California wildfires: statewide death toll rises to 50 as search for remains continues

The statewide death toll in California’s wildfires reached 50 late on Tuesday, as authorities reported six more deaths in the Camp fire in the north of the state.

The deaths from the Camp fire, the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, have increased to 48, the Butte county sheriff, Kory Hone, said. Two people have also died in the Woolsey fire, a major blaze around Los Angeles.

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VIDEO depicts disturbing extent of Antarctic ice melt since 1976

Scientists have been issuing apocalyptic-level warnings over the melting ice caps for years, and now a new data-based animation highlights just how much ice has broken off Antarctica in recent decades.

The visualization by science animators Pixel Movers & Makers shows the accelerated level at which Antarctic icebergs have been melting since 1976 in just 51 seconds.

Pixel Movers & Makers @PixelMnM

Replying to @PixelMnM

We've been looking forward to making this!

Iceberg flux from Antarctica from 1976-2017.

Most icebergs travel counter-clockwise around Antarctica before travelling north through "Iceberg Alley" to the ACC. @kevpluck @MarloWordyBird

The alarming clip highlights the region’s recent disastrous climate change events, such as the journey of B-15, the world’s largest iceberg. It broke away in 2000, measuring a colossal 3,250 square kilometers wide (1,250 square miles) – or about the size of Connecticut.

READ MORE: Build that wall: Climate scientists propose walling off Antarctic ice sheets to protect them

Also captured is the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002 – a 3,250 square kilometers (1,250 square mile), 20 meter (720 ft) thick area of the Antarctic Peninsula that splintered and collapsed over a month.

Climate change damaging male fertility

Climate change could pose a threat to male fertility -- according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

New findings published today in the journal Nature Communications reveal that heatwaves damage sperm in insects -- with negative impacts for fertility across generations.

The research team say that male infertility during heatwaves could help to explain why climate change is having such an impact on species populations, including climate-related extinctions in recent years.

Research group leader Prof Matt Gage said: "We know that biodiversity is suffering under climate change, but the specific causes and sensitivities are hard to pin down.

"We've shown in this work that sperm function is an especially sensitive trait when the environment heats up, and in a model system representing a huge amount of global biodiversity.

"Since sperm function is essential for reproduction and population viability, these findings could provide one explanation for why biodiversity is suffering under climate change.

"A warmer atmosphere will be more volatile and hazardous, with extreme events like heatwaves becoming increasingly frequent, intense and widespread.

"Heatwaves are particularly damaging extreme weather events. Local extinctions are known to occur when temperature changes become too intense. We wanted to know why this happens. And one answer could be related to sperm."

The research team investigated the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum) to explore the effects of simulated heatwaves on male reproduction.

The beetles were exposed to either standard control conditions or five-day heatwave temperatures, which were 5°C to 7°C above their thermal optimum.

Afterwards, a variety of experiments assessed the potential damage to reproductive success, sperm function and offspring quality.

Heatwaves killed sperm

The team found that heatwaves halved the amount of offspring males could produce, and a second heatwave almost sterilised males.

Females, by contrast, were unaffected by heatwave conditions. However, female reproduction was affected indirectly because experiments showed that heatwaves damaged inseminated sperm within female reproductive tracts.

Following experimental heatwaves, males reduced sperm production by three-quarters, and any sperm produced then struggled to migrate into the female tract and were more likely to die before fertilisation.

Kirs Sales, a postgraduate researcher who led the research, said: "Our research shows that heatwaves halve male reproductive fitness, and it was surprising how consistent the effect was."

The group also explored the underlying causes of male vulnerability. Heatwaves caused some impact on male sexual behaviour -- with males mating half as frequently as controls.

Heatwaves caused damage across generations

"Two concerning results were the impact of successive heatwaves on males, and the impacts of heatwaves on future generations," said Sales.

"When males were exposed to two heatwave events 10 days apart, their offspring production was less than 1 per cent of the control group. Insects in nature are likely to experience multiple heatwave events, which could become a problem for population productivity if male reproduction cannot adapt or recover."

The research also shows that offspring sired by heatwaved dads -- or their sperm -- live shorter lives -- by a couple of months.

