Author: Outreach Office
James E. Hansen, the climate scientist who issued the clearest warning of the 20th century about the dangers of global warming, will retire from NASA this week, giving himself more freedom to pursue political and legal efforts to limit greenhouse gases.
His departure, after a 46-year career at the space agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, will deprive federally sponsored climate research of its best-known public figure.
At the same time, retirement will allow Dr. Hansen to press his cause in court. He plans to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging the federal and state governments over their failure to limit emissions, for instance, as well as in fighting the development in Canada of a particularly dirty form of oil extracted from tar sands.
“As a government employee, you can’t testify against the government,” he said in an interview. Dr. Hansen had already become an activist in recent years, taking vacation time from NASA to appear at climate protests and allowing himself to be arrested or cited a half-dozen times.
March 28, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Images told the story: lower Manhattan in darkness, coastal communities washed away, cars floating in muck. Superstorm Sandy, a harbinger of future extreme weather intensified by climate change, caught the U.S. off guard this past October. Unprepared for the flooding and high winds that ensued, the East Coast suffered more than $70 billion in property damages and more than 100 related deaths. Going forward, Americans face a stark choice: prepare and invest now to minimize the impact of disasters such as Sandy, or deal with storms and rising sea levels when they occur.
A new survey commissioned by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Center for Ocean Solutions finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans want to prepare in order to minimize the damage likely to be caused by global warming-induced sea-level rise and storms. A majority also want people whose properties and businesses are located in hazard areas – not the government – to foot the bill for this preparation. Specifically, 82 percent of the Americans surveyed said that people and organizations should prepare for the damage likely to be caused by sea level rise and storms, rather than simply deal with the damage after it happens. Among the most popular policy solutions identified in the survey are strengthening building codes for how to build new structures along the coast to minimize damage (favored by 62 percent) and preventing new buildings from being built near the coast (supported by 51 percent).
“People support preventive action,” said survey director Jon Krosnick, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, “and few people believe these preparations will harm the economy or eliminate jobs. In fact, more people believe that preparation efforts will help the economy and create jobs around the U.S., in their state and in their town than think these efforts will harm the economy and result in fewer jobs in those areas. But people want coastal homeowners and businesses that locate in high-risk areas to pay for these measures.”
March 27, 2013
Energy subsidies cost governments from the U.S. to Egypt $1.9 trillion, discourage private investment and help wealthy consumers more than the poor, according to a study by International Monetary Fund staff.
In the report published today that covers 176 countries, the Washington-based IMF advocates a progressive increase in energy prices, accompanied by targeted measures to protect the poorest. Getting rid of subsidies could also help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 13 percent, it estimated.
“Energy subsidies are large and they’re harmful,” Carlo Cottarelli, the IMF’s director of fiscal affairs, said on a conference call with reporters. “They lead to excessive consumption of energy, they absorb public-sector resources that could be used for more useful purposes” and they “benefit the rich more than the poor,” he said.
The report gives the IMF ammunition for what it describes as a “frequent topic of discussion” with member countries. Policy makers’ reluctance to let energy prices increase has stalled or derailed loans in nations such as Ukraine and Pakistan, countries the report shows spend more of their wealth on subsidies than on public health and education.
March 26, 2013
In partnership with State and Tribal agencies, the Obama Administration today released the first nationwide strategy to help public and private decision makers address the impacts that climate change is having on natural resources and the people and economies that depend on them. Developed in response to a request by Congress, the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy is the product of extensive national dialogue that spanned nearly two years and was shaped by comments from more than 55,000 Americans.
Fish, wildlife, and plant resources provide important benefits and services to Americans every day, including jobs, income, food, clean water and air, building materials, storm protection, tourism and recreation. For example, hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related recreation contribute an estimated $120 billion to our nation’s economy every year, and marine ecosystems sustain a U.S. seafood industry that supports approximately 1 million jobs and $116 billion in economic activity annually.
The Climate Adaptation Strategy provides a roadmap of key steps needed over the next five years to reduce the current and expected impacts of climate change on our natural resources, which include: changing species distributions and migration patterns, the spread of wildlife diseases and invasive species, the inundation of coastal habitats with rising sea levels, changing productivity of our coastal oceans, and changes in freshwater availability.
The Climate Adaptation Strategy builds upon efforts already underway by federal, state, tribal governments and other organizations to safeguard fish, wildlife and plants and the communities that depend on them, and provides specific voluntary steps that agencies and partners can take in the coming years to reduce costly damages and protect the health of our communities and economy. The strategy does not prescribe any mandatory activities for government or nongovernmental entities, nor suggest any regulatory actions.
March 13, 2013
In the predawn darkness in the heart of winter, as most of their classmates are still in bed, four University of Colorado Boulder undergraduates ready themselves for an often brutal and bone-chilling ski uphill to research sites in the snow-encrusted Indian Peaks high above Boulder.
It’s Friday morning. And as they do every Friday throughout the winter — regardless of snowstorms, bitter cold, or worse, the biting and unrelenting winds that are near-constant companions in the high mountains — a rotation of four of the six interns at CU-Boulder’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research make the hour’s drive from Boulder to the university’s Mountain Research Station, tucked in the trees at 9,500 feet above the tiny hamlet of Ward.
From there, the students attach “climbing skins” to the bottom of their skis, strap on backpacks, step into bindings and begin a grueling three-mile, 1,500-foot climb to the first of the two research sites. If the conditions are safe, they’ll carry on another “hard mile” and 500 feet higher to the final site on the gentle, rounded spine of Niwot Ridge.
Gathering data at the two sites is a valuable hands-on — and rare — learning experience for snow hydrology students. But perhaps more importantly, the data they collect by digging snow pits down to the grassy earth below is critical for helping scientists understand how the delicate high-altitude ecosystem is changing in the face of a warming climate.
March 21, 2013
NOAA issued the three-month U.S. Spring Outlook today, stating that odds favor above-average temperatures across much of the continental United States, including drought-stricken areas of Texas, the Southwest and the Great Plains. Spring promises little drought relief for most of these areas, as well as Florida, with below- average spring precipitation favored there. Meanwhile, river flooding is likely to be worse than last year across the country, with the most significant flood potential in North Dakota.
"This outlook reminds us of the climate diversity and weather extremes we experience in North America, where one state prepares for flooding while neighboring states are parched, with no drought relief in sight," said Laura Furgione, deputy director of NOAA's National Weather Service.
"We produce this outlook to help communities prepare for what's likely to come in the next few months and minimize weather's impacts on lives and livelihoods. A Weather-Ready Nation hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst."
The U.S. Spring Outlook identifies the likelihood of spring flood risk and expectations for temperature, precipitation and drought. The outlook is based on a number of factors, including current conditions of snowpack, drought, soil moisture, streamflow, precipitation, Pacific Ocean temperatures and consensus among climate forecast models.
March 20, 2013
For polar bears that pad and paddle around Hudson Bay, the trend toward an earlier melt and later freeze of Arctic sea ice is altering the timing of their seasonal migration in ways that leave the animals less time to feed.
Ice floes on the open water serve as hunting platforms for the bears, whose wintry diet of seals, snagged as they come up for air through breaks in the ice, builds the fat reserves polar bears need to survive on land during the sea-ice melt season.
The migration changes likely bode ill for the ability of the population to reproduce and to survive over the long term as global warming continues to build, say researchers who conducted a study published this week on the impact of climate on the area's polar bear migration patterns. The study appeared in Tuesday’s issue of the Journal of Animal Ecology.
Moreover, because the bears appear to have a strong sense of home turf, the researchers say the animals are likely getting off the melting ice earlier in order to return to familiar turf. If they stay on the moving ice to feed longer, they risk disembarking where they will have to spend more time and energy either returning to their usual range or exploring the new location for the best places to hunker down for the melt season.
Warming temperatures could multiply Katrina-like hurricanes, says study from Center for Ice and Climate at the University of Copenhagen
The number of Atlantic storms with magnitude similar to killer Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, could rise sharply this century, environmental researchers reported on Monday.
Scientists have long studied the relationship between warmer sea surface temperatures and cyclonic, slowly spinning storms in the Atlantic Ocean, but the new study attempts to project how many of the most damaging hurricanes could result from warming air temperatures as well.
The extreme storms are highly sensitive to temperature changes, and the number of Katrina-magnitude events could double due to the increase in global temperatures that occurred in the 20th century, the researchers reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
If temperatures continue to warm in the 21st century, as many climate scientists project, the number of Katrina-strength hurricanes could at least double, and possibly rise much more, with every 1.8 degree F (1 degree C) rise in global temperatures, the researchers said.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has run computer simulations suggesting global temperatures could rise by between 3.6 degrees and 10.8 degrees F (2 degrees and 6 degrees C) by century's end.
To figure out how many of the most extreme hurricanes these higher temperatures might spawn, Aslak Grinsted of the Center for Ice and Climate at the University of Copenhagen and his co-authors looked at storm surges, which are often the most damaging aspect of these monster storms. More>>
March 8, 2013
(CNN) -- Global warming has propelled Earth's climate from one of its coldest decades since the last ice age to one of its hottest -- in just one century. A heat spike like this has never happened before, at least not in the last 11,300 years, said climatologist Shaun Marcott, who worked on a new study on global temperatures going back that far.
