The jet stream has started an unprecedented shift north, which could wreak havoc on weather in the US and Europe

Flooding in Germany
The German village of Insul in Rhineland was largely destroyed after rainfall caused devastating flooding in July.

  • The polar jet stream is a band of wind that separates cold Arctic air from warmer air to the south.
  • A new study suggests that as the Earth warms, this band is moving north and out of position.
  • That could cause more droughts and heat waves in southern Europe and the eastern US.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The polar jet stream circles the northern hemisphere, swirling up to nine miles above our heads like a curvy, ethereal crown on the planet.

This band of strong wind separates cold air from the Arctic from warmer air to the south, and it’s responsible for transporting weather from west to east across the US, over the Atlantic, and into Europe. It controls how wet and warm these regions are.

But according to a recent study, the jet stream is shifting north as global temperatures rise. That’s because the delicate balance of warm and cold air that keeps the stream in place is getting disturbed. If greenhouse-gas emissions continue unabated, the study found, the jet stream will break out of its normal range by 2060.

“The ‘onset’ of the jet stream’s northward migration may have already begun,” Matthew Osman, a researcher at the University of Arizona’s Climate Systems Center who co-authored the study, told Insider.

That would wreak havoc on weather in the northern hemisphere, bringing more extreme events like droughts and heat waves to southern Europe and the eastern US. More rain and flooding are expected in northern parts of Europe and Scandinavia, Osman said.

A migrating jet stream

Jet stream
A NASA graphic showing the northern hemisphere jet stream.

The North Atlantic jet stream exists and is held in place thanks to the clash between warm air zooming north from the tropics and cold air in the Arctic. Once these air masses meet, they move east at 110 miles per hour, driven by the Earth’s rotation.

But rising air temperatures mess with that hustle and flow. The Arctic is warming twice as fast, on average, as the rest of the planet. So that warm air travels farther north before it finds cold air, which leads the jet stream’s position to migrate toward higher latitudes.

Osman noted that the jet stream is capricious; the band’s location is constantly shifting as the temperature differential that causes it fluctuates. But his study took the long view, examining the stream’s location over the last 1,250 years. To reconstruct that past behavior, the researchers looked at ice core samples from 50 sites on the Greenland Ice Sheet that date back to the 8th century. The cores revealed how much snow had fallen, and when.

Then, using climate models, the team simulated where the jet stream might move over the next four decades if greenhouse-gas emissions continue at their present rate. The results showed that the wind band’s current movement threatens to exceed any previous shift.

It’s expected to significantly deviate from the norm, with potentially devastating consequences.

“By pushing the jet stream outside its already large natural range, we could be exposing ourselves to increasingly severe climate risks in the future,” Osman said.

More droughts and flooding could be coming

heat wave
People cool off near the fountain at Washington Square Park on July 17, 2019 in New York City.

Osman’s study suggests that the jet stream’s migration will likely cause the US East Coast to warm more quickly than it already is. And both North America and Europe will experience more droughts and heat waves.

“Europe, on the downstream end of the North Atlantic jet, will feel these effects most acutely,” Osman said.

In particular, semi-arid regions of southern Europe could become more arid. Parts of northern Europe that already have a wetter, milder climates, like Scandinavia, could become even wetter. That additional rainfall would prompt more floods like the ones that plagued Europe this summer.

Changes in the jet stream could affect polar vortices, too

polar vortex jet stream
The location of the jet stream on February 15, 2021 during the cold snap that hit North America. Black lines show the jet stream, and the white indicates the extent of freezing temperatures.

Some scientists think that warming will also make the jet stream wavier than it already is.

The jet stream’s path is meandering and sinusoidal because not all warm air moves north at the same rate, nor does all polar air travel south uniformly. Hence the many waves in the wind band.

But a study published last month suggests that melting Arctic sea ice could increase the intensity and size of those deviating bulges. When that sea ice melts, more heat and moisture move from Earth’s surface up toward space. That acts like a rock thrown into the pond of the atmosphere – it creates strong ripples above the Arctic that deform the jet stream. This creates wiggles that push extraordinarily cold air toward the equator.

winter storm texas snow
Ice and snow blanketing roads in Odessa, Texas, on February 15, 2021.

So a more wobbly jet stream, consequently, increases the chances of intense winter storms and cold snaps in the US. Examples of this extreme winter weather include the polar-vortex event that struck the US in 2019 and the winter storm that left millions of Texans without power in February.

“If the jet stream’s waviness increases in the future, this might imply that extreme events such as the polar vortex could also become more frequent,” Osman said.

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Welcome to your new planet: There’s no such thing as a local disaster

Flooding from Hurricane Ida
Waves crash against the New Canal Lighthouse in New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 29, 2021.

  • In the last year, I’ve found myself face-to-face with a hurricane and two wildfires.
  • This is what our planet is like now: The effects of climate change are inescapable, no matter where you live.
  • Any extreme weather event can have impacts far from its epicenter.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

While the remnants of Hurricane Ida tore through New York City on Wednesday, my phone lit up as concerned friends asked if I was safe. Thankfully, no floodwater entered my Manhattan apartment building – but I thought seriously about the question.

Last year, I was evacuated not once, but twice from my family home in Southern California due to wildfires. I was living there at the time, so I prepared to say goodbye to the structure I had known for almost 30 years as a trail of flames on the hillside inched ominously in my direction. The sooty air burned my eyes. I could smell the smoke through my three-layer mask.

This is what it’s like now: No matter what part of a coast you’re on or which state you live in, the effects of climate change are inescapable. Phrases like “flood zone” or “fire territory” are becoming somewhat meaningless, since it’s no longer the case that flooding occurs exclusively in coast-heavy states like Florida or that wildfire smoke affects only people in the West.

This summer in particular has demonstrated what climate scientists have warned about for decades: There’s no such thing as a local disaster. Extreme weather events are interconnected.

Hurricane Ida is the obvious recent example: It strengthened in the Gulf and made landfall in New Orleans, yet its devastating power crippled New York three days later. Then there are the wildfires in California and Oregon, which have darkened skies and led to air-quality warnings in New York City and Boston. Even Arctic warming affects weather in the US: A study published Friday found that this accelerated warming makes winters more extreme in North America – and even likely played a role in the cold front that toppled Texas’s energy grid in February.

The situation will get worse.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that warming will continue to some extent over the next two to three decades, regardless of how much emissions drop. Some consequences of human-driven emissions – such as rising seas, disappearing glaciers, extreme heat, floods, drought, and tropical storms – are already irreversible for centuries to millennia.

“Things that used to be super rare are going to happen more commonly,” Genevieve Guenther, director of the volunteer organization End Climate Silence, told me. “Natural disasters are not going to happen and then fade from historical memory. They’re going to be relentless and they’re going to be global.”

The ripple effects of climate change aren’t always visible

Hurricane Ida, New Orleans
Residents leave a partially flooded area in LaPlace, Louisiana during Hurricane Ida.

We’ve all heard the warnings about climate change “hotspots.” Miami could be underwater by the end of the century if sea levels rise at least 10 feet. More than a million California homes are in high-risk fire areas. And a hurricane is likely to strike within 50 nautical miles of New Orleans once every seven years.

But it’s tempting for people who don’t live in these locations to dismiss the threats.

Until recently, Guenther said, climate disasters “were understood, even by insurance agencies, as acts of God that came out of nowhere and then went away again.”

When I spoke to her on Friday, a chunk of her ceiling had recently caved in from Ida. She’d meant to fix a leak before the storm, she said, but never got around to it. Even to climate activist, she added, it was an important lesson: Prepare for extreme weather. Don’t think you have the luxury to procrastinate.

And don’t expect a major weather event to stay confined to one area. Ida may have flooded New Orleans and cut its power, but it has killed more than 60 people across eight states – Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

What’s more, not all damage from these events will be visible right away. Floods from hurricanes, for example, can promote mold growth inside homes and release chemicals into the air, water, and soil, causing spikes in air pollution and potentially exposing people to contaminated food and drinking water. Together, these hazards can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases among residents of affected areas, as well as rescue and repair workers.

Fire and drought have far-reaching effects, too

Dixie Fire in California.
The Dixie Fire torches homes in Indian Falls, California on July 25, 2021.

The effects of fires are similarly widespread: Smoke can rise high into the atmosphere, where winds may carry it for thousands of miles, effectively blanketing entire continents. That smoke fills the air with microscopic particles that have been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and premature death.

In early August, Salt Lake City, Utah, had the worst air quality of any major city in the world – more than three times the federal health standard. The smoke came from Northern California, where wildfires had ignited several weeks earlier.

Drought, too, has far-reaching health consequences.

From April to May, global food prices rose nearly 5% – the fastest monthly rate in more than a decade – due in large part to a La NiƱa climate pattern. The phenomenon produces dry spells in some parts of the world and flooding in others, which can destroy crops. That, in turn, leads the agricultural sector to charge more for products. Though only certain areas of the world were affected, rising food prices contribute to hunger and food insecurity all over the globe.

“The climate system is a system, so a thing that happens in one location will have knock-off effects in other locations,” Guenther said.

My apartment may not have flooded this time. My family home is still standing. But I’m not safe. None of us is.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting.

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Lawn-care companies are swamped as armyworms decimate entire lawns within hours and spread north, in part due to climate change

FILE PICTURE: An armyworm is seen on corn crop by night at a village in Menghai county in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China, July 12, 2019.  REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
Armyworms can quickly devastate crops and lawns.

  • Armyworms can turn a lush green lawn brown seemingly overnight.
  • Some lawn-care companies are struggling to deal with the influx of customers due to the pest.
  • The worm is spreading to new areas, likely because of climate change.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The lawns David Bender deals with are often so infested with armyworms that they almost looks like the grass is rippling in waves.

“They completely eat the lawn. It turns a green plush lawn into a brown mushy lawn within hours and days,” Bender, the owner of Weeded! Lawn Service, said. “I think they’re gross. Thousands of those things are just marching through destroying the entire property.”

Though Bender has been in business in Richmond, Virginia, for 20 years, he’d never dealt with armyworms in his area until last week. Now, he and his staff are scrambling as a torrent of clients call for help with the worms invading their lawns.

