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John Metcalfe's Posts

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Whale poop may help fight climate change

humpback whale
Shutterstock

It's not a good time to be living in the ocean. Aside from oil spills and the scourge of plastics pollution, the seas are becoming ever more acidic due to humanity's CO2 flooding the atmosphere. The altered PH of the water makes for a bevy of problems, from making fish act in really weird ways to dissolving the shells of creatures critical to the marine food chain.

But a group of scientists from the University of Vermont and elsewhere think the ocean's future health has one thing going for it: the restoration of whale populations. They believe that having more whales in the water creates a more stable marine environment, partly through something called a "whale pump" — a polite term for how these majestic animals defecate.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Finding Emo

Ocean acidification could be creating friendless fish

sad-fish.jpg
David Touchtone

Fish seem like chummy enough creatures, often schooling with fish they're familiar with to avoid predators and increase the chances of finding a mate. But as carbon dioxide levels rise worldwide, they could lose their ability to recognize each other, in effect becoming "friendless" wanderers who will hang out with just about anybody. That's the short version of new research on climate change and fish behavior out of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. A team led by Lauren Nadler wanted to know how fish will react to ocean acidification caused by more and more human-generated CO2 in the atmosphere. So they created two experimental …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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America could soon face more days of extreme rainfall

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NOAA
Click to embiggen.

Squelch, squelch, squelch — that could be the sound of future America, if predictions about how climate change will ramp up "extreme rainfall" prove accurate.

Say the world's nations do little to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases pouring into the atmosphere. By the years 2041 to 2070, the warmer climate could bring torrential downpours to vast parts of the United States, as shown in this model from NOAA. Dark-blue splashes depict areas that might see as many as two or more days a year of extreme rain, defined as "rainfall totals in excess of the historic 98th percentile." (This is against a 1971 to 2000 baseline.) Cities that should maybe consider wooing the umbrella-manufacturing industry include Seattle, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Boise, Idaho; Richmond, Va.; and much of the Northeast.

The climate folks at NOAA add:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Believe it or not, January was full of big, warm climate anomalies

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NCDC/NOAA
Click to embiggen.

Much of America is about to be overrun by another miserable cold-dozer next week, but on the planetary scale, things have actually been warm. January's temperatures were the hottest for the month since 2007 and, with a combined global average of 54.8 degrees F, this was the fourth warmest January since records began in 1880.

That's the word from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, which recently released an updated "State of the Climate" that includes the above map of temperature anomalies. Note cooler-than-normal patches in the eastern U.S., central Canada, Scandinavia, and a big hunk of Russia, which had country-scale temperatures 9 degrees F below average. But the big story was heat, heat, heat, as NCDC explains:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Climate change is directly responsible for killing baby penguins

baby penguin
Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero

Being a baby penguin is no easy ride. To survive, the chicks must escape starvation, the jaws of predators, and being beaten or pecked to death by other penguins. Now, on top of these dangers, there comes evidence the baby birds are facing another challenge to their existence: climate change, which is making their habitats increasingly deadly. Scientists have known for a while that the warming atmosphere is changing the global food chain, and that these alterations can starve seabirds. But a team of researchers that has been monitoring penguins since the 1980s alleges that more extreme weather is directly …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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The worst wildfires in a decade pour acrid smoke over Sydney

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Click to embiggen.

Going outside in many parts of southeastern Australia right now is like sucking on a stogie filled with smoldering grass and bark. The countryside is alive with flame from nearly 100 rampaging blazes, which are drawing strength from feverish weather to slam a dirty-black lid of smoke over Sydney.

This breakout will go down as the worst regional fires in a decade. More than a third of the fires are out of control and behaving erratically thanks to screwy yet strong wind patterns. The Sydney Morning Herald has put together a timeline of events from Thursday, and it's laden with cruel portents:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Here’s where you’re most likely to die from air pollution

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Click to embiggen.

Where on Earth are you most likely to die early from air pollution? NASA provides the answer with this mortally serious view of the planet, and it is: lots of places.

Like tar stains on a healthy lung, the sickly yellow and brown areas in this visualization represent regions with significant numbers of pollutant-influenced deaths. Heavily urbanized places in eastern China, India, Indonesia, and Europe are stippled by the darkest colors of snuff, meaning they experience rates of ruination as high as 1,000 deaths per square kilometer each year.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Harsh drought is drying up New Mexico’s largest reservoir

Right now, El Paso's drier than an cow bone baking in the Chihuahuan Desert, and an important source of water for drinking and farming has shrunk into the sandy puddle you see below.

The vast desolation of the Elephant Butte Reservoir -- named so not because of the presence of pachyderms, but due to a hump in the landscape vaguely shaped like a hulking animal -- is a weighty concern for residents of El Paso, who get about half their water from it. During flush times in the late 1980s and '90s, the 'phant contained nearly 2.2 million acre-feet of agua and was the largest reservoir in New Mexico. Today, however, it holds only 3 percent of that amount (65,057 acre-feet) and is at its lowest level in four decades.

Here it was in June 1994 at 89 percent capacity (larger version). The development at bottom-right is the beginning of the awesomely named town of Truth or Consequences:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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America’s wicked, deadly heat wave last week

Take a gander at this map of the United States lit up like the burning face of the sun. It shows how hot America got from July 10-19, with maximum temperatures shown in appropriately incendiary shades:

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NOAA

heat-map-key

Released on Friday by NOAA, the map shows the hellish days that preceded the nation's current meteorological bugbear: an "oppressively hot area of high pressure," to use the National Weather Service's language, that's now making eyeballs sweat on the East Coast. How nasty is it there? Here are a few indicators:

  • So many people were camped in front of their A/Cs on Friday that New York's power grid reached an all-time usage high. Reports Reuters: "The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) forecast consumer demand use peaked at 33,955 megawatts on Friday, up from 33,450 MW on Thursday, breaking the state's all-time record of 33,939 MW set in 2006." To use the words of a woman in New York City, where the mercury hit 99, "It feels like I'm living inside of a dog's mouth."
Read more: Climate & Energy

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For Cleveland, climate change could mean tons of toxic green algae

largest
NASA

A vast plain of poisonous green slime stretching to the horizon, bobbing gently on the waves -- that was the view of Lake Erie from Cleveland just a couple years ago. It could become a permanent feature if humans don't scramble to do something about it.

Take a closer look at the boxed-in area in the above image (larger version), captured by NASA's Aqua satellite in October 2011:

lake erie algae 2011 EARTH OBS
NASA

That's toxic cyanobacteria swirling in the lake waters north of Cleveland. At the time, this slippery stuff covered nearly one-fifth of Erie's surface, becoming the biggest bloom in the lake's recorded history. It looked and smelled awful, turned fishing into a hook-detangling nightmare, and killed untold numbers of marine creatures by hypoxia.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy