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Atlantic Circulation Weaker Than In Last Thousand Years 0

By John Upton, Senior Science Writer, Climate Central

Editor’s Note: Climate Central is an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the American public. Its scientists publish and journalists report on climate science, energy, sea level rise, wildfires, drought, and related topics. This post appeared on Climate Central, March 23, 2015. More on John Upton at the conclusion.

A sweeping ocean conveyor system that ushers warm tropical waters into the North Atlantic appears to have partly recovered from a near-collapse around the time that the Beatles were breaking up, but the system remains weaker than it had been since before humans figured out how to write modern music on a page.

Powerful Atlantic Ocean currents fuel Gulf streams, affect sea levels, warm cities in continental Europe and North America, and bring nutrients up from ocean depths that help sustain marine ecosystems and fisheries.

But an avalanche of cold water from the melting Greenland ice sheet appears to be slowing the ocean circulation to levels not experienced in more than 1,000 years.

The Tri-State area is defined by the ocean's influence. From the top of the image, the tidal Hudson, bordered on the right by Westchester County and on the left by Rockland County and New Jersey to the south, drains from the north and enters the Atlantic Ocean. The tip of Sandy Hook NJ juts from the lower left corner. Long Island Sound, mid-right, borders eastern Westchester, Connecticut and the north shore of Long Island. View from Space Shuttle Columbia, mission STS-58. Public domain.

The NY/Tri-state area is defined by the ocean’s influence. From the top of the image, the tidal Hudson, which drains from the north on its way to the Atlantic, borders western Westchester County, NY and New York City, and eastern Rockland County, NY and New Jersey. The tip of Sandy Hook, NJ juts from the lower left corner. Long Island Sound, mid-right, borders eastern Westchester and New York City, southern Connecticut and the north shore of Long Island. View from Space Shuttle Columbia, mission STS-58. Public domain.

That’s the conclusion of a bold new attempt to combine temperature measurements and climate-related data scrounged from coral samples, ice cores and tree rings to track the worrying decline of the critical Atlantic Ocean phenomenon. The new research, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, used observations and studies of sea-surface temperatures to produce a new index — one that charts the waning force of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), one of the planet’s most important circulation systems.

The index reveals a modern powering down of the AMOC, including a sharp slowdown between 1970 and 1990, which had already been widely detected, followed by a partial recovery that nonetheless failed to boost the system back to its vigorous pre-Industrial Revolution state.

That’s the conclusion of a bold new attempt to combine temperature measurements and climate-related data scrounged from coral samples, ice cores and tree rings to track the worrying decline of the critical Atlantic Ocean phenomenon. The new research, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, used observations and studies of sea-surface temperatures to produce a new index — one that charts the waning force of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), one of the planet’s most important circulation systems. The index reveals a modern powering down of the AMOC, including a sharp slowdown between 1970 and 1990, which had already been widely detected, followed by a partial recovery that nonetheless failed to boost the system back to its vigorous pre-Industrial Revolution state.

The new index shows the weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation.
Credit: Nature Climate Change

If the climate relationships identified by the researchers, led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, hold true, growing melt rates in Greenland “might lead to further weakening of the AMOC within a decade or two, and possibly even more permanent shutdown” of key components of it, the scientists warn in their paper.

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Florida Climate by Pat Bagley 0

Florida Climate. Pat Bagley. CagleCartoons.com. Used with permission.

Florida Climate. Pat Bagley. CagleCartoons.com. Used with permission.

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Patrick “Pat” Bagley is an American editorial cartoonist and journalist for The Salt Lake Tribune in Salt Lake City, Utah. His cartoons have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian of London, The Times of London, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and the Los Angeles Times. He has produced more than 10,000 cartoons for the Tribune.

Pat is also an illustrator and author of independent political cartoons and children’s books. His liberal political stance contrasts with the conservative state of Utah, and has influenced several books of political cartoons and humor. Bagley’s 2002 book Dinosaurs of Utah and Dino Destinations was nominated for the Utah Children’s Book of the Year. Bagley was the recipient of the 2007 Torch of Freedom Award from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. Bagley was awarded the 2009 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning by a unanimous panel of judges, made up of Garry Trudeau, Jules Feiffer and John Sherffius, representing the Herb Block Foundation.

More on Pat Bagley at the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists.

See more of Pat Bagley’s work at Cagle Cartoons.

Time to Fight Habitats Hostile to the Homeless 0

What’s wrong with this public bench?

defensive benchfinal

It prevents this:

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The internationally famous, 87-year old Strand Bookstore in New York City’s Greenwich Village calls itself “a community bookstore first and foremost.” In 2013, it installed a sprinkler system that periodically drenched homeless people who slept in its expansive, awning-covered storefront overnight. Manager Eddie Sutton said the system, which operated between 10:30 PM and 9 AM, was installed to clean the sidewalk. New York media mocked Strand. The dousing of homeless New Yorkers was halted.

