remember that there are still some people living in the Arctic," he said. Around 4 million people in fact who would have to deal with the real-life consequences of solid ground thawing beneath their feet and houses. "Changes in these local or regional kind of climates and environments, they impact these people and some of these impacts could be very severe."
Closer to the planet's other pole, Carolina Vera fears that existing inequalities will only be exacerbated by climate change.
"Climate change is already impacting the most vulnerable sectors of our planet," said Vera, who studies climate variability as a principal researcher for the National Council of Science of Argentina, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and chief of staff for Argentina's Ministry of Science and Technology. Her work has led her to incorporate local knowledge and data collection into studies, involving communities that are balancing the problems of deforestation with their need to farm.
Heat and New Extremes
Perhaps not surprisingly, global heating is a key concern for many researchers, like Dim Coumou, who studies extreme weather at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Of most concern to him are heat and humidity extremes in the tropics – especially highly populated parts like West Africa, Pakistan and India – which will make it unbearable to be outside. When cooling down by sweating is no longer possible, people can't work outside and therefore can't grow food. The likely result being mass migration.
But it's not just the tropics.
Closely related to heat is the increase in extreme weather brought on by a warming climate. Coumou and his colleagues' research shows how changes to the jet stream will lead to more extreme weather in Europe, including floods and droughts.
This increase in extreme weather is climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker's biggest climate concern.
"A warmer atmosphere can hold more water in it and when it rains, it rains heavily leading to floods. A warmer ocean can lead to stronger tropical cyclones," said Babiker, who works for the East African Climate Center ICPAC in Nairobi. He explained that cyclones gain more energy from warmer water.
"We have seen evidence of all these events," he said. "The strongest tropical cyclones to impact the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, and Mozambique occurred in the past 20 years!"
Science for Solutions
Pests, drought and flooding are on Esther Ngumbi's mind too.
An entomologist and professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she said that what keeps her up at night is the thought: "How can my science truly help?"
Ngumbi's work on pest and drought-resistant crops is driven by her concerns for vulnerable farmers who live in countries lacking social safety nets, where one season of crop devastation due to insects can mean going hungry and being unable to pay for their children's education.
"That truly makes me wake up every day and go to the lab to understand how my research can contribute to solutions that we need," she said.
Natasha Picone – an urban climatologist at the National University of Central Buenos Aires – says it's the solutions that occupy her thoughts too.
"With the pandemic, I realized that we are not doing enough for changing our cities to be more livable," she said. Her research informs urban planners about phenomena such as the urban heat island effect, air pollution and urban run-off that can lead to flooding. "If we don't change the path now, it will be really difficult to go back."
Weighing on the mind of oceanographer Renata Hanae Nagai at the University of Parana in Brazil is her four-year-old nephew and what his life will look like in a warmer world, but he also gives her hope. During a recent trip to the beach to watch nesting turtles, he warned others to leave the turtles alone.
She sees this same care in her students – learning about problems and coming up with solutions.
"People are the solution," she said. "We try, even under the hardest conditions."
'Scientists are Humans' Too
"For me, that's like morally totally unacceptable what they do – they lie," said the climate physicist from Maynooth University in Ireland, reflecting on encountering such people at public talks. "I mean, you can't argue with climate."
But this only pushes Caesar to better communicate what the science shows.
They Worry About Us
A common thread of this (rather unscientific) survey is that while we laypeople might be worrying about what the science says, climate scientists are often worrying about us.
"Scientists always think about what are the results of their studies, how are they important for, you know, for usual people, for normal people," the permafrost scientist told me. While doing his research, Romanovsky said he's always thinking about "how this could be used to make life of people easier or more predictable."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
By Jessica Corbett
With temperatures across the globe — and particularly in the Arctic — rising due to lackluster efforts to address the human-caused climate crisis, one of the coldest towns on Earth is throwing its hat in the ring to host the 2032 Summer Olympics.
Salla is located in Finland's Lapland region and touts the tagline, "in the middle of nowhere." The average temperature is below freezing and the area boasts a ski resort, reindeer park, Arctic Circle safaris, and even a snow and ice hotel.
With support from Fridays for Future — the youth-led movement launched by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg — Salla announced its Olympic bid to build awareness about "the consequences of global warming and the need for urgent action."
"Our intention here is clear: we want to keep Salla as it is, and our winters cold and full of snow," said Salla Mayor Erkki Parkkinen. "So, there was this crazy idea: to host the Summer Games in one of the coldest towns on the planet."
"If we stand back and do nothing, letting global warming prevail," Parkkinen warned, "we will lose our identity, and the town we love — as well as many others around the world — will cease to exist as we know it."
The campaign, detailed at www.savesalla.com, includes a short video.
"Despite the obviousness of the global warming, the ideology of climate change denial is gaining traction all over the world and increasing every year," the campaign website says. "So, we've created this bid to raise attention about the climate emergency. Salla is changing. The whole planet is changing. Not in a good way."
As Common Dreams has reported, while projections for the entire planet are dire if policymakers don't urgently work to "effect unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society, including energy, land and ecosystems, urban and infrastructure as well as industry," the Arctic is particularly at risk.
"We have only one planet to live in and an immense responsibility to future generations. We can all make a difference. What we cannot do under any circumstances is deny the problem and omit ourselves. The risks will be severe and unavoidable," said Joe Hobbs, a Fridays For Future activist and operations director for Climate Cardinals. "Global warming does not have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy and everyone can make a significant and decisive contribution to stop this process."
Hobbs joined Parkkinen and multiple experts for a press conference about the campaign on Tuesday.
The event came a day after a new study that showed ice loss worldwide is increasing at a record rate. Lead author Thomas Slater of Leeds' Centre for Polar Observation and Modeling said that "although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most."
"The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," Slater added. "Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century."
Also on Monday, Thunberg delivered an address to the World Economic Forum's annual meeting — held digitally rather than in Davos, Switzerland this year because of the raging coronavirus pandemic. She told political and business leaders that "when it comes to facing the climate emergency, the world is still in a state of complete denial."
"Safeguarding the future living conditions and preserving life on Earth as we know it is voluntary. The choice is yours to make," the 18-year-old Swede said. "But I can assure you this: You can't negotiate with physics. And your children and grandchildren will hold you accountable for the choices that you make."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Dirk Lorenzen
2021 begins as a year of Mars. Although our red planetary neighbor isn't as prominent as it was last autumn, it is still noticeable with its characteristic reddish color in the evening sky until the end of April. In early March, Mars shines close to the star cluster Pleiades in the constellation Taurus.
But for space nerds, Mars is already the center of attention in February. Three space probes that were launched in the summer of 2020 will arrive on the red planet.
On February 9, "Hope," the first interplanetary mission of the United Arab Emirates, is set to enter orbit around Mars. Only one day later, the Chinese probe Tianwen-1 will join it. The name means "heavenly questions," referring to a famous piece of ancient poetry.