"If any period in time had a sustained temperature change similar to what we have today, we would have certainly seen that in our record," he said. It is a good indicator of just how fast man-made climate change has progressed.
A century is a very short period of time for such a spike. Read entire article
March 1, 2013
A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder looking for clues about why Earth did not warm as much as scientists expected between 2000 and 2010 now thinks the culprits are hiding in plain sight -- dozens of volcanoes spewing sulfur dioxide.
The study results essentially exonerate Asia, including India and China, two countries that are estimated to have increased their industrial sulfur dioxide emissions by about 60 percent from 2000 to 2010 through coal burning, said lead study author Ryan Neely, who led the research as part of his CU-Boulder doctoral thesis. Small amounts of sulfur dioxide emissions from Earth’s surface eventually rise 12 to 20 miles into the stratospheric aerosol layer of the atmosphere, where chemical reactions create sulfuric acid and water particles that reflect sunlight back to space, cooling the planet.
Neely said previous observations suggest that increases in stratospheric aerosols since 2000 have counterbalanced as much as 25 percent of the warming scientists blame on human greenhouse gas emissions. “This new study indicates it is emissions from small to moderate volcanoes that have been slowing the warming of the planet,” said Neely, a researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint venture of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A paper on the subject was published online in Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. Co-authors include Professors Brian Toon and Jeffrey Thayer from CU-Boulder; Susan Solomon, a former NOAA scientist now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Jean Paul Vernier from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.; Catherine Alvarez, Karen Rosenlof and John Daniel from NOAA; and Jason English, Michael Mills and Charles Bardeen from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.
The new project was undertaken in part to resolve conflicting results of two recent studies on the origins of the sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere, including a 2009 study led by the late David Hoffman of NOAA indicating aerosol increases in the stratosphere may have come from rising emissions of sulfur dioxide from India and China. In contrast, a 2011 study led by Vernier -- who also provided essential observation data for the new GRL study -- showed moderate volcanic eruptions play a role in increasing particulates in the stratosphere, Neely said.
The new GRL study also builds on a 2011 study led by Solomon showing stratospheric aerosols offset about a quarter of the greenhouse effect warming on Earth during the past decade, said Neely, also a postdoctoral fellow in NCAR’s Advanced Study Program.
The new study relies on long-term measurements of changes in the stratospheric aerosol layer’s “optical depth,” which is a measure of transparency, said Neely. Since 2000, the optical depth in the stratospheric aerosol layer has increased by about 4 to 7 percent, meaning it is slightly more opaque now than in previous years.
“The biggest implication here is that scientists need to pay more attention to small and moderate volcanic eruptions when trying to understand changes in Earth’s climate,” said Toon of CU-Boulder’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. “But overall these eruptions are not going to counter the greenhouse effect. Emissions of volcanic gases go up and down, helping to cool or heat the planet, while greenhouse gas emissions from human activity just continue to go up.”
The key to the new results was the combined use of two sophisticated computer models, including the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model, or WACCM, Version 3, developed by NCAR and which is widely used around the world by scientists to study the atmosphere. The team coupled WACCM with a second model, the Community Aerosol and Radiation Model for Atmosphere, or CARMA, which allows researchers to calculate properties of specific aerosols and which has been under development by a team led by Toon for the past several decades.
Neely said the team used the Janus supercomputer on campus to conduct seven computer “runs,” each simulating 10 years of atmospheric activity tied to both coal-burning activities in Asia and to emissions by volcanoes around the world. Each run took about a week of computer time using 192 processors, allowing the team to separate coal-burning pollution in Asia from aerosol contributions from moderate, global volcanic eruptions. The project would have taken a single computer processor roughly 25 years to complete, said Neely.
The scientists said 10-year climate data sets like the one gathered for the new study are not long enough to determine climate change trends. “This paper addresses a question of immediate relevance to our understanding of the human impact on climate,” said Neely. “It should interest those examining the sources of decadal climate variability, the global impact of local pollution and the role of volcanoes.”
While small and moderate volcanoes mask some of the human-caused warming of the planet, larger volcanoes can have a much bigger effect, said Toon. When Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in 1991, it emitted millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere that cooled the Earth slightly for the next several years.
The research for the new study was funded in part through a NOAA/ ESRL-CIRES Graduate Fellowship to Neely. The National Science Foundation and NASA also provided funding for the research project. The Janus supercomputer is supported by NSF and CU-Boulder and is a joint effort of CU-Boulder, CU Denver and NCAR. - See more at: http://www.colorado.edu/news/features/erupting-volcanoes-offset-recent-earth-warming#sthash.xG8C037v.dpuf