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  • richardmitnick 7:45 am on June 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 25% of surveyed accommodation businesses situated close to the coast are unsure if sea level rise is even occurring., 50% of surveyed NSW coastal users don’t think that sea level rise will impact them a report into the NSW community’s views on coastal hazards shows., Climate Change, , Global warning, The My Coast NSW Study took place in 2017 and 2018 surveying more than 1000 people from all over the NSW coast.,   

    From University of New South Wales: “1 in 2 people in NSW’s coastal community don’t think sea level rise will impact them directly” 

    U NSW bloc

    From University of New South Wales

    07 Jun 2019
    Isabelle Dubach

    50% of surveyed NSW coastal users don’t think that sea level rise will impact them, a report into the NSW community’s views on coastal hazards shows.

    Collaroy during the 2016 storm. Credit: UNSW’s Water Research Laboratory

    Half of NSW’s coastal community thinks rising sea levels will not impact them directly, new data released today by UNSW scientists has shown – and 25% of surveyed accommodation businesses situated close to the coast are unsure if sea level rise is even occurring.

    The report – released on the anniversary of the 2016 East Coast Low ‘superstorm’ that saw widespread damage along Australia’s east coast, including the collapse of a Collaroy swimming pool – describes what the NSW community understands about coastal erosion and inundation, as well as the driving forces behind these hazards: sea level rise and severe coastal storms.

    “Our coastline is changing. Many locations along the NSW coast are seeing amenity loss and infrastructure damage associated with erosion and inundation – that is, the flooding of normally dry land by sea water, often caused by storms surges or king tides,” says Professor Rob Brander from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, who is also known as “Dr Rip”.

    “These storm events will continue in the future. Combined with anticipated sea level rise, they’ll only enhance the extent and cost of coastal erosion damage and lead to greater inundation of coastal zones throughout NSW in the future, particularly in low-lying estuarine areas,” he says.

    The researchers say people’s understanding and perception of storms and sea level rise, and their associated impacts of erosion and inundation, can significantly influence how and whether they engage in coastal adaptation actions – often influencing the success or failure of those actions.

    “That’s why we wanted to find out what coastal communities understand and perceive about these hazards and how these hazards will affect their interactions with, and use of, the coast in the future,” says study author Anna Attard from UNSW Science.

    “We think that’s an important aspect of building community resiliency and preparedness to coastal erosion and inundation.”

    The My Coast NSW Study took place in 2017 and 2018, surveying more than 1000 people from all over the NSW coast, across three main groups: Coastal Management Professionals (i.e. government, academics, researchers and engineers), General Coastal Users (a cross section of people who use the NSW coast), and Coastal Accommodation Businesses (owners, managers or employees of accommodation businesses situated close to the coast).

    The researchers say the resulting report provides an evidence-based information platform to help local governments and coastal management professionals in the future development of effective educational strategies and programs.

    “Our ultimate goal is to help improve the ability of NSW coastal communities to adapt sustainably to the risk of coastal erosion and inundation,” Ms Attard says.

    Lack of community knowledge about the direct impact of sea level rise is one of the key aspects of the report – which the authors say is concerning, given that sea level rise is a key factor driving coastal erosion and inundation.

    “We found that only about 50% of general coastal users think that sea level rise will impact them directly – that’s a worry, given that estimates suggest that by 2100, sea level rise could increase by a metre or more if greenhouse gas emissions continue unchanged,” Ms Attard says.

    “Even more worryingly, 25% of coastal accommodation businesses don’t know or are unsure if sea levels are even rising at all.”

    The scientists say sea level rise will affect everybody, from those who use the coast day-to-day, to those who may visit a few times a year – and not just people on the front line living near the cost, either.

    “Rising sea levels mean far-reaching impacts on people’s transport, infrastructure, sewerage and water, to name just a few examples,” Ms Attard says.

    “It could also affect how you’re able to use your favourite beach, which you may only visit once a year.”

    The researchers also explored how often people thought big storms like the 2016 East Coast low event were occurring.

    “45% of the general coastal users we surveyed think storms like the one in 2016 occur only every 20 years, so they think it’s rarer than what’s actually happening. But over the last decade or so, we’ve actually had a few major storms in NSW – in 2016, 2015 and 2007, at least,” Ms Attard says.

    The report also found a clear disconnect between what coastal management professionals think the public should know about coastal hazards, and what the public flagged as wanting to know more about.

    “General coastal users told us that would like to know more about how climate change will impact their immediate coast, what the possible solutions are and who the ‘key players’ of coastal management are,” says Ms Attard.

    “But coastal professionals said that coastal communities need more information about direct personal and public risks associated with coastal hazards, general information about coastal hazards and processes, and their impacts on the greater NSW community – that’s very different from what the general users said their information needs are.

    “Community engagement needs to be a two-way process to address that disconnect.”

    The My Coast study was funded under the joint State and Commonwealth Natural Disaster Resilience Program. The grant was awarded to UNSW in March 2017 and the study was conducted in partnership with the Sydney Coastal Councils Group (SCCG), Surf Life Saving NSW (SLS NSW) and the NSW Government Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).

    The full My Coast study report, along with multiple fact sheets and a guide for teachers, can be accessed online.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

  • richardmitnick 11:08 pm on May 15, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Counting the costs of the major parties' climate change policies", , Climate Change,   

    From University of New South Wales: “Counting the costs of the major parties’ climate change policies” 

    U NSW bloc

    From University of New South Wales

    16 May 2019

    Cameron Allen
    Graciela Metternicht
    Tommy Wiedmann

    UNSW sustainability scientists have run their rulers over the major parties’ climate policies to determine whether taking action against climate change is more expensive than doing nothing.

