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.
By Kenny Stancil
Over the past five decades, the Arctic has warmed three times faster than the world as a whole, leading to rapid and widespread melting of ice and other far-reaching consequences that are important not only to local communities and ecosystems but to the fate of life on planet Earth.
The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) issued that warning on Thursday in a new report that summarizes the latest findings on Arctic change and projections of future transformations under different climate scenarios. The publication of AMAP's report coincides with this week's meeting of the Arctic Council in Reykjavík, Iceland, which brings together policymakers from countries bordering the region.
According to the report, the Arctic's annual mean surface temperature surged by 3.1ºC between 1971 and 2019, compared with a 1ºC rise in the global average during the same time period. Arctic warming has been accompanied by a decrease in snow cover and sea and land ice; an increase in permafrost thaw and rainfall; and an uptick in extreme events.
"The Arctic is a real hotspot for climate warming," Jason Box, a glaciologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, told Agence France-Presse on Thursday.
The rapid warming of the Arctic is releasing significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, accelerating the… https://t.co/L50di68FYG— Environmental Justice Foundation (@Environmental Justice Foundation) 1621440072.0
AMAP stressed that the current transformation of the Arctic environment is adversely affecting the livelihoods and food security of Arctic communities, especially Indigenous ones. Arctic warming also poses risks to unique terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems in the region, some of which are vulnerable to irreversible harm. Moreover, the report emphasized, "changes in the Arctic have global implications," especially if potentially negative feedback loops are triggered.
"No one on Earth is immune to Arctic warming," the report said. "The rapid mass loss of the Greenland ice sheet and other Arctic land ice contributes more to global sea-level rise than does the melting of ice in Antarctica."
Some projections estimate that by 2050, 150 million people worldwide will be displaced from their homes just by rising sea levels.
Without an adequate international effort to slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, that number could be far higher.
According to the report, the latest climate models indicate that "annual mean surface air temperatures in the Arctic will rise to 3.3–10°C above the 1985–2014 average by 2100, depending on the course of future emissions."
"Under most emission scenarios," the report said, "the vast majority" of climate models "project the first instance of a largely sea-ice-free Arctic in September occurring before 2050," and possibly as early as 2040.
Because each fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference, the stakes for adequate climate action are immense.
If the global temperature rises to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the report pointed out, an ice-free Arctic summer is 10 times more likely than if planetary heating is limited to 1.5ºC, the more ambitious target of the Paris agreement.
A growing number of countries, including major economies like the United States and the European Union, have recently pledged to cut GHG emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade on the way to net-zero by midcentury.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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The sprawling size and sunny days of Texas make it one of the top states for solar energy. If you live in the Lone Star State and are interested in switching to a solar energy system, you may be wondering: What's the average solar panel cost in Texas?
In this article, we'll discuss the cost of solar panels in Texas, what factors affect pricing, Texas' solar incentives and more. Of course, the only way to know for sure how much you would pay to install a solar panel system on your roof is to receive a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company near you. You can get started by filling out the quick form below.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in Texas?
Thanks to the growing investment in renewable energy technology statewide, homeowners now enjoy a below-average cost of solar in Texas. Based on market research and data from top brands, we've found the average cost of solar panels in Texas to be $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is especially valuable when you take into account the unpredictable Texas energy rates.
Here's how that average calculates into the cost of the most common sizes of home solar panel systems:
|Size of Solar Panel System||Texas Solar Panel Cost||Cost After Federal Tax Credit|
Though this data reflects the statewide averages, you'll need to contact a solar installer near you to get an accurate quote for your home. Savvy customers will get free quotes from multiple companies and compare them to the state averages to make sure they receive the best value possible. Bear in mind that the biggest providers of solar won't always have the best prices.
What Determines the Cost of Solar Panels in Texas?
The main factor determining the cost of solar panel installations in Texas is the homeowner's energy needs. No two homes are the same, and installation costs will look far different for a home needing a basic 5kW system and a home needing 10kW with backup power capabilities. The solar financing and installation company a homeowner chooses will also affect a customer's overall solar costs in Texas. Here's how each factor comes into play:
Similar to phones, cars and other technology, solar products and system costs vary greatly based on their quality, scale and included features. Some customers may be satisfied with a modest array of affordable solar panels and inverters, while others may opt for a system with premium panels, full-home backup power and cutting-edge energy monitoring technology.
The overall cost of solar depends significantly on how a customer chooses to finance their system. The three most common solar financing options include paying in cash, taking out a solar loan and solar leasing.
- The most economical way to purchase solar, an upfront cash purchase provides the best long-term return on investment and the lowest overall cost.
- Customers can choose to take out a solar loan to purchase the system outright and make monthly payments to repay the loan. The typical payback period for a solar loan averages around 10 years. Systems purchased with a loan are still eligible for the federal solar tax credit.
- Signing a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) allows a solar customer to rent solar panels from a company or third party. Though requiring the least amount of money upfront, solar leases provide the least amount of overall value. Also, solar leases aren't eligible for the federal tax credit, as the homeowner doesn't actually own the system.
Solar Installation Company
Texas has seen some of the strongest solar energy market growth over the last few years, and the SEIA reports that there are now nearly 600 solar companies based in Texas, and each is looking to expand its market share.
Price ranges can differ significantly based on the installer. Larger solar providers like Sunrun offer the advantage of solar leases and quick installations. Local providers, on the other hand, provide more personalization and competitive prices to undercut the biggest national companies.
Because of this, it's wise to get quotes from a few local and national installers and compare rates — because of the stiff competition between companies, you could end up saving several thousand dollars.
Texas Solar Incentives
For the most part, Texas taxes are administered by local governments. As a result, the state doesn't offer a large number of statewide solar-related policies, and incentives will depend more on the locality in which you live.
However, all homeowners in the state remain eligible for the federal solar tax credit, and there are some statewide local property tax exemptions for both photovoltaic solar and wind-powered renewable energy systems. Let's walk through how to find what incentives are available to you.
Federal Solar Tax Credit
All Texans can claim the federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC, for PV solar panels and energy storage systems. By claiming the ITC on your tax returns, the policy allows you to deduct 26% of the total cost of the solar system from the taxes you owe the federal government.
The tax credit is available to both residential and commercial system owners who have installed solar panels at any point since 2006. The credit is worth 26% through the end of 2022 and will drop to 22% in 2023. It is set to expire at the end of 2023 unless congress extends it.
Net Metering Policies in Texas
Net metering programs allow customers to sell unused solar energy back to their local utility company in exchange for credits that can be cashed in when panels aren't producing energy. Due to the energy bill savings, this incentive can greatly reduce the solar investment payback period.
As is true with most of Texas' solar rebates and incentives, there is not one net metering program that is offered throughout the entire state. Rather, your eligibility will depend on the policy of your local utility company or municipality. Most utilities in the state have a net metering policy, including American Electric Power (AEP), CPS Energy, Green Mountain Energy, El Paso Electric, TXU Energy in Dallas and more.
The rate at which your local utility will compensate for this excess energy will depend on your local policy, so we encourage you to look into the policy offered by your utility company.
Local Solar Rebates in Texas
In addition to identifying your local net metering program, look into any local rebates available to you. Homeowners who live in the top cities for solar in Texas, like Austin, San Marcos or Sunset Valley might have more luck than customers in other areas. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency has a full list of local rebates, solar loan programs and more.
FAQ: Solar Panel Cost Texas
Is it worth going solar in Texas?
Long, sunny days and below-average solar installation costs make Texas one of the best states in the U.S. for generating energy with solar panels. The ample sunshine provides more than enough energy for most families, serving up huge benefits to homes in Texas equipped with solar panels.
How much does it cost to install solar panels in Texas?
As of 2021, the average cost of solar panels in Texas is $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is slightly below the national average due to the resource availability in Texas, current energy costs and the state's available sunlight. The best way to assess how much solar would cost you is to consult local providers near you for a free estimate.
Do solar panels increase home value in Texas?
Solar panels increase home value everywhere, but mostly in areas with generous net metering policies and solar rebates. As such, the proportion at which solar panels increase home value in Texas corresponds with the areas with the most solar-friendly policies.
How much do solar panels cost for a 2,500 sq foot house?
Though knowing the size of a house is helpful in determining how many solar panels could fit on its roof, the energy use of the house is the more important factor in determining solar panel cost in Texas. The higher your energy use, the greater your solar needs will be.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
Climate Crisis Could Change Permafrost Soil Microbes, With ‘Unknown Consequences’ for Arctic Ecosystems, Scientists Say
Can the past predict the future?
In the case of communities of microbes living in the Arctic permafrost, researchers at the University of Alberta think it might. The scientists discovered that the microbes and chemistry of Arctic soil changed dramatically following the end of the last Ice Age, and the same thing could happen again due to the climate crisis.
"Since soils are where plants grow and where nearly all terrestrial life lives, this could have big impacts on the entire Arctic ecosystem," study coauthor and University of Alberta associate professor Brian Lanoi said in a university press release. "Our work shows this happened before, and it is possible that this could happen again as the result of current climate change."
