Thursday, May 28, 2015

Climate Central - News

Climate Central is a nonprofit science and media organization created to provide clear and objective information about climate change and its potential solutions.
  1. Climate Change Could Melt Everest Region’s Glaciers

    The Dudh Koshi basin spans 1 million acres and includes some of world’s tallest peaks including Mount Everest. Glaciers tumble down from the highest reaches to the valleys below, shaping the landscape and culture of the region.

    But climate change has the region primed for a major meltdown. A new study published in The Cryosphere shows that by 2100, the jagged tongues of ice that define the region could shrink by 70 percent or greater as the region warms.

    Mount Everest
    Credit: Phobus/Flickr

    More than a bucket list item for mountaineers, the Everest region is home to rivers that drive hydropower plants, support agriculture and eventually empty into the Ganges River. Any change to the glaciers has potential downstream effects. The lakes left behind by receding glaciers also pose a major flood threat. Tourism, which brought in nearly $400 million to Nepal’s economy in 2013, could also take a hit if the iconic landscape changes.

    Perhaps the most iconic feature of all, Mount Everest, may already be feeling some of the effects of warming. Last year, a huge slab of ice broke off the world’s tallest peak and came crashing across a popular climbing route, killing 16 climbers. Some have pointed to it as a sign of things to come as ice destabilizes in the region.

    For all the importance of glaciers, very little data is available on them because of the harsh conditions and challenges of collecting it. But the Everest region is an exception thanks to its exceptional status. Joseph Shea, a research scientist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development who led the new study, said that status made it a prime region to model the intricacies of future glacier changes.


    Glaciers depend on snow and cold temperatures to maintain their balance. In Nepal, the majority of the former arrives during the monsoon season, which accounts for 77 percent of all precipitation in the region. Understanding how climate change will affect the monsoon is still an area of active research. Some signs indicate total precipitation has decreased even while more of it is falling on fewer days.

    Temperature is a much clearer signal, though. Shea said temperatures could warm by as much as 12°F in region by 2100.

    “In this basin, it’s not that different from other places,” he said. “It’s pretty simple physics to warm temperatures and get more ice melt.”

    The rise in temperatures would raise the freezing line on the mountain, exposing more ice to melt and reducing the area where nourishing snow falls. Estimates from the study indicate that the freezing line could lift by as much as 3,900 feet by 2100, which could expose the majority of glaciers in the region to temperatures above 32°F in warm-weather months.

    Ice volume loss in the Dudh Koshi basin under different climate scenarios
    Credit: ICIMOD

    No snow coming in and more ice melting out is a recipe for disappearing glaciers. In the Dudh Koshi basin, estimates based on past data and modeling indicate that the region has seen a 15.6 percent loss in ice volume and 20 percent in ice area since 1961. Those losses are expected to continue into the future. Low-end estimates indicate that glaciers could lose up to 70 percent of their volume while on the high end, the loss would be 99 percent, with glaciers essentially disappearing from the region.

    Shea cautioned against focusing too closely on specific numbers as this is a first attempt to model the region and there are still a numbers of uncertainties.

    “I want to caution that this is a tool,” he said. “But what we see is glaciers are really sensitive to temperature changes.”

    Researchers recently found similar results in western Canada. And a preview of mountain ice’s great disappearing act is on display in Glacier National Park in Montana, where only 25 glaciers remain out of an estimated 150 that were present in 1850.


  2. 10 Years After Katrina, Slow Hurricane Season Expected

    As the 10th anniversary of the busiest hurricane season on record approaches, forecasters and government officials are preparing for the start of the 2015 season. But unlike the 2005 season, which saw an unprecedented 28 storms — including one of the worst, Hurricane Katrina — this season is expected to see fewer than the average number of hurricanes.

    Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

    The El Niño flourishing in the tropical Pacific will be the main force keeping a lid on storm development in the Atlantic Ocean basin, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasters said Wednesday with the release of their seasonal hurricane outlook.

    Officials were quick to point out, however, that even an overall quiet season can see devastating storms. That was clearly illustrated in 1992 by the destruction wrought by Hurricane Andrew during a season that had only seven named storms. Because of that possibility, they emphasized preparation from the individual to the federal level.

    “We’re on the doorstep of the Atlantic season and we’ve got to be ready for whatever comes,” NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan said during a press conference held in New Orleans, a nod to the upcoming Katrina anniversary.


    Hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30, with the biggest flurry of storm activity generally coming from late August to early October. This season, NOAA forecasters expect to see anywhere from six to 11 tropical storms, of which only three to six are expected to become hurricanes.

