Antarctica is our most challenging continent to study, but what's going on there (or isn't) is pivotal to accurate estimates of sea level rise, which in turn are pivotal to the tens of millions of people living within a few meters of sea level. This TED Talk discusses how researchers are using radar and radio to peer through 3 km of ice to better understand how Antarctica may be changing.
"Post-glacial rebound" is the term used to describe the phenomenon of land that rises in elevation (or rebounds) after millennia of being weighted down by glaciers. Parts of Canada and Greenland, for example, continue to gain in elevation due to post-glacial rebound. This article is about post-glacial rebound in Sweden and Finland, where it is causing problems with river flow, property rights, and shipping. www.cntraveler.com/story/on-the-baltic-coast-of-sweden-and-finland-sea-levels-are-falling
"The question that dominates my waking hours now is: When Day Zero arrives, how do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy?" says the mayor of Capetown, South Africa, in a recent National Geographic article on Capetown's water crisis. [As I noted in a different post a few weeks ago, Capetown is expected to have to turn off its public water supplies in two months (more or less, depending on the success of water conservation efforts) because the water level in the city's reservoir is approaching, functionally, zero. The army is on standby to maintain order.] This article from the BBC (UK) looks at 11 other major cities likely to run out of drinking water (Cairo? London? Bangalore? Sao Paulo? Beijing? Istanbul?): www.bbc.com/news/world-42982959
New Zealand may become the first country to issue special refugee visas for climate change refugees. (The current 1951 definition of a "refugee" requires that a person have a well-founded fear of persecution in his/her home country; "persecution" doesn't apply in the case of people fleeing climate change impacts.) New Zealand's legislature is considering the new visa class to assist populations of neighboring Pacific islands threatened by rising seas. geographical.co.uk/people/the-refugee-crisis/item/2539-changing-climate
This winter has been unusual in that every state, including Hawaii, Florida, and Louisiana, has recorded snow this year. This map shows snowfall in the contiguous United States from the start of the winter through early January: www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/sites/default/files/scald-image/350_inline_snowmap.gif
In less than three months, Cape Town, South Africa, may become the first major city to, literally, run out of water. Following three years of unprecedented droughts, Cape Town has announced it may be forced to turn off the city's municipal water system on or about April 22, requiring residents to line up at water distribution points across the city, under armed guard, to collect a maximum daily allotment of 6.6 gallons of water per day. time.com/5103259/cape-town-water-crisis/
Many countries in southern Africa have harnessed the region's rivers to bring hydroelectric power to their people. But an extended drought is leaving some of them in the dark. Malawi, for example, recently experienced a total blackout when water levels at the country's two main hydroelectric dams dropped below electricity-generating levels. Zambia and Zimbabwe are facing similar problems. While investment in African hydro power remains high -- Ethiopia and Sudan have major (and controversial) Nile hydroelectric projects in the works -- other countries are turning to small-scale solar projects for electricity. This article from the BBC (UK) discusses an initiative to install solar panels in rural Rwanda: "As they [the founders of BBOXX, a London-based company that brings off-grid electricity to the developing world] explored various ways to get power to [rural Rwanda], they realised that the grid will never supply those in Rwanda and beyond who currently lack electricity: such communities are dispersed over immense areas, and are too poor to afford such extensive infrastructure. That’s when they arrived at a grand idea: they concluded that Africa will largely bypass the grid and leapfrog over Europe and North America straight into solar – just as it did in skipping landlines, a rarity in rural Africa, in favour of cell phones." www.bbc.com/future/story/20171009-rural-rwanda-is-home-to-a-pioneering-new-solar-power-idea
Sea-level rise isn't the only thing causing flooding in coastal cities: in many cities, the land is literally sinking as drinking water is drained from underground aquifers. Jakarta, for example, is sinking by 6.7" per year due to subsidence. Inland areas like Mexico City and California's San Joaquin Valley are also sinking, differentially, causing major water infrastructure problems. This BBC (UK) article looks at subsidence and what communities can do to stop it. www.bbc.com/future/story/20171130-the-ambitious-plan-to-stop-the-ground-from-sinking
This map compares climates within the U.S. with those in other parts of the world. Like southern California? Visit Malta :-). Wondered what Kabul is like? Lubbock, TX, apparently.
