January 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.

2016 marks three consecutive years of record warmth for the globe

Data from new reports from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information show that the 2016 globally-averaged surface temperature was the highest since recordkeeping began in 1880. Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016). The globally averaged sea surface temperature was also the highest on record, at 1.35 degree F above average. The average Arctic sea ice extent for 2016 was the smallest annual average since recordkeeping began in 1979, while the average Antarctic sea ice extent for the year was the second smallest annual average.

NASA, NOAA Data Show 2016 Warmest Year on Record Globally

NASA and NOAA analyses show that Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880. The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees F since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere. Sixteen of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001.

Antarctic Bottom Waters Freshening at Unexpected Rate

A new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution shows that Antarctic bottom water has freshened at an unexpectedly fast rate between 2007 and 2016. This shift could alter ocean circulation and ultimately contribute to rising sea levels. Antarctic bottom water is formed in polynyas, or open areas of seawater within the ice shelf. As this water is cooled by the Antarctic wind, it freezes, with salt concentrating in whatever water has not yet frozen. This denser, salty water sinks to the ocean floor, carrying dissolved carbon, oxygen, and other atmospheric gases with it. This water plays a critical role in regulating the ocean’s circulation, temperature, and nutrient level. If the water warms, it will become less dense, leading to rising sea levels and possibly disrupting global ocean circulation patterns.

Harvests in the US to Suffer from Climate Change

A new study in Nature from scientists with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research shows that some of the most important crops risk substantial damage from rising temperatures resulting from carbon emissions. The study shows that each day above 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) diminishes corn and soybean yields by up to 6 percent under rainfed conditions. The researchers suggest that water stress induced by high temperature causes the decline.

Nearly Half of Discovered U.S. Oil Resources Are Subsidy-Dependent

A study from the Stockholm Environment Institute and Earth Track finds that federal and state incentives are decisive in the economic viability of 45 percent of new crude oil resources in the United States. Total support to U.S. oil and gas production has been estimated at about $18 billion per year. These subsidies make it possible for oil reserves to become profitable for investors.

Would the Arctic Still Be the Arctic Without the Polar Bear?

As climate change warms the Arctic, the future of the polar bear is jeopardized by the rapid loss of its sea ice habitat. While the ultimate survival of polar bears will depend on our actions to slow the effects of climate change, U.S. government agencies, native communities, private organizations, scientists, and subsistence hunters have collaborated on a plan for improving the polar bear’s immediate chances of survival. The final Conservation Management Plan was released on January 9th.

Climate Change May Boost Toxic Mercury Levels in Sea Life

A January 27th report in Science Advances demonstrates that shifting rainfall patterns may boost the concentration of mercury in sea life, including in seafood consumed by humans. Shifting rainfall patterns may send more runoff into the ocean. Experiments suggest that this runoff will increase the concentration of methylmercury in zooplankton, which in turn will increase mercury concentrations up the food chain.

Trump’s Wall Could Cause Serious Environmental Damage

Experts say that a border wall between the United States and Mexico will have problematic environmental and climate effects. A wall would block important wildlife corridors for migrating species. Additionally, cement, the material that holds together concrete, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Edited by Elizabeth Weinberg. Have a climate science tip? Send it to elizabeth.weinberg[at]gmail.com.