    Extreme climate events: an old ‘Queenslander’ house in Milton, Brisbane during the floods in January, 2011. Picture: Shutterstock

    Climate change has emerged as the issue most likely to determine the result in the upcoming federal election. It is no longer the exclusive concern of the ‘latte left’, with more conservative voters than ever before now listing it as a major election issue.
    At UNSW, we recently developed an integrated macro-economic simulation model (iSDG-Australia) capable of projecting the future impacts of a range of policy and investment scenarios, including additional policies to address greenhouse gas emissions.
    There are clear differences in the proposed responses to climate change from the major political parties. We can now model how these different policies affect Australia’s economy and greenhouse gas emissions trajectories in the future.
    The Coalition Government has committed to the Paris Agreement by setting a national target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. This represents a target level of 441 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-e).
    The latest projections from the Department of Environment and Energy reveal that Australia is not on track to reach this target. In fact, emissions are projected to increase marginally over the period to 2030. Given the Coalition is still in power and has not released any substantive change in climate change policy ahead of this election, let us call this the ‘Business-As-Usual’ scenario.
    Labor, on the other hand, has released a more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 45% on 2005 levels by 2030. To achieve this, Labor has set out a suite of policies in its Climate Change Action Plan. This includes a target of 50% renewables by 2030, a target of 50% of electric vehicles in new cars sales by 2030, doubling energy productivity by 2030 and improving emissions standards, among other measures.
    Not surprisingly, the Greens have set an even more ambitious target of 63-82% reduction in emissions on 2005 levels by 2030.
    These more ambitious targets have sparked an explosive political row regarding the potential costs of addressing climate change to the economy and jobs.
    Modelling commissioned by the Government from the economist Brian Fisher concludes that Labor’s emissions target would subtract at least $264 billion from gross national product by 2030, or up to $542 billion depending on how it’s implemented. A minimum of 3% reduction in real wages and 167,000 fewer jobs are also predicted.
    These findings have been vehemently criticised by experts and Labor for relying on inaccurate assumptions and failing to consider the economic costs of inaction on climate change.
    The model we developed is a powerful tool to explore potential development pathways for Australia to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals and other international targets.
    We used the model to explore potential impacts of some of Labor’s key climate policies on the economy, jobs and greenhouse gas reduction as compared with the Coalition’s business as usual scenario.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

  • richardmitnick 9:57 am on May 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Spotlight on the pulse of our planet", , , Climate activist Jakob Blasel: “In my view world leaders do not take the climate crisis seriously.”, Climate Change, , , , ESA’s Living Planet Symposium, Information from space, The Living Planet Symposium is hosting over 2000 children with their own dedicated programmes.   

    From European Space Agency: “Spotlight on the pulse of our planet” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency

    13 May 2019

    ESA’s Earth Explorers surpassing expectations

    Milan in focus


    Satellites deliver crucial information to help solve what is our biggest global problem: climate change. As well as taking the pulse of our planet, satellite data are used in a myriad of daily applications, and are also used increasingly in business. It’s no surprise then that over 4 000 people have flocked to Milan to hear the latest scientific findings on Earth’s natural processes and global change, and to learn about the wealth of new opportunities that Earth observation has to offer.

    ESA’s holds its Living Planet Symposium – the largest Earth observation conference in the world – every three years, each time drawing more participants than the last. The current edition, which has been organised with support from the Italian Space Agency, got off to a flying start this morning in the heart of Milan, Italy.

    Traditionally, the focus of this series of symposiums has been on Earth science – and while this still takes centre stage, the importance of international cooperation in developing satellite observing systems that bring the most benefits to society is also very much at the forefront of discussions.

    In addition, the landscape of Earth observation is changing. Against the backdrop of commercial Earth observation and the digital revolution, participants will be talking about how satellite data and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain can benefit business, industry and science, and also ESA.

    Living Planet Symposium opens

    With all these topics, and more, to be presented and discussed in the days ahead, the symposium was opened by Milan’s Councillor for Urban Planning, Parks and Agriculture, Pierfrancesco Maran, who wished everyone a warm welcome from the city.

    He noted, “Cites around the world are facing the issues of climate change and pollution, but while cities are part of the problem, they can also be part of the solution through better education and innovation.”

    Participants were also welcomed by ESA’s Director General Jan Wörner. Stressing the importance of information from space to address the global challenges of climate change, energy and resources shortages, he said, “Earth observation is expanding the frontiers of knowledge – through this we understand climate change and much more.

    “From space you don’t see borders and this is the same for us – the countries of Europe are working together for a coherent approach that includes common goals and a full integration of space to bring the biggest benefits to society.”

    Deputy Director-General of the EC DG GROW, Pierre Delsaux, noted, “Climate Change is not just a European issue, it is a world-wide issue. We work to involve, sometimes convince our partners around the word that new missions can give us clear scientific assessments of the changes happening to our planet.”

    Recent demonstrations by students around the world make it clear that the young have serious concerns about the health of the planet and are pushing for action.

    Climate activist Jakob Blasel

    Young climate activist, Jakob Blasel from Fridays for Future talked passionately about his worries, “Our generation is the most conscious about climate change as we will have to live with the consequences in the next decades. I’m one of the people who fears the future.

    “In my view, world leaders do not take the climate crisis seriously.”

    The young are also in the spotlight this week. For the first time, the Living Planet Symposium is hosting over 2000 children with their own dedicated programmes. There are the Open Days available for 8–12 year olds and School Labs for 13–18 year olds. Students, for example, will be taking air pollution measurements, and much more.

    With the environment very much in the news, many governments, institutes, businesses and individuals are making different choices to reduce the impact we are having on our fragile planet.

    The EC’s Deputy Director General for Research and Innovation, Patrick Child, highlighted, “The transition towards a carbon-neutral economy and a sustainable Europe by 2030 requires advancing our knowledge of the Earth system, its dynamics and its interactions with human activities.

    “There is an urgent need to develop instruments to better predict and mitigate the consequences of climate change.

    “The global challenges our society faces requires knowledge-based policy-making, building on reliable observation systems, products and services.”

    Mr Child’s words are at the heart of the symposium – as science and understanding is critical to addressing environmental issues.

    ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, said, “I am thrilled to see so many people here – a true testament to the growing interest and importance of what Earth observation brings.

    “We are looking forward to hearing the latest scientific results. And, with ESA’s next ministerial council, Space19+, in November, we will also be talking about how we will take Earth observation into the future, particularly through innovation and partnerships.

    “But crucially we need the engagement of young people, the scientists of tomorrow.”

    With eyes now on Milan, the week not only promises to be a week of discovery about our changing planet, but also showcases how society at large benefits from Earth observation.

    We are changing our natural world faster than at any other time in history. Understanding the intricacies of how Earth works as a system and the impact that human activity is having on natural processes are huge environmental challenges. Satellites are vital for taking the pulse of our planet, delivering the information we need to understand and monitor our precious world, and for making decisions to safeguard our future. Earth observation data is also key to a myriad of practical applications to improve everyday life and to boost economies.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

    ESA50 Logo large

  • richardmitnick 11:38 am on August 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Climate Change, , ,   

    From ESRF The European Synchrotron: “Research gives clues to CO2 trapping underground” 

    ESRF bloc
    From ESRF The European Synchrotron


    Carbon dioxide is a widespread simple molecule in the Universe.

    CO2 is an environmentally important gas that plays a crucial role in climate change. It is a compound that is also present in the depth of the Earth but very little information about it is available. What happens to CO2 in the Earth’s mantle? Could it be eventually hosted underground? A new publication in Nature Communications unveils some key findings.


    In spite of its simplicity, it has a very complex phase diagram, forming both amorphous and crystalline phases above the pressure of 40 GPa. In the depths of the Earth, CO2 does not appear as we know it in everyday life. Instead of being a gas consisting of molecules, it has a polymeric solid form that structurally resembles quartz (a main mineral of sand) due to the pressure it sustains, which is a million times bigger than that at the surface of the Earth.

    Researchers have been long studying what happens to carbonates at high temperature and high pressure, the same conditions as deep inside the Earth. Until now, the majority of experiments had shown that CO2 decomposes, with the formation of diamond and oxygen. These studies were all focused on CO2 at the upper mantle, with a 70 GPa of pressure and 1800-2800 Kelvin of temperature.

    A team of scientists from the European Laboratory for Non-linear Spectroscopy (LENS), the University of Florence, the National Research Council of Italy, the University of Vienna and the ESRF came to the high-pressure beamline ID27 to study, using x-ray diffraction and Raman scattering (the latter performed in the facilities of LENS), what happens to CO2 at the depth of 2000 to 2400 kilometres, i.e. at the boundary between the silicate minerals of the lower mantle and the metallic core.

    “One of the added value of our team is the fact that we all have different backgrounds: from chemists, to mineralogists and the physicists of the ESRF. This means that we complement each other and, together, we try to get a full picture of what happens to CO2 from our different points of view”, explains Dziubek, corresponding author of the study.

    In order to achieve these conditions, they used a diamond anvil cell and submitted the sample to 2400 degrees Celsius (2700K) and 120 GPa of pressure, which is almost double than previous research. “It was a very complex setup, in particular the laser heating with a 10 micron infrared laser at pressures above 100 GPa was very challenging”, explains Mohamed Mezouar, scientist in charge of ID27. Thinking that they would come up with similar results to existing literature, they were in for a surprise: CO2 is, in fact, stable in a crystalline form and does not dissociate like previously believed.

    Mohamed Mezouar, scientist in charge of ID27, on the beamline. Credits: S. Candé.

    “Our results indicate that the crystalline extended form of carbon dioxide is stable in the thermodynamic conditions of the deep lower mantle and therefore could be helpful to understand the distribution and transport of carbon in the depths of our planet. It could even open doors to the possibility of trapping CO2 underground, if it stays there or just in its polymeric form”, explains Kamil Dziubek.

    CO2 sequestration in geological formations is one of the potential solutions for mitigating the climate changes associated with the greenhouse effect. It is important, however, to investigate the fate of carbon dioxide in deep geosphere and to recognize the form in which it can be stored within the host rock. If the neat polymeric CO2 stays stable in the deep mantle, it can represent a long-term storage of carbon.

    Therefore, the next step of the team is to mimic the real conditions not only in the terms of thermodynamics but also geochemistry, and study in detail stability and reactivity of the CO2 in presence of silicates, carbonates and other minerals, which are known to exist in the deepest parts of the Earth’s mantle.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition


    The ESRF – the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility – is the most intense source of synchrotron-generated light, producing X-rays 100 billion times brighter than the X-rays used in hospitals. These X-rays, endowed with exceptional properties, are produced at the ESRF by the high energy electrons that race around the storage ring, a circular tunnel measuring 844 metres in circumference. Each year, the demand to use these X-ray beams increases and thousands of scientists from around the world come to Grenoble, to access the 43 highly specialised experimental stations, called “beamlines”, each equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    Thanks to the brilliance and quality of its X-rays, the ESRF functions like a “super-microscope” which “films” the position and motion of atoms in condensed and living matter, and reveals the structure of matter in all its beauty and complexity. It provides unrivalled opportunities for scientists in the exploration of materials and living matter in a very wide variety of fields: chemistry, material physics, archaeology and cultural heritage, structural biology and medical applications, environmental sciences, information science and nanotechnologies.

