Smog-producing air pollution declining more slowly


268416998_4edb6382d2_b
Catalytic converters have decreased the amount of carbon monoxide emitted by cars dramatically since they were first introduced in the 1970s. (Chris Keating/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 1, 2018

A new study found that levels of two primary pollutants in the U.S. atmosphere have not been declining as rapidly during recent years as they once were.

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) studied satellite data and ground level measurements of two smog-forming pollutants: nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Levels of these air pollutants decreased dramatically following the implementation of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s. Requirements of that act pushed automakers and energy-producers to develop new technology which curbed the emissions of these two pollutants.

The study found that concentration of these two pollutants in the atmosphere decreased by seven percent each year between 2005 and 2009. However, from 2011 through 2015, the pollutants’ levels only shrunk by 1.7 percent annually.

Helen Worden is a scientist at NCAR and one of the study’s authors. She said to Phys Org, “Although our air is healthier than it used to be in the 80s and 90s, air quality in the U.S. is not progressing as quickly as we thought. The gains are starting to slow down.”

The study noted that the slower decrease in carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides was especially severe in the eastern part of the U.S. This finding dispels notions that the slower pace can be attributed to traveling air pollution from countries like China. The positive news is that the slower decline in carbon monoxide, which is primarily emitted by vehicles, is likely due to the fact that major strides have already been made to reduce vehicle emissions. In short, clean air technology related to cars may have reached a kind of plateau.

This study was funded by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the National Science Foundation. The full journal article can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Extreme weather costlier than ever in 2017


36145818535_8717d011b2_k

Jenna Ladd | March 28, 2018

As the Northern Hemisphere enters warmer seasons where severe weather and flooding are more likely, it is yet to be seen whether 2018 will top 2017 as the most costly year for natural disasters ever.

Since 1980, the yearly average for natural disasters in the U.S. that cause more than $1 billion in damages has been 5.8 events. Last year, the country saw 16 such events, including three tropical cyclones, eight severe storms, two inland floods, a crop freeze, drought and wildfire. While this number technically ties with 2011, 2017 had more extreme weather as wildfires are tallied by region rather than single events, and last year brought more wildfires costing upwards of $1 billion than ever before.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the total cost of severe weather last year was $306.2 billion. This surpassed the previous record by nearly $100 billion dollars. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria caused $265.0 billion of 2017’s damages. Researchers figure physical damages to buildings and infrastructure as well as crop damages and losses to business into the total cost.

The midwest U.S. saw at least two severe storms last year that caused more than $1 billion in damages, both of them in mid-June. Flooding associated with storms like these has caused some $13.5 billion in economic losses from 1988 to 2015 in Iowa alone, according to a recent op-ed by Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski. Midwesterners also faced early tornado outbreaks in 2017, which tore across the region in late February and early March. Both events cause more than $1 billion in damages.

The National Centers for Environmental Information point out that increased development in vulnerable areas like coastlines, floodplains and fire-prone areas are causing the increase in billion dollar disasters. Climate change plays a role too. They write,

“Climate change is also paying an increasing role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters. Most notably the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall and inland flooding events are most acutely related to the influence of climate change.”

Global temperatures continued to rise in September


201709
A climate anomalies map from NOAA details significant some climate events during September 2017. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)
Jenna Ladd | October 20, 2017

Earth’s climate continued to warm during September 2017, setting some alarming records.

September 2017 was the planet’s fourth warmest September since record-keeping began in 1880. The three warmest Septembers were in 2015, 2016 and 2014. This year’s September was especially notable because no El Niño effect was present. El Niño events typically bring warmer weather because they cause the ocean to release warm air into the atmosphere.

Even in the absence of an El Niño effect, temperatures in January through February of this year have made 2017 the second hottest year on the 138-year record kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In the top spot? 2016, which was 1.02 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average.

Sweltering temperatures were experienced across the globe. The hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere was 109 degrees Fahrenheit on September 27th in Birdsville, Australia. In the northern hemisphere, temperatures soared to 123 degrees Fahrenheit on September 3rd in Mitribah, Kuwait.

Record high temperatures are not without consequences. September 2017 also had the second lowest Antarctic sea ice cover during that month on record. The Arctic sea fared slightly better, coming in at number seven for record low sea ice cover during September.

A concise summery of NOAA and NASA’s September climate report can be found here.

On The Radio – 2016 State of the Climate report brings bad news


7092449185_e269949505_o
Alpine glaciers retreated worldwide for the 37th year in a row during 2016. (Dru/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 25, 2017

Transcript: Earth’s climate has reached some troubling milestones, according to the 2016 State of the Climate Report that was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The report, which is produced by top editors from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information, described how levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record high. The increase from 2015 to 2016 of 3.5 parts per million was the largest jump in one year on modern record.

Rising temperatures brought drought conditions to many parts of the globe. During every month of the year, at least twelve percent of the global area was experiencing drought conditions. More than half of the land south of equator experienced drought conditions during some part of 2016.