Bender said it costs clients hundreds of dollars to get rid of the pests and reseed their lawns. Other companies in the area were similarly overwhelmed, with one asking prospective customers to email instead of call since the company’s voicemail was full with armyworm inquiries.

An infestation usually begins with patches of bare spots or brown grass before spreading throughout an entire lawn.

“The damage to the lawn pictured was done over a TWO DAY time period!” Wes Ory, the owner of Heritage Lawns and Irrigation in Kansas City, tweeted along with a photo of a yellowish-brown yard.

Though armyworms often infest lawns and crop fields throughout the Southeast, the pests’ spread to new areas like the Northeast and Midwest might be linked to a warming climate, said Terri Billeisen, an entomologist at North Carolina State University.

Billeisen said the worms prefer eating finer grasses like bermuda and fescue, which are some of the most common grass types for lawns. Armyworms are about 1.5 inches long and are usually dark green or black with a yellow head.

“They do love lush green turf, so irrigated and fertilized warm season turfgrass such as hybrid bermuda grass is a big target in the heat of the summer,” said Rick Brandenburg, an entomologist at North Carolina State University. “There is really no way to prevent them.”

Jeff Herman, editor-in-chief of the national lawn services company LawnStarter, said armyworms are a common nuisance for clients, but haven’t posed a bigger problem this year than previous years.

“Armyworm invasions are a common pest people have been dealing with for as long as there have been lawns,” Herman said.

Here’s what to do if you think you have an armyworm problem:

  • Mix soap with water and pour the mixture over a small patch of your yard. If your yard is infested, the caterpillars will rise to the surface.
  • Keep a look out for brown patches of grass, tips of grass blades that have been eaten, and birds flocking around your lawn.
  • Target the pests when they’re small with a liquid insecticide (these can be found online and in lawn and garden stores).
Read the original article on Business Insider

Debunking 13 of the biggest climate change myths

  • Climate scientists Deepti Singh and Ben Cook debunk 13 myths about global warming.
  • They talk about the relationship between climate and weather and renewable energy.
  • Singh and Cook dive deep into the role of carbon dioxide and more on this episode of “Debunked.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Benjamin Cook: “Global warming is caused by cow farts.”

Deepti Singh: It’s not by their farts, but it’s by belching.

Cook: “A few degrees’ difference is not a big deal.” And the way I always like to think about it too is like your body’s temperature. If your temperature is three or four degrees warmer, then you’re seriously sick.

“It’s too late to do anything about it.” Unless you’re Elon Musk and gonna head off towards Mars, we’re all stuck here, so we should try to figure out how we can make it the best planet we can.

Singh: I’m Deepti Singh. I’m an assistant professor in the School of the Environment at Washington State University. I’ve been studying climate change for about 11 years, and I study extreme weather events and how human activities are influencing them.

Cook: My name is Benjamin Cook, and I’m a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. I’ve been working there for about 14 years now. And I study how droughts are changing with global warming and climate change.

Singh: And today we’ll be debunking myths about global warming.

Cook: Myths from pop culture. Oh, boy, I’m glad you got this one, Deepti. “The sun is causing global warming.”

Singh: Changes in the amount of energy we get from the sun do affect our climate. But over the last 150 years, we know that because the amount of energy we’re getting from the sun has not changed significantly over this period. Satellites have been recording the amount of solar radiation that our planet receives. I think Ben has a graph that shows that.

Cook: And what we’re looking at here on the yellow is the amount of energy that’s coming from the sun, and red is global temperatures. It’s pretty clear that the amount of energy we’re getting from the sun has been more or less flat for the last several decades, even as temperatures continue to go up and up.

Singh: “Scientists don’t agree on what causes climate change.”

Cook: 100% of the climate scientists on this Skype call agree.

Singh: If you review the published literature in reputable journals by reputable scientists, all those papers agree that climate change is caused by human activities.

Cook: There’s really no other explanation that fits the data. We’ve looked at the sun. We’ve looked at just natural variations in circulation in the ocean, in the atmosphere. We’ve looked at volcanoes. We’ve looked at changes in ecosystems. And at the end of the day, the only thing that can adequately explain the degree of warming that we’ve seen over the last 150 years is human greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels. There’s a real clear incentive for people to find some other explanation. Nobody can come up with even a plausible alternative hypothesis.

“Global warming is caused by cow farts.”

Singh: It’s not by their farts, but it’s by belching. Agriculture is a pretty substantial contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, close to 25%. It’s not the whole 25%, but it’s a good chunk.

Cook: It’s important to note, too, that even the cow burps that are producing this methane is not natural. It’s all part of a kind of human agricultural system. So blaming it all on cows doesn’t take people off the hook.

Singh: “Plants and animals will adapt.”

Cook: So, we know that in the past, plants and animals have adapted to climate change, but there’s a few fundamental different things now that are very likely to make it quite difficult. In addition, it’s not just climate change that’s threatening plants and animals, it’s habitat fragmentation, it’s pollution, it’s a variety of other environmental stressors. And so once you kind of put climate change on top of pollution, on top of habitat loss, then it becomes much, much more difficult.

Singh: And just to add to that, I think the extinction rate of species is much higher than the natural extinction rate. And it’s partly driven by the processes that Ben just mentioned.

Cook: Myths from social media.

Singh: “Global warming is natural.”

Cook: So, we know in the past that climate can change really dramatically from natural causes. The climate during the time of the dinosaurs is very different from the climate during the time of the last ice age. But the changes that we’re seeing right now for the most part are not natural. The warming that we’re seeing is very likely the fastest warming we’ve seen anytime in the last several thousand years. It coincides directly with the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels and widespread deforestation. You can look at almost any natural cause, and none of them are sufficient to explain the warming that we’ve seen in recent decades.

Singh: “Carbon dioxide is the problem.”

So, CO2 isn’t the problem. It’s the increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere that is resulting in the rapid warming we’re seeing over the last century, which is the problem.

Cook: So, carbon dioxide is one of these gases that we call greenhouse gases, because they’re responsible for the greenhouse effect, which basically helps trap energy on Earth and make things much, much warmer than it otherwise would have been. It’s not a big stretch then to observe that if we start increasing CO2 concentrations, we’re gonna trap more energy and we’re gonna warm up.

Singh: Before the industrial revolution, CO2 levels were close to, like, 280 parts per million. And now we’re at close to 418 parts per million. So that’s a pretty large change in the concentration.

Cook: And the fact is that pretty much anytime the world was warmer, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were higher. And anytime the world was cooler, CO2 concentrations were lower.

“A few degrees’ difference is not a big deal.” And the way I always like to think about it too is like your body’s temperature. We’re all supposed to be about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Even one degree or two degrees of warming is considered a low-grade fever. And if your temperature is three or four degrees warmer, then you’re seriously sick.

Singh: So, just to give you a sense, the Earth has warmed by about one degree over the last century. That one degree is an average temperature around our planet. That means some parts of our planet are warming faster than others. I come from India. We have a lot of people that live below poverty in the country. And most of those people, for example, don’t have an air conditioner to deal with extreme heat events. So it depends on who we’re talking about when we say it’s not a big deal, because there are some people around the planet that have the capacity to adapt or cope with these kind of extreme events and with the warming that we’ve experienced, and then there are billions of people that do not have the capacity to cope with even small changes.

Myths that we, climate scientists, hear the most.

“Global warming will destroy the planet by 2030.”

Cook: Just like there’s kind of climate deniers who don’t know what they’re talking about, there’s climate doomists who also don’t know what they’re talking about. This whole idea of the planet being destroyed by 2030 comes out of discussion about, how much time do we have to keep global warming under two degrees? And so it’s very likely that we need to kind of get emissions under control by 2030 to keep it under two degrees. It doesn’t mean that the world is going to explode or we’re all going to be consigned to a fiery “Mad Max” kind of hellscape. It just means that it’ll be warmer than we maybe wanted it to be.

Singh: When they say it’s gonna destroy the planet, well, the planet’s not going to blow up. But it does mean that the way of life and the livelihoods and the things people depend on are going to be affected. There are already people who have been displaced because of sea-level rise, people that are experiencing life-threatening heat conditions.

Cook: The impacts of climate change are not going to be equally felt. These kind of blanket statements are very, very dismissive. And I think they can take attention away from the people who are likely to be most vulnerable to climate change.

Singh: It’s not really helpful to put a date on it. I think we just need to know that delaying action on climate change is going to just cost more to society.

Cook: “Global warming is China’s fault.”

Singh: So, to address that myth, I think there’s one important fact we need to understand. When CO2 is emitted, it can stay in the atmosphere for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The CO2 concentrations we’re seeing today are a consequence of emissions that have happened over a much longer period, over the last century. And most of those emissions are associated with the industrial revolution and development of countries like the US and industrialized nations in Europe. If we look at emissions this year specifically, sure, the emissions from China are close to what the emissions from the US are. But those emissions are being used to produce products and goods that are being used in other parts of the world. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that China’s responsible when we’re all benefiting from the products that are produced there.

Cook: I think even today, it’s worth thinking not just about how much is a country emitting, but how much are they emitting per person? And I have another visual aid here. You can pretty clearly see the highest-intensity emitters are places like Australia, the US, Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia. China isn’t even in the top 10.

Singh: It’s also a complicated problem because the well-being of people is tied to their consumption of energy. So as long as we’re doing that in a sustainable, cleaner way, I think we all have to benefit from it.

“Renewable energy is too expensive to be realistic.”

Cook: Renewable energy is getting cheaper all the time, even faster than we expected. And there’s a lot of places where it actually can outcompete some fossil fuel sources. For example, I believe wind and solar is more cost-effective than coal in pretty much the entire United States.

Singh: The cost of producing solar panels today is a fraction of what it was just a decade ago. I keep going back to India because that’s another region I’m very familiar with. There are a lot of villages there that have been provided energy because they’re using solar and wind, which would not have been possible if we were still depending upon CO2. Now, there’s still challenges.

Cook: We’re not going to kind of be able to switch everything overnight, but it’s like any other technology. It’s getting cheaper over time. It’s getting more efficient. And the more we kind of invest in it, then the faster we’ll get to the point that we’ll be able to use it for most of our needs.

“Extreme weather isn’t caused by global warming.”

Singh: So, the right question to ask is not whether an extreme event would have been possible without warming, but it’s to ask how the event itself was affected by warming. For example, a tropical storm or a tropical cyclone might result in heavier precipitation because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. And so there’s more moisture, more fuel in the storm, which results in heavier precipitation and likely more flooding.

Cook: I think a good analogy is a professional athlete on steroids. Athletes need to have some kind of innate fitness and ability, but if you go on steroids, you’re a bit more likely to hit a home run. So CO2 is kind of like the steroids of the climate system, and it’s just intensifying everything that’s already there.

Singh: “The temperature record is unreliable.” What do you have to say about that, Ben?

Cook: The record we have of warming for the last 150 years is constructed from basically thousands of thermometer records from around the world. Climate scientists often get accused of modifying the temperature record to make it look like it’s warming more than it actually is. At least half a dozen groups around the world who are all independently putting together these records and estimating the global temperature changes that we’ve seen over the last two centuries, and they’re all basically getting the same answer. All this data is publicly available! Anybody can go and get this data and come up with their own calculation. And the fact is that nobody has shown one that is credibly different.

“It’s too late to do anything about it.”

Singh: It’s easy for us to say, “Well, it’s too late to do anything about it. Let’s throw our hands up and not do anything about it.” But there is a lot we can do about it, both individually as well as at the international level. It doesn’t have to be a major change, but reducing our consumption of certain meat products that are extremely energy-intensive is one way in which we can affect greenhouse emissions.

Cook: The decisions we make today, we are going to have to deal with, our children are going to have to live with. I will never say that people should not recycle or reduce their car use or eat less meat. But at the end of the day, the big lever is just going to be government. And ’cause the government can set policies that can incentivize actions.

Singh: It’s also a weird time to say that it’s too late to do anything about it, because we’re at a point in time when we have so much information. There are people working on technologies to address climate change and to make our environment cleaner and better. So this is not a time for us to put our hands up. It’s our time to take action.

Cook: Climate change itself is not pass-fail. Keeping warming to three degrees is better than four degrees. Keeping warming to two and a half degrees is better than three degrees. Keeping warming to two degrees is better than all of those things. We’re all stuck here, so we should try to figure out how we can make it the best planet we can. Climate change is a global problem, and it’s going to require a global solution and people to actually kind of work together.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2021.

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Climate-related changes to Earth’s ice and oceans are now ‘irreversible for centuries to millennia,’ a new report says

rising seas surround little girl on bench
A 2-year-old sits on a bench at Kali Adem port, north of Jakarta, Indonesia, amid high tides due to rising seas and sinking land, November 20, 2020.

Earth won’t be the same again for thousands of years. Human activities have altered our planet’s systems so dramatically that seas will continue to rise and glaciers continue to melt long after the 21st century ends.

That’s according to a long-awaited report, released Monday, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a United Nations body that recruits hundreds of scientists from across the globe to summarize years of research on climate change.

black smoke plume above darkened snow
Smoke from a coal-fired power plant blackens snow around the Russian village of Barentsburg, April 26, 2007.

That aggregated research paints a dismaying portrait of both our planet’s long-term future and the short-term impacts of climate change, including increasingly extreme weather. In burning fossil fuels, humans have pumped so much carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere that it would continue heating the planet even if the world’s emissions dropped to net zero today.

That warming commits Earth to major upheavals in the coming decades – rising seas, disappearing glaciers, extreme heat, floods, drought, and tropical storms. Some of those changes, the IPCC report found, will be “irreversible for centuries to millennia.”

Glaciers will melt and seas will rise for millennia to come

firefighter in smoke filled forest in siberia
A specialist of the Russian Federal Agency for Forestry fights a forest fire in the Omsk Region of Siberia, August 11, 2020.

Already, the Arctic is losing its permafrost, a layer of soil that used to stay frozen year-round. That frozen layer has captured carbon from plants and animals that have died over past centuries – about twice as much carbon as currently exists in the atmosphere.

As rising temperatures thaw the permafrost, though, that carbon escapes into the atmosphere, where it traps heat and contributes to additional warming. This permafrost carbon release may last hundreds of years, according to the IPCC.

Changes to Earth’s oceans, too, “are irreversible on centennial to millennial time scales,” according to the report. The oceans have been absorbing about 31% of carbon-dioxide emissions, which makes them more acidic. They’re also heating up along with the rest of the planet. Warmer water holds less oxygen, a resource that’s crucial to marine life.

glacier calving splinters of ice fall into ocean
Splinters of ice peel off from a side of the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina, July 7, 2008.

Warming will also keep glaciers melting at the poles and on mountaintops for decades, possibly centuries, the report says. If emissions rise further, some limited evidence suggests that the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet could accelerate for centuries to come.

All that melting ice would contribute to even more sea-level rise. Over the next 2,000 years, oceans could rise as much as 72 feet. The IPCC report says with “high confidence” that sea levels “will remain elevated for thousands of years.”

Other takeaways from the IPCC report

The UN created the IPCC in 1988 to inform policymakers about how the climate is changing. This is its sixth climate assessment.

IPCC climate change
IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee, center, speaks during a press conference in Incheon, South Korea, October 8, 2018.

For these reports, hundreds of scientists from across the globe comb through thousands of scientific papers. They describe how the climate is changing, the consequences of those changes, risks for the future, and what can be done.

Monday’s report is the first part of the IPCC’s new assessment, and it comes from a working group that hadn’t released new findings since 2013. This portion comes three months before scheduled climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. The next two parts of the report are expected in early 2022. Governments of 195 countries must approve each one before its release.

Fire department helps man in Oregon amidst heat wave
Emergency personnel treat a man experiencing heat exposure at a cooling center in Salem, Oregon, during a heat wave, June 26, 2021.

Here are other key takeaways from the new IPCC report:

  • The global temperature between 2001 and 2020 was about 1 degree Celsius higher than it was between 1850 and 1900.
  • The average global sea level rose by about half a foot (0.2 meters) between 1901 and 2018. The rate of annual sea-level rise nearly tripled during that time.
  • In 2019, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere was higher than at any time in at least 2 million years. Concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide – more potent greenhouse gases than CO2 – were higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years.
  • Annual average Arctic sea-ice levels between 2001 and 2020 were their lowest since 1850, and the Arctic is likely to have a sea-ice free September at least once before 2050.
  • Major tropical cyclones, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events have increased in frequency around the globe over the last four decades.
  • Combinations of extreme events like heavy rainfall and hurricane-caused storm surge, paired with rising sea levels, will continue to make flooding more likely in coming decades.
  • The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, an ocean current that carries warm water north and cold water south, is weakening. If the current slows enough, Europe and the US East Coast would be hit by freezing temperatures.
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The amount of warming that world leaders collectively agreed to avoid? It’s inevitable in the next 20 years, a new report shows.

Dixie Fire in California.
The Dixie Fire torches homes in Indian Falls, California, on July 25, 2021.

  • In the Paris climate agreement, world leaders agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • But new UN report found that goal is now impossible: By 2040, Earth will warm by at least that much.
  • For every half-a-degree of warming, the frequency and intensity of heat waves and drought increase.
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When world leaders from 195 countries gathered in Paris almost six years ago, they agreed to try to cut greenhouse-gas emissions enough to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

According to a new climate report, however, Earth’s temperature is set to blow past that mark in the next 20 years – under any conceivable scenario of future emissions.

The findings, released on Monday, come from the sixth climate assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a United Nations body that recruits hundreds of scientists from across the globe to synthesize years of climate research and modeling.

The report found that human-driven emissions have already caused the planet to warm by 1.1 degrees in the last 170 years, and that warming trend will continue until over the next two to three decades to some degree, regardless of how much emissions drop.

What climate change will look like in the short term

california drought Lake Mendocino 2021
Kayakers make a long trek to the water’s edge at a drought-stricken Lake Mendocino, currently at 29% of normal capacity, in Ukiah, California, May 23, 2021.

Global temperatures have risen faster in the last 50 years than any other 50-year period in the last 2,000 years. That’s because humanity emitted about 2.4 trillion tons of carbon dioxide between 1850 and 2019. Every trillion tons causes the world’s average temperature to increase roughly 0.45 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit).

The IPCC report outlined five potential future scenarios, each of which assumes a different quantity of carbon emissions between now and the year 2100. So the scenarios all result in different levels of warming.

Even if emissions drop to net zero in the next 30 years – the IPCC authors’ best-case scenario – the global temperature will rise at least 1.5 degrees between now and 2040, the report found. In the worst-case scenario, in which emissions double by 2050, temperatures would rise 2.4 degrees above pre-industrial levels between 2041 and 2060. Then that increase would nearly double by 2100.

If the best-case situation played out, though, temperatures would eventually dip back down, dropping below the 1.5-degree mark by the end of the century.

Some changes in ocean heat and sea-level rise are locked in until 2100

nuuk greenland ice melt
Small pieces of ice float in the water in Nuuk, Greenland on June 13, 2019, following a heat wave in Europe that caused record ice melt in Greenland.

Even in the best-case scenario, the authors found, the ocean warming observed between 1971 and 2018 will double. Waters will also get more acidic and lose oxygen, which can devastate marine life and alter currents that are critical to seasonal weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere. These changes will be irreversible for the next hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

The report shows as well that glaciers will keep melting for decades or even centuries, and the Greenland Ice Sheet will continue losing ice until 2100 (the Antarctic Ice Sheet will most likely do the same). Because this contributes to sea-level rise, it is virtually certain that oceans will continue rising through the end of this century.

In the best case scenario, the IPCC authors said, oceans will rise by nearly a foot over the next 80 years.

smokestack poland climate change eu
Clouds of smoke over a power plant in Belchatow, Poland, November 2018.

Avoiding 1.5 degrees of warming was the Paris agreement’s ideal scenario, though it set 2 degrees as the threshold never to cross. To make sure we stay under that, the new report says, we have about 900 billion tons of carbon left in our budget. In 2019, emissions reached about 37 billion tons – so if that rate continues and no carbon gets removed from the atmosphere, we’d have about 25 years of emissions left.

Still, the impacts a 2-degree temperature increase will have on weather – including extreme heat and heavy precipitation – will be dramatically more severe. For every half-degree of warming, the frequency and intensity of heat waves and droughts increase. At the same time, the planet’s permafrost, snow cover, glaciers, ice sheets, and Arctic sea ice shrinks.

7 fast facts from the IPCC report

People in the water looking at a hill with smoke rising
A helicopter responds to a forest fire in the Marmaris district of Mugla, Turkey on July 31, 2021.

The UN created the IPCC in 1988 to inform policymakers about how the climate is changing. This is its sixth assessment of existing scientific research.

For these reports, hundreds of scientists from across the globe comb through thousands of scientific papers. They assess how the climate is changing, the impacts of those changes, risks for the future, and what can be done. Almost all the observations and predictions in the report are assigned a level of likelihood or certainty.

Monday’s report is just the first part of the IPCC’s sixth assessment. The second and third will be released in early 2022.

Other key findings from the new report include:

  • The global temperature between 2001 and 2020 was about 1 degree Celsius higher than it was between 1850 and 1900.
  • The world’s average sea level rose by about half a foot (0.2 meters) between 1901 and 2018. The rate of annual sea-level rise nearly tripled during that time.
  • In 2019, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere was higher than at any time in at least 2 million years. Concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide – more potent greenhouse gases than CO2 – were higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years.
  • Average yearly Arctic sea-ice levels between 2001 and 2020 were their lowest since 1850. The Arctic is likely to have a sea-ice free September at least once before 2050.
  • Major tropical cyclones, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events have increased in frequency around the globe over the last four decades.
  • Combinations of extreme events like heavy rainfall and hurricane-caused storm surge, paired with rising sea levels, will continue to make flooding more likely in coming decades.
  • The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, an ocean current that carries warm water north and cold water south, is weakening. If the current slows enough, Europe and the US East Coast would be hit by freezing temperatures.
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Photos show the ‘bathtub ring’ along a parched Los Angeles reservoir, as California’s drought grows more dire

An aerial view of reservoir tucked in between a mountainous landscape under a bright sky.
Aerial view of the reservoir nestled in the San Gabriel Mountain Range.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in 41 California counties, representing 30% of the state’s population.
  • Reservoirs across the state are running dry.
  • Photographer Ted Soqui captured the dramatic “bathtub ring” at the San Gabriel Reservoir, just outside Los Angeles.
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The three-mile-long San Gabriel Reservoir, nestled in the mountains above Los Angeles, is running dry.

California saw significantly less rain and snow this year, and drought conditions this summer have left much of the state increasingly parched.

Across California, many reservoirs and lakes are experiencing a “bathtub ring” phenomena: Declining water levels expose white rings around the edges of these bodies of water – the result of calcium carbonate and other minerals attached to the rock. The more rings that are visible, the lower the water level.

Photographs of the San Gabriel Reservoir offer a hint at how severe the drought could get in Southern California.

Rings are seen along rocks above a reservoir, showing where the water line once was.
Aerial view of the “bathtub ring” phenomena around the San Gabriel Reservoir.

A close-up of the rings that form along the rocks, showing where the water line once was.
Detail of the newly exposed “bathtub ring” phenomena on the side of the San Gabriel Reservoir as it dries out.

In May, California Governor Gavin Newsom expanded the state’s emergency drought declaration to cover 41 counties, representing 30 percent of the state’s population. The governor’s office attributed the situation to especially hot temperatures brought on by climate change, as well as extremely dry mountaintop soil that absorbs water that would otherwise flow into the state’s water collection systems.

“Extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May separate this critically dry year from all others on California record,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

The giant reservoirs in Northern California – Folsom Lake, Lake Oroville, and Shasta – are also seeing low water levels after less snow and rain runoff came down from the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

A bald eagle is seen resting on a leaf-less tree amid a parched landscape.
A Bald Eagle rests near the reservoir.

An aerial view shows the bottom of the reservoir.
The bottom of the reservoir becomes exposed as it dries out.

Most of Los Angeles’ water is pumped over the Tejon pass from northern California. The water from the San Gabriel reservoir, which holds more than 54 million cubic meters of water when full, mostly serves the San Gabriel Valley.

Significant rain and snow fall is not expected until November.

An aerial view of the reservoir shows a swirl of patterns.
Rorschach-like patterns now appear on the newly exposed bottom of the San Gabriel Reservoir.

A wide aerial view of the reservoir dam area.
Wide view of the southern area of the reservoir’s dam area. The reservoir is now almost empty with a sliver if water running through it.

The barren, dry landscape is seen around the reservoir.
The terrain around the San Gabriel Reservoir is now fully exposed.

Ted Soqui is a photojournalist based in L.A. See more of his work here.

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Nasa warned the Earth is trapping twice as much heat as in 2005 – a pace that’s ‘unprecedented’

sun and earth
The Earth and the sun.

  • NASA researchers warned the Earth is trapping heat at a rate so much higher it’s “unprecedented.”
  • The amount of heat being trapped by Earth has roughly doubled since 2005, the study found.
  • The NASA and NOAA study pointed to human activity and changes in the oceans.
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The amount of heat being trapped by Earth has roughly doubled since 2005, NASA warned.

