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Arctic sea ice at record low — until the new record next year

As predicted, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic is now at a record low.

Click to embiggen. (Image  courtesy of Arctic Sea Ice Graphs.)

Here's what that ice cover looks like from space, by thickness.

Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of Arctic Sea Ice Graphs.)

Note that ice cover generally reaches its nadir sometime in the middle of September -- and that we are well below the normal level for the year. It's very likely that the minimum ice extent for 2012 will be far below the previous record in 2007.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Massive explosion at oil refinery in Venezuela leaves 41 dead

Still from Xinhua news report.

A massive explosion at the largest oil refinery in Venezuela killed at least 41 people and injured more than 80. From the Guardian:

Officials at the 645,000 barrel-per-day Amuay refinery were on Sunday trying to stop the fire still raging at two storage tanks from spreading to other nearby fuel storage facilities. That would delay Amuay's restart beyond the current estimate of two days.

More than 200 homes were reported damaged by the shockwave. Some were across the street from the refinery, which is on a peninsula in the Caribbean Sea in western Venezuela.

Puddles of petroleum mixed with water covered roads in the area. The victims from Saturday's blast included 18 national guard troops and 15 civilians; six remained unidentified.

Prior to the explosion, residents described smelling gas, though the government denied that a leak was to blame for the blast.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Tropical Storm Isaac scrambles GOP plans, heads directly for New Orleans

Isaac hits the Florida Keys.

Late on Saturday, the Republican Party came to a difficult decision. In order to avoid logistical problems upon the arrival of Tropical Storm Isaac in Tampa, the convention's activities today would be cancelled. A performance by the Oak Ridge Boys would be scrapped -- though one by the daughter of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) remained on the docket -- and Donald Trump's exciting/hysterical surprise would, lamentably, not come to pass. But caution is the watchword in such circumstances, and for a convention that's even wary of bananas, the tropical storm offered too much risk.

A couple of hours later, it became clear that Isaac would not hit Tampa at all; just a few wispy, straggling rain bursts would pass over the city. Good news for Tampa -- and terrible news for New Orleans.

Projected path of Tropical Storm Isaac. Click to embiggen.
Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Black licorice recalled for containing lead, tasting disgusting

Scientists have long understood that humans are not meant to eat black licorice. In the same way that an artificial, sulfurous aroma is added to natural gas to warn of its presence, black licorice is given a horrible taste, derived from the anise seed, so that humans know that it is not meant for ingestion. Recently, legislatures in Australia and Slovenia have considered graphic warning labels on packages showing exactly what happens to your taste buds when you eat black licorice; some studies suggest that up to 82 percent of the buds (technically: papillae) cease working forever, out of protest.

And also some black licorice has lead in it.

Also, the name of the product is confusing. (Photo courtesy of USDA.)

Officials are warning consumers against eating black licorice candy produced by a California company because it contains high levels of lead.The California Department of Public Health issued the warning Wednesday against 16-ounce bags of Red Vines Black Licorice Twists with the label "Best Before 020413." ...

Officials say tests show the product contains levels of lead that are more than twice the recommended daily limit for young children.

Authorities say pregnant women and parents of small children should contact their health care provider if they have recently eaten the licorice.

Read more: Food

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Why does Mitt Romney continue to hate Colorado and/or wind?

"Tear this thing down and burn it!" - Mitt Romney, probably.

Earlier this week, Colorado's two Democratic senators demanded that Congress take action to renew the production tax credit for wind.

If you're just joining us / fall asleep when you see the word "tax," the tax credit bolstering production of wind turbines expires at the end of the year. At least one company with facilities in Colorado has already laid off workers due to uncertainty about a renewal. Hence the senators' advocacy:

“We are seeing firsthand how Congress’ failure to act on an extension of the wind PTC is killing jobs right here in Colorado,” [Senator Michael] Bennet said in a statement. “An extension will support this vital industry at a crucial point in its development and save thousands of jobs in Colorado and tens of thousands across the rest of the country. Congress must get its act together and extend the PTC immediately when it resumes session.”

Or, translated into Family Guy-ese:

Read more: Politics

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How Boston and New York hope to avoid becoming Atlantis

Boston and New York were economic hubs of Colonial America. On the Eastern seaboard (or, as it was known then, the only seaboard), each city's harbor and surrounding natural resources made it a critical center of commerce, trade, and industry.

