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.
By Andrew Christ and Paul Bierman
In 1963, inside a covert U.S. military base in northern Greenland, a team of scientists began drilling down through the Greenland ice sheet. Piece by piece, they extracted an ice core 4 inches across and nearly a mile long. At the very end, they pulled up something else – 12 feet of frozen soil.
The ice told a story of Earth's climate history. The frozen soil was examined, set aside and then forgotten.
Half a century later, scientists rediscovered that soil in a Danish freezer. It is now revealing its secrets.
Using lab techniques unimaginable in the 1960s when the core was drilled, we and an international team of fellow scientists were able to show that Greenland's massive ice sheet had melted to the ground there within the past million years. Radiocarbon dating shows that it would have happened more than 50,000 years ago. It most likely happened during times when the climate was warm and sea level was high, possibly 400,000 years ago.
And there was more. As we explored the soil under a microscope, we were stunned to discover the remnants of a tundra ecosystem – twigs, leaves and moss. We were looking at northern Greenland as it existed the last time the region was ice-free. Our peer-reviewed study was published on March 15 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Engineers pull up a section of the 4,560-foot-long ice core at Camp Century in the 1960s. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
With no ice sheet, sunlight would have warmed the soil enough for tundra vegetation to cover the landscape. The oceans around the globe would have been more than 10 feet higher, and maybe even 20 feet. The land on which Boston, London and Shanghai sit today would have been under the ocean waves.
All of this happened before humans began warming Earth's climate. The atmosphere at that time contained far less carbon dioxide than it does today, and it wasn't rising as quickly. The ice core and the soil below are something of a Rosetta Stone for understanding how durable the Greenland ice sheet has been during past warm periods – and how quickly it might melt again as the climate heats up.
Secret Military Bases and Danish Freezers
The story of the ice core begins during the Cold War with a military mission dubbed Project Iceworm. Starting around 1959, the U.S. Army hauled hundreds of soldiers, heavy equipment and even a nuclear reactor across the ice sheet in northwest Greenland and dug a base of tunnels inside the ice. They called it Camp Century.
It was part of a secret plan to hide nuclear weapons from the Soviets. The public knew it as an Arctic research laboratory. Walter Cronkite even paid a visit and filed a report.
Workers build the snow tunnels at the Camp Century research base in 1960. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Camp Century didn't last long. The snow and ice began slowly crushing the buildings inside the tunnels below, forcing the military to abandon it in 1966. During its short life, however, scientists were able to extract the ice core and begin analyzing Greenland's climate history. As ice builds up year by year, it captures layers of volcanic ash and changes in precipitation over time, and it traps air bubbles that reveal the past composition of the atmosphere.
One of the original scientists, glaciologist Chester Langway, kept the core and soil samples frozen at the University at Buffalo for years, then he shipped them to a Danish archive in the 1990s, where the soil was soon forgotten.
A few years ago, our Danish colleagues found the soil samples in a box of glass cookie jars with faded labels: "Camp Century Sub-Ice."
Geomorphologist Paul Bierman (right) and geochemist Joerg Schaefer of Columbia University examine the jars holding Camp Century sediment for the first time. They were in a Danish freezer set at -17 F. Paul Bierman / CC BY-ND
A Surprise Under the Microscope
On a hot July day in 2019, two samples of soil arrived at our lab at the University of Vermont frozen solid. We began the painstaking process of splitting the precious few ounces of frozen mud and sand for different analyses.
First, we photographed the layering in the soil before it was lost forever. Then we chiseled off small bits to examine under the microscope. We melted the rest and saved the ancient water.
Then came the biggest surprise. While we were washing the soil, we spotted something floating in the rinse water. Paul grabbed a pipette and some filter paper, Drew grabbed tweezers and turned on the microscope. We were absolutely stunned as we looked down the eyepiece.
Staring back at us were leaves, twigs and mosses. This wasn't just soil. This was an ancient ecosystem perfectly preserved in Greenland's natural deep freeze.
Dating Million-Year-Old Moss
How old were these plants?
Over the last million years, Earth's climate was punctuated by relatively short warm periods, typically lasting about 10,000 years, called interglacials, when there was less ice at the poles and sea level was higher. The Greenland ice sheet survived through all of human history during the Holocene, the present interglacial period of the last 12,000 years, and most of the interglacials in the last million years.
But our research shows that at least one of these interglacial periods was warm enough for a long enough period of time to melt large portions of the Greenland ice sheet, allowing a tundra ecosystem to emerge in northwestern Greenland.
We used two techniques to determine the age of the soil and the plants. First, we used clean room chemistry and a particle accelerator to count atoms that form in rocks and sediment when exposed to natural radiation that bombards Earth. Then, a colleague used an ultra-sensitive method for measuring light emitted from grains of sand to determine the last time they were exposed to sunlight.
Maps of Greenland show the speed of the ice sheet as it flows (left) and the landscape hidden beneath it (right). BedMachine v3; Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) / CC BY-ND
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is well beyond past levels determined from ice cores. On March 14, 2021, the CO2 level was about 417 ppm. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory / CC BY-ND
The million-year time frame is important. Previous work on another ice core, GISP2, extracted from central Greenland in the 1990s, showed that the ice had also been absent there within the last million years, perhaps about 400,000 years ago.
Losing the Greenland ice sheet would be catastrophic to humanity today. The melted ice would raise sea level by more than 20 feet. That would redraw coastlines worldwide.
