Hurricane Ian intensified by climate change

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Grace Smith | September 29, 2022

Between Monday and Tuesday, Hurricane Ian became 67 percent stronger, and the water was 1 degree Celsius warmer, because of a phenomenon that scientists call “rapid intensification” by climate change. 

Hurricane Ian arrived in Florida as a category 4 storm with winds intensifying from 125 miles per hour to 155 in a couple of days. As of 2 a.m. Thursday morning, the now classified tropical storm is a category 1 with 75 miles per hour winds. 2.5 million people are out of power as about 20 inches of rain causes flash floods throughout the peninsula. 

Rapid intensification is defined as an increase in winds of a tropical cyclone by 35 miles per hour in 24 hours, and Hurricane Ian has experienced it two times since Sunday. 

“Rapid intensification happens when a tropical cyclone that already has some organization moves over very warm water and within an atmospheric environment of calm surrounding conditions and a moist, unstable air mass,” Richard Knabb, director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, told CBS News

Climate change plays a factor in the intensity of a hurricane through warm water that fuels the storm, per the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Climate change is also likely causing hurricanes to move slower, increasing wind speed, storm surge, and rainfall.

Tonga volcano eruption may take temporary toll on climate

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Grace Smith | September 27, 2022

A volcanic eruption occurred underwater in the Pacific Ocean in January. The huge eruption near produced a global shock so extensive it sprayed a large amount of water vapor into the stratosphere – enough to fill over 58,000 Olympic swimming pools. This spew of water vapor may cause a short-term upsurge in global warming.  

The eruption on Jan. 15 of the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano in the island nation of Tonga destroyed 90 percent of the uninhabited island of Hunga Tonga Ha’apai after sparking a Tsunami. The eruption also assembled an ash plume half the size of France. Because the volcano was 500 feet below water, molten rock and seawater combined, and the water vapor reached an altitude of 35 miles. 

The amount of water vapor spewing into the upper atmosphere was at least 55 million tons, which may temporarily cause more depletion in the ozone layer, which protects the world from harmful rays from the sun. 

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Luis Millán, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and leader of a study examining Tonga volcano effects. Above-ground volcanos don’t release as much water and instead release sulfur dioxide, causing a cooling effect. But, the underwater volcano created a warming effect because of the amount of water vapor spewed into the stratosphere.

Wildfire smoke is destroying air quality progress

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Grace Smith | September 23, 2022

Smoke caused by wildfires has been growing worse and worse over the past decade, decreasing policy-driven improvements in Western U.S. air quality progress, according to a study published Thursday. 

The analysis said the number of people in locations experiencing an “extreme smoke day,” which is said to be unhealthy for all age groups, had a 27-fold increase over the past decade. Extreme smoke days affected 25 million people in 2020 alone.

The study also said increased wildfire smoke is being propelled by climate change, which increases the flammability of fuels, creates worse wildfires, and emits more smoke into the air. Exposure to grainy, particulate matter including smoke and its contaminants causes 48,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. 

“People may be less likely to notice days with a modest increase in fine particulate matter from smoke, but those days can still have an impact on people’s health,” a researcher from the study, Marissa Childs, told the New York Times. Childs said the most extreme smoke days were seldom during 2006-2010, but from 2016-2020, over 1.5 million people were frequently exposed to dangerous levels of smoke. 

A solution to stop the decrease in air quality progress would be to reduce the likelihood of wildfires growing and becoming more destructive, whether that be from prescribed fires or other fire management techniques.

Climate change could submerge U.S. land worth billions of dollars, study finds

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Grace Smith | September 22, 2022

Sea level rise from climate change could submerge billions of dollars worth of U.S. land, a study from Climate Central said. The analysis found that by 2050, 650,000 properties of land over four million acres could fall underwater, decreasing its value by $108 billion by the end of the century. 

In the U.S., 30 percent of the population lives in a largely populous area near coastlines, where sea level plays a large role in flooding and erosion. 

“Sea level rise is ultimately going to take land away from people,” said Don Bain, a senior adviser with Climate Central, who wrote the report. “That’s something we haven’t come to grips with.”