There is an ingrained heartlessness in the way society at-large addresses the issue of homelessness. Characteristic is the San Diego Police Department. Its website, Dealing with Homeless People, officially encourages citizens and store owners to be uncharitable, warning them against offering food and money, or access to “areas protected from inclement weather.” Particularly revealing are these two “tips” from its list of twenty-two that “will help you avoid problems with homeless people”:

  • Design public amenities to discourage misuse, e.g., shape benches and other seating to be comfortable for sitting but not for sleeping.
  • Have plants at sidewalk level. If raised planter boxes are used, the sides should be at least 4 feet high or their tops should uncomfortable for seating, e.g., by making them very narrow, allowing plants to grow over them, etc.

walk pyramidsYou have likely seen these hostile deterrents without even realizing it. Increasingly, they hide in plain sight amid our everyday environment: small pyramidal shapes on flat surfaces beneath protective cover, sloping wall tops, six-foot park benches with a center armrest — design elements meant to deny a place to rest or find shelter.

These are commonly grouped as defensive architecture  — stated plainly: techniques to defend against fellow humans in need of horizontal space or a roof. It is also known by the more accurate term hostile architecture. But pushing homeless citizens to the further margins of society is not its only aim. Its prime objective is to make homelessness invisible.

Oxford English Dictionary defines habitat as “a person’s usual or preferred surroundings.” Protection of habitat is central to the mission of virtually every national environmental organization, though only rarely in human terms.

Defenders of Wildlife:

The place where each species finds the conditions it needs to live and thrive is called its habitat. When habitats are threatened, so are the animals who live there.

Nature Conservancy:

We work to protect a myriad of habitats so we can preserve the diversity of life on Earth.

Friends of the Earth:

We believe all people deserve to live in a healthy environment.

As many as 3 million Americans find themselves homeless at some time during the course of a year. 1.6 million are children. More than 100,000 are veterans. On EarthDesk, December 24, 2013 we wrote that environmentalists should have a role in fighting this scourge:

Displaced, starved and resource deprived species are a central concern of environmentalism. The human is one of those species.

When we environmentalists educate about climate change, we warn of the devastating consequences that will be visited upon our homes and health in the decades ahead. But poverty and homelessness are already everywhere around us. And have been for decades.

American environmentalism is skilled, inventive and influential. It can help counter these hostile practices and policies that are infiltrating our cities, such as water drenchings (even by a San Francisco church), defensive architecture, and pernicious government websites that attack those among us who are less fortunate. Most important, it should address the economic disparities that make this conversation necessary at all — the same disparities that make the poor the primary target of pollution the world over.

If we indeed believe in the profound importance of diversity, habitat and reverence for life, there are no members of a species more deserving of our attention than our fellow humans who are homeless.

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Sean Gallagher on Everyday Climate Change 0

The Sinking City of Jakarta. By Sean Gallagher. Used with permission.

The Sinking City of Jakarta. By Sean Gallagher on Everyday Climate Change. Used with permission.

Sean Gallagher is a British photographer and filmmaker who has been based in Asia for almost a decade. (More on Sean below). He provided EarthDesk with this description of the above image, which he posted on the Instagram site Everyday Climate Change:

A man walks past a river that has been covered with refuse, in a slum community in the Muaru Baru district of Jakarta. Citywide floods in early 2013 washed large amounts of refuse into some communities, completely blocking the flow of waterways.

Located on the northern shores of the island of Java, the Indonesian capital of Jakarta is on the front line of climate change.

40% of the city lies below sea-level and this coastal capital is being subjected to regular floods, intensified by the creeping waters which slowly engulf parts of the city as sea-levels rise.

Combined with storm water runoff from deforested mountains near the city, this urban area is one of the world’s most severely affected by climactic change.

Sean is part of a network of outstanding photographers from five continents who contribute to Everyday Climate Change, a breathtaking site operated by photographer James Whitlow Delano. James told EarthDesk he created Everyday Climate Change “to reach out to other photographers, like Sean, to initiate the discussion outside the cloistered photography world I live in and the cloistered academic world in which you operate.” He encourages photographers to share images that document the realities of climate change.

Instagram: https://instagram.com/everydayclimatechange

Twitter: #everydayclimatechange

FB: http://www.facebook.com/EverydayClimateChange

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Sean GallagherFrom Sean’s website: My name is Sean Gallagher, a British photographer and filmmaker who has been based in Asia for almost a decade.From the Tibetan Plateau to the Indonesian archipelago, I often spend months in the field travelling across the continent documenting its most important environmental, social and cultural issues for some of the world’s leading news outlets.I am a 6-time recipient of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting travel grant, am represented by National Geographic Creative and am a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

I graduated in Zoology from university in the United Kingdom and it is my background in science that has led to much of my work being focused on communicating environmental issues through visual storytelling.

