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.
The Yale Climate Opinion Maps were recently updated to reflect current information on how people across the United States view climate change. Among other things, the maps now show that seven in 10 registered voters believe the U.S. should remain a participant in the international agreement to limit climate change, and that 70 percent of Americans think global warming is happening and will harm future generations. The updates to the maps also include information by urban area and counties, and add additional survey questions.
This year, the United States had its second warmest February and sixth warmest winter on record, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. During February, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 41.3 degrees Fahrenheit, 7.3 degrees above the 20th century average. Nearly one-quarter of the U.S. was record warm in February.
The Paris Agreement set a benchmark to limit global warming by 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, agreements like this often do not lay out the actual changes that would need to be made in order to meet such a target. A new paper in Science lays out a carbon roadmap for how, exactly, we could meet that goal. The roadmap provides steps for the next four decades, identifying crucial actions for rapid near-term emissions reductions and additional measures necessary to set up systemic and long-term changes.
Carbon dioxide levels measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory rose by 3 parts per million to 405.1 parts per million in 2016, an increase that matched the record jump observed in 2015. The two-year surge in carbon dioxide levels is unprecedented in the observatory’s 59-year record. Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, explains that “The rate of CO2 growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last Ice Age.”
According to new research published in Nature Climate Change by NOAA, Chinese marine scientists, and other partners, ocean acidification is spreading rapidly in the western Arctic Ocean in both area and depth. As the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, seawater’s acidity increases. This decreases the availability of the building blocks used by shellfish to grow their shells. This spread of ocean acidification may affect shellfish, other marine species in the Arctic food web, and communities that depend on these resources.
Coral bleaching occurs when corals are stressed: if water is too warm, pollution is too great, or other factors stress corals, corals will reject symbiotic algae that live in their tissues. These algae provide nutrients to the corals, and without them, the coral can die. During 2015-2016, record water temperatures triggered coral bleaching around the world. A study published in Nature examines bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef in 1998, 2002, and 2016 to understand variations in the severity of major bleaching events. According to the study authors, distinctions among the three bleaching event were determined by temperature variations; water quality and fishing pressure had minimal effect on the bleaching that occurred in 2016. Consequently, immediate global action to curb future warming will be essential to protect coral reef health.
(Thank you to Ed K. for the tip! If you find an article you think would be a good fit for the climate science news roundup, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has reported than mass coral bleaching is occurring on the Great Barrier Reef for the second consecutive year. The bleaching is part of a global event that has been affecting the world’s coral reefs over the past several year. The recurrence of bleaching in back-to-back summers suggests there was not enough time between last year’s warm weather and this year’s for the corals to fully recover. Bleaching and mortality can be highly variable across the 344,000-square-kilometer marine park, and the extent of bleaching will depend on local weather conditions in the coming weeks.
Methane emissions from natural gas-fired power plants and oil refineries far exceed facility-reported quantities
A study published in Environmental Science & Technology shows that methane emission rates from natural gas-fired power plants and oil refineries are significantly larger than facility-reported estimates. Average methane emission rates were larger than facility-reported estimates by factors of 21-120 in natural gas-fired power plants and factors of 11-90 in oil refineries. Increased natural gas consumption has been driven by the combination of low natural gas prices and increased regulations that encourage the use of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” that is cleaner and more climate-friendly than coal. Although methane remains in the atmosphere for a shorter time than carbon dioxide, it is a more “potent” greenhouse gas, as it is more efficient at trapping heat.
Improved estimates of ocean heat content from 1960 to 2015 show ocean is warming faster than thought
A study published in Science Advances shows that the ocean is warming 13 percent faster than previously thought, and that this warming is accelerating. The study finds that changes in ocean heat content were relatively small before 1980. Since then, the ocean heat content has increased fairly steadily, and since 1990 has increasingly involved deeper layers of the ocean. Over 90 percent of the extra heat trapped by fossil fuels ends up in the ocean, so accurate measurements of the rate of temperature increase in the ocean is critical to understanding the extent and effects of climate change.
Renewable energy generation grew globally by 161 gigawatts in 2016, setting an annual record for capacity additions, according to newly released data from the International Renewable Energy Agency. China, Europe, and the United States now account for 62 percent of the world’s total installed renewable capacity, while Asia has been the fastest-growing region.
Edited by Elizabeth Weinberg. Have a climate science tip? Send it to email@example.com.