Cashing in as one of the sunniest states in America, Nevada had the third most new solar capacity added last year in the nation, according to the recently-released U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year...
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Students and faculty from 33 countries at the recent 2014 Winter College on Optics discussed optical and photonic components, sensors, and instruments with a special emphasis on space applications and...
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The State of Washington’s Department of Ecology has honored Crowley’s petroleum services division once again with the Exceptional Compliance Program (ECOPRO) award in recognition of excellence in...
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If you remember your 10th grade American history, then you know that foreign diplomacy is conducted by the executive branch. But this week, we saw 47 Republican senators try to undermine that presidential authority by sending a letter to Iranian leaders to discourage their nuclear negotiations with the U.S. That highlights the very real possibility that Republican senators, most of whom don’t believe humans are “significantly responsible” for climate change, could try something similar to block efforts to negotiate a global climate agreement.
Once the barrier of attempting to conspire with foreign leaders against your own president has been breached, why stop?
In December, world leaders will gather at a U.N. conference in Paris to hammer out a new international climate deal. Senate Republicans are already a major impediment to getting an optimal climate agreement. They won’t approve a formally binding treaty, so the Obama administration has steered the U.N. process toward a nonbinding agreement that won’t require an OK from the Senate. And in January, Republicans tried to undermine even the prospect of an agreement through an amendment that would have prevented the Obama administration from making a future deal imposing “disparate greenhouse gas commitments” for the U.S. and other countries. That would effectively prevent any global climate deal at all. The amendment failed, but it’s expected to crop up again.
The GOP also stands in the way of Obama fulfilling his $3 billion pledge to the U.N. Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries with clean energy development and climate adaptation. Poor countries are understandably reluctant to commit to limiting their emissions when rich countries have already used up the world’s carbon budget, so one way to lure them into a global deal is with funding. But the U.S. cannot contribute its fair share of that money as long as Republicans are in control of the congressional purse strings.
So would Senate Republicans send a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that he shouldn’t trust U.S. commitments to kick in to the Green Climate Fund? Would they send a letter to the European Union, China, or Japan warning that they would be unwise to cut their own emissions because as soon as a Republican retakes the White House we’ll start pumping CO2 into the atmosphere as fast as our coal plants can spew it? And, given how apoplectic Republicans were over Obama’s historic agreement with China last year to limit emissions, will they try to undermine future bilateral climate and energy negotiations?
The good news for climate hawks is that Republicans may have learned their lesson — not on the principle of separation of powers, but on the politics. Senate Republican aides are whining that this stunt did not redound to their party’s benefit. The letter’s childish tone, its errors on matters of fact, and its failure to adhere to diplomatic norms have exposed the GOP as unserious about governance. To the Iranians, the letter has made the U.S. seem weak and divided within. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who signed the letter,acknowledged, “I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is.” Newspaper editorials from across the country have bashed home state senators who signed the letter, and Democratic operatives are promising that campaign ads will feature this blunder next year.
Most importantly, the Republicans have failed at their purpose, as Ayatollah Khamenei says Iran will continue negotiating with the U.S. The Republicans foolishly assumed that Iranian leaders were not aware of how the U.S. government works, perhaps because so many of them are ignorant of other countries. Their letter began with this obnoxiously pedantic sentence: “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.” But the governments of other countries follow American politics closely. The foreign diplomats who will gather in Paris in December, just like the ones in Iran, will have already taken stock of the American political situation and factored it into their calculations.
So if Republicans learn from this mistake, they won’t try to undercut Obama on climate negotiations later this year. But no one has ever gone broke betting that Republicans won’t learn from the past.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
Earlier this winter, Monica Zappa packed up her crew of Alaskan sled dogs and headed south, in search of snow. “We haven’t been able to train where we live for two months,” she told me.
Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, which Zappa calls home, has been practically tropical this winter. Rick Thoman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Alaska, has been dumbfounded. “Homer, Alaska, keeps setting record after record, and I keep looking at the data like: Has the temperature sensor gone out or something?”
Something does seem to be going on in Alaska. Last fall, a skipjack tuna, which is more likely to be found in the Galápagos than near a glacier, was caught about 150 miles southeast of Anchorage, not far from the Kenai. This past weekend, race organizers had to truck in snow to the ceremonial Iditarod start line in Anchorage. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.) tweeted a photo of one of the piles of snow with the hashtag #wemakeitwork.David Hulen/Twitter
But it’s unclear how long that will be possible. Alaska is heating up at twice the rate of the rest of the country — a canary in our climate coal mine. A new report shows that warming in Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, is accelerating as the loss of snow and ice cover begins to set off a feedback loop of further warming. Warming in wintertime has been the most dramatic — more than 6 degrees F in the past 50 years. And this is just a fraction of the warming that’s expected to come over just the next few decades.
Of course, it’s not just Alaska. Last month was the most extreme February on record in the Lower 48, and it marked the first time that two large sections of territory (more than 30 percent of the country each) experienced both exceptional cold and exceptional warmth in the same month, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. All-time records were set for the coldest month in dozens of Eastern cities, with Boston racking up more snow than the peaks of California’s Sierra Nevada. A single January snowstorm in Boston produced more snow than Anchorage has seen all winter. The discrepancy set off some friendly banter recently between the Anchorage, Boston, and San Francisco offices of the National Weather Service.
