April Climate Science Round-Up

In this month’s climate science round-up, we learn about the latest research on the effects of past deforestation on the climate, a mutant enzyme that can eat plastic, and why natural gas is not so clean after all.

Historical deforestation locally increased the intensity of hot days in northern mid-latitudes

Nature; Quentin Lejeune, Edouard L. Davin, Lukas Gudmundsson, Johannes Winckler & Sonia I. Seneviratne; April 23, 2018

This article in Nature Climate Change discusses the effects of past land-cover changes on the climate. The authors show that historical deforestation has led to a substantial local warming of hot days over the northern mid-latitudes—a finding that contrasts with most previous model results. Based on observation-constrained state-of-the-art climate-model experiments, they estimate that moderate reductions in tree cover in these regions have contributed at least one-third of the local present-day warming of the hottest day of the year since pre-industrial time, and were responsible for most of this warming before 1980.

Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

The Guardian; Damian Carrington; April 16, 2018

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles. The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

Climate Change is Transforming the Great Barrier Reef, Likely Forever

Inside Climate News; Nicholas Kusnetz; April 19, 2018

Climate change is physically reshaping the Great Barrier Reef, a new study shows, and parts of the reef system are likely in the midst of an irreversible decline. Scientists found that coral bleaching that hit the Great Barrier Reef during a marine heat wave in 2016 transformed the structure of large swaths of the reef system, likely forever. While previous research had shown widespread coral die-off in the reef that year, the new paper, published in the journal Nature, is the first to systematically link the mortality of different coral species to water temperatures. It found that about 30 percent of the Great Barrier Reef lost at least two-thirds of its coral cover in response to the 2016 event.

World May Hit 2 Degrees of Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking, Says Cornell Scientist

Desmog; Sharon Kelly; April 11, 2018

In 2011, a Cornell University research team first made the groundbreaking discovery that leaking methane from the shale gas fracking boom could make burning fracked gas worse for the climate than coal. In a sobering lecture released this month, a member of that team, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University, outlined more precisely the role U.S. fracking is playing in changing the world’s climate. The most recent climate data suggests that the world is on track to cross the two degrees of warming threshold set in the Paris accord in just 10 to 15 years, says Ingraffea in a 13-minute lecture titled “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken,” which was posted online on April 4. That’s if American energy policy follows the track predicted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which expects 1 million natural gas wells will be producing gas in the U.S. in 2050, up from roughly 100,000 today.

Has humanity’s Ecological Footprint reached its peak?

Global Footprint Network; April 11, 2018

Humanity’s total Ecological Footprint—a measure of global demand for natural resources—remained virtually constant in 2014 compared to 2013, according to new data released by Global Footprint Network today at an event at Oxford University. In another positive sign, the global Ecological Footprint per person actually decreased by 1.1 percent in 2014 compared to 2013. Still, humanity’s demand for renewable resources remains 68 percent higher than what the planet can renew.

Natural Gas has a Dirty Secret: And journalists are helping the industry keep it under wraps.

Sightline Institute; Anna Fahey; April 4, 2018

Coverage of natural gas, even in the most serious mainstream press, too often reads like it’s lifted from the fossil fuel industry playbook. “Natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil.” You’ve heard this so many times that it honestly just seems, well, natural. An industry with profit on the line has effectively marketed natural gas as a clean, affordable fuel—even warm and fuzzy, forward-thinking, and environmentally friendly. The point is, an industry with profit on the line has effectively marketed natural gas as a clean, affordable fuel—even warm and fuzzy, forward-thinking, and environmentally friendly. But natural gas has dirty secrets that news—and energy—consumers ought to hear.

Compiled by Nicole Metildi. Have a climate science tip? Send it to climate-science@350pdx.org.