climate crisis
July 22, 2020

A climate change study published Wednesday shows it is "extremely unlikely" that Earth's climate sensitivity could be "low enough to avoid substantial climate change" with continued high emissions.

Climate sensitivity is the measure of how susceptible Earth's climate is to human influence, per the study. In a 1979 report on sensitivity, it was estimated that if the carbon dioxide levels in Earth's atmosphere were to double compared to pre-industrial levels, temperatures could increase between 2.7 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now, scientists have narrowed the range to 4.1 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the rate of emissions continues, doubled carbon dioxide levels will be reached in roughly 50 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. There is a 95 percent chance that when that happens, it will lead to a warming of more than 3.6 degrees — "the threshold beyond which scientists say the Earth will suffer dangerous effects — disruptive sea level rise, intolerable heat waves, and other extreme weather and permanent damage to ecosystems," reports The Washington Post.

The doubling of carbon dioxide levels can be prevented only if humans enact swift measures. "The primary determinant of future climate is human actions," Kate Marvel, a physicist at NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies and Columbia University, told the Post.

But if human activities do push carbon dioxide levels to double, the study shows it would be less likely that the Earth remains below a 3.6 degree increase, and more likely that it exceeds the upper limit of the new range. If the temperatures reach even the middle of the new range, it would be a "five-alarm fire" for the planet, Marvel told the Post.

The study was published in Reviews of Geophysics, and is sponsored by the World Climate Research Program. It was conducted by 25 researchers across the world. Read more at The Washington Post. Taylor Watson

May 19, 2020

The worldwide drop in carbon emissions due to coronavirus shutdowns could be the largest in recorded history, scientists say.

As of early April, daily global carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 17 percent compared to last year's levels, corresponding with emission levels of 2006, according to a study published Tuesday in Nature Climate Change. Scientists estimate an annual decrease of 4 to 7 percent, depending on when pre-pandemic activities resume.

Researchers analyzed 69 countries, representing 97 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and found 43 percent of the decrease stemmed from reduced surface transportation, including cars, trucks, and buses. All sectors examined had a decrease in emissions, except the residential sector, which saw a growth of 2.8 percent, likely from people staying home.

The decline isn't likely to be a huge step toward combating climate change, though, as carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for a long time, said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, reports NBC News. What matters is long-term systemic changes rather than single-year emissions. To make a meaningful difference, "We would have to have the same speed of reduction that's happening in 2020 every year for the next decade," Hausfather said.

But shutdown measures aren't the way to tackle climate change, said Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia in the U.K., and the study's lead author, per NBC News. "It's about governments having vision and being forward thinking. What society do we need to build tomorrow to reduce the risks of more disasters?" Taylor Watson

April 6, 2020

After a summer of extreme heat in Australia, scientists at Australia's James Cook University and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority have reported the third bleaching event in the Great Barrier Reef in five years.

"That is unprecedented," Mark Eakin, coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program, told The Washington Post.

It's clear that major bleaching events can now be caused by climate change, Eakin said, noting that this year's bleaching did not coincide with El Niño, like several in the past did.

Bleaching is the result of coral being exposed to warm water for too long, leaving it under more stress and "subject to mortality," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Coral reefs "support more species per unit area than any other marine environment," and their biodiversity is "considered key to finding new medicines for the 21st century," per the NOAA.

The intensity of this year's bleaching falls short of that of 2016, but is more expansive. In 2016, the southern reefs were "a rare bright spot," Kim Cobb, a coral reef and climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told the Post. This year, corals from the north to south have been negatively affected.

Scientists agreed this indicates the reef is growing closer to annual bleaching events. Read more at The Washington Post. Taylor Watson

March 31, 2020

This January, East Antarctica — an area that previously seemed to be spared from climate warming — experienced its first recorded heat wave.

The heat wave was recorded at the Casey Research Station between Jan. 23 and 26, marking the area's highest temperature ever at 48.6 degrees Fahrenheit, while minimum temperatures stayed above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, according to research in Global Change Biology.

A rarity in Antarctica, heat waves are known as "three consecutive days with both extreme maximum and minimum temperatures," according to the research.

Meanwhile, Denman Glacier — a large glacier in East Antarctica — appears to be rapidly retreating. Its position above the world's deepest known canyon may be causing it to melt faster than it can recover, according to a letter in Geophysical Research Letters, Live Science reports.

As the glacier retreats, warm water fills the canyon, which could cause a feedback loop that returns all of the glacier's ice to the ocean, leading to about 5 feet of global sea level rise, reports Live Science. Researchers concluded the retreating of the glacier should be a "wake-up call" to scientists who believed melting in East Antarctica to be less of a threat than that of west Antarctica.

"Although it is too early for full reports, this warm summer will have impacted Antarctic biology in numerous ways," researchers wrote in their letter on Global Change Biology, noting disruption to ecosystem, community, and populations scales. Taylor Watson

February 5, 2020

Global ocean currents are speeding up more rapidly than scientists had anticipated — in part due to climate change, per a paper published Wednesday in Science Advances.

The trend is "much greater than the natural variability," the paper states. Due largely to faster surface winds, 76 percent of the top 2,000 meters of Earth's oceans show an increase in intensity of circulation, based on data from the past two decades.

Surging winds are a predicted symptom of climate change, but such an increase wasn't expected to happen until closer to the end of the century, reports The Washington Post. "This suggests the Earth might actually be more sensitive to climate change than our simulations can currently show," Michael McPhaden, an author of the paper and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher, told the Post.

Accelerated ocean currents may affect jet streams, weather patterns, and the amount of heat stored in the ocean's depths, reports Science magazine.

While the paper presents a "really huge increase" in acceleration, more research is needed to be certain the quickening is due to climate change, Susan Wijffels, oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told Science magazine. "This paper does highlight how ill prepared we are to truly diagnose what's going on."

The paper calls for a more thorough monitoring of global ocean circulation to bring more clarity. Taylor Watson

December 10, 2019

Warming air and water temperatures, eroding sea ice, and wildlife showing signs of stress — the Arctic Report Card for 2019 portrays a rapidly changing climate and ecosystem.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations' report, released Tuesday, outlines how arctic ecosystems and communities are at risk. Meanwhile, world leaders are at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid working on ways to approach the crisis.

Scientists noted that feared climate change acceleration may already be underway. The soil underneath Arctic permafrost contains about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere, per the report. As temperatures rise, this carbon is released into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gasses, creating a loop of climate change acceleration.

"We've turned this corner for Arctic carbon," Ted Schurr, a researcher at Northern Arizona University who was involved with the report card, told The Washington Post, and the amount of carbon emitted in the Arctic will continue to grow. This will make achieving carbon-cutting goals of the Paris Climate Agreement even more difficult.

Indigenous Elders in the Bering Sea region are among the first groups of people to experience hardships of climate change, as the Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the global average. The report states that climate change is threatening their "homes, schools, airports, and utilities."

"We fear for our young people," they said in the report. "We worry that they will grow without the same foods and places that we have known throughout our lives."

The Arctic report card was the 14th annual from the NOAA, and was developed by 81 scientists from 12 countries. Taylor Watson

September 23, 2019

Sixteen adolescents, including Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, are suing five countries for violating their rights as children by not taking sufficient measures against climate change. But they don't want money, they want action.

The lawsuit was announced Monday shortly after Thunberg's emotional speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly. The five countries named are Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey — the children filing the suit, all under 18, are from 12 different countries, including four of the five named in the suit, reports Gizmodo.

They claim the countries did not uphold the 30-year-old U.N. treaty Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the most widely ratified in history, and lays out rights to life, health, and peace.

The plaintiffs expressed how climate change is negatively impacting them, ranging from worsening asthma to having to leave their homes for fear of running out of water — showing that pollution of the environment has no borders.

The complaint is to be heard by a committee of children's rights experts, and, if successful, the U.N. will classify the climate crisis as a children's rights crisis, according to Gizmodo. Then the five countries must exit the convention or address climate change.

Two of the largest carbon dioxide emitters, China and the United States, are not named, as they did not ratify the part of the treaty that allows children to file a suit against the countries signed onto the protocol. Read more at Gizmodo. Taylor Watson

September 11, 2019

Global temperature rise is indisputably here.

Two degrees Celsius has become the politically agreed-upon — albeit somewhat arbitrary — limit scientists have warned we need to keep global warming below to prevent the worst effects of climate change. But much of the world has already warmed past that threshold, and the heat is leaving very obvious consequences in its growing wake, a Washington Post analysis has found.

In the last five years, between 8 and 11 percent of the world has seen temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius or higher when compared with pre-industrial temperatures. When the last 10 years are taken into account, that drops to 5 to 9 percent of the world, showing that temperatures have continued to rise in the most recent years.

Most of this temperature rise is centered around the Arctic, with northern countries such as Switzerland and Kazakhstan entirely encompassed by 2-degree temperature rise. But there are anomalies too, like a hot spot off the coast of Uruguay and Argentina that is killing off clam populations. The Washington Post has animated a map of the Earth to show where temperature rise is harshest, which you can watch below or explore more in depth here. Kathryn Krawczyk

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