About 40% of the global population lives within 60 miles of a coast, and 600 million people live within 30 feet of sea level. If warming continues, ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica will pour more water into the oceans. Communities will be forced to relocate, climate refugees will become more common, and costly infrastructure will be abandoned. Already, sea level rise has amplified flooding from coastal storms, causing hundreds of billions of dollars of damage every year.
Tundra near the Greenland ice sheet today. Is this what Camp Century looked like before the ice came back sometime in the last million years? Paul Bierman / CC BY-ND
The story of Camp Century spans two critical moments in modern history. An Arctic military base built in response to the existential threat of nuclear war inadvertently led us to discover another threat from ice cores – the threat of sea level rise from human-caused climate change. Now, its legacy is helping scientists understand how Earth responds to a changing climate.
Andrew Christ is a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer in geology at the University of Vermont.
Paul Bierman is a fellow of the Gund Institute for Environment and professor of geology and natural resources at the University of Vermont.
Disclosure statement: Andrew Christ receives funding from the Gund Institute for Environment and the National Science Foundation. Paul Bierman receives funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and UVM Gund Institute for Environment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Jacob Job
Maybe you've seen a video clip of a fluffy white fox moving carefully through a frozen landscape. Suddenly it leaps into the air and dive-bombs straight down into the snow. If so, you've witnessed the unusual hunting skills of an Arctic fox.
During winter at the most northern parts of Earth, snow and ice transform the Arctic tundra into a blanket of white as far as the eye can see. It's a long, cold and harsh season, and animals like the Arctic fox have a number of special tricks that help them survive. Here's how they're able to locate and catch their prey.
Blending in With the Arctic Landscape
Some Arctic animals have evolved unique camouflage to blend in with their surroundings. The most obvious example is the polar bear. These large predators have white fur that makes them nearly invisible as they hunt seals on the white sea ice.
Arctic foxes actually change color with the seasons. During summer, their gray and brown fur blends in with tundra rocks and plant life. This camouflage helps Arctic foxes slowly sneak up on their prey and avoid being eaten themselves.
But dark fur would make Arctic foxes easy to see on the all-white winter tundra once it's covered with snow. As winter nears, Arctic foxes shed their dark fur and begin growing all white fur to blend in with the snow and ice. Their changing color helps keep these foxes hidden year-round.
Changing Hunting Strategies
Many of the bird species that Arctic foxes hunt during the summer migrate south to escape the harsh winter weather. The foxes are left with fewer food choices. While they still hunt some birds, like ptarmigan, on top of the snow, Arctic foxes often turn their attention to food found underneath the snow – specifically, lemmings.
Lemmings are small rodents that live on the Arctic tundra all year. To survive the cold winters, they remain active under deep snow, moving through tunnels, and search for leaves, roots and berries to eat. The snow insulates them from the cold air above, allowing them to stay active even during the middle of winter.
But how do Arctic foxes find lemmings that are hidden underneath the snow? The answer: by listening for their footsteps!
Hearing Like a Dog
Like other canid species – a fancy way to describe dog-like animals – Arctic foxes have very sensitive ears.
Have you ever seen a dog running through tall grass and then suddenly stop short, tilting its head back and forth? It probably looked like it was listening to something, even though you couldn't detect what might attract its attention. In fact, there was probably a mouse or vole moving nearby, and your dog was able to hear its footsteps.
What does a mouse or lemming sound like when it runs through the grass or snow? It makes a quiet, high-pitched rustling sound. It sort of sounds like the softest gust of wind causing grass blades to rub against each other.
Most people can't hear this sound, but your dog and Arctic foxes can hear it just fine. Because human beings domesticated dogs, they don't need to use their special hearing to find food – we make it easy by filling their food bowls every day. But wild canids, including Arctic foxes, still very much need this unique ability to survive.
An Ambush From Above
Arctic foxes spend hours each day roaming across the tundra during winter looking for food. This includes listening for lemmings under the snow. But hearing a lemming is only the first step in getting a meal. Arctic foxes still must catch them.
Once a fox hears a lemming, it becomes almost completely still. The fox then tilts its head back and forth, trying to better locate where the lemming is. It requires careful listening to pinpoint the lemming's quiet movements in the snow.
When a fox is confident it knows exactly where the lemming is, the ambush begins. It will jump straight up in the air, sometimes several feet, and plunge headfirst into the snow with its mouth wide open. If the attack was successful, the fox will emerge from the snow with a lemming in its mouth. Dinner is served.
Although this pouncing technique, known as "mousing," may seem easy enough, an Arctic fox may attempt it hundreds of times per day with little success. It takes practice and persistence.
Hunting in Noise
Humans make a lot of noise that makes it harder for predators to find prey. Although Arctic foxes live far enough north to avoid most noise pollution, other species including coyotes and red foxes live much farther south, where many more people live.
Coyotes and red foxes also hunt like Arctic foxes. The noise from airplanes, vehicles and other engines likely makes it harder for these species to hear rodent footsteps under the snow. And as the human population grows, bringing noise with them as they spread across the globe and into Arctic regions, it's reasonable to assume that Arctic foxes will also have a harder time finding food.
Jacob Job is a research associate in the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University.
Disclosure statement: Jacob Job does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Jessie Creamean and Thomas Hill
The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.
The Big Idea
Permafrost – frozen soil in the far north – is thawing, releasing greenhouse gases and long-lost microbes. But one thing that scientists have not studied extensively is whether permafrost contains certain kinds of particles that could affect clouds and weather.