How changes in ancient soil microbes could predict the future of the Arctic: https://t.co/bXBDfEeMFd #UAlberta… https://t.co/qj9PQShzDX— University of Alberta (@University of Alberta)1598547633.0
The study, published in Frontiers in Environmental Science this month, helped fill a gap in scientists' understanding of how the end of the Ice Age impacted soil communities. The shift between the Ice Age (the Pleistocene) and the current era (the Holocene) led to dramatic and well-documented changes in plant and animal life, but, until now, it had not been clear if it caused equally dramatic changes to the communities of microbes living in the Arctic soil.
However, previous studies had looked at permafrost sediments dating from either the Pleistocene or Holocene. To better understand the transition, the University of Alberta researchers looked at sediment that showed the transition between the two geological epochs. They then analyzed the samples under sterile conditions for both their genetic makeup and chemical composition, and found that both markers were very different before and after the transitional period.
"We found that both the microbial communities and the chemical parameters are stable within each era until they cross a threshold, driven by the change in climate," Lanoil explained in the press release. "After that threshold, there is an abrupt switch to a new microbial community and new soil chemistry. We argue that modern climate change could lead to a similar transition in state for soils in Arctic ecosystems, with unknown consequences."
Because current Arctic soil microbes help process carbon and nitrogen, a change in their makeup could impact the carbon and nitrogen cycles, the press release explained. However, Lanoil pointed out that more research is needed to understand how a change in soil microbes impacts the surrounding ecosystem.
The researchers did note that warming in the Western Arctic is now much greater than at the end of the last Ice Age, and the region may be reaching its highest temperatures in the last 14,000 years.
Previous research has shown that warming might not only change the composition of Arctic soil, it might also release microbes that have been frozen there. Scientists have warned that the climate crisis could cause deadly bacteria long trapped in frozen soil to reemerge.
"Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark," evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie told BBC in 2017. "Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past."
A block of thawing permafrost topples off the Alaska coast. U.S. Geological Survey
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By Suzanne Cords
One day Lizzie, the first-person narrator of the novel, receives an old book as a gift, with a dedication wishing the reader to be among the survivors. Like the preppers who build bunkers and stockpile supplies in remote areas to be ready for the end of the world, Lizzie is convinced that the end of the world is definitely near in times of a threatening climate disaster.
Lizzie, who lives in New York with her husband and son, is a university campus librarian. She worries about almost everything: her brother, an ex-junkie, or her dental insurance and the future in the face of the apocalypse. She is obsessed with reading reference books and articles about climate change.
She also devours words of wisdom, including about Buddhist spirituality: "A visitor once asked the old monks on Mount Athos what they did all day, and was told: We have died and we are in love with everything." But nothing can lift her spirits.
'Lizzie Is Just Like Us'
Lizzie observes rich New Yorkers plan their move to regions that are less threatened by climate change, something she simply cannot afford. Sometimes she watches disaster movies, which lead her to worry even more.
Above all, she is a gifted observer of her fellow human beings. "Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters? Old person worry: What if everything I do, does?"
Lizzie, the U.S. author told DW, is a bit like the rest of us — well aware of the climate crisis, but because she cares and worries about so many other things, that awareness falls by the wayside. That's how she felt herself, Jenny Offill said, but the more she looked into the issue, the more she saw a need for action on her part, too.
"I also was trying to see if there was a way to make it funny, because, you know, so much of the world of prepping and imagining disaster is actually sort of strangely funny."
The novel was shortlisted for the 2020 UK's Women's Prize for Fiction and has now been released in German translation.
Climate Activist With a Vision
But then, there is also this serious, scientifically based concern about what climate change means. In the past, says Offill, artists were the ones who would predict disasters; today it's the experts, as well as the students she teaches. In the end, their fears and their justified anger motivated her to take a closer look at the issue. Today, she is a climate activist herself, and is involved in initiatives along with many other artists.
Lizzie, the heroine of Weather, hasn't gotten that far. But she voices her fears, and that's a start. "Of course, the world continues to end," says Sylvia, a mentor of Lizzie's, at one point — and commences to water her garden. There is hope after all.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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The study, published in Scientific Reports Thursday, was conducted by two researchers at the BI Norwegian Business School. They used the ESCIMO climate model to determine that, even if emissions ceased tomorrow, the permafrost would continue to thaw for hundreds of years.
"According to our models, humanity is beyond the point-of-no-return when it comes to halting the melting of permafrost using greenhouse gas cuts as the single tool," lead author and professor emeritus of climate strategy Jorgen Randers told AFP. "If we want to stop this melting process we must do something in addition – for example, suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it underground, and make Earth's surface brighter."