For at least a decade, scientists have been trying to figure out why the Karakorum mountains (home to K2, on the Pakistan-China border) have been getting colder while the rest of the Himalayan region has been warming up. The answer seems to lie in a cold air vortex that is keeping the Karakorum colder than the surrounding mountain systems, to the point that it is reducing the glacial melt that feeds the Indus River, which in turn feeds most of Pakistan. geographical.co.uk/places/mountains/item/2413-glacial-growth-cracking-the-karakoram-anomaly
Weather patterns are usually in the purview of physical geography, but increasingly they are affected by human geography as well. A recent study of sea lightning, for example, found that lightning was twice as likely to strike major shipping lanes as nearby waters. Scientists believe cargo ships, which burn a particular sludgy form of oil, are creating trails of exhaust particles which contribute to cloud formation and lightning. www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/09/cargo-ships-may-be-creating-lightning-sea
Scientists and social scientists across several disciplines teamed up to look at how changes in climate are likely to affect the U.S. economy. "Researchers ran 29,000 simulations of the U.S. economy, with results informed by weather-driven damages they detected in six domains–agriculture, crime, health, energy demand, labor, and coastal communities—between 1981 and 2010. Heat, for example, may increase crime or cause corn yields to fall, but it also could lower fatalities driven by exposure to the cold." The resulting map projects economic losses (red) and economic gains (blue) by county for 2080-2100. [Note: this work was published long before the current hurricane season.] www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/here-s-how-much-climate-change-going-cost-your-county
In June, the western coast of Greenland experienced a mega-tsunami when rock, that had been frozen in place, was loosed by melting and crashed into one of the fjords rimming the coast of Greenland, triggering a 100 m. wave that wiped away a small fishing village. Mega-tsunamis, like the one that is believed to have destroyed the Minoan civilization on Crete, occur when massive amounts of rock -- generally from landslides or volcanic eruptions -- are suddenly displaced into relatively shallow bodies of water, generating huge (up to 500 m. tall!) waves. www.nature.com/news/huge-landslide-triggered-rare-greenland-mega-tsunami-1.22374
U.S. trees are on the move. Between 1980 and 2015, several tree species associated with America's eastern woodlands -- including white oaks, hollies, and sugar maples -- have shifted their range, often westward (in the case of deciduous trees) or northward (in the case of coniferous trees).Scientists are still trying to figure out why, exactly, this has happened, but it seems to be linked to changes in physical geography, including historic rainfall patterns and temperatures. www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/05/go-west-my-sap/526899/
This article from earlier this year helps explain why China is holding to its commitments to combat sea level rise. The article includes an interesting feature that maps development in the Pearl River Delta from 1988 to the present. "Guangzhou, formerly Canton, had more than a million people [a generation ago], but by the 1980s, China set out to transform the whole region, capitalizing on its proximity to water, the energy of its people, and the money and port infrastructure of neighboring Hong Kong. Rushing to catch up after decades of stagnation, China built a gargantuan collection of cities the size of nations with barely a pause to consider their toll on the environment, much less the future impact of global warming. Today, the region is a goliath of industry with a population exceeding 42 million. But while prosperity reshaped the social and cultural geography of the delta, it didn’t fundamentally alter the topography. Here, as elsewhere, breakneck development comes up against the growing threat of climate change. Economically, Guangzhou now has more to lose from climate change than any other city on the planet, according to a World Bank report. Nearby Shenzhen, another booming metropolis, ranked 10th on that World Bank list, which measured risk as a percentage of gross domestic product." www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/04/07/world/asia/climate-change-china.html
NOAA (the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has developed an interactive mapping tool that allows users to see how changes in sea level (up to 6') could be expected to affect U.S. coastlines and landmark locations along coastlines. https://coast.noaa.gov/slr/beta/
Permafrost is proving to be not as "perma" as we had thought. Using recently declassified spy satellite images of the former Soviet Union, scientists have been able to document changes to the Siberian tundra. As permafrost melts, it not only releases trapped methane and carbon dioxide, it also enables the growth of trees and shrubs, which absorb, rather than reflect, solar energy and promote further localized warming. Researchers estimate that for every 1 degree Celsius increase in global temperature, an area of permafrost larger than India will be lost. www.iflscience.com/environment/for-every-1c-of-warming-a-part-of-the-permafrost-the-size-of-india-will-melt/all/
Desertification (the expanding of deserts) is a major problem for China, primarily in the northern half of the country. Over the weekend, Beijing was hit by an unusual combination of smog and sand that created a thick brown haze and air quality in the "very unhealthy" range. This map shows the proximity of Beijing to China's encroaching deserts. The sand that hung in the air in Beijing this weekend is thought to have originated in the Gobi Desert, the edges of which now begin less than 50 miles from the capital. www.neaspec.org/sites/default/files/dss_5.jpeg