Both missions will take surface and atmospheric measurements of Mars. Probably in May, a small rover will detach from the Chinese spacecraft and make its way down to the surface to explore the surroundings of the landing site.
A Landing Like a James Bond Movie
NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover (shown in artist's illustration) is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to Mars. Ingenuity, a technology experiment, will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet. Perseverance will arrive at Mars' Jezero Crater with Ingenuity attached to its belly. NASA
The highlight of this year's Mars exploration is the landing of the NASA rover "Perseverance" on February 18. Once the spacecraft enters the atmosphere it will be slowed down by friction. The heat shield will surpass 1,000 degrees Celsius. Later, parachutes will deploy to slow it down even more. Roughly two kilometers above the planet's surface, a sky crane comes into play. Four thrusters keep the crane properly oriented.
The rover is connected to the crane by nylon tethers. Upon approach of Mars' surface, the sky crane will lower Perseverance down about 7 meters. Once the rover has touched down, the tethers are cut and the sky crane flies off to land somewhere else on the surface.
Entry, descent and landing takes just seven minutes – the so-called seven minutes of terror. The flight team can't interact with the spacecraft on Mars. Experts have to sit and watch what's happening more than 200 million kilometers away. Radio signals from the spacecraft need about 11 minutes to travel in one direction. When the control center in Pasadena, California receives the message that entry has begun, Perseverance will already be on the ground. There is only one chance for a smooth landing. Any error could mean the mission is lost. The audacious sky crane maneuver would be a great feat in any action movie. But NASA knows how to do it – the Curiosity rover landed with a sky crane in 2012.
Life on Mars?
Scientists want to use Perseverance to explore whether there is or ever has been life on Mars. Today the planet is a hostile environment – dry and cold with no magnetic field shielding the harsh radiation from space. Life as we know it can't survive on the Martian surface right now. But billions of years ago, Mars was hotter and wetter and had a shield against radiation. So it is at least plausible that simple microbes developed there. Maybe they live in the soil now, one or two meters below the surface. Perseverance will collect samples to find out. A future mission by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will pick up the samples and return them to Earth. But this won't happen before 2030.
The Long Wait for James Webb
The Hubble Space Telescope has been orbiting the Earth for more than 30 years. NASA
The Hubble Space Telescope's images of planets, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies are legendary. The cosmic eye, launched in 1990, is likely to fail towards the end of this decade. The James Webb Space Telescope will be its successor. It is scheduled to launch on October 31 with a European Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.
The launch date is about 14 years later than planned when the project began in 1997. At almost $10 billion (€8.2 billion), the telescope is more than ten times as expensive as originally conceived. Its namesake James Webb was the NASA administrator during the height of the Apollo project in the 1960s.
Astronomers expect completely new insights from James Webb Telescope images, such as how the universe came into being, how it developed and how galaxies, stars and planets are formed. The instrument will observe the earliest childhood of the cosmos and photograph objects that already existed in the universe 200 to 300 million years after the Big Bang. James Webb, as the experts call the telescope for short, may even provide information about possibly inhabited exoplanets – planets like ours orbiting stars other than the Sun.
A Sensitive German Camera
The fully assembled James Webb Space Telescope with its sunshield and unitized pallet structures that will fold up around the telescope for launch. NASA
The mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope is 6.5 meters in diameter and consists of 18 hexagonal segments. The entire instrument unfolds in 178 steps over a period of several months. Only then – probably in the spring of 2022 – will we see its first images.
Many communication or reconnaissance satellites only unfold in space. However, not every micrometer is as important as with this telescope.
NIRSpec, one of the four cameras on board, was built at Airbus in Ottobrunn near Munich. It is made of an unusual material: ceramic. Both the basic structure and the mirrors are made of this very light, hard and extremely temperature-insensitive material. With good reason – the large camera has to withstand a lot in space. It is cooled to around -250 degrees Celsius in order to register the weak infrared or thermal radiation from the depths of space. Plastic or metal bend and lead to blurred images. Ceramic, on the other hand, remains in perfect shape.
The NIRSpec instrument will examine, among other things, emerging stars and distant galaxies. The ceramic camera is incredibly sensitive – it could register the heat radiation from a burning cigarette on the Moon. Thanks to this precision, astronomers will get completely new insights into the cosmos with the James Webb Telescope and NIRSpec.
No Flight to the Moon but to the ISS
It's not very likely that the Orion spacecraft from NASA and ESA will start its maiden voyage to the Moon before the end of 2021. As part of the Artemis-1 mission, it will remain in space for four weeks and will orbit the Moon for a few days. There will be no crew on board for the first flight, but two dummies from the German Aerospace Center, which use thousands of sensors to measure the conditions that human beings would be exposed to. The Orion capsule comes from NASA, while the ESA supplies the service module. The service module, which is being built by Airbus in Bremen, provides propulsion, navigation, altitude control and the supply of air, water and fuel. After problems with an engine test in mid-January, the new NASA large rocket Space Launch System (SLS), with which Orion is supposed to be launched, is unlikely to be operational until early 2022.
Matthias Maurer from Saarland is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in October. The flight will be in a Crew Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral. Maurer will live and work in the orbital outpost for six months. He is currently training to work on numerous scientific experiments. Maurer will be the twelfth German in space.
So far, Germany has only sent men into space. In mid-March, ESA will start the next application process for astronauts. A few years ago, the private initiative Die Astronautin ("She is an astronaut") showed that there are numerous excellent female applicants.
Two Lunar Eclipses
Even if there is no flight to the Moon, sky fans are looking forward to two eclipses this year. On May 26, there will be a lunar eclipse between 9:45 and 12:53 UTC. From 11:10 to 11:28 UTC, the Moon will be completely in the Earth's shadow. It can then only be seen in a copper-red light. This is sunlight that is directed into the Earth's shadow by the Earth's atmosphere – reddish, like the sky at sunset. This eclipse can be observed throughout the Pacific, and will be best viewed in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Antarctica. In Europe, the Moon will be below the horizon and therefore the eclipse will not be visible.
This also the case for the partial lunar eclipse on November 19. From 07:18 to 10:47 UTC, the Moon will be partly in the shadow of the Earth. In the middle of the eclipse (around 9:03 UTC) 98% of the Moon will be eclipsed. The spectacle will be best seen in North America, Greenland, East Asia and much of the Pacific, such as Hawaii and New Zealand.
Two Solar Eclipses: One Annular, One Total
In 2021, the Moon will pass right in front of the sun, twice. On June 10, the moon will be nearly in the furthest point of its elliptical orbit around Earth. So it will be too small to cover the sun completely. In the middle of this eclipse, an annulus of the sun will remain visible. The sun's ring of fire appears between 9:55 and 11:28 UTC for a maximum of four minutes – but it will only be visible in the very sparsely populated areas of northeast Canada, northwestern Greenland, the North Pole and the far east of Siberia.
In the North Atlantic, Europe and large parts of Russia, an eclipse will be seen at least partially. Between 8:12 and 13:11 UTC, the Sun will appear like a cookie that has been bitten into as the Moon covers parts of the bright disk. In some places, the eclipse will last about two hours. In Central Europe, a maximum of one-fifth of the sun will be covered.
Dark Sun Over Antarctica
The celestial event of the year will be a total solar eclipse on December 4. In a 400-kilometer-wide strip, the New Moon will cover the sun completely. For a maximum of one minute and 54 seconds, day will turn to night. For that short time, the brightest stars can be seen in the sky and the flaming solar corona can be seen around the dark disc of the Moon.
Unfortunately, hardly anyone will get to see this cosmic spectacle because the strip of totality only runs through the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic. From 7:03 to 8:04 UTC the umbra of the Moon moves across the Earth's surface – and perhaps some ships' crews will enjoy the solar corona.
Only during the few minutes of totality is it possible to look safely at the Sun with the naked eye. During the partial phase or in the case of an annular eclipse, suitable protective goggles are necessary to watch the spectacle. Normal sunglasses are not safe. Looking unprotected into the sun can lead to severe eye damage or even blindness.
Two Giant Planets in Northern Summer and Southern Winter
Venus, our other neighboring planet, will be behind the sun on March 26. It is not visible for the first few months of the year. From the end of April through Christmas, it will be visible as an evening star in the sky after sunset. The planet, shrouded in dense clouds, is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon. The best visibility will be from September to December.
The giant planet Jupiter is in its best position of the year on August 20. It then shines in the constellation Capricorn, only disappearing from the evening sky at the beginning of next year. The ringed planet Saturn is also in the constellation Capricorn and can be observed particularly well on August 2.
Jupiter and Saturn are the stars of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and those of the long winter nights in the Southern Hemisphere. They are in the same area of the sky, almost forming a double star with Jupiter being the brighter of the two.
Shooting Stars in August and December
There are certain periods when the Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet and shooting stars are much more likely than on other nights. Many small stones and dust particles are scattered on comet orbits, which light up the Earth's atmosphere for a moment when they enter.
The Perseids are particularly promising: August 9-13, a few dozen meteors (the technical term for shooting stars) will scurry across the sky per hour. The traces of light will seem to come from the constellation Perseus, near the striking celestial W of Cassiopeia. The Geminids – meteors coming from the constellation Gemini – will be similarly exciting with up to 100 shooting stars per hour, December 10-15.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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The Earth has lost 28 trillion tonnes (approximately 31 trillion U.S. tons) of ice in just 23 years, and the climate crisis is largely to blame.
The finding comes in a review paper published in The Cryosphere this month that used satellite data and numerical modelling to calculate all the ice that melted worldwide between 1994 and 2017.
"In the past researchers have studied individual areas – such as the Antarctic or Greenland – where ice is melting. But this is the first time anyone has looked at all the ice that is disappearing from the entire planet," study coauthor and director of Leeds University's Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling Andy Shepherd told The Guardian. "What we have found has stunned us."
Over 28,000,000,000,000 tonnes of ice has melted in last 30 years - enough to cover the entire surface of the UK in… https://t.co/ohZ6IIVFcl— Prof. Dan Parsons 🇪🇺 🌏💧🛰🌊⚽️🏏⛳🏈 (@Prof. Dan Parsons 🇪🇺 🌏💧🛰🌊⚽️🏏⛳🏈)1598173688.0
Arctic sea ice, Antarctic ice shelves, mountain glaciers, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and Southern Ocean sea ice all lost mass during the study period, the researchers wrote. About 68 percent of those losses were caused by warmer air temperatures, while the remaining 32 percent were caused by warmer ocean water.
"There can be little doubt that the vast majority of Earth's ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming," the researchers wrote, as The Guardian reported.
In fact, the total ice loss recorded matches the worst-case scenario predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And it's likely to get worse. The researchers prognosticate a meter (approximately three feet) of sea level rise by 2100.
"To put that in context, every centimetre of sea level rise means about a million people will be displaced from their low-lying homelands," Shepherd told The Guardian.
But sea level rise isn't the only consequence of ice melt. For one thing, the melting ice exposes darker ocean waters or soil, which absorb the sun's heat rather than reflect it, increasing global heating. The fresh water melting from ice sheets also disrupts Arctic and Antarctic ocean ecosystems, while the loss of mountain glaciers threatens the drinking water of several communities.
"What more can be said? What further evidence are we waiting for?" UK Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas tweeted in response to the news. "Feel so overwhelmingly sad - and so angry too. We can't say we didn't know. Are we really saying we just didn't care?"
What more can be said? What further evidence are we waiting for? Feel so overwhelmingly sad - and so angry too W… https://t.co/cvYV9ore53— Caroline Lucas (@Caroline Lucas)1598176086.0
This has been a bad summer for ice news. Another study published this month found that Greenland's ice sheet had reached the "point of no return" and would continue to melt even if the climate crisis were halted. A third study found that Greenland lost a record amount of ice in 2019.
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Greenland's kilometers-long ice sheet underwent near-record imbalance last year, scientists have reported on Wednesday.
The ice sheet suffered a net loss of 600 billion tons, which was enough to raise the global watermark 1.5 millimeters, accounting for approximately 40% of total sea-level rise in 2019.
The alarming development was reported in "The Cryosphere," a peer-reviewed journal published by the European Geosciences Union.
Researchers noted that the massive melt was not due only to warm temperatures but also to unusual high-pressure weather systems, which suggested that scientists may be underestimating the threats the ice faces.
The unusual high-pressure weather systems are linked to climate change and they have blocked the formation of clouds, causing unfiltered sunlight to melt the surface of the ice sheet.
Fewer clouds also meant less snow, which researchers found to be some 100 billion tons below the 1980-1999 average.
"These atmospheric conditions are becoming more and more frequent over the past few decades," said lead author Marco Tedesco, a scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
"This is very likely due to the 'waviness' in the jet stream," a powerful, high-altitude ribbon of wind moving from west to east over the polar region, he said.
"We're destroying ice in decades that was built over thousands of years," Tedesco warned.
Greenland's ice sheet is the second largest in the world and it is located high in the Arctic region, where average temperatures have risen 2 degrees Celsius since the mid-19th century, twice the global average.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Tara Lohan
Atlantic salmon have a challenging life history — and those that hail from U.S. waters have seen things get increasingly difficult in the past 300 years.
Dubbed the "king of fish," Atlantic salmon once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the United States and ranged up and down most of New England's coastal rivers and ocean waters. But dams, pollution and overfishing have extirpated them from all the region's rivers except in Maine. Today only around 1,000 wild salmon, known as the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment, return each year from their swim to Greenland. Fewer will find adequate spawning habitat in their natal rivers to reproduce.
That's left Atlantic salmon in the United States critically endangered. Hatchery and stocking programs have kept them from disappearing entirely, but experts say recovering healthy, wild populations will require much more, including eliminating some of the obstacles (literally) standing in their way.
Conservation organizations, fishing groups and even some state scientists are now calling for the removal of up to four dams along a 30-mile stretch of the Kennebec River, where about a third of Maine's best salmon habitat remains.
The dams' owner — multinational Brookfield Renewable Partners — has instead proposed building fishways to aid salmon and other migratory fish getting around dams as they travel both up and down the river. But most experts think that plan has little chance of success.
A confusing array of state and federal processes are underway to try and sort things out. None is likely to be quick, cheap or easy. And there's a lot at stake.
"Ultimately the fate of the species in the United States really depends upon what happens at a handful of key dams," says John Burrows, executive director of U.S. programs at the Atlantic Salmon Federation. "If those four projects don't work — or even if just one of them doesn't work — you could basically preclude recovering Atlantic salmon in the United States."
The best place for salmon recovery is in Maine's two largest watersheds.
"The Penobscot River and the Kennebec River have orders of magnitude more habitat, production potential and climate resilient habitat" than other parts of the state, says Burrows.
The rivers and their tributaries run far inland and reach more undeveloped areas with higher elevations. That helps provide salmon with the cold, clean water they need for spawning and rearing. Smaller numbers of salmon are hanging on in lower-elevation rivers along the coastal plain in Maine's Down East region, but climate change could make that habitat unsuitable.
"There's definitely concern about how resilient those watersheds are going to be for salmon in the future," says Burrows. "To recover the population, we need to be able to get salmon to the major tributaries farther upriver, in places where we're still going to have cold water even under predictions with climate change."
One of those key places is the Penobscot, which has already seen a $60 million effort to help recover salmon and other native sea-run fish. A 16-year project resulted in the removal of two dams, the construction of a stream-like bypass channel at a third dam, and new fish lift at a fourth. In all, the project made 2,000 miles of river habitat accessible.
Veazie dam on the Penobscot River is breached in 2013 as part of a river restoration project. Meagan Racey / USFWS
While there's still more work to be done on the Penobscot, says Burrows, attention has shifted to the Kennebec. The river has what's regarded as the largest and best salmon habitat in the state, especially in its tributary, the Sandy River, where hatchery eggs are being planted to help boost salmon numbers.
"That's helped us go from zero salmon in the upper tributaries of Kennebec to getting 50 or 60 adults back, which is still an abysmally small number compared to historical counts," says Burrows. "But these are the last of the wildest fish that we have."
The Sandy may be good salmon habitat, but it's also hard to reach. Brookfield's four dams stand in the way of fish trying to get upriver.
At the lowest dam on the river, Lockwood Dam in Waterville, there's a fish lift — a kind of elevator that should allow fish that enter it to pass up and around the dam. But if fish do find the lift — and only around half of salmon do — they don't get far.
"It's a terminal lift," says Sean Ledwin, division director of Maine's Department of Marine Resources' Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat. "The lift was never completed. So we pick up those fish in a truck and drive them up to the Sandy River."
That taxi cab arrangement isn't a long-term solution, though, and was part of an interim species protection plan.
Only the second dam, Hydro Kennebec, has a modern fish passage system. But how well that actually works hasn't been tested yet since fish can't get by Lockwood Dam. As part of a consultation process related to the Endangered Species Act, Brookfield has submitted a plan proposing to fix the fishway at Lockwood and add passage to the third and fourth dams.
But federal regulators found it inadequate.
"Brookfield's proposal was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee [which oversees hydroelectric projects] and all the [federal management] agencies," says Ledwin. The company now has until May 2022 to come up with a new plan.
State scientists aren't convinced Brookfield's plan would work either.
"We have really low confidence that having four fishways would ever result in meaningful runs of all the sea-run fish and certainly not recovery of Atlantic salmon," says Ledwin. "We don't think that it's going to be conducive to recovery."
In addition to considerations related to the Endangered Species Act, Shawmut Dam, the third on the Kennebec, is currently up for relicensing, which triggers a federal review process by FERC.
And at the same time the Maine Department of Marine Resources has drafted a new plan for managing the Kennebec River that recommends removing Shawmut Dam and Lockwood Dam. A public comment period on the proposed plan closed in March.
Brookfield isn't happy with it and responded with a lawsuit against the state.
It was good news to conservation groups, however, which would like to see all four of the dams removed if possible — or at least a few of them.
"There's no self-sustaining population of Atlantic salmon anywhere in the world that we know of that have to go by more than one hydro dam," says Burrows. He believes that having Brookfield spend tens of millions of dollars on new fishways will just result in failure for salmon.
Atlantic salmon parr emerging from a stream bed in Maine. E. Peter Steenstra / USFWS
It's partly a game of numbers. Not all fish will find or use a fishway. And if you start with a low number of returning fish and expect them to pass through four gauntlets, you won't be left with many at the end.
"If you're passing 50% of salmon that show up at the first dam, and then you've got three more dams passing 50%, that means you're left with only an eighth of the population you started with by the end," says Nick Bennett, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "You can't start a restoration program where you're losing seven-eighths of the adults before they even get to their spawning habitat."
And getting upriver is just part of the salmon's journey. Juvenile salmon face threats going downstream to the ocean as well, including predation and warm water in impoundments. They also risk being injured or killed going through spillways or turbines. Only about half are likely to survive the four hydro projects.
Atlantic salmon, unlike their Pacific cousins, don't always die after spawning, either. So some adults will also make the downstream trek, too.
"Just looking at our reality, at least two dams need to go, hopefully three, and it would be amazing if all four would go," says Burrows.
The fate of Atlantic salmon hangs in the balance, but so do the futures of other fishes.
The Pacific coast of the United States is home to five species of salmon. And while the Atlantic side has just the one, it has a dozen other native sea-run species that have also seen their habitat shrink.
"Those dams are preventing other native species like American shad, alewives, blueback herring and American eel from accessing large amounts of historic habitat," says Burrows.
Ledwin says removing dams on the Kennebec could result in populations of more than a million shad, millions of blueback herring, millions of eels and hundreds of thousands of sea lampreys.
"The recovery of those species would actually help Atlantic salmon as well because they provide prey buffers and there are a lot of co-evolved benefits," he says.
Salmon are much more successful at nesting when they can lay their eggs in old sea lamprey nests, explains Bennett. "But sea lamprey are not good at using fish lifts and we've essentially blocked 90% of the historic sea lamprey habitat at Lockwood dam. We need to get those fish upstream, too."
Dam removal advocates don't have to look too far to find an example of how well river ecosystems respond when dams are removed.
The removal of the Edwards Dam on the lower Kennebec River in 1999 and the Fort Halifax Dam just upstream on the Sebasticook in 2008 helped ignite a nationwide dam-removal movement. It also brought back American shad, eel, two native species of sturgeon and millions of river herring to lower parts of the watershed.
Alewives returned by the millions after the Edwards and Ft. Halifax dams were removed. John Burrows / ASF
"We've got the biggest river herring run in North America now due to the dam removals," says Ledwin. "And the largest abundance of eel we've ever seen on the lower Kennebec."
The resurgence of native fishes helps the whole ecosystem. When they returned, so too did eagles, osprey and other wildlife.
"When people see all those fish in the river and the eagles overhead, it just kind of blows their minds because they never realized what had been lost for so long in our rivers," says Burrows.
Rebuilding key forage fish like herring also benefits species that live not just in the river, but the Gulf of Maine and even the Atlantic Ocean. The tiny fish feed whales, porpoises and seabirds. They're also used for lobster bait and can help rebuild fisheries for cod and haddock, which has economic benefits for the region, too.
"We have to rebalance the scales if we want to have marine industries and commercial fishing industries and if we want the ecological benefits of what sea-run fisheries do for us," says Bennett.
The Path Ahead
The process to determine whether any — or all — of the four Kennebec dams that stretch from Waterville and Skowhegan are removed will take years, a diverse coalition, financial resources and agreements to meet the concerns of communities and the dam owner.
"These things come down to compromise, so there may be situations where one of those dams might not be a candidate for economic or social reasons," says Burrows. "But it will be interesting to see if in the next couple of years we can get to a place where we can have meaningful conversations with federal agencies, the dam owner and continue to engage the communities about the potential of removal at some of these sites."
And if removal of the four dams did happen, it wouldn't open up the river all the way to its headwaters. Another nine dams still lie upstream in the watershed that obstruct fish passage.
"Some of those are major dams in terms of power, production and economics," says Burrows. "So we're not calling for those to be removed."
The four lower dams provide just 46 megawatts of power — enough to supply about 37,000 homes and 0.43% of the state's annual electricity generation. It's a small amount of power relative to the damage they cause sea-run fish, says Bennett.
"By comparison we expect to add 1,200 megawatts of solar generation in the next five years," he says. "So these four dams aren't particularly important in our climate fight." And removing them would open up substantial amounts of habitat to aid salmon recovery that seem worth the tradeoff in lost power.
That's not the case, he says, for the nine larger dams upstream.
"We need those dams. We need hydroelectric power in Maine," says Bennett. "But we made big mistakes in our past use of our rivers. And we went way overboard in favor of hydroelectric power at the expense of fish."
Outside of the rivers, Atlantic salmon still face a tough road. Climate change is warming ocean temperatures, changing salinity and altering food webs. But having so many unknowns in the marine environment in the coming decades provides more reason to focus efforts on restoring rivers where scientists already know what works, says Burrows.
And if that's done right, the benefits will extend far beyond salmon.
"It's not just about salmon — it's about these other native fish, it's about the wildlife, water quality, economic opportunity for ground fishermen and lobstermen, and more sustainable forms of recreation and community development," says Burrows. "If we remove a dam or two here and rebuild these fish populations to pretty big levels that really impacts a whole bunch of different parts of society. That's what we want to try to do here on the Kennebec."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Michael Svoboda
To honor Women's History Month, Yale Climate Connections's March bookshelf presents a selection of new and recent titles on how women are changing the politics and prospects for action on climate change.
Three books focus on the efforts of young women. Another four books offer the seasoned perspectives of veteran activists, organizers, and/or journalists, including Jane Fonda and Elizabeth Kolbert.
Rounding out the collection are a natural history/memoir by New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl, two cli-fi novels, an academic appraisal of "the new climate activism," and an NGO report on the importance of gender diversity for climate innovation.
As always, the descriptions of the works listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them. When two dates of publication are listed, the latter is for the paperback edition.
No Planet B: A Teen Vogue Guide to the Climate Crisis, edited by Lucy Diavolo (Haymarket Books 2021, 248 pages, $15.95 paperback)
As the political classes watch our world burn, a new movement of young people is rising to meet the challenge of climate catastrophe. An urgent call for climate justice from Teen Vogue, one of this generation's leading voices, this book is a guide, a toolkit, a warning and a cause for hope.
"I hope that this book embodies Teen Vogue's motto of making young people feel seen and heard all over the world. I hope that it forces their parents, communities, loved ones, friends, and – most importantly – those in power to see that the health of our planet depends on how quickly and drastically we change our behaviors. I hope it forces them all to respond." – From the foreword by Teen Vogue editor-in-chief, Lindsay Peoples Wagner
Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the World, by Rachel Sarah (Chicago Review Press 2021, 192 pages, $16.99 paperback)
Girl Warriors tells the stories of 25 climate leaders under age 25. These fearless girls and young women from all over the world are standing up to demand change when no one else is. They've led hundreds of thousands of people in climate strikes, founded non-profits, given TED talks, and sued their governments. A rousing call to action, this book will leave you feeling hopeful that we can make a difference in an age of turmoil, destruction, and uncertainty. "It gives me true hope to read about the phenomenal young women of Girl Warriors. Their fierce commitment to the future of our precious planet is as inspiring as it is vital." – Kate Schatz, New York Times bestselling author of Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide(
Editor's note: YCC's March 2020 bookshelf included seven titles by or about Greta Thunberg.)
What Can I Do? From Climate Despair to Action, by Jane Fonda (Penguin Random House 2020, 352 pages, $30.00)
In the fall of 2019, frustrated with the obvious inaction of politicians and inspired by Greta Thunberg and student climate strikers, Jane Fonda moved to Washington, D.C., to lead weekly climate change demonstrations on Capitol Hill. On October 11, she launched Fire Drill Fridays, and has since led thousands of people in nonviolent civil disobedience. In What Can I Do?, Fonda weaves her deeply personal journey as an activist with conversations and speeches by leading climate scientists and inspiring community organizers. She dives deep into issues – like water, migration, and human rights – to emphasize what is at stake. More, Fonda equips us with the tools we need to join her in protest, so that everyone can work to combat the climate crisis.
(Editor's note: 100% of the author's net proceeds from What Can I Do? go to Greenpeace.)
Who Cares Wins: Reasons for Optimisms in Our Changing World, by Lily Cole (Rizzoli 2020, 480 pages, $35.00)
The climate crisis, mass extinctions, political polarization, extreme inequality – the world faces terrifying challenges that threaten to divide us. Yet activist and filmmaker Lily Cole argues that it is up to us to actively choose optimism, collaborate, make changes, and define what is possible: "We are the ancestors of our future. The choices we make now and the actions we take today will define and transform future generations." Cole explores divisive issues from fast fashion to fast food and from renewable energy to gender equality, and interviews some of today's greatest influencers. The book also features a 32-page photo insert documenting Lily's experiences and vision, as well as the artists, activists, and others who have inspired her.
