Shockingly Simple: How Farmland Could Absorb an Extra 2 Billion Tonnes of CO2 From the Atmosphere Each Year

Rock Dust Farmland

Credit: Dr Dimitar Epihov

2 Billion Tonnes of CO2 Could be Absorbed From the Atmosphere Each Year by Applying Rock Dust to Farmland

Adding crushed rock dust to farmland could draw down up to two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air per year and help meet key global climate targets, according to a major new study led by the University of Sheffield.

  • Major new study shows adding rock dust to farmland could remove carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent to more than the current total emissions from global aviation and shipping combined — or around half of Europe’s current total emissions
  • Research identifies the nation-by-nation potential for CO2 drawdown, as well as the costs and the engineering challenges involved
  • Findings reveal the world’s highest emitters (China, India and the US) also have the greatest potential to remove CO2 from the atmosphere using this method
  • Scientists suggest unused materials from mining and the construction industry could be used to help soils remove CO2 from the atmosphere

Adding crushed rock dust to farmland could draw down up to two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air per year and help meet key global climate targets, according to a major new study led by the University of Sheffield.

The technique, known as enhanced rock weathering, involves spreading finely crushed basalt, a natural volcanic rock, on fields to boost the soil’s ability to extract CO2 from the air.

In the first nation-by-nation assessment, published in Nature, scientists have demonstrated the method’s potential for carbon drawdown by major economies, and identified the costs and engineering challenges of scaling up the approach to help meet ambitious global CO2 removal targets. The research was led by experts at the University of Sheffield’s Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation, and the University’s Energy Institute.

Meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global heating to below 2C above pre-industrial levels requires drastic cuts in emissions, as well as the active removal of between two and 10 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This new research provides a detailed initial assessment of enhanced rock weathering, a large-scale CO2 removal strategy that could make a major contribution to this effort.

The authors’ detailed analysis captures some of the uncertainties in enhanced weathering CO2 drawdown calculations and, at the same time, identifies the additional areas of uncertainty that future work needs to address specifically through large-scale field trials.

The study showed that China, the United States and India – the highest fossil fuel CO2 emitters – have the highest potential for CO2 drawdown using rock dust on croplands. Together, these countries have the potential to remove approximately 1 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, at a cost comparable to that of other proposed carbon dioxide removal strategies (US$80-180 per tonne of CO2).

Indonesia and Brazil, whose CO2 emissions are 10-20 times lower than the US and China, were also found to have relatively high CO2 removal potential due to their extensive agricultural lands, and climates accelerating the efficiency of rock weathering.

The scientists suggest that meeting the demand for rock dust to undertake large-scale CO2 drawdown might be achieved by using stockpiles of silicate rock dust left over from the mining industry, and are calling for governments to develop national inventories of these materials.

Calcium-rich silicate by-products of iron and steel manufacturing, as well as waste cement from construction and demolition, could also be processed and used in this way, improving the sustainability of these industries. These materials are usually recycled as low value aggregate, stockpiled at production sites or disposed of in landfills. China and India could supply the rock dust necessary for large-scale CO2 drawdown with their croplands using entirely recycled materials in the coming decades.

The technique would be straightforward to implement for farmers, who already tend to add agricultural lime to their soils. The researchers are calling for policy innovation that could support multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals using this technology. Government incentives to encourage agricultural application of rock dust could improve soil and farm livelihoods, as well as reduce CO2, potentially benefiting the world’s 2.5 billion smallholders and reducing poverty and hunger.

Professor David Beerling, Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the study, said: “Carbon dioxide drawdown strategies that can scale up and are compatible with existing land uses are urgently required to combat climate change, alongside deep and sustained emissions cuts.

“Spreading rock dust on agricultural land is a straightforward, practical CO2 drawdown approach with the potential to boost soil health and food production. Our analyses reveal the big emitting nations – China, the US, India – have the greatest potential to do this, emphasizing their need to step up to the challenge. Large-scale Research Development and Demonstration programs, similar to those being pioneered by our Leverhulme Centre, are needed to evaluate the efficacy of this technology in the field.”

Professor Steven Banwart, a partner in the study and Director of the Global Food and Environment Institute, said: “The practice of spreading crushed rock to improve soil pH is commonplace in many agricultural regions worldwide. The technology and infrastructure already exist to adapt these practices to utilize basalt rock dust. This offers a potentially rapid transition in agricultural practices to help capture CO2 at large scale.”

Professor James Hansen, a partner in the study and Director of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions Program at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said: “We have passed the safe level of greenhouse gases. Cutting fossil fuel emissions is crucial, but we must also extract atmospheric CO2 with safe, secure and scalable carbon dioxide removal strategies to bend the global CO2 curve and limit future climate change. The advantage of CO2 removal with crushed silicate rocks is that it could restore deteriorating top-soils, which underpin food security for billions of people, thereby incentivizing deployment.”

Professor Nick Pidgeon, a partner in the study and Director of the Understanding Risk Group at Cardiff University, said: “Greenhouse gas removal may well become necessary as we approach 2050, but we should not forget that it also raises profound ethical questions regarding our relationship with the natural environment. Its development should therefore be accompanied by the widest possible public debate as to potential risks and benefits.”

