According to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report card on the species, bowhead whales are the true Arctic baleen whale species and the only one that lives in the cold waters year-round. In the 1700s, they were targeted for their oil, blubber and baleen, or whalebone. Because they're slow-moving and large, they made easy targets and were nearly hunted to extinction by the start of the 20th century.
According to NOAA, the cessation of whaling, improved management and the general inaccessibility of their habitats helped several populations rebound, including the U.S. one off the coast of Alaska.
Still, the Arctic is drastically changing due to the climate crisis, with immense loss of sea ice, soaring temperatures and raging wildfires. This grim reality has caused many to conclude that "The Arctic is Dying."
News from the Arctic has been almost uniformly bad, but the bowhead's conservation success, especially for the U.S. population off of Alaska, stands out as a beacon of hope, The Guardian reported. The NOAA report card found that the whales' recovery actually had accelerated despite Arctic warming.
"This is really one of the great conservation successes of the last century," said J Craig George, a retired biologist with the North Slope borough department of wildlife management, reported The Guardian.
George also credited the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) for their sustainable management and stewardship of the species, the Guardian said. AEWC fought against offshore oil drilling and other activities that could harm whales.
"No one has fought harder than the AEWC to protect bowhead habitat from industrial development in the U.S. Arctic," George told The Guardian.
According to the report, scientists were surprised by the whales' population expansion in recent decades. Biologists expected the cold-adapted species to suffer from melting sea ice, but instead, they observed how warmer Arctic seas are becoming more productive by bringing additional nutrients and food for the bowheads, resulting in more successful pregnancies. Now, scientists are looking to the cetaceans to provide broader insights into Arctic marine ecosystem health.
Despite the gains, the bowheads' future is still uncertain. According to NOAA, all bowhead whales remain endangered throughout their range. Oil drilling by Shell in the Beaufort Sea remains a real threat. Scientists also predict that there could be an end to Arctic sea ice by 2035. Melting ice would provide less cover against fishing gear, ship collisions and orca predators as the climate continues to change. Even the increase in food sources could attract competitor baleen whales. And of course, the climate crisis continues.
"They really are headed into an uncertain future," George told The Guardian.
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By Sharon Guynup
At this time of year, in Russia's far north Laptev Sea, the sun hovers near the horizon during the day, generating little warmth, as the region heads towards months of polar night. By late September or early October, the sea's shallow waters should be a vast, frozen expanse.
But not this year. For the first time since records have been kept, open water still laps this coastline in late October though snow is already falling there.
"In one sense, it's shocking, but on the other hand, it's not surprising," said Walt Meier, a research scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Over the past 40 years, unprecedented climate change-driven events such as this have become the new normal in the Arctic — which is heating up far faster than the rest of the planet.
While weather patterns at the top of the world vary, the overall changes are dramatic and occurring so rapidly that the region may be entering a "new Arctic" climate regime, says Laura Landrum, an oceanographer with Colorado's National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The Arctic is transitioning from a mostly frozen state into an entirely new climate — and impacting the entire planet, she said.
Meier calls the Arctic the "bellweather of climate change" because it's a place where a small bump in temperature has real impact: a change from -.5°C to .5°C (31°F to 33°F) is the difference between ice skating and swimming, he said, while a couple of degrees warmer in Florida may not even be noticed.
Comparison of autumn sea ice formation for the first half of October 2012 (the record year for Arctic sea ice extent loss) and in 2020 (second place for sea ice extent loss). The satellite record goes back to 1979. @Icy_Samuel, data provided by NSIDC
An Extreme Year in a Region Known for Extremes
It's been quite a year in Siberia — on land, and off the Arctic coast. The first six months were extraordinarily warm and the sea ice began melting early. By May, fires burned in permafrost zones that are usually frozen year-round. In June, temperatures hit a record-breaking 38°C (100°F), and by September, blazes incinerated about 14 million hectares (54,000 square miles) of tundra — an area the size of Greece.
A combination of changing climate and quirky weather are now preventing this fall's freeze-up. Siberian sea temperatures are higher than usual because of this year's extreme climate events. The heat wave warmed the many rivers that feed into the Arctic Ocean and also triggered an early melt-out. Without ice and snow that acts like a mirror — reflecting the sun's heat back into the atmosphere — the dark ocean absorbed extra warmth over the summer. Much of the remaining ice disintegrated. Then in September, unusually strong, warm winds blew in from the south, pushing any newly formed ice out to sea.
In the past, a shift in the winds wouldn't have mattered much. Back in the 1980s, Igor Polyakov, a climate scientist at the University of Alaska, remembers being part of expeditions that landed small seaplanes on sea ice to study the Siberian Arctic. He described the Laptev Sea as a solid, glaring white landscape punctuated by pastel-tinged ice: rose-colored, light blue and green. Since the regions' deeply cut gulfs and bays are located in shallow continental shelf waters, they mostly stayed frozen.
But by summer 2002, sea ice was less stable, and today, ice breakers can travel the region through open water. "The changes are dramatic," he said. "It happened in front of our eyes. Now, in the summer, there's no ice at all for thousands of kilometers, sometimes as far north as the 85th parallel." That's five degrees from the North Pole.
In the 1980s, about 80% of the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding seas were frozen in thick, "old ice" that mostly survived the summer melt, said James Overland, an oceanographer with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who has studied the Arctic for decades. "Now much of that has to refreeze each winter. We did not expect to see this so soon."
Arctic sea ice extent on Oct. 25, 2020 was at a record low 5.613 million square kilometers for this date, surpassing the record set in 2019 of 6.174 million square kilometers. ChArctic NSIDC
A Dangerous Cycle
Across the Arctic, ice is now thawing earlier, freezing later, thinning and — in many places — disappearing altogether.
Thinner ice is less resilient. Picture ice cubes in a glass. Thick chunks last longer and melt slower than ice chips and slivers. All disintegrate faster in warmer liquid. This is a huge problem in the Arctic, where vast stretches of open blue water absorb the sun's heat during summer, when the sun never really sets. Those warm waters flow beneath the ice to melt it from below.
This year, the overall health of the sea ice was bleak: the end-of-summer minimum was tracking at the second-lowest amount of sea ice in 42 years, Landrum said. Measurements by NASA and the NSIDC found it was about 2.6 million square kilometers (1 million square miles) lower than the average from 1981 to 2000. NASA satellite data shows an overall downward trend in Arctic ice is averaging 12.9% a year.
This year's average global temperature will be among the warmest on record, researchers say. Current models predict the Arctic will be ice-free in summertime by 2040 – 2050. Overland thinks this so-called Blue Ocean Event (BOE) might come even sooner.
Many factors are colliding that could speed massive melt. New feedback loops continue to emerge, compounding and accelerating changes. For example, early climate models didn't factor in methane — a potent greenhouse gas — that's pouring into the atmosphere from melting permafrost. The tundra is now thought to be emitting 300-600 million tons of carbon yearly, the equivalent of driving between 65 and 129 million cars for a year.
The Arctic appears to be changing into an entirely new climate state due to rapid warming. The extent of sea ice in the late summer, when it reaches its minimum each year, has already entered a statistically different climate, with surface air temperatures and the number of days with rain instead of snow also beginning to transition. Simmi Sinha, ©UCAR
Likewise, thick ice that withstood high winds and storms decades ago, now is thin and can be severely damaged by such storms — amplifying one-off extreme weather events. Then there's "Atlantification," the increasing intrusion of salty, temperate Atlantic Ocean waters into chillier Arctic seas.