Being on the coast used to be an asset. In a warming world, it's a big problem. Both cities are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

This map of Boston, created by a Climate Central tool, shows areas vulnerable to a rise of five meters in satellite view. Click to embiggen.

Higher sea levels have been inevitable for some time, but recent research indicates that sea levels are rising faster on the East Coast than anywhere else. (Except, of course, in North Carolina.) Both cities are now developing contingency plans for higher seas and related storm surges.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Drought dries up wells, reveals sunken Burger Kings

See the spread of drought since June. Darker colors indicate more extreme conditions.

Bad (and weird) things happen when we run out of water. We've discussed myriad drought impacts since June, but here are more.

Wells dry up.

From the New York Times:

For some residents outside municipal water districts [in the Midwest], it has become a struggle to wash dishes, or fill a coffee urn, even to flush the toilet. Mike Kraus, a cattle farmer in Garden City, Kan., twisted the tap on the shower the other day after work and heard nothing but hissing.

“And that was it,” he said.

While there are no national statistics on the rate at which residential wells are drying, drilling companies and officials in states across the Midwest have said that hundreds of people who rely on wells have complained of their pipes emitting water that goes from milky to spotty to nothing. An estimated 13.2 million households nationwide use private wells.

We noted the depletion of wells around St. Louis two weeks ago. The problem has now spread significantly.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Paul Ryan: ‘Big debate about the scientific veracity’ of ‘so-called’ climate solutions

Mr. Ryan. (Photo by Toby Alter.)

Here is what Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said to a reporter in Virginia this morning on the subject of climate change:

All the solutions that people like Barack Obama are trying to impose on the American people, cost us jobs, make us less competitive and I think there's a big debate about the scientific veracity of some of the solutions or so-called solutions.

Ryan, currently an elected official serving in the House of Representatives on behalf of more than 600,000 people, is a grown adult who graduated from Miami University. He is not known to suffer from any ailment that would impair his ability to understand scientific facts and to differentiate between speculative opinion and reasoned evidence. At no time in his career -- most of which has taken place on Capitol Hill -- is Ryan known to have himself conducted scientific studies into the efficacy of climate mitigation strategies.

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Romney got his great energy policy ideas from oil execs

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Mitt Romney's proposed energy policy, released yesterday, focuses on giving states the ability to set their own resource extraction rules and to let them drill wherever they want -- including on federal land. Even a conservative environmental organization took issue with that idea as reported by Politico: "These lands do not belong to individual states, any more than the Grand Canyon belongs to Arizona or Yosemite belongs to California."

So where'd Romney get this idea, anyway? I mean, besides how nicely it blends the common conservative arguments for neutering the federal government and drilling everywhere everywhere now now now.

According to the New York Times, the idea came from oil executives.

An individual close to the Romney campaign said that Mr. Romney’s staff drafted the proposal in consultation with industry executives, including Harold Hamm, an Oklahoma billionaire who is the chairman of the campaign’s energy advisory committee and chief executive of Continental Resources, an oil and gas driller.

Just this week, the oil and gas industry gave nearly $10 million toward the Romney election effort in two fund-raisers.

I hope you have a defibrillator nearby to restart your heart which stopped due to the surprise of that statement.

Read more: Politics

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Antarctic temperature spike linked to ongoing ice loss

We've talked a lot about how quickly the Arctic ice is melting. Yesterday, ye olde Grist List shared a photo of pooled water from melted ice at the North Pole. (If you would like an up-to-the-minute view of North Pole ice, the NOAA has you covered. If the camera appears to be submerged in ocean water surrounded by ice cubes, please call 311.)

Antarctic ice loss. Red indicates more loss; green, less. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

As you may recall from school / globes / common sense, the Earth has another region of frozen desert -- and the Antarctic isn't doing much better, ice-loss-wise. From Climate Central:

Scientists are intrigued with this corner of the world because it’s warming faster than anyplace else on Earth. The planet as a whole has heated up by about 1.3°F since 1900, but on the peninsula, it has shot up by a whopping 5° in just 50 years, forcing massive ice shelves to disintegrate and penguin colonies to collapse.

Heat trapping greenhouse-gas emissions are the obvious culprit, since they’ve increased dramatically over that same 50 years, but scientists prefer hard evidence to presumption, so a team from the British Antarctic Survey has been drilling into ancient ice to see how the current warming stacks up against what happened in the ancient past. If the kind of warming happening now also happened before we started burning fossil fuels, it would cast doubt on the human contribution.

What the scientists discovered, however, removed any doubt. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy