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Why Greenland’s black ice should terrify you

From Slate

There are several potential explanations for what’s going on here. The most likely is that some combination of increasingly infrequent summer snowstorms, wind-blown dust, microbial activity, and forest fire soot led to this year’s exceptionally dark ice. A more ominous possibility is that what we’re seeing is the start of a cascading feedback loop tied to global warming.

Box mentions this summer’s mysterious Siberian holes and offshore methane bubbles as evidence that the Arctic can quickly change in unpredictable ways.

This year, Greenland’s ice sheet was the darkest Box (or anyone else) has ever measured. Box gives the stunning stats: “In 2014 the ice sheet is precisely 5.6 percent darker, producing an additional absorption of energy equivalent with roughly twice the US annual electricity consumption.”

Perhaps coincidentally, 2014 will also be the year with the highest number of forest fires ever measured in Arctic.

Box ran these numbers exclusively for Slate, and what he found shocked him. Since comprehensive satellite measurements began in 2000, never before have Arctic wildfires been as powerful as this year. In fact, over the last two or three years, Box calculated that Arctic fires have been burning at a rate that’s double that of just a decade ago. Box felt this finding was so important that he didn’t want to wait for peer review, and instead decided to publish first on Slate. He’s planning on submitting these and other recent findings to a formal scientific journal later this year.

From the CBC

Could the southwest of the U.S. be in for a megadrought?

From Mother Jones

A new study by Cornell University, the University of Arizona, and the US Geological Survey researchers, looked at the deep-historical record (tree rings, etc.) and the latest climate change models to estimate the likelihood of major droughts in the Southwest over the next century. The results are as soothing as a thick wool sweater on mid-summer desert hike. 

The researchers concluded that odds of a decade-long drought are “at least 80 percent.” The chances of a “mega-drought,” one lasting 35 or more years, stands at somewhere between 20 percent and 50 percent, depending on how severe climate change turns out to be. And the prospects for an “unprecedented 50-year megadrought”—one “worse than anything seen during the last 2000 years”­—checks in at a non-trivial 5 percent to 10 percent.

It gets worse

his (paradoxically) chilling assessment comes on the heels of another study (study; my summary), this one released in early August by University of California-Irvine and NASA researchers, on the Colorado River, the lifeblood of a vast chunk of the Southwest. As many as 40 million people rely on the Colorado for drinking water, including residents of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, and San Diego. It also irrigates the highly productive winter farms of California’s Imperial Valley and Arizona’s Yuma County, which produce upwards of 80 percent of the nation’s winter vegetables.

The researchers analyzed satellite measurements of the Earth’s mass and found that the region’s aquifers had undergone a much-larger-than-expected drawdown over the past decade—the region’s farms and municipalities responded to drought-reduced flows from the Colorado River by dropping wells and tapping almost 53 million acre-feet of underground water between December 2004 and November 2013—equal to about 1.5 full Lake Meads, drained off in just nine years, a rate the study’s lead researcher, Jay Famiglietti, calls “alarming.”

Considering how much of the Colorado River Basin, which encompasses swaths of Utah, Colorado, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, are desert, it’s probably not wise to rapidly drain aquifers, since there’s little prospect that they’ll refill anytime soon. And when you consider that that the region faces high odds of a coming mega-drought, the results are even more frightening. (Just before Labor Day, over fierce opposition from farm interests, the California legislature passed legislation that would regulate groundwater pumping—something that has never been done on a state-wide basis in California before. Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign it into law.)

Where the Wild Things Die

From Foreign Policy

South Africa is home to roughly 80 percent of the world’s remaining rhinos, which number about 20,405 white rhinos and 5,055 black rhinos, according to conservation group Save the Rhino. But that population is in danger of imminent collapse due to a recent, dramatic increase in poaching. This is fueled by Asia’s reinvigorated appetite for the animal’s horn, prized for its alleged curative properties and mark of wealth; rampant corruption in South Africa; and soaring international prices on the black market. As a result, there is a multimillion-dollar global conservation war that stretches across southern Africa. And de Rosner is a mere foot soldier in the battle against these nighttime killers. “We do something — they adapt. They do something — we adapt,” he says, squinting in the midday heat. “They’re watching us as much as we’re watching them.”

Lake Mead Is Drying Up

This is bad and reminds me of what Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote in The Ingenuity Gap when he was shocked that no one in Las Vegas was calculating projected droughts (which have arrived)

Lake mead nevada all time low fe

The water level at Lake Mead dropped to a new record low this week, but it hasn’t hit rock bottom—yet.

As of Tuesday, Lake Mead was at about 39 percent of its capacity. The drought has taken a toll on water resources, resulting in precautionary actions such as a decreased flow allowance into Hoover Dam to protect current distribution policies. 

The projected lake level is at about 1,082 feet above sea level, and officials say they can meet water obligations at least through next year without a key shortage declaration. But if the water level drops below the 1,075-foot trigger point, Arizona and Nevada will face water delivery cuts, according to the Washington Times.

The lake is currently storing 10.2 million acre-feet of water. Lake Powell, the reservoir managed in conjuction with Lake Mead and located farther up the Colorado River, is holding 12.7 million acre-feet of water—or 52 percent of its capacity.

A quarter of India’s land is turning into desert

India is in serious trouble

About a quarter of India’s land is turning to desert and degradation of agricultural areas is becoming a severe problem, the environment minister said, potentially threatening food security in the world’s second most populous country.

India occupies just 2 percent of the world’s territory but is home to 17 percent of its population, leading to over-use of land and excessive grazing. Along with changing rainfall patterns, these are the main causes of desertification.

“Land is becoming barren, degradation is happening,” said Prakash Javadekar, minister for environment, forests and climate change. “A lot of areas are on the verge of becoming deserts but it can be stopped.”

Land degradation – largely defined as loss of productivity – is estimated at 105 million hectares, constituting 32 percent of the total land.

According to the Indian Space Research Organisation that prepared a report on desertification in 2007, about 69 percent of land in the country is dry, making it vulnerable to water and wind erosion, salinization and water logging.

Before you jump to conclusions about global warming (although that is playing a factor), Indian farmers way over farm their plots.  As family plots are passed down, they are divided and then divided again to support families.  Eventually they become unsustainable and things like irrigation and fertilizer do more damage to the land then help it.

That is where much of the land is at right now.

Saving Lions By Appointing Masai Warriors As Their Protectors

It’s hard to scale but I love this idea of protecting endangered predators.

In Kenya, Masai pastoralists often spear or poison lions to retaliate after predators have killed their livestock. The Guardians pays the Masai warriors, who are called limurran, about $100 per month to warn herders about nearby lions, recover lost livestock, reinforce protective fencing, and stop lion-hunting parties. The tribesmen are taught to read, write, and communicate in Swahili, and monitor lion movements through a mix of traditional knowledge and modern radio-tracking.

The Lion Guardians program is now expanding. It has 52 Lion Guardians employed in East Africa protecting more than 1,700 square miles of vital habitat with growing lion populations. And at a cost of $41 per square kilometer per year, it’s about half the expense of its most common alternative, compensation programs for livestock killed by predators.

Why Are 20 Far-Away States Trying To Block The Cleanup Of The Chesapeake Bay?

So while the states surrounding Chesapeake Bay want it cleaned up, 21 other states are fighting it.

Over the years, the Chesapeake Bay has been known for many things: bountiful seafood, such as clams, oysters and the bay’s iconic blue crabs; its boating, fishing and water sports industry; its curly-haired duck-hunting dogs.

Now, however, the bay has become famous for something else: its pollution.

For more than 30 years, states in the region have tried to restore the bay, the largest estuary in the U.S. and a body of water which has effectively served as a dumping ground for agricultural pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from urban runoff and industrial sources for decades. In the last few years — and after numerous failed attempts — they’ve inched closer to succeeding, thanks to an Environmental Protection Agency-led plan that puts limits on the amount of agricultural nutrients entering the bay, pollution that has spawned numerous oxygen-free, marine life-killing “dead zones” in the bay and its tributaries. The plan was created at the request of the six Chesapeake Bay states and the District of Columbia, and according to Claudia Friedetzky of the Maryland Sierra Club, is “the best chance that we have ever had to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.”

But to a group of 21 Attorneys General from states almost exclusively outside the Chesapeake Bay region, the plan means only one thing: EPA overreach.

Earlier this year, a group of 21 Attorneys General from states as far away from the Chesapeake Bay as Alaska and Wyoming submitted an amicus brief that aims to strike down the EPA’s Chesapeake cleanup plan. The AGs argue that the cleanup plan raises serious concerns about states’ rights, and they worry that if the plan is left to stand, the EPA could enact similar pollution limits on watersheds such as the Mississippi.

Oh yeah, it’s backed by big agriculture lobbyists.

To understand why the 21 state AGs care about a cleanup plan that is, for the most part, outside of their boundaries, you first have to understand why outside groups are suing to strike down the cleanup plan in the first place. That comes down to the interests of one powerful entity: the U.S. agriculture industry.

When the EPA enacted its latest cleanup plan, the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint, in December 2010, major agriculture groups were quick to sue, arguing the agency didn’t have the power to restrict the amount of pollutants that enter the bay. Their response came as no surprise, considering agriculture is the largest contributor of nutrient and sediment pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, accounting for 42 percent of the nitrogen, 58 percent of the phosphorous and 58 percent of the sediment that entered the bay in 2012. The EPA’s new cleanup plan established a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for how much nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment can enter the bay each year, potentially cutting pollution by 20-25 percent.

Those pollution limits, Baker said, are exactly what the bay needs to recover and “absolutely consistent with what science says is needed to address the Chesapeake Bay.” Successfully reducing nutrient runoff could mean shrinking the dangerous “dead zones” — oxygen-free areas that kill clams and worms, key food sources for blue crabs — and deadly algal blooms that have plagued the bay for decades. The pollution diet, as it’s written, also allows states “maximum flexibility” in determining how to meet the limits set forth by the EPA, Terri White, press officer at the EPA, told ThinkProgress.

The American Farm Bureau, a powerful agricultural interest group which has sued the EPA on behalf of farmers multiple times before, has led the charge against the EPA, claiming they’re concerned the agency’s actions in the Chesapeake Bay region could lead to similar plans in the Mississippi River watershed. The Mississippi runs through the heart of agricultural country in the U.S. and empties into the Gulf of Mexico, a water body that’s been plagued by massive dead zones for years.

So yeah, this is about agriculture companies selling farmers fertilizer.  Weird thing is that good farming practices (which we don’t enforce in Saskatchewan) would eliminate most of the pollution going into the water (there and here).

But Cleo Braver, who runs the organic Cottingham Farm in Easton, Maryland, said she thinks a pollution diet is exactly what the bay needs. A dirty bay has implications for the community’s environment and health, and she said farmers should step up to improve their practices.

“Farmers can be a part of changing [the bay] for the better, and I think we have a long, long way to go to clean up our farming,” she said.

Braver said she’s been looking for ways to reduce nutrient pollution since she started her farm. She uses buffer strips — things like grass and vegetative barriers which can remove up to half of the nutrients and pesticides and 75 percent of the sediment from farm runoff, something Hutchison has on his farm, as well. Braver has also used cover crops, which cut down on the need for fertilizers, for the past seven or so years. She said other farmers should be encouraged to do more of the same if they want to do their part in improving the bay.
While many of the farmers who own their land in Maryland have implemented these pollution-reduction measures, Braver said the farmers who don’t — often those who are paid to farm land that doesn’t belong to them — aren’t pushing for the landowners to plant things like buffer strips on their farms. Farmers can get financial help to install pollution control measures through Maryland’s EQIP initiative, which provides incentives for conservation on farms.

There are differing opinions on how much progress has been made in constructing buffers in the bay region. In December, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said farmers in bay states were falling behind in planting buffer trees around their farmland, an effort that’s part of a pledge by the bay states to plant 185,000 acres of trees on farmland by 2025 to help reduce pollution. The Farm Bureau, however, maintains that farmers have done enough to help the bay recover. The group states that farmers in the bay watershed have implemented pollution-reducing measures in 96 percent of the cropland acres in production in the region, which has resulted in nutrient runoff reductions.

For the record, we do maintain these strips in the logging industry.

So here is my question.  If the agriculture lobby is so powerful down in the United States, how big of an influence it on Saskatchewan and our own rather lax environmental regulations.  While the legislation has passed that require lobbyists to register, the registry and protocols are still months away.  I think it is naive to think that the multi-national companies that are trying to block improved environmental legislation in the United States are not aggressively lobbying against environmental legislation here in Canada.

The Pacific Ocean Has Become Acidic Enough to Dissolve Sea Snails’ Shells

It’s really odd to me that on a planet dependent on our oceans, they are dying and yet no one seems to care

Meet the tiny, translucent “sea butterfly,” whose home is currently being transformed into an acid bath. Off the US’s west coast, there are anywhere between 100 and 15,000 of these free-swimming sea snails per square meter. And the oceans are beginning to dissolve the tiny shells right off their backs.

A new study, among the first to examine how the process called ocean acidification impacts marine life, has confirmed that about half of all the pteropods off the west coast are fighting off the acid burn. It builds on previous work that has shown pteropods dissolving in other waters; it’s a disturbing trend, considering they’re a key link in the oceanic food chain.

The world’s oceans have absorbed a third of humans’ carbon emissions, a process that increases their acidity. Scientists have long noted the changing chemistry of the waters, and voiced concern that this leaves calcium-based creatures, like coral and pteropods, extremely vulnerable. Now, it appears, they have proof.

“These are some of the first insights into how marine creatures are affected by acidification,” Dr. Nina Bednarsek told me in a phone interview. She’s the lead author of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration study, which was just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The research determined that “large portions of the shelf waters are corrosive to pteropods in the natural environment.”

“Fifty percent of those pteropods are affected by acidification,” Bednarsek said. “It’s a lot—more than we expected.” And sooner. She tells me that acidification is happening sooner and on a larger scale than scientists predicted. “This is just an indication of how much we are changing the natural environment,” she said.

Chernobyl: Capping a Catastrophe

Another incredible interactive feature from the New York Times

Against the decaying skyline here, a one-of-a-kind engineering project is rising near the remains of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster.

An army of workers, shielded from radiation by thick concrete slabs, is constructing a huge arch, sheathed in acres of gleaming stainless steel and vast enough to cover the Statue of Liberty. The structure is so otherworldly it looks like it could have been dropped by aliens onto this Soviet-era industrial landscape.

Sea Levels To Rise More Than Expected Due To Warming-Driven Surge In Greenland Ice Loss

Sea levels rise as ice is lost in Greenland due to climate change

Greenland’s contribution to global sea level has soared in the past two decades. An important new study finds that the massive northeastern part of the ice sheet, previously thought to be stable, has begun shedding ice. If this trend continues — and researchers say “a self-perpetuating feedback process may have been triggered” — actual sea level rise this century will likely be higher than many current models had projected.

Covering 660,000 square miles — roughly 80 percent of the country — Greenland’s ice sheet is second only in size to Antarctica’s. Scientists estimate that melting from the ice sheet as a whole has accounted for about 16 percent of sea level rise every year for the last two decades.

Research had also long suggested the northeastern portion of the ice sheet was stable. As a result, it was largely left out of the models used to anticipate future sea level rise.
But the new study, “Sustained mass loss of the northeast Greenland ice sheet triggered by regional warming,” published in Nature Climate Change (subs. req’d), suggests the northeastern portion began melting rapidly around 2003. And after first jumping from an ice loss rate of zero to about 10 billion metric tons per year, it’s now approaching 15 or 20 billion metric tons per year and may well keep accelerating.

“Most projections of the future behaviour of the ice sheet have no, or little, contribution from this part of Greenland,” said Professor Jeremy Bamber of Bristol University, a co-author of the study. “But these new results suggest that this region is sensitive to changes in climate and has the potential to contribute significantly now and in the future.”

The team arrived at their conclusion using a combination of surface elevation data from airplanes and four different satellites, along with a GPS-linked network of 50 stations located along the coast of Greenland’s ice sheet. The overall collection of data spanned 1978 to 2012 and was used to essentially weigh the ice sheet’s mass.

Specifically, the study suggests a series of particularly warm summers leading up to 2003 — bringing higher temperatures in both the atmosphere and the surrounding ocean — triggered the speed up in melting.

From Snowy Atlanta to Sunny Sochi, It’s All About Global Weirding

Why global warming sceptics have it wrong

The “If global warming is real, then why is it cold out?” line of argument has been around since the early days of the climate change debate, but the positively Hoth-esque temperatures have increased the volume of those hoping to undercut the “inconvenient truth” of anthropogenic global warming. So, does the recent spate of cold snaps prove Al Gore a filthy, PowerPoint-loving, Oscar-winning liar? No. Sorry, Donald.

Most obviously, climate is different than weather—that’s why the Midwest and Northeast have faced three snowstorms in the past two weeks while the drought in California has been so severe that water deliveries from reservoirs to the Central Valley have been cut to zero. Climate trends are exactly that: trends. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and one blisteringly cold month doesn’t prove 97 percent of climate scientists wrong.

Another key component of “global warming” is right there in the name: “global.” In December 2013, North America was colder than average, but Russia and most of Europe were far hotter. Despite what Ted Cruz thinks (or wants), the world extends beyond the continental United States, and most of it has been crazy hot. For every cold snap in the U.S., there’s a wildfire in Australia so intense that it creates its own weather.

It’s also important to note that although, baby, it’s cold outside, it’s not nearly as cold as it was generations ago. The East River froze at least a dozen times between 1780 and 1888. In fact, after a particularly hard winter in 1866-1867, frustration with halted ferry service eventually led to the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. As webcomic xkcd noted, St. Louis, once the frozen home to a handful of sub-zero temperatures every year, hasn’t had a day that cold since the 1990s. That’s the thing about extreme weather: It’s extreme. The colds get colder, the hots get hotter, and the hurricanes get more destructive.

The struggle of people in Russia’s ‘Rust Belt’

Tension rises as the Kremlin tries to force thousands to leave their homes

A tide of discontent is sweeping across Russia’s “rust belt” as the Kremlin tries to convince tens of thousands to relocate from their homes.

Authorities are offering up to $25,000 in state support for people willing to leave 142 struggling so-called “monotowns,” communities depending on a single industry.

Many Russians are unhappy about being asked to leave places that several generations of their families have called home. Critics also allege the level of compensation isn’t enough and say it will create dozens of “ghost towns.”

“I honestly earned pennies, but still income,” he said. “I am struggling to sell my house for $2,000 — nobody wants it. If I move to a big town, I will have to spend at least $60,000 to buy myself a place.”

By Dec. 28, the final 800 mill workers will lose their jobs — another significant blow to the Siberian town of 14,000 people.

The fate of 700 other people still employed at a different part of the mill which provides heat to all of Baikalsk will be decided by the spring.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last year pledged $1 billion to transform the town on the edge of Lake Baikal into a tourist hotspot. Lake Baikal is a natural treasure that contains more water than all of the Great Lakes combined.

But there has been little sign of investment in the wake of Medvedev’s visit. The town’s central square remains unpaved, hotels and cafes struggle and local newspapers publish pages of advertisements placed by residents looking to sell their apartments in Baikalsk and move closer to Moscow or St. Petersburg.

The lack of action has resulted in angry protests by fired workers in the regional center of Irkutsk.

“The Kremlin simply lied to us; they promised to first create jobs and then close the mill in 2015,” said Yuri Nabokov, the leader of the mill’s professional union. “The mill is closed and hundreds of workers have no chance to live their normal lives in their hometown with their families; authorities tell us to go to far north and work on shifts at oil fields – that makes us even angrier.”

The article also points out the Sochi are costing $50 billion.  How messed up is that?  Vancouver by comparison cost around $1.84 billion and generated about $2.5 billion in GDP.  What is Russia doing?

Yemen is on the bring of environmental ruin

Today Yemen faces environmental ruin, with exhausted aquifers, unchecked deforestation, and rapid urbanization that aims to support a population expected to double in just over two decades. For a majority of the population, finding the next meal is the only thing that matters.

Harper offers Obama climate plan to win Keystone approval

Whoa

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama formally proposing “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector,” if that is what’s needed to gain approval of the Keystone XL pipeline through America’s heartland, CBC News has learned.

Sources told CBC News the prime minister is willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions and is prepared to work in concert with Obama to provide whatever political cover he needs to approve the project.

The letter, sent in late August, is a clear signal Canada is prepared to make concessions to get the presidential permit for TransCanada Corp.’s controversial $7-billion pipeline, which will connect the Alberta oilsands to refineries in Texas.

 

The End of the Line

I took some time to watch The End of the Line (you can find it on Netflix) this afternoon.

Back in 2003, I posted about what happened to the Newfoundland cod fishery.  It’s worth reading again.