Sunday, July 31, 2016

Climate Central - News

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  1. World Carbon Producers Face Landmark Rights Case

    By John Vidal, The Guardian

    The world’s largest oil, coal, cement and mining companies have been given 45 days to respond to a complaint that their greenhouse gas emissions have violated the human rights of millions of people living in the Phillippines.

    In a potential landmark legal case, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR), a constitutional body with the power to investigate human rights violations, has sent 47 “carbon majors” including Shell, BP, Chevron, BHP Billiton and Anglo American, a 60-page document accusing them of breaching people’s fundamental rights to “life, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and to self determination.”

    The move is the first step in what is expected to be an official investigation of the companies by the CHR, and the first of its kind in the world to be launched by a government body.

    The complaint argues that the 47 companies should be held accountable for the effects of their greenhouse gas emissions in the Philippines and demands that they explain how human rights violations resulting from climate change will be “eliminated, remedied and prevented."

    An oil rig off the coast of California.
    Credit: Pete Markham/flickr

    It calls for an official investigation into the human rights implications of climate change and ocean acidification and whether the investor-owned “carbon majors” are in breach of their responsibilities.

    The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change.

    Four of its most devastating super-cyclones have occurred in the last decade, and the country has recorded increasingly severe floods and heatwaves that have been linked to man-made global warming.

    Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, killing more than 6,000 people and displacing 650,000 others in 2013.

    The legal complaint has been brought by typhoon survivors and non-governmental organizations and is supported by more than 31,000 Filipinos.

    “We demand justice. Climate change has taken our homes and our loved ones. These powerful corporations must be called to account for the impact of their business activities,” said Elma Reyes from Alabat Island in Quezon, who survived super typhoon Rammasun in 2008 and is part of the group submitting the complaint to the CHR.

    The full legal investigation is now expected to start in October after the 47 companies have responded. Although all 47 will be ordered to attend public hearings, the CHR can only force those 10 with offices in the Philippines to appear.

    These include Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, BHP Billiton, Anglo American, Lafarge, Holcim, and Taiheiyo Cement Corporation. The CHR has the power to seek the assistance of the UN to encourage any which do not attend to co-operate.

    “The commission’s actions are unprecedented. For the first time, a national human rights body is officially taking steps to address the impacts of climate change on human rights and the responsibility of private actors,” said Zelda Soriano, legal and political adviser for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, one of the groups which has brought the complaint to the CHR.

    “This is an important building block in establishing the moral and legal ‘precedent’ that big polluters can be held responsible for current and threatened human rights infringements resulting from fossil fuel products. From the Netherlands to the U.S., people are using legal systems to hold their governments to account and demand climate action,” she said.

    The list of the 47 “carbon majors” being asked to respond to the CHR is based on research by Richard Heede, director of the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado. In 2013 he calculated that just 90 global companies had produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the start of the industrial revolution

    Together these companies emitted around 315 gigatons of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere, or nearly 22 percent of estimated global industry greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 to 2013, said Heede.

    “We pray that the CHR heed the demand to recommend to policymakers and legislators to develop and adopt effective accountability mechanisms that victims of climate change can easily access,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines and a recipient of the Goldman environmental prize.

    The CHR is not a court and would have no power to force companies to reduce emissions or fine them. However, it can make recommendations to government and would add to the worldwide pressure to persuade shareholders to divest from heavy carbon emitters.

    The investigation is the latest in a growing tide of climate liability cases being brought against governments and corporations. In June, the Netherlands’ high court ruled on the world’s first climate liability suit, ordering the Dutch government to take stronger action against climate change to better protect its citizens.

    However, several court cases launched in the U.S. urging the U.S. government to take more action against climate change have been dismissed.

    Reprinted with permission from The Guardian

  2. Searing Kuwait Temp Could Rank Among World’s Hottest

    The Middle East is no stranger to scorching heat, but a recent heat wave sent temperatures soaring to heights that are rarely seen even there. On July 21, Mitribah, Kuwait, recorded a temperature of 129.2°F (54°C) during the height of the heat wave.

    If it checks out, that will be the second hottest temperature ever measured in the Eastern Hemisphere.

    Temperatures across the Middle East in the midst of a heat wave on July 21, 2016.
    Click image to enlarge. Credit: earth.nullschool.net

    As the world continues to heat up due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such record heat becomes more likely as heat waves become more frequent and more extreme, posing a risk to public health, particularly when combined with high humidity.

    “Given the observed trend globally in breaking temperatures records more frequently in the last two decades, we can expect to see more record setting in the future in the region and elsewhere,” Omar Baddour, head of the World Meteorological Organization’s climate data and monitoring program, said in an email.

