Category Archives: Climate change

Climate Sense: Arctic burns as climate issues gain political attention

It’s next to impossible to keep up with all the new information coming out about climate change, but I thought I would share some new reports that I found interesting.

For the first three months of this year, I provided a weekly report called “Climate Sense.” I am still trying to gauge how often to write these posts or drop them altogether. I am not conducting original reporting; I’m just offering some reading material. Perhaps regular readers of this blog prefer their own news sources. As always, I am open to suggestions.

Item 1: The Arctic is burning

The Arctic is hot and dry this summer. Fires are burning through longtime stores of carbon in the peat soil and emitting unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide that could contribute to climate change. That increases the risk of future fires — a dangerous feedback loop, according to Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics.

“These are some of the biggest fires on the planet, with a few appearing to be larger than 100,000 hectares (380 square miles),” Smith told reporter Morgan Hines of USA Today. “The amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emitted from Arctic Circle fires in June 2019 is larger than all of the CO2 released from Arctic Circle fires in the same month from 2010 through to 2018 put together.”

The Guardian, which produced the video on this page, provides links to a number of sources in a story titled “’Unprecedented’: More than 100 Arctic wildfires burn in worst-ever season.”

Item 2: Memorial for a glacier

Glaciers — essentially the beginnings of many rivers around the world — are melting away one-by-one because of climate change, triggering various effects on the local ecosystem.

Two anthropologists from Rice University, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, decided to erect a plaque to an Icelandic glacier that has met its demise.

“This little glacier on a little mountain, in a country far away on the edge of the world, is something that indexes a much larger story that affects the entire planet,” Boyer was quoted as saying in a story by Morgan Krakow in the Washington Post.

The monument reads: “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

On a related topic, scientists are learning that glaciers that come into contact with the ocean are melting faster than previously predicted — because they are melting from both the top and the bottom. Nina Pullano of Inside Climate News reports on new findings from a scientific study.

Item 3: Is climate crisis a political issue?

Andy Stone, host of the “Energy Policy Now” podcast from the University of Pennsylvania, speculates in writing about whether climate concerns among the American public has reached a point that could help determine the presidential election.

“A critical question, given the growing number of warnings from the likes of the U.S. government and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change …, is whether the country has finally reached the point where climate will in fact be a decisive issue for voters at the polls,” he writes in Forbes. “Environmental sociology (yes, there is such a field) refers to this as a question of salience. When it comes to decision time, does the voter prioritize environment?”

Andy’s final answer is not definitive, but it is hopeful.

Meanwhile, CNN has announced that it will host a “town hall” on climate change issues for Democratic candidates in the presidential race in September. Candidates who meet the criteria for the September debate organized by the Democratic National Committee will appear one at a time before an audience in New York City.

Congress is also paying more attention to the climate crisis, as both Democrats and Republicans are remarkably trying to coming to terms with a tax on greenhouse gases.

“The push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions come as both Democrats and Republicans face pressure from their constituents, and in some cases the fossil fuel industry itself, to regulate carbon emissions that lead to climate change,” writes Miranda Green for “The Hill.”

“The influx of legislation is surprising some observers who have long called for action on climate change,” Miranda noted. “They say they wouldn’t have believed a year ago that there would have been such a push.”

She quoted Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida who lost his reelection bid last year after proposing a carbon-pricing bill.

“I can tell you from what I know is that we are worlds apart from the Congress that I left at the beginning of this year,” he said. “Today, not just rank and file from moderate districts, but leading Republicans, senior Republicans are stepping out on the issue, making it clear that the debate should be over solutions, not over science or anything else of that nature, and for me it’s a sign of real progress.”

Item 4: Auto emissions deal and federal intervention

California officials announced this week that they have reached agreement with four automobile manufacturers to produce cars with better fuel mileage, leading the way to a new national standard. McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, July 25.

But the Trump administration wants to role back the California standard and impose a rule that prohibits California or any state from requiring stricter emissions standards. McClatchy/Sacramento Bee update, July 25.