However, other scientists have pointed to the simplicity of the model Randers and his colleague Ulrich Goluke used and cautioned against misinterpreting their findings as a reason to give up on climate action.
"This paper clearly may be cited in support of a misleading message that it is now 'too late' to avoid catastrophic climate change, which would have the potential to cause unnecessary despair," University of Exeter climate scientist professor Richard Betts said in response. "However, the study is nowhere near strong enough to make such a frightening message credible."
So what exactly does the study say? The researchers used their model to see what would happen by 2500 if emissions stopped today and if they slowly declined to zero by 2100, as AFP explained. In the first scenario, temperatures would still rise to around 2.3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within the next 50 years, taper off, then rise again starting in 2150. By 2500, the world would be around three degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels would rise by around three meters (approximately 9.8 feet). In the second, temperature and sea level rise would end up in the same place, but the temperature increase would be much faster.
The reason for the persistent increase comes from three feedback loops, the model found.
- The melting of sea ice, which means that the sun's heat is absorbed into the darker ocean instead of reflected back by the bright ice.
- The thawing of permafrost, which releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- Increased moisture in the atmosphere, which in turn raises temperatures.
The only way to have prevented runaway climate change would have been to have stopped burning fossil fuels between 1960 and 1970, the model found, as USA TODAY reported. In order to stop temperatures and sea levels from rising now, we would have to remove at least 33 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year starting this one.
The study authors were the first to admit their findings were limited to one model.
"We encourage other model builders to explore our discovery in their (bigger) models, and report on their findings," they wrote.
However, Betts noted that their model was not the model used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and did not realistically simulate how the climate works.
Penn State University meteorologist Michael Mann agreed. He told USA TODAY that it was not very complex and did not accurately reproduce atmospheric and ocean circulation systems.
"While such models can be useful for conceptual inferences, their predictions have to be taken with great skepticism. Far more realistic climate models that do resolve the large-scale dynamics of the ocean, atmosphere and carbon cycle, do NOT produce the dramatic changes these authors argue for based on their very simplified model," he said. "It must be taken not just with a grain of salt, but a whole salt-shaker worth of salt."
That said, even the models used by the IPCC show that we will need to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reach the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, even if we achieve zero emissions by 2050.
"What the study does draw attention to is that reducing global carbon emissions to zero by 2050 is just the start of our actions to deal with climate change," University College London climate professor Mark Maslin said in response.
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By Kristie Pladson
Russian scientists are excavating the well-preserved skeleton of a woolly mammoth found in a lake in northern Siberia, The Associated Press reported Friday.
Fragments of the skeleton, which still has some ligaments attached, were discovered by local reindeer herders near the shore of Pechevalavato Lake in Russia's Yamal-Nenets region earlier this week.
The herders found part of the mammoth's skull, several ribs and a fragment of its foot with ligament still attached.
"The lake bottom mud may hold the rest of the mammoth skeleton," Dmitry Frolov, the head of the Research Center for Arctic Studies, told Russian news agency TASS.
"It is necessary to record the exact location of the remains for further studies," he added.
Full Excavation Will Take Time
On Friday, Russian television stations showed footage of scientists looking for more mammoth bones in the lakeside silt.
Several larger fragments have already been found following the original discovery this week. However, excavating the rest of the skeleton will require significant time and special equipment, assuming it all survived in position together, the scientists said.
Finding a complete mammoth skeleton is relatively rare, said Yevgeniya Khozyainova of the Shemanovsky Institute in Salekhard in televised remarks.
Heat Wave Melting Siberia's Permafrost
Experts believe woolly mammoths died out around 10,000 years ago. Reaching 5.5 meters (18 feet) in height and weighing up to 12 tons, they were around twice the size and weight of today's elephant.
The carcasses of several well-preserved mammoths have been uncovered in the permafrost of northern Siberia in recent years, as the region faces a rapid change of climate.
Siberia is currently experiencing a heat wave, in another warning sign to climate experts who believe rising temperatures could melt the permafrost and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere . On Friday, the UN weather agency warned that last month's average temperatures there were 10 degrees Celsius (18 Fahrenheit) above normal.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Stuart Braun
The melting of the polar ice caps has often been portrayed as a tsunami-inducing Armageddon in popular culture. In the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, the warming Gulf Stream and North Atlantic currents cause rapid polar melting. The result is a massive wall of ocean water that swamps New York City and beyond, killing millions in the process. And like the recent polar vortex in the Northern Hemisphere, freezing air then rushes in from the poles to spark another ice age.
The premise is obviously ridiculous. Or is it? Rapid glacial retreat in Alaska in 2015 did in fact trigger a huge landslide and a mega tsunami that was nearly 650 feet high when it hit shore. Few knew or cared because it luckily happened at the end of the Earth where no one was living.
