Australia Sizzles in Unprecendented Heat Wave

It is getting hot Down Under. And it’s only going to get worse before it’s over.

Australia and Tasmania, where it is currently summer, are in the midst of a horrendous heat wave. Yesterday (Jan. 7), the average temperature throughout the country broke a 40-year-old record, reaching 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.3 degrees Celsius), according to the Guardian. One area in the country’s south hit 119 F (48.3 C) this weekend, AccuWeather reports.

The forecast for next Monday (Jan. 14), with temperatures above 125 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees Celsius) in the state of South Australia, is so unprecedented that the Australian Bureau of Metereology had to implement a new color to its temperature map, an incandescent purple.

“What makes this event quite exceptional is how widespread and intense it’s been,” Aaron Coutts-Smith, the weather bureau’s climate services manager, told the Guardian. “We have been breaking records across all states and territories in Australia over the course of the event so far.”

The high heat, combined with a lack of rain, has created some of the worst wildfire conditions the country has seen. Today (Jan. 8) there were 130 wildfires throughout New South Wales, the country’s most populous province, in southeast Australia, according to the Guardian.  About 40 fires also continued to burn out of control in Tasmania, just south of Australia, destroying some 77 square miles (200 square kilometers) and dozens of buildings, the Guardian reports.

An image taken yesterday by NASA’s Terra satellite shows the smoke rising from numerous blazes occurring throughout Tasmania, as well as the red outlines where the satellite detected the high heat of the flames. More than 100 homes were destroyed and 100 people are missing, many in southeast Tasmania, according to the NASA Earth Observatory.

The New South Wales fire service issued “catastrophic” fire warnings in four areas of the province, the highest level on the scale.

“The word catastrophic is being used for good reason,” said Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard today on television, according to the AP.  “So it is very important that people keep themselves safe, that they listen to local authorities and local warnings. This is a very dangerous day.”

While it’s difficult to blame any single weather event on climate change and global warming, climatologists generally agree that heat waves in Australia will become more frequent and intense with the warming trend. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that there is a 90 percent chance that heat waves will become more frequent and longer-lasting as a result of climate change, the Guardian noted.

“Whilst you would not put any one event down to climate change, weather doesn’t work like that,” the AP quoted Gillard as saying. “We do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions,” the prime minister said.

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Yes, it was hot, hot, hot: 2012 weather sets U.S. record

Yes, it was hot, hot, hot: 2012 weather sets U.S. record

Last year was the hottest on record for the contiguous 48 states and the second-worst in terms of extreme weather events like tornadoes, wildfires and drought,  part of a trend that scientists see strengthening with climate change, according to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In its annual report, “State of the Climate,”  NOAA reported that the average annual temperature was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, 3.3 degrees greater than the average temperature for the 20th century. It was also a full degree higher than the previous record high average temperature set in 1998, the biggest jump from one record temperature to another.

The report also confirmed what Americans have lived through for the last year: extreme weather events that are becoming more common. The only year there were more extreme weather events was 1998, when a greater number of tropical cyclones made landfall.  In 2012, the Upper Midwest was hit with floods, the mid-Atlantic with a sudden summertime storm called a derecho, the West with wildfire and the Northeast with Hurricane Sandy, among many other events. Most of the country remains in the grip of drought.

For years, climatologists have been reluctant to draw a line from climate change to specific weather events, and NOAA researchers on a conference call about the report were somewhat cautious about making links. But a growing body of research has started to indicate that climate change creates conditions for the kinds of temperatures and events the United States experienced last year, and scientist don’t expect such patterns to change considerably.

“We expect to see a continued trend of big heat events, we expect to see big rain events and with slightly less confidence, we expect to see continued trend in drought,” said Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “This is consistent with what we would expect in a warming world.”


Prepare for the worst bushfires in history’: Australia forecasters

Prepare for the worst bushfires in history’: Australia forecasters forced to extend charts as temperatures soar to a catastrophic 54°C

  • Country’s forecasting chart’s temperature range extended to 54°C
  • ‘Catastrophic’ conditions as 100 people remain missing in Tasmania
  • More than 130 fires blazing across New South Wales
  • 120 holidaymakers and staff evacuated from central Australian resort
  • First six days of 2013 among the top 20 hottest days on record

Tasmania wildfires leave hundreds homeless – 5th Jan, 2013

Tasmania wildfires leave hundreds homeless

Wildfires on the Australian island of Tasmania have destroyed at least 100 homes, leaving hundreds of people homeless or stranded amid scorching temperatures and high winds.

The small town of Dunalley, east of the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, was worst hit by a blaze that destroyed around 80 buildings, including the school, police station and bakery.

The Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, said the federal government was working with local and state authorities to support those affected by the fires. “For those who have lost their homes, a devastating experience, … we will be working with them, as will the state government to support people through,” she said.

“There are media reports that a life has been lost – I’m not in a position to confirm that, but bushfires are very dangerous things.”

The temperature in Hobart reached a record high of nearly 42 degrees Celsius on Friday. Conditions eased across much of the region on Saturday, but 40 fires remained and officials warned the danger from some remained high.

Strong earthquake jolts Alaska, sparks tsunami warning – 5th Jan, 2013

A tsunami warning is in effect for parts of southern Alaska and coastal Canada after a strong earthquake shook the region at midnight Friday.

The warning area includes coastal areas from about 75 miles southeast of Cordova, Alaska, to the north tip of Vancouver Island, Canada, the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said. The warning area extends for about 475 miles.

A small tsunami was observed at Port Alexander, Alaska, according to the National Weather Service.

The magnitude 7.5 quake struck at midnight Friday (1 a.m. PST Saturday) and was centered about 60 miles west of Craig, Alaska, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Polar ice sheets ‘are melting three times faster than they were just two decades ago’


Polar ice sheets are now melting three times faster than they did in the 1990s, a ‘definitive’ study of satellite data has found.

The amount of ice lost from Greenland and Antarctica is enough to raise world sea levels by almost one millimetre a year.

Since 1992, it has added more than 1cm to global sea levels – contributing around a fifth of the total rise.

About two thirds of the ice loss was from Greenland and the remainder from Antarctica, said scientists.
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Climate Change Threatens National Security, Says CIA-Commissioned Study

Climate Change Threatens National Security, Says CIA-Commissioned Study

November 29, 2012  College Park, Maryland – On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy – the largest storm in American recorded history – slammed the New Jersey and New York coasts killing more than 100 people, damaging or destroying an estimated 72,000 houses and buildings in New Jersey alone, and according to the governors of New Jersey and New York will cost at least $71 billion for reconstruction.

Ironically, on the same day that the Superstorm hit the East Coast, a study commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies was supposed to be released from the National Academy of Sciences and its National Research Council about “Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis” chaired by Prof. John D. Steinbruner, University of Maryland. But Superstorm Sandy interrupted.

Finally after two weeks of East Coast power outages that persisted after the violence of the monster storm, the study to determine what the threat to national security will be in the coming decades from global climate change and warming was released on November 10, 2012. The following paragraphs are from the summary and conclusions:

Given the available scientific knowledge of the climate system, it is prudent for security analysts to expect climate surprises in the coming decade, including unexpected and potentially disruptive single events as well as conjunctions of events occurring simultaneously or in sequence, and for them to become progressively more serious and more frequent thereafter, most likely at an accelerating rate, the climate surprises may affect particular regions or globally integrated systems, such as grain markets, that provide for human well-being. … This will produce consequences that exceed the capacity of the affected societies or global systems to manage and that have global security implications serious enough to compel international response … and that such consequences will become more common further in the future.

Source: “Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis” by National Academy of Sciences National Research Council Committee On Assessing the Impacts of Climate Change On Social and Political Stresses chaired by John D. Steinbruner, Ph.D., Prof. of Public Policy, School of Public Policy, and Director, Center for International and Security Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.

Click here for more and an audio interview on Earthfiles

Polar Ice Sheets Shrinking Worldwide, Study Confirms

Rapid loss already contributing to sea level rise.

Source: National Geographic

The polar ice sheets are indeed shrinking—and fast, according to a comprehensive new study on climate change.

