Photo credit: VanderWolf-Images (creator)/Getty Images/iStockphoto
The novel coronavirus outbreak has spread across large regions, infecting more than 308,000 and killing more than 13,000 people. The world health organization (WHO) has declared the disease a pandemic due to the rate at which the virus is travelling, causing fear all around the world. Millions of flights have been cancelled, schools are shut down, even attraction sites such as Disneyland and The Eiffel Tower are being closed due to the spread. Multiple health organizations have recommended social distancing measures to mitigate the impact of the disease, which has resulted in great isolation amongst public areas.
Although the virus caused severe disruptions and affected people of every age, it does have an unexpectedly positive effect on carbon emission levels. China – the world’s largest carbon emitter – has an estimated decrease of 25% in carbon emissions in the past month. Granted the trend in carbon emissions continue, analysts predict that this may lead to the first fall in carbon emissions since the 2008-9 financial crisis. Additionally, the crisis in the airline industry has also been a major contributor in the fall of global emissions. The cancellation of international conferences and global events may also lead to more carbon savings.
Despite the low levels of carbon emissions, clinical associate professor Gernot Wager expressed his sympathetic views to those compensating for the cut in emissions, putting forward the idea that climate change should not be wagered for the price of death and insufferable living conditions. “Emissions in China are down because the economy has stopped and people are dying,” Wager told MIT Technology Review. “Poor people are not able to get medicine and food. This is not an analogy for how we want to decrease emissions from climate change.” Climate experts have also noted the offset in low carbon emissions produced by public areas, emphasising on the increase in home-used energies due to isolation and social distancing. “[People spending more time watching television or using appliances at home] could end up having a higher energy use,” reported Jacqueline Klopp, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University. As a result, this increases a household’s carbon footprint.
Klopp noted that the behavioural changes due to the pandemic incurred significant changes to the economy. She believes that this is the norm for dealing with similar situations, such as a natural disaster. Klopp also pointed out that this level of disaster preparedness has shed a light on the fact that the significance of public health awareness and climate change can often clash with one another.
Regardless of the change in carbon emission due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, once the pandemic is over, whether people willingly choose to apply carbon-friendly changes instead of unintentionally offsetting global carbon emissions is another question.
To learn more about our changing climate, visit https://www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/climate-topics
©2020 Weather Forecaster Caitlyn Rusli
Coastal Erosion Inundates O'ahu Community for 15+ Years (Credit: Star Advertiser, Meteorologist Jessica Olsen)
DISCUSSION: Oahu, home to some of the most breathtaking views cut from such mountain ranges as the Koolau’s or Waianae range, that some forget the daily issues that plague the small yet full island. Residents along Kamehameha highway on the Windward coast are facing a constant battle with eroding highways.
Most recently emergency repairs where conducted along Kamehameha highway to secure locations from Kaneohe, north to Kahuku. The result, an increase in traffic and rush-hour delays stemming from the repairs, residents are saying have been ongoing for at least a decade and a half. The Department of Transportation having made repairs two years in a row to the area.
What is to blame are the increase in sea-level rise due to climate change and high-surf leading to devastating erosion on Kamehameha highway. Repairs beginning February 11th, were estimated to cost between $3-4 million. A current resiliency study, which is expect to be completed in July, has indicated concern for the Hawaiian Islands as 20% of Hawaii’s roads will be inundated by the end of the century. This would put the cost of mitigation at an estimated $15 billion. State Rep. Sean Quinlan, representing Hauula and Kaaawa called on the Department of Transportation to create a strategic plan by 2021 which would include the replenishment of beaches and to reinforce the highway by 2024.
The US Climate Resilience Toolkit, managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has indicated that coastal erosion is “the process by which local sea level rise, strong wave action, and coastal flooding wear down or carry away rocks, soils, and/or sands along the coast.” It is estimated that more than 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands are lost annually, and coastal erosion costs are approximately $500 million per year in property loss in the United States.
Strategies to combat such issues include; shoreline stabilization, beach nourishment, and coastal restoration. These are merely similar adaptation and mitigation procedures the United States has been conducting for years. The efforts help to safeguard coastal communities, and restoring the area.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) has provided a Coastal Vulnerability Index, that may “help identify locations where coastal erosion may occur along undeveloped coastlines.”