    Thermal Lows and Record Highs

    Summer is always very hot across the Middle East, with July temperatures typically falling in the 100°-113°F (38°-45°C) range, Baddour said.

    But earlier this month, temperatures soared even higher due to a meteorological phenomenon called a thermal low. This low pressure system is the result of the land heating up rapidly from the sun’s rays when compared to its surroundings.

    The air above the surface heats up and, because it is less dense than the air around it, rises, creating an area of low pressure. (Unlike the low pressure systems that bring stormy weather, these systems have a weak circulation.)

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    Thermal lows can travel over large distances and can bring heat waves that cover a widespread area.

    “The heat wave system associated with the thermal low covered much of the Middle East, Iran and southern Afghanistan,” Baddour said. “The dome of the heat wave was located in Kuwait, southern Iraq and northern Saudi Arabia. This explains the existence of the maximum values in Kuwait and Iraq.”

    Topography also a plays a role, as higher elevations heat up faster than the air around them, and the highest temperatures were recorded in some of the area’s highlands.

    Besides Kuwait, other extreme temperatures that were recorded during the heat wave included 129°F (53.9°C) in Basra, Iraq, on July 22, and 109°F and 116°F in southern Morocco, according to the WMO.

    More Records in Store

    As greenhouse gases continue to build up in the atmosphere from human activities, the Earth’s average temperature continually rises. That means the baseline temperature that heat waves today occur against is higher, meaning it is easier to set record hot temperatures (and harder to hit record cold ones).

    In the Middle East, “values near or equaling 50°C are beyond the norms, but they have become more frequent in the past years,” Baddour said.

    Daily low temperatures have been even more affected, with low temperatures staying at record high levels and doing so at an even faster pace than record highs.

    How rising temperatures affect extreme heat.
    Click image to enlarge.

    These rising temperatures have a major impact on human health. When temperatures stay elevated at night, the body doesn’t get time to recover from the day’s highs. The threat becomes even more acute when humidity is also high, as the combination stresses the body’s natural coping mechanism by blocking the evaporation of sweat.

    A study last October showed that the Middle East is a region of major concern for this combination in a hotter future. While it is typically associated with dry desert heat, cities in coastal areas of the region can experience sky-high humidity thanks to the exceptionally warm waters of the Persian Gulf. A heat wave last year combined with humidity sent the heat index in Bandar Mahshahr, Iran, to a mind-boggling 163°F (72.8°C).

    The study found that in the future, heat waves capable of reaching the theoretical limit of what the human body can cope with will happen several times in the last decades of this century if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t curbed.

    Double Checking

    Before the temperature in Kuwait can take its place in the record books, it must be validated by the WMO officials responsible for making sure temperature measurements around the world are accurate.

    “One of the key aspects of our WMO Archive of Weather & Climate Extremes is to make sure that the weather observations taken around the world are good enough to stand the strongest available examination,” Randall Cerveny, the WMO rapporteur on weather and climate extremes, said in an email.

    Cerveny and his colleagues will be investigating whether the equipment that made the measurement was properly calibrated and sited, and that the operator was properly trained.

     

    Temps of 54°C in Kuwait and Iraq last week. #Climatechange means more, stronger #heatwaves https://t.co/Fg9Kn1v4vr pic.twitter.com/ENW7erstAC

    — WMO | OMM (@WMO) July 26, 2016

     

    One factor they consider, whether the temperature jibes with those measured in the surround areas, seems to check out with this case.

    If it is validated, a process that could take between six months and a year, it will be second only to the temperature of 131°F (55°C) measured in Kebili, Tunisia, on July 7, 1933.

    Some meteorologists doubt the veracity of that measurement (along with the world record holder 134°F measured in Death Valley, Calif., in 1913), but clear evidence of error would have to be brought to the WMO to remove them from the top spots.

    That is what happened to the former world record holder, a reported temperature of 136°F measured in Libya in 1922. During a two-year investigation (delayed by the revolution and civil war there), the WMO showed that the instrument that made that measurement was improperly sited and likely operated by an inexperienced person.

    “The quality of our weather information is only as good as the quality of the equipment and personnel who are measuring it,” Cerveny said.

  3. Climate Change’s Fingerprints All Over California Wildfires

    Reports this week from the front lines of the Sand Fire in Southern California painted the scene as apocalyptic. The drought-fueled blaze was explosive, fast-moving and devastating, burning through 38,000 acres in the Santa Clarita Valley and forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 homes.