And the effects, according to an international team, are equally clear—sea levels are rising faster than predicted, which could bring about disastrous effects for people and wildlife.

Rising seas would increase the risk of catastrophic flooding like that caused by Hurricane Sandy last month in New York and New Jersey. Environmental damage may include widespread erosion, contamination of aquifers and crops, and harm to marine life. And in the long term, rising seas may force hundreds of millions of people who live along the coast to abandon their homes.

By reconciling nearly two decades of often conflicting satellite data into one format—in other words, comparing apples to apples—the new study, published in the journal Science, made a more confident estimate of what’s called ice sheet mass balance.

That refers to how much snow is deposited on an ice sheet versus how much is lost, either due to surface melting or ice breaking off glaciers.

Between 1992—when polar satellite measurements began—and 2011, the results show that all of the polar regions except for East Antarctica are losing ice, said study leader Andrew Shepherd, a professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds in the U.K.

In that 20-year span, Greenland lost 152 billion tons a year of ice, West Antarctica lost 65 billion tons a year, the Antarctic Peninsula lost 20 billion tons a year, and East Antarctica gained 14 billion tons a year. (See an interactive map of Antarctica.)

“When we did the experiments properly using the same time periods and same maps, the riddles did all agree,” Shepherd said.

According to glaciologist Alexander Robinson, “We’ve had a good idea of what the ice sheets are doing, but it seems this study really brings it all together in one data set that gives a much clearer picture.

“It’s one more piece of supporting evidence that shows there are some dramatic changes happening, and we know that’s being driven mainly by a warmer climate and warmer ocean—but there’s still a lot we don’t know about these regions and how they’re changing,” said Robinson, of the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain, who was not involved in the research.

(Read “The Big Thaw” in National Geographic magazine.)

Shrinking Ice Consistent With Warming

For the study, Shepherd and his team took data from three fields of satellite research: Altimetry, which measures the shapes of ice sheets and how they change over time; interferometry, which tracks the speed of ice sheets; and gravimetry, which calculates the weight of ice sheets by measuring Earth’s gravitational field.

“Up until now there have been more than 30 studies that have each produced their own estimates of changes in ice sheets,” Shepherd said.

“What we did was try to take the strengths of each approach and combined all the satellite technology together to get a better estimate of how ice sheets are changing,” he said.

The results are also consistent with observations of climate change at the poles, Shepherd noted.

For instance, Greenland is shedding five times as much ice as 20 years ago, which fits with a trend of rising air temperatures in the Arctic.

(Pictures: “Changing Greenland” in National Geographic magazine.)

In West Antarctica, glacier loss is accelerating in an area where the ocean is getting warmer. East Antarctica is experiencing a slight increase in the amount of ice stored there, but that dovetails with higher rates of snowfall expected with climate change.

However, the growth isn’t enough to compensate for the larger losses in the rest of Antarctica, the researchers say. (Related: “Why Antarctic Sea Ice Is Growing in a Warmer World.”)

“The fact that Antarctica is definitely losing ice is a novel conclusion when we compare it to the last IPCC report in 2007, when scientists weren’t sure if Antarctica was growing or shrinking,” Shepherd said.

“Our data are now two to three times as accurate as those that were available at the time of the last IPCC report.” The IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is the leading international body for the study of climate change.

Rising Seas

Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the Boulder, Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research, who was not involved in the study, said the new study’s “evidence is very compelling that global warming is playing a role in massive ice losses on land that contribute to sea level rise.”

(Also see “Sea Levels Rising Fast on U.S. East Coast.”)

Overall, polar ice loss has contributed about 11.1 millimeters to global sea level since 1992—roughly 20 percent of the total global sea level rise during that period, according to the study.

What’s more, a study published earlier this week in Environmental Research Letters shows that sea levels are rising at a rate of 3.2 millimeters a year. That’s 60 percent faster than the latest estimate of 2 millimeters a year projected by the IPCC. (See sea level rise pictures.)

“These results should be a major concern for politicians and climate talks in Doha, as they show that global warming is real and having major consequences that will only get bigger over time,” Trenberth said by email.