    It is possible that none of those hurricanes will reach major status — defined as Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength — though the predicted range is up to two major hurricanes for the season.

    Counted in those numbers is Tropical Storm Ana, which formed before the official season in early May, making landfall on the South Carolina coast on May 10. Such early storms aren’t entirely rare, happening every few seasons or so, though recent research suggests that global warming could stretch out the hurricane season by making conditions more conducive to storm formation over a longer period of time.

    Most research into the effect of warming on tropical cyclones (the umbrella term for tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons) has focused on how it might change the frequency or intensity of storms. That work is coalescing around the idea that warming will mean fewer storms overall, but that the ones that do form will skew stronger.

    The most robust connection between hurricane and climate change is from sea level rise: As the global oceans absorb more of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere by accumulating greenhouse gases, they also expand. That means that when storms come ashore, piling up ocean water in front of them, the overall storm surge will be greater in a warmer future.

    While hurricanes are measured by the speed of their winds, the “storm surge is always the greater threat in a hurricane,” Sullivan said. “It is the water that kills, not the wind.”

    Several recent storms, particularly Hurricane Sandy, have made that threat clear. Sandy brought 9.4 feet of surge to Manhattan's Battery Park, of which about 12 inches was due to sea level rise over the past century. NOAA has worked to make new maps that show specific storm surge watches and warnings, as well as more detailed, zoomable maps that show how high waters could get in a community.

    “These will be maps that show you your neighborhood,” Sullivan said.

    Whether or not any tropical storm or hurricane that forms during this season will hit the U.S. is something that scientists cannot yet forecast, though they are working on models that would help indicate what regions might be more likely to see a storm.

    Views of inundated areas of New Orleans following breaking of the levees surrounding the city as the result of storm surge from Hurricane Katrina (2005).
    Credit: NOAA.

    Storm activity in the main hurricane development region of the Atlantic is likely to be tamped down by the El Niño currently in play. El Niño is a climate phenomenon characterized by warmer-than-normal ocean waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific. While that warmth helps boost Pacific storm activity, the extra heat transferred to the atmosphere leads to a domino effect that creates unfavorable conditions for storm formation in the Atlantic.

    Specifically, it increases wind shear — change in wind speed or direction with altitude — which can strangle a burgeoning storm, and leads to a more stable atmosphere, the opposite of what a tropical cyclone needs.

    This El Niño likely also played a role in keeping activity low last season, even though it hadn’t yet fully formed. But it looks to be strengthening now, with a 90 percent chance that it will last through the summer, according to NOAA forecasters.

    Near-normal Atlantic Ocean temperatures will be another factor in keeping storm activity low, as warmer waters are better fuel for developing storms.

    Officials are worried that the forecast for a below-normal season, along with the nine-year "drought" in major hurricane landfalls (Sandy was the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane) will lead to complacency on the part of those living in vulnerable coastal areas. The last major hurricane to hit the U.S. was in fact in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma hit southern Florida in October of that year.

    FEMA deputy administrator Joe Nimmich warned that people and communities still need to be prepared, even for storms that don’t reach major status, since a tropical storm can still cause disastrous flooding.

    “It doesn’t take a hurricane to make a disaster,” he said.


  3. Across U.S., Heaviest Downpours On The Rise

    Research Report by Climate Central

    Record-breaking rain across Texas and Oklahoma this week caused widespread flooding, the likes of which the region has rarely, if ever, seen. For seven locations there, May 2015 has seen the most rain of any month ever recorded, with five days to go and the rain still coming. While rainfall in the region is consistent with the emerging El Niño, the unprecedented amounts suggest a possible climate change signal, where a warming atmosphere becomes more saturated with water vapor and capable of previously unimagined downpours.

    Several people have been killed and hundreds have been rescued from their homes. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has already declared disaster areas in 37 counties. These torrential downpours follow weeks of unusually rainy weather across the Southern Plains. And they stack up to a broader trend in the region, and across the U.S., toward more heavy precipitation.

    This interactive is available for embed. Get the code >>



    Across most of the country, the heaviest downpours are happening more frequently, delivering a deluge in place of what would have been routine heavy rain. Climate Central’s new analysis of 65 years of rainfall records at thousands of stations nationwide found that 40 of the lower 48 states have seen an overall increase in heavy downpours since 1950. The biggest increases are in the Northeast and Midwest, which in the past decade, have seen 31 and 16 percent more heavy downpours compared to the 1950s.

    Explore these trends in heavy downpours in your state or town, and some of their impacts in our new interactive above.

    These intense bouts of rain can wreak havoc on communities. They cause flooding, close schools, businesses, highways and airports, compromise roads and bridges, trigger sewage overflows, and routinely produce million of dollars in damage and kill people.

    In Nashville, for example, a 2010 record downpour dumped 13.6 inches of rain in just 2 days, causing an estimated $2 billion in damage. Eleven people were killed, 11,000 homes and businesses were damaged, and 2,700 businesses suffered closures.

    Intense rain in Detroit in August 2014 killed two, caused an estimated $1.1 billion of damage, and affected 118,000 homes and businesses.

    Heavy rain events may also pose a potential health risk; one recent study found that about half of all waterborne disease outbreaks in the U.S. (between 1948 and 1994) were linked to days of very heavy rain.

    Extreme heavy downpours are consistent with what climate scientists expect in a warming world. With hotter temperatures, more water evaporates off the oceans, and the atmosphere can hold more moisture. Research shows that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere has already increased.

    That means that  there is often a lot more water available to come down as rain. Climate scientists have already shown that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations as a consequence of human activity are partially responsible for the average global increase in heavy precipitation.

    Our analysis examines the heaviest downpours — the days where total precipitation exceeded the top 1 percent of all rain and snow days — at over 3,000 rain gauges distributed across the country over the period 1950-2014. Although some cities have rain gauges that have been around since the 1860s, by the 1950s, about 90 percent of the current list of 3,000 stations was in existence, giving us a consistent 65-year period of study over the whole U.S.. The vast majority of this heavy precipitation came as rain, although in a few rare instances, major snowfalls also count toward these large events.

    Heavy precipitation is highly localized, far more than extreme heat, which typically covers relatively large areas. On a 98°F day in New York City, similar high temperatures are usually also found across the entire metro area. On the other hand, an extreme rainfall event can inundate the Long Island suburbs and leave the city itself relatively unscathed.

    This makes heavy rainfall trends difficult to measure, because rain gauges are not always located where extreme rains occur. Moreover, local heavy precipitation trends may not accurately reflect changing patterns happening at a larger, regional level. As a consequence, even in regions or states where there is a strong increasing trend in heavy precipitation, the trend at an individual precipitation gauge that represents the official total for a city may be equivocal, flat, or even down.

    Our state level analyses of extreme precipitation events shows a strong increasing trend since the 1950s, with 40 of 48 states showing at least some increasing incidence. Consistent with earlier research, six of the top 10 states with the biggest increases in number of days with heavy downpours are in the Northeast, including Rhode Island, Maine, and New Hampshire, which have seen the number of heavy rain events in the last decade increase by at least 50 percent compared to the 1950s.

    Our analysis of cities and metro areas, on the other hand, reveals the highly localized and random nature of extreme rain events and the difficulty of detecting these events even with 3,000 rain gauges across the country. In a number of states and regions with clear increasing trends, individual locations show a weak trend or no clear trend at all. This apparent inconsistency says little about the overall trend in the heaviest precipitation events, but a lot about the weaknesses of single-point measurements for detecting trends in extreme precipitation.

    An example of this phenomenon is Boston, where the local trend is flat but at the state level, Massachusetts has seen a relatively steady increase in heavy downpours since 1950.

    Of course, many individual locations show strong increasing trends in the heaviest precipitation events. The top 50 cities with the strongest increases are:

    Climate scientists predict that the recent trends toward more heavy downpours will continue throughout this century. Climate models predict that if carbon emissions continue to increase as they have in recent decades, the types of downpours that used to happen once every 20 years could occur every 4 to 15 years by 2100. As the number of days with extreme precipitation increases, the risk for intense and damaging floods is also expected to increase throughout much of the country.

  4. U.S., Mexico, Canada to Collaborate on Climate Adaptation

    Upgrading power grids, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change are on the agenda for a new international working group composed of the three national energy ministers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

    U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Greg Rickford, and Mexico Secretary of Energy Pedro Joaquín-Coldwell will collaborate on six different climate adaptation and energy issues. Those include building low-carbon electric power grids and other energy technology, developing new ways to capture carbon and store it, creating climate change resiliency, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector.

    The U.S., Canada and northern Mexico seen at night from a satellite. The three countries are collaborating to reduce energy consumption and adapt to climate change. Credit: NASA

    The announcement comes weeks after all three countries formally set their 2030 greenhouse gas emissions targets in the runup to international climate negotiations set to begin this December in Paris.