For more on Sean, follow this link.

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Pi-unrolled-720

By John Reid (Edited version of Image:Pi-unrolled.gif.) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

To learn more about Pi, follow this link.

Potentially Explosive Oil Trains Run Beneath West Point Military Academy 2

The route of oil trains that transport volatile Bakken crude along the Hudson River is often described as running “adjacent” or “past” the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In fact, it runs under the military campus through a tunnel above which sits: Thayer Hall, the main academic building of more than 100 classrooms, Taylor Hall, which holds the offices of the Superintendent and Dean, Bartlett Hall, which houses the department of nuclear engineering, Johnson Baseball Stadium and the Officers’ Club.

west point oil train map2

The solid red line indicates the west shore freight tracks along the Hudson River. The dotted line indicates where the tracks run beneath U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The inset picture, which looks north, shows the buildings that occupy the east side of the West Point campus. The south entrance to the tunnel is indicated by the red circle. Illustration by John Cronin; map by Google; photo by USMA

Worry about a catastrophic oil train accident has increased along the Hudson in the wake of two oil train derailments and fires in West Virginia and Illinois over the last four weeks.

On February 16, West Virginia, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency after a derailment and explosion caused the evacuation of up to 300 people and the closing of the public water supply. On March 5, 21 of 103 railcars carrying Bakken crude derailed, causing some to burst into flames alongside the Upper Mississipi River outside Galena Illinois. According to the Associated Press, there have been at least 22 major oil rail accidents since 2006. (See EarthDesk, March 6 and February 20).

According to the environmental organization Riverkeeper:

With very little public awareness and no study of environmental impacts, the oil industry has made the Hudson Valley into one arm of a dangerous “virtual pipeline” for crude oil that snakes thousands of miles by rail, barge and ship from oil fields in North Dakota, Canada and elsewhere, to refineries on both coasts.

The New York State segment of this “virtual pipeline” primarily moves a particularly volatile crude oil by rail from the Bakken shale formation of North Dakota and nearby states and provinces, where oil production has doubled in three years, to the Port of Albany. There, billions of gallons of crude oil can be offloaded onto barges and ships destined for East Coast refineries. Additional trains loaded with crude oil destined for refineries to the south continue along the west side of the Hudson River, through communities in Greene, Ulster, Orange and Rockland counties.

To learn more, follow this link.

Ringling Bros. Elephant Announcement Brings Welcome Second Surprise 0

trump elephant2The March 5 announcement by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that it will halt the use of elephants (see sidebar) brought additional, welcome news to circus-going families. Donald Trump announced via Twitter he too will end his appearances at “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

“Ringling Brothers is phasing out their elephants. I, for one, will never go again.” Mr. Trump tweeted. Ringling will retire the last of its show elephants to its Center for Elephant Conservation by 2018, according to CEO Kenneth Feld. There is no word yet on whether Mr. Trump will join them.

Images via Shutterstock.

Another Oil Train Bursts Into Flames as Fears Go National 0

A demand by the environmental organization Riverkeeper to “Stop the Bomb Trains” was once derided by critics as hyperbole. No longer. On Thursday, 21 of 103 railcars carrying Bakken crude derailed, causing some to burst into flames alongside the Upper Mississipi River outside Galena Illinois, the second such accident in two weeks. At this writing, the fire is still burning.

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On February 20, EarthDesk reported on the West Virginia oil train explosion and fire, and the growing concern that a catastrophe of similar magnitude will happen here on our local river, the Hudson, where Riverkeeper has called for a statewide moratorium on oil by rail. But the radical increase in oil train traffic has elevated local voices into a nationwide chorus. On the other side of the nation, for example, the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland has echoed Riverkeeper’s call.

According to the Associated Press, there have been at least 22 major oil rail accidents since 2006.:

The derailment comes amid increased public concern about the safety of shipping crude by train. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 500,000 in 2014, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail.

Since 2008, derailments of oil trains in the U.S. and Canada have seen 70,000-gallon tank cars break open and ignite on multiple occasions, resulting in huge fires. A train carrying Bakken crude crashed in a Quebec town in 2013, killing 47 people.

[...]

The ruptures and fires have prompted the administration of President Barack Obama to consider requiring upgrades such as thicker tanks, shields to prevent tankers from crumpling, rollover protections and electronic brakes that could make cars stop simultaneously, rather than slam into each other.

The Illinois crash will add to the pressure placed on the Obama administration when the  Associated Press reported on an unreleased analysis by the U.S. Department of Transportation last July that predicted deadly and costly consequences due to increased rail shipments of oil:

The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.

[...]