    Following on from 20 years of success and excellence, the ESRF has embarked upon an ambitious and innovative modernisation project, the Upgrade Programme, implemented in two phases: Phase I (2009-2015) and the ESRF-EBS (Extremely Brilliant Source) (2015-2022) programmes. With an investment of 330 million euros, the Upgrade Programme is paving the way to a new generation of synchrotron storage rings, that will produce more intense, coherent and stable X-ray beams. By constructing a new synchrotron, deeply rooted in the existing infrastructure, the ESRF will lead the way in pushing back the boundaries of scientific exploration of matter, and contribute to answering the great technological, economic, societal and environmental challenges confronting our society.

  • richardmitnick 9:19 am on August 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Climate Change, , Pacific Ocean’s Effect on Arctic Warming   

    From Carnegie Institution for Science: “Pacific Ocean’s Effect on Arctic Warming” 

    Carnegie Institution for Science
    From Carnegie Institution for Science

    August 07, 2018

    This image was taken in September 2016 showing the extent of Arctic sea ice then. The yellow line shows the average minimum extent of sea ice in the Arctic from 1981 to 2010. Image courtesy NASA

    New research, led by former Carnegie postdoctoral fellow Summer Praetorius, shows that changes in the heat flow of the northern Pacific Ocean may have a larger effect on the Arctic climate than previously thought. The findings are published in the August 7, 2018, issue of Nature Communications.

    The Arctic is experiencing larger and more rapid increases in temperature from global warming more than any other region, with sea-ice declining faster than predicted. This effect, known as Arctic amplification, is a well-established response that involves many positive feedback mechanisms in polar regions.

    What has not been well understood is how sea-surface temperature patterns and oceanic heat flow from Earth’s different regions, including the temperate latitudes, affect these polar feedbacks. This new research suggests that the importance of changes occurring in the Pacific may have a stronger impact on Arctic climate than previously recognized.

    Paleoclimate records show that climate change in the Arctic can be very large and happen very rapidly. During the last deglaciation, as the planet was starting to warm from rising greenhouse gases, there were two episodes of accelerated warming in the Arctic—with temperatures increasing by 15°C (27°F) in Greenland over the course of decades. Both events were accompanied by rapid warming in the mid-latitude North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans.

    Using these past changes as motivation for the current study, the research team* modeled a series of ocean-to-atmosphere heat flow scenarios for the North Pacific and the North Atlantic. They used the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Community Earth System Model (CESM), to assess the impacts to the Arctic’s surface temperature and climate feedbacks.

    Praetorius, who was at Carnegie at the time of the research and is now with the USGS in Menlo Park, CA explained: “Since there appeared to be coupling between abrupt Arctic temperature changes and sea surface temperature changes in both the North Atlantic and North Pacific in the past, we thought it was important to untangle how each region may affect the Arctic differently in order to provide insight into recent and future Arctic changes.”

    The researchers found that both cooling and warming anomalies in the North Pacific resulted in greater global and Arctic surface air temperature anomalies than the same perturbations modeled for the North Atlantic. Until now, this sensitivity had been underappreciated.

    The scientists looked at several mechanisms that could be causing the changes and found that the strong global and Arctic changes depended on the magnitude of water vapor transfer from the mid-latitude oceans to the Arctic. When warm moist air is carried poleward towards the Arctic, it can lead to more low-lying clouds that act like a blanket, trapping warmth near the surface. The poleward movement of heat and moisture drive the Arctic’s sea-ice retreat and low-cloud formation, amplifying Arctic warming.

    The so-called ice-albedo feedback causes retreating ice and snow to lead to ever greater warming through increasing absorption of solar energy on darker surfaces.

    In very recent years, the Arctic has experienced an even greater acceleration in warming. The authors note that the unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Northeast Pacific paralleled the uptick in Arctic warming, possibly signaling a stronger link between these regions than generally recognized.

    “While this is a highly idealized study, our results suggest that changes in the Pacific Ocean may have a larger influence on the climate system than generally recognized,” remarked Carnegie coauthor Ken Caldeira.

    • Co-authors are Summer Praetorius, USGS, Menlo Park, CA; Maria Rugenstein, Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, Zurich; and Geeta Persad and Ken Caldeira of Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology, Stanford, CA.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Carnegie Institution of Washington Bldg

    Andrew Carnegie established a unique organization dedicated to scientific discovery “to encourage, in the broadest and most liberal manner, investigation, research, and discovery and the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind…” The philosophy was and is to devote the institution’s resources to “exceptional” individuals so that they can explore the most intriguing scientific questions in an atmosphere of complete freedom. Carnegie and his trustees realized that flexibility and freedom were essential to the institution’s success and that tradition is the foundation of the institution today as it supports research in the Earth, space, and life sciences.

    6.5 meter Magellan Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile.
    6.5 meter Magellan Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile

  • richardmitnick 7:23 am on July 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Climate Change, , Greenland Iceberg, ,   

    From The New Yorker: Climate Change and the Giant Iceberg Off Greenland’s Shore 

    Rea Irvin

    From The New Yorker

    July 20, 2018
    Carolyn Kormann

    For a week, an iceberg as tall as the Statue of Liberty filled the villagers of Innaarsuit, Greenland, with existential dread. Photograph by Magnus Kristensen / Ritzau Scanpix / Reuters

    For a week, an iceberg as colossal as it is fragile held everyone in suspense. It arrived like a gargantuan beast that you hope won’t notice you, at the fishing village of Innaarsuit, Greenland, about five hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. The iceberg posed a mortal threat to the village population of about a hundred and seventy people. Standing three hundred feet tall (the height of the Statue of Liberty) and weighing an estimated ten million metric tons (equal to thirty Empire State buildings), it’s riven with cracks and holes. If a big enough part of it sloughed off, in a process known as “calving,” it would cause a tsunami, immediately destroying the little settlement on whose shore it rested. “You don’t want to be anywhere near the water when it’s happening,” a glaciologist who does research in Greenland said. “It’s just incredibly violent.” People began to evacuate.