Reference: “Potential for large-scale CO2 removal via enhanced rock weathering with croplands” by David J. Beerling, Euripides P. Kantzas, Mark R. Lomas, Peter Wade, Rafael M. Eufrasio, Phil Renforth, Binoy Sarkar, M. Grace Andrews, Rachael H. James, Christopher R. Pearce, Jean-Francois Mercure, Hector Pollitt, Philip B. Holden, Neil R. Edwards, Madhu Khanna, Lenny Koh, Shaun Quegan, Nick F. Pidgeon, Ivan A. Janssens, James Hansen and Steven A. Banwart, 8 July 2020, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2448-9

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Near Level Not Seen in 15 Million Years, New Study Warns

Authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years. Dawn Ellner / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Jessica Corbett

As a United Nations agency released new climate projections showing that the world is on track in the next five years to hit or surpass a key limit of the Paris agreement, authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years.

For the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom examined CO2 levels during the Late Pliocene about three million years ago “to search for modern and near future-like climate states,” co-author Thomas Chalk explained in a series of tweets.

“A striking result we’ve found is that the warmest part of the Pliocene had between 380 and 420 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere,” Chalk told the Guardian. “This is similar to today’s value of around 415 parts per million, showing that we are already at levels that in the past were associated with temperature and sea-level significantly higher than today.”

When CO2 levels peaked during the Pliocene, temperatures were 3ºC to 4ºC hotter and seas were 65 feet higher, the newspaper reported. Chalk said that “currently, our CO2 levels are rising at about 2.5 ppm per year, meaning that by 2025 we will have exceeded anything seen in the last 3.3 million years.”

“We are burning through the Pliocene and heading towards a Miocene-like future,” warned co-author Gavin Foster, referencing a period from about 23 to 5.3 million years ago. It was during the Miocene, around 15 million years ago, when “our ancestors are thought to have diverged from orangutans and become recognizably hominoid,” the Guardian noted.

Reporting on the study elicited concern and calls for action from environmentalists and advocacy groups.

“Every kilo of CO2 we emit is one we have to sequester later, provided the food doesn’t run out first,” tweeted Extinction Rebellion Finland, urging the international community to #ActNow.

Nathaniel Stinnett, executive director of the U.S.-based Environmental Voter Project, also responded to the report on Twitter, saying, “Big Oil and Gas are killing us.”

A new report released Thursday by the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) about global temperatures likely coming in the next five years provoked similar alarm and demands.

“It’s still not too late to avoid the worst effects of the #ClimateEmergency. But governments need to act NOW,” declared Greenpeace, pushing for a #GreenRecovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The WMO report projects that the annual global temperature is likely to be at least 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels in each of the next five years. Although it is “extremely unlikely” the average temperature for 2020–2024 will be 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels, WMO warned certain periods could hit that temperature.

Specifically, there is about a 70% chance that one or more months during those five years will be at least 1.5°C hotter than pre-industrial levels and about a 20% chance that one of the next five years will be at least that warm, according to WMO’s Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, led by the United Kingdom’s Met Office.

In a statement Thursday, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas also pointed to the coronavirus pandemic—which prompted global lockdowns that briefly caused planet-heating emissions to drop—as an opportunity to pursue bold recovery plans that incorporate policies that combat the climate crisis, such as rapidly transitioning to renewable energy worldwide.

“WMO has repeatedly stressed that the industrial and economic slowdown from Covid-19 is not a substitute for sustained and coordinated climate action,” Taalas said. “Due to the very long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere, the impact of the drop in emissions this year is not expected to lead to a reduction of CO2 atmospheric concentrations which are driving global temperature increases.”

“Whilst Covid-19 has caused a severe international health and economic crisis, failure to tackle climate change may threaten human well-being, ecosystems, and economies for centuries,” he continued. “Governments should use the opportunity to embrace climate action as part of recovery program and ensure that we grow back better.”

Taalas added that “this study shows—with a high level of scientific skill—the enormous challenge ahead in meeting the Paris agreement on climate change target of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.”

While some scientists and activists have criticized the 2015 Paris climate agreement as not ambitious enough, it is backed by nearly all nations on Earth. U.S. President Donald Trump began the one-year withdrawal process in November 2019 but former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, has vowed to rejoin the accord if he wins this year’s election.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

Doctors note new COVID-19 symptoms in young adults

CORONAVIRUS

[From the article:”Vigilance is key. Pay attention to any of these symptoms, self-isolate, and wait a few days before getting tested. Often tests are showing up negative if taken too early.”

“Doctors suggest getting tested about four days after starting to feel symptoms, that way the virus will show up on the swab.”                       ………… ..                                                                                                                                                                                         .My wife who works in a grocery store (the only place in town open, and therefore where everybody goes) was feeling sick with some of the symptoms back in late April. She left work early and went to the clinic to get tested. Although the test came back negative, she is sure she had it. We both felt pretty bad for a week or so but after two weeks, were nearly back to normal. (I didn’t get tested, since she said it was awful having the swab stuck way up her nose. But I figured whatever she had, I had too (our home is too small to stay in separate rooms all the time).

Anyway, since doctors are finally admitting that coronavirus doesn’t always show up on the swab, I’m sure there are a lot more people out there with it (or who have had it) than anyone even knows. Not to say it isn’t deadly for some people, but the more people who have it, the lower the percentage of overall deaths it  turns out to be. Far less than 2% of all who are exposed to it…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not siding with Trump and hoping to …”open the country back up” as soon as possible or anything. I know the longer things are “shut down” the better for the wildlife (who need to get across the busy highways) and better for the rate of global heating (from all the carbon burned by busy humans). But based on the extra-hyper pace of humans emerging from “lockdown” with a vengeance, it’s looking like this might not be end-all pandemic the planet’s been waiting for after all. In other words, don’t expect to see even a blip on the world human population clock this time…

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Statistics in multiple states show an increase in COVID-19 cases predominantly from people in their 20s and 30s, and now doctors say they are also seeing different symptoms among their younger patients.

“Around the country, we’re seeing more young people come to medical care and often having to be admitted to the hospital,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an Infectious Disease professor at Vanderbilt University.

The jump in such cases is reflected in cities like Nashville, where younger adults ages 25 to 34 are largely making up the spike.

“Over the past few days, they’re starting to develop, they’re describing some new symptoms,” explained Dr. Alex Jahangir with Metro Nashville’s Coronavirus Task Force.

While fever was originally the first telltale sign of the novel coronavirus, now many don’t ever get one.

“The spectrum of symptoms continues to expand and so younger people often do come in now somewhat to our surprise without fever, and this abdominal pain seems to affect them a little bit more,” said Schaffner.

Other symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, loss of taste and smell, and severe headaches.

Clinics in Nashville say their phones are ringing off the hook with younger COVID-19 patients suffering from debilitating migraines, something they haven’t found a medication that works for yet.

“We recognized this virus can do a variety of damage to you, from no symptoms, mild symptoms, a larger collection of symptoms … obviously it can make you very sick and (you) come into the hospital and (it disrupts) the way many of your organs function,” explained Schaffner.

Vigilance is key. Pay attention to any of these symptoms, self-isolate, and wait a few days before getting tested. Often tests are showing up negative if taken too early.

Doctors suggest getting tested about four days after starting to feel symptoms, that way the virus will show up on the swab.

If you do contract COVID-19, doctors advise staying hydrated and taking Tylenol.


CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES

Slash CO2, Then Wait—and Wait—for Temperatures to Drop

Climate action today will take decades to manifest in global temperatures because of “climate inertia”

Slash CO2, Then Wait--and Wait--for Temperatures to Drop
Credit: Kryssia Campos Getty Images

Climate action taken by the world today wouldn’t be noticed for decades to come, according to researchers who say warming on Earth won’t start to slow down for at least 20 years.

And that’s probably an optimistic scenario.

study published Tuesday in Nature Communications illustrates how the rewards for aggressive action would come much later. If global carbon dioxide emissions began falling tomorrow by at least 5% every year, the rate at which the Earth is warming wouldn’t begin to change —at least in a detectable way —until after the year 2040 or so.

Currently, worldwide emissions are still rising.

The situation is similar, in some ways, to a “very large ship, which is at high speed,” said Marianne Lund, a climate scientist at the Center for International Climate Research (CICERO) in Norway and one of the study’s co-authors.

“When you want to change direction, you put your engine in reverse and you turn your wheel full over, but it still takes such a long time before you start seeing your big tanker ship really change or turn,” she said in an interview. “That’s like CO2.”

That’s partly because the climate system itself is slow to respond to changes in factors like greenhouse gas concentrations. It’s a phenomenon known as “climate inertia” —it means the carbon that humans put in the atmosphere today may continue to affect the climate for decades to come.

That’s especially true for CO2, which lasts for decades in the atmosphere. Even if CO2 emissions dropped to zero today, a certain amount of warming would already be locked into the system in the coming years.

Even for gases with shorter atmospheric life spans, such as methane, fast action doesn’t necessarily result in a quick payoff. The climate system is full of short-term variability —that is, global temperatures tend to fluctuate from one year to the next, even if they’re clearly rising in the long term.

This year-to-year variability, or “noise,” can make it difficult to pinpoint long-term trends in global temperatures. It can take years for those patterns to emerge.

The new study, led by Bjørn Samset (also of CICERO) and co-authored by Lund and colleague Jan Fuglestvedt, took a systematic look at the issue. They used models to evaluate various greenhouse gases —including CO2, methane and black carbon (also known as soot) —and how quickly immediate reductions would begin to pay off.

The results suggested that there’s no “easy fix” to the problem, Lund said. While targeting some greenhouse gases may result in slightly faster results than others, they all take decades to start producing noticeable effects.

It’s not the first study to reach that conclusion.

“I think it’s a step forward in the sense of both adding some more information, doing things more sophisticatedly —but the general message hasn’t changed,” said Claudia Tebaldi, a climate scientist at the University of Maryland’s Joint Global Change Research Institute, who commented on the new study for E&E News.