As atmospheric scientists, we found in a recent study that thawing permafrost contains lots of microscopic ice-nucleating particles. These particles make it easier for water droplets to freeze; and if the ones in permafrost get airborne, they could affect Arctic clouds.
In the summer of 2018, one of us, Jessie Creamean, went to Fairbanks, Alaska, and collected samples of permafrost from a research tunnel deep underground. These samples ranged from 18,000 to 30,000 years old, and our team tested them to see how many ice-nucleating particles are hiding in permafrost.
It turns out permafrost contains a ton of them – up to 100 million highly active individual particles per gram of mostly dead microbes and pieces of plants. This density is on par with what is found in fertile soils, which are some of the most concentrated sources of ice-nucleating particles on Earth. Everywhere in the world, ice-nucleating particles typically play a major role in cloud behavior, and the strength of that effect is still being studied.
This 18,000-year-old permafrost sample contains millions of ice-nucleating particles per gram. Thomas Hill / CC BY-ND
Why It Matters
No one yet knows whether ice-nucleating particles from permafrost are getting into the atmosphere and affecting clouds. But the theory of how ice-nucleating particles change clouds is understood.
Clouds are made up of billions of tiny water droplets or ice crystals, often a mix of both. A cloud is like a forest of trees: All water droplets of the cloud require a seed – a tiny aerosol particle – to form and grow on. Almost any little speck of material from the land or the ocean can be the seed of a liquid cloud droplet. Because of their unique ability to line up water molecules into an icelike grid, they help supercooled liquid in a cloud to freeze at warmer temperatures.
Ice-nucleating particles are extremely good at forming small ice crystals – a rare skill found in less than 1 in a million of all the particles floating around in the air. Ice-nucleating particles can be mineral dust from deserts, specks of soil from farm fields or – like what we found in the permafrost – bacteria and bits of biological material from oceans or plants.
The ability to easily form ice has big consequences for clouds and weather.
Most of the time, airborne water droplets need to freeze before they can fall to the ground as snow or rain. Ice-nucleating particles allow cloud ice to form at warmer air temperatures than normal, up to around 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Without these particles, a water droplet can supercool to about negative 36 F before freezing. When ice-nucleating particles are in a cloud, water droplets freeze more easily. This can cause the cloud to rain or snow and disappear earlier, and reflect less sunlight.
As permafrost thaws, ice-nucleating particles are getting into rivers, lakes and eventually the ocean. National Park Service / C.Ciancibelli / Wikimedia Commons
What Still Isn’t Known
Our work found there are a lot of these ice-nucleating particles in thawing permafrost, which is important because permafrost covers 24% of the exposed land surface in the Northern Hemisphere. The question now is whether these particles are getting into the atmosphere or not. No other researchers that we're aware of have looked at permafrost's effect on cloud formation, or the mechanisms by which ice-nucleating particles from permafrost become airborne.
We hypothesize that ice-nucleating particles from thawing permafrost could get into lakes and rivers, make their way to coastal Arctic Ocean waters and spread over large areas. Then, winds could eject these ice-nucleating particles into the air, where they could enhance the freezing of clouds and affect weather.
There are still many unknowns and a lot of work to do.
This summer, we are teaming up with colleagues from the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Fairbanks and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, to set out for a six-week expedition to the Alaskan Arctic tundra. We will collect hundreds of samples of permafrost, lake water, river water, coastal ocean water and air samples to see whether ice-nucleating particles from permafrost are present, and in what amounts. Our goal is to use these findings in models to predict how thawing permafrost could alter the region's clouds.
Disclosure statement: Jessie Creamean receives funding for this work from the National Science Foundation (Award OPP-1946657). Thomas Hill receives funding for this work from the National Science Foundation (Award OPP-1946657).
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Jessica Corbett
With temperatures across the globe — and particularly in the Arctic — rising due to lackluster efforts to address the human-caused climate crisis, one of the coldest towns on Earth is throwing its hat in the ring to host the 2032 Summer Olympics.
Salla is located in Finland's Lapland region and touts the tagline, "in the middle of nowhere." The average temperature is below freezing and the area boasts a ski resort, reindeer park, Arctic Circle safaris, and even a snow and ice hotel.
With support from Fridays for Future — the youth-led movement launched by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg — Salla announced its Olympic bid to build awareness about "the consequences of global warming and the need for urgent action."
"Our intention here is clear: we want to keep Salla as it is, and our winters cold and full of snow," said Salla Mayor Erkki Parkkinen. "So, there was this crazy idea: to host the Summer Games in one of the coldest towns on the planet."
"If we stand back and do nothing, letting global warming prevail," Parkkinen warned, "we will lose our identity, and the town we love — as well as many others around the world — will cease to exist as we know it."
The campaign, detailed at www.savesalla.com, includes a short video.
"Despite the obviousness of the global warming, the ideology of climate change denial is gaining traction all over the world and increasing every year," the campaign website says. "So, we've created this bid to raise attention about the climate emergency. Salla is changing. The whole planet is changing. Not in a good way."
As Common Dreams has reported, while projections for the entire planet are dire if policymakers don't urgently work to "effect unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society, including energy, land and ecosystems, urban and infrastructure as well as industry," the Arctic is particularly at risk.
"We have only one planet to live in and an immense responsibility to future generations. We can all make a difference. What we cannot do under any circumstances is deny the problem and omit ourselves. The risks will be severe and unavoidable," said Joe Hobbs, a Fridays For Future activist and operations director for Climate Cardinals. "Global warming does not have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy and everyone can make a significant and decisive contribution to stop this process."