    Innaarsuit residents are a hardy bunch, living in the sort of climatic extremes that temperate zoners might call otherwordly. For much of the summer, the sun is always up. This year, it won’t set again until in early August. The temperature on Friday was thirty-nine degrees Fahrenheit—about as warm as it ever gets—and in the darkness of February and March, the average remains below zero. There are no trees. People hunt narwhals (polar unicorns), whales, and seals. The single road dead-ends at a cemetery. Boat captains (the only people who can get you off the island, apart from helicopter pilots) are constantly navigating an endless parade of baby icebergs, set loose from their mothers, drifting with the current past the village, often close enough to touch. They tend to be the size of a beach ball, a dinghy, a shack. The most recent visitor is different, obviously. “This iceberg is the biggest we have seen,” a village council member named Susanne K. Eliassen said. Karl Petersen, the village council chair, called on the press, asking the world for assistance if the berg were to calve. For the crowd watching online, it was like “Jaws.” We hoped desperately that the great white thing would just continue on its way.

    Big icebergs are nothing new, but they usually remain far offshore. Ocean currents and wind push the icebergs along, sometimes five or more miles a day. In this case, the berg got stuck in the shallow waters of the bay. Eric Rignot, a glaciologist from the University of California, Irvine, said that it probably originated from one of the nearby glaciers that flow down the fjords along Greenland’s west coast. Those glaciers have long been notable for pushing a lot of icebergs out into the sea. But nowadays they are in retreat—more ice is more rapidly breaking from the glacier’s face than snow is accumulating on its back. With climate change, what happened in Innaarsuit, Rignot said, is expected to occur more frequently. Joshua Willis, a glaciologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, put it in simple terms: “As things continue to warm up, more ice is gonna come off and float around.” Drought-stricken South Africa wants to tow one such berg to Cape Town, to prevent the country’s taps from running dry.

    Drought and torrid heat waves are scorching Europe, too. In England, the land is so dry that archaeologists are discovering new ruins (they hold underground moisture differently than undisturbed land, changing the way crops grow). In Ireland, a five-thousand-year-old henge came into view. Mostly, however, the news is bad. Sweden is burning as far north as the Arctic Circle, causing evacuations; last week, it was Norway. Wildfires have even broke out in Northwest England, near Manchester. Great clouds of smoke, visible from space—from wildfires in Siberia (there was an unusually bad wave in May) and in the far north of North America, in boreal and subalpine forests and even out on the tundra—blow over Greenland and stay for a while. The soot and ash blacken the island’s ice sheet and hasten its melting, leading to more tragedy. Last summer, there was a tsunami in a village near Innaarsuit, called Nuugaatsiaq. Thawing permafrost provoked a landslide so massive that it caused a three-hundred-foot wave, one of the largest ever recorded on camera. Four people died, eleven buildings were washed away, and dozens were injured. For the people of Innaarsuit, the danger posed by their stranded iceberg was reinforced by the recent memory of that disaster.

    Coincidentally, or not, a few days before the iceberg showed up in Innaarsuit, on July 9th, Denise Holland, a glaciologist from New York University, released a video of what is almost certainly the largest glacial calving event ever recorded on camera. Holland and her husband, David, a scientist who works with her at N.Y.U., and who also studies ice at the poles, were camping at the Helheim glacier, on Greenland’s east coast, in fiberglass igloos they built themselves. By chance, after twenty years of returning to the same spot to collect data, their camera happened to be on and filming when the calving event began. It lasted thirty minutes. All together, the ice that fell was as big as half of Manhattan, and weighed roughly ten gigatons, making it a thousand times larger than Innaarsuit’s iceberg. “I was speechless, you can’t believe you are seeing something like that,” David told me.

    “There are very few photographs or videos of this actually happening,” Willis, from NASA, said. (Holland does research with him at NASA, too.) “They are happening a lot, but they are hard to catch. This only lasted thirty minutes. It’s weeks or months before something like that would happen again.” Although that glacier is located about sixteen hundred miles from Innaarsuit, Holland said it is a typical case of how the village’s berg was born. It’s also an invaluable document for studying how ice sheets fall apart, to project future sea-level rise. “Ice is a material that we don’t fully understand,” Holland said. Greenland, a field site much easier and cheaper to get to, also acts as a proxy for studying the West Antarctic Ice Sheet—the most vulnerable of Earth’s three major ice sheets, and the biggest polar threat to civilization.

    Many scientists believe that the WAIS has started to retreat irretrievably, but no one has a clear picture of how or how quickly it will break apart. One possible theory is that calving could go into overdrive, and the ice sheet’s dissolution could happen catastrophically fast. The evidence is piling up. A Nature study published in June found that, roughly ten thousand years ago, West Antarctica retreated a hundred and thirty-five thousand square miles, when the planet was significantly cooler than it is today. In another study, published in the previous issue of Nature, researchers found that, from 1992 until 2017, Antarctica had lost three billion tons of ice, and that the annual rate of loss due to melting from the WAIS increased from fifty-three billion tons to a hundred and fifty-nine billion tons. On July 12, 2017, an ice shelf (akin to a dam that slows a glacier’s flow into the ocean) named Larsen C collapsed, launching an iceberg the size of Delaware (ten times as big as the one that the Hollands recorded in Greenland) into the Weddell Sea. As the ice shelves that border West Antarctica crumble, the glaciers behind them hasten their retreat. The quantity of ice is unfathomably greater than what Greenland holds, capable of raising global sea level by roughly ten feet, and, Willis said, “it’s kind of poised on a precipice.”