The changes in the Laptev Sea, long known as an Arctic "ice factory," add another concerning factor. In the past, sea ice created there typically moved with wind and ocean currents, traveling over the North Pole towards Greenland. Depending on changing conditions, that ice then spent years trapped in a slowly spinning gyre in the Beaufort Sea; ended up off the Greenland coast; or piled up on the north shore of the Canadian Archipelago, building ice ridges that towered 3 to 9 meters (12 to 30 feet) high — multi-year ice that resisted melting.
That system no longer works as before, with the Laptev Sea now turning to blue water every summer, the "ice factory" largely shut down, and multi-year Arctic sea ice at a record low — and still dropping.
A polar bear prowls the Arctic shoreline. VisualHunt.com
An Interconnected Planet
The polar bear has become the poster child for climate change impacts on wildlife. But Ursus maritimus isn't the only victim; cascading affects throughout the Arctic food chain are impacting everything from plankton to seals, globally important fisheries species like pollock, on up to whales, musk ox and other cold climate mammals.
In Siberia, reindeer are starving in wintertime. "Weather whiplash" is bringing rain, in what should be the frigid dead of polar night. The falling rain freezes atop the snowpack, forming a layer of thick ice that makes it impossible for reindeer to dig down to grass and plants below; many now die of hunger. These once-rare Arctic warm spells are now commonplace.
Indigenous people are also suffering. Without proper ice platforms, it's growing harder for them to hunt for the walrus and whales that sustain them. Coastlines are eroding as sediments held together by permafrost become unglued. And rising seas are inundating coastal villages.
Worse, rapidly escalating climate change in the Far North is being exported to the rest of the world: The Earth's biomes are interconnected. "You can't alter one system without affecting others," explained Mark Serreze, a research scientist for the NSIDC. "What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic, and the changes are unfolding faster than our ability to keep up with them." Serreze, in his 2018 book framing the problem, dubbed the north polar region as, "The Brave New Arctic."
Serreze notes that the Arctic covers a massive area; it's the size of the lower 48 U.S. states combined. Amplified Arctic warming alters global weather, and impacts the rest of the planet, changing weather, ocean patterns and the jet stream.
Intense storms, droughts and heat waves — once every 100- or 500-year extreme weather events — are now occurring regularly around the globe, with devastating impacts on people, economies, and ecosystems. This year alone, for example, saw massive record wildfires in California, Colorado, Siberia, and Brazil, and no one yet knows how this autumn's delayed Arctic re-freeze might impact the planet's upcoming weather.
A fire burning through northern forest in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in July 2020. Greenpeace International
Julienne Stroeve, who specializes in sea ice research at NSIDC, adds another potential serious impact to the list: threats to our food supply. "What's predicted to happen in agricultural sectors is not good news ... We're going to be living on a very different planet if we keep adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere," she said. "We're conducting this blind experiment, and we don't yet know the real implications.
Stroeve is desperate to inform people of the urgency: "How do you sell climate change to be as much of an emergency as COVID-19? Except that it will kill a lot more people."
She believes we can rally. If we can produce a COVID-19 vaccine in record time, and heal the ozone layer through the Montreal Protocol, Stroeve thinks "we have the ability to change the course of this train."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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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 Jeff Berardelli
This story was originally published on CBS News on September 9, 2020. All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication.
Right on the heels of arguably the West Coast's most intense heat wave in modern history comes the most ferocious flare-up of catastrophic wildfires in recent memory. Meanwhile, just a few hundred miles east, a 60-degree temperature drop over just 18 hours in Wyoming and Colorado was accompanied by an extremely rare late-summer dumping of up to 2 feet of snow.
It's not coincidence, it's climate change.
These kinds of dystopian weather events, happening often at the same time, are exactly what scientists have been warning about for decades. While extreme weather is a part of the natural cycle, the recent uptick in the ferocity and frequency of these extremes, scientists say, is evidence of an acceleration of climate impacts, some of which were underestimated by climate computer models.
"This is yet another example of where uncertainty is not our friend," says Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State. "As we learn more, we are finding that many climate change impacts, including these sorts of extreme weather events, are playing out faster and with greater magnitude than our models predicted."
On Wednesday NOAA released its latest State of the Climate Report, which finds that just during the month of August the U.S. was hit by four different billion-dollar disasters: two hurricanes, huge wildfires and an extraordinary Midwest derecho.
Just one such extreme event can strain emergency resources — a situation West Coast firefighters find themselves in now. However, in two dramatic cases this summer, the nation was hit simultaneously with concurrent catastrophes, some of which had no precedent in modern history. It's a concept scientists call compound events, and it is necessary to factor these confluences into future projections to properly estimate risk, response and resources.
In mid-August the West suffered through an extended heat wave which saw Death Valley surge to 130 degrees, the hottest temperature ever reliably measured on Earth. The tinderbox conditions caused by the heat, along with a rare lightning outbreak, sparked the first round of major wildfires in California this season, escalating into three of the four largest fires in state history. At about the same time a powerful derecho caused billions of dollars in damage in Iowa and Illinois, and Hurricane Laura plowed into the Gulf Coast of Louisiana as a Category 4 with 150 mph winds and 16 feet of storm surge.
Just three weeks later, and here we are again. This past weekend California experienced an even more intense heat wave, with the southern part of the state hitting 121 degrees west of the mountains for the first time in record-keeping history. Predictably, fires flared back up due to the severe heating and drying, and then went into overdrive as a wicked early-season cold front — which is also bringing heavy snow to the Rockies — brought a wind event through the mountains and valleys of the intermountain west.
In Washington state, an estimated 330,000 acres burned across the state on Monday, more than the total in each of the last 12 fire seasons. California has seen a record 2.3 million acres burn so far this year — more than 3 times the normal for an entire season (typically July through November), and 7 times the normal year to date.
If it were just this fire season, one could chalk the extremity up to mere coincidence. But scientists say this is part of an ongoing upward trend, made clear by the data and well understood by science.
"There is little doubt that we're witnessing an acceleration of fire activity in the West - be it in terms of burned area, number of large fires, fire growth, and of course direct and indirect impacts to people," explains Dr. John Abatzoglou, climate professor at the University of California Merced.
The acceleration has been dramatic. Fire season is now two to three months longer than it was just a few decades ago across much of the West. Since the 1970s, California has experienced a five-fold increase in annual burned area and an eight-fold increase in summer forest fire extent. At least 17 of California's top 20 largest wildfires have burned since 2000.
Increase in California areas burned by wildfires, 1975 to 2015. WILLIAMS, ABATZOGLOU ET AL., EARTH'S FUTURE
Abatzoglou makes clear that there are many factors — not just climate change — that contribute to the escalation of fire activity. These include the increased settlement of people in fire-prone lands and a legacy of fire suppression in many lower-elevation forests, which led to years of heavy growth of trees and brush.
"We can focus on the bad fortune of the lightning siege around the San Francisco Bay Area, or the multitude of stupid human tricks that materialized in large wildfires, but the confluence of long-term and short-term environmental factors set the table for the 2020 fire season," he said.
In other words, though climate change does not cause the heat waves or fires, it sets the stage so that when conditions are ripe, like the summer and fall of 2020, heat waves are more intense and fires burn more fiercely.