    If the state’s wildfire season holds true to forecasts, the Sand Fire will be one of many catastrophic wildfires to scorch drought-stricken forests and shrublands across California this year. So far, only one wildfire has been larger — the 48,019-acre Erskine Fire, which started in June in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and destroyed 250 homes and buildings.

    The Sand Fire burning in California's Santa Clarita Valley in July.
    Credit: Kevin Gill/flickr

    None of the fires have been among the worst or largest wildfires the state has seen in recent years, but they’re part of a dire global warming-fueled trend toward larger, more frequent and intense wildfires. The number of blazes on public lands across the West has increased 500 percent since the late 1970s, said LeRoy Westerling, a professor studying climate and wildfire at the University of California-Merced.

    The outlook this summer is sobering: Wildland fire potential for most of coastal California and the Sierra Nevada Mountains is above normal and is expected to remain that way through October, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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    The wildfire forecast follows a major heat wave in California, where the temperatures soared above 120°F (48.9°C) in some parts of Southern California. The region is seeing a significant warming trend. Each decade since 1970, average summer temperatures have warmed about 0.45°F (0.25°C).

    The worst of the fire season in Southern California may be yet to come, said Hugh Safford, a U.S. Forest Service ecologist based in Vallejo, Calif.

    “The most dangerous fire conditions occur from the end of September to December, when Santa Ana winds from the desert interact with the driest fuels of the season after five to six months of drying,” he said. “I would expect an active fire season, and critical conditions in the fall.”

    Westerling said 140,000 acres have burned across Southern California this year — a figure that amounts to nearly four times the five-year average for annual acreage burned in an entire wildfire season in the region.

    Global warming’s fingerprints can be clearly seen on this year’s fire season in California, where the state’s extreme drought is entering its fifth year and record-breaking heat has baked the region.

    “Climate change has exacerbated naturally occurring droughts, and therefore fuel conditions,” said Robert Field, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    The worse the drought, the more of a tinderbox forests become.

    A helicopter douses a wildfire near Azusa, Calif., in June.
    Credit: Russ Allison Loar/flickr

    “Higher temperatures exacerbate the drought by increasing evaporation and transpiration,” Westerling said. “Drier conditions mean highly flammable (wildfire) fuels. Drier conditions and high temperatures drive more extreme fire behavior.”

    Southern California fire conditions today are already bad as firefighters attempt to contain the Sand Fire and battle the Soberanes Fire, which has burned more than 27,000 acres south of Monterey since the fire started on July 22.

    The Sand Fire, burning in mountainous shrubland known as chaparral, has surprised wildfire scientists because of the speed with which it scorched the slopes north of Los Angeles. It’s an example of how climate change affects the way wildfires burn.

    “Chaparral always burns at high intensity, but the mean size of chaparral fires has been growing,” Safford said. “We haven’t seen much change in the severity of these fires, but they are getting bigger on average, which may be due to drought-driven shrub mortality.”

    Dead and dry trees do a lot to help fires spread, he said.

    “This last factor results in fire embers that are cast far ahead of the flaming front and leads to faster fire growth and more difficult control,” Safford said.

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  4. Scientists Urge Obama to End Federal Coal Leasing

    Citing coal’s effect on climate change, a group of more than 65 prominent scientists is urging the Obama administration to end coal leasing on federal public lands by making permanent a moratorium the government placed on leasing in January.

    In a letter sent to the administration Wednesday, the scientists said that unless coal mining is stopped permanently, the U.S. cannot meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, and the goal to keep global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F) may be impossible.

    A coal mine in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.
    Credit: Kimon Berlin/flickr

    Using coal to generate electricity is the leading source of carbon dioxide emissions driving climate change globally. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using more natural gas and renewables is widely seen as a primary way to meet international climate goals.

    The scientists include James Hansen, former director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA; Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at MIT; Duke University climate scientist Drew Shindell; and Princeton University geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer.

    Coal mining on federal land, mainly in the West, represents about 41 percent of total U.S. coal production. The Obama administration has placed a three-year moratorium on coal leasing on public lands while the federal government conducts a review meant to bring the leasing program in line with U.S. climate policy.

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    A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Interior said the agency is evaluating potential reforms to the program.  

    Preventing global warming from exceeding 2°C requires 95 percent of all U.S. coal to remain in the ground, the scientists wrote.

    “A rapid end to federal coal extraction would send an important signal internationally and domestically to markets, utilities, investors and other nations that the United States is committed to upholding its climate obligation to limit temperature rise to well below 2°C,” they wrote.