    Back in Innaarsuit, the great white iceberg remained mostly intact and, with some help from a new-moon tide and benevolent winds, continued drifting north. By Wednesday, everybody felt safe enough to go home. The store opened, the fishermen got back in their boats and resumed catching green halibut. It’s nice when a story about an iceberg has a happy ending, at least for now.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 12:51 pm on July 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Climate Change, It is crucial not to lump various forms of science skepticism together, No relation between political ideology and attitudes toward genetic modification, Political ideology did not contribute any meaningful variance over and beyond religiosity, Political ideology is seen by many researchers as the main culprit of science skepticism, Religiosity has so far been curiously under-researched as a precursor to science skepticism but trust in science was by far the lowest among the religious, Religious orthodoxy was a strong negative predictor of faith in science and the orthodox participants were also the least positive about investing federal money in science, Science skepticism comes in many forms, Today there is a crisis of trust in science   

    From aeon: “What makes people distrust science? Surprisingly, not politics” 


    From aeon


    Bastiaan T Rutjens
    Edited by Sam Dresser

    A Map of the Square and Stationary Earth by Professor Orlando Ferguson, South Dakota, 1893. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

    Today, there is a crisis of trust in science. Many people – including politicians and, yes, even presidents – publicly express doubts about the validity of scientific findings. Meanwhile, scientific institutions and journals express their concerns about the public’s increasing distrust in science. How is it possible that science, the products of which permeate our everyday lives, making them in many ways more comfortable, elicits such negative attitudes among a substantial part of the population? Understanding why people distrust science will go a long way towards understanding what needs to be done for people to take science seriously.

    Political ideology is seen by many researchers as the main culprit of science skepticism. The sociologist Gordon Gauchat has shown [American Sociological Review] that political conservatives in the United States have become more distrusting of science, a trend that started in the 1970s. And a swath of recent research conducted by social and political psychologists has consistently shown that climate-change skepticism in particular is typically found among those on the conservative side of the political spectrum. However, there is more to science skepticism than just political ideology.

    The same research that has observed the effects of political ideology on attitudes towards climate change has also found that political ideology is not that predictive of skepticism about other controversial research topics. Work [PLOS one] by the cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky, as well as research [Perspectives on Psychological Science]led by the psychologist Sydney Scott, observed no relation between political ideology and attitudes toward genetic modification. Lewandowsky also found no clear relation between political conservatism and vaccine skepticism.

    So there is more that underlies science skepticism than just political conservatism. But what? It is important to systematically map which factors do and do not contribute to science skepticism and science (dis)trust in order to provide more precise explanations for why a growing number of individuals reject the notion of anthropogenic climate change, or fear that eating genetically modified products is dangerous, or believe that vaccines cause autism.

    My colleagues and I recently published a set of studies [Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin]
    that investigated science trust and science skepticism. One of the take-home messages of our research is that it is crucial not to lump various forms of science skepticism together. And although we were certainly not the first to look beyond political ideology, we did note two important lacunae in the literature. First, religiosity has so far been curiously under-researched as a precursor to science skepticism, perhaps because political ideology commanded so much attention. Second, current research lacks a systematic investigation into various forms of skepticism, alongside more general measures of trust in science. We attempted to correct both oversights.

    People can be skeptical or distrusting of science for different reasons, whether it is about one specific finding from one discipline (for example, ‘The climate is not warming, but I believe in evolution’), or about science in general (‘Science is just one of many opinions’). We identified four major predictors of science acceptance and science skepticism: political ideology; religiosity; morality; and knowledge about science. These variables tend to intercorrelate – in some cases quite strongly – which means that they are potentially confounded. To illustrate, an observed relation between political conservatism and trust in science might in reality be caused by another variable, for example religiosity. When not measuring all constructs simultaneously, it is hard to properly assess what the predictive value of each of these is.

    So, we investigated the heterogeneity of science skepticism among samples of North American participants (a large-scale cross-national study of science skepticism in Europe and beyond will follow). We provided participants with statements about climate change (eg, ‘Human CO2 emissions cause climate change’), genetic modification (eg, ‘GM of foods is a safe and reliable technology’), and vaccination (eg, ‘I believe that vaccines have negative side effects that outweigh the benefits of vaccination for children’). Participants could indicate to what extent they agreed or disagreed with these statements. We also measured participants’ general faith in science, and included a task in which they could indicate how much federal money should be spent on science, compared with various other domains. We assessed the impact of political ideology, religiosity, moral concerns and science knowledge (measured with a science literacy test, consisting of true or false items such as ‘All radioactivity is made by humans’, and ‘The centre of the Earth is very hot’) on participants’ responses to these various measures.

    Political ideology did not play a meaningful role when it came to most of our measures. The only form of science skepticism that was consistently more pronounced among the politically conservative respondents in our studies was, not surprisingly, climate-change skepticism. But what about the other forms of skepticism, or skepticism of science generally?

    Skepticism about genetic modification was not related to political ideology or religious beliefs, though it did correlate with science knowledge: the worse people did on the scientific literacy test, the more skeptical they were about the safety of genetically modified food. Vaccine skepticism also had no relation to political ideology, but it was strongest among religious participants, with a particular relation to moral concerns about the naturalness of vaccination.