Many of us might believe we won't be directly impacted by the breakup of trillions of tons of ice due to global heating. We figure that unless we live on a small island in the Pacific, or have a house on the beach, it's not our problem.
Or Is It?
While it's true that the glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets covering 10% of the Earth's land mass are mostly in the middle of nowhere, their rapid breakup has a cascading effect.
Consider how all the extra fresh water in the ocean is diluting salt levels. And how that messes with the balance of the Gulf Stream, one of the world's most important ocean currents. The result is climate extremes, especially tropical storms and hurricanes in places like the Gulf of Mexico, but also more frequent floods and droughts on both sides of the Atlantic. It's gonna suck for a lot of people.
To put this meltdown in context, the rate of ice sheet retreat has increased nearly 60% since the 1990s. That's a 28 trillion ton net loss of ice between 1994 and 2017. Antarctica's epic ice sheet, the world's largest, and the world's mountain glaciers have suffered half of this loss.
OK, That Sounds Like a Lot — But So What?
Again, it's the domino effect that's worrying. With temperatures rising twice as fast in the Arctic — the world's air conditioner — than anywhere else on the planet, the heat is not just melting ice. It's also weakening atmospheric air currents known as the jet stream. In other words, more bad news for the weather.
The polar vortexes that have been freezing Europe and North America in recent years are related to a weakened polar jet stream — a scenario that triggered the sudden ice age in The Day After Tomorrow.
The cold might be welcome as the planet heats up, but here's the thing: Arctic regions are heating up, too. Which means the ice that's supposed to be reflecting the sun's energy away from Earth isn't as much anymore, leaving the sea to absorb this heat.
No surprise then that in 2018 the winter ice sheet in the Bering Sea bordering Alaska was at its lowest levels in over 5,000 years.
Fish, sea bird, seal and polar bear habitats are also disappearing with the ice. Indigenous communities in the Arctic who once hunted in a thriving frozen ecosystem are being upended — their houses are also falling in the sea as the lack of ice causes the coast to erode.
Sure, it's an underpopulated part of the world. But consider also the rapid thaw of permafrost on the Siberian tundra. One of the world's biggest carbon sinks, the tundra is now releasing greenhouse gases like methane that were long trapped below the frost.
Some scientists have predicted that by century's end, 40% of permafrost regions will have disappeared, meaning they will no longer retain, but will also release carbon dioxide — and we're talking more than is already in the atmosphere right now. As global heating is turbocharged, bye bye to more ice.
Which leads us to the elephant in the room: rising sea levels.
How Bad Could Rising Sea Levels Get?
So let's start with the worst-case scenario — and remember the culprit here would be ice sheets and glaciers on land.
If the fast-retreating Antarctic ice sheet, the world's largest, completely melted, the world's oceans would rise by about 60 meters (about 200 feet). That would be Armageddon and London, Venice, Mumbai and New York would become aquariums.
Don't panic, though, this won't happen any time soon. But if emissions aren't sufficiently scaled back to mitigate climate change, some researchers reckon oceans will definitely rise by at least 2 meters by the end of the century. That's still enough to swamp the several hundred million people living below 5 meters above sea level. Another 350 million or so living higher up would have to relocate to escape regular coastal flooding.
Can't People Just Move?
Maybe, but that wouldn't be the end of it. The world's mountain glaciers, which number roughly 200,000, are melting much faster than they can accumulate these days. Problem is, though they only cover less than 0.5% of the Earth's landmass, these "water towers" provide fresh water to about a quarter of the world's population.
Glaciers also feed the rivers that irrigate the crops which hundreds of millions of people across Asia, South America and Europe depend on for their survival. So without them, many people will suffer from both thirst and hunger. Scientists say water tower retreat has put almost 2 billion people at risk of water scarcity.
Right now, cities like Santiago in Chile are watching a big part of their drinking water supply literally dry up as glaciers in the nearby Andes retreat. Meanwhile, the European Alps that supply so much fresh water across the region have shrunk by about half since 1900 and will be almost ice free by century's end if nothing more is done to curb warming.
OK, Is There Anything That We Can Do?
Like global heating in general, the best way to mitigate the meltdown is to stop polluting the atmosphere with global warming-inducing carbon.
Of course, the process can't be reversed overnight. Even if people across the world stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, one-third of the world's remaining glaciers would still disappear.
So to save some amount of precious polar and glacial ice, we need to avoid the temperature rise of over 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) that the UN says is inevitable if governments don't step up climate targets. If the world can decarbonize by 2050, it might be possible to preserve around one-third of the current glacial mass by century's end. That would take both government action and a radical commitment to reduce our individual carbon footprint.
