A year of climate impacts, one day at a time (#365climateimpacts)

A post by Anne JeffersonOur changing climate is already affecting lives in a multitude of ways, and the impacts of climate change will only increase as the world continues to heat up. But because climate operates in the background, it’s easy to ignore the magnitude of the changes happening around us, as we are caught up in a daily news cycle and the rhythms of our own lives. 2017 seems fated to be an eventful – and exhausting – year and it would be all too easy to put climate change on the back burner, while facing seemingly more urgent crises. But, the longer we avoid tackling climate change head on, the more dramatic the impacts we are going to be facing.

I quietly launched a new personal project in January, and now that I’m a month in, I’m ready to tell you about it. I’m tweeting one climate change story per day for each day in 2017, with the tag #365climateimpacts. I’m aiming to tweet timely news stories or compelling visualizations across a wide range of climate change impacted arenas, from oceans to ice, from food to energy, from policy to theology, and more. While I’ve tagged the tweets with the word impacts, I’ll cover climate science and climate solutions as well as the impacts of past, present, and future climate change.

My goals for this project are three-fold:

  1. For those of us who are climate concerned, my goal is to keep climate change on the front burner of our collective agenda with daily reminders of the pervasiveness and magnitude of climate change implications and the hope that individual choice and policy and technological solutions have to offer.
  2. For those who are climate cautious or disengaged, I hope that the in the diversity of topics I tweet at least one will make it across your timeline and resonate with you and the things you care about. We know that just piling on facts doesn’t change people’s minds, but finding a genuine connection is a first step towards a real dialogue. As much as a one-to-many, 140-character limited platform lets me do, I hope I connect with you at some point this year.
  3. For those who are engaging with the climate doubtful and dismissive, I hope to equip with you new resources for those important conversations, give you ideas for how to avoid the deficit model of science communication, and encourage you in the work you are doing.

Without further ado, here’s an archive of January’s #365climateimpacts stories:

January 1:
I started the year with this entrancing visualization of 2016 in atmospheric precipitable water by James Warner:

January 2:
There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

January 3:
There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

January 4:
I tweeted this piece by Andrew Thaler multiple times in January – and I’m likely to keep tweeting it, because it’s just so perfect. “When I talk about climate change, I don’t talk about science.

The term “Climate Change” is now loaded with so much political baggage that it becomes almost impossible to hold a discussion across political lines. In stakeholder interviews, people generally understand and acknowledge the impacts of climate change on local and regional scales, as long as you don’t call it “Climate Change”. This has been my experience working in rural coastal communities, which tend to be strongly conservative and intimately connected to the changing ocean.

Which is why, when I talk about Climate Change, I don’t talk about science.

When I talk about Climate Change, I talk about Fishing.

January 5:
A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, so it’s not too surprising that the hottest year on record also had the most precipitable water in the atmosphere. Still it’s nice to see the physics theory borne out in the data.
There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

January 6:
You are reading one of my #ClimateResolutions right now.

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

January 7:
The crack in this Antarctic ice shelf just grew by 11 miles. A dramatic break could be imminent.

January 8:
Scientists confirmed (again) that global warming never slowed down. (It looks like Yale’s E360 redesign has killed this story, but here’s a webcached version that works as of 22 January.)

January 9:
Hope Jahren Sure Can Write. What I say when people tell me they feel hopeless about climate change.

Scientists like me study carbon emissions, deforestation, ocean acidification, desertification, sea-level rise, glacial melting, landscape degradation, groundwater salination, invasive species, global warming and more. There is very little good news to share. Today’s environmental problems are easily big enough to eclipse our inadequate solutions. When people tell me that climate change makes them feel hopeless, I breathe deep, and then I respond. I don’t answer them because I have a good response, but because we all deserve at least a bad response. Here is what I say.

January 10:
The way I personally counter the despair that reading the latest climate change news can bring is by thinking about all of the technologies and solutions we already have in hand, and how the economics are steadily working ever more in their favor. President Obama makes a strong case for “The irreversible momentum of clean energy” in a policy forum article in Science magazine. I have a feeling Obama (2017) is going to be a highly cited paper over the next few years.

The mounting economic and scientific evidence leave me confident that trends toward a clean-energy economy that have emerged during my presidency will continue and that the economic opportunity for our country to harness that trend will only grow.

January 15:
Days before handing over power to a Republican administration, the EPA managed to complete a mid-term review of greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars – more than a year ahead of schedule. Wired has the story:

By 2025, cars would have to nearly double their average fuel efficiency (a kind of measure of emissions) and deliver, on average, more than 50 miles per gallon (which, for arcane reasons, equates to a real world figure of 36 mpg). The auto industry caved and agreed, with the caveat that by April 2018, the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration do a thorough review of the rules, and adjust them if they proved unduly expensive or just plain unworkable.

By completing the review early – and finding the standards appropriate – the EPA just made it harder for the next administration to take a step backwards on car emissions.

January 16:

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

There’s some debate over whether we should really be lumping the Arctic and Antarctic onto the same plot, but there’s no denying that this is a pretty stunning departure from recorded history of sea ice.

January 18:
We knew it was coming, but January 18th is when NOAA and NASA confirmed that 2016 was the hottest year on record, beating out its immediate predecessor.

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

January 20:
In honor of Penguin Awareness Day (surely, everyone is aware of them already, right?), I posted a link to this scientific article on how changes in sea ice extent during warm and cold periods over the last 50 years affect Emperor penguin survival and chick hatching. From the abstract:

We show that over the past 50 years, the population of emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) in Terre Adélie has declined by 50% because of a decrease in adult survival during the late 1970s. At this time there was a prolonged abnormally warm period with reduced sea-ice extent. Mortality rates increased when warm sea-surface temperatures occurred in the foraging area and when annual sea-ice extent was reduced, and were higher for males than for females. In contrast with survival, emperor penguins hatched fewer eggs when winter sea-ice was extended. These results indicate strong and contrasting effects of large-scale oceanographic processes and sea-ice extent on the demography of emperor penguins, and their potential high susceptibility to climate change.

January 21:
A stunning visualization of the trends in global temperature over the last 150 years in this temperature spiral, posted by Climate Central.

Global temperature spiral, updated to include 2016 data. Created by Ed Hawkins.

Global temperature spiral, updated to include 2016 data. Created by Ed Hawkins.

January 22:
An informative and nicely illustrated blogpost on climate.gov explaining the role of a strong El Niño in driving the record global temperatures we’ve experienced for the last three years. The takeaway is that while the El Niño has faded, climate change is still going strong and while we might expect a break from the record heat while we’re in La Niña mode, the next El Nino is likely to be even hotter. (If the climate.gov article disappears from the web, here’s a pdf archived version.)

NOAA graph of global temperature anomalies from 1880-2016, with key years noted.

NOAA graph of global temperature anomalies from 1880-2016, with key years noted.

January 23:
This is a stunning visual story of the places from which the first climate refugees are coming. 1000s of people are already being displaced by rising sea levels, increased flooding, and water scarcity, and millions more people are likely to be on the move in the coming decades. (Thanks to ESRI for creating this and to Dawn Wright for sharing it.)
Climate Migrants Story Map by ESRI

January 24:
Flood disasters have more than doubled in Europe, which is in line with what we’d expect given climate change, according to a new report by insurer Munich Re.

Excerpt from the Guardian article.  Click to read the whole article at the Guardian.

Excerpt from the Guardian article. Click to read the whole article at the Guardian.

January 25:
US solar power employs more people than power generation from oil, gas, and coal combined. (Though not for all uses of these fossil fuels as the headline misleadingly implies.) Renewable energies are the future.

January 26:
Climate change is already affecting Ohio. Find out how climate change affects your state, on this fantastic climate impacts site (produced by the Federal Government): https://statesummaries.ncics.org/ (Note: If this site disappears, I have copies of the info for the states where I’ve lived: OH, NC, OR, MN).

One of three key messages on climate change impacts being experienced by Ohio. The others focus on increasing temperature (and risks for urban areas) and increasing drought risks. What are the key messages for your state?

One of three key messages on climate change impacts being experienced by Ohio. The others focus on increasing temperature (and risks for urban areas) and increasing drought risks. What are the key messages for your state?

January 27:
Unsure how things like volcanic eruptions and air pollution play into the climate change we are experiencing? This data visualization from Bloomberg does a nice job showing how we can’t explain historical temperature trends without CO2 emissions, and what roles other factors have been playing in the temperature record.

January 28:
Peatlands are natural storehouse of carbon from the atmosphere — unless they are destroyed. Then, all the carbon goes back up into the atmosphere. Scientists have recently mapped a huge peatland in the Congo basin. It’s estimated to store the equivalent of 20 years worth of fossil fuel emissions from the United States, over an area the size of New York state. Let’s work to make sure it stays protected and the carbon stays in the ground.

January 29:
Are you watching Katherine Hayhoe’s Global Weirding series of videos yet? You should. One thing I love about Dr. Hayhoe is how clearly she explains why a “just the facts” approach won’t work to convince people skeptical of climate change’s reality. That’s the focus of the latest episode of her series.

January 30:

Following on the news that Europe’s flood disasters have doubled in the past few decades, here’s a new study showing that if global temperatures rise by 4°C, the flood risk in countries representing more than 70% of the global population will increase by more than 500%. (Thanks to Richard Betts for bringing this to my attention.)