This summer has been extremely hot and dry in the West. According to NOAA, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah each had their warmest August on record. Research has found that heat waves are now larger, getting more intense and lasting longer than decades ago. Specifically in California, extreme heat waves — like the ones of recent weeks — are now 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer due to climate change. By 2080, that same study finds such heat waves will intensify by another 3 to 5 degrees.
This week's NOAA report also finds that the same general area in the West also experienced one of its driest Augusts on record. This short-term dry and hot pattern is mainly due to natural cycles in weather, and from season to season has the biggest impact on the amount of area burned because it determines how dry the forests and brush are.
"Across the Western U.S. forests, we find that climatic measures of fuel dryness explain about ¾ of the year-to-year variability in the burned area — highlighting that climate very strongly enables big fire seasons in warm-dry summers and inhibits widespread fire activity in cool-wet summers," explains Abatzoglou.
But over the long term, human-caused climate change has been gradually drying out the atmosphere and the fuel. "The observed changes in fuel dryness [plus the] number of days of high fire danger have been particularly stark in the American West over the past half-century," says Abatzoglou.
Since the 1970s the warm season in the West has heated up by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. This extra heat has increased the evaporation of moisture from the surface. While atmospheric moisture has also increased some, it has not increased nearly as fast as the temperature. That has caused a long-term "moisture deficit" and has accelerated the rate of foliage drying. This is part of the reason why, according to research, the West has entered into one of the worst megadroughts in the past 1,200 years.
A recent study, co-authored by Abatzoglou, found a direct link with nearly all of the increase in summer forest-fire area during the period from 1972–2018 driven by the increased moisture deficit. To illustrate just how impactful the moisture deficit is, right now, as unprecedented wildfires burn out of control, the deficit is at record low levels in the majority of the Western U.S.
Absurd atmospheric aridity (+ other factors) is enabling the ongoing fire outbreak – synchronized downslope winds… https://t.co/ohibdi2X5x— John Abatzoglou (@John Abatzoglou)1599605014.0
Another recent study from this spring found that the frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather conditions has more than doubled since the 1980s, fueled by a combination of less rainfall and warmer temperatures.
But many scientists believe that there is more at play contributing to this extreme weather than simply the direct effects of warming and drying. One of those mechanisms is the indirect impacts of global warming on the most influential weather-maker on day-to-day conditions: the jet stream.
The speed and orientation of the jet stream — a river of fast-moving air currents in the atmosphere — determines the track, intensity and forward speed of most storm systems and also how cold or hot the weather is. The attributes of the jet stream at any given moment are determined largely by the placement of hot and cold air masses and the strength of the gradient between them. Because the Arctic has been warming at three times the rate of the rest of the globe, climate scientists know human-caused climate change is throwing the jet stream off-kilter. But how and to what extent is not totally understood.
A number of climate scientists believe that a warmer Arctic is slowing down the jet stream during certain times of year, resulting in a more wavy jet stream. As shown below, a wavy jet stream can catapult warm air northward into the Arctic and drive cold air far southward. This is exactly what happened during the catastrophic Midwest floods in 2019 and is also the kind of pattern we have right now, which is causing record low temperatures and extremely early season snow in the Rockies and Plains. A wavy jet stream is a normal part of nature, but climate change may be making it more amplified, resulting in more extremes.
"I think it's a triple whammy — heat and drought, which are favored by climate change, and the extra added ingredient is the slower, wavier jet stream," explains Mann. But he says the wavier jet stream isn't well resolved by current models, thus they underestimate the extremity of weather events enhanced by climate change.
As a result, when scientists dig into the causes of an extreme event, Mann says the studies underestimate the influence of human-caused climate change. "So if anything, climate attribution studies are likely to under-attribute the role that climate change is playing with these persistent extreme weather events," he said.
As for future fire seasons, Abatzoglou says we should expect extreme fires seasons like 2020's to become the rule rather than the exception.
"While the extent of the ongoing fire siege is beyond what most have seen in the West, the alignment of ingredients for such fire seasons is becoming more favorable as a result of climate change and land-use practices," he said. "We should expect, adapt, and prepare for similar years moving forward."
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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Tuesday was Australia's hottest day on record, according to preliminary results from the country's Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). The country recorded an average maximum temperature of 40.9 degrees Celsius, beating the previous average of 40.3 degrees recorded on Jan. 7, 2013.
And that record could be broken again this week as an unusually early extreme heat wave is set to bake the whole country, The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang reported.
Senior BOM climatologist Blair Trewin said that temperatures Wednesday and Thursday could be a degree above the 2013 record.
"[It's] a really extreme event on a nationwide perspective," Trewin said, according to The Washington Post.
Preliminary results suggest that the 17th December was Australia's hottest day on record at 40.9 ºC, with the avera… https://t.co/ZhxzYmBK0I— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@Bureau of Meteorology, Australia)1576636821.0
Many different places in Australia could break their December heat records, and parts of New South Wales could break their overall heat records. Perth, in Western Australia, already set a record when it recorded three 40-degree-Celsius days in a row for the first time in December.
It got so hot in the city that resident Stu Pengelly successfully cooked a 1.5 kilogram (approximately 3.3 pound) pork roast in an old car over a 10 hour period Friday, 7 News reported.
"It worked a treat!" Pengelly said in a Facebook post.
But he also issued a warning.
"My warning is do not leave anyone or anything precious to you in a hot car, not for a minute," he wrote.
This week's heat could also make another dangerous extreme weather event worse, according to The Washington Post — the bushfires still raging in the states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
"There are difficult & dangerous fire conditions forecast over coming days," the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said on Twitter, according to The Washington Post.
On Wednesday, BOM said that Australia had seen its highest levels of fire weather danger during spring of 2019. More than 95 percent of the country experienced above average fire danger as measured by the Forest Fire Danger Index, and almost 60 percent broke fire danger records for the spring.
Both the record heat and the record fire season are made more likely by the climate crisis. September to November of 2019 marked Australia's driest and second warmest spring on record, The Guardian reported.
Overall, Australia has warmed by a little more than one degree Celsius since 1910, and nine of the country's 10 hottest years on record have taken place since 2005, BBC News reported. 2019 will likely be among the four hottest.
There is also an immediate, more localized reason for the current heat wave, as BBC News explained:
The dominant climate driver behind the heat has been a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) - an event where sea surface temperatures are warmer in the western half of the ocean, cooler in the east.
The difference between the two temperatures is currently the strongest in 60 years. The warmer waters cause higher-than-average rains in the western Indian Ocean region, leading to flooding, and drier conditions across South East Asia and Australia.
But the climate crisis makes natural shifts like this worse.
"Australia's climate is increasingly influenced by global warning and natural variability takes place on top of this background trend," BOM said, according to BBC News.
Climate change is also influencing the IOD itself.
"While the IOD is a natural mode of variability, its behaviour is changing in response to climate change. Research suggests that the frequency of positive IOD events, and particularly the occurrence of consecutive events will increase as global temperatures rise," BOM said, according to The Washington Post.
Despite Australia's susceptibility to climate change, it is also one of the leading emitters of greenhouse gases per capita, according to BBC News. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who supports coal use, has been criticized for failing to adequately address the climate crisis and the bushfires it has spawned.
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By Jen Monnier
In the summer of 2015, Laurie Weitkamp was walking on the beach near her coastal Oregon home when she saw something strange: The water was purple. A colony of tunicates, squishy cylindrical critters that rarely come to shore, had congregated in a swarm so thick that you could scoop them out of the water with your hand. "I'd never seen anything like it," she says.