    “We should stop coal leasing on public lands as part of a broader effort to stop burning coal at all in order to save the American people from the disastrous damages that causes,” Shindell said.

    Shindell said it was understandable that the U.S. used coal as its primary source of electricity in the past because the costs of burning coal were not yet known and there were no good alternatives. Today, the consequences of using coal are clear, and the U.S. should focus on developing renewables instead, he said.

    Editor’s note: Michael Oppenheimer is vice chair of the Climate Central board of directors.

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  5. Climate Pollution Can Complicate Fishes’ Sex Lives

    The mating rituals of male ocellated wrasses are as intricate as their shimmering scales, and new research showing that carbon dioxide pollution can affect those rituals has some scientists fretting for the future of fish. 

    Elevated levels of carbon dioxide — which dissolves from the atmosphere into oceans, where it changes acidity levels — can affect fishes’ brains and how they behave. Sometimes they swim toward predators instead of fleeing, for example.

    A domiant male ocellated wrasse collects fragments of algae, which it uses for nest building.
    Credit: Natascia Tamburello/University of Palermo

    Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a journal focusing on biological discoveries, on Tuesday published findings from the floor of Mediterranean Sea near Sicily that revealed these behavioral changes can include the reshaping of the colorful sex lives of one kind of fish.

    Changes to fish mating behaviors could exacerbate stresses on entire ocean ecosystems, which are already being pummeled by overfishing, warming waters and plastic and oil pollution. About a quarter of industrial carbon dioxide pollution is entering the seas, and scientists have warned that could cause pH levels to decline by 2100 to levels not experienced for more than 50 millions years.

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    “For the first time in the wild, we showed fish species with complex reproductive behaviors to be affected by high carbon dioxide levels expected by this century's end,”  said University of Palermo marine biologist Marco Milazzo, who led the new research into wrasses’ mating behavior.

    Milazzo was part of an international team of scientists that used video cameras and genetic analysis to study the breeding of the wrasse in the Mediterranean Sea. The group compared breeding at nests built close to carbon dioxide-belching volcanic vents off the Italian island of Sicily with those about 100 miles away.

    Challenges of studying seafloor fish behavior meant that just a few dozen nests were studied over two years.

    “This is a small sample size on a single species, but it reveals the potential for fish spawning behavior to be affected by ocean acidification,” said Seth Miller, a Smithsonian Environmental Research Center researcher who wasn’t involved with the new study.

    “Fish are really important in marine ecosystems,” Miller said. “We've created so much stress in the ocean already that any additional stressor that disrupts a species has the potential to create real ecological problems.”

    The largest male ocellated wrasses build nests on rocky seafloors, then woo females to spawn in them. These dominant males fertilize and protect the eggs, but those eggs are are not always their own.

    The scourge of the dominant males are smaller ones, which sneak into nests full of freshly laid eggs, which they try to fertilize. Medium males help keep the smallest ones at bay, but they also slyly fertilize clutches of new eggs in their protectees’ nests when they can.

    Pollution from power plants, such as the Drax Power Station in England, is leading to changes in ocean chemistry.
    Credit: Rajan Zaveri/Climate Central

    When the scientists monitored these breeding behaviors near volcanic seeps, which roughly simulated ocean conditions anticipated by the end of the century, they noticed some differences.

    In the nests that were built near volcanic vents, where the water contained higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, the underwater videos revealed that dominant males mated less frequently. Despite mating less often, genetic analysis appeared to show these dominant males sired more of the young growing in eggs that they protected (though the small number of nests studied meant that difference was statistically minor).

    “In this case, the change in male behavior may not have any effect at the population level,” said Philip Munday, a marine ecologist at James Cook University who wasn’t involved with the new study. “However, similar behavioral effects in other species might.”

    When it comes to the scientists’ interests in the wrasses, what matters to them is the indication that industrial pollution is capable of changing the way fish mate.

    “Many fish have complex reproductive behaviors that are very difficult to replicate in the laboratory,” Munday said. “This study has overcome this problem.”

    Much more research is needed before scientists can understand how pollution from fossil fuel burning and deforestation — and the rise in ocean acidity levels that pollution causes — affects mating in ways that can impact fish populations and their ecosystems.

    “Most fish have got these complicated ways of getting it on, and how they find each other, for example, is complex,” said Jason Hall-Spencer, a Plymouth University professor who helped produce this week’s paper.

    “If we’re affecting the chemistry of how fish meet each other and have fish, that’s important for their populations,” Hall-Spencer said. “We’ve shown that can happen.”

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  6. More Mosquito Days Increasing Zika Risk in U.S.