The global sea level has risen eight to nine inches since 1980, which is mostly because of melted ice from glaciers and ice sheets as seawater warms. And, in many U.S. coastline locations, sea level rise is greater because of erosion, groundwater pumping, and more. By 2050, Climate Central estimates that In Hudson County, New Jersey, $2.4 billion worth of property will be underwater. In Galveston, Texas, over 4,200 buildings that are currently above sea level will be partially or fully underwater. And, 75 percent of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, will be submerged.

The report lists options for communities to reduce risks to properties:

  • Adjust land development to locations outside of high-risk zones
  • Partake in the National Flood Insurance Program and the Community Rating System incentives to help better financial stability for community members.
  • Use science to create improvements in stormwater systems, raising roadways, building levees, and improving coastal wetlands will for now, protect the tax base.
  • Educate taxpayers so they can adapt to the new economy and rising sea levels.

Iowa DNR to eliminate invasive plant in Iowa Great Lakes

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Grace Smith | September 20, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to start treating East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lake Minnewashta, and Lower Gar this week with Sonar A.S., an aquatic herbicide, to eliminate Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive plant. Eurasian watermilfoil was found in these lakes in early August. The DNR will test the water every two weeks through next Spring, per a release published on Sept. 13. 

The DNR wants to remove the Eurasian watermilfoil because it is an aggressive and invasive plant known to take over the space where native plants would normally be. By eliminating the Eurasian watermilfoil, the DNR will use Sonar A.S., which prevents the plant from producing a pigment needed for photosynthesis. This process would eventually starve the plant over a few weeks. The DNR said the herbicide has no restrictions for swimming, fishing, irrigation, or drinking water at the planned dose. 

An East Okoboji Lakes Improvement Corporation representative told Radio Iowa the plant has been found in fairly abundant amounts in certain spots. To keep the species from spreading, the representative said washing boats and trailers after leaving a lake can help. 

A group of people from Iowa Great Lakes organizations is helping the DNR formulate a plan, and local groups are partnering to donate $335,000 toward the elimination of the invasive plant. 

“Keeping the plant out of the lakes over the past 30 years has allowed time for better tools to be developed for managing this plant,” said Mike Hawkins, district fisheries biologist with the Iowa DNR. “I’m confident we can work together locally to manage it long-term. In the meantime, we plan to take our best shot at eliminating it.”

Patagonia owner donates $3 billion company to fight climate change

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Grace Smith | September 16, 2022

The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, is giving up ownership of his 50-year-old company. The outdoor clothing brand’s profits of $3 billion will be donated to organizations and projects to fight the climate crisis. 

Chouinard, who gained popularity by alpine climbing in Yosemite National Park, announced his relinquishment Wednesday and released a statement on Patagonia’s website

“Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose,’” the website letter said.  “Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.”

Patagonia has been actively fighting climate change for years – using less harmful materials to the environment, becoming B Corp certified by meeting high social and environmental performance standards, and changing the company’s purpose in 2018 to a theme of saving the planet.

Chouinard said Patagonia is now owned by Holdfast Collective, a trust dedicated to protecting nature and fighting the climate crisis. An annual dividend of $100 million will be given to the Holdfast Collective depending on the year’s profits. 

“Despite its immensity, the Earth’s resources are not infinite, and it’s clear we’ve exceeded its limits,” Chouinard’s letter said.  “But it’s also resilient. We can save our planet if we commit to it.”

Northwest Iowa, Nebraska experience ‘exceptional’ drought

The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC.

Grace Smith | September 15, 2022

A small portion of Iowa – 0.2 percent – is experiencing exceptional drought status per the Sept. 8 U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought that northwest Iowa is in stands as the worst category of dryness by the drought monitor. This is the first time Iowa has received an “exceptional drought” classification since 2013. 2.2 percent of the state sits in an extreme drought. 

In addition to the drought, good crop conditions decreased slightly, per a U.S. Department of Agriculture report Monday. 63 percent of corn and soybeans were rated good or excellent, a three percent decrease from the week before. 