Researchers from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found in a new study released earlier this week that Earth’s “energy imbalance approximately doubled during the 14-year period from 2005 to 2019.”

The energy imbalance is how much heat the Earth absorbs from the sun, compared to how much “thermal infrared radiation” the Earth radiates back into space.

Norman Loeb, the study’s lead author and a NASA investigator, said: “The magnitude of the increase is unprecedented.”

Researchers pointed to human activity as one of the main catalysts.

The study said the greenhouse gases from human activity were trapping heat in the atmosphere that then melted snow and ice, which in turn put more water vapor into the atmosphere, thereby preventing radiation from escaping.

It also said that a “naturally occurring” shift in the Pacific Ocean from a cool phase to a warm one likely played a big part.

The researchers used a series of satellites and a network of ocean floats to reach their findings, and compared the data from each.

Loeb said: “The two very independent ways of looking at changes in Earth’s energy imbalance are in really, really good agreement, and they’re both showing this very large trend, which gives us a lot of confidence that what we’re seeing is a real phenomenon and not just an instrumental artifact.

“The trends we found were quite alarming in a sense.”

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Caterpillar fungus, the world’s most valuable parasite, can cost up to $63,000 per pound

  • Caterpillar fungus is a hybrid of a fungus that kills and lives in caterpillars.
  • It can sell for up to three times its weight in gold and can cost as much as about $63,000 per pound.
  • Some towns in the Himalayas rely on collecting and selling this fungus for a living.
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Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: What would you do if a fungus invaded your body, and started consuming you from the inside? It sounds like something out of a horror film, but that’s actually what happens to a certain type of baby moth.

The fungus eats its way through the helpless moth larvae and then sprouts out of their heads like a spring daisy. But this rare hybrid, the caterpillar fungus, isn’t just totally fascinating, it’s also expensive. Sometimes selling for more than 3 times its weight in gold!

Caterpillar fungus grows in the remote Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan Mountains but that’s not the only place you can find it. Here we are in New York City’s Chinatown. And nestled among countless drawers of dried mugwort leaves and hibiscus flowers,

There it is a small pile of 50 or so pieces of dried caterpillar fungus. Here, 1 gram of it costs about $30. But even that might be considered a good deal. Vendors on eBay, for example, list a gram for up to $125. The price is so high because this hybrid creature is incredibly rare.

It shows up for only a few weeks each year in remote regions of Nepal, Tibet, India and Bhutan. And even then, the fungus can be tricky for collectors to find, hidden amidst a sea of grass. For centuries, it’s been a staple of traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine.

Kelly Hopping: “Traditionally, it was used as a general tonic, for immune support.”

For instance, a family might add half of this to a chicken soup. And it’s even rumored that it can be used as a sort of Himalayan viagra though there’s little evidence to back it up. People also buy the fungus as a gift or use it for bribes or as a status symbol. As a result, better looking pieces fetch a higher price.

Kelly Hopping: “It’s all dependent on exactly the color of the caterpillar fungus, even the shape of its body when it died, all of these things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with medicinal value make all the difference for the economic value.”

In 2017, for example, high quality pieces sold for as much as $140,000 per kg, or about $63,000 per pound. Now, caterpillar fungus has always been pricey. But experts say its value really skyrocketed in the 1990s and 2000s because of a growing Chinese economy, and the resulting increase in disposable income. Which ultimately, helped drive a massive boom in harvest.

In the Tibet Autonomous Region, for example, collectors reportedly hauled out more than three times as much caterpillar fungus in the early 2000s, than they did in the 1980s. And now, many families depend on the cash it brings in.

In fact, experts say that up to 80% of household income in the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas can come from selling caterpillar fungus. One district in Nepal reported collecting $4.7 million worth of caterpillar fungus in 2016. That’s 12% more than the district’s annual budget! But those profits are at risk.

Surveys indicate that annual harvests have recently declined.

Kelly Hopping: “The collectors themselves mostly attributed this to overharvesting, acknowledging that their own collection pressure was driving these declines.”

And it doesn’t help that it’s difficult to regulate the harvest.

Daniel Winkler: “All these different political units have different policy. In the end, it is really down to county level, how it’s implemented.”

Climate change is also causing problems. You see, the fungus is more abundant in areas with long, cold winters, which are increasingly hard to come by.

Daniel Winkler: “For the rural economy, if there’s a lot of loss, that would be devastating.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.

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Despite global emissions falling 7% in 2020, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest level in modern history

CO2 pollution on earth
The new findings are from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

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Despite the influx of Office trivia night invites, nature is in fact not healing. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest level in modern history and 50% higher than in preindustrial times, according to new findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

  • In fact, to find a time when Earth’s atmosphere had this much CO2 in it, you’d have to go back at least 4.1 million years ago to the Pliocene Epoch, when sea levels were almost 80 feet higher than today.

But what about the pandemic? Global emissions fell 7% last year due to travel restrictions and the general slowdown in human activity. However, as the new data reveals, that didn’t do much to change the long-term trajectory of carbon emissions.

That’s because every year, the world adds ~40 billion metric tons of CO2 pollution to the atmosphere. A brief commuting break can’t offset the CO2 that sticks around in the atmosphere for up to 1,000 years.

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