Hobbs joined Parkkinen and multiple experts for a press conference about the campaign on Tuesday.
The event came a day after a new study that showed ice loss worldwide is increasing at a record rate. Lead author Thomas Slater of Leeds' Centre for Polar Observation and Modeling said that "although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most."
"The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," Slater added. "Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century."
Also on Monday, Thunberg delivered an address to the World Economic Forum's annual meeting — held digitally rather than in Davos, Switzerland this year because of the raging coronavirus pandemic. She told political and business leaders that "when it comes to facing the climate emergency, the world is still in a state of complete denial."
"Safeguarding the future living conditions and preserving life on Earth as we know it is voluntary. The choice is yours to make," the 18-year-old Swede said. "But I can assure you this: You can't negotiate with physics. And your children and grandchildren will hold you accountable for the choices that you make."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
"It was a surprise to see such a large increase in just 30 years," said Thomas Slater, a study co-author. There have been huge efforts to study ice loss research in individual regions of the world, allowing the researchers to combine data to assess ice loss worldwide. Their findings show that Arctic ice is disappearing the fastest, with 7.6 trillion tons melting between 1994 to 2017. The report also found land ice melt alone contributed to a global average sea level rise of 3.5 centimeters. However, land ice is only a small portion of the world's ice. Sea ice shelves, which float on water, are disappearing quickly. If they collapse, the land ice (glaciers) some sea ice shelves hold in place would be released and could accelerate sea level rise for centuries.
As reported by The Guardian:
The greatest quantities of ice were lost from floating ice in the polar regions, raising the risk of a feedback mechanism known as albedo loss. White ice reflects solar radiation back into space – the albedo effect – but when floating sea ice melts it uncovers dark water which absorbs more heat, speeding up the warming further in a feedback loop.
Glaciers showed the next biggest loss of ice volume, with more than 6tn tonnes lost between 1994 and 2017, about a quarter of global ice loss over the period. The shrinking of glaciers threatens to cause both flooding and water shortages in some regions, because as large volumes melt they can overwhelm downstream areas, then shrunken glaciers produce less of the steady water flow needed for agriculture.
Inès Otosaka, report co-author and a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds centre for polar observation and modelling, said: "As well as contributing to global mean sea level rise, mountain glaciers are also critical as a freshwater resource for local communities. The retreat of glaciers around the world is therefore of crucial importance, at both local and global scales."
For a deeper dive:
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Earth had its second-warmest year on record in 2020, just 0.02 degrees Celsius (0.04°F) behind the record set in 2016, and 0.98 degrees Celsius (1.76°F) above the 20th-century average, NOAA reported January 14.
NASA and the European Copernicus Climate Change Service rated 2020 as tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record (NASA rates the margin of error at .05 degrees C); the Japan Meteorological Agency rated 2020 as the warmest year on record. Minor differences in rankings often occur among various research groups, the result of different ways they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.
Global ocean temperatures in 2020 were the third-warmest on record, global land temperatures the warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in 2020 for the lowest eight kilometers of the atmosphere were the second-warmest or warmest in the 42-year record, according to the University of Alabama, Huntsville and Remote Sensing Solutions, respectively.
The Northern Hemisphere had its warmest year on record in 2020 and the Southern Hemisphere its fifth-warmest. By continent, here are the 2020 temperature rankings:
Europe: first warmest
Asia: first warmest
South America: second warmest
Africa: fourth warmest
Australia (and Oceania): fourth warmest
North America: 10th warmest
As detailed in a January 12 post at this site by Bob Henson, 2020 for the U.S. was the fifth-warmest year in history going back to 1895. Ten states had their second-warmest year on record and four had their third-warmest year. None of the contiguous 48 states was below-average in temperature in 2020.
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for 2020, the second-warmest year the globe has seen since record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. Record-high annual temperatures over land and ocean surfaces were measured across parts of Europe, Asia, southern North America, South America, and across parts of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. No land or ocean areas were record cold for the year. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information
The remarkable global warmth of 2020 means that the seven warmest years on record since 1880 were the most recent seven years — 2014 through 2020. The near-record global warmth in 2020 is all the more striking since it occurred during the minimum of the weakest solar cycle in more than 100 years and during a year without a strong El Niño. Record-warm global temperatures typically occur during strong El Niño events and when the solar cycle is near its maximum. The warmth of 2020 is a testament to how significantly human-caused global warming is heating the planet.
Figure 2. Total ocean heat content (OHC) in the top 2000 meters from 1958-2020. Cheng et al., Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences
Warmest Year on Record for Total Ocean Heat Content
Despite the presence of a prominent La Niña event that began in August, the total heat content of the world's oceans in 2020 was the warmest in recorded human history, according to a January 13, 2021 paper by Cheng et al., Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020, published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. In the uppermost 2,000 meters of the oceans, there were 211 to 234 zettajoules more heat in 2020 than the 1981-2010 average, and 2020 had 1 to 20 zettajoules more ocean heat content than in 2019 (a zettajoule is one sextillion joules — ten to the 21st power). For comparison, in 2010, humans used a total of 0.5 zettajoules of energy.
More than 90% of the increasing heat from human-caused global warming accumulates in the ocean because of its large heat capacity. The remaining heating manifests as atmospheric warming, a drying and warming landmass, and melting land and sea ice. Increasing ocean heat content causes sea-level rise through thermal expansion of the water and melting of glaciers in contact with the ocean. It also produces stronger and more rapidly intensifying hurricanes; causes more intense precipitation events that can lead to destructive flooding; contributes to "marine heat waves" that damage or destroy coral reefs; and disrupts atmospheric circulation patterns.
