Category Archives: Global warming


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5.  Dzershinsk, Russia—population 300,000:  The largest chemical weapons site in Russian history.   Between 1930 and 1998, 300,000 tons of toxic waste was improperly disposed of within the borders of this town.  Some pollutants exceed safe limits of exposure by 17,000,000 times.

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6.  Niger Delta, Nigeria—population 31,000,000–Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 2010:  In the last 50 years, there have been more than 6800 oil spills in the region, totaling from 9,000,000 to 13,000,000 barrels since oil drilling began in Nigeria.  The 700,000-square-kilometer Niger Delta is one of the largest and most significant wetlands in the world, with most of the Delta’s 31,000,000 population depending on the land for their livelihood.

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7.  Lake Karachai, Russia:  Decades-long dumping ground for the Soviet Union’s nuclear waste.  Dubbed one of the most polluted sites on Earth, Lake Karachai is so toxic that standing on its shores for only one hour delivers a lethal dose of radiation.

Despite thousands of concrete blocks dumped into it to prevent the shifting of radioactive sediment, the lake and its area will continue to be toxic for hundreds of year.

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8.  Linfen, China:  A city dubbed China’s Chernobyl where laundry hung out turns black before it dries, though it had been known for its clean spring water and fertile farmland in the 1980s.   A booming coal industry producing inefficient power plants and employing legal and illegal coalmines changed the city from an ecological paradise into a pile of ash.

Source:  Discovery News, August 8, 2013



1284607055KSuKT3Worldwide, electric power-generating stations annually release about 12,000,000,000 tons of CO2 from the combustion of oil, coal and natural gas.

Home and commercial heating is responsible for another 11,000,000,000 tons, together releasing 23,000,000,000 tons of CO2, all contributing to climate change.

But what if that greenhouse gas were harnessed and converted into electricity?

“Why not?” was the response of Bert Hamelers and colleagues from Wetsus, the Dutch center of excellence in sustainable water technology.

The team used a capacitive electrochemical cell:

“Built roughly like a battery, the cell has two electrodes—one surrounded by a membrane that allows hydrogen ions to flow in and out, and the other that does the same with bicarbonate ions, produced when carbon dioxide is bubbled through water.”

They harvest the chemical energy in CO2 emissions using a two-stage process:

First, by pumping water flushed with CO2 through the cell, they caused the hydrogen and carbonate ions to flow into their respective electrodes.  The ion separation charged the cell and drove an electrical current.

Second, once the electrodes had reached their capacity to absorb ions, researchers pumped air-bubbled CO2 emissions from power plants, industrial smokestacks and residential heating worldwide through the cell, thus driving the ions out of the electrodes and back into the cell.

By repeating these two steps, the cell produces electrical power.

The potential for the new process could generate about 1570 terawatt-hours of power each year, about 400 times that produced by the Hoover Dam.

Like other hydroelectric power facilities, the Wetsus-produced electricity wouldn’t add to global carbon dioxide emissions.

Source:   Smart Planet Daily, July 25, 2013        Science NOW, July 2013       Study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, July 25, 2013


NCP photo for storyDamage along beach in Mantoloking NJ, five months after Hurricane Sandy  Photo credit Wendell A Davis Jr, FEMA

Researchers at the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University say that the best protection from rising sea levels and storms in the US is a combination of engineering and conservation.

Marine ecologist and lead author of the study, Katie Arkema, says “ . . . the traditional approaches to protecting our shorelines, such as seawalls, levees and coastal buffering, don’t always do a sufficient job.”  She and her team addressed the question of the role of coastal habitats in providing protection.

Their first step was to gather data from local, state and national agencies about which coastal habitats might provide protection to coastal areas during extreme weather.  The next step was to assess and rank the amount of protection offered by each area.

Then they studied tide gauge measurements from 1992-2006, Global Sea-Level Rise scenarios from NOAA and an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report.

From the above information, the team created a Hazard Index to assess individual communities’ risks based on the effects of habitat type, shoreline type, wind, waves, sea-level rise, storm surge potential and topographic relief.

The results showed that as sea levels rise, natural defenses of coastal forests and shrubs offer significant protection in some areas.  Habitat offers less protection in other areas, probably because it can’t keep up with climate change.

Arkema notes that the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico areas are at highest risk from sea-level rise and storms because of their “ . . . low-lying habitats—mud flats and sandy beaches.”

Natural habitat is most protective of populations and property value in Florida, New York and California.  In fact, were that protective habitat lost, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts residents would be exposed to higher risk from storm hazards.

Vivien Gornitz of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, applauds the study.  She says it’s the first time that the habitat protection aspect of the US shoreline has been studied and demonstrates “ . . . the value of having as much natural habitat or coastline as possible in terms of potential protection against sea-level rise and storm surges.”

Gornitz wasn’t involved in the Stanford study.

SOURCE:  Earth Magazine, July 16, 2013   Study published in Nature Climate Change, July 2013


t-weather1The drought-flood cycle taking over the Mississippi and Missouri rivers is an example of a phenomenon known as “weather whiplash.”  According to a report from the climate science communication organization, Climate Nexus, and backed by other climate researchers, the cause of the weather extremes is climate change.

From the report:  “In some parts of the world, including the 1,200,000 square miles comprising the Mississippi River Basin, climate change can manifest as alternating periods of ‘feast or famine’—wide swings of extremes such as flooding and drought.”

Jeff Masters, meteorologist at Weather Underground cites “ . . . a remarkable example in mid-April, when a 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi River north of St Louis reached damaging major flood levels less than four months after near-record low water levels restricted barge traffic, forcing the Army Corps to blast out rocks from the river bottom to enable navigation.”

In 2007, Georgia experienced a 1-in-100 year drought.  In 2009, a 1-in-500 year flood ripped through Atlanta, killing 10 and doing $500,000,000 in damage.

A 2011 study by a Duke University-led team of climate scientists noted that the frequency of abnormally wet or dry summer weather in the southeastern US had more than doubled in recent decades, due to an intensification of the Bermuda High.  The High is centered several hundred miles to the east of the Southeast US but has been steadily moving westward over the past 30 years.

Because climate change is global, the whiplash isn’t happening only in North America, explains climate researcher Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  “In the US, of course, it is going from floods in 2011 (Missouri through Ohio River Valley to New England, flooding Mississippi and Missouri) to widespread drought in 2012 and back to floods in 2013.

“But it’s much worse in Australia:  a nine-year drought (followed by) floods mid-2010 to mid-2011 and then back to drought and record heat in January of this year.”

Weather whiplash is the new normal, according to the Climate Nexus report.  “Society and its infrastructure were designed for the climate of the past, not for the rapidly changing climate of the present or the future.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.  Impacts related to climate change are already evident in some sectors and are expected to become increasingly challenging across the nation throughout this century and beyond.”

The pessimism seems justified when considering the cause of the Chicago sinkhole that recently swallowed 3 cars.  A water main built in another time, for another weather regime, couldn’t contain flooding caused by current meteorological conditions, aka climate change.     

Source:  Discovery News, May 2, 2013   NPR Living on Earth, May 25, 2013      Climate Denial Crock of the Week, May 9, 2013



Scientists from Reading University, UK, conclude that climate change is responsible for the increasing virulent turbulence over the North Atlantic that take its toll in comfort, in increased jet fuel consumption, and, ultimately, in higher air fares.

The researchers predict that commercial aircraft will experience progressively worse “clear-air” turbulence as atmospheric jet streams intensify.

Because clear-air turbulence can’t be detected by pilots, satellites or instruments, it’s a threat to the safety of passengers and to aircraft as well.

Researcher Dr Paul Williams said that a more turbulent air corridor would cause flights to divert to avoid dangerous wind speeds, thus lengthening flight times and using more fuel.

The study projects that clear-air turbulence would increase 10-40% in intensity with a 40-170% increase in the frequency of occurrence of moderate to greater turbulence.

Though the study suggests the effects of climate change would become a reality by mid-century, there is a body of evidence showing that winds are already blowing more strongly than in the past.

Moreover, the incidents of moderate to greater turbulence currently happening injure many hundreds of passengers and cost airlines tens of millions US dollars annually in fuel and structural damage to aircraft.

Source:  Smart Planet Daily, April 9, 2013    Study published in Nature Climate Change, April 5, 2013



Currently, Seattle has $17,600,000 dollars invested in Chevron and ExxonMobil and smaller investments in other gas and oil companies.

On Friday, December 21, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn sent a letter to the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System Board urging them to “refrain from future investments in fossil fuel companies and begin the process of divesting our pension portfolio from those companies.”

The mayor references data from Bill McKibben, founder of, that states “fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in their reserves, five times the amount considered safe to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

McGinn also quotes the city’s finance director:  “The City of Seattle’s finance director informs me that two of the(Deferred Compensation Plan Committee’s) top 10 investments are with ExxonMobil and Chevron. . . , representing 0.9% of the system’s $1,900,000,000 in assets.”

Why is the mayor so keen on divestment?  He continues, “There is a clear economic argument for divestment.  While fossil fuel companies do generate a return on our investment, Seattle will suffer greater economic and financial losses from the impact of unchecked climate change.

“Our infrastructure, our businesses and our communities would face greater risk of damages and losses due to turbulent weather that climate change causes.

“As a waterfront city, several of our neighborhoods and industrial districts are at risk if climate change causes a significant rise in sea level.”