    Moving beyond domain-specific skepticism, what did we observe about a general trust in science, and the willingness to support science more broadly? The results were quite clear: trust in science was by far the lowest among the religious. In particular, religious orthodoxy was a strong negative predictor of faith in science and the orthodox participants were also the least positive about investing federal money in science. But notice here again political ideology did not contribute any meaningful variance over and beyond religiosity.

    From these studies there are a couple of lessons to be learned about the current crisis of faith that plagues science. Science skepticism is quite diverse. Further, distrust of science is not really that much about political ideology, with the exception of climate-change skepticism, which is consistently found to be politically driven. Additionally, these results suggest that science skepticism cannot simply be remedied by increasing people’s knowledge about science. The impact of scientific literacy on science skepticism, trust in science, and willingness to support science was minor, save for the case of genetic modification. Some people are reluctant to accept particular scientific findings, for various reasons. When the aim is to combat skepticism and increase trust in science, a good starting point is to acknowledge that science skepticism comes in many forms.

    See the full article here .


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    Since 2012, Aeon has established itself as a unique digital magazine, publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. We ask the big questions and find the freshest, most original answers, provided by leading thinkers on science, philosophy, society and the arts.

    Aeon has three channels, and all are completely free to enjoy:

    Essays – Longform explorations of deep issues written by serious and creative thinkers

    Ideas – Short provocations, maintaining Aeon’s high editorial standards but in a more nimble and immediate form. Our Ideas are published under a Creative Commons licence, making them available for republication.

    Video – A mixture of curated short documentaries and original Aeon productions

    Through our Partnership program, we publish pieces from university research groups, university presses and other selected cultural organisations.

    Aeon was founded in London by Paul and Brigid Hains. It now has offices in London, Melbourne and New York. We are a not-for-profit, registered charity operated by Aeon Media Group Ltd. Aeon is endorsed as a Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) organisation in Australia and, through its affiliate Aeon America, registered as a 501(c)(3) charity in the US.

    We are committed to big ideas, serious enquiry and a humane worldview. That’s it.

  • richardmitnick 7:59 pm on May 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Climate Change, ,   

    From JPL Caltech: “Just Five Things About GRACE Follow-On” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    May 18, 2018
    Alan Buis
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

    Written by Carol Rasmussen
    NASA’s Earth Science News Team

    NASA German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) spacecraft

    Scheduled to launch no earlier than May 22, the twin satellites of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, a collaboration between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), will continue the work of monitoring changes in the world’s water cycle and surface mass, which was so well performed by the original GRACE mission. There are far more than five things to say about this amazing new-old mission; but here are a few favorite facts.

    1 Percent (or Less)

    GRACE-FO tracks liquid and frozen water by measuring month-to-month changes in Earth’s gravitational pull very precisely. More than 99 percent of our planet’s gravitational pull doesn’t change from one month to the next, because it represents the mass of the solid Earth itself. But a tiny fraction of Earth’s mass is constantly on the move, and it is mostly water: Rain is falling, dew is evaporating, ocean currents are flowing, ice is melting and so on. GRACE-FO’s maps of regional variations in gravity will show us where that small fraction of overall planetary mass is moving every month.

    2 Satellites, One Instrument

    Unlike other Earth-observing satellites, which carry instruments that observe some part of the electromagnetic spectrum, the two GRACE-FO satellites themselves are the instrument. The prime instrument measures the tiny changes in the distance between the pair, which arise from the slightly varying gravitational forces of the changing mass below. Researchers produce monthly maps of water and mass change by combining this information with GPS measurements of exactly where the satellites are and accelerometer measurements of other forces acting upon the spacecraft, such as atmospheric drag.

    3 Gravity Missions, Including One on the Moon

    The same measurement concept used on GRACE and GRACE-FO was also used to map the Moon’s gravity field. NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) twins orbited the moon for about a year, allowing insights into science questions such as what Earth’s gravitational pull contributed to the Moon’s lopsided shape. The intentionally short-lived GRAIL satellites were launched in September 2011 and decommissioned in December 2012.

    4 Thousand-Plus Customers Served

    GRACE observations have been used in more than 4,300 research papers to date — a very high number for a single Earth science mission. Most papers have multiple coauthors, meaning the real number of scientist-customers could be higher, but we chose a conservative estimate. As GRACE-FO extends the record of water in motion, there are sure to be more exciting scientific discoveries to come.

    5 Things We Didn’t Know Before GRACE

    Here’s a list-within-a-list of five findings from those 4,300-plus papers. Watch the GRACE-FO website to learn what the new mission is adding to this list.

    •Melting ice sheets and dwindling aquifers are contributing to Earth’s rotational wobbles.

    • A few years of heavy precipitation can cause so much water to be stored on land that global sea level rise slows or even stops briefly.

    •A third of the world’s underground aquifers are being drained faster than they can be replenished.

    • In the Amazon, small fires below the tree canopy may destroy more of the forest than deforestation does — implying that climatic conditions such as drought may be a greater threat to the rainforest than deforestation is.

    • Australia seesaws up and down by two or three millimeters each year because of changes to Earth’s center of mass that are caused by the movement of water.

    Bonus: The Fine Print

    JPL manages the GRACE-FO mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, under the direction of the Earth Systematic Missions Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The spacecraft were built by Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen, Germany, under subcontract to JPL. GFZ contracted GRACE-FO launch services from Iridium. GFZ has subcontracted mission operations to the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which operates the German Space Operations Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.

    See the full article here .

