2016 'very likely' to be world's warmest year

2016 looks poised to be the warmest year on record globally, according to preliminary data.

With data from just the first nine months, scientists are 90% certain that 2016 will pass the mark set by 2015.

Temperatures from January to September were 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The body says temperatures should remain high enough for the rest of the year to break the previous record.

El Nino has had an impact, but the most significant factor driving temperatures up continues to be CO2 emissions.

What is climate change?

The provisional statement on the status of the global climate in 2016 has been released early this year to help inform negotiators meeting in Morocco, who are trying to push forward with the Paris Climate Agreement.

The document says the year to September was 0.88 above the average for the period between 1961-90, which the WMO uses at its baseline.

The whole of 2015, which broke the previous record by a significant amount, was 0.77 above the 1961-90 average.

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While there are still a couple of months to go this year, a preliminary analysis of the October data indicates that 2016 is very much on track to surpass the 2015 level, which in turn broke the previous high mark set in 2014.

"Another year. Another record. The high temperatures we saw in 2015 are set to be beaten in 2016," said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.

"In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6C to 7C above the long-term average. Many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska and north-west Canada were at least 3C above average. We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree, and so this is different," said Mr Taalas.

The report highlights the fact that other long-term climate change indicators are also breaking records. The amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continued on its upward march in 2016.

Arctic sea ice continued to melt in significant amounts, while the Greenland ice sheet displayed very early melting this year.

Experts believe that the El Nino weather phenomenon played a role in the record warm temperatures seen in 2015 and 2016.

They quantify it as roughly 0.2 of a degree - but the bulk of the warming is coming from the accumulation of greenhouse gases. And the impacts of that warming are being widely felt.

"Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen," said Petteri Taalas.

"'Once in a generation' heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular. Sea level rise has increased exposure to storm surges associated with tropical cyclones," he said.

The surprise election of Donald Trump as president of the US has increased expectations that he will bring a more sceptical view of climate change to the White House.

Scientists are stressing that the evidence for the reality of climate change is getting stronger all the time.

"We are seeing the impacts of climate change on extreme weather," said Dr Peter Stott, who leads the climate attribution team at the UK Met Office.

"One degree may sound a relatively small number but in the context of such a stable climate that we've had over the past millennia, and the rapidity of that warming, we are seeing this real world evidence that doesn't come from a model or a projection."

According to the WMO analysis, 16 of the 17 warmest years have been recorded this century. The only exception was 1998.

 

Least Developed Countries Call for 'Ambitious Action' at COP22

Achieving the crucial 1.5°C target will require immediately halting new fossil fuel development now.

The chair of the Least Developed Countries group, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, called for “fair and ambitious action” Monday at the next round of international climate change negotiations which begin on Nov. 7 in Marrakech, Morocco.

Mpanu-Mpanu, senior negotiator for the Democratic Republic of Congo on climate issues, said that the next round of UN climate talks, COP22, must be “an action and implementation COP” and must “construct robust rules to support the [Paris] Agreement's implementation.”

ANALYSIS: 5 Ways the COP21 Deal Dooms the Planet to Climate Change Chaos

Mpanu-Mpanu expressed his concern that even with a full implementation of the Paris Agreement, which comes officially into force on Nov. 4, current pledges by countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions puts the world on track for 3-3.5°C of warming above pre-industrial levels.

“Science tells us that beyond temperature increases of 1.5°C the future of our planet stands on increasingly thin ice. We cannot afford to treat this as an aspirational goal,” he said.

According to Payal Parekh, program director at climate action group 350.org, achieving the crucial 1.5°C target will require immediately halting new fossil fuel development now. “Around the world, there is a powerful and growing fossil fuel resistance movement that is pushing our institutions and governments to divest and break free from fossil fuels to prioritize people and the planet,” added Parekh.

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With this goal in mind the LDC group plans to launch their Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative for Sustainable Development at the UN conference. Mpanu-Mpanu said the plan “demonstrates the continued commitment of the LDC group to real solutions that benefit real people on the ground.”

The Initiative, according to Mpanu-Mpanu, will enable LDCs to leapfrog fossil fuel based energy and generate prosperity by bringing “modern, clean, resilient energy systems to millions of energy-starved people."

The LDC group is made up of 48 primarily African nations that are especially vulnerable to climate change but have done the least to cause the problem. They came together to demand that wealthier nations act in accordance with their responsibility for creating the climate problem and their capability for addressing it.

The talks in Morocco take place in the midst of massive protests over the recent killing of a fish seller in the coastal community of Al Hoceima which has been hard hit by severe government restrictions on small-scale fishermen in response to declining fish populations linked to climate change.

  • Published in World

Species may be listed as threatened based on climate change projections, court says

Federal authorities may list a species as “threatened” based on climate models that show habitat loss in the coming decades, an appeals court decided Monday.

The state of Alaska, oil company groups and Alaskan natives had challenged a decision by the federal government to list a sea ice seal subspecies as threatened and deserving of protection. 

The  challengers maintained the subspecies’ population was currently healthy and the climate projections were speculative.

 A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The ruling would allow government protection of all sorts of wildlife likely to be affected by climate change in the decades ahead.

The panel decided unanimously that the National Marine Fisheries Services reasonably determined that loss of Arctic sea ice over shallow waters would “almost certainly” threaten the survival of a Pacific bearded seal subspecies by the end of the century.

“The service need not wait until a species’ habitat is destroyed to determine that habitat loss may facilitate extinction,” Judge Richard A. Paez, a Clinton appointee, wrote for the court.

The bearded seals are among several species, including the polar bear,  that the government has classified as threatened because of climate change.

A lawyer for an environmental group that sought the listing said the 9th Circuit decision was particularly significant because it allowed for protection of a species based on models of conditions at the end of the century.

“This legal victory is likely to have major implications for many other climate-threatened species,” said Kristen Monsell, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which sought the listing.

The state and the oil and gas industry opposed the listing because it could interfere with offshore drilling.

Before issuing a permit to drill, the federal government would have to determine whether the activity would affect the bearded seal. If so, the company’s exploration could be restricted.

A lawyer for the state of Alaska said the ruling may be appealed.

”If this opinion stands, the National Marine Fisheries Service would list a species that is abundant and in good health based on the claim that climate change will impact habitat over the next 100 years and may cause harm,” said Brad Meyen, senior assistant attorney general for Alaska.

A lawyer for the oil and gas industry could not be reached for comment.

The bearded seals congregate on ice floes over shallow waters, where they give birth to pups and nurse. The floes give the nursing mothers close access to food sources — organisms on the ocean floor — and enable the pubs to learn to dive, swim and hunt away from their predators, the court said.

Climate models show that the ice floes would disappear during breeding times, and mother seals would have to nurse their young on shore, where they would be vulnerable to predators such as polar bears and walruses.

A lack of ice floes in shallow waters also would force the seals to forage in the deeper ocean, which contains fewer of the organisms they depend on for survival, the government found.

One peer reviewer said the 80-year prediction was more likely than not to “greatly” underestimate the impact of climate change on the seals.

“All parties agree that there will be sea ice melt,” the court said. “The only uncertainty is the magnitude of warming, the speed with which warming will take place, and the severity of its effect.”

 Although climate projections for 2050 through 2100 may be volatile, they remain valuable in the government rule-making process, the court found.

The Endangered Species Act does not say a species can be listed “only if the underlying research is ironclad and absolute,” Paez wrote.

“It simply requires the agency to consider the best and most reliable scientific and commercial data and to identify the limits of that data when making a listing determination,” the court concluded.

Damage on Climate Change to Agriculture Grows, FAO Says

Havana, Oct 18 (Prensa Latina) FAO representative in Cuba, Theodor Friedrich, said here that climate change has been increasingly affecting agricultural production more visibly and threatening to overcome the goal of eradicating hunger by 2030.
 
Friedrich made that statement on occasion of the World Food Day (WFD) and the founding of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), to which participants at the International Experts Consultation on Conservation Agriculture (CA), opened yesterday at the Comodoro Hotel, attended.

The resident coordinator of the United Nations System in Cuba, Myrta Koulard, other officials at FAO Office, the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG) and members of the diplomatic staff, also participated.

Cuba has faced two years of drought and recently a category-four hurricane. This proved how the forces of nature can work against the efforts to ensure food production for future generations, Friedrich said.

He also stated that the WFD theme 'Climate is changing, food and agriculture must too,' could not have been better chosen.

In response to this theme, and to begin a substantive change process in the Cuban agriculture, FAO and MINAG have organized the Expert Consultation on CA, to be run until Friday, October 21.

  • Published in World

Scientists may have just solved a riddle about Antarctica — and you’re not going to like the answer

It’s one of the great — and unresolved — debates of Antarctic science.

In 1984, a team of researchers from Ohio State University reported on a surprising fossil find: More than a mile above sea level, in Antarctica’s freezing and far inland Transantarctic mountain range, fossilized deposits of tiny marine organisms called diatoms were found in rock layers dated to the Pliocene era, some 2 to 5 million years ago. But how did they get all the way up there? Diatoms, ubiquitous marine microorganisms whose tiny shells coat the ocean floor when they die, don’t show up in high mountain rocks unless something rather dramatic happened long ago to get them there.

So began the debate over this rock formation, dubbed the “Sirius Group” after Mount Sirius, one of the range’s many peaks. It was between the “dynamicists”— who argued that the enormous ice sheet of East Antarctica had dramatically collapsed in the Pliocene, bringing the ocean far closer in to the Transantarctic range, and that subsequent upthrusts of the Earth and re-advances of glaciers had then delivered the diatoms from the seafloor to great heights — and the so-called “stabilists.” To the contrary, these scientists argued, the ice sheet had stayed intact, but powerful winds had swept the diatoms all the way from the distant sea surface into the mountains.

“It became very much split into two camps,” remembers Reed Scherer, an Antarctic researcher at Northern Illinois University. “It got really nasty.” Some researchers even tried to resolve matters by suggesting that a meteorite, and subsequent cataclysms, could account for the odd fossil locations.

But the decades have given way to new research tools and new perspectives. And Scherer has now paired up with two researchers behind what is arguably the hottest (and most troubling) new computer simulation of how Antarctica’s ice behaves in order to revisit the tale of those pesky diatoms. Their solution, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, isn’t good news — for it suggests that large parts of East Antarctica can indeed collapse in conditions not too dissimilar from those we’re creating today with all of our greenhouse gas emissions.

If we steer the Earth back to those Pliocene-type conditions — when sea levels are believed to have been radically higher around the globe — oddly located diatoms will be the least of our problems.

The new study is co-authored by Rob DeConto of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and David Pollard of Penn State University, who recently published a new ice sheet model of Antarctica that predicts the ice continent can raise sea levels by nearly a meter on its own during this century. They reached this result by adding several new dynamic ice collapse processes to glacial models that, in the past, had been slow to melt East Antarctica even in quite warm conditions — simultaneously lending weight to the views of the stabilists in the debate over the Sirius fossils, while also seeming to suggest that we needn’t worry about truly radical sea-level rise from Antarctica.

The result is that in the Pliocene — and especially the mid-Pliocene warm period, when atmospheric carbon dioxide was at about the level where it is now, 400 parts per million, but global temperatures were 1 or 2 degrees warmer than at present — the model not only collapses the entirety of West Antarctica (driving some 10 feet of global sea-level rise) but also shows the oceans eating substantially into key parts of East Antarctica. In particular, the multi-kilometer thick ice that currently fills the extremely deep Aurora and Wilkes basins of the eastern ice sheet retreats inland for hundreds of miles — which would have driven global seas to a much higher level than caused by a West Antarctic collapse alone.

Here’s a figure from the study, showing as much:

Not only is this the world we could be headed to if global warming continues, but it’s a world that can throw diatoms up into the Transantarctic Mountains, the new study argues. Here’s how that would work.

At first, in the wake of ice retreats in the Aurora and Wilkes basins, what would be left behind are ocean bays filled with life — and many, many diatoms. But Scherer and his colleagues do not believe that winds simply scooped them out of the water and hurled them to the mountains — living, wet diatoms suspended in water would have been too heavy to travel so far, Scherer says.

So instead, the study postulates another development. After a few thousand years of seas filled with happy diatoms, dying and lining the ocean floor in front of the remnant glaciers of the Wilkes and Aurora basins, the once submerged Earth would slowly rebound in some spots (a process sometimes called “isostatic uplift” or “postglacial rebound”). This would create an archipelago of islands, new landmasses free to rise to the surface now that so much ice has sloughed off their backs.

These islands, then, were the source of the diatoms, the study postulates.

The computer model “did show the ice retreated along the margins of East Antarctica, and isostatic uplift would then expose these areas that become new seaways, and with it would have been highly productive for plankton,” says Scherer. “So you would have been accumulating massive numbers of diatoms across this new basin, and with the loss of the ice, the land flexed upward, became exposed to winds, and the wind carried them to the mountains.”

Scherer notes that his new scenario doesn’t really proclaim either the dynamicists or the stabilists the victors. His view is clearly reliant on a substantial amount of dynamics, but it also doesn’t show the East Antarctica ice retreated nearly as far back as earlier proposals. Nor does it use glacial processes to move the deposited diatoms. Rather, it borrows the stabilist idea of wind-blown transport, albeit only after ice has retreated and land has risen in its wake.

Commenting on this new compromise proposal Monday, one Antarctic researcher praised the work as representing an advance on old ways of thinking. “The paper is a great example of how much [paleo]climate modelling has improved in the last decade[s], particularly in the last few years,” said Simone Galeotti, an Antarctic researcher at the Università degli Studi di Urbino in Italy, by email.

The research also earned praise from David Harwood, one of the original ‘dynamicists’ and now a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“This paper’s integration of climate, ice sheet, and atmospheric models provides interesting new perspective on potential source regions for the Antarctic, marine Pliocene diatoms present in glacial sediments of the Transantarctic Mountains, from interior basins of East Antarctica,” said Harwood in an emailed statement. “Their origin from deglaciated, exposed, rebounded marine basin floors in the Aurora and Wilkes basins is plausible, and the new model-derived wind patterns support their trajectory toward the [Transantarctic Mountains].”

But beyond solving the riddle of the Sirius deposits in the Transantarctic Mountains, the new study speaks to the present moment. After all, the warm Pliocene, with its much higher seas, is one of the key past eras that scientists regularly look to for an analogue for where we are currently driving the planet with our greenhouse gases.

And thus, the new work suggests that if we keep pushing the system, we’ll not only have to worry about the loss of Greenland’s and West Antarctica’s ice, but also major losses from the biggest ice sheet of them all, East Antarctica.

Scherer, DeConto, and Pollard also have a fourth author on the study, the noted Penn State glaciologist Richard Alley, who has become more and more outspoken of late about his concerns that the world’s great ice sheets could be unstable. In a media statement accompanying the study’s release, Alley had this to say:

This is another piece of a jigsaw puzzle that the community is rapidly putting together, and which appears to show that the ice sheets are more sensitive to warming than we had hoped. If humans continue to warm the climate, we are likely to commit to large and perhaps rapid sea-level rise that could be very costly. No one piece of the puzzle shows this, but as they fit together, the picture is becoming clearer.

In other words, solving this key scientific problem from Antarctica’s past turns out to immediately raise major concerns about its future.

“We have now reached a point where atmospheric CO2 levels are as high as that during the Pliocene, 400 ppm, when geological evidence and new model results suggest substantial retreat of the EAIS [East Antarctic Ice Sheet] margin into interior basins. These perspectives bear fundamentally on predictions of future EAIS behavior,” said Harwood by email.

Granted, on a scientific and individual level, there’s also the satisfaction of finally being able to unify quite a lot of information into an explanation that fits the data and also matches our growing present day understanding of Antarctic vulnerability.

“Personally, I find the story rather cathartic, because it does explain the observations, I think, in a much better way than had been done before,” says Scherer.

 

Earth witnesses hottest August ever recorded

2016’s global temperatures keep on breaking new records, NASA has said, declaring last month the hottest ever August to be recorded on Earth.

Last month earned the title of warmest ever August on Earth since 1880, when record-keeping began, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York announced in a press release on Monday. The findings come soon after NASA branded July 2016 both the hottest ever July and the hottest ever month on record.

August 2016 was 0.16 degrees Celsius warmer than the last hottest August which took place recently, in 2014. Last month’s temperatures were also 0.98 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean August temperature from 1951-1980, scientists said.

What is more, August 2016 managed to tie with July as the hottest month on record. August is also the 11th consecutive month during which global temperatures have broken all records, scientists pointed out, adding that the trend goes all the way back to October 2015.

Scientists said that long-term trends are the key to understanding the changes taking place on our planet.

“Monthly rankings, which vary by only a few hundredths of a degree, are inherently fragile,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. “We stress that the long-term trends are the most important for understanding the ongoing changes that are affecting our planet.”

To carry out its monthly analysis NASA collects data from some 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will announce its own August data later this month. Last month NOAA said that July 2016 was the 14th consecutive month with record high temperatures. April 2015 was the last month when the Earth did not encounter any record high temperatures.

READ MORE: Global temperatures set 14th consecutive monthly record

An upward trend in global temperatures has been noticed since 2014. Last year was considered the hottest on record surpassing its previous rival – 2014. This year is thought to have every chance of beating 2015, as the first six months of this year were all record warm.

NASA chief climate scientist Gavin Schmidt said earlier that 2016 has a 99 percent chance of being a third record hot year in a row. Last month he warned that the average temperature of Earth is rising at a pace “unprecedented in 1,000 years”.

Global warming making oceans sick, spreading disease in humans and animals, scientists warn

Global warming is making the oceans sicker than ever before, spreading disease among animals and humans and threatening food security across the planet, a major scientific report said.

The findings, based on peer-reviewed research, were compiled by 80 scientists from 12 countries, experts said at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.

"We all know that the oceans sustain this planet. We all know that the oceans provide every second breath we take," IUCN director general Inger Andersen said at the meeting, which has drawn 9,000 leaders and environmentalists to Honolulu.