    Research Report by Climate Central

    Hot and humid summer weather across the U.S. brings with it the rise of the mosquito season, and this year the threat of the Zika virus makes that more than a minor nuisance. Mosquito species found in the Lower 48 states are known to transmit this disease, thriving in tropical and subtropical climates. As the climate warms and humidity increases across the nation, the risk of mosquito-borne diseases, like Zika, is becoming more prevalent for Americans.


    Climate Central’s States at Risk project has analyzed how the length of the mosquito season has been changing across hundreds of metropolitan areas across the Lower 48 states. We found that in most of the country, rising temperatures and humidity since the 1980s have driven an increase in the number of days each year with ideal conditions for mosquitoes. Warming temperatures lead to more evaporation, which puts more water vapor in the atmosphere and increases humidity. The overall increase in mosquito days in the U.S. is likely increasing the risk of several mosquito-borne diseases, including the Zika virus

    • Cities like Baltimore and Durham, N.C., have seen their annual average mosquito season grow by nearly 40 days since the 1980s. 

    • Dozens of cities across the Midwest, Northeast, and along the Atlantic Coast have all seen their mosquito seasons grow by at least 20 days over the past 35 years. 

    • More than 20 major U.S. cities have ideal climate conditions for mosquitoes at least 200 days each year. 

    • In a few hot Southern cities, rising extreme heat since the 1980s has actually caused the mosquito season to begin to decrease (though there are still hundreds of days each year with ideal conditions for mosquitoes in these locations).

    Zika Virus Overview

    A current outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil and other South and Central American countries has made the disease a public health concern over the past year. While many people that contract the virus have mild symptoms, including fever, rash, and joint and muscle pain, or no symptoms at all, the virus can cause serious complications. Pregnant women that are infected have an increased risk of delivering babies with birth defects and the virus has also been associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome.

    According to the CDC, the Zika virus isn’t currently being spread by mosquitoes in the U.S., but species known to transmit the virus (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus) are found in the U.S. and the CDC has confirmed more than 1,400 cases of Zika in travelers returning to the U.S. These infected travelers have the potential to spread the virus domestically through mosquitoes.

    The range for mosquito species able to transmit Zika spreads across much of the country, but these mosquitoes are particularly abundant in the Southeast and along the Atlantic Coast.

    Mosquito Season Growing

    Climate Central analyzed how the number of days each year with ideal conditions for mosquitoes has been changing since 1980. We found that most major cities in the country (76 percent) have seen an overall increase in days conducive for mosquitoes in the past 36 years, and many regions have seen the mosquito season increase by half a month or more. 

    Among the 200 largest metro areas in the U.S., 10 cities have seen their seasons grow by a month or more over this relatively short period of time. Overall, 125 cities are now seeing their average annual mosquito seasons at least five days longer than they were in the 1980s. 

    The top 25 cities that have seen the biggest increase in mosquito days since the 1980s are:

    We also discovered that in a few locations, temperatures have increased so much since the 1980s that the overall mosquito season has decreased slightly. For example, five Texas cities (all of which have seen large increases in extreme heat over that time) have seen their mosquito season decrease by 5-30 days. However, four of these cities are still seeing an average of at least 100 days each year with ideal conditions for mosquitoes, so the overall threat has not decreased considerably. 


    Mosquito days in your city

    See how the annual average number of mosquito days has changed in all these metro areas, since the 1980s.

    Florida cities face the greatest overall threat from mosquitoes; most of its major cities face hundreds of days each year with climate conditions that are ideal for these insects. Many of these cities have seen an overall increase in mosquito days since the 1980s, but a few cities, like Fort Myers and Orlando have slightly shorter seasons now than they did 35 years ago. 

    The top 25 U.S. cities with the longest average annual mosquito seasons are:

    The analysis of mosquito season length is based on the ideal temperature and humidity conditions for Asian Tiger Mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus), which is one of the species known to transmit the Zika virus. These mosquitoes have high mortality rates at temperatures outside the range of 50-95°F or at relative humidity below 42 percent.

    Previous research has also confirmed that several U.S. cities also have climate conditions that support another transmitting mosquito species, Aedes aegypti. However, because the Asian Tiger mosquito exhibits greater cold tolerance, it is expected to have a greater transmission risk in more cities.

    Zika and Climate Change

    In the coming decades, average annual temperatures (including spring, summer and fall temperatures, specifically) are projected to rise, with the amount of increase depending on how rapidly we curb our greenhouse gas emissions. In most parts of the U.S., the warming will likely increase the total number of days each year when temperatures fall between 50-95°F. In some places, more extreme heat could shorten the mosquito season, though it is unlikely to remove the risk of mosquitos entirely. 

    In addition, projections for more heavy downpours in the U.S. and globally may also increase the threat from Zika. Intense rainfall can create pools of standing water on the ground, which are ideal for mosquito breeding.

    Studies investigating how climate change will influence other mosquito-borne diseases, like Dengue fever and the West Nile virus, suggest that the range and season for mosquitoes is projected to increase in much of the U.S., though hotter temperatures could force mosquitoes out of some areas. 

    Analysis by Alyson Kenward, PhD, and Jennifer Brady. 

    Methodology:

    The formula for mosquito-suitable days is based on National Institute of Health studies incorporating temperature and humidity. This analysis examines conditions on individual days rather than multi-day heat events which can affect mosquito populations. Temperature and humidity data (calculated from vapor pressure) for the largest 198 metropolitan areas in the U.S. from 1980-2015 was accessed from Daymet.

  7. Forecast First: Warmer Temps Favored Across Entire U.S.

    For the next three months, above-normal temperatures are favored across the U.S., from coast to coast and Mexico to Canada, as well as Alaska, according to government forecasts.

    In archives that go back to 1995, that’s never happened, Dan Collins, a forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, said.

    While it doesn’t mean that a three-month-long heat wave is in store, or that there won’t be cooler spells here and there, it does up the odds that 2016 will rank among the hottest years on record for the country. It’s also a mark of the overall warming trend, courtesy of heat-trapping greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere.

    Warm Oceans, Rising Temperatures

    The CPC puts out forecasts for temperatures and precipitation across the country that look across an entire month or season. Unlike weather forecasts, which deal with actual temperatures and storms, these climate outlooks look at the relative probabilities that temperatures or precipitation will be above-normal, below-normal, or normal.

    Probabilities for above-normal, below-normal, and normal temperatures across the U.S. for August, September, and October.
    Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

    The most recent three-month outlook, covering August, September, and October, favors above-normal temperatures for every part of the Lower 48, as well as for all of Alaska.

    Driving that outlook are the warm  sea surface temperatures across the globe, including in the Pacific, along the coast of Alaska, and in the Atlantic. The ocean has a longer memory for temperature than the land or air, so it tends to retain warmth for longer and influence atmospheric temperatures.

    “The fact that globally there’s a lot of above-normal sea surface temperatures, that gives you some persistence of temperatures in the atmosphere,” Collins said.

    There are some spots where the probabilities are a little lower, including along the West Coast and in the central part of the country. Those lower odds are because of the cooling of ocean waters along the West Coast after the end of the reign of The Blob of warm water that sat off the coast and helped fuel months of hot temperatures there, as well as the high soil moisture in the central U.S. When soil moisture is high, it tends to mediate temperatures.

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    Another reason that above-average temperatures are favored is the lack of a climate pattern like La Niña or El Niño exerting a clear influence. In the absence of those, the trend is for temperatures today to be warmer than those in previous decades because of human-caused climate change, Collins said.

    And the trend of warmer temperatures across the U.S. is stronger for the August-through-October period “than virtually any other season,” he said. (The trends can be higher in other seasons for particular regions.)

    Not a Heat Wave

    The forecast doesn’t mean that a three-month-long heat wave along the lines of the one stretching across the country this week is in store. It doesn’t even guarantee that there will be more heat waves. But it does mean that “heat waves are more likely” and are more likely than cold snaps, Collins said.

    There still could be below-normal temperatures in spots for periods of time over the next three months, particularly in those areas where probabilities are lower, but overall, the average temperature for those three months is expected to be above normal.

    Rank of the average temperature of the Lower 48 for the first half of 2016.
    Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

    That temperature outlook in turn increases the likelihood that 2016 will stay amongst the hottest years on record for the country. The average temperature of the Lower 48 is in third place through the first half of the year.

    Because the outlook doesn’t say anything about how much warmer temperatures might be for the next three months, it’s difficult to say how they might change the annual ranking, CPC climatologist Jake Crouch said in an email. But with this outlook, “the year should remain near the top of the pack.”

    Alaska is already having its hottest year on record by a fair margin, so continued above-average temperatures will likely continue that record for the next few months.

  8. Weather Disasters Can Fuel War in Volatile Countries

    Following the warmest two years on record and spikes in violence that fueled a global refugee crisis, climate scientists on Monday reported that armed fighting is prone to follow droughts, heatwaves and other weather-related calamities in turbulent countries.