Some of Tebaldi’s previus research has come to similar conclusions.

The delayed results are a fact of the climate system. They don’t mean climate mitigation efforts don’t work, just that they take time. In the meantime, it’s important to make sure the public understands that there will be delays.

“I think just making sure that we don’t feel that we lose motivation or feel that this is for nothing, if we don’t see things changing as quickly as we might hope,” Lund said. “So just being very clear about the expectations in terms of detecting a temperature response or temperature change.”

While global temperature goals are a clear focus of climate action plans —including the Paris Agreement —there are other benchmarks scientists can use to evaluate whether climate action is working. Monitoring the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, for instance, is one way to keep track of how fast emissions are falling.

Regardless of exactly how scientists monitor the success of global climate action, it’s clear that sustained, long-term emissions reductions are necessary to produce results.

“I feel like a better education and a better communication of the general nature of this complicated system that we live in would be beneficial in then making people understand that they cannot expect immediate results,” Tebaldi said. “But it’s all money in the bank that will carry through in the long term.”

A ‘regime shift’ is happening in the Arctic Ocean, scientists say

https://phys.org/news/2020-07-regime-shift-arctic-ocean-scientists.html?fbclid=IwAR2rlEH5OPhX3qrC5aFzC2ceSLXZYmEd9Gis5QOp4Y-sBnf4iopgmwjvWEk

Arctic Ocean
Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Scientists at Stanford University have discovered a surprising shift in the Arctic Ocean. Exploding blooms of phytoplankton, the tiny algae at the base of a food web topped by whales and polar bears, have drastically altered the Arctic’s ability to transform atmospheric carbon into living matter. Over the past decade, the surge has replaced sea ice loss as the biggest driver of changes in uptake of carbon dioxide by phytoplankton.

The study centers on net primary production (NPP), a measure of how quickly plants and algae convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugars that other creatures can eat. “The rates are really important in terms of how much food there is for the rest of the ecosystem,” Arrigo said. “It’s also important because this is one of the main ways that CO2 is pulled out of the atmosphere and into the .”

A thickening soup

Arrigo and colleagues found that NPP in the Arctic increased 57 percent between 1998 and 2018. That’s an unprecedented jump in productivity for an entire ocean basin. More surprising is the discovery that while NPP increases were initially linked to retreating sea ice, productivity continued to climb even after melting slowed down around 2009. “The increase in NPP over the past decade is due almost exclusively to a recent increase in phytoplankton biomass,” Arrigo said.

Put another way, these microscopic algae were once metabolizing more carbon across the Arctic simply because they were gaining more  over longer growing seasons, thanks to climate-driven changes in ice cover. Now, they are growing more concentrated, like a thickening algae soup.

“In a given volume of water, more phytoplankton were able to grow each year,” said lead study author Kate Lewis, who worked on the research as a Ph.D. student in Stanford’s Department of Earth System Science. “This is the first time this has been reported in the Arctic Ocean.”

New food supplies

Phytoplankton require light and nutrients to grow. But the availability and intermingling of these ingredients throughout the water column depend on complex factors. As a result, although Arctic researchers have observed phytoplankton blooms going into overdrive in recent decades, they have debated how long the boom might last and how high it may climb.

By assembling a massive new collection of ocean color measurements for the Arctic Ocean and building new algorithms to estimate phytoplankton concentrations from them, the Stanford team uncovered evidence that continued increases in production may no longer be as limited by scarce nutrients as once suspected. “It’s still early days, but it looks like now there is a shift to greater nutrient supply,” said Arrigo, the Donald and Donald M. Steel Professor in Earth Sciences.

The researchers hypothesize that a new influx of nutrients is flowing in from other oceans and sweeping up from the Arctic’s depths. “We knew the Arctic had increased production in the last few years, but it seemed possible the system was just recycling the same store of nutrients,” Lewis said. “Our study shows that’s not the case. Phytoplankton are absorbing more carbon year after year as new nutrients come into this ocean. That was unexpected, and it has big ecological impacts.”

Decoding the Arctic

The researchers were able to extract these insights from measures of the green plant pigment chlorophyll taken by satellite sensors and research cruises. But because of the unusual interplay of light, color and life in the Arctic, the work required . “The Arctic Ocean is the most difficult place in the world to do satellite remote sensing,” Arrigo explained. “Algorithms that work everywhere else in the world—that look at the color of the ocean to judge how much phytoplankton are there—do not work in the Arctic at all.”

The difficulty stems in part from a huge volume of incoming tea-colored river water, which carries dissolved organic matter that remote sensors mistake for chlorophyll. Additional complexity comes from the unusual ways in which  have adapted to the Arctic’s extremely low light. “When you use global satellite remote sensing algorithms in the Arctic Ocean, you end up with serious errors in your estimates,” said Lewis.

Yet these remote-sensing data are essential for understanding long-term trends across an ocean basin in one of the world’s most extreme environments, where a single direct measurement of NPP may require 24 hours of round-the-clock work by a team of scientists aboard an icebreaker, Lewis said. She painstakingly curated sets of ocean color and NPP measurements, then used the compiled database to build algorithms tuned to the Arctic’s unique conditions. Both the database and the algorithms are now available for public use.

