Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits

Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits

The submerged islands were part of the Solomon Islands, an archipelago that over the last two decades has seen annual sea levels rise as much as 10mm (0.4in), according to research published in the May issue of the online journal Environmental Research Letters.

The missing islands, ranging in size from 1 to 5 hectares (2.5-12.4 acres) were not inhabited by humans. But six other islands had large swaths of land washed into the sea and on two of those, entire villages were destroyed and people forced to relocate, the researchers found.

One was Nuatambu island, home to 25 families, which has lost 11 houses and half its inhabitable area since 2011, the research said.

The study is the first that scientifically “confirms the numerous anecdotal accounts from across the Pacific of the dramatic impacts of climate change on coastlines and people,” the researchers wrote in a separate commentary on an academic website.

The scientists used aerial and satellite images dating back to 1947 of 33 islands, as well as traditional knowledge and radiocarbon dating of trees for their findings. More

Yes, Scientists Can Link Extreme Weather Events To Climate Change

When asked about a particular weather event’s link to climate change, scientists are typically cautious to make definitive statements — especially in the immediate aftermath, before they’ve had the chance to study the event.

But according to a new study, it’s getting easier for scientists to make the link between climate change and some forms of extreme weather. The study, published Friday by the National Academies Press, found that scientific advances over the past several years have helped scientists link increases in frequency and intensity of temperature and precipitation-related events like droughts and heat waves to climate change.

“In the past, a typical climate scientist’s response to questions about climate change’s role in any given extreme weather event was ‘we cannot attribute any single event to climate change,'” the report, completed by a committee of scientists, reads. “The science has advanced to the point that this is no longer true as an unqualified blanket statement. In many cases, it is now often possible to make and defend quantitative statements about the extent to which human-induced climate change (or another causal factor, such as a specific mode of natural variability) has influenced either the magnitude or the probability of occurrence of specific types of events or event classes.”

The report calls this branch of science, wherein researchers work to determine whether climate change contributed to a certain event, “event attribution.” To determine how and if climate change is linked to a certain event, scientists typically either reference the observational record of similar events — i.e. the recorded history of droughts leading back several decades — or use models to determine how likely a similar event would be in different warming scenarios. Most studies, the report states, use both of these tactics. More

 

Warming ocean water undercuts Antarctic ice shelves

“Upside-down rivers” of warm ocean water threaten the stability of floating ice shelves in Antarctica, according to a new study led by researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center published today in Nature Geoscience. The study highlights how parts of Antarctica’s ice sheet may be weakening due to contact with warm ocean water.

“We found that warm ocean water is carving these ‘upside-down rivers,’ or basal channels, into the undersides of ice shelves all around the Antarctic continent. In at least some cases these channels weaken the ice shelves, making them more vulnerable to disintegration,” said Karen Alley, a graduate research assistant at NSIDC and lead author of the study. Alley is also a Ph.D. student in the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Geological Sciences.

Ice shelves are thick floating plates of ice that have flowed off the Antarctic continent and spread out onto the ocean. As ice shelves flow out to sea, they push against islands, peninsulas, and bedrock bumps known as “pinning points.” Contact with these features slows the flow of grounded ice off the continent. While ice shelves take thousands of years to grow, previous work has shown that they can disintegrate in a matter of weeks. If more ice shelves disintegrate in the future, loss of contact with pinning points will allow ice to flow more rapidly into the ocean, increasing the rate of sea level rise.

“Ice shelves are really vulnerable parts of the ice sheet, because climate change hits them from above and below,” said Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist and study co-author. “They are really important in braking the ice flow to the ocean.”

The features form as buoyant plumes of warm and fresh water rise and flow along the underside of an ice shelf, carving channels much like upside-down rivers. The channels can be tens of miles long, and up to 800 feet “deep.”

When a channel is carved into the base of an ice shelf, the top of the ice shelf sags, leaving a visible depression in the relatively smooth ice surface. Alley and her colleagues mapped the locations of these depressions all around the Antarctic continent using satellite imagery, as well as radar data that images the channels through the ice, mapping the shape of the ice-ocean boundary.

The team also used satellite laser altimetry, which measures the height of an ice shelf surface with high accuracy, to document how quickly some of the channels were growing. The data show that growing channels on the rapidly melting Getz Ice Shelf in West Antarctica can bore into the ice shelf base at rates of approximately 10 meters (33 feet) each year.

The mapping shows that basal channels have a tendency to form along the edges of islands and peninsulas, which are already weak areas on ice shelves. The team observed two locations where ice shelves are fracturing along basal channels, clear evidence that basal channel presence can weaken ice shelves to the point of breaking in vulnerable areas.

