2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #8

Arctic sea ice sits at record low for mid-February

Arctic sea ice growth has slowed dramatically in recent weeks, thanks in large part to abnormally warm air and water temperatures. Sea ice now sits at record low levels for mid-February.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, as of February 18, sea ice covered about 14.36 million square miles in the Arctic. The previous low on this date was 14.37 million square miles in 2006.

Arctic Sea Ice Sits at Record Low for Mid-February by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Feb 19, 2014 

Climate change refugees are our responsibility

Australia needs to plan for an influx of climate change refugees from neighbouring countries that face ever increasing risks from cyclones, rising sea levels and more severe droughts, according to a researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

Fears about waves of mass migration from climate change are unfounded, says the university's Elaine Kelly. But Dr Kelly, a UTS Chancellor's Post Doctoral Research Fellow, says Australia should start planning migration streams that include people who have lost their homes to climate change, in addition to those we already accept for other humanitarian reasons.

"The reality is climate change will provoke more displacement, and displacement of those who are most poor," says Dr Kelly. "How are we going to plan for that?"

Climate change refugees are our responsibility by Åsa Wahlquist, Phys.org, Feb 18, 2014

Earth's green canopy gets an online protector

A new online monitoring system will make it possible to quickly check the condition of tropical forests around the globe that were previously under no surveillance, potentially increasing pressure on governments to stop deforestation.

Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI) will provide public access on Thursday to the new tool to evaluate forests worldwide. Global Forest Watch (GFW) was developed by dozens of institutions with the help of Google Inc's Earth Engine.

It promises to improve scrutiny of changes in forest cover in vulnerable areas of Southeast Asia, Africa and the Amazon.

Earth's green canopy gets an online protector by Marcelo Teixeira, Reuters, Feb 20, 2014

Heatwave frequency 'surpasses levels previously predicted for 2030'

The government has been urged to better articulate the dangers of climate change after a report that shows the frequency of heatwaves in parts of Australia has already surpassed levels previously predicted for 2030.

The Climate Council report highlights that Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra all experienced a higher average number of hot days between 2000 and 2009 than was expected to occur by 2030.

Heatwave frequency 'surpasses levels previously predicted for 2030' by Milman, The Guardian, Feb 17, 2014

How the spreading symptoms of climate change can be deadly 

The hallmarks of a warming climate, heavier rains, more severe droughts, rising sea levels and longer growing seasons, are spreading a variety of pathogens throughout the world. Malaria is moving to the highlands. Lyme disease is spreading across the U.S. Northeast and eastern Canada. Outbreaks of cholera will increase with more unsafe water.

Those are three of the diseases that are becoming part of a growth field in medical research amid concerns that tropical diseases are moving north and south and that progress made to improve health conditions in previous decades might be undone.

"I'm quite worried that many of the gains we've made with the [anti-poverty] Millennium Development Goals as far as reducing major infectious diseases and childhood mortality ... could be reversed and lose quite a lot of ground because of climate change," said Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

How the Spreading Symptoms of Climate Change Can be Deadly by Daniel Lippman, ClimateWire/Scientific American, Feb 18, 2014

January continues globe’s warm trend

Talk about a hot streak.

Last month was the fourth-warmest January since recordkeeping began in 1880. It was also the 347th consecutive month with above-average temperatures compared to the 20th century average, which has been fueled in large part by climate change. That streak is one month shy of 29 straight years.

Global average temperatures were also among their top 10 warmest for the ninth straight month, according to data released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

Play It Again: January Continues Globe’s Warm Trend by Brian Kahn, Cliamate Central Feb 20, 2014

John Kerry mocks those who deny climate change

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday called climate change perhaps the world's "most fearsome" destructive weapon and mocked those who deny its existence or question its causes, comparing them to people who insist the Earth is flat.

In a speech to Indonesian students, civic leaders and government officials, Kerry tore into climate change skeptics. He accused them of using shoddy science and scientists to delay steps needed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases at the risk of imperiling the planet.

John Kerry mocks those who deny climate change by Matthew Lee, AP/SF Gate, Feb 17, 2014

Old Arctic ice is disappearing and taking the rest of the ice with it

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a video that shows compellingly just how bad things are getting at the top of the world. The animation displays Arctic ice over time not just by how much area it covers, but also by age, with white being the oldest ice (nine years or older):

It’s not hard to see that over the past few years, the oldest ice has melted away, and over time the ice gets younger. That’s not good: Older ice is thicker and tends to hang around longer; young ice is generally thinner and melts away every summer. That means that the year-round amount of ice is dropping, and dropping rapidly. As the Arctic warms, its ability not just to form ice but to keep it wanes.

Old Arctic Ice Is Disappearing and Taking the Rest of the Ice With It by Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy, Slate, Feb 20, 2014

Strong El Nino years to double, scientists say

Climate change could double the rate of occurrences of the strongest El Niño events, one of the world’s most destructive climate phenomena, climate scientists say.

El Niño occurs when the surface water of the Pacific Ocean warms up, changing rainfall patterns around the world. Its effects include droughts in Africa, crop losses in Southeast Asia, floods in Peru and Ecuador, and forest fires in the Amazon- problems that can represent billions of dollars in damage.

Observations show that El Niño comes every 5 to 7 years, and very strong events happen every 20 years. But a recent study published in Nature shows that 17 out of 20 climate change modeling scenarios predict that these stronger El Niño events may start coming once every decade, doubling their frequency.

Strong El Nino years to double, scientists say by Santiago Ortega Arango, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Feb 18, 2014

Switch to gas from coal may threaten water supply

With drought and water shortages affecting areas where much of America’s natural gas is produced, power plants making the switch to gas from coal could have other costs that may be made worse by manmade climate change. This is especially true if global warming, as studies show, intensifies drought.

One of those costs is water. Natural gas is primarily produced after shale oil and gas wells are hydraulically fractured, or fracked, often using millions of gallons of water for each well.

Switch to Gas From Coal May Threaten Water Supply by Bobby Magill, Climate Central, Feb 16, 2014

Warming arctic spurs cyclones and sea ice loss

Warming temperatures possibly increased the frequency of extreme Arctic cyclones between the 19th and 21st centuries, a finding that highlights concerns about climate impacts in the future and coastal erosion in the polar north, according to new research.

The paper in Geophysical Research Letters used climate models to peer back in the past and found that there was a statistically significant change in both sea-level pressure and extreme Arctic cyclone activity between the mid-1800s and 2005. Because warming temperatures can lower sea-level pressure, a factor associated with cyclones, there is a good probability that there is a climate change link with the storms, said Stephen Vavrus, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and author of the study.

Warming Arctic Spurs Cyclones and Sea Ice Loss by Christa Marshall, ClimateWire/Scientific American, Feb 20, 2014

Western wildfire season 'likely to set a record'

Three years of severe drought have made plenty of misery for Californiaand other Western states. Now to make matters worse, the extremely dry conditions are creating the potential for a devastating fire season.

  "All the pieces are in place for a really bad season of wildfires," said Malcolm North, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. "We're likely to set a record for fires this year."

In fact, the dry spell is already having an effect this year. 

Western wildfire season 'likely to set a record' by Mark Koba, CNBC, Feb 20, 2014

Posted by John Hartz on Saturday, 22 February, 2014

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