SEATTLE — As the waters of the Pacific warm, methane that was trapped in crystalline form beneath the seabed is being released. And fast.
New modeling suggests that 4 million tons of this potent greenhouse gas have escaped since 1970 from the ocean depths off Washington’s coast.
“We calculate that methane equivalent in volume to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is released every year off the Washington coast,” said Evan Solomon, a University of Washington assistant professor of oceanography and co-author of the new paper, which was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The modeling does not indicate whether the rate of release has changed as temperatures warm, but it does strengthen the connection between ocean temperature and methane behavior.
Solomon and his colleagues first learned about the methane leaks when fishermen started sending them photographs of bubbles coming up out of the deep.
“They’re really low quality phone shots of their fish finders, but every single location they gave us was 100 percent accurate,” Solomon said.
On a cruise this past summer, Solomon and his colleagues gathered core samples from the ocean floor, about one-third of a mile deep, at the spots where the fishermen reported seeing bubbles.
And sure enough, mixed in among the sediment, were crystalized methane deposits.
“It looks like slushy ice,” Solomon said. But it certainly behaves differently. “If you took it from the sediment and lit a match or put a lighter on it, it will go into flames because of all the gas.”
Methane can exist in a gas, liquid and crystalline form. The crystalline version, or methane hydrate, occurs at cold temperatures and under pressure – conditions that can be found at certain depths of the ocean. But as deep sea waters warm, scientists believe those crystals will dissolve, releasing the methane in bubbles that can change ocean chemistry and contribute to atmospheric change once they escape at the sea’s surface.
“It’s a way to contribute to ocean acidification if you have a lot of this gas coming out and being oxidized in the water column,” Solomon said.
The methane release isn’t just happening in Washington waters, Solomon says. More sampling needs to be done but the same conditions for methane hydrate release exist from Northern California to Alaska. “So it’s not a Washington central thing,” says Solomon, who is looking forward to further study of this issue. “It should be happening off of Oregon, off of British Columbia as well.”
Other research has found similar patterns of methane release in the Atlantic and off the coast of Alaska.
A national survey finds that many Americans (24%) would support an organization that engaged in non-violent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities that make global warming worse.
Moreover, 13% say they would be willing to personally engage in non-violent civil disobedience for the same reason.
“Many Americans want action on climate change by government, business, and each other,” said lead researcher Anthony Leiserowitz, PhD, of Yale University. “The fact that so many Americans would support organizations engaging in civil disobedience to stop global warming – or would be willing to do so personally – is a sign that many see climate change as a clear and present danger and are frustrated with the slow pace of action.”
Another key finding of the survey is that, in the past year, Americans were more likely to discuss global warming with family and friends (33% did so often or occasionally) than to communicate about it using social media (e.g., 7% shared something about global warming on Facebook or Twitter, 6% posted a comment online in response to a news story or blog about the topic, etc.).
“Our findings are in line with other research demonstrating that person-to-person conversations – about a wide variety of topics, not just global warming – are still the most common form of communication,” said Dr. Leiserowitz. “The notion that social media have completely ‘taken over’ most of our social interactions is incorrect. For example, we find that Americans are much more likely to talk about extreme weather face-to-face or over the phone than through social media.”
Furthermore, Americans are most likely to identify their own friends and family, such as a significant other (27%), son or daughter (21%), or close friend (17%), as the people who could motivate them to take action to reduce global warming.
“Our findings show that people are most willing to listen to those personally close to them when it comes to taking action against global warming,” said researcher Ed Maibach, PhD, of George Mason University. “In fact, if someone they ‘like and respect’ asks them to take action about global warming, a third say they would attend a public meeting about global warming or sign a pledge to vote only for political candidates that share their views about global warming, among other things.”
by Becky Oskin, OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer | August 06, 2013 04:17pm ET
2012 was a year of climate records, from temperatures to ice melt to sea level rise, a newly released report on the state of the global climate says.
Even though natural climate cycles have slowed the planet’s rising temperature, 2012 was one of the 10 hottest years since 1880, according to the report released today (Aug. 6) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
One reason the world’s warming is slower in recent years is because of recent La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean, which cause atmospheric and ocean temperatures to cool, said Tom Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center during a news teleconference.”There are a number of factors that cause climate to vary from year to year, but when you look back at long-term trends, temperatures have been increasing consistently,” he said.
But in the Arctic, surface temperatures rose twice as fast in the past decade as lower latitudes, said Jackie Richter-Menge, a report co-author and research civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “The Arctic continues to be a region where we have some of the most compelling evidence of the fact that global temperatures are warming,” she said.
A strong and persistent southerly airflow in spring 2012 contributed to the Arctic’s record warmth, Richter-Menge said. The effects included a record-low summer ice pack extent in the Arctic Ocean, and surface melting across 97 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Richter-Menge said researchers are also seeing long-term changes, such as more coastal vegetation growing in the Arctic tundra and rising permafrost temperatures.
“The near records being reported from year to year are no longer anomalies or exceptions,” Richter-Menge said. “They have become the norm for us and what we expect to see in the near future.” [5 Ways Rapid Warming is Changing the Arctic]
Ice melt from Greenland and glaciers elsewhere are contributing to sea level rise, according to the climate report. In the past year, sea level rose a record 1.4 inches (35 millimeters) above the 1983 to 2010 average, said Jessica Blunden, a climatologist at NOAA’s Climatic Data Center and lead editor of the report. “It appears ice melt is contributing more than twice as much as warming waters,” she said during the teleconference. As the ocean warms, water expands, contributing to sea level rise.
The annual State of the Climate report compiles climate and weather data from around the world and is reviewed by more than 380 climate scientists from 52 countries. The report can be viewed online.
The planet hit several records or near records in 2012, the report said. These include:
Record ice loss from melting glaciers. 2012 will be the 22nd year in a row of ice loss.
Near-record ocean heat content, a measure of heat stored in the oceans. When the ocean holds more heat than it releases, its heat content increases.
Record sea level rise of 1.4 inches above average.
Record-low June snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere. The June snow cover has declined 17 percent per decade since 1979, outpacing the shrinking summer Arctic sea ice extent by 4 percent.
Record-low summer Arctic sea ice extent. Sea ice shrank to its smallest summer minimum since record-keeping began 34 years ago.
Record-high winter Antarctic sea ice extent of 7.51 million square miles (19.44 million square kilometers) in September.
Record-high man-made greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. In 2012, for the first time, global average carbon dioxide concentrations hit 392 parts per million and exceeded 400 ppm at some observation sites. The number means there were 400 carbon dioxide molecules per 1 million air molecules.
Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.
This week, the exiled head of the Syrian opposition movement said he would meet representatives of President Bashar al-Assad in Geneva, a promising turn for a conflict that has left 100,000 dead, including many civilians, since spring 2011. It has been a long, bitter battle, but for many Syrians one root of the violence stretches back to several years before al-Assad’s troops began picking off anti-government protesters. Beginning in 2006, a prolonged, severe drought decimated farmland, spiked food prices, and forced millions of Syrians into poverty — helping to spark the unrest that eventually exploded into civil war.
The Syrian conflict is just one recent example of the connection between climate and conflict, a field that is increasingly piquing the interest of criminologists, economists, historians, and political scientists. Studies have begun to crop up in leading journals examining this connection in everything from the collapse of the Mayan civilization to modern police training in the Netherlands. A survey published today in Science takes a first-ever 30,000-foot view of this research, looking for trends that tie these examples together through fresh analysis of raw data from 60 quantitative studies. It offers evidence that unusually high temperatures could lead to tens of thousands more cases of “interpersonal” violence — murder, rape, assault, etc. — and more than a 50 percent increase in “intergroup” violence, i.e. war, in some places.
“This is what keeps me awake at night,” lead author Solomon Hsiang, an environmental policy post-doc at Princeton, said. “The linkage between human conflict and climate changes was really pervasive.”
Any cop could tell you that hot days can make people snap — last summer veteran police boss William Bratton argued that a warm winter contributed to a rash of murders in Chicago. But Hsiang and his colleagues wanted to see how this pattern held up across the globe, at different times and with different kinds of conflict, to gauge just how much the climate can lead to violence.
So they rounded up recent studies that could reliably show a causal connection between climate and violence in a variety of contemporary, historical, and experimental settings. They re-crunched the raw data from these studies to smooth out details specific to each case (temperature data was converted to deviation from average, rather than absolute temperatures, for example) in order to make apples-to-apples comparisons across time and across the world. What emerged was an unsettling new picture of the exact effect climate changes have on our tendency toward violence: For every one standard deviation toward warmer temperatures, the median frequency of “interpersonal” violence rose 4 percent. In the U.S., that would translate to an additional 56,000 violent crimes every year on top of the average 1.4 million (according to FBI data) we’ve experienced annually in the last decade. And that could just be the beginning: Hsiang’s study points out that inhabited places on Earth are likely to see warming of two to four standard deviations by 2050.
Meanwhile, the study found the median frequency of “intergroup” violence jumped 14 percent for every standard deviation; again, in the context of projected future warming, this means that by 2050 the threat of war could climb more than 50 percent in some places.
The study also found general agreement amongst case studies that exceptionally high and low rainfall — particularly when it impacts agricultural production — can lead both to interpersonal and intergroup violence. But even looking only at scientists’ projections for future temperature increases, the statistical rise in violent tendencies is significant enough, the study claims, that “amplified rates of human conflict could represent a large and critical impact of anthropogenic climate change.” In other words, it’s something we might need to prepare for — just like rising seas or nastier wildfires.
It’s not just isolated hot days that spur increased violence; the study found increased conflict in warmer-than-usual periods over time spans ranging from an hour (in a controlled experiment where police trainees were stuck in rooms of different temperatures and asked to respond to a hypothetical aggressor; cops in the hot room were much more likely to fire their weapons) to thousands of years (in an anthropological study [PDF] of how summer temperatures drove the collapse of ancient human settlements in northern Norway).
With this connection nailed down, Hsiang said, the next step is to better understand what exactly about higher temperatures leads to conflict; he compared the pursuit to that of early 20-century medical researchers who knew smoking caused cancer but didn’t understand why at a molecular level. In the case of Syria, it’s easy enough to draw a line from heat and drought to civil unrest, but that doesn’t help explain why a protest is more likely to boil into a riot on a hot day, or why more murders are likely to happen in a hot decade.
“We have a mountain of evidence,” he said. “But we can’t completely explain all the intervening steps.”
If you live near water in the American Southeast, you may have run across the green tree frog – or at least heard the species as it croaks (in a sound that kind of resembles rapid fire quacking). It’s a small frog that’s often found in pet stores. It’s the state amphibian of Louisiana and Georgia. And it’s one of many species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and even mammals that may be incapable of evolving fast enough to keep up with what global warming has in store.
That’s the upshot of a new study in the journal Ecology Letters, whose authors used a vast body of data on 540 separate species’ current climatic “niches,” and their evolutionary histories of adapting to different conditions, to determine whether they can evolve fast enough to keep up with the changing climate. More specifically, the study examined “climatic niche evolution,” or how fast organisms have adapted to changing temperature and precipitation conditions in their habitats over time.
Under normal circumstances, the answer is very slowly. On average, the study found that animals adapted to temperature changes at a rate of less than 1.8 degrees F per million years. By contrast, global warming is expected to raise temperatures on the order of 7.2 degrees F in the next 100 years.
“It seems like climate change is too fast, relative to how quickly the climatic niches of species typically evolve,” explains evolutionary biologist John Wiens of the University of Arizona in Tucson, who conducted the research along with a colleague at Yale University.
Take the green tree frog. According to data provided by Wiens, the annual mean temperature in the species’ range across the U.S. Southeast is about 66 degrees F. For its closely related “sister” species the barking tree frog, meanwhile, it’s 65.3 degrees. The two species diverged some 13.4 million years ago, and their common ancestor is estimated to have lived in mean climatic conditions somewhere in between these two numbers, at 65.5 degrees.
The rate of evolutionary change in response to temperatures for these frogs is therefore extremely slow — “about 100,000 to 500,000 times slower than the expected rate of climate change within the range of the species from 2010 to 2100,” says Wiens.
Even if you take a species that evolved much more rapidly in relation to changing temperatures, the conclusion remains the same. The species still didn’t change fast enough in the past for scientists to think that it can evolve to keep up with global warming in the future.
An example of a faster-evolving species would be the Northern banded newt, which lives at relatively high altitudes in a range that spans from Russia to Turkey. Annual mean temperatures in its habitat are about 50.4 degrees F; but for a closely related species, the Southern banded newt, the average temperature is vastly different — 65.7 degrees. The two species’ common ancestor is estimated to have lived only 350,000 years ago, amid mean temperatures of about 59.5 degrees. Adaptation to new climatic conditions among these newts thus happened much faster than among tree frogs — “but still about 1,600 to 4,700 times slower” than the kind of changes we expect from global warming, according to Wiens.
In the new paper, Wiens and his coauthor apply a similar analysis to several hundred other species, ranging from cranes to crocodiles and from hawks to turtles. And none adjusted to temperatures in the evolutionary past at anything like the rate at which temperature change is now coming.
This does not mean that each and every species will go extinct. Some may shift their ranges to keep up with favorable temperatures. Some may perish in certain locales but not others. And some may find a means of coping in a changed environment. Just because these species have never experienced what climate change is about to throw at them doesn’t prove that they’re incapable of surviving it.
Nonetheless, the new research as a whole validates a striking statement made recently by the renowned climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University. At a Climate Desk Live event in May, Mann remarked that there is “no evidence” from the planet’s past to suggest that life can adapt to changes as rapid as the ones we’ve now set in motion.
Wiens’ data add an exclamation point to Mann’s statement. And it also raises an unavoidable question: What is going to happen to the species responsible for all of this, namely, humans?
“Humans will be fine,” says Wiens, “because we have things like clothes and air conditioning.”
Climate talk shifts from curbing CO2 to adapting to a new normal
Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Efforts to curb global warming have quietly shifted as greenhouse gases inexorably rise.
The conversation is no longer solely about how to save the planet by cutting carbon emissions. It’s becoming more about how to save ourselves from the warming planet’s wild weather.
It was Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement last week of an ambitious plan to stave off New York City’s rising seas with flood gates, levees and more that brought this transition into full focus.
After years of losing the fight against rising global emissions of heat-trapping gases, governments around the world are emphasizing what a U.N. Foundation scientific report calls “managing the unavoidable.”
It’s called adaptation and it’s about as sexy but as necessary as insurance, experts say.
It’s also a message that once was taboo among climate activists such as former Vice President Al Gore.
In his 1992 book “Earth in the Balance,” Gore compared talk of adapting to climate change to laziness that would distract from necessary efforts.
But in his 2013 book “The Future,” Gore writes bluntly: “I was wrong.” He talks about how coping with rising seas and temperatures is just as important as trying to prevent global warming by cutting emissions.
Like Gore, governmental officials across the globe aren’t saying everyone should just give up on efforts to reduce pollution. They’re saying that as they work on curbing carbon, they also have to deal with a reality that’s already here.
In March, President Barack Obama’s science advisers sent him a list of recommendations on climate change. No. 1 on the list: “Focus on national preparedness for climate change.”
“Whether you believe climate change is real or not is beside the point,” New York’s Bloomberg said in announcing his $20 billion adaptation plans. “The bottom line is: We can’t run the risk.”
On Monday, more than three dozen other municipal officials from across the country will go public with a nationwide effort to make their cities more resilient to natural disasters and the effects of man-made global warming.
“It’s an insurance policy, which is investing in the future,” Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Calif., who is chairing the mayors’ efforts, said in an interview Friday. “This is public safety. It’s the long-term hazards that could impact a community.”
Discussions about global warming are happening more often in mayors’ offices than in Congress. The Obama administration and local governments are coming up with thousands of eye-glazing pages of climate change adaptation plans and talking about zoning, elevation, water system infrastructure, and most of all, risk.
“They can sit up there and not make any policies or changes, but we know we have to,” Broward County, Fla., Mayor Kristin Jacobs said. “We know that we’re going to be that first line of defense.”
University of Michigan professor Rosina Bierbaum is a presidential science adviser who headed the adaptation section of the administration’s new National Climate Assessment. “It’s quite striking how much is going on at the municipal level,” Bierbaum said. “Communities have to operate in real time. Everybody is struggling with a climate that is no longer the climate of the past.”
Still, Bierbaum said, “Many of the other developed countries have gone way ahead of us in preparing for climate change. In many ways, the U.S. may be playing catch-up.”
Hurricanes, smaller storms and floods have been a harsh teacher for South Florida, said Jacobs.
“Each time you get walloped, you stop and scratch your head … and learn from it and make change,” she said. “It helps if you’ve been walloped once or twice. I think it’s easier to take action when everybody sees” the effect of climate change and are willing to talk about being prepared.
What Bloomberg announced for New York is reasonable for a wealthy city with lots of people and lots of expensive property and infrastructure to protect, said S. Jeffress Williams, a University of Hawaii geophysicist who used to be the expert on sea level rise for the U.S. Geological Survey. But for other coasts in the United States and especially elsewhere in the poorer world, he said, “it’s not so easy to adapt.”
Rich nations have pledged, but not yet provided, $100 billion a year to help poor nations adapt to global warming and cut their emissions. But the $20 billion cost for New York City’s efforts shows the money won’t go far in helping poorer cities adapt, said Brandon Wu of the nonprofit ActionAid.
At U.N. climate talks in Germany this past week, Ronald Jumeau, a delegate from the Seychelles, said developing countries have noted the more than $50 billion in relief that U.S. states in the Northeast got for Superstorm Sandy.
That’s a large amount “for one storm in three states. At the same time, the Philippines was hit by its 15th storm in the same year,” Jumeau said. “It puts things in context.”
For poorer cities in the U.S., what makes sense is to buy out property owners, relocate homes and businesses and convert vulnerable sea shores to parks so that when storms hit “it’s not a big deal,” Williams said. “I think we’ll see more and more communities make that decision largely because of the cost involved in trying to adapt to what’s coming.”
Jacobs, the mayor from South Florida, says that either people will move “or they will rehab their homes so that they can have a higher elevation. Already, in the Keys, you see houses that are up on stilts. So is that where we’re going? At some point, we’re going to have to start looking at real changes.”
It’s not just rising seas.
Sacramento has to deal with devastating droughts as well as the threat of flooding. It has a levee system so delicate that only New Orleans has it worse, said Johnson, the California capital’s mayor.
The temperature in Sacramento was 110 this past week. After previous heat waves, cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have come up with cooling centers and green roofs that reduce the urban heat island affect.
Jacobs said cities from Miami to Virginia Beach, Va., are coping with mundane efforts: changes in zoning and building codes, raising the elevation of roads and runways, moving and hardening infrastructure. None of it grabs headlines, but “the sexiness is … in the results,” she said.
For decades, scientists referenced average temperatures when they talked about global warming. Only recently have they focused intensely on extreme and costly weather, encouraged by the insurance industry which has suffered high losses, Bierbaum said.
In 2012, weather disasters — not necessarily all tied to climate change — caused $110 billion in damage to the United States, which was the second highest total since 1980, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week.
Now officials are merging efforts by emergency managers to prepare for natural disasters with those of officials focused on climate change. That greatly lessens the political debate about human-caused global warming, said University of Colorado science and disaster policy professor Roger Pielke Jr.
It also makes the issue more local than national or international.
“If you keep the discussion focused on impacts … I think it’s pretty easy to get people from all political persuasions,” said Pielke, who often has clashed with environmentalists over global warming. “It’s insurance. The good news is that we know insurance is going to pay off again.”
Describing these measures as resiliency and changing the way people talk about it make it more palatable than calling it climate change, said Hadi Dowlatabadi, a University of British Columbia climate scientist.
“It’s called a no-regrets strategy,” Dowlatabadi said. “It’s all branding.”
All that, experts say, is essentially taking some of the heat out of the global warming debate.