June Climate Science News Roundup

It’s increasingly clear that action on climate change in the United States must happen at the local and grassroots level, rather than the federal level. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever that we stay up to date on developments in climate science. This month’s climate science round-up seeks to arm us all with accurate and effective information so that we can work together to save our planet.

This year has been the 2nd warmest year on record in the United States so far

This year, the average temperature has been 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, making it the second-warmest first-half of the year on record. (2012 was 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.) This year the U.S. has also experienced a near-record number of billion-dollar disasters, including two floods, a freeze, and six severe storms, which collectively caused 57 fatalities.

U.S. reports a major milestone in wind and solar power

Ten percent of all electricity generated in the U.S. in March came from wind and solar power, according to a new U.S. Energy Information Administration report. This is the first time this milestone has been hit, and the EIA estimates that wind and solar farms likely generated 10 percent of America’s electricity in April as well. A decade ago, less than one percent of all U.S. electricity came from wind or solar annually.

Jet biofuel may reduce climate-warming clouds

NASA is studying the use of biofuel in jets to see if it would increase or decrease contributions to climate change. A recent study shows that biofuel produces fewer and smaller soot particles than standard jet fuel. That creates fewer opportunities for planet-insulating contrails to form. However, biofuel also produces more water vapor than standard jet fuel, which may in fact lead it to create more contrail rather than less. NASA plans to continue this research in order to build more reliable models.

Climate change is likely to increase forest fires

Wildfires have been increasing in number in recent years, and a recent study shows lightning has been the main driver. Higher temperatures spur more thunderstorms, which in turn ignite forests. Researchers also found that the fires are creeping farther north, near the transition from boreal forests to Arctic tundra.

Increasing probability of mortality during heat waves

Rising global temperatures are causing increases in the frequency and severity of extreme climatic events, such as floods, droughts, and heat waves. A new study in Science shows that the increase in average summer temperatures in India corresponds to an increase in the probability of heat-related mortality events. This in turn suggests that future climate warming will lead to substantial increases in heat-related mortality, particularly in developing low-latitude countries.

World’s largest wind turbine would be taller than the Empire State Building

An alliance of six institutions led by researchers at the University of Virginia are designing the world’s largest wind turbine at 500 meters tall. Larger wind turbines are more cost-effective because the wind blows stronger and more steadily at greater altitudes. Longer turbine blades can also catch the wind more efficiently.

Longform feature: Watts in the water

Close to 200 trillion watts of kinetic energy lurk in the seas — more than enough to power the planet, if we could somehow extract it all.

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