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New World View
Climate Change
Life and Climate
Losing Biodiversity
Energy Flow
Ecosystem Change
Population Growth
Energy Use
A Changing Cosmos
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Latest News and Updates

2016-09-26. Study: Earth’s roughly warmest in about 100,000 years.

posted Sep 28, 2016, 7:11 AM by Alan Gould

By Seth Borenstein, Associated Press. For GSS Life and Climate chapter 10. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — A new study paints a picture of an Earth that is warmer than it has been in about 120,000 years, and is locked into eventually hitting its hottest mark in more than 2 million years. As part of her doctoral dissertation at Stanford University, Carolyn Snyder, now a climate policy official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, created a continuous 2 million year temperature record, much longer than a previous 22,000 year record. Snyder’s temperature reconstruction, published Monday in the journal Nature, doesn’t estimate temperature for a single year, but averages 5,000-year time periods going back a couple million years. Snyder based her reconstruction on 61 different sea surface temperature proxies from across the globe, such as ratios between magnesium and calcium, species makeup and acidity. But the further the study goes back in time, especially after half a million years, the fewer of those proxies are available, making the estimates less certain, she said. ...two interglacial time periods, the one 120,000 years ago and another just about 2 million years ago, were the warmest Snyder tracked. They were about 3.6 degrees (2 degrees Celsius) warmer than the current 5,000-year average. ...Snyder said if climate factors are the same as in the past — and that’s a big if — Earth is already committed to another 7 degrees or so (about 4 degrees Celsius) of warming over the next few thousand years. “This is based on what happened in the past,” Snyder said. “In the past it wasn’t humans messing with the atmosphere.”... See also Nature article.

2016-09-26. How Small Forests Can Help Save the Planet.

posted Sep 28, 2016, 7:00 AM by Alan Gould

By  Erica Goode, The New York Times. For GSS A New World View chapter 6 and Climate Change Chapter 10. Excerpt: BIRKENFELD, Ore. — Eve Lonnquist’s family has owned a forest in the mountains of northwest Oregon since her grandmother bought the land in 1919. ...lately, Ms. Lonnquist, 59 and recently retired, has been thinking about the future of her family’s land. Like many small-forest owners, they draw some income from logging and would like to keep doing so. But they would also like to see the forest, with its stands of Douglas fir, alder and cherry, protected from clear-cutting or being sold off to developers. ...More than half of the 751 million acres of forestland in the United States are privately owned, most by people like Ms. Lonnquist, with holdings of 1,000 acres or less. These family forests, environmental groups argue, represent a large, untapped resource for combating the effects of climate change. Conserving the trees and profiting from them might seem incompatible. But Ms. Lonnquist is hoping to do both by capitalizing on the forest’s ability to clean the air, turning the carbon stored in the forest into credits that can then be sold to polluters who want or need to offset their carbon footprints. ...Larger forests around the world have already been enlisted as carbon storehouses, through programs like the United Nations initiative for Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD.... Some large timber companies, including Potlatch, have also entered the markets, reducing their logging to levels below legal limits in order to receive millions of dollars in credits. ...But so far, small-forest owners, even conservation-minded ones like Ms. Lonnquist, have not rushed to embrace market-based carbon storage. Many do not even know it exists, and those who do often find the complexities bewildering....

2016-09-26. NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Jupiter's Moon Europa.

posted Sep 28, 2016, 6:53 AM by Alan Gould

NASA RELEASE 16-096. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. ...The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice. “Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.” The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa's surface. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness. ...If confirmed, Europa would be the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes. In 2005, NASA's Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapor and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Scientists may use the infrared vision of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018, to confirm venting or plume activity on Europa. NASA also is formulating a mission to Europa with a payload that could confirm the presence of plumes and study them from close range during multiple flybys....