While no ice shelves have completely disintegrated due to carving by basal channels, the study points to the need for more observation and study of these features, said co-author Helen Amanda Fricker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. “It's feasible that as ocean temperatures around Antarctica continue to rise, melting in basal channels could contribute to increased erosion of ice shelves from below.”

The study, “Impacts of warm water on Antarctic ice shelf stability through basal channel formation,” was led by University of Colorado Boulder Ph.D. student Karen Alley, who worked with coauthors Ted Scambos of NSIDC and Matthew Siegfried and Helen Amanda Fricker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Their work was funded in part by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. More

Contacts

Jane Beitler,Communications, National Snow and Ice Data Center, press@nsidc.org, +1-303-492-1497
Brittany Hook, Communications Coordinator, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, scrippsnews@ucsd.edu, 858-534-3624

 

TEDx University College of the Cayman Islands

Did you get a chance to see Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, etc.) doing her TED talk on Monday evening? If not, you can catch her online at:http://www.ted.com/talks/shonda_rhimes_my_year_of_saying_yes_to_everything

Her talk entitled “My year of saying yes to everything” was absolutely inspiring.

But that’s what TED is about, as you already know if you were one of the 124 people who registered for this past Tuesday’s simulcast at UCCI of the big TED 2016 event in Vancouver, Canada.

However, nothing beats the thrill of seeing live speakers, engaging with them face-to-face, and discussing those great ideas with other TED event attendees.

Of course, the cheapest admission ticket for TED 2016 in Vancouver was US$8500. (Not an admission price that just anyone can afford in these challenging economic times.)

So, keep in mind that just next month, on March 19th, you can experience the same excitement of live speakers and great ideas at TEDxUCCI 2016. The theme this year is FutureVision…and it will undoubtedly be the most insightful TEDx ever for investigating the many pressing issues facing Cayman and the world.

From 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., you’ll hear great talks on topics including conservation, energy use and production, the ocean’s potential, heath, technical literacy, economic and social sustainability, creative professions, and dealing effectively with today’s complex world. There will also be a new production by the UCCI theatre arts students and great food prepared by UCCI’s Hospitality students.

Nick Robson of the Cayman Institute shall be presenting a talk entitled Predicting The Future. Come out and be entertained and hopefully learn a thing or two.

Early Bird 2-for-1: Bring a Friend for Free!

Through the end of this week, two registrants can pay just one admission fee to attend TEDxUCCI 2016. Both people must register for the TEDxUCCI 2016 event online atwww.TEDxUCCI.ky and then both registration confirmations can be taken to the UCCI campus within 10 working days for payment. As long as both registrations were made before February 21st, only one admission fee will be charged.

Admission costs $25 for non-students and $10 for students. But this week’s 2-for-1 special can provide as much as a 50% savings for TEDx-enthusiasts on a budget. TEDxUCCI 2016 is hosted by UCCI and generously sponsored by the Ministry of Community Affairs, Youth & Sports and Foster’s Food Fair.

To register or for more information, go to www.TEDxUCCI.ky or contact info@TEDxUCCI.ky

 

Obama to Unveil Tougher Climate Plan With His Legacy in Mind

WASHINGTON — In the strongest action ever taken in the United States to combat climate change, President Obama will unveil on Monday a set of environmental regulations devised to sharply cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants and ultimately transform America’s electricity industry.

The rules are the final, tougher versions of proposed regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014. If they withstand the expected legal challenges, the regulations will set in motion sweeping policy changes that could shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new coal plants and create a boom in the production of wind and solar power and other renewable energy sources.

As the president came to see the fight against climate change as central to his legacy, as important as the Affordable Care Act, he moved to strengthen the energy proposals, advisers said. The health law became the dominant political issue of the 2010 congressional elections and faced dozens of legislative assaults before surviving two Supreme Court challenges largely intact.

“Climate change is not a problem for another generation, not anymore,” Mr. Obama said in a video posted on Facebook at midnight Saturday. He called the new rules “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.”

The most aggressive of the regulations requires the nation’s existing power plants to cut emissions 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, an increase from the 30 percent target proposed in the draft regulation.

That new rule also demands that power plants use more renewable sources of energy like wind and solar power. While the proposed rule would have allowed states to lower emissions by transitioning from plants fired by coal to plants fired by natural gas, which produces about half the carbon pollution of coal, the final rule is intended to push electric utilities to invest more quickly in renewable sources, raising to 28 percent from 22 percent the share of generating capacity that would come from such sources.