“The Trump administration is pursuing one national standard and certainty for the entire auto market,” Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Michael Abboud was quoted as saying. “This voluntary framework is a PR stunt that does nothing to further the one national standard that will provide certainty and relief for American consumers.”

California officials maintain that any added costs for producing more fuel-efficient cars would be offset by fuel savings.

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Amusing Monday: Dancing in reaction to climate change

When concerns about climate change inspire dancers to burst out with highly emotional dance movements, the audience does not need to be science-minded to feel a little of the weight hanging over our world.

Diana Movius, an environmental anthropologist and climate policy analyst, has been living a second life as a choreographer and director of a dance company in Washington, D.C. She recently revived her 2015 dance production called “Glacier,” which portrays the stages of calamity as ice cracks and melts away.

“The experience will be different for everyone, but my hope is that people come out of watching ‘Glacier’ with a sense of having witnessed something that is being lost, and a sense that [climate change] is something we should try to stop,” Movius told Washington Post reporter Stephanie Williams before the dance’s revival in February.

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Hood Canal blooms again, as biologists assess role of armored plankton

In what is becoming an annual event, portions of Hood Canal have changed colors in recent days, the result of a large bloom of armored plankton called coccolithophores.

Coccolithophore from Hood Canal’s Dabob Bay viewed with scanning electron microscope.
Image: Brian Bill, Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Teri King, a plankton expert with Washington Sea Grant, has been among the first to take notice of the turquoise blooms each year they occur.

“Guess who is back?” Teri wrote in the blog Bivalves for Clean Water. “She showed up June 24 in Dabob Bay and has been shining her Caribbean blueness throughout the bay and spreading south toward Quilcene Bay.”

Yesterday, I noticed a turquoise tinge in Southern Hood Canal from Union up to Belfair, although the color was not as intense as I’ve seen in past years.

The color is the result of light reflecting off elaborate platelets of calcium carbonate, called coccoliths, which form around the single-celled coccolithophores. The species in Hood Canal is typically Emiliania huxleyi.

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Drought continues with fear of fire throughout Western Washington

Severe drought is settling in across most of Western Washington — including Kitsap County — where dry conditions raise the risks of wildfire, and low streamflows could impair salmon spawning this fall.

Western Washington is one of the few places in the country with “severe” drought.
Map: U.S. Drought Monitor, Richard Tinker, U.S. agencies.

Scattered showers and drizzle the past few days have done little to reverse a drying trend as we go into what is normally the driest period of the year, from now through August. As of today, the fire danger is moderate, but warmer weather could increase the risk substantially within a day or two.

The topsy-turvy weather that I observed across the Kitsap Peninsula last quarter (Water Ways, April 2) continued through June. Normally, the southwest corner of the peninsula near Holly receives twice the precipitation as the north end near Hansville. But that didn’t happen last month, when the monthly rainfall total was 0.61 inches in Holly and 0.83 inches in Hansville. Silverdale, about halfway between, received 1.11 inches in June.

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Amusing Monday: Animations find new ways to talk about climate crisis

I’m always looking for new ways to visualize the causes and effects of excessive greenhouse gases and what is happening to the Earth’s climate. A clever new animation depicts the carbon cycle as a clickety-clackety machine that moves the carbon from place to place.

The video, produced by Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, shows how carbon takes on different forms as it moves from the air into plants and animals, becomes embedded deep in the ground and then is turned into fuel at a pace that upsets the natural cycle. (Don’t forget to go full-screen.)

“Humans have thrown the carbon cycle out of adjustment, with increasingly severe consequences for climate, oceans and ecosystems,” states the description below the YouTube video.

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What do people truly believe when it comes to climate change?

Nationwide polls show that more and more people believe that humans are responsible for increasing greenhouse gases and thus altering our climate — including unusual changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels and disruptions in the oceanic food web.

I keep waiting for public opinion to reach a critical mass, so that government officials feel compelled to take serious actions to get climate change under control.

Instead, we see President Trump ordering rollbacks on regulations designed to reduce emissions from coal-fired plants and automobiles. The result will be a greater rate of climate change.

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Amusing Monday: A new hydrothermal vent field discovered off West Coast

The location of an unknown hydrothermal vent system was predicted by researchers studying maps of the seafloor along the Gorda Ridge off the West Coast. Following those leads, a group of underwater explorers looked for and found the shimmering cauldron of superheated water.

The discovery, during this year’s Nautilus Expedition, took place about a week ago in an area about 75 miles offshore of the border between California and Oregon.

As operators dimmed the lights from their remotely operated vehicles, the sounds of excited scientists filled the mother ship’s control room, where observers watched a video screen providing glorious views of the emerging flow (first video on this page).

“It’s like an artist’s rendition of another planet,” tweeted volcanologist Shannon Kobs Nawotniak of Idaho State University, where her team figured out where to look for the vents using high-resolution sonar bathymetry. Researchers named it the Apollo Vent Field in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this year.

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Amusing Monday: World Reef Day calls attention to coral catastrophe

On the first day of June, ocean advocates around the world celebrated the very first World Reef Day. The event got me to thinking a little more about the role of corals in the most productive ecosystems around the world, as well as the coral reefs located in our own backyards here in the Pacific Northwest.

“Our goal was to stimulate a global conversation about reef conservation and the simple things we can do in our own lives to make huge changes,” said Theresa Van Greunen of Aqua-Aston Hospitality, one of the sponsors of World Reef Day.

The event was launched with a special focus on Hawaii, but the issue of conserving critical coral habitats has worldwide appeal, with 5.5 million people pledging to use reef-friendly sunscreen and reduce their usage of single-use plastics that can harm the marine ecosystem, according to a news release from sponsor Raw Elements and another from sponsor Hawaiian Airlines. While there were elements of fun in this new event, I guess it does not fit my normal criteria for “amusing,” so we’ll have to settle for educational.

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Ocean acidification gets attention in four bills passed by the U.S. House

The issue of ocean acidification gained some traction this week in the U.S. House of Representatives, where bipartisan support led to the approval of four bills designed to bring new ideas into the battle to save sea life from corrosive waters.

If passed by the Senate, the legislation would allow federal agencies to set up competitions and offer prize money for the best ideas for reducing ocean acidification, adapting to ongoing changes or solving difficult research problems. The bills also foster discussions about climate change by bringing more people to the table while providing increased attention to the deadly conditions that are developing along the coasts and in estuaries, such as Puget Sound.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer

“We know that changing ocean chemistry threatens entire livelihoods and industries in our state, said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, in a press release. “There are generations of folks in our coastal communities who have worked in fishing and shellfish growing — but that’s endangered if we don’t maintain a healthy Pacific Ocean.”

Later in this blog post, I will reflect on other Kilmer-related issues, including the so-called Puget Sound Day on the Hill.

In a phone conversation, Rep. Kilmer told me that he was encouraged with the widespread support for a bill that he sponsored called the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act of 2019 (HR 1921), which passed the House on a 395-22 vote. The bill would allow federal agencies to sponsor competitions and offer prize money for the best ideas. Money would come out of existing funds that agencies use for related purposes. The bill was co-sponsored by Northwest Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, along with Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, an Oregon Democrat, and Rep. Don Young, an Alaskan Republican. Five representatives from coastal areas in other parts of the country added their names to the bill.

“There is a legitimate problem, and people are beginning to see the impacts of the changing ocean chemistry,” Derek said. “This should a bipartisan issue.”

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Amusing Monday: ‘Science Guy’ flips out during climate demo

“I think we’ve all broken Bill Nye — and I, for one, am absolutely on board with his gritty new reboot,” says comedian John Oliver after “the Science Guy” launches into a profanity-laced demonstration of climate change, in which he literally watches the globe go up in flames.

“I didn’t mind explaining photosynthesis to you when you were 12,” Nye tells Oliver’s HBO audience after firing up his blowtorch. “But you’re adults now, and this is an actual crisis! Got it?”

Nye appeared yesterday on CNN’s Reliable Sources, where moderator Brian Stelter asked him about his blowup. The CNN piece, shown in the first video, goes straight to Bill’s line, “The planet’s on f—— fire! You’re not children anymore!…”

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