2016-09-15. Above the Arctic Circle, climate change closes in on Barrow.

posted Sep 28, 2016, 6:49 AM by Alan Gould

By Adam Popescu, Washington Post. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: BARROW, Alaska — Here in the northernmost municipality of the United States, 320 miles above the Arctic Circle, people are facing the idea that they may soon be among the world's first climate-change refugees. Warming air, melting permafrost and rising sea levels are threatening their coastline, and researchers predict that by midcentury, the homes, schools and land around Barrow and its eight surrounding villages will be underwater. This despite decades of erecting barriers, dredging soil and building berms to hold back the water. "The coastline is backing up at rates of [30 to 65 feet] per year," says Robert Anderson, a University of Boulder geomorphologist who has studied Alaska's landscape evolution since 1985 and who first noticed in the early 2000s how alarming the erosion was becoming. ...When the sea ice melts, the coast becomes exposed to waves, wind and storms that slam into the shore, causing erosion. As ice moves farther from shore, waves can be as high as 20 feet when they reach land, Anderson says. "The only thing we can do, as far as I'm concerned, is move our towns inland," says Mike Aamodt, the former acting mayor of Barrow and its surrounding villages of the North Slope Borough, which stretches over 89,000 square miles, an area larger than Utah. ...The giant bowhead whales native to this part of the Arctic are actually prospering with warming seas here. But it's a different question for the humans....

2016-09-19. Arctic Ice Shrinks to Second Lowest Level on Record.

posted Sep 21, 2016, 9:09 AM by Alan Gould

By Associated Press. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: The sea ice reached its summer low point on Saturday, extending 1.6 million square miles — just behind the mark set in 2012, 1.31 million square miles....

2016-09-15. The Geomagnetic Blitz of September 1941.

posted Sep 17, 2016, 9:38 AM by Alan Gould   [ updated Sep 17, 2016, 9:40 AM ]

By Jeffrey J. Love and Pierdavide Coïsson, for Earth and Space News EOS (AGU). For GSS Energy Flow chapter 4. Excerpt: Seventy-five years ago next week, a massive geomagnetic storm disrupted electrical power, interrupted radio broadcasts, and illuminated the night sky in a World War II battle theater. ...Auroras danced across the night sky as voltage surged in power grid lines. A radio blackout interrupted fan enjoyment of a baseball game, while another radio program was interrupted by private phone conversations. ...And far away in the North Atlantic, the illuminated night sky exposed an Allied convoy to German attack. ...On the basis of daily sunspot reports supplied by the U.S. Naval Observatory, the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington formally issued a warning to radio operators that they could expect significant disturbances to ionospheric and geomagnetic conditions beginning on about 18 September.... This prediction, which turned out to be accurate, is a noteworthy development in the historical development of methods for reliably forecasting space weather. Less than 20 hours after the flare was reported by Greenwich, a magnetic storm commenced at 0412 UT on 18 September with the arrival at Earth of a coronal mass ejection. ...On 18–19 September 1941, the Moon was nearly new, ideal for seeing the auroral light.... The observer in charge at the Cheltenham, Md., observatory reported a brilliant auroral display of rays and moving drapery of pink, green, and lavender. He also described an auroral corona, where light appears to stream down from directly overhead, a phenomenon rarely seen at midcontinental latitudes. ...Weather Service observers reported seeing auroras in New Mexico [Cameron, 1941]. 19:45 and 19:50 UT, the Pennsylvania Water and Power Company recorded uncontrolled voltage variations in transmission lines connecting generating plants on the Susquehanna River with Baltimore and Washington. At the moment when the auroral brilliance was greatest, system transformers vibrated and groaned as a result of geomagnetically induced currents....  See also  Scientists Get First Glimpse of Solar Wind as It Forms.

2016-09-14. A Timeline of Earth's Average Temperature Since the Last Ice Age Glaciation [CARTOON].

posted Sep 14, 2016, 8:53 AM by Alan Gould

By XKCD Comics. For GSS Climate Change chapter 4. Excerpt: When people say "climate has changed before," here are the kinds of changes they're talking about...