In its final version, the rule retains the same basic structure as the draft proposal: It assigns each state a target for reducing its carbon pollution from power plants, but allows states to create their own custom plans for doing so. States have to submit an initial version of their plans by 2016 and final versions by 2018.

But over all, the final rule is even stronger than earlier drafts and can be seen as an effort by Mr. Obama to stake out an uncompromising position on the issue during his final months in office.

The anticipated final climate change regulations have already set off what is expected to be broad legal, legislative and political backlash as dozens of states, major corporations and industry groups prepare to file lawsuits challenging them.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, has started an unusual pre-emptive campaign against the rules, asking governors to refuse to comply. Attorneys general from more than a dozen states are preparing legal challenges against the plan. Experts estimate that as many as 25 states will join in a suit against the rules and that the disputes will end up before the Supreme Court.

Leading the legal charge are states like Wyoming and West Virginia with economies that depend heavily on coal mining or cheap coal-fired electricity. Emissions from coal-fired power plants are the nation’s single largest source of carbon pollution, and lawmakers who oppose the rules have denounced them as a “war on coal.”

“Once the E.P.A. finalizes this regulation, West Virginia will go to court, and we will challenge it,” Patrick Morrisey, the attorney general of West Virginia, said in an interview with a radio station in the state on Friday. “We think this regulation is terrible for the consumers of the state of West Virginia. It’s going to lead to reduced jobs, higher electricity rates, and really will put stress on the reliability of the power grid. The worst part of this proposal is that it’s flatly illegal under the Clean Air Act and the Constitution, and we intend to challenge it vigorously.”

Although Obama administration officials have repeatedly said states will have flexibility to design their own plans, the final rules are explicitly meant to encourage the use of interstate cap-and-trade systems, in which states place a cap on carbon pollution and then create a market for buying permits or credits to pollute. The idea is that forcing companies to pay to pollute will drive them to cleaner sources of energy.

That new rule also demands that power plants use more renewable sources of energy like wind and solar power

Mr. Obama tried but failed to push through a cap-and-trade bill in his first term, and since then, the term has become politically toxic: Republicans have attacked the idea as “cap and tax.”

But if the climate change regulations withstand legal challenges, many states could still end up putting cap-and-trade systems into effect. Officials familiar with the final rules said that in many cases, the easiest and cheapest way for states to comply would be by adopting cap-and-trade systems.

The rules take into account the fact that some states may refuse to submit plans, and on Monday, the administration will also unveil a template for a plan to be imposed on such states. That plan will include the option of allowing a state to join an interstate cap-and-trade system.

The rules will also offer financial benefits for states that choose to take part in cap-and-trade systems. The final rules will extend until 2022 the timeline for states and electric utilities to comply, two years later than originally proposed. But states that begin to take actions to cut carbon pollution as early as 2020 will be rewarded with carbon reduction credits — essentially, pollution permits that can be sold for cash in a cap-and-trade market.

Climate scientists warn that rising greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly moving the planet toward a global atmospheric temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the point past which the world will be locked into a future of rising sea levels, more devastating storms and droughts, and shortages of food and water. Mr. Obama’s new rules alone will not be enough to stave off that future. But experts say that if the rules are combined with similar action from the world’s other major economies, as well as additional action by the next American president, emissions could level off enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Mr. Obama intends to use the new rules to push other countries to commit to deep reductions in their own carbon emissions before a United Nations summit meeting in Paris in December, when a global accord to fight climate change is expected to be signed.

Mr. Obama’s pledge that the United States would enact the climate change rules was at the heart of a pact that he made last year with President Xi Jinping of China, committing their nations, the world’s two largest carbon polluters, to substantially cut emissions.

“It’s the linchpin of the administration’s domestic effort and international effort on climate change,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a research organization. “It raises the diplomatic stakes in the run-up to Paris. He can take it on the road and use it as leverage with other big economies — China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia.”

While opponents of the rules have estimated that compliance will cost billions of dollars, raise residential electricity rates and slow the American economy, the administration argues that the rules will save the average American family $85 annually in electricity costs and bring additional health benefits by reducing emissions of pollutants that cause asthma and lung disease.

The rules will be announced at a White House ceremony on Monday and signed by Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator. While the ceremony is scheduled to take place on the White House’s South Lawn, officials said it might be moved indoors to the East Room after forecasters predicted that the weather would be too hot.

 

 

Global climate on verge of multi-decadal change

A new study, by scientists from the University of Southampton and National Oceanography Centre (NOC), implies that the global climate is on the verge of broad-scale change that could last for a number of decades.