2016 also marked the 37th year in a row during which alpine glaciers retreated worldwide.

To read the full State of the Climate Report and for more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

State of the Climate Report reveals more than just temperature


StateoftheClimate_2016_GlobalSurfaceTemps_map_597x336
A global map depicting the difference from 2016 when compared to temperatures from 1981-2010. (NOAA, State of the Climate)
Jenna Ladd| August 24, 2017

2016’s position as the hottest year on record has been widely reported, but many other important, albeit terrifying, climate change milestones were achieved last year according to the State of the Climate Report published in the American Meteorological Society Bulletin.

The report, which is spearheaded by top editors from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information, has been described as a comprehensive annual physical for the planet. This year’s check up brought some bad news.

To begin, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record high. The increase from 2015 to 2016 of 3.5 ± 0.1 parts per million was the largest jump in one year on modern record.

Drought was also widespread in 2016. During every month of the year, at least twelve percent of the global area was experiencing drought conditions. More than half of the land south of equator experienced drought conditions during some part of 2016.

2016 was the sixth year in a row when global sea levels were higher than the year before. In fact, global sea levels were 3.5 inches higher last year than they were in 1993. This sea level rise is attributed to alpine glacial melt; 2016 marked the 37th year in a row during which alpine glaciers retreated worldwide.

So far, 2017 is on track to bring more of the same, despite the absence of El Niño event.

 

March 2017 breaks temperature records, even without El Niño


March temp
(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)
Jenna Ladd | April 20, 2017

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which is among the scientific organizations on the Trump Administration’s budget chopping block, has reported yet another global warming record.

March 2017 was the first time ever that a monthly average temperature was more than 1°C above average in the absence of an El Niño event. During El Niño episodes the ocean-atmosphere system in the Tropical Pacific moves in different ways that result in warmer than usual temperatures worldwide. Record warmth in the absence of El Niño suggests that human-induced climate change is to blame.

NOAA’s March 2017 report revealed that warmer and much-warmer-than-average temperatures were measured for much of Earth’s land and oceanic surfaces. The U.S. mainland, Europe, Russia, Mongolia, and Australia saw the hottest month, where departures from average temperatures were +3.0°C (+5.4°F) or more. Some regions such as western Canada and Alaska did experience a colder than usual year but no cool weather records were set.

According to a continental analysis by NOAA, four of the six continents experienced a top seven warm March since records began in 1910. Europe and Oceania had their second hottest March on record, despite the absence of an El Niño even this year.

 

The first three months of 2017, January through March, have already proven to be the second warmest on record. Only 2016 had higher average temperatures, but that was an El Niño year. Even more notably, the first three months of 2017 have been significantly warmer than January through March of 2015, which was also an El Niño year.

Zeke Hausfather is a climate scientist at University of California, Berkeley and commented on the report in an interview with the Associated Press. He said, “If El Niño were the main driver of record warmth, there is no way the last three months would have been as warm as they have been.”

Climate change to decrease average number of mild weather days


3599894522_06f3bbf307_o
Residents enjoy pleasant weather at Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Louis/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 24, 2017

The first of its kind, a recent study found that climate change is likely to decrease the number of “nice weather” days worldwide.

The authors of the study, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and Princeton University, define “nice” or “mild” days as those days when temperatures are between 64 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, dew points are below 68 degrees Fahrenheit and less than half of an inch of rain falls. Currently there are an average of 74 nice days globally per year, but that number is likely to drop to 70 in the next twenty years and to 64 by 2081.

Karin van der Wiel is a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University and lead author of the study. She said,

“We used a climate model to simulate the current climate. In that simulation we counted the number of mild days. Then, we increased greenhouse gases in the climate model to simulate the future effects of climate change. This leads to increasing temperatures, changes in humidity, changes in precipitation over the whole world and with very specific patterns. In this new, future climate, we counted the number of mild days again. We could then calculate the change — increase or decrease — of mild weather days for each location globally.”

Not all corners of the Earth will be affected equally, however. Tropical regions are expected to lose the most nice days, with some areas losing up to 50 per year by the end of this century. Meanwhile, London is expected to gain 24 nice days each year.

Predictions for Cedar Rapids, Iowa mirror global averages. Eastern Iowa currently enjoys 76 nice days annually; researchers say that number is expected to drop to an average of 72 between 2016 and 2035 and to 66 each year between 2081 through 2100.

Frequent high humidity makes it tough for Iowa to meet the pleasant weather criteria outlined in the study. Absolute humidity has risen by 13 percent during the summer months in Des Moines since 1970, according to Iowa State climate scientist Gene Takle. Increased humidity also contributes to the extreme rain events that have plagued Iowa in recent years.

van der Wiel said, “Mild weather is something everyone knows, experiences, and has memories of,” she continued, “Our study shows that human-caused climate change is going to lead to changes in mild weather all over… The changes are happening now, and where people live.”