For additional information on erosion on climate related issues, visit the Global Weather and Climate Center!
© 2020 Meteorologist Jessica Olsen
Glaciers and the Climate
Photo credit: NPS.gov
Glaciers are often a nebulous concept to many people. What exactly are they? It’s often simple to conjure an image of a glacier: a large, imposing sheet of ice spreading across a landscape. What’s challenging is defining exactly what glaciers are and how they form. How do they differentiate from, say, snow pack? The answer has to deal with the formation of glaciers and how they are shaped by their surroundings.
Glaciers can be separated into two broad categories: alpine and continental. Alpine glaciers form on the slopes of mountains, while continental glaciers form on vast expanses of flatter land, allowing for greater expansion in comparison to alpine glaciers. While they are separated by their particular areas of formation, they still form in largely the same way. During colder periods of climate in the Earth’s history, snow fell quite harshly, creating immense areas of snow pack. Over time, as more snow accreted, the snow inside the dense snow pack started to compound and solidify into thick ice under the increasing pressure. That’s why glaciers have distinct layers. As the snow compacts into ice, it creates visible layers, with fresh snow at the top, thick ice at the bottom, and granular firn in between (snow in the process of becoming ice).
Glaciers are also defined by their movement. They can move as they slide down mountains with the help of gravity, or shift on the continents as they slide on their watery bases. This combination of formation and movement helps to define what a glacier is.
While it’s interesting to know what glaciers are, it’s also often unclear how they are important. Not only do glaciers hold a large percent of the Earth’s fresh water, they are also vital to global processes. Glaciers help stabilize colder temperatures in the poles and on mountains while providing a habitat for many organisms. They also hold water that would otherwise fill the Earth’s oceans if they melted. One of the most important roles of glaciers is their role as a status marker for the Earth’s climate. Scientists often look to glaciers around the world to study past and present climate, as well as to gauge possible effects of climate change in the future.
It’s important to understand the makeup and formation of glaciers because of their importance to Earth’s climate and topography. Their persistent and pervasive nature make them excellent gauges of climate change that help in understanding its impact on the planet. Even without their important climatological and ecological impacts, glaciers are still beautiful, natural structures.
To learn more about all things climate, please click here!
© 2020 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow
What's In a Name?
Global Warming. Climate Change. Climate Crisis.
You’ve probably heard at least one of these terms in the news within the past few years. Of course, this can lead to confusion. Each of these are referring to the same phenomenon of human-caused changes in Earth’s climate. However, they each refer to a different aspect of human-caused climate change. Let’s break each term down a little.
“Global Warming” was one of - if not the - first term to be publicized. When scientists first observed changes in Earth’s climate and attributed them to fossil fuel emissions, the most robust evidence for the change were rapidly increasing global average temperatures. The term “global warming” was coined to reflect this large-scale temperature increase.
However, as technology advanced, more observations were able to be recorded, and we were able to study past changes in the Earth system. Scientists learned that rising sea levels, melting ice caps, warming oceans, and other changes could be linked to fossil fuel emissions and global warming. Scientists also discovered that some areas of the planet were projected to cool under an anthropogenically altered climate. Therefore, the term “climate change” was coined to better reflect the diverse changes in Earth’s systems.
As a problem caused by human actions, climate change can thus be solved by human actions. However, a number of factors have resulted in a lack of practical solutions and low motivation to implement even small solutions. In recent years, as the planet has seen a number of climate-related disasters – sunny day flooding, strong and stalling hurricanes, and wildfires, to name a few – the term “climate crisis” was coined with the intent to help inform world citizens about the scale of climate change related damage, and the repercussions of inaction.
One new term that has been making the rounds lately is “climate disruption”. This is a unique term as it captures many of the facets of the climate change issue in one term. “Disruption” implies that human activity has knocked the climate system off of its typical equilibrium – which it has. It also captures the negative results of anthropogenic climate change. Keep an eye out for this term in the near future! And remember, one of the best things you can do to combat climate disruption is to talk about it. No matter which term you use, raising awareness of the issue will also raise concern and, hopefully, action.