As the World Meteorological Organization put it in a report released Wednesday during this week’s UN climate change talks in Doha, Qatar, “climate change is taking place before our eyes.” (See a map of global warming impacts worldwide.)

In addition to displacing millions, sea level rise may also supercharge large storms. For example, when a storm like Hurricane Sandy makes landfall, higher seas may boost storm surges that can strip away everything in their path and create damaging floods.

Sandy left at least 157 people dead and caused up to $80 billion in damage in hard-hit New York and New Jersey alone.

Predicting Future Climate Change

Study leader Shepherd hopes that climate modelers will be able to use this new data to better predict these consequences.

Until now, a modeler had to “choose an estimate of sea level rise from a pot of 40 ones with some uncertainty,” he said.

Such a reconciled data set has been sorely needed, agreed Walt Meier, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

“You have this huge range of estimates of ice mass loss from Antarctica and Greenland—they’re such a large range that you get to the point of you don’t know what to trust,” said Meier, who was not involved in the new study. (See pictures of shrinking ice sheets.)

The new study is in “a much more manageable range, and provides much better guidance in terms of future projections.”

What’s more, the study may even usher in a stronger model of another kind—scientific cooperation, Meier noted.

Instead of myriad groups working quasi-independently, the new study’s co-authors “came together and sat down—at least figuratively—and came to a consensus for the best estimate that they can,” he said.

“It’s a great example,” he said, “that in climate science and science in general, you can’t do these kind of big things on your own anymore.”



Timeline: How the World Found Out about Global Warming

Timeline: How the World Found Out about Global Warming.

Re-post from Scientific American

(Reuters) – A U.N. conference in Qatar next week is the latest attempt to combat global warming after mounting evidence that human activity is disrupting the climate.


Here is a timeline of the road to action on global warming:

300 BC – Theophrastus, a student of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, documents that human activity can affect climate. He observes that drainage of marshes cools an area around Thessaly and that clearing of forests near Philippi warms the climate.

1896 – Sweden’s Svante Arrhenius becomes the first to quantify carbon dioxide’s role in keeping the planet warm. He later concluded that the burning of coal could cause a “noticeable increase” in carbon levels over centuries.

1957-58 – U.S. scientist Charles Keeling sets up stations to measure carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere at the South Pole and at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The measurements have shown a steady rise.

1988 – The United Nations sets up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to assess the scientific evidence.

1992 – World leaders agree the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets a non-binding goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions by 2000 at 1990 levels – a target not met overall.

1997 – The Kyoto Protocol is agreed in Japan; developed nations agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions on average by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The United States stays out of the deal.

2007 – The IPCC says it is at least 90 percent certain that humans are to blame for most of the warming trend of the past 50 years. It also says signs that the planet is warming are “unequivocal”.

2009 – A conference of 193 countries agrees to “take note” of a new Copenhagen Accord to fight climate change, after U.N. talks in Denmark. The accord is not legally binding and does not commit countries to agree a binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol when its first stage ends in 2012.

2011 – U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, agree to negotiate a new accord by 2015 that is “applicable to all” and will come into force from 2020.

Sources: Reuters, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Why We Disagree about Climate Change” by Mike Hulme, founding director of the Tyndall Center.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle and David Cutler; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

World Bank Warns Global Climate Change Serious Threat

November 21, 2012.

World Bank Warns Global Climate Change Serious Threat and Scientists Say Earth Warming Likely  Greater in Future Than Predicted.

“The lack of action on climate change not only risks putting prosperity
out of reach of millions of people in the developing world,
it threatens to roll back decades of sustainable development.”
– Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
in Boulder, Colorado, reports in the Nov. 9, 2012, journal Science that climate models
most accurately predicting atmospheric moisture linked to cloud cover now predict
global warming the rest of this century will likely reach 5 degrees F. and could
go as high as 8 degrees F. in contrast to the 4 degrees F. predicted by the
U. N.’s Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change. A 5-8 degree F. global
warming increase over the next 90 years will mean more frequent and violent
weather such as Hurricane Sandy and even drought in the Amazon rain forest that
will turn that huge CO2-absorbing lung of Earth into near-desert.
See: AAAS Journal Science.