Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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. Late July Chill Helps Set Record Lows Across the East

    Folks across the eastern U.S. could be forgiven for thinking they’d pulled a Rip van Winkle and woken up in October on Wednesday morning. Temperatures dipped down overnight into the 60s, 50s and even 40s, setting record lows left and right.

    Temperatures across the U.S. at 8 a.m. ET on July 30. An incursion of cold, Canadian air sent low temperatures to record levels in some areas of the East.
    Credit: NOAA

    The chill in the air comes courtesy of yet another bout of cool Canadian air that dipped down over the area east of the Rockies earlier this week, creating decidedly un-summerlike temperatures at what is normally the hottest time of the year for many locations and spurring some severe weather, including a rare Boston-area tornado.

    “We’re in the heart of that hottest normal time of the year and it’s anything but that,” Bruce Terry, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service, told Climate Central on Monday.

    The cool conditions in the East contrasted, as they have nearly all year, with baking conditions in the West, which have exacerbated the effects of California’s epic drought and helped fuel wildfires. This temperature pattern is occurring over a background warming fueled by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere that are making record lows overall less likely and record highs more common. The pattern the U.S. has seen is also one scientists say could be more common in a warming world.

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    Numerous National Weather Service offices and other local meteorologists took to Twitter and other media to note the astonishing thermometer readings across the East: Nashville tied its record low for July 30 of 58°F (originally set in 1965), according to the local NWS office. Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. dropped to an incredible 48°F, shattering the record low of 51°F set in 1981, while Baltimore’s airport hit 55°F, just beating the record of 56°F set in 1997, the Capital Weather Gang reported.

    Incredible: Dulles Airport dropped to 48 degs this AM, shattering record low. It's July 30, folks! http://t.co/nTjOuFMWil

    — Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) July 30, 2014

    Other July 30 records included: 59°F at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, beating the previous record of 61°F set in 1936; 59°F in Birmingham and Montgomery, Ala.; and 51°F in Pittsburgh, where the previous record of 52°F was set in 1982.

    A record low was set this morning at Atlanta Hartsfield. We dropped to 59 degrees at 7:07. The old record was 61 in 1936. #gawx

    — NWS Atlanta (@NWSAtlanta) July 30, 2014

    Record lows in Alabama this morning - Anniston 56, Birmingham 59, Montgomery 59, Tuscaloosa 58 #alwx

    — Ari Sarsalari (@AriWeather) July 30, 2014

    In contrast, cities on the West Coast have been sweltering. San Francisco is set to see its warmest July on record and even hit an uncharacteristic 90°F on July 25, a full 12°F above normal, Dennis Mersereau at The Vane wrote. Portland, Ore., hit an even more sizzling 99°F this month and is on track for its sixth warmest July.

    The pattern behind this stark temperature divide is one in which large waves in the jet stream send a deep trough, or area of low pressure in the atmosphere, diving down over the East, while a ridge, or high pressure area, parks itself over the West. The same pattern was in play earlier in July and during much of the winter months and into spring.

    While the winter and spring events were linked to an incursion of the polar vortex — an upper-level atmospheric feature of cold, low-pressure air surrounded by strong winds that circle the pole ­— southward, the National Weather Service has been reluctant to link the summer cold spells to the same cause. Other meteorologists, however, have said that the events do indeed have a polar component.

    Why the country keeps seeing this particular pattern this year, forecasters can’t say.

    “I don’t know why we keep seeing it, but we do keep seeing it,” Terry said.

    Jake Crouch, a climatologist with the National Climatic Data Center who helps conduct monthly investigations of major climate events in the U.S., said in an email that his team will likely do a detailed analysis of the July event to be released with next month’s update.

    The pattern has affected the overall average temperatures of the U.S. in 2014, with the first four months of the year ranking as the coldest since 1993, according to the most recent State of the Climate update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But the warmth in the West — where California has recorded its hottest first six months to a year ever — has balanced out the cold, putting the year as a whole in the middle of the pack for temperature records going back a little more than a century.