2016-09-08. We’ve destroyed one-tenth of Earth’s wilderness in just 2 decades.

posted Sep 13, 2016, 2:59 PM by Alan Gould

By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 8 and Ecosystem Change chapter 6. Excerpt: When most people think about conservation, they probably imagine saving the panda, or some other threatened creature, or maybe protecting whatever remains of its habitat. But James Watson thinks we’re missing the big picture. Large swaths of wilderness also really need our help, he and his colleagues report today. They have compared the extent of Earth’s wilderness areas in 1993 and 2009, documenting almost a 30% loss in South America and a 10% loss globally.  Similar estimates in the past have focused on deforestation, but the new study looks at the disappearance of a broader range of wild landscapes. ...Such unspoiled regions, scientists argue, are also critical for allowing the planet to cope with climate change. ...Watson, a conservation biogeographer at the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the University of Queensland, St. Lucia, in Brisbane, Australia, and his colleagues earlier determined the extent of the “human footprint” on Earth by incorporating maps and data on crop lands, pastures, night lighting, railways, roadways, navigable waterways, population densities, and “built” environments, which included urban areas and other settlements. For most of these threats to wilderness, they had satellite and other data from the early 1990s and for the late 2000s. All but two of these pressures have increased in that time, Watson and his colleagues reported in a study last month in Nature Communications. (Roadways and waterways haven’t expanded noticeably.) Wilderness is defined as pristine landscapes mostly free of human disturbances, including roads.  ...By 2009, about 23% of Earth’s land remained as wilderness—about 30.1 million square kilometers spread mostly across North America, North Asia, North Africa, and Australia, they conclude today in Current Biology. That’s 3.3 million square kilometers less than in 1993, .... South America has lost almost 30% of its wilderness in that time and Africa has lost 14%....

2016-09-12. In an English Village, a Lesson in Climate Change.

posted Sep 13, 2016, 2:42 PM by Alan Gould

By Tatiana Schlossberg, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: CARLISLE, England — After this ancient fortress city was hit by a crippling flood in 2005, its residents could take some comfort in the fact that it was the kind of deluge that was supposed to happen about once every 200 years. But it happened again four years later. And again last winter, when Storm Desmond brought record-breaking downpours that turned roads into rivers, fields into lakes, living rooms into ponds. ...In many places, the threat of climate change can still feel distant, even theoretical. But not here, a city of about 74,000 in the far northwest corner of England, where one of its rivers swelled to about 30 times its normal volume last year. About 2,000 houses and 500 businesses were damaged or destroyed in the flooding, and by July, thousands of people still were not able to return to their homes. Some of the city’s schools were flooded, and one of the biggest employers here, a McVitie’s biscuit factory, closed for four months after taking on, by one estimate, about 10 million gallons of water. Residents worry that the factory will close for good if it is flooded again.  ...Scientists have estimated that climate change has increased the chances of storms like Desmond by 40 percent in this part of Britain, though estimates are somewhat uncertain. “What we had in Carlisle — frequent series of storms and superstorms — are exactly what you would expect in a globally warming climate,” said Colin Thorne, a river scientist at the University of Nottingham. “So we shouldn’t be surprised that it happened.” “Figuring out how to deal with storms and flooding cities is going to have to happen all over the world,” he added....  See also these articles: August Ties July for Hottest Month on Record  and Oceans Are Absorbing Almost All of the Globe’s Excess Heat.

2016-09-11. Utility puts Alabama nuclear plant up for sale.

posted Sep 12, 2016, 1:15 PM by Alan Gould

By Associated Press. For GSS Energy Use chapter 4. Excerpt: HOLLYWOOD, Ala. — After spending more than 40 years and $5 billion on an unfinished nuclear power plant in northeastern Alabama, the nation’s largest federal utility is preparing to sell the property at a fraction of its cost. The Tennessee Valley Authority has set a minimum bid of $36.4 million for its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant and the 1,600 surrounding acres of waterfront property on the Tennessee River. The buyer gets two unfinished nuclear reactors, transmission lines, office and warehouse buildings, 8 miles of roads, a 1,000-space parking lot and more. Initial bids are due Monday, and at least one company has expressed interest in the site with plans to use it for alternative energy production. But TVA says it isn’t particular about what the purchaser does — using the site for power production, industrial manufacturing, recreation or even residences would all be fine with the agency, said spokesman Scott Fiedler. “It’s all about jobs and investment, and that’s our primary goal for selling this property,” said Fielder. TVA hopes to close the deal in October....

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