The future remains uncertain. But it's likely that if melting isn't slowed real soon, disaster movie scenarios might not look so ridiculous to future generations.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
NOAA also announced global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are higher than at any point in the last 3.6 million years. "It is very scary indeed," Euan Nisbet, professor of earth sciences at Royal Holloway University of London, told the Financial Times. About 60% of methane emissions are caused by human activity, and U.S. oil and gas operations are a major driver of recent methane pollution increases.
"Although increased fossil emissions may not be fully responsible for the recent growth in methane levels," NOAA research chemist Ed Dlugokencky said in a statement, "reducing fossil methane emissions are an important step toward mitigating climate change."
Methane is a far more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, and scientists are worried global warming could be triggering accelerated methane releases from tropical wetlands and melting Arctic permafrost. "Our path to net zero is obvious, challenging and necessary," Martin Siegert, a professor at the Imperial College London, told The Guardian, "and we must get on with the transition urgently."
As reported by The Guardian:
Professor Simon Lewis, from University College London, said: "It is easy to forget just how much and just how fast fossil fuel emissions are affecting our planet.
"It took over 200 years to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 25%, and just 30 years to reach 50% above pre-industrial levels. This dramatic change is like a human meteorite hitting Earth."
But he added: "If countries make plans now to put society on a path of sustained and dramatic cuts to emissions from today, we can avoid ever-rising emissions and the dangerously accelerating impacts of climate change."
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Now, a group of researchers is warning that the nature of Arctic fires may be changing, and it's important to understand how in order to better predict the future of the global climate.
"It's not just the amount of burned area that is alarming," University of Colorado Boulder fire and permafrost ecologist Dr. Merritt Turetsky said in a press release published by Phys.org. "There are other trends we noticed in the satellite data that tell us how the Arctic fire regime is changing and what this spells for our climate future."
1. Zombie Fires
Zombie fires, also known as holdover fires, occur when fires from the previous season continue to burn beneath the ground during the winter. These blazes can then reemerge when the snow melts and the weather warms.
Satellite monitoring data from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service confirmed that zombie fires helped drive 2020's unprecedented wildfire season, which broke records both for the number of blazes and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, as Live Science reported. But the scientists writing in Nature Geoscience say they still need to learn more about these unusual fires and how they may contribute to climate feedback loops.
"We know little about the consequences of holdover fires in the Arctic," Turetsky said in the press release, "except that they represent momentum in the climate system and can mean that severe fires in one year set the stage for more burning the next summer."
Indeed, the 2020 wildfire season broke records that had been set just the year before, in 2019's also unprecedented season.
2. Fires Where Fire Shouldn't Be
The other troubling feature of the 2019 and 2020 Arctic wildfire seasons is that their blazes ignited in areas typically resistant to burning, the scientists pointed out. This included tundra vegetation such as dwarf shrubs, sedges, grasses and mosses and previously burn-free environments like bogs, fens and marshes.
Significantly, more than 50 percent of the 2020 fires burning above 65° North occurred on ice-rich permafrost, which contains the most carbon of any Arctic soil.
"Nearly all of this year's fires inside the Arctic Circle have occurred on continuous permafrost, with over half of these burning on ancient carbon-rich peat soils," commentary coauthor and London School of Economics and Political Science fire scientist Dr. Thomas Smith said in the press release. "The record high temperatures and associated fires have the potential to turn this important carbon sink into a carbon source, driving further global heating."
The scientists called for more research into the dynamics of Arctic fires to better understand how they will contribute to the climate crisis. Part of this requires collaborating with local and Indigenous communities, who can provide on-the-ground observations to accompany satellite data.
"The burning Arctic is a global issue that requires a global solution," the scientists concluded. "While the expertise of the Indigenous communities of the North and Arctic nations will be central to any success, we cannot expect them to shoulder the responsibility alone."
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Arctic winters are meant to be frigid, but because of rising temperatures and climate change, they aren't cold enough. The permafrost, the thick subsurface layer of frozen soil that stores one of the world's largest natural reserves of carbon, is thawing. As it does, it releases potent greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change. European scientists have now found that resettling massive herds of large herbivores could combat this effect and save up to 80 percent of all permafrost soils around the globe until 2100.
The study, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports on Tuesday, focuses on wholistic "ecosystem management practices" that "[integrate] fauna dynamics into complex Earth System models." Lead scientist and permafrost expert Christian Beer from Universität Hamburg's Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN) found that introducing and managing reindeer, horses, bison and other herbivores into Arctic ecosystems can save the permafrost soils and stall climate change.