The work helps to illuminate how climate change will shape the Arctic Ocean’s future productivity, food supply and capacity to absorb carbon. “There’s going to be winners and losers,” Arrigo said. “A more productive Arctic means more food for lots of animals. But many animals that have adapted to live in a polar environment are finding life more difficult as the ice retreats.”

Phytoplankton growth may also peak out of sync with the rest of the food web because ice is melting earlier in the year. Add to that the likelihood of more shipping traffic as Arctic waters open up, and the fact that the Arctic is simply too small to take much of a bite out of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. “It’s taking in a lot more carbon than it used to take in,” Arrigo said, “but it’s not something we’re going to be able to rely on to help us out of our climate problem.”

First direct evidence of ocean mixing across the Gulf Stream

https://phys.org/news/2020-07-evidence-ocean-gulf-stream.html

First direct evidence of ocean mixing across the gulf stream
The “Triaxus” towing platform breaks through the choppy surface of the ocean during a storm. By towing such a platform with monitoring instruments through the water, changing its depth in a ‘yo-yo’ pattern as it traveled, scientists created high-resolution snapshots of how a dye released upstream evolved across the Gulf Stream front. Credit: Craig M. Lee, UW APL

New research provides the first direct evidence for the Gulf Stream blender effect, identifying a new mechanism of mixing water across the swift-moving current. The results have important implications for weather, climate and fisheries because ocean mixing plays a critical role in these processes. The Gulf Stream is one of the largest drivers of climate and biological productivity from Florida to Newfoundland and along the western coast of Europe.

“This long-standing debate about whether the Gulf Stream acts as a blender or a barrier to ocean mixing has mainly considered big ocean eddies, tens of kilometers to a hundred kilometers across,” said Jacob Wenegrat, an assistant professor in UMD’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science and the lead author of the study. “What we’re adding to this debate is this new evidence that variability at the kilometer scale seems to be doing a lot of mixing. And those scales are really hard to monitor and model.”

As the Gulf Stream courses its way up the east coast of the U.S. and Canada, it brings warm salty  from the tropics into the north Atlantic. But the current also creates an invisible wall of water that divides two distinct ocean regions: the colder, fresher waters along the northern edge of the Gulf Stream that swirl in a counterclockwise direction, and the warmer, saltier waters on the southern edge of the current that circulate in a clockwise direction.

First direct evidence of ocean mixing across the gulf stream
A research crew deployed a float from the R/V Knorr before releasing a fluorescent dye into the water. Scientists then tracked the drift of both dye and float through the Gulf Stream revealing significant mixing of waters across the swift current. Credit: Craig M. Lee, UW APL

How much ocean mixing occurs across the Gulf Stream has been a matter of scientific debate. As a result, ocean models that predict climate, weather and biological productivity have not fully accounted for the contribution of mixing between the two very different types of water on either side of the current.

To conduct the study, the researchers had to take their instruments to the source: the edge of the Gulf Stream. Two teams of scientists aboard two global-class research vessels braved winter storms on the Atlantic Ocean to release a  along the northern front of the Gulf Stream and trace its path over the following days.

The first team released the dye along with a float containing an acoustic beacon. Downstream, the second team tracked the float and monitored the concentration of dye along with , salinity, chemistry and other features.

Back on shore, Wenegrat and his coauthors developed high-resolution simulations of the physical processes that could cause the dye to disperse through the water in the manner the field teams recorded. Their results showed that turbulence across areas as small as a kilometer exerted an important influence on the dye’s path and resulted in significant mixing of water properties such as salinity and temperature.

First direct evidence of ocean mixing across the gulf stream
Fluorescent dye provides a unique way to track the evolution and mixing of water across the Gulf Stream. In a recent study fluorescein dye (as pictured here) was released along the north wall of the Gulf Stream, and tracked by ship as it mixed horizontally across the current. Credit: Lance Wills, WHOI

“These results emphasize the role of variability at very small scales that are currently hard to observe using standard methods, such as satellite observations,” Wenegrat said. “Variability at this scale is not currently resolved in global climate models and won’t be for decades to come, so it leads us to wonder, what have we been missing?”

By showing that small-scale mixing across the Gulf Stream may have a significant impact, the new study reveals an important, under-recognized contributor to ocean circulation, biology and potentially climate.

For example, the Gulf Stream plays an important role in what’s known as the ocean biological pump—a system that traps excess carbon dioxide, buffering the planet from global warming. In the surface waters of the Gulf Stream region, ocean mixing influences the growth of phytoplankton—the base of the ocean food web. These phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide near the surface and later sink to the bottom, taking carbon with them and trapping it in the deep ocean. Current models of the ocean biological pump don’t account for the large effect small-scale mixing across the Gulf Stream could have on phytoplankton growth.

“To make progress on this we need to find ways to quantify these processes on a finer scale using theory, state-of-the-art numerical models and new observational techniques,” Wenegrat said. “We need to be able to understand their impact on large-scale circulation and biogeochemistry of the ocean.”

The research paper, “Enhanced mixing across the gyre boundary at the Gulf Stream front,” Jacob O. Wenegrat, Leif N. Thomas, Miles A. Sundermeyer, John R. Taylor, Eric A. D’Asaro, Jody M. Klymak, R. Kipp Shearman, and Craig M. Lee, was published in the July 6, 2020 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Climate explained: what the world was like the last time carbon dioxide levels were at 400ppm

https://theconversation.com/climate-explained-what-the-world-was-like-the-last-time-carbon-dioxide-levels-were-at-400ppm-141784

CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz


What was the climate and sea level like at times in Earth’s history when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at 400ppm?

The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around four million years ago during a geological period known as the Pliocene Era (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago). The world was about 3℃ warmer and sea levels were higher than today.

We know how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere contained in the past by studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. As compacted snow gradually changes to ice, it traps air in bubbles that contain samples of the atmosphere at the time. We can sample ice cores to reconstruct past concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this record only takes us back about a million years.


Read more: Climate explained: what caused major climate change in the past?


Beyond a million years, we don’t have any direct measurements of the composition of ancient atmospheres, but we can use several methods to estimate past levels of carbon dioxide. One method uses the relationship between plant pores, known as stomata, that regulate gas exchange in and out of the plant. The density of these stomata is related to atmospheric carbon dioxide, and fossil plants are a good indicator of concentrations in the past.

Another technique is to examine sediment cores from the ocean floor. The sediments build up year after year as the bodies and shells of dead plankton and other organisms rain down on the seafloor. We can use isotopes (chemically identical atoms that differ only in atomic weight) of boron taken from the shells of the dead plankton to reconstruct changes in the acidity of seawater. From this we can work out the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean.

The data from four-million-year-old sediments suggest that carbon dioxide was at 400ppm back then.

Sea levels and changes in Antarctica

During colder periods in Earth’s history, ice caps and glaciers grow and sea levels drop. In the recent geological past, during the most recent ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were at least 120 metres lower than they are today.

Recent research shows that west Antarctica is now melting. Elaine Hood/NSF

Sea-level changes are calculated from changes in isotopes of oxygen in the shells of marine organisms. For the Pliocene Era, research shows the sea-level change between cooler and warmer periods was around 30-40 metres and sea level was higher than today. Also during the Pliocene, we know the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was significantly smaller and global average temperatures were about 3℃ warmer than today. Summer temperatures in high northern latitudes were up to 14℃ warmer.

This may seem like a lot but modern observations show strong polar amplification of warming: a 1℃ increase at the equator may raise temperatures at the poles by 6-7℃. It is one of the reasons why Arctic sea ice is disappearing.


Read more: Climate explained: why carbon dioxide has such outsized influence on Earth’s climate


Impacts in New Zealand and Australasia

In the Australasian region, there was no Great Barrier Reef, but there may have been smaller reefs along the northeast coast of Australia. For New Zealand, the partial melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably the most critical point.

One of the key features of New Zealand’s current climate is that Antarctica is cut off from global circulation during the winter because of the big temperature contrast between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. When it comes back into circulation in springtime, New Zealand gets strong storms. Stormier winters and significantly warmer summers were likely in the mid-Pliocene because of a weaker polar vortex and a warmer Antarctica.

It will take more than a few years or decades of carbon dioxide concentrations at 400ppm to trigger a significant shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But recent studies show that West Antarctica is already melting.

Sea-level rise from a partial melting of West Antarctica could easily exceed a metre or more by 2100. In fact, if the whole of the West Antarctic melted it could raise sea levels by about 3.5 metres. Even smaller increases raise the risk of flooding in low-lying cities including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.

Mysterious Emergence of Pink Ice in The Alps Could Have Dire Consequences

Scientists in Italy are investigating the mysterious appearance of pink glacial ice in the Alps, caused by algae that accelerate the effects of climate change.

There is debate about where the algae come from, but Biagio Di Mauro of Italy’s National Research Council said the pink snow observed on parts of the Presena glacier is likely caused by the same plant found in Greenland.

“The alga is not dangerous, it is a natural phenomenon that occurs during the spring and summer periods in the middle latitudes but also at the Poles,” said Di Mauro, who had previously studied the algae at the Morteratsch glacier in Switzerland.

The plant, known as Ancylonema nordenskioeldii, is present in Greenland’s so-called Dark Zone, where the ice is also melting.

Italy's National Research Council researcher, Biagio di Maio, sampling the pink snow on Presena glacier, 4 July 2020.  (Miguel Medina/AFP)Researcher Biagio di Maio sampling the pink snow on Presena glacier, 4 July 2020. (Miguel Medina/AFP)

Normally ice reflects more than 80 percent of the sun’s radiation back into the atmosphere, but as algae appear, they darken the ice so that it absorbs the heat and melts more quickly.

More algae appear as the ice melts more rapidly, giving them vital water and air and adding red hues to the white ice at the Passo Gavia, altitude 2,618 metres (8,590 feet).

“Everything that darkens the snow causes it to melt because it accelerates the absorption of radiation,” said Di Mauro.

“We are trying to quantify the effect of other phenomena besides the human one on the overheating of the Earth,” said Di Mauro, noting that the presence of hikers and ski lifts could also have an impact on the algae.

(Miguel Medina/AFP)(Miguel Medina/AFP)

Tourists at the glacier lament the impact of climate change.

“Overheating of the planet is a problem, the last thing we needed was algae,” said tourist Marta Durante.

“Unfortunately we are doing irreversible damage. We are already at the point of no return, I think.”

Elisa Pongini from Florence said she felt the Earth was “giving us back everything we have done to it”.

“2020 is a special year: terrible things have happened,” she said. “In my opinion, atmospheric phenomena are worsening. Climate change is increasingly evident.”

© Agence France-Presse

Stop making sense: why it’s time to get emotional about climate change

The science has been settled to the highest degree, so now the key to progress is understanding our psychological reactions

Rebecca Huntley is an Australian social researcher
 Rebecca Huntley, an Australian social researcher and expert on social trends, at home in Sydney. Her new book is How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

It took me much longer than it should have to realise that educating people about climate change science was not enough. Due perhaps to my personality type (highly rational, don’t talk to me about horoscopes, please) and my background (the well-educated daughter of a high school teacher and an academic), I have grown up accepting the idea that facts persuade and emotions detract from a good argument.

Then again, I’m a social scientist. I study people. I deal mostly in feelings, not facts. A joke I like to tell about myself during speeches is that I’m an expert in the opinions of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Over the 15 years I’ve been a social researcher, I’ve watched with concern the increasing effects of climate change, and also watched as significant chunks of the electorate voted for political parties with terrible climate change policies.

The science behind climate change has been proven correct to the highest degree of certainty the scientific method allows. But climate change is more than just the science. It’s a social phenomenon. And the social dimensions of climate change can make the science look simple – the laws of physics are orderly and neat but people are messy.

A climate protest painted on a bridge over the Avon River in the Gippsland town of Stratford in Victoria
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 A climate protest painted on a bridge over the Avon River in the Gippsland town of Stratford in Victoria. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

When social researchers like me try to analyse how a person responds to climate change messages the way they do, we’re measuring much, much more than just their comprehension (or not) of the climate science. We’re analysing the way they see the world, their politics, values, cultural identity, even their gender identity. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say we’re measuring their psyche, their innermost self.

In his book Why We Disagree About Climate Change, the British professor Mike Hulme argues that this is one of the reasons we argue so much about the issue. “The sources of our disagreement with climate change lie deep within us, in our values and in our sense of identity and purpose,” he writes. “They do not reside ‘out there’, a result of our inability to grasp knowingly some ultimate physical reality.”

This is even more important given how politicised climate change has become, especially in countries like the US and Australia. US research from has shown that reactions to climate change as a topic were becoming increasingly polarised along partisan lines around the late 1990s. He argues that the climate change views of Democrats and Republicans were not significantly different until the Kyoto protocol negotiations of 1997, when policymakers started to explore possible solutions to global warming.

Rebecca Huntley
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 ‘Think about where you get your information, how reliable it is and whether you only read the things that agree with what you want to think rather than the actual truth.’ Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

In an article for the academic journal Risk Analysis, the head of Yale’s program on climate change communications, Tony Leiserowitz, showed that in 2003, when respondents were asked in surveys for their first reaction to the phrase “global warming”, only 7% reacted with words like “hoax” or “scam”. By 2010 that had risen to 23%. There was a parallel trend in the UK: between 2003 and 2008, the belief that claims about climate change had been exaggerated almost doubled from 15% to 29%.

The huge success and positive impact of Al Gore’s first documentary, 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth, had the less-than-positive side-effect of strongly associating the issue with the progressive side of politics. Today, as Leiserowitz comments, climate change scepticism and even denial in the US have become part of a cluster of beliefs (along with anti-abortion and anti-immigration) that are obvious markers of Republican allegiance.

In my own social research with Australian voters, I see this politicisation all the time. Nowadays, I don’t even have to ask how someone voted in the last election to hazard a guess about their views on climate change. Sometimes all it takes is for me to ask them how they feel about the role of government (Are you taxed too much? Do you feel there is too much regulation?) and what media they trust the most (blogs and social media or public broadcasters?).

The degree of polarisation in places like Australia and the US is not universal. The esteemed Pew Research Center found in 2015 that in “Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom, followers of conservative parties are much less likely than followers of liberal or green parties to believe they will be harmed by climate change”. But in many other countries there are much less pronounced political differences, and much less public and political interest in contesting the science.

For environmental activists in these less-polarised countries – often countries already feeling serious impacts from climate change but emitting negligible amounts of CO2 –the endless debate about the truth of the climate science in the big western countries is gobsmacking. Activists have expressed their frustration and disbelief, and it’s contributed not a little to their despair about progress at an international level.

Thousands of school students from across Sydney attend the global Climate Strike rally at Town Hall in March last year
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 Thousands of school students from across Sydney attend the global Climate Strike rally at Town Hall in March last year. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AA

So when it comes to talking to people about climate change, it helps enormously to think about it not just as a scientific question but as a social and political one. But understanding how people’s already existing (and often entrenched) political allegiances influence their response to climate change is only part of the picture. Understanding their emotional reactions is even more important, and that leads us from politics towards psychology.