The change to the new set of climatic conditions is associated with a cooling of the Atlantic, and is likely to bring drier summers in Britain and Ireland, accelerated rise along the northeast coast of the United States, and drought in the developing countries of the Sahel region. Since this new climatic phase could be half a degree cooler, it may well offer a brief reprise from the rise of global temperatures, as well as resulting in fewer hurricanes hitting the United States.

The study, published today in Nature, proves that ocean circulation is the link between weather and decadal scale climatic change. It is based on observational evidence of the link between ocean circulation and the decadal variability of temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lead author Dr Gerard McCarthy, from the NOC, said: “Sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic vary between warm and cold over time-scales of many decades. These variations have been shown to influence temperature, rainfall, drought and even the frequency of hurricanes in many regions of the world. This decadal variability, called the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO), is a notable feature of the Atlantic Ocean and the climate of the regions it influences.”

These climatic phases, referred to as positive or negative AMO's, are the result of the movement of heat northwards by a system of . This movement of heat changes the temperature of the sea surface, which has a profound impact on climate on timescales of 20-30 years. The strength of these currents is determined by the same atmospheric conditions that control the position of the jet stream. Negative AMO's occur when the currents are weaker and so less heat is carried northwards towards Europe from the tropics.

The strength of ocean currents has been measured by a network of sensors, called the RAPID array, which have been collecting data on the flow rate of the Atlantic meridonal overturning circulation (AMOC) for a decade.

Dr David Smeed, from the NOC and lead scientist of the RAPID project, adds: “The observations of AMOC from the RAPID array, over the past ten years, show that it is declining. As a result, we expect the AMO is moving to a negative phase, which will result in cooler surface waters. This is consistent with observations of temperature in the North Atlantic.”

Since the RAPID array has only been collecting data for last ten years, a longer data set was needed to prove the link between ocean circulation and slow climate variations. Therefore this study instead used 100 years of sea level data, maintained by the National Oceanography Centre's permanent service for mean sea level. Models of ocean currents based on this data were used to predict how much heat would be transported around the ocean, and the impact this would have on the sea surface temperature in key locations.

Co-author Dr Ivan Haigh, lecturer in coastal oceanography at the University of Southampton, said: “By reconstructing ocean circulation over the last 100 years from tide gauges that measure sea level at the coast, we have been able to show, for the first time, observational evidence of the link between and the AMO.” More

 

On a tropical island, fossils reveal past — and possible future — of polar ice

The balmy islands of Seychelles couldn’t feel farther from Antarctica, but their fossil corals could reveal much about the fate of polar ice sheets.

About 125,000 years ago, the average global temperature was only slightly warmer, but sea levels rose high enough to submerge the locations of many of today’s coastal cities. Understanding what caused seas to rise then could shed light on how to protect those cities today.

The balmy islands of Seychelles couldn’t feel farther from Antarctica, but their fossil corals could reveal much about the fate of polar ice sheets.

About 125,000 years ago, the average global temperature was only slightly warmer, but sea levels rose high enough to submerge the locations of many of today’s coastal cities. Understanding what caused seas to rise then could shed light on how to protect those cities today.

By examining fossil corals found on the Indian Ocean islands, University of Florida geochemist Andrea Dutton found evidence that global mean sea level during that period peaked at 20 to 30 feet above current levels. Dutton’s team of international researchers concluded that rapid retreat of an unstable part of the Antarctic ice sheet was a major contributor to that sea-level rise.

“This occurred during a time when the average global temperature was only slightly warmer than at present,” Dutton said.

Dutton evaluated fossil corals in Seychelles because sea level in that region closely matches that of global mean sea level. Local patterns of sea-level change can differ from global trends because of variations in Earth’s surface and gravity fields that occur when ice sheets grow and shrink.

In an article published in the January 2015 issue of Quaternary Science Reviews, the researchers concluded that while sea-level rise in the Last Interglacial period was driven by the same processes active today — thermal expansion of seawater, melting mountain glaciers and melting polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica — most was driven by polar ice sheet melt. Their study, partially funded by the National Science Foundation, also suggests the Antarctic ice sheet partially collapsed early in that period.

“Following a rapid transition to high sea levels when the last interglacial period began, sea level continued rising steadily,” Dutton said. “The collapse of Antarctic ice occurred when the polar regions were a few degrees warmer than they are now — temperatures that we are likely to reach within a matter of decades.”

Several recent studies by other researchers suggest that process may have already started.

“We could be poised for another partial collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet,” Dutton said. More

Photos above from Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands.