A major climate event millions of years ago that caused substantial change to the ocean’s ecological systems may hold clues as to how the Earth will respond to future climate change, a Florida State University researcher said.
In a new study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Assistant Professor of Geology Jeremy Owens explains that parts of the ocean became inhospitable for some organisms as the Earth’s climate warmed 94 million years ago. As the Earth warmed, several natural elements — what we think of as vitamins — depleted, causing some organisms to die off or greatly decrease in numbers.
The elements that faded away were vanadium and molybdenum, important trace metals that serve as nutrients for ocean life. Molybdenum in particular is used by bacteria to help promote nitrogen fixation, which is essential for all forms of life. “These trace metals were drawn down to levels below where primary producing organisms, the base of the ocean food chain, can survive,” Owens said. “This change inhibited biology.”
The decrease of these trace metals also suggests a global expansion of oxygen deficiency, which could lead to larger dead zones in bodies of water around the world, meaning little to no life could exist in those areas.
That is of concern to scientists as they try to understand what will happen to the world around us as the Earth continues to warm. For scientists, the events of 94 million years ago provide a possible glimpse into future climate change scenarios.
“This is the best window to understanding future climate change,” Owens said. “It gives us insight into the cascade of events that can affect the entire ocean.” The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Agouron Institute.
Wildfires in the Southwestern U.S. continued to rage on Wednesday, as the combination of extreme heat and erratic winds fueled the devastation and firefighters warned that blazes near Los Angeles were only about 10 percent contained.
As residents flee and emergency crews attempt to contain the infernos, climate scientists are warning that these deadly fires are climate change in action.
More than 20 fires are also burning in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Washington state, Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico. Meanwhile, record-breaking heat reached 123°F in Palm Springs and 115°F in Phoenix. Death Valley recorded the country’s hottest temperature on Monday at 126°F. At least six deaths have been attributed to the extreme heat.
Michael Mann, a professor of meteorology at Penn State University who was in Phoenix for the Democratic National Platform committee meeting last weekend when the temperatures hit 106°F, told the panel that the extreme weather was “an example of just the sort of extreme heat that is on the increase due to human-caused climate change.”
Mann warned on Tuesday that the worst is yet to come.
“The likelihood of record heat has already doubled in the U.S. due to human-caused warming, and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg,” he told the Huffington Post.
The high temperatures have stymied emergency workers’ efforts to extinguish the fires, which began burning even before the heatwave hit.
Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told the HuffPost that there was no question the fires and scorching temperatures were the result of human-caused climate change.
Rising temperatures are posing a threat to global food security.
Selective breeding of crops like maize has been common practice in agriculture for thousands of years. By breeding new varieties of plants, farmers can increase crop yields, prevent the spread of disease, and adapt to droughts or other environmental conditions. Unfortunately, a new study from the University of Leeds reveals that climate change may prove to be the biggest challenge yet for crop breeders.
According to the study, rising temperatures and an increased number of droughts brought on by climate change are significantly reducing the crop durations of maize in Africa. Crop durations indicate the length of time between the planting and harvesting of a crop, and the shorter they are, the less time crops have to mature.
In the past, farmers have bred new maize varieties that grow in shorter periods of time to combat shifting crop durations and to preserve yields. However, modern breeding techniques simply aren’t fast enough to compete with rapidly changing climate conditions. The process for producing a new crop variety can take up to 30 years. Yet, if the current carbon emissions trajectory doesn’t change, crop durations will drastically shorten as early as 2018 in some regions of Africa, the study finds, and no later than 2031 in most parts of the continent, although a few areas may not be dramatically affected until 2038.
This would be disastrous for the millions of Africans who rely on maize for food. Without the ability to quickly adapt their crops to these new conditions, farmers will be forced to harvest maize with diminished biomasses, resulting in insufficient crop yields.
Summer is the season to cool off with a big chunk of watermelon. But there’s another kind of watermelon that’ll have you trading in your sandals for hiking boots if you want to experience it. While you’re not going to want to eat what some people call “watermelon snow,” researchers have found that having a better understanding of it could be important in a warming world.