    And the situation in the U.S. is only one part of the globe, which just experienced its hottest May and June on record. The year to-date for the planet ranks as the fifth warmest.

    As the world heats up because of the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere by humans, the building warmth actually stacks the deck for record highs and against record lows, meaning the record lows seen across the East this week will be increasingly less likely to occur.

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  2. Waiting to Slash CO2 Emissions? It Could Cost You

    The cost of the U.S. delaying action on climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions could increase 40 percent each decade if no action is taken, according to a Council of Economic Advisers report released by the White House on Tuesday.

    Reducing greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later helps to offset the threat of sea level rise, higher temperatures and melting ice sheets, which could cause costly and widespread damage in the future if nothing is done to slash CO2, according to the report.

    Damage from Hurricane Sandy in Brooklyn in 2012. Credit: Adam Lerner/flickr

    It’s also less expensive to meet certain emissions reduction goals now than it will be to slash emissions more sharply later. The report says that if the goal is to stabilize global warming at 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, as world governments agreed to do in 2009, that goal will be harder and more expensive to reach with each passing year, increasing costs of meeting such a goal by about 40 percent for each decade of delay.

    The report comes out as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency holds public hearings this week on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to slash carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.

    The price of delaying action on climate change is also considered part of the social cost of carbon, which is how much it will cost communities to adapt to a warming world and pay for property damages caused by sea level rise, storm surges, wildfires and other climate change-driven disasters.

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    A report released in June by the Risky Business Project estimated that sea level rise alone will increase the average cost of coastal storms striking the East Coast by up to $3.5 billion over the next 15 years. Annual losses from coastal storms could reach $35 billion when considering possible increases in hurricane activity because of climate change.

    The Risky Business Project, which is co-chaired by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, estimated that sea level rise will submerge up to $106 billion worth of coastal property nationwide by 2050.

    With the costs of taking no action on climate becoming more and more clear, the White House has framed action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a form of “climate insurance,” according to its report.

    Greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, making nearly certain a degree of global warming that will be felt over time, not right away. With that comes possible rising seas, increased temperatures, and other effects that will become nearly inevitable over time as more greenhouse gases are emitted.   

    Reducing those emissions today would “insure” the U.S. against the economic consequences of the possibly catastrophic effects of climate change, the White House report says.

    “The longer that action is postponed, the greater will be the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the greater is the risk,” the report says. “Just as businesses and individuals guard against severe financial risks by purchasing various forms of insurance, policymakers can take actions now that reduce the chances of triggering the most severe climate events.”

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  3. Tornado Hits Near Boston As Cold Air Invades U.S. Again

    A tornado touched down in Revere, Mass., just north of Boston, Monday morning, an unusual though far from unprecedented event in the New England state that was the product of yet another burst of polar air dipping down over the eastern U.S.

    .@NWSBoston says the Revere tornado was the first in Suffolk County in at least 64 years. http://t.co/m5zIs5ht1x pic.twitter.com/azIGsBbgBb

    — The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) July 28, 2014

    Plenty of instagrammers and tweeters snapped pictures of the damage wrought by the storm, as well as the floods caused by the torrential rains it unleashed.

    A fairly intense low-pressure system tracking across the Northeast sent thunder and lightning crashing across the skies over New York and surrounding areas Sunday night, moving into New England Monday morning. An area of storms that accompanied the cyclone dropped torrential rains at rates of 1.5 to 2 inches per hour in the Boston area, causing flash floods that sent water over the hoods of cars on some streets.

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    The storm also spawned a short-lived tornado that was spotted on radar and was thought to have touched down at 9:34 a.m. ET. Photos from residents making the rounds on Twitter showed downed trees and power lines, damaged roofs and other indications of the suspected tornado’s winds.

    “Basically there’s a lot of damage in and around Revere that would indicate that a tornado touched down in the area,” said Benjamin Sipprell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Boston.

    Wider aerial look over Gulino's Auto Body shop on Broadway in Revere. #tornado pic.twitter.com/ZtzMldsfXE

    — Eric Fisher (@ericfisher) July 28, 2014

    A meteorologist from the office had already been dispatched to look at the damage and confirm whether or not a tornado touched down and, if so, to estimate its strength and measure how wide it was and how long it was on the ground for.

    New England doesn’t typically see much tornado activity, with Massachusetts averaging only one confirmed tornado a year. If confirmed, this will be the state’s first tornado of 2014, according to tornado records from the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. The state recorded two tornadoes in 2013. In 2011, Massachusetts had four recorded tornadoes, including an EF-3 that killed three people.

    That tornado was unusually strong and long-lived for the region, which typically sees weaker tornadoes that touch down for a short period of time before being absorbed back into their parent cloud.

    There’s a chance for more thunderstorms again later in the afternoon as the low pressure system stalls, Sipprell, told Climate Central. “We’re not out of the woods yet for the rest of today,” he said.

    A side street in revere.#wbz pic.twitter.com/WOJTju1Ze6

    — Carl Stevens (@carlwbz) July 28, 2014

    Also under the gun for severe storms are portions of the Southeast in swath from coastal Alabama up to the coast of North Carolina. The storms could be whipped up as a cold front pushed unusually far south for this time of year by yet another bout of cold air from over Canada comes diving down over the eastern U.S. Typically the Northern Plains are where the storm action is this time of year, but they are under cool, dry conditions this week.

    “It does seem like we’re in this repetitive pattern,” said Bruce Terry, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service. As to why we keep seeing this pattern, though, Terry told Climate Central: “I don’t know why we keep seeing it, but we do keep seeing it.”

    The pattern has kept any real heat waves from developing anywhere in the country, especially unusual for this time of year, which is normally the hottest point of summer for much of the nation.

    “We’re in the heart of that hottest normal time of the year and it’s anything but that,” Terry said.

    Whether this pattern will continue through the rest of the summer, forecasters can’t say, Terry said, as they can only reliably forecast about 10 days out. But the beginning of August does look to be cooler-than-normal for many places, he said.

    In general, 2014 has been a relatively cool year for the eastern U.S.; the first four months of the year were the coldest since 1993, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, though the period was only the 46 coldest in the 120-year record. The cold in the East -- driven in part by repeated Polar Vortex events -- has been somewhat balanced out by the warm West, including California, which saw its warmest first six months to a year on record this year.

    Global warming blunts the impact of these cold air events,  as the background warming reduces the chances of seeing record lows and increases the chances of record highs.

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  4. Warming Threatens Roads, Ports and Planes, Report Says

    The transportation sector is a major contributor to climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions, and, worldwide, it’s also one of the most vulnerable sectors to the effects of climate change, according to a new report.

    In other words, climate change could mean “sun kinks” could warp train tracks in the heat, airplanes will be more expensive to fly, highway surfaces could soften in heat waves, roadways and bridges could be washed away in rising seas and storm surges, and storms in the open ocean could increase the cost and risks associated with shipping.

    Credit: BSR

    Those are the findings of a new report, “Climate Change: Implications for Transport,” released Monday by Cambridge University and sustainable business advocacy group Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) outlining what the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report mean for global transportation.

    In the Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC concluded that climate change brought about by the greenhouse gas emissions, mainly carbon dioxide, that humans release into the atmosphere will likely lead to more intense floods, heat waves and sea level rise, all of which could potentially damage transportation infrastructure.

    Transportation could be both a cause and a casualty of climate change, according to the Cambridge-BSR report.

    “The transport sector relies overwhelmingly on oil,” Angie Farrag-Thibault, a BSR associate director and a lead author of the report, said in a statement Monday. “Without action, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation will continue to rise. Fortunately, this report points to a large number of options for reducing emissions.”

