February Climate Science News Roundup

With climate change now our daily reality, climate scientists are working hard to understand its effects. And as climate denial and misinformation seems to crop up everywhere these days, it’s more important than ever that we keep tabs of current climate science so we can be effective, informed activists.

With that in mind, each month we’ll be bringing you a curated roundup of the some of the most important current studies on climate-related science, from studies on our changing ocean to news about climate’s effects on key industries.

January was 3rd warmest on record for the globe

Global data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information show that January 2017 was the third-warmest on record since scientists began to track global land and ocean temperatures in 1880. January 2016 was the warmest on record, with 2007 in second place. The dataset also shows record-low sea ice extent at the poles: the average Arctic sea ice extent was 8.6 percent below the 1981-2010 average, while the average Antarctic sea ice extent was 22.8 percent below that average.

Unprecedented Arctic weather has scientists on-edge

Record temperatures and extraordinary sea ice conditions are becoming the norm in the Arctic, a trend that Arctic scientists find increasingly troubling. Sea ice observed in January in the Arctic was the lowest in the 38 years of satellite record and 100,000 square miles less than 2016 — the equivalent area of the state of Colorado. The late and faltering formation of sea ice this winter is one of the many signs of extraordinary change in the Arctic, said the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Snowpack + snowmelt = water

Recent storms in California have provided widespread drought relief, but also caused deadly and destructive flooding and mudslides. Seventeen percent of California is in drought as of February 23, compared to 95 percent this time last year. But while snowpack is at its highest since 1995 for this time of year, the drought isn’t over: it will take more than one above-average wet season for the state’s groundwater storage to fully replenish.

Massive permafrost thaw documented in Canada, portends huge carbon release

Researchers with the Northwest Territories Geological Survey analyzed nearly a half-million square miles in northwest Canada and found that permafrost is decaying in 52,000 square miles of that area. As the permafrost collapses, carbon-rich mud and silt is running off into streams and rivers, which can choke life off downstream. Similar large-scale landscape changes are evident across the Arctic including in Alaska, Siberia, and Scandinavia. Although the study did not calculate the quantity of greenhouse gases being released, this analysis sets the stage for such a study.

NASA study identifies new pathway for Greenland meltwater to reach ocean

New NASA research finds that cracks in the Greenland Ice Sheet let one of its aquifers drain into the ocean. The aquifers trap large amounts of liquid water within the ice sheet. This discovery will help fine-tune computer models of Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise in a changing climate.

Satellite data confirm annual carbon dioxide minimum above 400ppm

In May 2013, the Mauna Loa station recorded carbon dioxide levels above 400ppm for the first time. Now, NASA data confirm that the annual minimum carbon dioxide level has exceeded 400ppm not just in one location at one time of year, but across the globe over the entire year.

Wetlands can help fight climate change

New research published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment confirms that coastal wetlands are among the best marine ecosystems to fight climate change. The study focused on several different coastal and marine systems and found that coastal wetlands, particularly seagrasses, tidal marshes, and mangroves have the greatest impact on carbon sequestration. Coastal wetlands take in carbon quickly, primarily storing it in soils. While coral reefs, kelp forests, and marine fauna are important components of carbon cycling in the ocean, the study did not find them to be involved in long-term carbon sequestration. The study highlights the importance of protecting coastal wetlands: without protection, these ecosystems could release large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Decline in global oceanic oxygen content during the past five decades

A study published in Nature predicts a decline in the amount of oxygen in the ocean by between one and seven percent by the year 2100. Oxygen is less soluble in warmer water, so less oxygen will dissolve in a warmer ocean. Additionally, as the upper layer of the ocean warms, it becomes less dense and will not sink as readily; this means the upper layers are less likely to mix down into the cool, lower layers. Because oxygen enters the ocean at its surface, this means a warmer ocean will likely reduce the oxygen supply to the deep ocean. This decline in the oxygen content of the ocean could affect ocean nutrient cycles and the marine habitat, with potentially detrimental consequences for fisheries and coastal economies.


Edited by Elizabeth Weinberg. Have a climate science tip? Send it to climate-science@350pdx.org.