Leaving the northwest coast to look at matters on the nation’s northeast coast, divestment news comes from Maine’s Unity College.  Unity offers undergraduate education emphasizing the environment and natural resources.

Founded in 1965, in 2007 it was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges.   In 2010, it was named to the Princeton Review list of the eighteen leading “green” colleges.

On Monday, November 5, the Unity College Board of Trustees unanimously voted to divest the College endowment from fossil fuels, citing the College’s commitment to sustainability.  In conjunction with the program of divestment, Unity College is now

the first to take this action.

In an editorial, Unity’s President Mulkey wrote:  “We are running out of time.  While our public policy makers equivocate and avoid the topic of climate change, the window of opportunity for salvaging a livable planet for our children and grandchildren is rapidly closing.

“The way forward is clear, though for many confrontation-averse academics the path seems impassable.  It requires action that is unnatural to the scientifically initiated:  to fight to regain the territory illegitimately occupied by the climate change deniers.

“In our zeal to be collegial, we engage with those who are paid by vested interests to argue that our Earth is not in crisis.

“When these individuals demonize public investment in alternative energy, we fail to point out how the oil industry benefited from significant taxpayer support in its infancy and continues to receive government subsidies today.

“We also sidestep the thorny issue of how oil and coal, in particular, fund large-scale organized opposition efforts to deny legitimate science, winning the battle for climate change public opinion with slogans, junk science, and money.”

At Harvard, 74% of students urge their administration to divest the college of fossil fuel investments, but to date, no action has been taken.

The City of Seattle and Unity College are among the first reported outcomes of a divestment education campaign organized by and promoted by numerous other environmental groups.  It’s modeled after a campaign in the 1980s that pressured South Africa into abandoning apartheid, thus forcing an end to the country’s racial segregation policies.

My Take on the issue of divestment:  I salute the courage and forward-thinking of McKibben, McGinn and Mulkey.

Sources:  Think Positive, December 23, 2012    Wikipedia    Unity College press release             



WAISResearchers’ analysis focuses on the temperature record from Byrd Station (indicated by star), the only source of long-term temperature observations in the area.  Black circles indicate locations of the continent’s other permanent recording stations.  The map uses color intensity to indicate the extent of warming on the ice sheet itself.    Image credit:  Julien Nicolas, courtesy of OSU

A new study by Ohio State University researchers, based on 50 years of temperature recording at Byrd Station, determines that the West Antarctica ice sheet (WAIS) is melting nearly twice as much as scientists had estimated and at triple the rate the rest of the planet is warming.

Byrd Station temperature records show an increase of 4.3 degrees F in annual temperature since 1958.

NASA-WAIS1Graphic representation of ice shelf thickness changes in meters per year   Image credit NASA

“Our record suggests that continued summer warming in West Antarctica could upset the surface mass balance of the ice sheet, so that the region could make an even bigger contribution to sea level rise than it already does,” said David Bromwich, professor of geography at Ohio State University and senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center.

“Even without generating significant mass loss directly, surfaces melting on the WAIS could contribute to sea level indirectly, by weakening the West Antarctic ice shelves that restrain the region’s natural ice flow into the ocean.”

Added to melting caused by a rise in surface temperatures, a recent study using NASA satellite data shows the WAIS is, according to the AP, “being eaten away from below by warm water.”   What’s being eaten away are the ice shelves that hold back a lot of Antarctic glacial ice from reaching the sea.

A separate study published earlier in the year in Nature about the basal melting of ice shelves concluded “It is reduced buttressing from the thinning ice shelves that is driving glacier acceleration and dynamic thinning.

“This implies that the most profound contemporary changes to the ice sheets and their contribution to sea level rise can be attributed to ocean thermal forcing that is sustained over decades and may have already triggered a period of unstable glacier retreat.

Bromwich concurs.  “Lots of melting can do lots of damage to the ice shelves, . . ” and that can ramp up Antarctica’s contribution to sea level rise worldwide.  “We know that these melting events can happen today, and we are likely to see more melting events.”

He believes more and reliable data about the WAIS is needed.   Nearly one third of temperature observations was missing for the time period of the study, partly because the station hasn’t always been occupied.  An automated station installed in 1980 experiences frequent power outages, usually during the long polar nights, when its solar panels can’t recharge.

The scientist says, “West Antarctica is one of the most rapidly changing regions on Earth, but it is also one of the least known.  Our study underscores the need for a reliable network of meteorological observations through West Antarctica so that we can know what is happening—and why—with more certainty.”

Sources:  Science 2.0, December 26, 2012      SmartPlanet Daily, December 26, 2012      Think Positive, December 27 and April 27, 2012       Study published in Nature Geoscience, December 23, 2012