Due to a powerful solar storm, there have been great photos of the aurora borealis spotted in unlikely places this week, including as far south as Missouri. If you'd like to catch the aurora, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a daily forecast and notes the aurora "does not need to be directly overhead but can be observed from as much as a 1000 km away when the aurora is bright and if conditions are right." www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast
This satellite image, from Al Jazeera, shows the location of the two dams on the Wadi Derna in far northeastern Libya that collapsed earlier this week following unusually heavy rains. The dams were built in the 1970s by a Yugoslavian company as part of a project to provide reservoirs and an irrigation network for communities in the region. Although Libya is not considered especially vulnerable to climate change, Notre Dame's Global Adaptation Initiative had previously flagged Libya's dam capacity as a significant vulnerability. www.aljazeera.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/INTERACTIVE-Libya-Derna-floods-Storm-Daniel-1694506930.png
With Hurricane Lee dawdling off the Atlantic Coast of the U.S., this graph from NOAA is a reminder that this is the busiest time of year for hurricanes. (Graph from www.nola.com/news/hurricane/hurricane-lee-becomes-a-cat-3-storm-no-threat-to-the-gulf/article_fe6ad090-4f64-11ee-984f-3facb7542d5c.html.)
If the runaway success of Barbie has left you craving more pink in your life, Conde Nast Traveler has picked out the world's most beautiful pink places, from Florida to Jaipur to Spain to Vietnam to Scotland: www.cntraveler.com/gallery/the-most-beautiful-pink-places-to-visit-around-the-world
Last fall, low water levels on the Mississippi River cost the U.S. economy an estimated $20 billion in shipping losses. This spring, the Mississippi rebounded, flooding communities in Iowa and Illinois. But a dry summer is again threatening shipping. This map compares water levels at major ports along the Mississippi with historic averages. (Map from www.wsj.com/articles/mississippi-river-careens-from-floods-to-low-water-threatening-barge-traffic-a6d5758d.)
It's impossible to avoid the heat and drought stories this summer. This one is about Iran and how extreme water scarcity is shaping political protest, basic livability -- two provinces are expected to run out of municipal water completely by September -- and the geopolitics of the region. www.nytimes.com/2023/07/23/world/middleeast/iran-heat-water.html
AMOC (pronounced "ay-mock")-- the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation -- is a network of Atlantic Ocean currents, including the Gulf Stream, that plays a pivotal role in keeping Western Europe warm relative to its latitude and distributing heat around the planet. Multiple studies have found AMOC is weakening and is now perhaps the weakest it has been in 1,000 years. The massive melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which is dumping an estimated 250 billion metric tons of ice and cold, fresh meltwater into the northern Atlantic each year, is eyed as a possible culprit. Last week a study by Danish researchers of 150 years of weather data concluded that AMOC could collapse -- as it did 12,800 years ago -- by the end of the century, perhaps even within a few years. This article from Scientific American explains the science, the unknowns, and AMOC's significance: www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-a-mega-ocean-current-about-to-shut-down/.
Facing ongoing drought conditions, Spain is one of several countries looking to resurrect water-delivery systems hundreds or thousands of years old. This article is about Spain's acequias system, an extensive network of canals originally built by the Moors to deliver water from the mountains to communities across southern Spain. www.nytimes.com/2023/07/19/world/europe/spain-drought-acequias.html
As extreme heat grips much of the world, Death Valley, CA seems to have set a new record: its midnight temperature was measured at 120°F. The low a few hours later was measured at 105°F, which would also be a record if confirmed. www.newscientist.com/article/2382959-death-valley-may-have-just-had-the-hottest-recorded-midnight-ever/
A topographic map of California quickly reveals the Central Valley, a broad valley that runs nearly the length of California, from north of Sacramento to south of Bakersfield. Today, that is some of the U.S.'s most productive agricultural land. But historically it has also been a lake, filled to a depth of three feet or more following years with abundant rain or snowfall, like this year. In the southern basin of the Central Valley was Tulare Lake, once the biggest body of freshwater west of the Mississippi River. With snow melting in the mountains this spring, Tulare Lake has reemerged, with more than 150 square miles of lake bed refilling to submerge farms, roads, homes, electrical transformers, and anything else that might have been there: www.nytimes.com/2023/06/25/us/california-storms-tulare-lake.html.