In snowy places across the globe, “watermelon snow” forms as the summer sun heats up and melts winter’s leftovers. The colorful snow is made up of communities of algae that thrive in freezing temperatures and liquid water, resulting in algal blooms. When these typically green organisms get a lot of sun, they produce a natural type of sunscreen that paints the slopes pink and red. The addition of color to the surface darkens the snow, allowing it to heat up faster, and melt more quickly.
“Imagine wearing black instead of a white T-shirt in the sun. It feels much hotter,” wrote Stefanie Lutz, a geobiologist at GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences, in an email. “It is the same for the snow: More heat means more melting.”
Dr. Lutz, together with Liane Benning and their colleagues at a number of universities, published a study Thursday in Nature Communications that examined microbes in summer snow, and noted that while bacterial communities differ from place to place, the same algae that produce watermelon snow appear to be so global that it’s time for climate models to consider their effects on snow and ice melt.
Algae changes snow’s albedo, or how much light, or radiation, its surface reflects back into the atmosphere. Based on 40 samples from four locations, the new study estimated that blooms of snow algae can lead to an albedo decrease of 13 percent over the course of an Arctic melt season, compared with clean snow, meaning the dark snow would absorb much more light. Just how much melting this will account for, or how much that may affect sea level rise, however, is still to be determined. But algal effects on albedo are going to be important for melting glaciers, which play a huge role in the climate system, said Dr. Lutz.
Current climate models take into account how soot from forest fires, dust from the Sahara or even increased water content (which slightly darkens snow to blue) affect albedo, but they have yet to measure biological effects, like that of algae.
Cities in six continents joined up to form the world’s largest alliance to combat climate change on Wednesday, a move intended to help making ground-level changes to slow global warming.
More than 7,100 cities in 119 countries formed the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a network for helping exchange information on such goals as developing clean energy, organizers said.
Cities are responsible for an estimated 75 percent of carbon emissions contributing to climate change and consume 70 percent of global energy, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
“When mayors share a vision of a low-carbon future and roll up their sleeves, things get done,” said Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president and co-chairman of the new alliance, in a statement.
The coalition is the world’s largest, representing 8 percent of the world’s population, its founders said. It results from the merger of two groups – the European Union’s Covenant of Mayors and the U.N.-backed Compact of Mayors.
The other co-chairman is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire philanthropist who helped launch the Compact of Mayors.
Bloomberg has worked with mayors around the world to promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Kochs have spent more than $88 million in traceable funding to groups attacking climate change science, policy and regulation. Of that total, $21 million went to groups that recently bought a full page New York Times advertisement defending ExxonMobil from government investigations into its systematic misrepresentation of climate science.
If you’re an executive at a big oil company watching as ExxonMobil is finally exposed for studying climate change, covering up the science and spreading misinformation, you’re probably worried now that state attorneys general are knocking on Exxon’s door.
Charles and David Koch must be worried, anyway. Their foundations gave more than $21 million to the people and groups that signed a recent, full page New York Times advertisement that defends ExxonMobil’s longstanding efforts to ruin the public’s understanding of climate change science.
For comparison, Exxon itself spent half as much on the same people and groups, $10.1 million; money that the front groups spent on tactics like … a $100,000-or-so full page ad buy in the New York Times. (More info at Climate Investigations Center from my former colleague, Kert Davies).
The ringleader group behind the letter, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), is of particular interest. Exxon dumped CEI for its unsupportable climate stance back in 2006, a crushing blow for the aggressive beltway front group that continued to humiliate CEI staff for years.
But it appears that CEI is loyal to the cause of climate denial, despite being abandoned by Exxon a decade ago. Other financiers, like the Koch family and several coal and oil companies may explain why the denial campaign was sustained.
Traceable funds only represent a portion of the Koch family’s contributions to CEI. At CEI’s annual fundraising events, Koch Industries’ lobbying subsidiary has been listed as a sponsor. Full-disclosure tax filings published by PR Watch revealed that Koch Industries directly paid Americans for Prosperity, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and other organizations.