Viewing the climate change issue through a psychological lens yields endless important insights into why we are where we are. Have a look at the must-watch 2018 Ted Talk by the meteorologist J Marshall Shepherd, on three kinds of bias that shape your worldview. As a self-proclaimed weather geek, he often gets asked if he believes in climate change. He finds the question odd because science isn’t about belief. It’s about proof that things are real or not. He is agog at the chasm between what scientists know to be true and what surveys have shown the US public believes about issues like vaccinations, evolution and, of course, climate change.

This has led the natural scientist to start thinking about psychology, namely what biases shape our perceptions of the world around us. He picks three big ones. The first, and probably the most obvious, is confirmation bias, namely that we zero in on evidence that supports what we already believe. Confirmation bias is even more pronounced in a world where we can use our social media to filter out information we don’t want to absorb and where we follow influencers who reinforce our existing beliefs.

The second bias is called Dunning-Kruger, which describes our human tendency to think we know more than we do as well as to underestimate what we don’t know. Again, I see this happen in focus groups all the time, when participants with no scientific credentials or training pick apart the science of climate change.

The third and final bias is cognitive dissonance. When people encounter actions or ideas they cannot reconcile psychologically with their own beliefs, they experience discomfort. They then try to resolve their discomfort by arguing away the new evidence.

Given that climate change is such a discomforting topic, I see this cognitive dissonance all the time in focus groups, where people try to find reasons other than climate change for the events happening around them, even when faced with a strong scientific explanation. They pick it apart because of Dunning-Kruger and then, because of confirmation bias, try to find a blog that states something other than what the scientific evidence shows.

book cover image

J Marshall Shepherd argues that we need to close the gap between public perception and scientific fact, to create a better future and preserve life as we know it. He challenges us to take an inventory of our biases and of the beliefs we use to prop them up. Think about where you get your information, how reliable it is and whether you only read the things that agree with what you want to think rather than the actual truth. Then share what you’ve learned – about yourself and about the world – with other people.

I’m not saying facts don’t matter or the scientific method should be watered down or we should communicate without facts. What I am saying is that now the climate science has been proven to be true to the highest degree possible, we have to stop being reasonable and start being emotional.

More science isn’t the solution. People are the solution.

 This is an edited extract from How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference, by Rebecca Huntley (Murdoch Books, $32.99)

The Impacts of Climate Change and the Trump Administration’s Anti-Environmental Agenda in North Dakota

 

Getty/Scott Olson

Getty/Scott OlsonHomes are surrounded by record-breaking floodwater from the Souris River in Minot, North Dakota, June 2011.

Download the PDF here.

Just in the past three years, the Trump administration has attempted to roll back at least 95 environmental rules and regulations to the detriment of the environment and Americans’ public health. Moreover, the administration refuses to act to mitigate the effects of climate change—instead loosening requirements for polluters emitting the greenhouse gases that fuel the climate crisis. This dangerous agenda is affecting the lives of Americans across all 50 states.

Between 2017 and 2019, North Dakota experienced one severe flood and one intense drought. The damages of these events led to losses of at least $1 billion.

Impacts of climate change

Extreme weather

Temperature

  • North Dakota currently averages 10 heat wave days per year, but projections indicate that number will increase fivefold to nearly 50 days per year by 2050. This endangers the lives of the approximately 20,000 people living in North Dakota who are especially vulnerable to extreme heat.
  • Fargo, North Dakota, is the 10th fastest-warming city in the United States.

Impacts of the Trump administration’s anti-environmental policies

Climate

  • In March 2020, the Trump administration announced its final rule to overturn Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for cars. These weakened fuel standards will lead to higher greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions and will cost North Dakota residents $74.8 million
  • In August 2019, the Trump administration proposed eliminating federal requirements for oil and gas companies to control leaks of methane from new wells, storage facilities, and pipelines. In 2016, researchers found that the Bakken region in Montana and North Dakota, a significant oil and gas producing area, emits 275,000 tons of methane per year. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is responsible for one-quarter of greenhouse gas-driven global warming.
  • The Trump administration is attempting to gut climate considerations from major infrastructure projects by eliminating the “cumulative impact” requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act. This is concerning because North Dakota’s economy relies heavily on its agriculture, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries—all of which are highly dependent on climate and weather conditions.

Air quality

  • Mercury emissions in North Dakota decreased by nearly 55 percent from 2011 to 2017, yet the Trump administration just undermined limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions that are allowed from power plants.

Water quality

  • On the fourth day of Trump’s presidency, the administration issued an executive order advancing the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. In June 2017, the pipelines were fully functional and over the next year saw more than one dozen small spills. In March 2019, more than 9,000 barrels of crude oil had spilled in North Dakota alone, which caused immediate impacts on nearby wetlands.

To read the personal stories of Americans affected by climate change and the impacts of the Trump administration’s anti-environmental policies in your state, visit OurEnvironment.org