Alaska is at the front lines of climate change. This year’s Iditarod has been rerouted — twice — due to the warm weather. The race traditionally starts in Anchorage, which has had near-record low snowfall so far this winter. The city was without a single significant snowstorm between October and late January, so race organizers decided to move the start from the Anchorage area 360 miles north to Fairbanks. But when the Chena River, which was supposed to be part of the new route’s first few miles, failed to sufficiently freeze, the starting point had to move again to another location in Fairbanks.Monica Zappa and her dog King Dweezil on March 9, 2015. Monica Zappa/Instagram
On March 9, Zappa and her dogs set out on the 1,000-mile race across Alaska as one of 78 mushers in this year’s Iditarod. A burst of cold and snow are in the forecast this week, but for most of the winter, the weather across the interior of the state has also been abnormally warm. To train, many teams of dogs and their owners had to travel, often “outside” — away from Alaska. Zappa ended up going to the mountains of Wyoming.
For Iditarod entrants, the warm weather can mean life or death. Last month, along the Iditarod route, a snow-mobiler had to be rescued after unknowingly trying to cross open water. A recent study said that Alaska’s rivers and melting glaciers are now outputting more water than the Mississippi River. Last year was Alaska’s warmest on record and the warm weather has continued right on into 2015. This winter, Anchorage has essentially transformed into a less sunny version of Seattle. As of March 9, the city has received less than one-third of its normal amount of snow. In its place? Rain. Lots of rain. In fact, schools in the Anchorage area are now more likely to cancel school due to rain and street flooding than cold and snow.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Alaska’s recent surge of back-to-back warm winters comes after a record-snowy 2012, in which the National Guard was employed to help dig out buried towns. Then, about two years ago, something in the climate system switched. The state’s recent brush with extreme weather is more than just year-to-year weather variability. Alaska is at the point where the long-term trend of warming has begun to trump seasonal weather fluctuations. A recent shift toward warmer offshore ocean temperatures is essentially adding more fuel to the fire, moving the state toward more profound tipping points like the irreversible loss of permafrost and increasingly violent weather. If the current warm ocean phase (which began in 2014) holds for a decade or so, as is typical, Alaska will quickly become a different place.
The Pacific Ocean near Alaska has been record-warm for months now. This year is off to a record-wet start in Juneau. Kodiak has recorded its warmest winter on record. A sudden burst of ocean warmth has affected statewide weather before, but this time feels different, residents say. In late February, National Weather Service employees spotted thundersnow in Nome — a city just 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. “As far as I know, that’s unprecedented,” Thoman told me. Thunderstorms of any kind require a level of atmospheric energy that’s rarely present in cold climates. To get that outside of the summer is incredibly rare everywhere, let alone in Alaska.
Climate scientists are starting to link the combination of melting sea ice and warm ocean temperatures to shifts in the jet stream. For the past few winters, those shifts have brought surges of tropical moisture toward southern Alaska via potent atmospheric rivers. This weather pattern has endured so long it’s even earned its own name: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. The persistent area of high pressure stretching from Alaska to California has shunted wintertime warmth and moisture northward into the Arctic while the eastern half of the continent is plunged into the deep freeze, polar-vortex style.Slate
The warm water is making its way north into the Arctic Ocean, where, as of early March, sea ice levels are at their record lowest for the date. The resurgent heating of the Pacific (we’re officially in an El Niño year now) is also expected to give a boost to global warming over the next few years by releasing years of pent-up oceanic energy into the atmosphere, pushing even more warm water toward the north, melting Alaska from all sides.
That means Alaska’s weather, according to one Alaska meteorologist, is “broken.” Dave Snider, who reports statewide weather daily for the National Weather Service’s Alaska office in Anchorage, tweeted the sentiment back in mid-January. Snider emphasizes that this isn’t the official view of the National Weather Service, “of course.” Snider told me he made the comment “sort of in jest” but points to the nearly snow-free Iditarod start as evidence.
Here’s another example he could have used: In early November, Super Typhoon Nuri morphed into a huge post-tropical cyclone, passing through the Aleutians very near Shemya Island on its way to becoming Alaska’s strongest storm on record. Despite winds near 100 mph, Shemya emerged relatively unscathed. A few days later, the remnants of that storm actually altered the jet stream over much of the continent, ushering in a highly amplified “omega block” pattern that dramatically boosted temperatures across the state and sent wave after wave of Arctic cold toward the East Coast. Barrow was briefly warmer than Dallas or Atlanta.
The warm weather isn’t all bad news. The city of Anchorage has saved an estimated $1 million on snow removal this year and is instead pouring the money into fixing potholes and other backlogged maintenance issues. But getting around the rest of the state hasn’t been so easy.