The New Climate Activism: NGO Authority and Participation in Climate Change Governance, by Jen Iris Allan (University of Toronto Press 2021, 226 pages, $32.95 paperback)
At the 2019 UN climate change conference, activists and delegates from groups representing Indigenous, youth, women, and labor rights were among those marching through the halls chanting "Climate Justice, People Power." In The New Climate Activism, Jen Iris Allan looks at why and how these social activists came to participate in climate change governance while others remain outside of climate activism. As a result, concepts such as gender mainstreaming, just transition, and climate justice are common terms, while human rights and health remain "fringe issues" in climate change governance. The New Climate Activism explores why and how some activists brought their issues to climate change, and succeeded, while others did not.
Cool: Women Leaders Reversing Global Warming, by Paola Gianturco and Avery Sangster (Powerhouse Books 2021, 192 pages, $39.95)
Women are especially effective leaders when it comes to combating global warming. Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, architects of the 2015 Paris Agreement, report that "Nations with greater female representation in positions of power have smaller climate footprints. Companies with women on their executive boards are more likely to invest in renewable energy and develop products that help solve the climate crisis." For this book, Paola Gianturco and her granddaughter and co-author, Avery Sangster, interviewed and photographed women leaders, of organizations public and private, from around the world. COOL tells their inspiring stories in their own words and suggests actions you can take to join them on this existential journey.
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson (Penguin Random House 2020, 448 pages, $29.00)
There is a renaissance blooming in the climate movement: leadership that is more characteristically feminine and more faithfully feminist, rooted in compassion, connection, creativity, and collaboration. All We Can Save illuminates the expertise and insights of dozens of diverse women leading on climate in the United States – scientists, journalists, farmers, lawyers, teachers, activists, and designers, across generations, geographies, and race – and aims to advance a more representative and solution-oriented public conversation on the climate crisis. Curated by two climate leaders and intermixing essays with poetry and art, this book is both a balm and a guide, bolstering our resolve never to give up on one another or our collective future.
A proportion of 30% or more for women on corporate boards has shown a positive correlation with better climate governance and innovation in the global electric utilities, oil and gas, and mining sectors over the last four years, according to a new report by BloombergNEF and Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Gender diversity does not directly contribute to lowering emissions, but integrated oil companies with higher female representation at the board level, for example, are also more likely to have a set of decarbonization strategies and to have invested in digitalization activities. Gender Diversity and Climate Innovation examines the impact of gender diversity on climate governance, climate performance, innovation, and climate innovation.
(Editor's note: See also the report just released by Sustainable Policy Institute, Gender Balance Index 2021.)
Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, by Elizabeth Kolbert (Penguin Random House 2021, 256 pages, $28.00)
In Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world's rarest fish, which lives in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are trying to develop a "super coral" that can survive on a hotter globe; and physicists who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth. One way to look at human civilization, says Kolbert, is as a ten-thousand-year exercise in defying nature. By turns inspiring, terrifying, and darkly comic, Under a White Sky is an utterly original examination of the challenges we face.
Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, by Margaret Renkl (Milkweed Editions 2021, 248 pages, $16.95 paperback)
From New York Times opinion writer Margaret Renkl comes an unusual, captivating portrait of a family – and of the cycles of joy and grief that inscribe human lives within the natural world. Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Ringing with rapture and heartache, Renkl's linked essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things – in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. Illustrated by Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut. (Editor's note: A companion volume, Graceland at Last, will be published in September.)
Migrations: A Novel, by Charlotte McConaghy (Flatiron Books 2020, 272 pages, $26.99)
Franny Stone has always been the kind of woman who is able to love but unable to stay. Leaving behind everything but her research gear, she arrives in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration to Antarctica. Franny talks her way onto a fishing boat, and she and the crew set sail, traveling ever further from shore and safety. But as Franny's history begins to unspool, it becomes clear that she is chasing more than just the birds. How much is she willing to risk for one more chance at redemption? Epic and intimate, Charlotte McConaghy's Migrations is an ode to a disappearing world and a breathtaking page-turner about the possibility of hope against all odds.
(Editor's note: Readers can find YCC's interview with the author, by Amy Brady, here.)
High as the Waters Rise: A Novel, by Anja Kampmann, translated by Anne Posten (Penguin Random House 2020, 320 pages, $26.00)
One night aboard an oil drilling platform in the Atlantic, Waclaw returns to his cabin to find that his bunkmate and companion, Mátyás, has gone missing. A search of the rig confirms his fear that Mátyás has fallen into the sea. Grief–stricken, he embarks on an epic emotional and physical journey that takes him to Morocco, to Mátyás's hometown in Hungary, and finally to the mining town of his childhood in Germany. Waclaw's encounters along the way with other lost and yearning souls bring us closer to his origins. High as the Waters Rise is a stirring exploration of male intimacy, the nature of grief, and the cost of freedom. It's the story of a man who stands at the margins of a society from which he has little profited, even though it depends on his labor.
(Editor's note: Readers can find YCC's interview with the author, by Amy Brady, here.)
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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By Daisy Simmons
Nevada City, California. Amidst a historic pandemic and social unrest, watching the accelerating impacts of climate change on the silver screen could create a sense of helplessness – or deepen the resolve to act. Emphasizing the latter, "Resilient by Nature" was the official theme of the recent Wild & Scenic Film Festival, an entirely virtual affair this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than a tagline, a sense of resilience was palpable throughout the online event, from the festival's stirring poster art, through the 100-plus documentaries that emphasized solutions, and even into the Zoom-based lobby, where attendees could drop in for a trivia game, casual conversation about the films, or even a BYOB beer tasting.
Held by the South Yuba River Conservation League (SYRCL), the 19th annual festival also played up opportunities to act on climate and other environmental issues, from participating in virtual activism workshops to simply getting outside: Self-guided excursions included the memorable "It's All Newt to Me," a guide to local amphibians.
Despite the creative ways to come together virtually, however, there was also disappointment that the event could not be held in person. Yet even this regret seemed unifying, at least in the virtual media lounge, where several filmmakers expressed an appreciation for being able to sit in on each other's video-conference interviews – pleasantly intimate conversations that any attendee could also enjoy from the comfort of their own couch, live or after the fact.
Flexibility was indeed a silver lining of the virtual festival experience, as audiences could view most of the films at any time, from any WiFi-enabled device, during the 11-day festival.
Five Documentaries to Add to Your Climate Watchlist
Resilience doesn't mean being Pollyannaish. The festival's standout climate documentaries tackled some of today's most sobering subjects, from the devastating Camp Fire that leveled Paradise, Calif. in 2018, to existential threats faced by indigenous Arctic communities experiencing intensifying oil and gas development.
Yet even these darkest of explorations reveal stories of fierce hope and determination, a reminder that heroic action on climate isn't just possible – it's happening now.
A glance at five documentaries* that may inspire your own conviction that worthy ways forward exist:
2040 (92 min. documentary, see trailer below)
How will 2040 look for the youth of today? Australian director and narrator Damon Gameau imagines a hopeful future for his four-year-old daughter, Ella – a vision that is profoundly realistic as it is based on solutions that are already available. Yet despite the film's optimism, there is no sugarcoating here. Gameau opens with a frank description of the climate crisis, albeit in terms a young child can grasp, demonstrating greenhouse gases with a steamy shower, for one example, and the danger of melting "glaciers" spilling out of the freezer, for another.
From there an expedition in "fact-based dreaming" takes off, as the film crisscrosses the world to explore some of the most promising current "solutions," including renewable energy, driverless cars, regenerative agriculture, marine permaculture, and empowering girls. For each category, we see resourceful and dedicated people in action today, followed by a fanciful, often humorous, dramatization of Ella's future, 20-something self, living in a world rich with these solutions. Will there be a giant world party in 2040 to celebrate the success of these efforts? There's no way to know whether Gameau's hopeful vision will or won't pan-out, but he points out that "we have everything we need to make it happen."
The Last Ice (83 min. documentary, see trailer below)
A new race is afoot in the waters between Canada and Greenland, where steadily melting sea ice is opening up the potential for faster shipping, increased oil extraction, and other commercial pursuits. As industries vie for space in the newly open waters, indigenous communities are rallying to protect the Arctic as they long have known it.
Taking home the Wild and Scenic "Best of the Fest" award, The Last Ice follows the personal journeys of several Inuit people whose lives are fundamentally tied to the land and wildlife, including a young man with dreams of being a hunter, who is deeply devoted to his sled dogs, and a woman working to keep her culture's ancient traditions alive, one text at a time. Mixing in archival footage and current science and political news, the film traces the threads of globalization that led to this moment over the past century, from the first forced resettlements of Inuit communities, to container ships cutting ever-more swiftly through the ice.
Through it all, there's stunning landscapes bedazzled with Northern lights; threatened, majestic animals like polar bears and narwhals; and a fervor for preserving Inuit ways of life. They combine to make the case that it's in our shared best interest to keep the Arctic from becoming a Wild West of extraction.
Public Trust | The Fight for America's Public Lands (96 min. documentary, see trailer below)
Spanning around 640 million acres and 28% of the United States' land, the nation's public lands are a uniquely American birthright – and the center of a fight over what to do with them. Do we exploit natural resources to further economic activity? Or do we preserve them from extractive industry use, to keep ecosystems and their beauty intact for future generations? Are those poles-apart choices the only two options?
This film documents both sides of what has become a cultural war over "the last large-scale public asset on the planet," from the deserts of Utah, the storied Boundary Waters of Minnesota, and the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – all threatened by oil and gas development and/or mining. But at its core, it's also a love letter to these places, and the people across the country working to protect diverse lands.
Winner of one the festival's pair of Jury Awards, Public Trust features a refreshing mix of personalities, including a hunter and investigative reporter from north Alabama. Feeling a deeply personal stake in the future of the public lands he grew up on, he is working to "follow the money" to help Americans see who's behind the destruction of our public lands.
During production, the Trump administration opened up large areas of public land to oil and gas development. Now, viewed from the fresh reality of a new administration, it may comfort some viewers to know that a Biden administration executive order has already begun halting oil and gas leasing on federal lands.
Rebuilding Paradise (91 min. documentary, see trailer below)
The deadliest fire in California history captured international attention when it decimated Paradise in 2018. But the town's story didn't end there.
It takes grit not to fast-forward through the first harrowing 10 minutes of this Ron Howard-directed documentary. Raw dashcam footage and emergency call audio blend into a nightmarish sequence of escape from the smoke-blackened town. As the flames leap higher, a police officer, alone in his cruiser, slows down to pass his own home, stiffly reports that it is engulfed in flames, then plunges back into the darkness.
From there, though, the film shifts from disaster to what comes next for locals who choose to stay and rebuild, like the former mayor who can't wait to rebuild, and the school counselor whose own home was spared but feels crushing guilt when she runs through her now-empty neighborhood.
As the year goes on, the pain doesn't subside – it somehow gets harder, for the counselor at least. There are water contamination issues to confront, the lingering trauma that strains the police officer's marriage, and an angry town meeting with PG&E, the utility whose faulty equipment started the fire.
But life has indeed gone on in Paradise. Somehow the high school remained standing, and six months after the Camp Fire, graduating seniors light up the field with exquisite joy.
Some people argue against rebuilding because the risk of another fire is too high. The former mayor, however, is defiant in his decision to stay. "A lot of people think it's wrong to rebuild. I'm 74, I don't give a damn. Is it right to build a house in a hurricane zone in Miami on the beach? This is where I want to be."
Wild Climate (27 min. documentary, see trailer below)
Got wanderlust? Enjoy a classic cross-country road from your living room with Virginia and Peter Sargent, as they cruise through rural America to get to know people whose livelihoods are threatened by climate change. Together with their dogs, Trout and Salmon, the Sargents camp out in public lands along their way to meet folks like farmers, hunters, fishermen, and even pro snowboarders, all seeing the increasing effects of climate change in their daily lives from intensified drought thwarting the Colorado farmer, to the impacts of wildfire on a hunting outfitting company in Idaho.
Interspersed with these stories is data confirming the science behind their experiences. For example, the pro snowboarder is already seeing his work threatened by diminishing snowpack; that makes sense given that western U.S. snowpack declined by 10-20% between the 1980s and 2000s, with another 60% loss anticipated in the next 30 years.
But more than a series of interviews and scenic views, the Sargents themselves give the film heart. These aren't just big city slickers swooping in and out of little towns to get the scoop and high-tail it to the next location. There's respect and even, at times, reverence for the people they meet along the way. Of the family farmers in Idaho, Peter says, "I think Purple Sage represents the best that family farms have to offer in this country. And there are so many more like them. And it's also an aspiration. It's the kind of family I want to create with Virginia."
Note: Some of the above films may not yet be available yet for general audience streaming. Keep an eye out for a local edition of the Wild and Scenic On Tour program, coming soon to roughly 250 local events across the U.S.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Antarctica and Greenland Raised Sea Levels More Than Half an Inch in Just 16 Years, New NASA Data Shows
Greenland and Antarctica have raised global sea levels by more than half an inch in the last 16 years, according to data from the most advanced laser that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has ever launched into space to observe the earth.
While the figures themselves are consistent with other studies, as The New York Times pointed out, the satellite laser allows researchers a much more precise picture of how polar ice is changing over time, which helps determine the role of the climate crisis and plan for future sea level rise.
"We've all been waiting for this new dataset," Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory research professor Robin Bell told NPR.
The study, published in Science Thursday, combines data from two NASA satellites: the original Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which took measurements from 2003 to 2009, and ICESat-2, launched in 2018. The two satellites allowed researchers to measure changes in ice mass from 2003 to 2019, and to calculate that Greenland and Antarctica contributed 0.55 inches to sea level rise during that time. That's around a third of the global total, which was also driven by the expansion of oceans as they warm, NPR explained.