The 207 total derailments over the two-decade period would cause $4.5 billion in damage, according to the analysis, which predicts 10 “higher consequence events” causing more extensive damage and potential fatalities.

If just one of those more severe accidents occurred in a high-population area, it could kill more than 200 people and cause roughly $6 billion in damage.

Riverkeeper is calling for emails and letters to Governor Andrew Cuomo demanding “a moratorium on crude oil transportation.”  For more information on that campaign, follow this link.

Global Is the New Local: Pollution Changes Clouds, Climate Downstream 0

By Carol Rasmussen
NASA’s Earth Science News Team

Aerosol emission and transport, 9/1/06 to 4/10/07. Also included are locations, indicated by red and yellow dots, of wildfires and human-initiated burning. Via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The residents of Beijing and Delhi are not the only ones feeling the effects of Asian air pollution — an unwanted byproduct of coal-fired economic development. The continent’s tainted air is known to cross the Pacific Ocean, adding to homegrown air-quality problems on the U.S. West Coast.

But unfortunately, pollution doesn’t just pollute. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology, both in Pasadena, California, are looking at how Asian pollution is changing weather and climate around the globe.

Scientists call airborne particles of any sort — human-produced or natural — aerosols. The simplest effect of increasing aerosols is to increase clouds. To form clouds, airborne water vapor needs particles on which to condense. With more aerosols, there can be more or thicker clouds. In a warming world, that’s good. Sunlight bounces off cloud tops into space without ever reaching Earth’s surface, so we stay cooler under cloud cover.

But that simplest effect doesn’t always happen. If there’s no water vapor in the air — the air is dry — aerosols can’t make clouds. Different types of aerosols have different effects, and the same aerosol can have different effects depending on how much is in the air and how high it is. Soot particles at certain altitudes can cause cloud droplets to evaporate, leaving nothing but haze. At other altitudes, soot can cause clouds to be deeper and taller, producing heavy thunderstorms or hailstorms. With so many possibilities, aerosols are one of the largest sources of uncertainty in predicting the extent of future climate change.

The experiments and result

During the last 30 years, clouds over the Pacific Ocean have grown deeper, and storms in the Northwest Pacific have become about 10 percent stronger. This is the same time frame as the economic boom in Asia. JPL researcher Jonathan Jiang and his postdoctoral fellow, Yuan Wang, designed a series of experiments to see if there was a connection between the two phenomena.

They used a numerical model that included weather factors such as temperature, precipitation and barometric pressure over the Pacific Ocean as well as aerosol transport — the movement of aerosols around the Earth. They did two sets of simulations. The first used aerosol concentrations thought to have existed before the Industrial Revolution. The other used current aerosol emissions. The difference between the two sets showed the effects of increased pollution on weather and climate.

“We found that pollution from China affects cloud development in the North Pacific and strengthens extratropical cyclones,” said Wang. These large storms punctuate U.S. winters and springs about once a week, often producing heavy snow and intense cold.

Wang explained that increased pollution makes more water condense onto aerosols in these storms. During condensation, energy is released in the form of heat. That heat adds to the roiling upward and downward airflows within a cloud so that it grows deeper and bigger.

“Large, convective weather systems play a very important role in Earth’s atmospheric circulation,” Jiang said, bringing tropical moisture up to the temperate latitudes. The storms form about once a week between 25 and 50 degrees north latitude and cross the Pacific from the southwest to the northeast, picking up Asia’s pollutant outflow along the way.

Wang thinks the cold winter that the U.S. East endured in 2013 probably had something to do with these stronger extratropical cyclones. The intense storms could have affected the upper-atmosphere wind pattern, called the polar jet stream.

Jiang and Wang are now working on a new experiment to analyze how increased Asian emissions are affecting weather even farther afield than North America. Although their analysis is in a preliminary stage, it suggests that the aerosols are having a measurable effect on climatic conditions around the globe.

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Obama “Quietly” Vetoes Keystone by Nate Beeler 0

Associated Press:  “The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people.”

President Obama Quietly Vetoes Keystone XL Pipeline. Nate Beeler via PoliticalCartoons.com. Used with permission.

By Nate Beeler. PoliticalCartoons.com. Used with permission.

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Nate Beeler‘s profile via the The Columbus Dispatch:

beeler_100Nate Beeler, the award-winning editorial cartoonist for The Dispatch, has earned the reputation of being both a top-flight artist and first-rate journalist. Formerly the cartoonist for the Washington Examiner, he won the 2009 Thomas Nast Award from the Overseas Press Club and the 2008 Berryman Award from the National Press Foundation, among other awards.

Beeler, 31, is a native of Bexley and earned a journalism degree at American University. His cartoons have appeared in such publications as Time, Newsweek and USA Today.

More Nate Beeler at PoliticalCartoons.com