Beer drew inspiration from the late Pleistocene era, when large herds of herbivores roamed most of Northern Eurasia maintaining a grassland ecosystem in the Arctic called the mammoth steppe ecosystem, notes the study.
The productive ecosystem actually pulled large quantities of carbon from the earth's atmosphere into the soil where it froze, reports Climate CoLab. Over tens of thousands of years, the carbon-infused soils built up into our modern permafrost.
This ecosystem existed up until the end of the last ice age when wooly mammoths and other big mammals died off and the mammoth steppe vanished. Today, as the permafrost thaws, ancient methane and carbon dioxide are released.
Beer's study explores what would happen if a similar ecosystem could be recreated in the modern era to prevent loss of the permafrost. Luckily, he doesn't need to find wooly mammoths.
Russian scientists Sergey and Nikita Zimov resettled herds of bison, wisents, reindeer and horses at Pleistocene Park in Siberia 20 years ago to study how restoring the mammoth steppe ecosystem will positively affect global climate, reports Climate CoLab.
At Pleistocene Park, the winter air (minus 40 degrees Celsius) is far colder than the permafrost (minus 10 degrees Celsius), the study notes. "Thick snowfall insulates the ground from the much colder air, keeping it 'warm.'"
As the animals graze, their hooves scatter and compress the snow cover, dramatically reducing the insulating effect and allowing for more "freezing Siberian air [to reach] more deeply into the ground's permafrost," explains Pleistocene Park. This slows the thawing of the permafrost even in a warmer climate, reports Climate CoLab.
Beer, the Zimovs and their research partners compared the effect of grazing herds on snow depth and soil temperatures at Pleistocene Park and other Arctic locations in Europe. The study reports that herds in the Park cut snow cover height in half and reindeer in Sweden lowered snow cover by 73 percent. Comparing soil temperatures inside and outside of the fenced Pleistocene Park during winter revealed a mean annual difference of −1.9 degrees Celsius where animals had grazed.
The study explains the huge potential upside of this experiment. "Since most populations of large herbivores like reindeer and muskoxen are directly managed by humans, either by hunting or management," it reports, "the herbivore community can also be manipulated even more by reintroducing lost components of the Arctic herbivore assembly."
Beer said, "This type of natural manipulation in ecosystems that are especially relevant for the climate system has barely been researched to date – but holds tremendous potential," reported a Universität Hamburg article.
"If emissions continue to rise unchecked ... we can expect to see a 3.8-degree Celsius increase in permafrost temperatures, which would cause half of all permafrost to thaw," the article reported. Adding animals lowers that warming by 44 percent, to 2.1 degrees Celsius, which is enough to preserve 80 percent of the world's permafrost.
Beer's team also explored what would happen if some, but fewer, grazers were resettled. He admitted, "It may be utopian to imaging resettling wild animal herds in all the permafrost regions of the Northern Hemisphere," reported Universität Hamburg.
Critically, Beer's results show that fewer animals would still produce a cooling effect. "What we've shown here is a promising method for slowing the loss of our permanently frozen soils, and with it, the decomposition and release of the enormous carbon stockpiles they contain," the earth system expert told Universität Hamburg.
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One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.
Scientists warmed tropical soil to a level that was consistent with projections for how much the planet will warm up by the end of the century. When they heated the soil 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, they found that the soil released 55 percent more carbon dioxide than the control soil, according to the paper, as Agence-France Presse (AFP) reported.
The takeaway is that tropical soils are far more sensitive to global heating than researchers had previously thought. It turns out that experimental evidence to confirm that long-held belief was missing.
"Soils form a living skin around the Earth," said Andrew Nottingham, the paper's lead author and a researcher at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, as Cosmos Magazine reported. "They contain vast amounts of organic matter – more carbon is held in soils than is held in plants and the atmosphere put together."
The complex carbon cycle has traditionally been held in balance by the earth's soil, which contains a teeming ecosystem of microorganisms, bacteria, fungi and insects that counterbalance the carbon released by the dead leaves and decaying plants. However, at warmer temperatures, the microbes speed up their rate of digestion and respiration, which kicks more carbon into the atmosphere and away from the soil, according to The New York Times.
"The inputs of carbon to soils from plant detritus (dead wood, leaves and roots) roughly balance the losses to the atmosphere produced by the respiration of soil microorganisms that feed on that material," wrote Eric Davidson, a researcher at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, in a comment in Nature accompanying the study. "However, just a 1 percent imbalance of global soil-carbon effluxes over influxes would equal about 10 percent of global anthropogenic carbon emissions."
The finding "is another example of why we need to worry more," said Davidson, as The New York Times reported.