©2020 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
For more information about our changing climate, visit https://www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/climate-topics
Photo by Rajesh Mirchandani
Ravaging forest fires in Brazil. Intolerable heat in Australia. Deteriorating water resources in Africa. These are all impacts one might expect as a result of a warming planet. Images of fire and heat are often the first association people make to climate change. There’s much more to climate change than searing temperatures and colossal fires, however. Climate change has far reaching impacts around the world, but it doesn’t affect each region in the same way. Concurrently, each region can’t react to climate change in the same way.
Take the United States, for example. In the U.S. there are multiple avenues of recovery and prevention available to combat climate change. On top of this, while the U.S. is expected to be impacted greatly by climate change in the future, it will still be affected less compared to a nation in Africa, such as Ethiopia. Many African nations are especially susceptible to climate change because of their already harsh climates. Adding further heat and variability in precipitation to these areas further increases difficulty for these counties to produce the necessary resources it needs to function. In contrast, certain areas of the U.S. will actually benefit from a global rise in temperature, such as the cold northern states. Having a warmer average temperature could boost agriculture and tourism in states in the U.S. that are normally too cold to have high tourism or agricultural output.
This is not to say that climate change will have a net benefit in developed nations. The purpose of explaining why some developed nations will see small benefits is to highlight the disproportionate strain global temperature rise has on developing nations, despite those nations contributing little to global warming themselves. Not only does climate change have an unequal impact on poorer nations on its own, but poorer nations are also less equipped to handle the change. Many developing nations heavily rely on primary resources for their economies. That is, their economies count on their ability to get resources from the land. Rising temperature and changes to precipitation patterns makes it much more difficult for these countries to reliably extract what they need from the land for a living. To make matters worse, poorer counties are less able to invest in climate change countermeasures, such as infrastructure changes and research in agriculture.
One can look back at the U.S. and see that it’s much more able to deal with problems brought on by climate change (although it will certainly be a challenge for everyone in the future). For starters, the U.S. and many other nations like it do no have to rely as heavily on primary resources from the land as do poorer nations. Developed nations typically rely more on manufacturing and services, while getting a lot of their primary resources from poorer nations. They are also better equipped to research and develop ways to adapt to a warmer earth, making them more flexible.
Overall, while climate change will affect the entire earth and have changes that all of humanity must prepare for, developing nations are much more vulnerable to its problems. Although this is debatable, it may be the case that developed nations must assist poorer ones with problems brought about by climate change, especially since developed nations are much more liable in their contributions to global warming. Nevertheless, it’s evident that developing nations will require aid in the future to deal with the immense impact climate change will have on them, and that the world will have to keep a closer eye on the health of the people of these nations in the future.
© 2020 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow
Figure 1: The Amazon rainforest to reach irreversible tipping point. Image: Al’fred / Shutterstock.com
Loading the atmosphere with five million tonnes of CO2 every hour has pushed the Earth dangerously close to a no-return threshold, beyond which lies an inhabitable hothouse world. There are 15 known tipping points in the planet's complex climate system, and nine of them-including permafrost, the Amazon rainforest, the Greenland ice sheet, Arctic sea ice, and the Atlantic Ocean's circulation - are drifting alarmingly, as reported in the journal Nature. The authors of this journal persist that it is an existential threat to civilization, implying that the Earth is in a state of planetary emergency.
Tipping points are reached when particular impacts of global heating become unstoppable, such as the runaway loss of ice sheets or forests. In the past, extreme heating of 5 degC was thought necessary to pass tipping points, but the latest evidence suggests that this could happen between 1 degC and 2 degC.The planet has already heated by 1 degC and the temperature is expected to rise further, due to past emissions and increasing greenhouse gases. The authors further warned that one tipping point, such as the release of methane from thawing permafrost, may fuel others, leading to a cascade. However, the researchers who wrote in a commentary article in the journal Nature acknowledged that the complex science of tipping points means great uncertainty remains. But they say the potential damage from the tipping points is so big and the time to act so short, that to misapprehend this situation is not a responsible option. They call for urgent international action.
Prof Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, the lead author of the article, said that the threshold for a cascade of interrelated tipping points has already been crossed. Phil Williamson at the University of East Anglia, who did not contribute to the article, also agreed on the prognosis made by Tim Lenton and his colleagues and said that we might have already lost control of the Earth’s climate. This new article comes as the United Nation warns action is very far from stopping global temperature rise, with the world currently on track for 3-4 degC. The commentary lists nine tipping points that may have been activated as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Schematic diagram illustrating nine tipping points that may have been activated.
All signals indicate that part of the west Antarctic ice sheet may be in irreversible retreat as well as the Wilkes basin in east Antarctica. The collapse of these ice sheets would eventually raise sea level by many meters. The massive Greenland ice sheet was melting at an accelerating rate while the Arctic sea ice is shrinking fast. Alarming evidence indicates that the Permafrost across the Arctic is beginning to irreversibly thaw and release carbon dioxide and methane. According to a few studies, the Gulf Stream current in the Atlantic which brings heat to Europe has also slowed down by 15% since the mid-20th century. The scientists report that 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost since 1970 and the tipping point, where loss of forest leads to it drying out, could lie in the range 20%-40%. In temperate forests, especially in North America, heating has triggered more fires and pest outbreaks, potentially turning some regions from a sink for carbon to a source. In the tropics, corals are predicted to be wiped out by an increase in sea surface temperature of 2 degC.
A cascade of tipping points could occur because the melting of Arctic sea ice amplifies heating by exposing dark ocean that absorbs more sunlight. That may increase the melting of Greenland ice and permafrost areas. Multiple risks can interact, with one change reinforcing another, and therefore, warming of just a degree or two is sufficient to result in dramatic cascading effects. Prof Martin Siegert, at Imperial College London, said: “The new work is valuable. They are being a little speculative, but maybe you need to be.” He also pointed out that the extremely rapid rate at which CO2 was being pumped into the atmosphere was unlikely to have ever occurred on Earth before. “It may mean that tipping points can occur in unexpected ways as there is no geological precedent for this rate of CO2 change.”
The article reports that preliminary results from the latest climate models suggest global heating will be greater than expected, increasing the risk of tipping points. Prof Piers Forster, at the University of Leeds, disagreed on that point. However, he added: “I completely endorse their call for action. Although possibly low probability, the risks they identify are real.” Lenton said action would still have real benefits, by slowing the impacts and giving more time for people to adapt. He said: “This article is not meant to be a counsel of despair. If we want to avoid the worst of these bad climate tipping points, we need to activate some positive social and economic tipping points [such as renewable energy] towards what should ultimately be a happier, flourishing, sustainable future for the generations to come.”
Look, up in the sky! It’s a Bunny, it’s a heart, it’s a UFO! No, it’s Global Cloud Climatology! (Photo Credit: International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project)
On average, the global cloud amount is approximately 65-72% (counting cirrus). - International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project
There’s more to cloud climatology than picking out what animal it most closely resembles. We can define a cloud as a visible region consisting of suspended particles of ice, liquid, or a combination of both. To form a cloud, we must increase the relative humidity such that it is greater than 100%. This can be done through radiative cooling or increasing the mixing ratio (i.e. the amount of the water vapor). There are 10 main cloud types formed from cirrus, stratus, and cumulus type clouds. Cloud climatology consists of defining clouds in terms of cloud amount, heights, cloud top temperature, optical depth, distribution, radiance, and lifecycle. Not all clouds precipitate either. (Precipitation is also intimately linked with global cloud climatology. Precipitation is typically associated with areas of rising air and low atmospheric pressure. The atmosphere itself is dramatically affected by latent heating associated with precipitation, an ultimate driver in overall precipitation patterns. Temperatures changes within the atmosphere also play a large role in the development and dissipation of clouds. Aerosols can act as cloud condensation nuclei, accelerating the rain process or inhibiting it).
The average cloud amount varies seasonally and with time of day, driven by solar radiation. Over land, cumulus tend to form in the early morning with dissipation in the early afternoon due to mixing. Cumulonimbus tend to take over in the late afternoon and evening hours in the continental summer, due to more organized forcing. The tropics have the highest total low cloud amount, while the total cloud amount is highest in the Northern Hemisphere winter associated with the midlatitude storm track. It is thought that high clouds could have an impact on warming and low clouds a net cooling effect, but these processes aren’t fully understood or use indirect observational evidence of low clouds. And yet, the Cloud-Radiative Forcing (CRF) experiment found that a climate system without clouds would have a net warming effect.
Ground-based cloud observations have been largely subjective in determining cloud type and somewhat sparse over the ocean. Detecting clouds through satellite data often involves techniques, such as cloud masking to identify the presence of clouds through comparison of the brightness temperature of pixels (i.e. cold pixels will be clouds). Over polar regions, the cooler brightness temperatures of snow and ice-covered surfaces may possibly be mistaken for clouds. Although 3% uncertainty exists with cloud amount in climatology, ground-based stations and satellite comparison should be able to minimize potential sources of error in cloud climatology and help to better understand the role clouds play in a changing climate.
To learn more about all things climate, please click here!
©2019 Meteorologist Sharon Sullivan
The Human Steroid Effect
Winter Weather and Climate Change
As temperatures begin to plummet, you may be wondering – where the heck is global warming? Well, unfortunately, it’s still around.
First off, remember the difference between the terms “global warming” and “climate change”. “Global warming” was initially used by scientists because it describes how greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the planet’s overall temperature. However, this temperature increase is one symptom of climate change – which includes melting land ice, changes in seasons, and sea level rise, among other things. Ultimately, climate change can be described as a shift towards extremes. Hurricanes become stronger, heavy rains become heavier, droughts last longer, heat waves are more intense, and cold snaps are also more severe. In the case of winter weather, snowstorms become stronger, dump more snow, and bring more cold. This shift towards extremes means more record-challenging snowfalls and cold temperatures this winter, and in winters to come.
Additionally, temperatures in the Arctic are warming, which causes shifts in the jet stream, an atmospheric pattern that is responsible for much of the weather in the United States. Warmer temperatures in the Arctic push the jet stream farther south, which brings frigid Arctic air further south and lingers there longer. This allows winter storms not only to be more severe, but to last longer as the jet stream’s swings tend to stay in place for a while. The jet stream could also slow, as it depends on temperature differences between the Arctic and tropical/equatorial regions. As the Arctic warms, the difference in temperature between these two regions becomes smaller, and because of this smaller difference, the jet stream will slow down. This is sometimes referred to as “atmospheric stagnation”, and it means that weather systems stay in place longer since they aren’t being carried away by the jet stream. So, a strong winter storm that stays in one area will continue to bring snow, wind, and cold weather until it finally gets carried away by the slower jet stream.
Fortunately, there are things you can do this winter to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Try keeping your house a little bit colder and not cranking up the heat too high. You can always put a sweatshirt, blanket, or a nice pair of fuzzy socks on to keep you warm, and the energy saved by this action will not only help the planet, but your wallet as well.
©2019 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
Coral Bleaching Now Evident off Maui (Credit: NOAA, DAR, Meteorologist Jessica Olsen)
DISCUSSION: The Hawaiian island chain has shattered dozens of records regarding various temperatures since the late-Spring and extending into early Fall. Of note are ocean temperatures which, as recent as August 2019, had indicated temperatures as much as 3 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal. This warmer than average oceanic temperature is expected to exacerbate coral bleaching, which appeared heavily in as recent as 2015.
Coral bleaching has been known to be a direct result of warm ocean temperatures, however not all events are due to this factor. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “when water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white.” Often during a coral bleaching event the coral is not dead, but is subject to intense strain and are thus susceptible to mortality. The state Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) recently identified, areas of bleaching at Molokini and along the south shore from Makena to Maalaea. Certain species of coral in Molokini have already shown to be at or near 50% bleached.
If temperatures return to normal quickly, the likelihood of coral survival is increased, as it experiences decreased stress. Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS) has partnered with NOAA and DAR on coral reef science, conservation and management in Hawaii, offering programs such as the Pacific Ridge-to-Reef Initiative providing conservation and management practices that are bioculturally sustainable to ensure flourishing reefs in the future, by utilizing advanced aircraft satellite monitoring and modeling of reefs throughout Hawaii.
For more information on sea surface temperatures or coral bleaching events, visit the Global Weather and Climate Center!
© 2019 Meteorologist Jessica Olsen