    The global transportation sector contributes about 25 percent of the world’s energy-related carbon emissions, and those emissions could double to 50 percent if countries and businesses don’t act soon to slash emissions, the report says.

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    More than half of global production of crude oil is used for transportation, and 94 percent of the energy used to fuel trains, airplanes, highway vehicles and ships is supplied by crude oil, according to the report.

    If those emissions aren’t slashed, the report paints a bleak picture of how roads, rails, bridges, shipping and aviation could be affected.

    Roadways could be impacted in a variety of ways: Asphalt pavement could be softened in heat waves, requiring resurfacing with more durable materials. Flooding in low-lying areas is likely to force highway departments to improve drainage on roads and maintain them more frequently. Bridges may need to be retrofitted to withstand greater flooding, costing $250 billion in the U.S. through 2065.

    Railroads could be affected in similar ways, the report says, but high temperatures during heat waves could buckle tracks, and urban subway systems could be more exposed to flooding in the same way Hurricane Sandy severely damaged the New York City subway and New Jersey’s PATH train tunnels in 2012, paralyzing the city.

    Shipping is highly vulnerable to climate change, too, as droughts could force inland shippers to use smaller vessels, especially in the Great Lakes, and inland waterways could be useable for fewer days, according to the report.

    On the open ocean, more frequent storms could force ships to take longer routes through regions that are less prone to storms, costing shippers more.

    Aviation could become vulnerable to climate change because heat waves could make it more costly to take off from some airports. Credit: Takashi Ota/flickr

    Aviation could take a hit from climate change, too, the report says. In addition to weather-related cancellations and delays in extreme weather, turbulence in clear skies could increase over the Atlantic, leading to less comfortable flights for passengers. Airport runways could suffer the same effects from climate change as heat-vulnerable highways.

    High heat also means that the air over airport runways is less dense, which decreases the amount of weight an airplane can carry and increases the necessary length of a runway in order for airplanes to take off safely. Reduced maximum takeoff weight of an aircraft could mean higher costs for airline travel, according to the report.

    The solutions to the problems climate change poses for the transportation sector may be costly and complex, the report says. They primarily involve replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy sources, increasing vehicle efficiency, reducing demand for transportation and shifting that demand from modes of transportation that use a lot of energy to modes that are more efficient or use little energy at all, according to the report.

    In other words, people should bike or take public transportation instead of driving.

    Reimagining how cities are built is also critical, especially in the developing world where most new urbanization is expected to occur in the coming decades, Eliot Whittington, climate change director for the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership told Climate Central on Monday.

    “One key change in terms of the way people around the world live is in city design,” he said. “A shift in city design that causes more densely populated cities and hence more use of public transport is a really key way to create a better quality of life and lower carbon emissions per person.”

    Dense cities have a much smaller carbon footprint than sprawling ones because of the modes of transport they require, he said.

    Focusing on making transportation more energy efficient and encouraging people to use modes of transport that emit less carbon dioxide is nearly as important as addressing the carbon emissions of the electric power sector, he said.

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  5. Roadside Land Offers Huge Carbon Storage Potential

    By Marianne Lavelle, The Daily Climate

    As you watch the miles roll by on family road trips this summer, look just behind the guard rails to see what some scientists believe is a significant untapped resource in the battle against climate change.

    Road banks and berms could be managed as valuable "banks" for carbon sequestration.
    Credit: Harry Rose/flickr

    The land alongside the 4 million miles of U.S. public roadways, already being maintained by federal, state, and local governments, could be planted with vegetation that helps transfer carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, they say. Road banks and berms, in other words, could be managed as valuable "banks" for carbon sequestration.

    "We're talking millions of acres," says biologist Rob Ament, of the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, who led a recent study to gauge carbon storage potential on just a fraction of that real estate – roadsides on federal lands. 

    Voiding Emissions from 7.6 Million Cars

    Shrubs, grasses, and other plants already along roads in U.S. National Parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands currently are capturing about 7 million metric tons of carbon each year, Ament said in a report on his findings at this month's North American Congress for Conservation Biology in Missoula.  That's equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of 5 million cars—without any effort made to optimize the mix of plantings and soil management practices for carbon storage.  

    Add to that the strips of shrubbery and grass along U.S. highways outside federal lands. A previous study by the Federal Highway Administration concluded such roadside greenery stores enough carbon to counter the annual emissions of 2.6 million passenger cars.

    Together, the roadside soils and vegetation on federal lands and along U.S. highways, comprising 10.5 percent of all public roads in the nation, are already capturing nearly 2 percent of total U.S. transportation carbon emissions, said Ament, whose team conducted the research for the Highway Administration's federal lands office.

    Mowing less frequently – letting grass grow 8 inches instead of the normal 6 inches  – saves fuel, labor and stores more carbon.

    "There is a significant amount of [carbon capture and sequestration] going on right now, passively," Ament said in an interview. "So the next step is to research active management techniques and take a good hard look at what's possible."

    The plants that best capture carbon – trees – would not be a good choice for the areas closest to roads, because of the obvious safety hazard. But plenty of low woody shrubs and other planting and soil management steps would boost carbon storage, said Ament.

    'Golf Course Aesthetic'

    Roadside management today often involves little more than keeping grass mowed and dousing it with weedkillers. Clear sight lines are important, but in some places vegetation is managed beyond what’s necessary, said Ament. "There are certain places where roadsides have more of a golf course aesthetic" said Ament, showing one photo he took of a close-cropped lawn along a U.S. highway in New York. "I'd love to calculate what you could get with trees set back from the roadside, and woody shrubs and understory. There's a lot of potential there for a multi-story forested area."

    Roadside landscaping along federal roadways absorbs the emissions of about 7.6 million cars. With more active management, it could become a significant carbon sequestration source.
    Credit: Missouri Department of Transportation

    Work is already underway on the idea. New Mexico has a five-year, $1 million grant from the federal Highway Authority to research methods for boosting carbon capture along the 7,500 miles of state road in its semi-arid environment.

    Testing different plantings and techniques over the past year, the state boosted carbon capture on roadsides to from 35 percent to 350 percent over areas that weren't actively managed. Native grasses produced the biggest gains, in the state's prairie regions.

    Other Benefits

    There are other benefits. Mowing less frequently – letting grass grow 8 inches instead of the normal 6 inches  – saves fuel, labor and stores more carbon. "There's a win-win to a lot of what we're doing," said Rick Wessel, of the New Mexico Department of Transportation's environmental development section. Another benefit: New Mexico and other states might be able to earn revenue from sale of carbon credits for taking such steps.

    The U.S. has no mandatory carbon cap-and-trade system and without an international climate change treaty, prices on the international carbon market are low. Nevertheless, New Mexico's early estimate is that it could still garner $1 million in carbon credits per year, said Wessel.  

    "What's so nice about this is we're not making major changes in behavior but tweaking what we do already so we get a little bit more benefit, while still maintaining the same goals of a safe highway system," Wessel said.

    The Daily Climate is a nonprofit news service covering climate change, and a Climate Central content partner.

  6. Scientists Begin Hi-Tech Quest for Arctic Sea Ice Answers

    By Tim Radford, Climate News Network

    LONDON − An international team of scientists plan to spend months watching ice melt. But although it will take longer and cost a lot more than watching paint dry, it will be much more interesting and rewarding.

    A sophisticated array of automatic sensors will allow scientists to conduct the longest ever monitoring program to determine the precise physics of summer sea ice melt in the Arctic.
    Credit: U.S. Geological Survery/flickr

    They plan to discover just how the Arctic ice retreats, the rate at which it melts, and the oceanographic processes at work.

    The Arctic ice cap is a vital part of the climate machine, and the basis of an important ecosystem. But although the polar ice once stretched far further south, it has been both thinning and shrinking for more than three decades. This melting shows signs of accelerating, with consequences for nations far to the south, but researchers still don’t know much about the physics of the process.

    Suite of Technologies

    So the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, oceanographers from France and the U.S., the British Antarctic. Survey, the Korean Polar Research Institute, the Scottish Association for Marine Science, and the Universities of Cambridge in the UK and Yale in the U.S. have co-ordinated a suite of technologies to monitor every detail of this summer’s ice retreat from the Alaskan shoreline, northwards.

    They will use an array of floats, buoys, sensors, thermometers, tethers, GPS receivers and automated weather stations to measure every detail, such as the flow of warmer water, growth and pattern of waves, the wind speed and direction, air pressure, and humidity.

    There will be buoys fixed in the ice to record both the melting and – later in the year – its refreezing, and an array of ice-tethered profilers to monitor the changes in the upper ocean. Autonomous sea gliders, too, will be released to explore below the ice shelf and report back every time they surface.

    The Arctic summer ice is an example of positive feedback. Ice reflects sunlight, so it is its own insulator, and keeps itself cold. But as it melts and retreats, the exposed darker ocean waters can absorb more radiation, and bring more warmth to the edges of the retreating ice, thus accelerating the process.

    Breakthrough: walrus surfacing in sea ice off the coast of Alaska. Researchers think they understand the big picture, but now they want the confirmatory fine detail.
    Credit: Joel Garlich Miller/USFWS via Wikimedia Commons

    It freezes again, but – on average – each year the ice cap becomes thinner, and the total area frozen continues to shrink. Researchers think they understand the big picture, but now they want the confirmatory fine detail.

    Melt Season

    “This has never been done at this level, over such a large area and for such a long period of time,” said Craig Lee, of the University of Washington, who leads the Marginal Ice Zone Program project. “We’re really trying to resolve the physics over the course of an entire melt season.”

    The project began in March, when researchers planted an array of sensors along a line 200 miles to the north of Alaska. In August, a Korean icebreaker will install more equipment, and a team from Miami is studying high resolution satellite pictures of ice floes in the region. Biologists will also want to understand the effect of temperature changes on marine micro-organisms.

    “The field program will provide unique insight into the processes driving the summer melt of Arctic ice,” Dr. Lee said. “It’s the automation and unprecedented collaboration that allows us to be out there for the entire season. You couldn’t afford to be out there at this intensity, for this length of time, any other way.” 

    Tim Radford is a reporter for Climate News Network. Climate News Network is a news service led by four veteran British environmental reporters and broadcasters. It delivers news and commentary about climate change for free to media outlets worldwide.

  7. Win-Win Way Pinpointed to Aid Food Security & Climate

    By Tim Radford, Climate News Network

    LONDON − Imagine being able to contain greenhouse gas emissions, make fertilizer use more efficient, keep water waste to a minimum, and put food on the table for the 10 billion people crowded into the planet’s cities, towns and villages by the end of the century.

    Report states if government, industry, business and agriculture set about choosing the best crops for local conditions and then used resources in the most efficient way, the world could be fed on existing land with the least damage to the global environment.
    Credit: WM Anto/flickr

    An impossible dream? Not according to Paul West, co-director and lead scientists of the Global Landscapes Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

    He and research colleagues report in the journal Science that if government, industry, business and agriculture set about choosing the best crops for local conditions and then used resources in the most efficient way, the world could be fed on existing land with the least damage to the global environment.

    Fresh Thinking

    This is thinking big: the global view of immediate and local problems. The researchers selected three key areas with the greatest potential for reducing environmental damage while boosting food supply. They thought about water use, food waste, greenhouse gas emissions and polluting run-off from farmland and where fresh thinking could make the most difference in the most efficient way.