To conduct the experiment, Nottingham created a series of circular plots with electrical wires that he buried four-feet deep on a small island in Panama that houses the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Over the course of two years, Nottingham used the wires to heat the soil by 6 degrees Fahrenheit, which is how much the tropics are projected to warm by 2100, according to current climate projections, as The New York Times reported.
That's when Nottingham found that over the course of two years, the warming soil emitted 55 percent more carbon dioxide than the control soil. From there, the extrapolations begin. The researchers calculated that if a similar rise in temperature happened in the tropics around the globe in a two-year period between now and 2100, it would release the equivalent of 240 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, according to Phys.org.
"That is more than six times the current annual emissions from human-related sources," said Nottingham, as Phys.org reported. "This could be an underestimation, because we might see large continued loss beyond the two years in our experiment."
"This is a very large response," said Margaret Torn, an ecologist at Lawrence Berkeley Lab in California, who was not involved in the study and who runs a similar warming experiment in a California forest that reported a roughly 35 percent increase in carbon emissions after two years, to The New York Times. "It's one of the largest I've heard of."
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By Tim Schauenberg
Although wetlands cover less than 4% of the Earth's surface, 40% of all animal species live or reproduce in them. One-third of all organic matter on our planet is stored in places like the gigantic Pantanal wetland in western Brazil, the Sudd floodplain in southern Sudan or the Wasjugan Marsh in western Siberia.
Wetlands filter, store and supply the planet with water and food — more than a billion people worldwide depend on them for sustenance.
They also play a key role in regulating the planet's climate, according to James Dalton of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), an umbrella organization of numerous international governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Globally, peatlands and peat soils store twice as much carbon as the total biomass of all the world's forests combined.
From Storing CO2 to Releasing It
Dams, groundwater usage, increasing water pollution, and industrial and agricultural production have reduced wetlands worldwide by 35% since 1970. Latin America tops the table with an estimated 60% of areas destroyed — not including losses in the Orinoco River region of Colombia and Venezuela and the Amazon. In Asian countries, about a third of all wetlands have been destroyed, and in Africa more than 40% have been lost.
The biggest contributor to rising water stress worldwide is agriculture. According to World Bank figures, 70% of the annual drinking water demand flows into agriculture. Much of the water is used to raise livestock and grow livestock feed, such as soybeans.
The draining of areas for peat extraction is doubly damaging to the climate. Not only is CO2 storage capacity destroyed, but "When you drain these lands, you also release the gases that are stored in these areas," Dalton warned. That includes methane, a gas that is particularly harmful to the climate.
As temperatures rise and wetlands dry out, they can go from vast greenhouse gas stores to greenhouse gas sources. When they are still wet, they store carbon. But if they dry, decomposition of the biological material begins. This process releases carbon. This is also true of permafrost soils in Antarctica and Canada. As temperatures rise, the melting accelerates. Their disappearance would release about as much CO2 as if the United States continued burning fossil fuel at the current annual rate until 2100. Record temperatures in Siberia last year also caused huge fires on peat soils. Burning peat releases 10 to 100 times more CO2 than burning trees.
Wetlands Can Help Combat Natural Disasters
Climate change is rendering environmental disasters such as storms and floods more severe. Wetlands such as mangrove forests and salt marshes and swamps near the coast can help counteract this.
Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz calculated that salt marshes and swamps reduced the damage to homes from Hurricane Sandy on the US East Coast in 2012 by a total of $625 million. In some places, damage was averted by as much as 70%. The reason: Wetlands reduce the force of the waves. Aside from the ecological contribution, "that's the value of our wetlands today — and that's why we need to invest in better protection and make sure they're protected," said Siddharth Narayan, one of the study's authors. "If they are lost, the damage we see will increase."
Can Lost Wetlands Be Restored?
The process of restoring destroyed wetlands is long and costly.
After almost 10 years, some 600 hectares (148 acres) of salt marshes and parts of a natural lagoon in the east of the UK were restored in 2018. More than 500 years ago, people drained the area for agriculture, largely destroying the natural wetland. Aside from providing a natural habitat for countless plants and animals, the wetland eases the pressure on the water conservation dams. The value to coastal protection alone is estimated at a billion pounds.
"Of course, restoration will be needed in many places. But if we can protect what we have for now, I think we should focus on that," Narayan said.
"We can't replicate these systems," added Dalton of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The irony, he said, is that we are de facto destroying some of the most efficient systems for achieving climate and biodiversity goals. Peaty forests in the Congo, the Amazon, Indonesia and Siberia, and mangrove forests urgently require better protection, Dalton said. To date, less than one-fifth of the world's wetlands, covering an area the size of Mexico, are protected. The majority of this area is in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.