The equatorial waters of the central Pacific are again getting unusually warm, predicting a return of the aberrant weather patterns known as El Niño this year. This map, a version of which The Wall Street Journal re-published yesterday, shows the anticipated impact of El Niño on commodity markets. solarcycles.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/18augu1.jpg
The Yale Program on Climate Communication recently released a series of maps based on their survey work documenting Americans' views on climate change. One of the most striking maps, to me, was this one, that maps respondents' views on if there is scientific consensus on whether climate change is real and is caused by human activity. i2.cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/170227163854-climate-map-3-scientists-super-169.jpg You can find six of the maps here: www.cnn.com/2017/02/28/us/sutter-climate-opinion-maps/
The New York Times recently ran an excellent story on how the physical and human geography of Mexico City, the biggest metropolitan area in North America and at considerable elevation and far from the coasts, is increasingly vulnerable to changes in climate. I am excerpting parts here but encourage you to read the whole thing: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/17/world/americas/mexico-city-sinking.html
"Mexico City, a mile and a half above sea level, [is] sinking, collapsing in on itself. ... Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further. ... It is a cycle made worse by climate change. More heat and drought mean more evaporation and yet more demand for water, adding pressure to tap distant reservoirs at staggering costs or further drain underground aquifers and hasten the city’s collapse. In the immense neighborhood of Iztapalapa — where nearly two million people live, many of them unable to count on water from their taps — a teenager was swallowed up where a crack in the brittle ground split open a street. Sidewalks resemble broken china, and 15 elementary schools have crumbled or caved in. Much is being written about climate change and the impact of rising seas on waterfront populations. But coasts are not the only places affected. Mexico City — high in the mountains, in the center of the country — is a glaring example. ... The effects of climate change are varied and opportunistic, but one thing is consistent: They are like sparks in the tinder. They expose cities' biggest vulnerabilities, inflaming troubles that politicians and city planners often ignore or try to paper over. ... Mexico City now imports as much as 40 percent of its water from remote sources — then squanders more than 40 percent of what runs through its 8,000 miles of pipes because of leaks and pilfering. This is not to mention that pumping all this water more than a mile up into the mountains consumes roughly as much energy as does the entire metropolis of Puebla, a Mexican state capital with a population akin to Philadelphia’s. Even with this mind-boggling undertaking, the government acknowledges that nearly 20 percent of Mexico City residents — critics put the number even higher — still can’t count on getting water from their taps each day. ... 'We expect heavier, more intense rains, which means more floods, but also more and longer droughts.' If it stops raining in the reservoirs where the city gets its water, 'we’re facing a potential disaster,' [the director of Mexico City's water system] said. 'There is no way we can provide enough trucks of water to deal with that scenario. If we have the [drought] problems that California and São Paulo [Brazil] have had,' he added, 'there is the serious possibility of unrest.'"
"At the extreme, if climate change wreaks havoc on the social and economic fabric of global linchpins like Mexico City, warns the writer Christian Parenti, 'no amount of walls, guns, barbed wire, armed aerial drones or permanently deployed mercenaries will be able to save one half of the planet from the other.'”
Project BudBurst invites citizen-scientists to help chart the arrival of spring. Choose a plant (or more than one plant) to observe and report when it blooms or leafs out. The Project BudBurst site includes plentiful resources for students and educators, from kindergarten through college. budburst.org
Last week it was reported that the sea ice surrounding Antarctica reached the lowest level in recorded history in January. In the Arctic, where it is winter, sea ice also set a new record low for January. This article from National Geographic asks, "What would the world look like if all of the planet's ice melted?" Check out the before-and-after map for each continent. www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2013/09/rising-seas-ice-melt-new-shoreline-maps/
Permafrost turns out to not be quite as "perma" as Soviet planners thought. When the Soviet Union threw up new cities in Siberia to support the extraction of various natural resources there, infrastructure and buildings, including multistory apartment buildings, were constructed on top of the permafrost. Now, as the permafrost has begun to melt and shift, the structural integrity of these cities is at risk. A new study looks at engineering threats to Siberia's cities: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gere.12214/full Permafrost underlies as much as 2/3 of Russia's landmass.
It's the beginning of summer in Antarctica, and scientists have announced that a section of Antarctica's ice shelf the size of Delaware is likely to break off this season. The Larsen C ice shelf is Antarctica's 4th largest and sits atop the Weddell Sea, near the end of the peninsula that points towards the tip of South America. If the 5,000 square km chunk of Larsen C does break off, it will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded. This photo is an aerial view of the crack, which abruptly fissured an additional 18 km last month. www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/01/06/the-crack-in-this-antarctic-ice-shelf-just-grew-by-11-miles-a-break-could-be-imminent/?utm_term=.75c594cdfbfa
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