    Nearly a quarter of deadly armed conflicts in the countries with the most diverse ethnic makeups from 1980 to 2010 were found to have occurred at around the same time as an extreme weather event.

    African countries like Uganda are among the world's most ethnically diverse, and they are also vulnerable to climate change. The new findings suggest peace will be harder to achieve and maintain in places like Uganda as the climate changes.
    Credit: Tobin Jones, AMISOM Public Information/Flickr

    “It’s significant that you can make that statement — that nearly 25 percent of those conflicts coincided with some type of climate-related disaster,” said Jonathan Donges, a Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research scientist who helped lead the new study.

    Donges and three other European researchers detected the pattern after analyzing extreme weather events that inflicted heavy economic damages, and outbreaks of fighting that left at least 25 dead in a year. The results were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “What’s much more important is that this number is highly statistically significant and robust,” Donges said. “You cannot explain it by chance.”

    The findings have ominous implications for prospects of peace on a warming planet. They’re the kinds of warnings that the Pentagon has been issuing for years, with climate change being linked to conditions that can fuel war and brutality.

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    Greenhouse gas pollution and rising temperatures are causing droughts, floods and other natural disasters to become more severe. Climate change can also influence the likelihood that such extreme weather events will happen at all.

    The new research honed in on “ethnically fractionalized countries,” such as Liberia and Afghanistan, where violent clashes can be fueled by religion and culture — or by shortages of land, water, food and other resources needed for survival and prosperity. Such countries tend to be among the poorest.

    “The countries in this group, they’re countries that are very conflict prone,” Donges said.

    With attacks and fighting crippling large areas in the Middle East, about 125,000 people are thought to have died in armed conflicts last year. That’s worse than in any year since 1994, when nearly a million Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda. (For comparison, malaria killed about 440,000 people last year.)

    The exodus of victims from Syria and other war-torn countries has also been fueling waves of nationalism among Britons, Americans and other Westerners. Fear of refugees underpinned a campaign that helped convince residents of Britain to vote recently to withdraw from the European Union, fracturing continental unity.

    “Conflicts hamper development, and cause widespread fear and terror,” said Jonas Nordkvelle, a researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo. The institute manages an armed conflict database that the climate researchers used to produce Monday’s paper. “If we know which factors contribute, maybe we can prevent conflicts from erupting — or limit their scope.”

    Nordkvelle said the findings from the new analysis matched the impressions he has developed during his work on armed conflict.

    “Natural disasters and conflicts are in general independent processes, but they can get entangled,” Nordkvelle said.

    Untangling the processes to understand the intersection of war and extreme weather can lead scientists into an academic minefield of fiery controversies.

    That’s largely because searching for statistically significant correlations between the two can be deeply confounding. As a result, assertions of connections between them are often based on individual case studies, such as the drought-fueled civil war in Syria.

    A refugee camp in Kenya.
    Credit: Tom Albinson/Flickr

    Debate among military strategists, politicians, pundits and policymakers regarding security threats posed by climate change is often moving forward without the troves of data that normally help guide government decisions — though that is beginning to change.

    “Conflict is more complex than thermodynamics,” said Katharine Mach, a researcher at Carnegie Science’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford. She wasn’t involved with the new study.  “What we’ve increasingly seen over the past decade is a really large increase in the literature that’s looking at climate change and conflict.”

    When scientists examined the scientific literature a few years ago for the United Nations, they wrote in a chapter of a 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment that “there is justifiable common concern” that climate change increases risks of bloodshed.

    But the scientists also warned that “confident statements” about effects of climate change on conflict “are not possible,” noting a dearth of scientific evidence.

    “Many of the factors that increase the risk of civil war and other armed conflicts are sensitive to climate change,” the group wrote. As an example, they mentioned “economic shocks” caused by extreme weather events, “which may become more intense due to climate change.”

    It was these links — between economic shocks caused by extreme weather and armed conflicts — that were probed by Monday’s study.

    The analysis relied on a statistical tool borrowed from neuroscience in an attempt to detect correlations between war and meteorological disasters, which are tracked by academia and by private industry using separate databases.

    Few climate scientists are familiar with the statistical tool, which is new. Jörn Davidsen, a physicist with the University of Calgary’s Complexity Science Group, read Monday’s paper and concluded that the tool was an appropriate one to use. “The overall trends should be reliable,” he said.

    Monday’s findings were “consistent” with the idea that “weather events and climate change don’t cause violent conflicts,” said Robert McLeman, a geographer at Wilfrid Laurier University who studies environmental change. He wasn’t involved with Monday’s study. “But, in places where conditions are ripe for violence to occur, climate events increase the chances of it actually happening.”