"And yet we are making the oceans sick."

The report, Explaining Ocean Warming, is the "most comprehensive, most systematic study we have ever undertaken on the consequence of this warming on the ocean", co-lead author Dan Laffoley said.

The world's waters have absorbed more than 93 per cent of the enhanced heating from climate change since the 1970s, curbing the heat felt on land, but drastically altering the rhythm of life in the ocean, he said.

Mr Laffoley, marine vice chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas at IUCN, said "the ocean has been shielding us and the consequences of this are absolutely massive".

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Warming likely to change turtle sex ratio

The study included every major marine ecosystem, containing everything from microbes to whales, including the deep ocean.

It documents evidence of jellyfish, seabirds and plankton shifting toward the cooler poles by up to 10 degrees latitude.

Mr Laffoley said the movement in the marine environment was "1.5 to five times as fast as anything we are seeing on the ground."

"We are changing the seasons in the ocean."

The higher temperatures will probably change the sex ratio of turtles in the future, because females are more likely to be born in warmer temperatures.

The heat also means microbes dominate larger areas of the ocean.

"When you look overall, you see a comprehensive and worrying set of consequences," Mr Laffoley said.

Evidence warming causing plant, animal disease

ore than 25 per cent of the report's information is new, published in peer-reviewed journals since 2014, including studies showing global warming is affecting weather patterns and making storms more common.

The study includes evidence ocean warming "is causing increased disease in plant and animal populations", it said.

Pathogens such as cholera-bearing bacteria and toxic algal blooms that can cause neurological illnesses such as ciguatera poisoning spread more easily in warm water, with direct impact on human health.

"We are no longer the casual observers in the room," Mr Laffoley said.

"What we have done is unwittingly put ourselves in the test tube where the experiment is being undertaken."

Coral reefs killed off at unprecedented rate

 

Meanwhile, the hotter oceans have killed off coral reefs at an unprecedented rate, reducing fish species by eliminating their habitats.

The loss of reefs cuts down on the abundance of certain fish, with implications for food security.

"In South-East Asia, harvests from marine fisheries are expected to fall by between 10 per cent and 30 per cent by 2050, relative to 1970-2000, as the distributions of fish species shift," the report said.

The report highlights the need for swift action on renewable energies, experts said.

"We need to cut greenhouse gases," director of the global marine and polar program at IUCN Carl Gustaf Lundin said.

"There is no doubt in all our minds that we are the cause of this.

"We know what the solutions are. We need to get on with it."

AFP

Modern environment blamed for 40% rise in children’s cancer cases

The number of cancer cases in children has leapt by 40 per cent in less than two decades because of pollution, pesticides and gadgets, new analysis has shown.

There are 1,300 more diagnoses of the disease a year in people under the age of 25 compared to 1998 – costing the NHS £130 million extra a year.

Cases of colon cancer in children are up 200 per cent, while thyroid cancer cases have more than doubled.

Ovarian and cervical cancer cases have also seen stark rises – up by 70 per cent and 50 per cent respectively, analysis of ONS data by the charity Children with Cancer UK found.

Around 4,000 children and young people develop cancer each year and it is the leading cause of death in children aged one to 14 in the UK.

The 40 per cent jump in cases over 16 years is partially attributed to population growth, as the incidence rate per 100,000 people has risen by 30 per cent.

However, Professor Denis Henshaw, scientific director at Children with Cancer UK, said that lifestyle and environmental factors could play a part in the rise.

“These significant rises in cancer cases cannot be explained by improvements in cancer diagnosis or registration alone – lifestyle and environmental causal factors must be considered.”

He said that burnt barbecues, the electric fields of power lines, and hairdriers were contributors to the rise, as well as a pregnant women’s diet and working shifts.

“We were shocked to see the figures, and it’s the modern lifestyle I’m afraid. Many items on the list of environmental causes are now known to be carcinogenic, such as air pollution and pesticides and solvents.”

He added: “What’s worrying is it is very hard to avoid a lot of these things. How can you avoid air pollution? It sometimes feels like we are fighting a losing battle.”

Children with Cancer UK are calling on the Government and medical and science community to ensure children with cancer have access to precision medicine by 2020.

The charity is hosting a three-day international conference on childhood cancer which begins today. It will look at precision medicine, immunotherapy and influenceable causes of childhood cancer.

Precision medicine – which considers an individual’s genes, environment and lifestyle to provide more targeted treatment – needs to be offered to all young people within the framework of clinical trials by 2020, the charity’s medical director has claimed.

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