Weitkamp, a research fisheries biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Oregon, knew that something had been afoot in the northeast part of the Pacific Ocean since the fall of 2013, which was unusually sunny, warm and calm. A mass of warm water stretched from Mexico to Alaska and lingered through 2016, disrupting marine life. Tunicates weren't the only creature affected; sea nettle jellyfish all but disappeared, while water jellyfish populations moved north to take their place, and young salmon starved to death out at sea, according to a report by Weitkamp and colleagues. Scientists dubbed this event "The Blob."
Marine heat waves like The Blob have cropped up around the globe more and more often over the past few decades. Scientists expect climate change to make them even more common and long lasting, harming vulnerable aquatic species as well as human enterprises such as fishing that revolve around ocean ecosystems. But there's no reliable way to know when one is about to hit, which means that fishers and wildlife managers are left scrambling to reduce harm in real time.
Fisheries biologist Laurie Weitkamp is helping develop policies to reduce the threat of marine heat waves, which can devastate ocean life. Photo courtesy of Laurie Weitkamp
Now, oceanographers are trying to uncover what drives these events so that people can forecast them and so minimize the ecological and economic damage they cause.
The Blob, which lasted three years, is the longest marine heat wave on record. Before that, a heat wave that began in 2015 in the Tasman Sea lasted more than eight months, killing abalone and oysters. A 2012 heat wave off the East Coast of Canada and the U.S., the largest on record at the time, pushed lobsters northward. It beat the previous record — a 2011 marine heat wave that uprooted seaweed, fish and sharks off western Australia. Before that, a 2003 heat wave in the Mediterranean Sea clinched the record while ravaging marine life.
As Earth's climate warms, record-setting marine heat waves are becoming more frequent and severe. Map adapted from Marine Heatwaves International Working Group.
Heat waves are a natural part of ocean systems, says Eric Oliver, an assistant professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. As with temperature on land, there's an average ocean temperature on any particular day of the year: Sometimes the water will be warmer, sometimes it will be colder, and every once in a while it will be extremely warm or cold.
But greenhouse gas emissions have bumped up the average temperature. Now, temperatures that used to be considered extremely warm happen more often — and every so often, large sections of the ocean are pushed into unprecedented heat, Oliver says.
Pelagic ocean ecosystems, however, have not caught up to these hotter temperatures. Organisms may be able to survive a steady temperature rise, but a heat wave can push them over the edge.
When blue swimmer crabs started dying in western Australia's Shark Bay after the 2011 heat wave, the government shut down blue crab fishing for a year and a half. This was hard on industry at the time, says Peter Jecks, managing director of Abacus Fisheries, but it managed to save crab populations. Not all creatures were so lucky — abalone near the heat wave's epicenter still haven't recovered.
"If you don't have strong predictions [of marine heat waves], you can't be proactive. You're left to be reactive," says Thomas Wernberg, an associate professor of marine ecology at the University of Western Australia.
See Them Coming
After Wernberg saw his region's sea life devastated by the heat wave, he recruited scientists from many disciplines in 2014 to begin studying these extreme events in what became the Marine Heatwaves International Working Group. The group held their first meeting in early 2015 and has since created protocols for defining and naming marine heat waves, tracking where they happen and measuring their ecological and socioeconomic impacts.
If we could see heat waves coming, aquaculturists, fishers and wildlife managers would have a better chance at saving money and species, Wernberg says. Seafood farmers could hold off stocking their aquaculture facilities with vulnerable species. Lawmakers could enact seasonal fishing closures or temporarily expand protected areas. Scientists could store animals or seeds of vulnerable plants.
That's why scientists around the world are trying to understand what triggers extreme warming in the ocean. Oliver is one such scientist. He feeds ocean data gathered by scientists, satellites, buoys, and deep-diving robots into computer modeling software to identify the forces that drive marine heat waves.
It's a relatively new field of research for which there are still few definitive answers. But past heat waves can be broadly classified into two categories, Oliver says: those driven by the ocean and those driven by the atmosphere.
For an example of an ocean-driven heat wave, Oliver points to the 2015 Tasman Sea heat wave. An ocean current that flows south down the East Coast of Australia normally veers toward New Zealand, but in 2015 it pulsed westward toward Tasmania, bringing a wave of warm water from the tropics that lingered more than six months. "Tropical fish were seen in water that is normally almost subpolar in temperature," Oliver says.
On the other hand, a 2019 heat wave in the Pacific, the so-called "Blob 2.0," was brought down from the atmosphere, according to Dillon Amaya, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Using computer models, Amaya found that this heat wave emerged when a weather system over the Pacific lost steam, leading to weaker-than-usual winds. Wind helps cool the ocean by evaporating surface water in the same way a breeze cools a person's sweaty skin. But stagnant air above the Pacific locked more of the sun's heat into the water that year.
The recent "Blob 2.0" heat wave bears some resemblance to "The Blob," which disrupted marine life from Mexico to Alaska over the course of three years. NOAA Coral Reef Watch
Amaya is able to simulate heat waves thanks to recent technological advances. Scientists have known for decades that marine heat waves exist, he says, but "we have just begun to recognize these events as unique and deterministic — something we can predict — in the last five to 10 years."
That understanding inspired researchers to build computer simulations capable of playing out complicated ocean processes by weaving together information about ocean and atmospheric currents, sea surface temperature and salinity. Creating these simulations helps them learn more about heat wave mechanics, which lays the groundwork for predicting future events.
Back in Oregon, Weitkamp is part of the group that manages the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. As heat waves like The Blob and Blob 2.0 deplete fish populations, the group is trying to figure out how to create policies better suited to this new normal. Knowing when the next one might hit could help.
"These heat waves have been a good wake-up call," she says. "People are trying to figure out how they're going to adapt."
Reposted with permission from Ensia.
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By Governor Jay Inslee
Climate Week this year coincides with clear skies in Washington state for the first time in almost two weeks.
In just a few days in early September, Washington state saw enough acres burned – more than 600,000 – to reach our second-worst fire season on record. Our worst fire season came only five years ago. Wildfires aren't new to the west, but their scope and danger today is unlike anything firefighters have seen. People up and down the West Coast – young and old, in rural areas and in cities – were choking on smoke for days on end, trapped in their homes.
Fires like these are becoming the norm, not the exception.
That's because as the climate changes, our fires change. Climate scientists tell us that if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current path, later this century the average year in Washington will eventually be warmer than the single hottest year of the 20th century. The heat leaves our land and vegetation dry and primed for ignition, with blazes for which our landscapes are not evolved to cope. We're seeing more acres burned, and more days with our state swathed in hazardous smoke and ash.
Rain, cooler weather, and heroic firefighting efforts have finally tamped down the fires and poor air quality; but the burn scars remain, and they are most acutely felt by those who lost homes, businesses, and loved ones in fires this year.
I have seen the chaos firsthand in recent visits to burned areas both east and west of the Cascade Mountains. As communities in Malden, Bonney Lake, and Graham, Washington, recover from the damage done this month, it's not enough for us as leaders to help our towns recover from one devastating event after another. We need a plan to stop these increasingly ferocious natural disasters from becoming uncontrollable. The situation demands that climate change be front and center in this plan – because it is the root and stem of the new challenges we face in disaster response.
While wildfires are the most recent, and some of the most visceral images of climate change, they are unfortunately just one manifestation of a climate crisis with far-reaching implications.