    They focused on cotton and the 16 food crops that produce 86 percent of the world’s calories from 58 percent of the global cropland area. They identified a series of that they called “global leverage points,” and those countries where application of such thinking could make the biggest difference.

    The first challenge is to produce more food on existing land. They see an “agricultural yield gap” − that is, a difference between what soil actually produces and what it could produce− in many parts of the world.

    And they point out that, in those places where the gaps are widest, simply to close even half those gaps would produce more than 350 million tonnes of additional grain and supply the energy needs of 850 million people − most of them in Africa, plus some in Asia and eastern Europe.

    Water pressure: rice fields in China use huge amounts of irrigation water
    Credit: Chensiyuan, Wikimedia Commons via Climate News Network

    Half of these gains could be made in just 5 percent of the total harvested area of these crops. Co-incidentally, 850 million is very roughly the number of people the UN currently estimates to be severely malnourished.

    The researchers based all their calculations on existing conditions, while recognizing that climate change could force people to think again. But the study identified ways to grow food most efficiently, while at the same limiting the impact on climate.

    Forests Cleared

    Agriculture is responsible for somewhere between 30 percent and 35 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but much of this is because tropical forests are being cleared for farmland. Methane from livestock and from rice fields supplies much of the rest.

    Brazil and Indonesia, with the planet’s largest reserves of forest, are places where one set of actions could make a big difference. China and India, which produce more than half the world’s rice, are others.

    China, India and the U.S. between them emit more than half of all oxides of nitrogen from the world’s cropland, and wheat, maize and rice account for 68 percent of these emissions.

    Rice and wheat are the crops that create most demand for irrigation, which in turn accounts for 90 percent of global water consumption. More than 70 percent of irrigation happens in India, China, Pakistan and the U.S., and just by concentrating of more efficient use, farmers could deliver the same yield and reduce water demand by 15 percent

    Crops now grown as animal food could supply the energy needs of 4 billion people, and most of this “diet gap” is in the U.S., China and Western Europe.

    Wasted Food

    Rice and wheat are the crops that create most demand for irrigation, which in turn accounts for 90 percent of global water consumption. 
    Credit: Zandgaby/flickr

    In addition, between 30 percent and 50 percent of all food is wasted, and the waste of animal food is the worst. To discard a kilogram of boneless beef is the same as throwing away 24 kilos of wheat. Waste reduction in the U.S., China and India alone could provide food for an additional 400 million people.

    The paper is not a plan of action, but rather an identification of where the firmest concerted action could make the biggest differences.

    “By pointing out specifically what we can do and where, it gives funders and policy makers the information they need to target their activities for the greatest good,” Dr. West says.

    “By focusing on areas, crops and practices with the most to be gained, companies, governments, NGOs and others can ensure that their efforts are being targeted in a way that best accomplishes the common and critically important goal of feeding the world while protecting the environment.” 

    Tim Radford is a reporter for Climate News Network. Climate News Network is a news service led by four veteran British environmental reporters and broadcasters. It delivers news and commentary about climate change for free to media outlets worldwide.

  8. 6 Degrees: Star Wars, Energy Ranks, Cool Pics & More
  9. Picture This: Lucky Lightning Photo & Crazy Bug Swarm

    When weather strikes, it can lead to some amazing and unexpected photos, like the shot of lightning one flier caught from her plane window. It can also set up the conditions for some stunning scenic shots, as storms in Glacier National Park showed earlier this week. And then, sometimes what looks like weather on a radar screen isn't actually weather at all, but instead an apocalyptic-looking swarm of insects. See what we have in store for you in this week's roundup of the best weather and climate photos:

    Lucky Lightning Photo

    Holy awesome lightning photo, Batman!

    Airline passenger Gina Hyams snapped this lucky shot of a lightning strike in a downpour over Denver while her plane was circling the airport because of storms, the Capital Weather Gang reported. Lightning is notoriously tricky to photograph even for professionals, they note. Hyams got this shot with her iPhone. Amazing.