    Following 20 to 30 years of evolving research into links between war and the climate, Monday’s paper was “reasonably significant,” McLeman said. “It provides statistical support for the ‘threat multiplier’ idea.”

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  9. EPA Finding Clears Way for Limit on Aircraft Emissions

    The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday declared that jet engine exhaust endangers public health by contributing to climate change, a key milestone as it works to develop regulations that will cut carbon emissions from commercial aircraft.

    Large commercial jets account for 11 percent of all emissions from the global transportation sector. Aircraft emissions are expected to grow by 50 percent by 2050 as demand for air travel increases.

    The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is one of a new generation of fuel efficient commerical aircraft.
    Credit: Wilco737/flickr

    Regulating aircraft emissions is part of the Obama administration’s goal under the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The international pact aims to to keep global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F).

    “Addressing pollution from aircraft is an important element of U.S. efforts to address climate change,”  Janet McCabe, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, said in a statement. “EPA has already set effective GHG standards for cars and trucks and any future aircraft engine standards will also provide important climate and public health benefits.”

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    Both the EPA and the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, are developing regulations that will cut carbon emissions from commercial aircraft. The ICAO is expected to finalize its emissions standards in 2017, but the EPA could not proceed with developing its own standards in the U.S. until it concluded that jet engine exhaust poses a public health threat.

    Jet engine exhaust emits carbon dioxide, which drives climate change by warming the atmosphere, leading to increasing global temperatures, rising seas and extreme weather. Public health will suffer as heat waves become more frequent and intense, rising seas inundate coastal cities, extreme storms lead to more deaths and catastrophic wildfires burn more forests and reduce air quality.

    “The endangerment finding is key because it obligates the EPA to take regulatory action to cut carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft — it triggers a legal mandate,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation.

    A typical jet airplane in the U.S.
    Credit: Travis Olbrich/flickr

    New emissions standards may become more important as climate change affects the atmosphere. Studies show that climate change will increase wind speeds in some areas of the globe, forcing airplanes flying through them to burn more fuel. Total global carbon dioxide emissions could see a boost as flight times increase in the stronger winds.

    The proposed ICAO standards, supported by the U.S. and 22 other countries, call for a 4 percent reduction in fuel consumption in new commercial aircraft built after 2028 and from aircraft currently in production delivered after 2023.

    Airplane makers are already building more fuel efficient aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, and they are expected to already meet the proposed ICAO emissions standards.

    Kodjak said the ICAO’s proposed standards will not sufficiently cut airplane emissions to reduce their climate impact, and the EPA’s process for developing new standards for U.S. airplanes could be an opportunity to make emissions cuts even stricter.

    U.S.-based aircraft are responsible for 29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from commercial aircraft worldwide, according to the EPA.

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  10. Diving Enthusiasts Could Measure Ocean Temperatures

    By Damian Carrington, The Guardian

    Millions of holidaying scuba divers are able to become citizen scientists and take vital measurements of ocean temperatures, which are being driven up by climate change.

    More than 90 percent of the heat trapped by global warming goes into oceans, where it drives hurricanes and disrupts fish stocks. Satellites can measure surface temperature when there are no clouds, but getting data from below the surface is much harder and more expensive.

    A flotilla of 3,000 diving robot buoys provides measurements, but millions of recreational and commercial divers around the world could also play a role. A study, published in Science Reports on Friday, shows that measurements taken from the decompression computers often worn by divers can provide accurate data on ocean temperatures.

    Scientists from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) in Scotland took a range of decompression computers on dives alongside scientific instruments, and showed that the results tallied. The scientists have already collected more than 7,500 dive records from around the world via the Dive Into Science website.

    Kieran Hyder at Cefas, who led the citizen science project, said: “To undertake a global science programme that could generate this information would be hugely expensive, but there are millions of sport and commercial dives every year. Making use of just a small fraction of those dives will greatly increase our knowledge of what is happening worldwide.

    “The potential of scuba divers to contribute to ocean monitoring is huge and I believe that this study demonstrates only the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

    The new data is particularly valuable in highly changeable coastal environments, where many dives occur, as well as in areas that are rarely sampled by other methods.

    According to the Dive Into Science project, which is funded by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: “This extra data could prove crucial in the efforts to understand and predict the effects of our changing climate.”

    Other researchers have investigated the ability of tagging marine creatures to provide temperature and other data. The creatures could include penguins and seals and the latter could be especially useful due to their deep dives.

    Reprinted with permission from The Guardian.