    Over the next 15 years, Canada is aiming to slash its emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels, while Mexico plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 22 percent below current levels. The U.S. is targeting a 28 percent emission cut compared to 2005 levels.


    The collaboration will be critical to deploying new renewable energy technology, modernizing the power grid and increasing energy efficiency to combat climate change, and reaching greenhouse gas emissions targets, Moniz said in a statement.

    “North America has deeply integrated economies, abundant reserves, shared critical infrastructure and common values that underpin our long, productive history of collaboration,” Rickford said. “By cooperating with our North American partners, we are enhancing energy security and the environment while strengthening jobs and the economy.”

    The working group is a step in the right direction, but it’s not a big leap toward North America doing its part to keep global warming below 2°C, or 3.6°F, Andrew Finn, an associate in the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a nonpartisan global policy think tank, said. International negotiators have said that a rise beyond that level will mark the point at which climate change may become unacceptably dangerous.

    “A lot of it is going to be a focus on new technology and grid efficiency,” Finn said, adding that sharing technology and best practices can be helpful in advancing clean energy and energy efficiency.

    “Having these conversations is good and might set the groundwork for something more ambitious down the road,” he said.


  5. America’s Future Has Wind in its Sails

    Wind turbines have only a tenuous link to most Americans’ daily lives because wind farms generate less than 5 percent of all of the electricity produced today.

    As reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow a changing climate becomes more urgent, though, wind is expected to become one of the country’s largest sources of energy by mid-century. The U.S. Department of Energy has published two new maps that put that future in more concrete terms.

    Projected growth of the wind industry over the next 35 years.
    Credit: Department of Energy

    The first is part of a report released this spring showing how wind power could grow enough to generate 35 percent of U.S. electricity by 2050 — up from 10 percent in 2020 and 20 percent in 2030.

    The map, called “Wind Vision,” shows how much wind power generating capacity each state had in 2000, 2010 and 2013, and Department of Energy estimates for each state’s wind capacity in 2020, 2030 and 2050.

    The estimated growth is dramatic: The map shows total U.S. wind power capacity growing from about 40 gigawatts — enough power for about 10 million homes — in 2010 to more than 400 gigawatts in 2050. That would be enough to power nearly 100 million homes.

    The map also shows how wind power generated in the U.S. is likely to change as much as it grows in the coming decades. That’s because offshore wind farms could produce an increasing amount of electricity in the U.S. beginning later this decade.

    Offshore wind in the U.S. is a big deal because it doesn’t exist here today. Ground is expected to be broken on the nation’s first offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island later this summer, in what will amount to a demonstration project that could test the viability of offshore wind in the U.S.

    Energy Department estimates show that wind power in some states will come only from offshore wind turbines. Rhode Island, for example, is expected to generate about 2 gigawatts of wind power in 2050, all of it coming from twirling turbines in the open ocean.


    Most coastal states are expected to generate wind from both offshore and onshore turbines. But there are exceptions: South Carolina, where the federal government is now drawing up plans for offshore wind development areas, is estimated to generate 8.5 gigawatts of electricity from wind, all of it offshore. Other states that could see wind farms exclusively offshore include Florida, New Jersey and Connecticut.

    The maps shows plenty of wind growth in states such as Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, that produce little or no wind power today.

    That leads into the next Energy Department map, “Unlocking Our Nation’s Wind Potential,” which was published this week along with a new report showing that there is wind power potential in nearly the entire U.S., most notably in places where the breeze was thought to be too calm to generate much electricity at all.

    Those places represent a major chunk of the U.S., mainly in the South, shown in orange on the map.

    The idea is this: The wind usually blows harder at higher altitudes, so taller wind turbines with blades longer than those most commonly manufactured today could capture the wind more effectively as it blows high above the loblolly pines and Southern magnolias in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and parts of the Ohio River Valley and the calmer parts of California’s Central Valley.

    Those turbines would tower up to almost 500 feet above the ground — much taller than most wind turbines built today, which usually stand at about 260 feet.

    In other words, come 2050, wind turbines could be almost as much a part of the view above Mississippi’s Natchez Trace Parkway as they are today all across West Texas.


  6. El Niño Could Bring Drought and Famine in West Africa

    By Karl Mathiesen, The Guardian

    A global weather phenomenon could cause a famine in the Sahel this year by combining with already dry conditions to create a “double whammy” for the region, scientists and aid groups have warned.

    Professor Adam Scaife, a long term forecaster at the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, said models now agreed an El Niño event was likely and the first impacts may be felt as early as June.