And the reproductive performance of sons produced by dads -- or sperm -- exposed to heatwave conditions was also impacted. Sons were found to be less able to fertilise a series of potential mates, and produced less offspring.

The researchers warn that this could add extra pressure to populations already suffering through climate change over time.

"Beetles are thought to constitute a quarter of biodiversity, so these results are very important for understanding how species react to climate change. Research has also shown that heat shock can damage male reproduction in warm blooded animals too, and past work has shown that this leads to infertility in mammals," added Sales.

The researchers hope that the effects can be incorporated into models predicting species vulnerability, and ultimately help inform societal understanding and conservation actions.

The work was funded by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the EnvEast DTP, UEA, and the Leverhulme Trust.

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Materials provided by University of East Anglia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Oceans Heating Faster Than Previously Thought, Says Study

Paris: The world's oceans have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previously thought over the last quarter of a century, scientists said Thursday, leaving Earth more sensitive still to the effects of climate change.

Oceans cover more than two thirds of the planet's surface and play a vital role in sustaining life on Earth.

According to their most recent assessment this month, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say the world's oceans have absorbed 90 percent of the temperature rise caused by man-made carbon emissions.

But new research published in the journal Nature used a novel method of measuring ocean temperature.

It found that for each of the last 25 years, oceans had absorbed heat energy equivalent to 150 times the amount of electricity mankind produces annually.

That is 60 percent higher than previous studies showed.

Whereas those studies relied on tallying the excess heat produced by known man-made greenhouse gas emissions, a team of US-based scientists focused on two gases found naturally in the atmosphere: Oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Both gases are soluble in water, but the rate at which water absorbs them decreases as it warms.

By measuring atmospheric oxygen and CO2 for each year, scientists were able to more accurately estimate how much heat oceans had absorbed on a global scale.

"Imagine if the ocean was only 30 feet (10 metres) deep," said Laure Resplandy, assistant professor of geosciences at Princeton and lead study author.

"Our data show that it would have warmed by 6.5 degrees Celsius (11.7 degrees Fahrenheit) every decade since 1991."

That compares with a IPCC estimate of a 4.0 C rise each decade.

Resplandy said the data showed mankind must once again revise down its carbon footprint, with emissions needing to fall 25 precent compared to previous estimates.

"The result significantly increases the confidence we can place in estimates of ocean warming and therefore helps reduce uncertainty," said Ralph Keeling, a geophysicist at the University of California-San Diego and co-author of the study.

The IPCC warns that drastic measures need taking in order to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius by the end of the century but the world produced a record amount of carbon emissions in 2017.

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Scientists Look to Jupiter, Saturn's Moon Titan for Global Warming Insight

By analyzing methane in the skies of Jupiter and Saturn's moon Titan, scientists are now pinpointing what effects this global warming gas is having on Earth, a new study finds.

Greenhouse gases warm the planet by trapping heat from the sun. The greenhouse gas that most often makes news is the carbon dioxide generated in great amounts by the burning of fossil fuels. However, methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas, pound for pound capable of warming the planet more than 25 times more than carbon dioxide over the span of a century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In the new study, researchers focused on the most poorly understood aspect of the role of methane in global warming — how much short-wavelength solar radiation it absorbs. Previous estimates from the IPCC regarding the effects of increased methane emissions on global climate omitted the impact of shortwave absorption. [Photographic Proof of Climate Change: Time-Lapse Images of Retreating Glaciers]

Recent climate models are designed to account for shortwave absorption of methane. However, their accuracy is limited by uncertainties in how well methane absorbs shortwave radiation. Whereas the carbon dioxide molecule has a relatively simple linear shape, methane has a more complex tetrahedral shape, and the way it responds to light is also complicated — too much so to pin down in the lab.

Instead, scientists examine the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn's largest moon Titan, which both have "at least a thousand times greater concentration of methane than Earth's atmosphere," study co-author Dan Feldman, a climate scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, told Space.com. As such, these celestial bodies can serve as "natural laboratories" for investigating sunlight's effects on methane, he explained.

The scientists analyzed data of Titan from the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, which landed on the big moon in January 2005, and of Jupiter from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. This helped pinpoint how methane absorbs various short wavelengths of sunlight, data the researchers plugged into climate models of Earth.