A Slew of Heat Records in 2020
International records researcher Maximiliano Herrera keeps the pulse of the planet in remarkable detail, and he logged 11 nations or territories that set or tied their all-time heat records in 2020. That total fell far short of the record of 24 such records in 2019. No nations or territories set or tied an all-time cold record in 2020. Here are the all-time heat records set in 2020:
Colombia: 42.6°C (108.7°F) at Jerusalem, February 19 (tie);
Ghana: 44.0°C (111.2°F) at Navrongo, April 6;
Cuba: 39.2°C (102.6°F) at Palo Seco, April 10; broken again April 11 with 39.3°C (102.7°F) at Veguitas, and again on April 12 with 39.7°C (103.5°F) at Veguitas;
Mayotte, France department: 36.4°C (97.5°F) at Trevani, April 14;
Taiwan: 40.5°C (104.9°F) at Taimali Research Center, July 16;
Lebanon: 45.4°C (113.7°F) at Houche Al Oumara, July 27;
United States: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, California, August 16;
Japan: 41.1°C (106.0°F) at Hamamatsu, August 17;
Dominica: 35.7°C (96.3°F) at Canefield Airport, September 15;
Puerto Rico (U.S. territory): 37.8°C (100.0°F ) at Aguirre, September 17; and
Paraguay: 45.5°C (113.9°F ) at Pozo Hondo, September 26.
Among global weather stations having at least 40 years of record-keeping, Herrera documented 348 that exceeded their all-time heat record in 2020; only eight stations with a long-term period of record set an all-time cold record in 2020. For comparison, 632 stations set their all-time heat record in 2019 and 11 their all-time cold record.
Notable Global Heat and Cold Records for 2020
Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, U.S., August 16;
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -66.0°C (-86.8°F) at Summit, Greenland, January 2;
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 48.9°C (120.0°F) at Penrith Lakes, Australia, January 4;
Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -80.8°C (-113.4°F) at Dome Fuji, Antarctica, August 16;
Highest 2020 average temperature worldwide: 31.5°C (88.7°F) at Yelimane, Mali, and Matam, Senegal; and
Highest 2020 average temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 29.8°C (85.6°F) at Surabaya Airport, Indonesia, and Wyndham, Australia.
Earth's record for hottest yearly average temperature was 32.9°C (91.2°F) at Makkah, Saudi Arabia, in 2010 and 2016.
126 Additional Monthly National/Territorial Heat Records Beaten or Tied
In addition to the 11 all-time national heat records, 126 other national monthly heat records were set in 2020, for a total of 137 national monthly heat records:
– January (13): Norway, South Korea, Angola, Congo Brazzaville, Dominica, Mexico, Indonesia, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Cuba, British Indian Ocean Territory, Singapore;
– February (12): Spain, Antarctica, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, The Bahamas, Switzerland, Maldives, Gambia, Russia, Seychelles, Dominican Republic, U.S. Virgin Islands;
– March (7): Paraguay, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Seychelles, United States, Thailand, Northern Mariana Islands;
– April (14): Paraguay, Niger, St. Barthelemy, Honduras, Guernsey, Haiti, Congo Brazzaville, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, China, Saba, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic;
– May (10): Niger, Greece, Saba, Cyprus, Solomon Islands, Turkey, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Chile, Uzbekistan;
– June (6): Maldives, Thailand, U.S. Virgin Islands, Saba, Kenya, Ghana;
– July (7): Mozambique, U.S. Virgin Islands, Laos, Myanmar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Northern Mariana Islands;
– August (6): Solomon Islands, Mexico, Australia, Cocos Islands, Paraguay, U.S. Virgin Islands;
– September (18): Laos, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Mexico, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Botswana, St. Barthelemy, Mayotte, Argentina, Brazil, British Indian Ocean Territory;
– October (11): Algeria, Brazil, Tunisia, Turkey, Cyprus, Jordan, Peru, Myanmar, Northern Marianas Islands, Botswana, Maldives;
– November (11): Luxembourg, Finland, Nepal, Mexico, Aland Islands, Sweden, Maldives, Northern Marianas, Taiwan, Swaziland, Sudan; and
– December (11): Mexico, Ghana, Pakistan, Algeria, Qatar, Maldives, Niger, Taiwan, Dominica, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands.
One Monthly National/Territorial Cold Record Beaten or Tied in 2020
– April: St. Eustatius.
An October monthly record reported in Aruba was judged to be unreliable.
Hemispherical and Continental Temperature Records in 2020
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere in January: 29.1°C (84.4°F) at Bonriki, Kiribati, January 17;
– Highest maximum temperature ever recorded in North America in January: 42.0°C (107.6°F) at Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, January 21;
– Highest temperature ever recorded in continental Antarctica and highest February temperature ever recorded in Antarctica plus the surrounding islands: 18.4°C (65.1°F) at Base Esperanza, February 6;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in February in Antarctica: 7.6°C (45.7°F) at Base Marambio, February 9;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in February in the Northern Hemisphere: 32.0°C (89.6°F) at Yelimane, Mali, February 23;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in April in the Southern Hemisphere: 31.1°C (88.0°F) at Argyle, Australia, April 2;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in May in Europe: 30.1°C (86.2°F) at Emponas, Greece, May 17;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in May in North America: 35.0°C (95.0°F) at Death Valley, California (U.S.), May 28;
– Highest temperature ever recorded in the polar regions: 38.0°C (100.4°F) at Verkhoyansk, Russia, June 20;
– Highest reliable temperature ever recorded on Earth: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, California, August 16;
– Highest reliable minimum temperature ever recorded in August in North America: 40.0°C (104.0°F) at Death Valley, California (U.S.), August 17;
– Highest temperature ever recorded in Australia and Oceana in August: 40.7°C (105.3°F) at Yampi Sound, Australia, August 22; beaten again with 41.2°C (106.2°F) at West Roebuck, Australia, on August 23; and
– Highest temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere in November: 44.8°C (112.6°F) at San Francisco and Tubares, Mexico, November 5.
December 2020: Earth's Eighth-Warmest December on Record
December 2020 was the eighth-warmest December since global record-keeping began in 1880, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information reported January 14. NASA and the European Copernicus Climate Change Service rated the month as the sixth-warmest December on record, and the Japan Meteorological Agency rated it as the tenth-warmest. Again: Minor differences in rankings often occur among various research groups, the result of different ways they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.
Figure 3. Departure of sea surface temperature from average in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W). Sea surface temperature were approximately one degree Celsius below average over the past month, characteristic of moderate La Niña conditions. Tropical Tidbits
A Moderate La Niña Event Continues
La Niña conditions remained in the moderate range during December and early January, prompting NOAA to continue its La Niña advisory in a January 14 monthly discussion of the state of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, or ENSO.
Over the past month, sea surface temperatures in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W) have been approximately 1 degree Celsius below average. The threshold for "strong" La Niña conditions is 1.5 degrees Celsius below average; "moderate" La Niña conditions are 1.0-1.5 degrees below average.
Forecasters at NOAA and at Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society expect La Niña conditions will continue through the winter (95% chance during January-February-March), and potentially transition to "neutral" during the spring (55% chance during April-May-June). About half of all La Niña events continue into a second year, but fewer than 20% of the ENSO models predicted that La Niña conditions would last into the summer of 2021.
Arctic Sea Ice: Third-Lowest December Extent on Record
Arctic sea ice extent during December 2020 was the third-lowest in the 42-year satellite record, behind 2016 and 2017, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice extent in December 2020 was near-average.
Notable Global Heat and Cold Marks for December 2020
– Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 41.5°C (106.7°F) at Matam, Senegal, December 2;
– Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -57.5°C (-71.5°F) at Oymykon, Russia, December 29;
– Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 48.7°C (119.7°F) at Birdsville, Australia, December 5; and
– Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -44.9°C (-48.8°F) at Dome A, Antarctica, December 3.
Major Weather Stations' New All-Time Heat or Cold Records in December 2020
Among global stations with a record of at least 40 years, two stations set all-time cold records in December, and no stations set an all-time heat record:
Hamamasu (Japan) min. -21.5°C (-6.7°F), December 31; and
Bibai (Japan) min. -26.5°C (-15.7°F), December 31.
Statistics courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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As the planet's temperature warms, the frequency of lightning strikes is expected to grow with it, Environmental Journal reported.
Currently, lightning strikes the earth's surface nearly eight million times a day. This number is expected to dramatically increase as global temperatures rise, according to a study published by Science. The U.S., for example, could experience a 50 percent increase in the number of lightning strikes by the end of the century, if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed.
"The distribution of lightning is directly linked to the Earth's climate," Nathan Neal, a marketing director at Biral, wrote. "The daily and seasonal heating of the continental landmasses results in large temperature fluctuations, which influences atmospheric stability and the development of thunderstorms."
In the fastest-warming part of the planet, the Arctic has reported an increase in lightning over the past decade. A recent study suggests that the number of annual summertime lightning strikes above a latitude of 65° North rose from around 35,000 in 2010 to nearly 250,000 in 2020, Nature reported.
These results are a "symptom of global climate change," Robert Holzworth, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle and leader of the study, said in reference to the Arctic's two-year record for the largest area of land burnt by wildfires, some of which were ignited by lightning.
The Arctic is not alone in experiencing an increase in lightning strikes and resulting wildfires.
In August, 20,203 lightning strikes were recorded in California within just four days. Part of what CalFire called the "fire siege," the four-day event recorded more than half of the month's typical lightning total. More than 700 new wildfires followed, burning an area larger than the state of Delaware, The Washington Post reported.
So, how will the increase of lightning strikes cause future climate damage?
Unfortunately, monitoring lightning for climate science remains limited, Nathan Neal wrote.
"But it must not be forgotten that lightning is hazardous; it can strike and kill people, trigger potentially devastating wildfires, play a part in destructive floods and in the case of the U.S. can lead to the creation of tornados," he added.
Lightning, in relation to wildfires, is also an uncommon topic in public discourse, John Abatzoglou, an associate professor in management of complex systems at the University of California, Merced, told The New York Times. "We want to personify these fires. We want to blame somebody. But lightning doesn't have a face," he said.
Regardless of how climate change will impact lightning frequency, the resulting impacts of lightning strikes will grow more severe as the planet grows warmer and drier.
"Even if there were no changes in lightning frequency, the impact of warmer and drier conditions associated with climate change help make lightning more effective at igniting wildfires," Nina S. Oakley, a research scientist at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, told The New York Times. "With drier vegetation, there is a greater likelihood of a lightning strike igniting a fire, and greater opportunity for that fire to grow."
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By Andrea Germanos
"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge faces its biggest threat yet."
That's the warning issued by the National Audubon Society on Tuesday — a day before the Trump administration is set to sell oil and gas leasing rights in the refuge's coastal plain, a biodiversity hotspot of critical importance to the Gwich'in people and dubbed America's Serengeti.
Bids were submitted by the end of 2020. It's not clear, however, which oil or gas companies, if any, sought leases.
The Bureau of Land Management has "received interest" in leases, the Anchorage Daily News reported. That interest may have come solely from the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which voted unanimously last month to spend as much as $20 million on the leases. "It's a way for the state to make sure the land is set aside for oil development in case no one else bids on the leases," as Alaska Public put it.
Wednesday's virtual lease sale, according to NPR, represents:
a major moment in a 40-year fight over whether to develop the northernmost slice of the refuge's coastal plain, home to migrating caribou, birds, and polar bears.
[President-elect Joe] Biden, as well as his pick for Interior Secretary—Rep. Deb Haaland—oppose drilling in the refuge. The hand-off of drilling rights to the highest bidders could make it more difficult to reverse course.
That makes a pending decision from a federal judge in Alaska, which could come Tuesday, even more crucial to foil the lease sales and seismic activity related to fossil fuel plans.
A lease sale on Wednesday will mark the culmination of pro-development politicians' decades-long campaign for oil d… https://t.co/RSBNZ3ioWC— Audubon Society (@Audubon Society)1609802281.0
U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason in Anchorage on Monday heard oral arguments in the case, brought forth by Audubon and other conservation groups, as ADN reported. According to the outlet, "Gleason said she'd try to issue a decision by 'close of business' on Tuesday, on the eve of the live-streamed lease sale, set for 10 a.m. Wednesday."
While the Arctic Refuge has faced development pressure throughout its 40-year existence, it hasn't confronted a more intensely perilous week than this one. "It's like the second-to-last episode of a miniseries, where all the action has built up and there are multiple things happening, and yet there's no resolution at this point," says Natalie Dawson, executive director of Audubon Alaska. "We're waiting on a court decision. We're watching to see if anyone bids on the leases. We're waiting to see what the new administration will do. And all three of those things are kind of rotating around each other at this point." [...]
The coastal plain between the Brooks Range and the Beaufort Sea is a wild expanse of tundra that each year hosts millions of migratory birds from six continents. It's where the Porcupine caribou herd, one of the continent's largest, migrates each spring to birth calves. Polar bears den in the snow and ice along the coast and river edges, while muskoxen, wolves, and other wildlife roam the rolling plain.
It's also, like the rest of the Arctic, a region changing fast as the planet warms due to fossil-fuel combustion. "We shouldn't be exploring drilling anywhere," says Martha Raynolds, an arctic plant ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). "And the last place on Earth that the U.S. should be exploring drilling is the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge."
In a statement last when the groups asked the court to put the lease sales on hold, Erik Grafe, an attorney with Earthjustice which is representing the conservation groups in the case, sounded a similar alarm.
"Climate change is the greatest threat of our time," he said, "and the consequences will be severe and irreversible if we allow oil drilling to proceed in the cherished Arctic Refuge."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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'Disappointing' Decision From Norway's Supreme Court in Climate Lawsuit Challenging Arctic Offshore Oil Licenses
By Dana Drugmand
Norway's Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled not to overturn the Norwegian government's approval of new licenses for offshore oil drilling in the fragile Arctic region.
The ruling – a culmination of four years of high-profile litigation in a case challenging continued fossil fuel production on climate change grounds — came as a big disappointment, and even outrage, for environmental and climate activists in Norway and internationally.
"We are outraged with this judgment, which leaves youth and future generations without Constitutional protection. The Supreme Court chooses loyalty to Norwegian oil over our rights to a liveable future," Therese Hugstmyr Woie, head of a youth-led environmental organization called Young Friends of the Earth Norway, said in a press release.
"I am disappointed and outraged by the fact that the Norwegian constitution doesn't provide me and my peers with judicial protection from politicians stealing our future," Andreas Randøy, deputy head of Young Friends of the Earth Norway, told DeSmog in an emailed statement. "I wasn't old enough to vote out the politicians who opened up for new oil drilling in the arctic, further north than ever before. Yet I am a part of the generation who has to deal with its consequences. I really thought the Supreme Court would value that to a greater extent."
Today we are disappointed and worried: The Supreme Court of Norway has chosen to back oil over our rights to a live… https://t.co/ZLWPL6Lvsu— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace)1608643674.0
Young Friends of the Earth Norway and Greenpeace Norway sued the Norwegian government in 2016 over the government's granting of new offshore oil licenses in the Barents Sea. The environmental organizations argued permitting new oil drilling is incompatible with the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and constitutes a violation of section 112 of Norway's constitution that outlines a right to a healthy environment.
The lawsuit sought a court order to invalidate the oil licenses based on this constitutional provision, and considering that climate science dictates that the vast majority of fossil fuels be left in the ground to avoid the most catastrophic levels of warming. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment David Boyd supported the lawsuit and warned that Norway's continued oil production during a time of climate emergency amounts to a violation of human rights
The Norwegian courts ultimately disagreed that rights had been violated. The Oslo District Court initially determined in January 2018 that there was no constitutional violation stemming from the government's grant of new oil licenses. On appeal, a Norwegian appeals court upheld this ruling in January this year, though the appeals court did decide that the Norwegian government should be responsible for the carbon emissions tied to its petroleum exports.
The Supreme Court of Norway took up the case this year on another appeal, with hearings held in November. The court issued its decision on December 22, ruling 11-4 in favor of the government and against the environmental organizations. The four dissenting judges found the government had made procedural errors in its oil licensing decision, according to Greenpeace Norway.
The leader of Greenpeace Norway, one of the organizational plaintiffs in this case, said the Supreme Court ruling is disappointing and that the plaintiffs are looking at other avenues to continue making their case.
"It is absurd that our right to a liveable environment cannot be used to stop Norway's most harmful activities for our climate and environment," said Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway. "We will now consider all possibilities to stop this harmful industry, including an application to the European Court of Human Rights."
'This Should Be a Warning to the Oil Industry'
Although the Norwegian Supreme Court declined to overturn the grant of oil licenses in this instance, the ruling did acknowledge that Norwegian authorities may have a duty to deny oil companies' permits to actually produce the oil given the constitutional right to a healthy environment.
In other words, as Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law explained to DeSmog, the court concluded there is a distinction between oil exploration and oil production.
"Here's the part that is the worst possible news for oil companies. The court actually emphasized that simply finding oil under authority of an exploration license doesn't give any company any guarantee that they'll be permitted to produce the oil," Muffett said.
"There's a real missed opportunity on the part of the court in moving the law of human rights and the rights of future generations forward in this decision," he added. "And at the same time when you look at the practical impacts of this decision, what the decision says for industry is you're welcome to go and invest massive amounts of money in exploring for new oil if you want, but the critical question government is going to have to ask is can you produce it if it is contributing to climate change?"
Norway's Sup Ct failed to invalidate licenses to explore for Arctic oil, but made clear that finding oil is no guar… https://t.co/9rtGn6SJS6— Carroll Muffett (@Carroll Muffett)1608647745.0
Muffett said the ruling will also increase pressure for Norway's political leadership to listen to their citizens and consider following Denmark's lead in halting new oil and gas exploration and production. A recent opinion poll in Norway found that a majority of Norwegian citizens agree that oil exploration in the Arctic should be stopped for climate and environmental reasons.
"The Court has let the government off the hook at this time, but leaves the door open for an assessment on climate impacts, including emissions after export, at the later production stage," said Greenpeace Norway's Frode Pleym. "This should be a warning to the oil industry. At this moment in history, no oil producing country holds a credible position on climate without ending exploration for new oil and setting a plan for retiring the industry."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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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That's the takeaway from a study published in Nature Communications in October, which found that the tidal rhythms played a role in the intensity and frequency of methane releases from sediments in the Arctic Ocean. Lower tides meant more intense releases, while higher tides reduced the height and volume of gas releases.
"It is the first time that this observation has been made in the Arctic Ocean," study coauthor and researcher at the Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate (CAGE) at the UiT-The Arctic University of Norway Jochen Knies said in a CAGE press release. "It means that slight pressure changes can release significant amounts of methane. This is a game-changer and the highest impact of the study."
Methane release from natural sources is tricky to quantify and constrain, especially in the Arctic Ocean. It turns… https://t.co/RoRiV0g8aH— CAGE (@CAGE)1607935502.0
To achieve their results, the researchers put a device called a piezometer in Arctic Ocean sediment about a meter (approximately 3.28 feet) from the seafloor and left it there for four days. The piezometer measured the pressure and temperature of sediment pores every hour and revealed that the upward and downward movement of gas is linked to pressure, which is in turn determined by the tides.
"Low tide means less of such hydrostatic pressure and higher intensity of methane release. High tide equals high pressure and lower intensity of the release," study coauthor Andreia Plaza Faverola, also of CAGE, said in the press release.
The findings have two major implications.
The first concerns the amount of methane the Arctic Ocean may be releasing into the atmosphere. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Once released into the atmosphere, it has 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide before it decays to the latter after one or two decades, Scientific American pointed out. It is currently generated by human activities like fossil fuel production and transportation, livestock agriculture and the decay of organic material in landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But there is also concern that, as the planet warms, it could be released by the thawing of frozen gas deposits in the Arctic Ocean known as hydrates. Preliminary data released by Arctic scientists in October revealed wide methane release off the Eastern Siberian coast, though other scientists urged caution as the findings have not yet been peer reviewed.
Now, Plaza Faverola says the new study provides evidence that Arctic Ocean methane release is occurring more often than previous observation techniques have revealed.
"This tells us that gas release from the seafloor is more widespread than we can see using traditional sonar surveys. We saw no bubbles or columns of gas in the water. Gas burps that have a periodicity of several hours won't be identified unless there is a permanent monitoring tool in place, such as the piezometer," Plaza Faverola said in the CAGE release.
Knies noted that the methane releases his team studied occured in the deep ocean, where they are less likely to reach the atmosphere and contribute to the climate crisis. But Knies suggested the study should be repeated studying shallower sediments.
"What we found was unexpected and the implications are big," Knies said in the release.
The second implication has to do with how global warming will interact with sea level rise to influence Arctic Ocean methane release. While higher temperatures mean greater thawing, the fact that greater water pressure reduces the height and volume of gas releases may mean that sea level rise partly counterbalances the impact of warming.
"Earth systems are interconnected in ways that we are still deciphering, and our study reveals one of such interconnections in the Arctic: The moon causes tidal forces, the tides generate pressure changes, and bottom currents that in turn shape the seafloor and impact submarine methane emissions. Fascinating!" Plaza Faverola said in conclusion.
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