    Arid soils in Mauritania. Credit: Oxfam International/flickr

    El Niño is caused by a reversal of trade winds in the Pacific that allow warm water to spread east, across the ocean. The two to seven year cycle plays havoc with weather across the world.

    “[A] place that’s really important to stress is west Africa, where there is increased risk of drought during El Niño. That is exacerbated this year by some conditions [including] cooling of the North Atlantic,” he said.

    In west Africa, Scaife said conditions were aligning in a similar way to the massive 1972 drought that devastated the Sahel with famine. During this event, drying from El Niño tipped the region into full blown drought.

    Scaife said the current parched conditions combined with further warming and drying from El Niño would be a “double whammy”.

    Oxfam’s west Africa regional director Aboubacry Tall said the partial failure of the 2014 rainy season had left between 300,000 and 400,000 people in the Sahel without access to a secure food supply.

    Speaking to the Guardian from Sierra Leone, Tall said the first rains of 2015 began to fall just a few days ago and Met Office predictions of a drought as early as June were deeply concerning for people awaiting crop-growing rain in the sub-Saharan areas of northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Mali, northern Senegal, and Mauritania.

    “If this rainy season is disrupted then the consequences would be quite drastic because even this year we have some gaps. If you have a second generalized failure of crops across the region you will certainly have the early set in of a food crisis or possibly a famine in the Sahel,” he said.

    On Wednesday, U.S. president Barack Obama linked the violence and terror being wrought in Nigeria by Boko Haram to severe drought in the Sahel. It has been reported that young men have joined the al-Qaeda affiliated group after being displaced by food shortages.

    In the neighboring coastal countries mounting a fragile recovery from ebola, Scaife said the effect of a possible El Niño was less clear. These areas are traditionally wetter and are more resistant to fluctuations in rainfall. “If anything it is more likely wetter on the Guinea coastline,” he said.

    This news will come as a relief in countries where people have been driven from their farms and food production has dropped significantly.

    “If El Niño was to [cause drought] on top of Ebola in affected countries it would certainly be a significant catastrophe in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. It would put back any hope of recovery by at least another year,” said Tall.

    Apart from Africa, El Niño could also bring dry conditions in Australia and India during the next few months. In California, wet conditions could put an end to the state’s worst drought in 1,200 years.

    Niger. Credit: DFATD | MAECD/flickr

    In 2014 many forecasters predicted an El Niño but it never materialized. Scaife said the Met Office modelling did not give the false alarm that led other agencies to make the wrong call.

    “There was not unanimous agreement that the risk was increased. This year is different. All of the forecast systems that I’ve looked at show a clear increase in risk of at least a moderate El Niño event,” he said. Earlier this month the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an El Niño.

    In the past week a strong pulse of eastward winds has emerged in the west Pacific. “If anything that’s going to strengthen it even further,” said Scaife.

    Professor Eric Guilyardi, from Reading University’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science said the current levels of warming in the Pacific were higher than before the largest recorded El Niño in 1997-98, although this does not guarantee an extreme event.

    “[An extreme event] is not the most likely outcome but the risk is increased,” he said.

    “What is specific this year is the level of warming at this time of the year is pretty high. We have to go back to 1987 to see such levels of warming at this time of the year,” said Guilyardi.

    El Niños are known to temporarily raise the global temperature. Last year was the hottest on record. The global surface temperature was 0.57°C (1°F) above average, despite the aborted El Niño. Scaife said the first months of 2015 were already running an extremely high temperature, with temperatures currently at 0.64°C (1.15°F) above average.

    Reprinted from The Guardian with permission.

  7. Moderately Cold Temps ‘More Deadly Than Heat Waves’


    Heat waves are not as deadly as has been assumed, according to research that suggests prolonged exposure to moderately cold temperatures kills more people than scorching or freezing spells.

    The study of deaths in 13 countries, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that cold weather kills 20 times as many people as hot weather, and that premature deaths are more often caused by prolonged spells of moderate cold than short extreme bursts.

    Credit: Stef Lewandowski/flickr

    “It’s often assumed that extreme weather causes the majority of deaths, with most previous research focusing on the effects of extreme heat waves,” says lead author Dr. Antonio Gasparrini from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

    “Our findings, from an analysis of the largest dataset of temperature-related deaths ever collected, show that the majority of these deaths actually happen on moderately hot and cold days, with most deaths caused by moderately cold temperatures.”

    The European heat wave of 2003 killed 70,000 people, almost 15,000 of whom were elderly or vulnerable in France. The death rate was an average of 60 percent higher than usual, attributed to the 40°C (104°F)  heat in parts of Europe.

    But, say the researchers, their study of 74 million deaths in 384 locations between 1985 and 2012, including 10 regions of the UK and 135 cities in the U.S., found that, while around 7.71 percent of all deaths were caused by temperatures that were too low or too high, cold was responsible for the vast majority — 7.29 percent — while heat was implicated in just 0.42 percent.

    Extreme heat or cold was responsible for less than 1 percent of all deaths, while mildly sub-optimal temperatures accounted for around 7 percent, with most of those — 6.66 percent of the total — caused by moderately cold weather. Exposure to cold affects the heart and increases the risk of respiratory infections, says the study.

    Those who think global warming may save lives in cooler countries like the UK could be wrong, however, according to Keith Dear and Zhan Wang from Duke Kunshan University in Jiangsu, China. “If — as the data seem to show —extreme cold is relatively unimportant, then a few degrees of warming will not yield a large reduction in cold-related mortality,” they write in a commentary in the Lancet.

    Heat waves are not as deadly as has been assumed, according to research that suggests prolonged exposure to moderately cold temperatures kills more people than scorching or freezing spells. Credit: Metro Centric/flickr

    Heat waves do cause high mortality while they last. “Moreover, if extreme heat is important,” they add, “then the same few additional degrees might cause a substantial increase in heat-related mortality.”

    Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor of the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, said: “This is a fascinating study, which estimates that 8.5 percent of deaths in the UK are ‘due to cold’. But it’s important to note that by ‘cold’, they mean any temperature less than the safest in the UK, which they estimate to be 19°C (66°F) — the risk only really rises substantially at less than 1°C (34°F). So perhaps they are really saying that the UK climate is killing people.”

    Philip Staddon, associate professor in environmental science at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, China, questioned the decision of the researchers to use one temperature as the “optimal” rather than a range. “Because a single temperature is used, which for example for London, UK is 19°C (66°F), it is completely unsurprising that most deaths are cold related rather than warm related — very few days will be above this value with most days below this value,” he said.

    “Nonetheless the conclusion that cold-related deaths are substantially more numerous than heat-related is important and confirms previous work.”

    Reprinted from The Guardian with permission.

  8. ‘Paving’ the Way: First Commercial Use for Toner Waste

    By Monica Tan, The Guardian

    A new, more environmentally friendly asphalt mix containing recycled printer toner is being used on Sydney’s roads.

    The technology is the world’s first commercial use for toner waste, and was first used in Melbourne in 2013. Called TonerPave, it was developed by the city’s road contractor, Downer, in partnership with a cartridge recycling company, Close the Loop.

    Resurfacing of Watkin Street in Newtown, using asphalt containing recycled printer toner.
    Credit: Jamie Williams/City of Sydney via The Guardian

    The toner is blended with recycled oil and is 40 percent more energy efficient than the manufacture of standard bitumen, with a relative saving of 270 kilograms (595 pounds) of COemissions per tonne.

    Every tonne of the toner-based product used in the asphalt mix replaces 600 kilograms (1,323 pounds) of bitumen and 400 kilograms (882 pounds) of fine aggregates, such as sand and soil.

    Peter Tamblyn, marketing manager at Close the Loop, said that “the rest of the world is looking at this”.

    All of Australia’s waste toner powder could theoretically one day be used in asphalt mix, Tamblyn said, but many people throw their toner out rather than recycle it.

    “If we could get our hands on all of Australia’s waste toner we would happily use it,” he said.

    On average, 13 percent of toner in every cartridge is wasted, with 100 toner cartridges needed for every tonne of asphalt.

    At the current rate of printer cartridge collections via Plant Ark within the boundary of the City of Sydney, 14,500 tonnes of TonerPave can be produced each year — enough to repave 120,000 square meters (1.3 million square feet) of road, double the needs of the council area.

    All of Australia’s waste toner powder could theoretically one day be used in asphalt mix but many people throw their toner out rather than recycle it.

    Tamblyn said toner recycled by Close the Loop over the next 12 months will contribute to more than 100,000 tonnes of asphalt production. Australia used 750,000 tonnes of asphalt in 2014.

    The company has investigated importing toner waste from overseas markets.

    Dante Cremasco, a general manager of Downer, said the breakthrough came when the toner powder was able to be stored as pellets. “When it was a powder you’d get a lot of dust and issues for manufacturing employees.”

    The trial, conducted by the City of Sydney, began in September 2014 and included Burton Street in Darlinghurst and Watkin and Church streets in Newtown. Kent Street in the CBD will soon be resurfaced using the new mix.

    The City of Sydney’s construction services manager, Andrew Christie, said the product must prove as resilient as regular asphalt and have the same 30-year lifespan. “In two or three years we should have an indication if it is a good alternative to traditional asphalt. Hopefully we can start to use it across Australia,” he said.

    TonerPave being laid on Sydney roads. 
    Credit: City of Sydney

    At $150 per tonne, the mix costs the same as standard asphalt, but Christie expects this to drop as the product matures. Raw materials represent a small portion of road resurfacing costs, he said, which is mainly taken up by machinery and staffing.

    However, this is the first time TonerPave has been combined with warm mix asphalt, which has been in use in Sydney since 2010. Warm mix asphalt is heated at a temperature 20-50°C (68-122°F) lower than regular asphalt and saves the city 24,000 kilograms (52,911 pounds) of COemissions each year.

    Thirty percent of this new mix is also comprised of recycled asphalt, significantly higher than the industry requirement of at least 10 percent.

    The measure is part of the City of Sydney’s target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2030. It was the first local council in Australia to be certified carbon neutral under the National Carbon Offset Standard.

    Reprinted from The Guardian with permission.

  9. Monsoon Sets Up ‘Race Against the Clock’ in Nepal

    The prospect of aftershocks continue to keep Nepal on edge after a major earthquake shook the country in late April.

    The magnitude 7.8 earthquake and its aftershocks have left an estimated 500,000 families homeless, more than 8,000 dead and scarred the country with at least 3,000 landslides.

    Damage in Kathmandu after the Nepal earthquake.
    Credit: Resurge International/flickr

    But another issue for quake-rattled Nepal is brewing in the Bay of Bengal. The South Asian monsoon is beginning its annual migration across the Indian subcontinent and it could hamper efforts to help those in need in rural, roadless areas and raises a host of new problems.

    “Our goal is to make sure we provide humanitarian assistance to people that require it before the monsoon,” Leszek Barczak, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is coordinating an international relief effort, said. “We are facing a logistical challenge, particularly in high-altitude villages. It is a race against the clock.”


    One of the most important weather patterns in the world, the monsoon brings nourishing rains to more than 1 billion people who call India, Nepal and the surrounding countries home. It generally arrives in Nepal in the first or second week of June and lasts through the summer, bringing consistent rain with occasional bursts of heavier downpours. In Kathmandu, the monsoon drops about 34 inches of rain, though some parts of the country see far more than that depending on elevation.

    Barczak said providing shelter and proper sanitation as well as educating people about the threat of certain diseases, particularly waterborne diseases such as cholera, was of utmost importance to keep the earthquake from turning into a health disaster.

    “We are not predicting an outbreak of cholera, but we know the consequences if we don’t assist these people before the rain comes,” he said.

    Beyond the health impacts, residents and aid workers alike will have to contend with another danger the monsoon poses to a country with dizzying topography. Elevations range from 200 feet to 29,029 feet above sea level. The shaking has jarred loose tons of debris and primed the ground for more landslides and dangerous floods.

    “It’s pretty obvious there were a lot of landslides that occurred during the earthquake itself and immediately after,” Joseph Shea, a research scientist at International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), said. “Together, we’ve mapped over 3,000 landslides and the big worry is that that’s not it.”

    Shea is part of a team of researchers from ICIMOD, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, British Geological Survey and Durham University that have been using high resolution satellite images to identify landslides that have already occurred as well as where others are likely.

    That imagery provides a snapshot of landslide risk, but it will take targeted on-the-ground visits to high-risk sites to determine just how likely future landslides could be. Shea said his group is helping to identify those areas and is sharing them with the Nepal government and aid agencies so they can target their relief efforts more effectively and recognize where potential pinch points might be should roads get washed out.

    Thousands of miles of rivers snake through the mountainous terrain, adding another layer of risk to relief work. Monsoon rains could steer more sediment and debris into Nepal’s rivers and make even average floods more destructive. Landslides have also dammed some rivers, leaving them potentially prone to catastrophic floods should the dams fail.

    While this year’s monsoon is of immediate concern, David Petley, a landslide expert at the University of East Anglia, also warned that riverbeds could be dangerous places to resettle for years to come, citing what happened after an earthquake shook Taiwan in 2006.

    “As sediment moves downstream, riverbeds start to rise,” he said. “In Taiwan in 2006, riverbeds rose by 30 meters (98 feet) in some places over the next four to five years.”