Although Iowa is only seeing an exceptional drought rating in 0.2 percent of the state, 10.5 percent of Nebraska is experiencing the worst drought classification, about a four percent increase from Aug. 30. 27.7 percent of the state is in an extreme drought, about an eight percent increase from last week. 

Lincoln, Nebraska has received less than an inch of rain over the past two months and had its fifth driest August on record. 84 percent of the state has short or very short topsoil moisture, and Omaha officials have requested water restrictions. 

The National Weather Service’s forecast predicts a 20 to 40 percent chance of showers in Nebraska this weekend, which could present some relief.

Climate change could worsen issues with the supply chain

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Grace Smith | September 13, 2022

A record-setting drought across China in August led to many immensely disrupted economic activities by stopping supply chains for automobiles, electronics, and more. This drought-induced interruption in the supply chain likely won’t the be last supply chain issue caused by climate change.

The severe drought in China caused rivers to dry up, negatively affecting hydropower. The lack of water flow is impacting areas in China that rely heavily on water power, including Sichuan, which gets over 80 percent of its energy from hydropower. The drought also forced many companies to halt business operations and stop shipping. 

White House economics said climate change-caused natural disasters like droughts and wildfires becoming more frequent would likely disrupt delivery on a global scale and worsen supply shortages, as seen in examples of U.S. natural disasters in the past few years:

  • Droughts in the western portion of the U.S. has put additional stress on agricultural exports.
  • Wildfires in the western U.S. have harmed the planning and logistics of larger delivery companies like Amazon. 
  • Texas winter storms in February 2021 shut down semiconductor plants, causing a shortage of chips across the world.

“What we just went through with [COVID-19] is a window to what climate could do,” Kyle Meng, associate professor of environmental economics in California told the New York Times.

The National Centers for Environmental Information calculated the number of billion-dollar natural disasters in America has grown to an average of 20 in the past two years. These increased disasters and high temperatures could create competition for food and prompt new policies that stop the exports of food.

Continued global warming will set off five climate ‘tipping points’

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Grace Smith | September 9, 2022

Failure to stop the continuation of global warming will set off five major climate tipping points if warming surpasses 1.5 degrees Celsius, per a new study. Currently, the earth is warming at a level of 1.1 degrees, but if that number hits over 1.5, those disastrous changes will become irreversible.  

The study estimates that 1.5 degrees Celsius warming will trigger extreme ice melt for Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, which could lead to over 30 feet of sea level rise. Coral reef deaths will occur from 1.5 to 2 degrees, and an important current in the North Atlantic will also stop circulating, impacting weather in Europe. The study also found that larger ocean currents will stop circulating above 2 degrees of global warmth and the Amazon Rainforest will die. 

“Since I first assessed tipping points in 2008, the list has grown and our assessment of the risk they pose has increased dramatically,” Tim Lenton told The Guardian. “Our new work provides compelling evidence that the world must radically accelerate decarbonizing the economy.”

To limit warming from 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius – a 2015 Paris agreement policy that the study indicated is crucial to abide by – all countries must complete promises of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, for there is no leeway or flexibility in not following through.

Climate change challenges human ability to properly cool down

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Grace Smith | September 8, 2022

As the Earth warms, scientists realize outdoor humidity is making it challenging for sweat to cool down bodies properly. Normally, the body can cool itself by sweating, but when humidity is at a high level, sweat will not evaporate as fast, threatening human health and life.

“The inability to cool down leaves us more than just uncomfortable. It actually wears on our internal processes,” Dr. Benjamin of Health Partners said in a company blog. “As our core temperature continues to rise, our bodies need to work harder to try and cool us down. This causes us to overheat.”

Professor of Physiology and Kinesiology, Larry Kenney conducts tests in his lab at Penn State. Kenney puts test subjects in a climate-controlled room and has them walk on a treadmill as he increases the room’s humidity. It is harder to get subjects’ core temperatures to cool down with that increase. Kenney told NPR when the temperature gets close to the humidity of sweat on the skin, it can no longer evaporate.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 1,300 deaths per year in the United States are heat-related, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute said that heat-related health issues will continue to rise with an increase in heat.