"If you watch a glacier or ice sheet for a month, or a year, you're not going to learn much about what the climate is doing to it," University of Washington glaciologist and lead study author Ben Smith said in a NASA press release. "We now have a 16-year span between ICESat and ICESat-2 and can be much more confident that the changes we're seeing in the ice have to do with the long-term changes in the climate."
The data also revealed that Greenland's ice sheet lost an average of 200 gigatons of ice per year and Antarctica's lost an average of 118. That's more than 5,000 gigatons total, NPR reported. To put that in perspective, one gigaton is enough to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
But the satellite data also helped show how the ice was being lost. In Antarctica, the East actually gained mass, probably because of increased precipitation, The New York Times reported. But this was offset by losses in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. In West Antarctica, 30 percent of that loss was due to floating ice, which either calves icebergs or melts from below due to warm ocean water. While this ice cannot contribute directly to sea level rise because it is already floating, its loss destabilizes the so-called "grounded ice" that can.
"It's like an apple tart and the ice shelves are like the wall of pastry around the edges of the tart," Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego glaciologist and study coauthor Helen Fricker explained to NPR. "And if those walls are too thin or they're not baked well enough, then the filling will ooze out."
In Greenland, two thirds of the ice loss was due to surface melting, something that rarely occurs in Antarctica, The New York Times said. Greenland also lost a lot of mass from its coastal glaciers, according to NASA. Its Kangerdulgssuaq and Jakobshavn glaciers have shrunken by 14 to 20 feet per year.
NASA explained why its satellites were able to provide such a detailed portrait:
ICESat-2's instrument is a laser altimeter, which sends 10,000 pulses of light a second down to Earth's surface, and times how long it takes to return to the satellite – to within a billionth of a second. The instrument's pulse rate allows for a dense map of measurement over the ice sheet; its high precision allows scientists to determine how much an ice sheet changes over a year to within an inch.
The researchers took tracks of earlier ICESat measurements and overlaid the tracks of ICESat-2 measurements from 2019, and took data from the tens of millions of sites where the two data sets intersected. That gave them the elevation change, but to get to how much ice has been lost, the researchers developed a new model to convert volume change to mass change. The model calculated densities across the ice sheets to allow the total mass loss to be calculated.
This level of detail is essential for helping coastal residents and governments plan for sea level rise, which is expected to reach two to six feet by 2100, according to CNBC.
"Our goal is to be able to tell every coastal community what they can plan on [in] the coming decades," Bell told NPR. "To be able to do that, we both need to measure how the ice is changing but also understand better why it's changing."
Antarctica before and after its hottest day on record Feb. 6. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and GEOS-5 data from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at NASA GSFC.
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The Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than ever recorded in modern history. New research finds that the world's second-largest ice deposit is not just melting from the surface but from below as well, which adds a new twist to consider when predicting global sea level rise.
The Arctic ice sheet stores large quantities of frozen water extending 1.7 million square kilometers (656,000 square miles) long, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. In recent years it has seen unprecedented melting — seven times faster today than in the 1990s — that is likely to be intensified by the climate crisis. Scientists estimate that if the Greenland Ice Sheet completely melted, sea levels would rise by about 20 feet.
Researchers have long known that surface melt occurs from exposure to the sun and rising temperatures, but Arctic scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Germany have now determined that an underwater current of warmer water is carving a destructive path below the surface.
To come to their findings, the team took to the 79 North Glacier, a 50-mile-long "tongue" of floating ice that has slid into the ocean and floats on the surface while remaining connected to the land ice. In the last two decades the 79 North Glacier has seen dramatic loss of both its mass and thickness. The first-ever extensive ship-based survey of the ocean floor revealed an underwater current more than a mile-wide arriving from the Atlantic Ocean, bringing heat into contact with the glacier to accelerate its melting.
"The reason for the intensified melting is now clear," researcher Janin Schaffer said, according to EurekAlert!. "Because the warm water current is larger, substantially more warmth now makes its way under the ice tongue, second for second."
Schaffer and her team also found what is known as a bathymetric sill, which acts as a dam to water flowing over the seafloor. As water builds up against this barrier, it grows until eventually rushing over and coming into contact with the tongue, further melting the ice from below.
"The readings indicate that here, too, a bathymetric sill near the seafloor accelerates warm water toward the glacier. Apparently, the intensive melting on the underside of the ice at several sites throughout Greenland is largely produced by the form of the seafloor,"Schaffer said.
Writing in Nature Geoscience, the study authors add that similar effects were seen at other parts of the Greenland Ice Sheet as well. The researchers say that their findings may help to more accurately gauge the total amount of meltwater lost from the ice sheet each year.
Greenland experienced an unusually warm summer in 2019, which caused the world's largest island to lose 600 billion tons of ice and raised sea levels by 0.2 of an inch, according to a NASA study released yesterday. That amount of ice loss more than doubled Greenland's 2002-2019 annual average.
The data comes from the joint U.S.-German space mission known as Grace-FO, a pair of satellites that circle the globe and sense the variations in mass that correspond to Earth's gravity field, according to the BBC. The satellites are particularly adept at sensing tiny changes in the Earth's gravitational field caused by ice gain or loss. They have proven themselves useful in detecting groundwater storage around the globe, according to the Washington Post.
The study also looked at Antarctica, noting that it continues to lose its ice mass, particularly in the Amundsen Sea Embayment and the Antarctic Peninsula on the western part of the continent, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"We knew this past summer had been particularly warm in Greenland, melting every corner of the ice sheet," lead author Isabella Velicogna, senior project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor at University of California, Irvine, said in a statement. "But the numbers really are enormous."
The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. It tracked ice loss in Greenland dating back to 2002, using information from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) satellites, which went out of commission in 2017, and the new Grace-FO satellites, which launched in 2018. The FO stands for Follow On, as The Washington Post reported.
The satellites revealed that from 2002 to 2019, Greenland lost 4,550 billion tons of ice, for an average of 261 billion tons every year, according to The Washington Post. 2012 and 2019 were the two largest melt years in that time frame, the BBC reported.
Velicogna told The Washington Post what made 2019 so different in Greenland was that there was a lot of melting from the glaciers in the north and northeastern glaciers, which is unusual.
"And, so, basically, we have melting all around the ice sheet," she said.
In the coastal town of Ilulissat, not far from where the mighty Jakobshavn Glacier enters the ocean, temperatures reached into the high 20s Celsius this summer. The warm temperatures even reached the ice sheet's interior, which approached above freezing levels, the BBC reported.
"It's significant that we're now seeing melt and mass loss extending to Greenland's northern glaciers. All of Greenland contributed to the big summer melt of last year," Velicogna said, according to the BBC.
Robin Bell, an expert on ice sheet dynamics at Columbia University, to The Washington Post that the satellite data will help researchers improve the accuracy of their future sea-level rise estimates.
"This is a beautiful update of how we can really see how the ice sheets are changing…from the annual inhale and exhale as snow accumulates in the winter in Greenland and melts in the summer," she said.
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