    While that could pose long-term problems, relief efforts remain focused on the present threats that rivers could pose. The most recent monsoon forecast — produced just days before the earthquake — indicates lower-than-normal rains are likely for much of the area affected by the monsoon, including Nepal. The still-developing El Niño further tips the odds for below normal rainfall.

    Of course, forecasting the monsoon is notoriously difficult because of the region’s wildly divergent geography and numerous factors that come into play in the monsoon’s development and movement.

    Petley’s previous work, which he recently wrote about for the American Geophysical Union, also shows that when the monsoon is generally weak, Nepal actually experiences more landslides. That’s because while the monsoon covers a massive geographical area, it is anything but uniform.

    The divergent topography means that from one valley to the next, rainfall can be dramatically different. And even when the overall monsoon is weak, heavy rains usually still drench Nepal’s Middle Hills region, which happens to be the region most affected by the earthquake.

    “The landslide behavior of this earthquake is not what we expected. The first earthquake generated far fewer, the second earthquake generated far more,” Petley said. “Predicting rainfall and how slopes are behaving, the biggest challenge is the unpredictability of this.”


  10. Texas, Oklahoma Drought ‘All But Over’

    While the Western drought has its claws firmly dug in, the nearly five-year drought that has gripped Oklahoma and Texas is on its last legs, thanks to recent torrents of rain, government climate scientists said Thursday.

    “I think the Texas drought is pretty much all but over,” Victor Murphy, climate services program manager for the National Weather Service’s Southern Region, said during a press teleconference.


    The last vestiges will likely disappear over the next few months as forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expect the summer to bring increased odds for above-normal precipitation to a swath of the country from the Intermountain West down through the Plains and through parts of the Southeast.

    The NOAA summer outlook also expects the uptick in soil moisture in the Southern Plains to help keep temperatures down, though the country’s coasts won’t be so lucky. The entire West up to Alaska, as well as parts of the East Coast are likely to see above-normal temperatures from June through August.

    The expected temperature and precipitation patterns are “fairly typical of El Niño summers,” David Unger, a seasonal forecaster with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said.


    The drought that hit Texas and Oklahoma began in 2010 with months upon months of hot, dry weather. It reached its nadir in 2011 when the entire area of both states was mired in drought. In October of that year, nearly three quarters of Texas and 60 percent of Oklahoma was in exceptional drought, the worst category recognized by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

    Both states have seen fits and starts of improvement since that low point, but it is the rains over the past few weeks that have sounded the drought’s death knell.

    Most areas of Texas have seen more than 200 percent of their normal precipitation over the past 60 days, recharging reservoirs and bringing moisture back into baked soils. The rains brought more than 3 trillion gallons of water into Texas reservoirs, Murphy said, most of which are nearly completely full, though some are still struggling.

    The amount of rain Texas and Oklahoma have recorded over the past 60 days (as a percent of normal).
    Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

    “The rain’s been widespread; the improvement’s been widespread,” he said.

    And though residents may be getting a bit weary of rainy, stormy days — heavy rains in such short periods can bring threats of flooding — they look to be in for more of them.

    Forecast models suggest that the odds favor the Southern Plains seeing more above-average precipitation throughout the summer. Those odds extend from parts of Idaho and Montana, down through the Plains states, and over across much of the Gulf Coast states.

    That kind of precipitation pattern has been seen in many other El Niño summers, as this one is expected to be, with forecasters 90 percent certain the El Niño currently in place will last through the season. El Niño is a cyclical climate event that features warmer-than-normal surface waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The heat the ocean gives off alters the normal weather patterns over the region, which can then affect weather in other parts of the world.

    Expected summer temperature and precipitation patterns across the U.S.
    Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

    While the climate signals that forecasters have to go on don’t give much indication of what most of the rest of the country might expect precipitation-wise, they do suggest that coastal Pacific Northwest will see below-normal rains.

    That, combined with expected above-average temperatures, is likely to exacerbate the region’s “wet drought,” brought on by a lack of snowfall over the winter. The northwest coast fared better than inland areas in the winter, as it depends more on rain than snow to fill reservoirs, but NOAA expects drought to develop there over the summer.

    The odds for warmer summer temperatures extend to varying degrees across the entire West, and won’t help the drought entrenched in California and other states, either. Scorching summer heat can increase water demand, and California has already had to introduce mandatory water restrictions statewide for the first time in its history.

    So while one drought, in Murphy’s words, “looks like it’s pretty much on it’s last breath,” another could be set to dig in even deeper.