Because they often rely on evaporative cooling to keep equipment from overheating, data centers rank among the top 10 most water-consuming industries in the U.S. This article explores the clash between Big Tech and local communities in water-stressed areas of the U.S. www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/04/25/data-centers-drought-water-use/
Last week's smoky air has dissipated on the East Coast, but this is almost certainly not the last time you will find yourself wondering about air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency's AirNow map shows air-quality data, updated hourly: gispub.epa.gov/airnow/?monitors=pm (You can select for ozone, particulate matter, or both.)
This map, from data provided by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, shows where wildfires are burning, uncharacteristically early, in Canada. Many of these fires are contributing to poor air quality in Canada and the U.S. (Map appeared in www.wsj.com/articles/air-quality-levels-drop-in-u-s-as-smoke-billows-from-canadian-wildfires-c87c53db.)
This article from Fortune introduces readers to Gatun Lake, a body of water you may have never heard of or thought about that is poised to play a huge role in global trade, supply chain management, and inflation because of a severe, ongoing drought in Panama:
"Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell keeps careful track of employment levels, wages, consumer prices and numerous other metrics to see where the US inflation rate may be headed in the next year. He might also want to keep an eye on water levels at Gatun Lake. That’s the lake that feeds the locks in the Panama Canal with the fresh water needed to raise vessels as they pass from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. But a severe drought has caused water levels in the lake to drop far below normal, resulting in weight limits and rising surcharges for vessels traversing the canal. It’s also unnerving economists and supply-chain experts. Just as the world’s delivery bottlenecks are easing, Panama’s drought and worrisome weather patterns elsewhere threaten to revive some of the chaos of 2021, when a surge in shipping costs and consumer demand resulted in shortages of goods, helping to drive US inflation to a four-decade high. If Gatun Lake levels keep falling as forecast, the market reaction will be higher shipping rates and a scramble to find alternative routes from Asia to the US, logistics experts said. ... Making matters worse, an El Niño system is building in the western Pacific Ocean and is expected to upset normal weather patterns by the end of this year. While this can cause heavy rainfall in some regions, in Panama it typically means severe drought and higher than normal temperatures."
China dominates the processing of rare earth metals. But increasingly, China is importing rare earth metals for processing as domestic mining has fallen, which is spurring Chinese investment in foreign rare earth mining operations. "Rare earths are a group of 17 metals critical to many high-tech applications. ... After rare earth ores are mined, they have to be crushed and ground up to extract the metals from the minerals. Chemical procesess separate out individual rare earth elements, and further refining and alloying processes produce high-purity metals for use in manufacturing. China essentially has a monopoly on every step beyond the first phase of digging ores out of the ground. This has given it it huge sway over the global rare earth industry. But it also means that it needs vast quantities of ore, which is currently mostly mined in China, Australia, the US, and Myanmar. ... “China depends so much on imports of rare earth raw material from abroad, [and] they are painfully aware that this dependency could be used against them,” said [Thomas] Krümmer [an analyst of the rare earth market]." qz.com/china-rare-earths-raw-materials-shortage-1850232896
For a better appreciation of U.S. topography (and the challenges of westward expansion), check out this computer-generated map of the contiguous U.S.: www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/comments/jslbn9/us_elevation_tiles_oc/
Which countries have the most extreme temperatures? This map shows countries (in red) with recorded high temperatures in excess of 48°C (or 118.4°F), countries (in blue) with recorded temperatures below -48°C (or -54.4°F), and countries (in black) that have experienced both extremes. moverdb.com/above-below-48/
California has had an enormous amount of rain and snow this winter, but Florida is experiencing a worsening drought, raising concerns about reduced agricultural output and wildfires in Florida this year. "About two-thirds of Florida is under moderate to extreme drought conditions, mainly in the central and southern parts of the state, according to the most recent weekly report by the U.S. Drought Monitor, a joint effort of academic and government institutions. ... Officials are particularly concerned about an area in southwestern Florida where Hurricane Ian struck last year and left heaps of forest debris on the ground that could fuel wildfires. Much of that area is now experiencing among the most intense drought conditions in the state." www.wsj.com/articles/deepening-florida-drought-hits-ranchers-growers-d4e9abb1
The rise of humans has unfolded in a very specific niche of physical geography -- a "just right" combination of temperatures, precipitation, continental positions, atmospheric chemistry, and existing organisms. Could we take this show on the road even if we wanted to? This piece from Aeon argues that humans will not be able to live off Earth for sustained periods of time because of differences in the underlying physical geography, including biogeography..
"Given all our technological advances, it’s tempting to believe we are approaching an age of interplanetary colonisation. But can we really leave Earth and all our worries behind? No. ... What Earth-like means in astronomy textbooks and what it means to someone considering their survival prospects on a distant world are two vastly different things. We don’t just need a planet roughly the same size and temperature as Earth; we need a planet that spent billions of years evolving with us. We depend completely on the billions of other living organisms that make up Earth’s biosphere. Without them, we cannot survive. ... In fact, we would have been unable to survive on Earth for around 90 per cent of its history; the oxygen-rich atmosphere that we depend on is a recent feature of our planet. ... The only reason we find Earth habitable now is because of the vast and diverse biosphere that has for hundreds of millions of years evolved with and shaped our planet into the home we know today. ... We are complex lifeforms with complex needs. We are entirely dependent on other organisms for all our food and the very air we breathe. ... The only reason we find Earth habitable now is because of the vast and diverse biosphere that has for hundreds of millions of years evolved with and shaped our planet into the home we know today. Our continued survival depends on the continuation of Earth’s present state without any nasty bumps along the way. We are complex lifeforms with complex needs. We are entirely dependent on other organisms for all our food and the very air we breathe."
Scientists associated with China's Institute of Oceanology have deployed a long-term ocean observation platform to study cold seeps in the South China Sea. What are cold seeps, you might ask? This useful pair of videos from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains what a cold seep (also known as a methane seep) is, what a hydrothermal vent is, and how they are different: oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/seeps-vents.html
Scientists have analyzed 20 years of data from a satellite that detects changes in gravity to measure fluctuations in water both at the surface and in underground aquifers to characterize and map changes in rainfall, finding extreme patterns that might not otherwise make headlines because they unfold over months, not days, and frequently are not confined to a single state or country. www.nytimes.com/interactive/2023/03/14/climate/extreme-weather-climate-change.html
NASA has released this map showing the world's major carbon dioxide emitters (in brown, with 3D shading) and absorbers (in green) from 2015-2020. Because this map is based on data collected by satellite, it includes measures for countries that have not reported emissions data in years. The major carbon-absorbing countries have large swaths of forest, particularly the taiga (or boreal forest) of Canada and Russia. news.yahoo.com/nasa-map-shows-which-countries-are-releasing-and-absorbing-co2-123341959.html
This map from Geographical (UK) is a reminder that the Eurasian plate, from Italy through Iran, is intensely seismically active: geographical.co.uk/science-environment/danger-zones-mapping-earthquakes-in-europe
Although some locations in the U.S. have gotten massive amounts of snow this winter -- 9.7 feet in Buffalo, New York, for example, and nearly 43 feet on Mammoth Mountain in California's Sierra Nevadas -- other traditionally snowy places like Boston and Chicago have received below-average snowfall. https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2023/02/03/us-snowfall-extremes-map
Scientists continue to try to draw attention to Utah's Great Salt Lake, which is rapidly disappearing due to drought and water use policy. Without intervention, the Great Salt Lake may be entirely gone within 5 years! The issues are similar to Central Asia's Aral Sea: the diversion of water from the rivers that feed the lake leaving behind an expanse of toxic dust, threatening both wildlife and human health. www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/01/06/great-salt-lake-utah-drying-up/
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