    Lucky strike: Lightning bolt captured in photo from airplane (ht @labelldame) http://t.co/cRuXxIipxA pic.twitter.com/q9XSjz9HLr

    — Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) July 25, 2014

     

    Is That Rain? No, It’s Mayflies

    Looks like a squall line is rolling over La Crosse, Wis., in this radar, doesn’t it? Actually, not a drop of rain was falling. What the radar detected was a massive swarm of mayflies. Ugh!

    And because those radar images aren’t sufficient to convey the sheer scale and gross factor of the swarm, we’ll throw in a photo of cars and the ground carpeted in the creatures.

    The mayflies live at the bottom of lakes and streams when they are young, for a year or two, then emerge and transform into adults, creating swarms of varying size. The adult mayflies only live for a few days and only exist to mate and create the next generation.

    The National Weather Service office in La Crosse keeps a page devoted to noting the emergences of the mayflies.

    The Mayflies appeared as 40 dbz reflectivity on radar, but not a drop of rain fell. http://t.co/EKMYSOG0Wn pic.twitter.com/53dBprwvte

    — Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) July 24, 2014

     

    Bug derecho! Mayfly hatching caught on radar. These photos might send shivers down your spine. http://t.co/EKMYSOG0Wn pic.twitter.com/wsy6CivE0t

    — Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) July 24, 2014

     

    Typhoon Matmo Swallows Taiwan

    It’s been a busy few weeks for typhoons in the Northwest Pacific, with Typhoon Neoguri swerving into Japan, Typhoon Rammasun soaking the Philippines and this week Typhoon Matmo barreling straight into Taiwan.

    Its head-on hit put the storm in the position to cover the entire island with its swirling clouds, as seen in this satellite image.

    Matmo made landfall with winds of nearly 100 mph, but its torrential rains were the main concern. Some locations did see flash flooding and landslides, according to AIR Worldwide. The storm was blamed for the crash of a TransAsia Airways flight.

    Yuli, Taiwan leading the rainfall list at 418.5mm (16.46in) in last 15hrs and counting. pic.twitter.com/RXu5oFG1YC

    — Anthony Sagliani (@anthonywx) July 22, 2014

     

    Calm After the Storm

    The passing of another storm set the stage for a beautiful sky over Montana’s Glacier National Park on Wednesday.

    The height of the clouds that linger after the storm means they can catch the rays of sunlight traveling through the atmosphere at sunset, like a blank screen for the rays to project onto.

    Beautiful.

    Summer storms make for some amazing photos on America's public lands like this one from last night @GlacierNPS. pic.twitter.com/ijxdsQAAKu

    — US Dept of Interior (@Interior) July 24, 2014
  10. Number of ‘Hot Days’ Are on the Rise: See Your City

    This is the warmest time of year in most of the U.S. And if we continue to pump heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it’s going to get even warmer — not only in the summer, but throughout the year.

    “How warm?” is the obvious question. So we've taken a look at how the number of extremely hot days are projected to increase in a variety of cities by 2050 and 2100 if emissions continue to grow unabated.

    How many more extremely hot days will your city get?  

    The term “extremely hot” means different things in different places, of course. A reading of 100°F is rare in Madison, Wis., but on the other hand, in Phoenix 100°F days are not rare at all. These days, 115°F is considered an extremely hot day there. The mercury matches or tops that scorching number only about once a summer; but by 2100, more than 53 are projected. By contrast, a generally cooler city like Madison gets about 10 days at or above 90°F each year, so the temperature threshold there is lower. By 2100, Madison is expecting more than 67 days of 90°F-plus temps.

    The graphic shows your city’s extremely hot threshold: the number of days that temperature is matched/topped on average during the period 1986-2005, and the number times that temperature is expected to be reached/topped by 2050 and by 2100. This assumes there’s no significant cutback in greenhouse-gas emissions.

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