There are few roads in rural Alaska, so winter travel is often done by snowmobiles over frozen rivers. Not this year. Warm temperatures in February led to thin ice and open water in the southwest part of the state near Galena and Bethel. David Hulen, managing editor for the Alaska Dispatch News in Anchorage, has spent nearly 30 years in the state. He says the freeze-thaw cycle is out of whack, “changing the nature of the place.” Usually, things freeze in the fall and unfreeze in the spring; this winter, they’ve seen a nearly constant back-and-forth between freezing and thawing.
That’s made it difficult for skiers and those enjoying other outdoor activities, like riding fat-tire bikes attuned to the snow. Julie Saddoris, of the Bike Me Anchorage Meetup, says attendance in her group is down this winter. Because of the lack of snow and ubiquitous slick ice, “riding conditions [are] very poor and hazardous,” she wrote in an email. Hulen agrees that it’s been frustrating. “I mean, what’s living in Alaska if it’s not cold and snowy?”Aerial view of Kivalina, Alaska.U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Those are city problems. Meanwhile, along the state’s west coast, some native coastal villages are facing an existential threat, as sea levels rise in response to the warm water. Earlier this winter, the Washington Post’s climate reporter Chris Mooney visited Kivalina, one of the six villages considering plans to relocate due to climate change. “Here, climate change is less a future threat and more a daily force, felt in drastic changes to weather, loss of traditional means of sustenance like whale hunting, and the literal vanishing of land,” Mooney wrote. Another village, Newtok, is a bit further along in the relocation process, with construction on their new village — Mertarvik — already under way.
The rapid change has brought U.S. Arctic policy to a crossroads. The United States is set to take over a rotating two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council next month — a mini-United Nations of the north — and has listed climate change as a top agenda item. At the same time, it’s also laying the ground rules for increased oil and gas exploration. In a warmer 21st century, Alaska may be more important than ever — which explains the increased pressure for a boosted military presence there.
But for now, the most visible change is still in the shifting habitats of the fish, birds, trees, and animals. Permafrost still covers 85 percent of the state, but “almost everywhere, the depth of the active layer is increasing over the last few decades,” said Thoman. Since the active layer — the zone of soil above the permafrost that thaws out each summer — now penetrates deeper down, that means landforms are shifting, lakes are draining, and new forests are springing up.
Patricia Owen is a biologist at Denali National Park and Preserve who studies grizzly bears. Last winter, warm weather brought blueberry blossoms earlier than normal. The blossoms then froze, making foraging for food more challenging for bears. Mother bears need to have good health in the fall to support their cubs during the long winter months of hibernation. Owen is seeing evidence of other changes within Denali: More episodes of freezing rain are having a big impact on sheep, which have to scrape through ice to eat. In low snow years like this one, wolves seem to suffer, since caribou and moose can escape more quickly. Studying these changes is difficult because the scientists don’t want to disturb the animals more than necessary. “It takes a while to really see the effect of some of these things,” Owen told me.
Recent warming appears to have pushed Denali’s poplar forests across a threshold toward rapid expansion. Carl Roland, a Denali plant ecologist who has compiled a trove of repeat photographs around the park spanning decades of environmental change, says that what he’s seeing is “dramatic.” Still, says Roland, “it’s kind of a complicated story, because you have patches of the landscape that have remained pretty much exactly the same, and then you’ve got other patches that have gone off in this other direction.”
Once the permafrost goes, Roland says to expect a “regime shift” in the park and across the state. The northward spread of tree-killing insects is also a “really big unknown” in interior Alaska. Last spring, a huge forest fire in a beetle kill area of the Kenai Peninsula sent smoke plumes hundreds of miles northward toward Fairbanks.Fire burns at the Funny River area in the Kenai-Kodiak Area forest on May 25, 2014. Josh Turnbow/U.S. Forest Service
For southern Alaska, fire season has been coming earlier in recent years, and 2015 looks to be no exception. Melvin Slater, a representative for the Alaska Fire Service, told me that the agency is making changes in response to the warm, nearly snow-free winter. “AFS will accelerate the availability of eight smokejumpers and a smokejumper aircraft by April 9, with an additional eight smokejumpers available by April 16,” Slater wrote in an email. That’s about 30 days earlier than normal. A few years ago, the Alaska Division of Forestry moved the start of the fire season up from May 1 to April 1 “as a result of climate change,” Tim Mowry, a division spokesman told me. The changes were intended to elicit “a sense of urgency,” Mowry says.
But there’s a kink in these plans. Alaska government is strongly dependent on oil revenue — and falling fuel prices are forcing budget cuts to state agencies like the Division of Forestry.
But for now, the Iditarod will continue. “Honestly, I’m thinking of moving, whether it be further north in Alaska or somewhere where they can guarantee snow,” Zappa said. “If you’re going to be a dog musher, you need snow. That’s the bottom line.”
Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy, Science
Leaders from the Bay Area Puma Project, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Mountain Lion Foundation will gather at Oakland Zoo to discuss the hot topic of mountain lion...
(PRWeb March 13, 2015)
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West Virginia Department of Commerce nursery sells native and genetically suitable trees.
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Global Energy & Lighting announces improvements to lighting industry with the development of ceramic metal-halide systems.
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