Average change in population affected per country given 4?C global warming. Hatching indicates countries where the confidence level of the average change is less than 90%. Figure copyright EU, used in spirit of fair use.

Average change in population affected per country given 4?C global warming. Hatching indicates countries where the confidence level of the average change is less than 90%.
Figure copyright EU, used in spirit of fair use.

January 31:
In a month filled with signs that the new US administration will roll back federal comittments to combatting climate change, California is a beacon of light. The state of California, one of the world’s largest economies in it’s own right, is continuing forward with its efforts to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions. As California knows, once the groundwork for a low carbon future is laid, the economics of going backward don’t make sense.

“There’s a whole ecosystem built to reduce emissions,” said Jon Costantino, an environmental policy advisor who previously worked at the California Air Resources Board. “There’s investors, there’s businesses, there’s consultants.”

He added, “To pull the rug out from under that would have a dramatic impact.”

Categories: by Anne, climate science, environment, hydrology, society

317 years since the last rupture of the Cascadia megathrust

At around 9pm on the 26th January 1700, the Cascadia subduction zone – a shallowly dipping thrust fault that runs more than 1000 km north from Cape Mendocino in Northern California to the vicinity of Vancouver Island, ruptured in an estimated magnitude 9 earthquake. No Europeans were there to witness the shaking and the inundation that followed, as the Oregon and Washington coasts were engulfed by tsunami more than 10 m high. But indigenous people were, and some of their oral accounts, of this earthquake and similar ones before it, still survive. The tsunami crossed the Pacific basin to Japan, where it was recorded as an ‘orphan’ tsunami (one that was not preceded by a large local earthquake). The Japanese records are how we precisely know the day and rough time of the rupture.

More recent records from Japan – pictures and video of the tsunami generated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake – provide a sobering vision of what the Cascadia megathrust might do to the Pacific Northwest when it next wakes up. 317 years have passed, and we can’t know precisely how many more might pass before the next big earthquake. Records of giant submarine landslides triggered by large subduction zone ruptures, preserved in sediments off the Cascadia margin, show that on average, a big rupture like the 1700 event occurs every 500 years or so. But the Earth is not clockwork, and the gap between two individual earthquakes can vary significantly from the long-term average. All we know is that it will happen at some point in the next few hundred years, and we had best get prepared.

This is not exactly happy knowledge. Nonetheless, having that knowledge is still something to be thankful for, when we consider the all-too-common alternative: us going about our rapid human business, unaware that the slow geological workings of the planet beneath our feet are turning, building up to a disaster we never see coming until it is upon us. But for Cascadia, dogged and careful scientific detective work* over the past thirty years means that we are in the relatively happy position of comprehending the threat before it takes us by unpleasant surprise.

It could still be a tragedy – even the most recent assessments make it clear that there is still plenty of work to do to prepare the region for the day when the ‘years since last rupture’ counter flips back to zero. But knowledge is power, and in this case it is life-saving power.

*much of it, I feel compelled to point out in these interesting times, funded by the USGS and other US government agencies.

Categories: earthquakes, geohazards, society

The costs of Trump’s environmental and scientific policies will be felt everywhere

A post by Anne JeffersonWe are six days into the Trump administration in the United States of America and we are seeing clear signs that the Trump intends to keep his campaign promises to roll back environmental protection and federal scientific efforts (among a host of other actions). Hiring freezes, gag orders, spending freezes and more have all been announced already for federal scientific agencies (though some have been temporary). Regulatory roll backs are already underway, two oil pipelines previously stopped have been green-lighted, and there’s more new bad news in this vein every time I check the news. Amidst the news blur, I have also been listening to the voices of Canadian scientists who are frantically trying to tell us that this sounds just like the beginning of the Harper administration and that those of us with tenure (job security) absolutely must speak loudly in protest to stop what we can. I am resolved to do that, and it starts here, with this discussion of jobs, economic costs, and the timescales over which we will collectively be paying for Trump’s actions.

Let the record reflect that it is not just federal and academic scientists who are worried about the news coming out of the early days of the Trump administration. Most of those billions of dollars of EPA contracts and grants go to on-the-ground projects at the city and state level, and effectively support the work people of in city and state government agencies. If the funding for those projects go away, or the federal regulations that are enforced at the city and state levels are loosened, those city and state workers will lose their jobs. And it’s not just public sector workers that will be affected.

I was copied on an email chain this morning populated by folks from the environmental consulting world (i.e., private industry) who are worried about the future of their jobs. I have also heard from several small business owners that they may need to lay off employees or close entirely if their scientific, environmental, and clean energy clients decrease their purchases in response to Trump’s policies. These are all-American, small town businesses worried about going out of business because of the coming changes from the Trump administration.

Lots of “real Americans” are going to lose their jobs if Trump carries through with his plans.

We’ll lose the expertise of people currently working in the environmental and science disciplines and we’ll lose a critical cohort of students who will be deterred from training for science and environmental jobs because of uncertain employment futures. Those that value their scientific careers above their geography will leave the US, and those that can’t or don’t want to leave will find other jobs. Those other jobs will often be lower paying. (I heard “the bike shop” mentioned by a 20+ year career scientist in private industry.) When we eventually get an administration that decides to reverse course and re-prioritize science and environmental protection, we won’t be able to get those seasoned experts or the early career folks back. It’s easy to leave a scientific or technical career, but nearly impossible to get back into one after an absence, but the field moves on and your expertise quickly becomes outdated. Even if many of Trump’s gag orders and freezes end up being temporary, the uncertainty and fear will cause businesses to hesitate in making purchases or hiring staff, working scientists will start looking elsewhere for their next career move, and students will shy away from committing to the rigorous, sometimes decade-long, training it takes to become a scientist or environmental professional.

If Trump carries through with his plans to curtail federal science and loosen environmental regulations, there will be real economic costs that will be felt in nearly every city and state in the country… and those costs will last beyond the end of his administration.

Yes, there may be a short-term economic boost as pipelines are laid and extra smokestacks are built, but that boost needs to have the lost incomes and careers of the scientific and environmental work force deducted from it. Plus, once the pipelines are laid and the smokestacks are built, there will be only a few (often low paying) jobs left.

Of course, the environmental costs of Trump’s plans will be even greater and longer lasting than the direct economic costs. Some industries will take advantage of the looser regulatory environment to do “monstrous” things that will directly impair the public health and ecosystems of the communities in which they are situated. The people most likely to feel the worst effects of increased pollution and land degradation are almost certainly going to be poor and most likely to be non-white. The cumulative effects of many small decisions, even maintaining “business as usual” without malicious intent, will result in poorer air and water quality, more greenhouse gas emissions, and greater climate change impacts than we would have without Trump’s rollbacks. Poor air and water quality and extreme weather and sea level rise fueled by climate change have economic(*) impacts that are increasing every year.

We will live with (and pay for) the consequences of the policy decisions being made right now, for the rest of our lives, and for generations to come.

*I would link to a federal government webpage here as they provide the most definitive data for the US, but government webpages and other communications have a nasty habit of disappearing this week.

(An early version of this post appeared as public Facebook post on my account there on the morning of 25 January 2017.)

Categories: antiscience, by Anne, society

Visualising Earth Structure, redux

Last semester, when teaching my intro class about the composition and structure of the Earth and how we know, I went a bit overboard in producing a snazzy Earth cross-section:

Earth down through Kent

A slightly amended version of my cross-section through the Earth from Kent, OH to its antipode.

I’m still pretty proud of this, but one of its strengths is also a potential weakness: with so much information on offer, it may overwhelm students when they are studying. Which facts are the really important ones? So I’ve been experimenting with distilling the fundamental facts about the Earth’s compositional and mechanical layering into the one true mode of communication in the social media age. I speak, of course, of the animated GIF. Let me know what you think of my first attempts below.

The nature of the compositional layering in the Earth.

Flashcard animation showing the nature of the compositional layering in the Earth.

The nature of the mechanical layering in the Earth.

Flashcard animation showing the nature of the mechanical layering in the Earth.

Earth layers' radius and volume compared to the whole Earth.

Flashcard animation of Earth layers’ radius and volume compared to the whole Earth.

Categories: basics, geology, teaching

Venus stays out in the cold

We basically have a huge generation gap with Venus, and we really need something to launch in the early- to mid-2020s so we can maintain some kind of continuity.”

I’m not a planetary scientist, but I’m still disappointed that two proposed Venus missions lost out to two more (still-interesting looking) asteroid missions in the latest NASA mission selections.

Because I am interested in how plate tectonics works, and in that respect Venus is an important outlier. It is the same size, and has the same basic composition, as the Earth, which means it must have a hot interior and almost certainly has a convecting mantle. But as well as being a lander-melting hellhole, Venus also lacks any obvious plates or plate boundaries; so how does Venus’s internal heat get out? Sending back a radar mapper (which was one of the proposed missions) would offer the intriguing possibility of observing surface changes since the Magellan mission, which might reveal signs of tectonic and volcanic activity. Understanding how it is different is the first step to understanding why Earth became Earth and Venus became Venus – which is an increasingly important question as we start peering towards ‘Earth-like’ exoplanets.

That said, the very nature of Venus makes designing missions that have a good chance of answering that question very challenging. It has taken years of roving on Mars to start getting the basics of Mars’s geological history worked out. It is hard to see such insights flowing so easily from a Venus lander that may last only days.

Categories: planets, tectonics