The scientists found the global warming effects of methane are likely not uniform on Earth, but vary over the planet's surface. For instance, since deserts near the equator have bright, exposed surfaces that reflect light upward, shortwave absorption is 10 times stronger over regions such as the Sahara desert and the Arabian Peninsula than elsewhere on Earth, Feldman said.

In addition, the presence of clouds can increase methane-shortwave absorption by nearly threefold. The researchers noted these effects west of southern Africa and the Americas, and with the cloud systems in the Intertropical Convergence Zone near the equator. 

"We can really nail down the methane greenhouse effect on Earth based on observations of Jupiter and Titan," Feldman said.

These findings support previous climate models regarding methane's effects on global warming. The researchers said their work could help advance climate-change mitigation strategies by clarifying the risks different regions across the world face.

The scientists detailed their findings online Wednesday (Sept. 26) in the journal Science Advances.

Climate Change Could Hit Point of No Return by 2035

London, Sep 1 (Prensa Latina) Earth could go through a point of no return by 2035 if governments do not act decisively when it comes to fighting climate change, warns a study published in the Earth System Dynamics magazine.

Scientists at the University of Oxford say it would be unlikely to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius by 2100 and consider that the deadline to reduce it to 1.5 degrees has already passed, unless radical climate action is taken.

The researchers wanted to find the last possible year to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions before it is too late.

In this regard, the concept of point of no return has the advantage of containing useful temporary information to report about the urgency of taking climate measures, says Matthias Aengenheyster, the study's lead author.

Through the use of information on climate models, the team determined the deadline to initiate actions, in order to keep global warming likely (with a probability of 67 percent) below two degrees Celsius by 2100.

This depends on how fast humanity can reduce emissions with the use of more renewable energy.

According to experts, the point of no return has already been exceeded for the most modest climate action scenario, where the proportion of renewable resources increases by two percent each year.

However, they consider that the elimination of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, through the use of negative emission technology, could give the Earth a little more time: between six and 10 years.

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Domino-effect of climate events could move Earth into a ‘hothouse’ state

A domino-like cascade of melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests could tilt the Earth into a “hothouse” state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be increasingly futile, a group of leading climate scientists has warned.

This grim prospect is sketched out in a journal paper that considers the combined consequences of 10 climate change processes, including the release of methane trapped in Siberian permafrost and the impact of melting ice in Greenland on the Antarctic.

The authors of the essay, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stress their analysis is not conclusive, but warn the Paris commitment to keep warming at 2C above pre-industrial levels may not be enough to “park” the planet’s climate at a stable temperature.

They warn that the hothouse trajectory “would almost certainly flood deltaic environments, increase the risk of damage from coastal storms, and eliminate coral reefs (and all of the benefits that they provide for societies) by the end of this century or earlier.”

“I do hope we are wrong, but as scientists we have a responsibility to explore whether this is real,” said Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “We need to know now. It’s so urgent. This is one of the most existential questions in science.”

Rockström and his co-authors are among the world’s leading authorities on positive feedback loops, by which warming temperatures release new sources of greenhouse gases or destroy the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon or reflect heat.

Their new paper asks whether the planet’s temperature can stabilise at 2C or whether it will gravitate towards a more extreme state. The authors attempt to assess whether warming can be halted or whether it will tip towards a “hothouse” world that is 4C warmer than pre-industrial times and far less supportive of human life.

Katherine Richardson from the University of Copenhagen, one of the authors, said the paper showed that climate action was not just a case of turning the knob on emissions, but of understanding how various factors interact at a global level.

“We note that the Earth has never in its history had a quasi-stable state that is around 2C warmer than the preindustrial and suggest that there is substantial risk that the system, itself, will ‘want’ to continue warming because of all of these other processes – even if we stop emissions,” she said. “This implies not only reducing emissions but much more.”

New feedback loops are still being discovered. A separate paper published in PNAS reveals that increased rainfall – a symptom of climate change in some regions - is making it harder for forest soils to trap greenhouse gases such as methane.

Previous studies have shown that weakening carbon sinks will add 0.25C, forest dieback will add 0.11C, permafrost thaw will add 0.9C and increased bacterial respiration will add 0.02C. The authors of the new paper also look at the loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor and the reduction of snow and ice cover at the poles.

Rockström says there are huge gaps in data and knowledge about how one process might amplify another. Contrary to the Gaia theory, which suggests the Earth has a self-righting tendency, he says the feedbacks could push the planet to a more extreme state.

As an example, the authors say the loss of Greenland ice could disrupt the Gulf Stream ocean current, which would raise sea levels and accumulate heat in the Southern Ocean, which would in turn accelerate ice loss from the east Antarctic. Concerns about this possibility were heightened earlier this year by reports that the Gulf Stream was at its weakest level in 1,600 years.

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Currently, global average temperatures are just over 1C above pre-industrial levels and rising at 0.17C per decade. The Paris climate agreement set actions to keep warming limited to 1.5C-2C by the end of the century, but the authors warn more drastic action may be necessary.

“The heatwave we now have in Europe is not something that was expected with just 1C of warming,” Rockström said. “Several positive feedback loops are already in operation, but they are still weak. We need studies to show when they might cause a runaway effect.

Another climate scientist – who was not involved in the paper – emphasised the document aimed to raise questions rather than prove a theory. “It’s rather selective, but not outlandish,” said Prof Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute. “Threshold and tipping points have been discussed previously, but to state that 2C is a threshold we can’t pull back from is new, I think. I’m not sure what ‘evidence’ there is for this – or indeed whether there can be until we experience it.”

Rockström said the question needed asking. “We could end up delivering the Paris agreement and keep to 2C of warming, but then face an ugly surprise if the system starts to slip away,” he said. “We don’t say this will definitely happen. We just list all the disruptive events and come up with plausible occurrences … 50 years ago, this would be dismissed as alarmist, but now scientists have become really worried.”

“In the context of the summer of 2018, this is definitely not a case of crying wolf, raising a false alarm: the wolves are now in sight,” said Dr Phil Williamson, a climate researcher at the University of East Anglia. “The authors argue that we need to be much more proactive in that regard, not just ending greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible, but also building resilience in the context of complex Earth system processes that we might not fully understand until it is too late.”

Europe's record temperature of 48C could be beaten this weekend

Britain is basking in 31C heat, three people have died from heatstroke in Spain as the mercury reached the mid-40s, and a mountain glacier in Sweden has melted so much that its peak is no longer the country’s highest point.

Alex Burkill, a Met Office meteorologist, said that despite the cooler temperatures of recent days “it is not the end of the hot weather for the summer” as sunshine returns to most of the country.

A yellow severe warning for thunderstorms was in place for some parts of England and Scotland until 9pm on Friday.

The Met Office said: “Some flooding of a few homes and businesses is possible, leading to some damage to buildings or structures. There is a good chance driving conditions will be affected by spray, standing water and/or hail, leading to longer journey times by car and bus. Some short-term loss of power and other services is likely.”

Sun-drenched British holidaymakers are enjoying record temperatures on the continent during their summer breaks. Tourists are being urged to avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day and remember that children are particularly susceptible to the heat.

People cool off at the beach in Benidorm, Spain.People cool off at the beach in Benidorm, Spain. Photograph: Heino Kalis/Reuters

Eight places in Portugal broke local temperature records on Friday as a wave of heat from North Africa swept across the Iberian peninsula and officials predicted the scorching temperatures could get even worse over the weekend.

Temperatures built to around 45C (113 F) in many inland areas of Portugal, and were expected to peak at 47C (116.6F) in some places on Saturday. Large sections of Portugal are on red alert on the country’s civil protection agency’s danger scale.

The highest temperature recorded on Thursday, when the heat began to rise, was 45.2 C (113.4 F) near Abrantes, a town 150km (93 miles) north-east of the capital, Lisbon, the country’s weather agency IPMA said.

In Spain three men died of heatstroke. A middle-aged man in Barcelona was found collapsed on a street and taken to hospital where he later died. Two other men – a roadworker in his 40s and a 78-year-old pensioner – also died from heatstroke.

 

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