From the woods and prairies to the oceans, rivers and streams, we see the damaging effects of climate change. West Coast marine waters are acidifying at twice the global rate, our streams are becoming too warm to support salmon, and our agricultural productivity is falling as a result of record heat.
But we cannot give in to defeat and pessimism. This is not a lost cause.
There is broad consensus on what we need to do to slow and turn back the effects of human-driven climate change: all hands on deck for a global decarbonization that grows jobs and protects communities.
Every year, Climate Week gives us the opportunity to highlight this urgent need. But we need every week to be Climate Week. Given the science, knowledge and tools at our disposal, it is unacceptable that more has not been done to address the terrifying implications of climate change in the 21st century. We have no more time to waste.
We face a powerful oil and gas industry that has sunk its claws into Congress and numerous state governments, and a presidential administration backed by a major political party dedicated to protecting polluters and spreading lies and confusion about the science. On the flip side is the urgent and painfully clear scientific consensus, coupled with the fact that the majority of Americans support action now on climate change.
This is a battle that we can – and must – win, beginning with our votes in November.
And winning the fight won't just protect our communities from the dangerous effects of climate change. It will create enormous new economic opportunity.
The latest jobs report from E2, a national nonpartisan group of business leaders and investors focused on sustainable energy policies, shows there are already more than 3 million clean energy jobs in America today. If we can find the will to massively accelerate the development of renewable resources, we can create millions of more jobs.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that facts are stubborn things, and denial can be fatal. The federal government's failure to accept the reality of the Covid-19 crisis once again demonstrated why aloofness is no replacement for proactive leadership.
While we know this administration would be wise to change its destructive path – by bringing our country back into the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, by putting in place strong clean car standards, or by restoring key environmental protections razed by Trump's cronies – we know they won't. However, public opinion is clear even after years of misinformation and downright lies. There is not enough oil money in the world to stop the American people from rising up for what's right, and it's time to hit back.
Let this Climate Week be a reminder not merely of the long road ahead, but of our own power to make that journey together. Start now, so that in Climate Week 2021 we'll have a little less distance to cover.
This story originally appeared in Rolling Stone and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
By Karen Charman
When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
While Trump declared that the weather will just "start getting cooler" and that science is irrelevant to the wildfires, millions were struggling to breathe through the toxic smoke that gave Portland the week-long distinction of having the most hazardous air on the planet, with pollution levels in Seattle and San Francisco close behind. Whole towns in California and Oregon have been destroyed by the wildfires.
A growing body of scientific evidence over the last several decades confirms that as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases rise, so too will frequent, intense and increasingly deadly weather events. Strange new weather phenomena like fire tornadoes, "snowacanes" and "rain bombs" are now part of our experience and language. Droughts, unprecedented heat, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding are happening more often, becoming more severe, and occurring over larger and larger areas.
This year several strange and extreme weather conditions combined to create the perfect firestorm across the Western U.S. A prolonged record-breaking heatwave saw temperatures reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley, California, on August 16, and 121 degrees Fahrenheit in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills three weeks later on September 6. In mid-August, more than 10,000 dry lightning strikes began igniting fires in Northern California, Oregon and Washington, including all over the Bay Area where they were eerily close to heavily populated areas. Lightning-induced fires are also torching Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. Subsequent high winds in drought-stricken landscapes then turned the initial sparks into major conflagrations.
By the morning of Trump's California appearance, 28 major fires had incinerated more than 3 million acres just in California. Fires in California, Oregon and Washington had combined to create a hellscape of toxic smoke that turned the skies in those states orange, blood red and deep magenta and was detected as far away as Europe. At least 35 people had died.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Hurricane Sally, one of five named storms then swirling in the Atlantic, was just two days away from flooding coastal communities from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana. Sally, which submerged downtown Pensacola in five feet of water, hit just three weeks after Hurricane Laura caused massive flooding and 10 deaths. Slamming into the Louisiana coast with 150-mile-an-hour winds, Laura was one of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall in U.S. history.
So far, 2020 has been an extremely busy hurricane season with more than 20 named storms, seven of which formed in the first half of September. With two more months before the hurricane season officially ends, there could be several more. Meanwhile, many of the fires across the West are still burning.
Nor has catastrophic weather spared the middle of the country this summer. On August 10, a particularly strong derecho, a quick-forming massive wall of intense winds, blasted through Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. The derecho cut a path 770 miles long, held its strength for 14 hours, and clocked winds up to 140 miles per hour. Four people died, and crops and buildings on some 10 million acres in Iowa — nearly a third of the state's farmland — were heavily damaged. This storm also caused significant damage to cars and homes, downed power lines and destroyed massive numbers of trees in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and parts of Chicago.
In 2019, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive report mandated by Congress to study the impacts of climate change, found that without substantial and sustained greenhouse gas reductions along with vast infrastructure upgrades, unabated climate change will threaten much that many Americans take for granted and lead to an unrecognizable, dystopian existence for large swaths of the population.
Among the report's findings: food will become harder to grow and be lower in quality but more expensive. Clean, safe water supplies will become scarce in many parts of the country. Human health will take a significant hit from worsening air and water pollution, greater exposure to disease-carrying insects, pests, foodborne and waterborne pathogens, as well as the emotional strain of having to deal with the reality and uncertainty of catastrophic weather events and their aftermath. Heat will kill more people. Energy supplies will become increasingly unstable and more costly (because most U.S. power plants need a steady supply of cooling water to operate).
Moreover, the report predicts that already compromised roads, bridges, and the safety of pipelines all over the country will be vulnerable to damage from violent storms and flooding. Whole communities, especially those facing rising sea levels along the coastline, will be forced to move. Increasing production and supply chain disruptions will cause significant damage to the economy as a whole. Areas and industries that depend on natural resources and good, stable weather will likely be hardest hit with annual losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, an amount exceeding the current total economic output of many U.S. states.
Overall, the report predicts "substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century," though it notes that poor and disadvantaged communities will disproportionately bear the worst impacts.
A stark illustration of what current levels of greenhouse gas emissions will look like is provided in maps by the Rhodium Group, a New York-based independent research organization, which forecasts a much harsher living environment for many parts of the U.S. over the next 20 to 40 years. Temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will become much more common, especially in the South and Southwest, with places like Phoenix, Arizona, much of interior Southern California and southern Texas likely sweltering in 95 degrees or hotter for half the year.
Along with rising temperatures, humidity is expected to dramatically increase, even in places like Arizona, Southern California and Nevada, which have long been known for their dry heat. When excessive humidity combines with extreme heat, it creates "wet bulb" temperatures where sweating fails to cool the body. Such conditions make it dangerous to work outside or for kids to play outside. According to Rhodium's projections, current emissions are on track to turn much of the Mississippi Valley, the above-mentioned areas in the Southwest, southern Texas, and coastal areas in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina into high wet bulb zones.
Despite all of these future threats — on top of the climate disasters we are already seeing — Trump, the ruling Republicans, the fossil fuel sector and their defenders in right-wing media continue to deny climate change.
"If we don't have a stable environment to live in, there's no way to have life, liberty, or pursue happiness," Jeffrey Potent, adjunct professor of sustainability at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, told Truthout, decrying the Trump administration's attack on the government's ability to oversee and protect our environment.
"This is completely different from anything I have encountered in Washington," said Tyson Slocum, director Public Citizen's energy program. "It's an all-out assault on everything for the public interest."
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse
Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.
Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for self-dealing and abusing their positions of authority. One example is Trump's first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who aggressively worked to overturn Obama's climate regulations, spent most of his time in private meetings with fossil fuel and chemical company executives, sidelined career EPA staff and reconfigured independent scientific advisory boards to make them more supportive of the industries EPA is charged with regulating. Dubbed "one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history," Pruitt resigned in disgrace after revelations about his multiple brazen abuses, including using the agency as his personal concierge service and piggy bank.
Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist and longtime Republican Washington insider, took over and has continued Trump's deregulatory agenda apace.
At the Department of Interior (DOI), a sprawling agency that oversees 75 percent of the country's public federal lands and includes the U.S. Geological Survey, which is tasked with evaluating natural hazards that threaten life and the health of our ecosystems, Trump installed another flamboyant anti-environmentalist to head the agency. Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, ditched more than 200 advisory panels, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as "the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.
The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of several government ethics complaints for various violations favoring polluting industries.
More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously funded by fossil fuel interests, was hired for a top job advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Legates has called for increasing carbon emissions.
The Trump administration has done much more than stack government agencies with fossil fuel industry proponents. It has removed or diluted discussion of climate change from as many government platforms as it can and decimated independent scientific advisory boards that provide unbiased, fact-based information the government needs to enact policies that protect the public. It has also slashed environmental agency staffing and budgets.
The Damage So Far
A September 17 report by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama's main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California's longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.
Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.
The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.
This story originally appeared in Truthout and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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What does the climate crisis look like? As wildfires continue to rage up and down the U.S. West Coast, we have some terrifying answers: orange skies; burnt-out buildings; a horse, seemingly abandoned, running past a stall as the hill above erupts in flames. These images help to ground an unfathomable reality.
More than 100 major fires in California, Oregon and Washington have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes during a pandemic, destroyed entire towns and claimed at least 23 lives, USA Today reported Friday. The flames have charred more than three million acres in California alone, a record for the state, The New York Times reported.
While the individual fires have different causes, including a gender-reveal party, scientists agree that changes in the climate make larger fires like the ones burning now more likely. This is because warmer temperatures mean more extreme heat waves and drier air and vegetation, creating ideal conditions for fires to spread, as CBS News explained. While climate change can feel abstract and distant as a prediction, these seven photos of the West Coast fires make it devastatingly real.
A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville during the Bear Fire in Oroville, California on Sept. 9, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images
People in Northern California looked out their windows Wednesday to a scene out of a science-fiction movie as the sky glowed orange. Clouds of smoke covering the state filtered the sun's light and energy, tinting skies and lowering temperatures, Al Jazeera reported. In San Francisco, the unusual color was a combination of ash from the Bear Fire mixed with the marine layer that provides the city's famous fog, ABC 7 News explained. The effect was so remarkable that Hillary Clinton shared the image above, taken in Oroville, on her Instagram. "None of this is normal, and confronting climate change is on the ballot this year. Vote, as early as you can, for a habitable planet," she wrote.
Creek Fire Destruction
A community of forest homes lies in ruins along Auberry Road in the Meadow Lakes area after the Creek Fire swept through on Sept. 8, 2020 near Shaver Lake, California. David McNew / Getty Images
The Creek Fire started on Friday, Sept. 4, just as large swaths of California were facing record-breaking heat for Labor Day weekend. The fire spread quickly through the western edge of the Sierra National Forest. Hundreds of people were airlifted away from the fast-spreading fire earlier in the week, according to KABC in Los Angeles. So far, the fire has burned through 175,893 acres and was only 6 percent contained Thursday, according to the Fresno Bee. Cal Fire's statistics say the fire, which has ripped through the remote mountain town of Big Creek, has destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings. "My family has been part of this community since 1929 and knowing it's probably never going to be the same is just gut-wrenching," said Toby Walt, the superintendent of Big Creek School District, to CNN.
Mass Evacuations in Washington
Tinted orange by wildfire smoke from Oregon and southern Washington, the sun sets behind a hill on Sept. 9, 2020 in Kalama, Washington. David Ryder / Getty Images
As of Wednesday, wildfires had scorched 587,000 acres of Washington state, nearly half the area of land that burned during the entire record-setting fire season of 2015, The Seattle Times reported. The fires prompted Washington Governor Jay Inslee to sign an emergency declaration Wednesday, and to promise cash assistance for people who have lost their homes to the flames. Hundreds of families have had to evacuate, including residents of Tacoma suburb Bonney Lake. One of them was Christian Deoliveira, who fled his home with his fiancé and five-year-old son early Tuesday morning. "I woke up at about 3 a.m. to a neighbor knocking on the door, saying the whole hillside's on fire," Deoliveira told The News Tribune.
Animals Affected by Wildfires
A horse runs by a stall as flames from the Hennessey fire approach a property in the Spanish Flat area of Napa, California on Aug. 18, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images
Wild animals in the West are accustomed to wildfires as a natural part of the ecosystem. Some even need the burnt-out areas for their breeding grounds, while other predators will lie in wait for prey fleeing the fire. But the size and intensity of the current fires is beyond what most animals have adapted to. While scientists do not have a count of how many animals die in wildfires, they do know that smoke, fire and heat are extremely dangerous for animals that can't escape fast enough, particularly young and small animals, according to National Geographic. It's not just wild animals that suffer. Domestic pets are also left behind to fend for themselves as fire approaches and pet owners need to evacuate. Animal rescue crews are scrambling to find cats and dogs that were left behind. After finding one dog, Farshad Azad of the North Valley Animal Disaster Group told the Vallejo Times-Herald, "Everything around him was incinerated." He added, "People are really afraid. And people are hurting because their animals are missing."
The Human Toll
Resident Austin Giannuzzi cries while embracing family members at the burnt remains of their home during the LNU Lightning Complex fire in Vacaville, California on Aug. 23, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images
The fires have claimed at least 23 lives and destroyed hundreds of homes in all three states. One of the hardest hit areas has been California's Butte County, which was also the site of 2018's Camp Fire, the fire that scorched the town of Paradise and was the deadliest and most destructive in the state's history. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Thursday at least 10 people in his county had died in the North Complex fires, while dozens were missing and hundreds of homes were feared lost, according to USA Today. The blaze even menaced Paradise again, though The Mercury News reported evacuation orders for part of the town had been lifted. But Paradise's experience was repeated in the Butte County community of Berry Creek, which was obliterated by a part of the North Complex Fire Tuesday night. "The school is gone, the fire department's gone, the bar's gone, the laundromat's gone, the general store's gone," 50-year-resident John Sykes, who watched the blaze from a mile away, told The Sacramento Bee. "I'll never go back. I don't want to see it. That's why I'm leaving. I never want to see California again."
Communities Threatened and Destroyed in Oregon
A sprinkler wets the exterior of a home as wildfires approach nearby in Clackamas County on Sept. 9, 2020 in Oregon City, Oregon. David Ryder / Getty Images
High winds have fueled the rapid spread of the wildfires in Oregon, which are threatening the Western part of the state at an unprecedented rate. More than a half-million people have fled from the fires, which makes up more than 10 percent of the state's population of 4.2 million, according to the BBC. As of Thursday, there were 37 different blazes in the state, affecting people along the Interstate 5 corridor from Ashland in the south to Portland in the north. That includes Salem and Eugene. The blazes, which are only 1 percent contained, have decimated the towns of Phoenix and Talent, destroying hundreds of homes. "We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state," said Governor Kate Brown, as the BBC reported. "This will not be a one-time event. Unfortunately, it is the bellwether of the future. We're feeling the acute impacts of climate change."
Wildfires During a Pandemic
A sign warning people about COVID-19 is surrounded by flames during the Hennessey Fire near Lake Berryessa in Napa, California on Aug. 18, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images
The intense fires in the midst of a pandemic that requires social distancing is complicating evacuation strategies. Usually, people fleeing fires will huddle together in school gymnasiums. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that a no-no. The same restrictions apply to firefighters who would usually bunk together in small spaces, according to HuffPost. Complicating matters further is that the poor air quality from the smoke may affect recovery from COVID-19. "We know that wildfire exposure to communities increases the risk of lower respiratory tract infection," such as acute bronchitis and pneumonia, said Dr. John Balmes, a physician at the University of California, San Francisco, as HuffPost reported. "So there's concern in the context of the pandemic that wildfire smoke exposure would increase the risk of moving from mild to more severe COVID-19."
Note: This article has been updated to clarify that orange skies are being seen in areas of Northern California including Oroville and San Francisco.
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Antarctica and Greenland's ice sheets are currently melting at a pace consistent with worst-case-scenario predictions for sea level rise, with serious consequences for coastal communities and the reliability of climate models.
A paper published in Nature Climate Change Monday compared the latest satellite observations of polar ice melt with the predictions outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report. It found that the ice sheets are currently raising sea levels at a rate 45 percent above the IPCC's central prediction and closer to its worst-case scenario. If this continues, the two ice sheets could raise sea levels a further 17 centimeters (approximately 7 inches) more than central predictions by 2100.
"If ice sheet losses continue to track our worst-case climate warming scenarios we should expect an additional 17cm of sea level rise from the ice sheets alone," study coauthor and University of Leeds researcher Anna Hogg said in a university press release. "That's enough to double the frequency of storm-surge flooding in many of the world's largest coastal cities."
Ice sheets losses are tracking the IPCCs worst case climate predictions. This could mean an extra 17 cm of sea leve… https://t.co/wPdqTWef1D— CPOM News (@CPOM News)1598905099.0
Since the 1990s, the two ice sheets have already increased global sea levels by 1.8 centimeters (approximately 0.7 inches). But it was between 2007 and 2017 that the ice sheets began to lose mass at a rate consistent with worst-case-scenario projections, adding around 1.23 centimeters (approximately 0.5 inches) to the water line during that decade, according to the study.
A worst-case-scenario sea level rise as currently predicted would expose 44 to 66 million people to yearly coastal flooding by century's end. But one of study's most alarming implications is that, if sea level rise is already tracking worst-case-scenario predictions, the actual worst-case scenario could be even more dire.
"We need to come up with a new worst-case scenario for the ice sheets because they are already melting at a rate in line with our current one," lead author and Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) at the University of Leeds researcher Thomas Slater told AFP. "Sea level projections are critical in helping governments plan climate policy, mitigation and adaptation strategies. If we underestimate future sea level rise, then these measures may be inadequate and leave coastal communities vulnerable."
One of the reasons climate models might underestimate the worst-case scenario, Slater told AFP, is that they do not account for short-term weather changes such as the heat wave that drove Greenland's record melt in the summer of 2019.
The models that will be used for the IPCC's next report are better at predicting how the ice sheets, oceans and atmosphere interact, Slater said.
The latest study follows a slew of bad news for the world's ice. One study published in August found that the Greenland ice sheet had passed the "point of no return" and would continue to melt even if the climate crisis were halted.
Another recent study, also driven by Leeds' CPOM, calculated that the earth had lost 28 trillion tonnes (approximately 31 trillion U.S. tons) of ice in just 23 years.
These studies reflect a new global reality: In the last five years, melt from ice sheets and glaciers has outpaced the expansion of warming ocean water as the main cause of sea level rise.
"It is not only Antarctica and Greenland that are causing the water to rise," Dr. Ruth Mottram, a coauthor on Monday's study and a climate researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute, told the University of Leeds. "In recent years, thousands of smaller glaciers have begun to melt or disappear altogether, as we saw with the glacier Ok in Iceland, which was declared 'dead' in 2014. This means that melting of ice has now taken over as the main contributor of sea level rise."
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By Jeff Masters
Death Valley, California hit an astonishing 129.9 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4°C) at 3:41 p.m. PDT Sunday, August 16, 2020, which was rounded to 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the final report from NOAA.
According to weather records experts Christopher Burt, who wrote the comprehensive weather records book "Extreme Weather," and Maximiliano Herrera, who tweets under the Twitter handle Extreme Temperatures Around the World, the observation may be the hottest reliably recorded temperature in world history, breaking the 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit readings at Death Valley in 2013 and in Kuwait in 2016.
Cautions About the Record
Herrera and Burt are cautious about accepting the new record set at the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center in Death Valley. The measurement came in mid-August. But extreme high temperature records are much easier to set in July, which is the hottest month of summer. Also concerning was the fact that Sunday's temperatures at Furnace Creek showed some odd jumps during the day. (See the raw high-resolution data here by choosing a time up to six days in the past from the drop-down menu, then choosing "Decoded Data.")
However, there were some relevant wind direction changes at Furnace Creek that occurred during these temperature jumps, bolstering the idea that the temperature changes were real. The National Weather Service noted that transient high cirrus clouds may have played a role in the temperature changes. Further support for the 130 degrees Fahrenheit reading at Furnace Creek came from the nearby Stovepipe Wells site in Death Valley, which peaked at 125 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday. That site, which lies in a cooler part of the valley and is 200 feet higher in elevation, is typically three to five degrees cooler than the Furnace Creek site.
The Greenland Ranch USWB weather shelter in Death Valley, California, site of the official world record extreme temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913. Photo is the oldest known photograph of the weather station (circa late 1910s to as late as 1921) and is looking west. NWS Las Vegas archives via Chris Burt
The Official World Record Will Remain 134°F
"If Sunday's observation passes an investigation (instrument calibration, etc.) then, yes, this a new reliably measured global extreme heat record," Burt wrote by email.
But the observation will not count as an official world record. In 2013, the World Meteorological Organization officially decertified the official all-time hottest temperature in world history, a 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit reading from Al Azizia, Libya, in 1923. (Burt was a member of the WMO team that made the determination.) After the abandonment of the Libya record, the official world record was given to a 134 degrees Fahrenheit measurement taken at Death Valley on July 10, 1913.
However, this record has been strongly disputed by Burt and Herrera.
"The old Death Valley record from July 1913 is 100% bogus (not just 99.9% such), as are all other temperature readings of 130 degrees Fahrenheit or higher from Africa in the past," Burt said.
Burt wrote a detailed 2016 blog post at Weather Underground challenging the 1913 record at Death Valley, explaining that official readings of 134, 130, and 131 degrees Fahrenheit taken on July 10, 12, and 13, 1913 were likely the result of an inexperienced observer. In order for the 1913 Death Valley record to be decertified, though, an official World Meteorological Organization investigation committee would have to be assembled to look into the matter, a years-long process for which there is currently no motivation.
The only other temperature of at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit officially recognized by the World Meteorological Organization is a 131-degree reading at Kebili, Tunisia, set July 7, 1931, which is considered to be Africa's hottest temperature.
Burt disputed this record: "I mentioned to the WMO about the Kebili temperature of 131 degrees Fahrenheit back in 2012, when asked what I thought the next hottest temperature in Africa (after Al Azzia) might be, since that was the only temperature over 130 degrees Fahrenheit that had an actual date attached to it. However, the Kebili 'record' is even more bogus than even the Al Azzia record, and I said so. Kebili is a relatively cool spot in Tunisia (an oasis) and never since the 1930s ever again recorded a maximum temperature above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. The WMO wanted something for their 'Africa' section at that time, and somehow the 131 degrees Fahrenheit made it into the database with no consideration of its validity whatsoever. Nowhere in Africa has any reliably observed temperature been measured above 126 degrees Fahrenheit."
A Weird Weather Day in California
Another argument supporting Sunday's 130 degrees Fahrenheit measurement at Death Valley was the unusual weather setup over California.
"I'm coming around to thinking that this 129.9° reading just might be for real," Burt said. "For one thing, the weather today in California has been unique. All kinds of strange local weather occurred. In fact, the folks at most of the state's National Weather Service offices are saying there has never been a day like today in recorded history in the state: all kinds of weird dynamics at work and the models just can't handle the details."
Yale Climate Connections contributor Bob Henson had these observations on Sunday's weird weather in California: "Among the strange developments over the weekend in California were a highly unusual round of pre-dawn thunderstorms in the Bay Area on Sunday, with only scant rain but profuse lightning that started multiple new wildfires. More than 4,800 lightning strikes were recorded in California on Saturday alone. Also on Saturday, a fire-based thunderstorm (pyrocumulonimbus) in Lassen County spawned what appear to be multiple fire whirls and 'fire tornados,' as indicated by radar and documented in photos and videos. The storm prompted what is apparently the first-ever NWS tornado warning related to pyrocumulonimbus. It will take further study to establish how many vortexes developed and how many might have been fire whirls (smaller-scale, shorter-lived spin-ups akin to dust devils) versus more unusual fire tornadoes, which extend up into a pyrocumulonimbus and which can generate surface winds of more than 100 mph.
"These events are related to an infusion of moisture from the tropical northeast Pacific, some of it from ex-Hurricane Elida, coupled with one of the strongest, hottest upper-level domes of high pressure ever recorded across the western United States in August. When such air is forced to descend, it warms up even more, which can lead to record-setting temperatures at the surface."
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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The record-breaking heat in the Arctic saw temperatures soar above 100 degrees for the first time in recorded history. Now, a new analysis has put to rest any notion that the heat was caused by natural temperature fluctuations.
The study found that the record-breaking heat wave was made 600 times more likely by the man-made climate crisis, as The Guardian reported. In other words, the heat wave is nearly impossible without the climate crisis.
The heat in Siberia has produced conditions both strange and awful, with massive wildfires, ravening mosquitoes and shaky permafrost that has caused infrastructure damage, including a burst fuel tank that released about 23,000 tons of diesel fuel into a pristine lake. The wildfires have spread farther north than ever before and have put more greenhouse gases into the earth's atmosphere than in any other month in 18 years of data collection, according to one report.
To figure out if human actions played a role in the unprecedented heat wave in Siberia, the researchers looked at two recent examples of exceptional heating in the region. The first was a look at the trend line from January through June of this year, when the average temperatures in the region were 9 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the average temperatures from 1951 to 1980. The second was the remarkable heat on June 20 that saw temperatures at the Russian town of Verkhoyansk at a reported 100.4 degrees, which the Russian Meteorological Service said is a record for temperatures anywhere north of the Arctic Circle, as The New York Times reported.
The research was conducted by a group of 14 scientists from six countries who collaborated to figure how something this out-of-bounds could occur. Their comprehensive climate attribution study declared, "This large-scale prolonged event would have been essentially impossible without climate change," as CBS News reported.
For context, the researchers said that if, hypothetically, you lived in this region before around 1900, when human-caused climate impacts started to emerge, a heat event as widespread, prolonged and intense as this would only occur once every 80,000 years — or about once every 1,000 lifetimes, according to CBS News.
For all practical purposes, said Friederike Otto, acting director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford and an author of the paper, "you would not have gotten an event like this without climate change," as The New York Times reported.
In a statement, Andrew Ciavarella, the lead author of the research and senior detection and attribution scientist at the Met Office, the national meteorological service for Britain, called the result "truly staggering," according to The New York Times.
Climate scientists use advanced computer simulations to compare the climate as it is today with the climate as it would have been without human influence to see how likely different weather events would have been if our species had never altered the atmosphere, according to the BBC. In this study, the researchers looked at the temperature abnormalities by observational surface temperature records and they recreated the climate using dozens of climate computer models. They delved into rich troves of data to determine how much of a weather phenomenon may have been caused by human activities that have generated planet-warming greenhouse gases, as The New York Times reported.
The researchers say that the current Siberian heat "has contributed to raising the world's average temperature to the second hottest on record for the period January to May," as the BBC reported.
"This study shows again just how much of a game-changer climate change is with respect to heat waves," said Otto, as The Guardian reported. "As emissions continue to rise, we need to think about building resilience to extreme heat all over the world, even in Arctic communities – which would have seemed nonsensical not very long ago."
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California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that would ban the sale of new cars in California that run only on gasoline by the year 2035. The bid to reduce emissions and combat the climate crisis would make California the first state to ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines, according to POLITICO.
"This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change," said Newsom in a statement that accompanied the signing of the executive order. "For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. Californians shouldn't have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn't make wildfires worse – and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn't melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines."
The threats posed by the climate crisis are playing out in dramatic fashion in California. This summer, the state has seen record-setting wildfires, heat waves and drought. Those mounting climate crisis-related challenges have spurred the move away from the state's leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, as The Washington Post reported.
"We can't continue down this path," Newsom said at a briefing, as The Guardian reported. "If you care about your kids and your grandkids, if you care about disadvantaged communities, if you care about seniors, if you care about rural communities, if you care about inner city communities that have been underserved by our fossil fuel economy, then you care about the core construct that we are advancing here in this executive order."
Newsom added that the order will create "green collar jobs" that Californians are well-positioned to capitalize on since 34 electric car manufacturers are already in the state.
"Our second largest export in the state of California are electric vehicles," he said, according to The Guardian. "Those 34 manufacturers, those public trading manufacturers, represent close to half a trillion dollars of market capitalization, some $500bn … this is an economic opportunity."
For the order to be successful, the technology, scalability, and affordability of electric cars would have to improve dramatically in the next decade. Also, the state will need to make sure charging stations are readily available. California currently has the largest market for electric and hybrid vehicles, with roughly 257,000 new registrations for electric vehicles in 2018, according to The Washington Post. Yet, that number was not even 10 percent of the state's new car market.
While the order is sure to meet legal challenges, it may set the trend that carmakers need to increase their investment in fossil-fuel-free vehicles.
"The automotive industry was already on the road toward electrification as a long term goal, but many automakers have been guilty of setting short term targets for their electrification strategy that never came to fruition," said Jessica Caldwell, director of insights at Edmunds, an online resource for car data, in an emailed comment to CNN. "This rule, if implemented, establishes a specific timeline that they'll collectively need to adhere to. California is a major market that automakers desperately need to maintain sales within to ensure their own viability."
The announcement also earned the praise of environmental groups.
"The Governor's Executive Order is a meaningful step in addressing the climate crisis and protecting the health of Californians," said Coalition for Clean Air in an email to NPR. "Electrifying transportation will also create jobs and help California move forward in its economic recovery."
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