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge, on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

  • richardmitnick 9:41 am on February 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Climate Change, ,   

    From University of Washington: “University of Washington, other leading research universities form international coalition to speed local climate action” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    February 6, 2018
    Michelle Ma

    The University of Washington joins 12 other leading North American research universities in the new University Climate Change Coalition, or UC3, a group committed to leveraging its research and resources to help communities accelerate climate action.

    The coalition, which launched Feb. 6 at the 2018 Second Nature Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit in Tempe, Arizona, includes universities from the U.S., Canada and Mexico that have committed to mobilize their resources and expertise to accelerate local and regional climate action in partnership with businesses, cities and states.

    Researchers working at the UW Clean Energy Institute’s Washington Clean Energy Testbeds.Matt Hagen/Clean Energy Institute/University of Washington.

    For more than a decade, member schools have pursued carbon neutrality in campus operations. The schools are also creating new climate solutions through innovative research and are preparing students to solve the urgent climate challenges of the 21st century.

    “Climate change isn’t a future problem — it is affecting people’s health and well-being right now. Universities have the capability to not only help understand the effects of climate change, but to also develop the technologies and policies to reduce carbon emissions. The University of Washington is proud to be part of the University Climate Change Coalition and to renew our commitment to protecting the health of our planet,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce.

    At an operational level, the UW is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 36 percent below 2005 levels by 2035, in accordance with laws passed by the Washington state Legislature in 2009. The university also is working to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, as technology developments allow.

    Researcher David Shean uses UW’s terrestrial laser scanner to measure surface elevation at the South Cascade Glacier.Alex Headman/USGS

    The UW is also a leader in climate and clean energy research. The Clean Energy Institute supports the advancement of next-generation solar energy and battery materials and devices, as well as their integration with systems and the grid.

    At the College of the Environment, organizations such as the Climate Impacts Group and EarthLab are tackling climate resiliency and our most pressing climate challenges through continued research, analysis and community partnerships. Hundreds of UW students, faculty and staff conduct research and projects on all seven continents and all five oceans, focusing on critical issues such as ocean acidification, freshwater resources, natural hazards and the disappearance of ice in polar regions.

    “UW scientists are leaders in groundbreaking, collaborative research to advance climate science, understand impacts and build pathways to solutions. We’re excited by the new partnerships and opportunities that the University Climate Change Coalition offers. Working together will strengthen our ability to sustain the health and wellbeing of our communities and our planet,” said UW College of the Environment Dean and Mary Laird Wood Professor Lisa Graumlich.

    In addition to the UW, other coalition members are Arizona State University, California Institute of Technology, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ohio State University, the State University of New York, University of British Columbia, University of California, University of Colorado, Boulder, University of Maryland, College Park, University of New Mexico, and University of Toronto.

    Every UC3 institution will convene a climate change forum in 2018 to bring together community and business leaders, elected officials and other local stakeholders. Meetings will be tailored to meet local and regional objectives shared across sectors and will aim to speed the implementation of research-driven climate policies and solutions.

    A coalition-wide report, to be released in late 2018, will synthesize the best practices, policies and recommendations from all UC3 forums into a framework for continued progress on climate change goals across the nation and the world.

    In 2016, the U.S.-based members of the UC3 coalition together performed about one-quarter of the environmental science research conducted by all U.S. institutions, according to data collected by the National Science Foundation. From 2012 to 2017, researchers at UC3 member institutions were responsible for 48,518 publications on climate science-related topics, including environmental science, agricultural and biological sciences, energy, engineering, earth and planetary sciences and more.

    See the full article here .

    See The University of California article here.

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    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 3:03 pm on January 4, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Climate Change, Climate Change Will Displace Millions of People. Where Will They Go?, ,   

    From Columbia: “Climate Change Will Displace Millions of People. Where Will They Go?” 

    Columbia U bloc

    Columbia University

    January 4, 2018
    Tiffany Challe

    Islands like Barbuda may seem like paradise now, but they face many challenges from climate change in the future. Photo: Tiffany Challe

    Barbuda, the sister island of Antigua, is a small, low-lying Caribbean island. Most of its 1,700 residents lived in Codrington, the central location for stores and schools. The town is also the location for the Barbuda Research Complex, where I attended sustainability field school in 2013.

    What makes this island so unique? The beauty of the natural beaches untouched by tourism developments, the rich vegetation, diverse wildlife, fascinating archaeological sites and the people of Barbuda. During my three-week stay there, it became clear to me that Barbudans were a proud, happy and resilient people. Their community identity is heavily steeped in their food culture, which forges their intricate relationship with the environment. This entry in my field journal captures their spirit: “I admire how Barbudans respect and use all their resources on the island and understand their environment.” Their livelihoods and culture center on fishing, hunting and farming. However, climate change has altered the island’s food system and therefore their livelihoods. Droughts and rising seas that encroach on freshwater supplies are causing crop yields to decline, and Barbudans must increasingly rely on expensive imported foods.

    Hurricane Irma hit Barbuda in September and decimated most of the island – 95 percent of the buildings and infrastructure were destroyed. One person died and countless animals were killed by debris or separated from their owners. For the first time in 300 years, the island was rendered uninhabitable. All the residents were evacuated and temporarily relocated to Antigua, where they still remain today. Barbudans are eager to return to the island, as they have a strong sense of place-based identity. Rebuilding efforts are currently under way, though funds are sorely lacking and a bitter dispute over land rights has ensued. This story illustrates tragedy for the islanders, who are at the front lines of climate change.

    This Somalian family left their village after a drought killed most of their livestock. Climate change could make droughts like these more common and more severe, causing many to flee their homes. Photo: Oxfam East Africa, Flickr

    And they’re not the only ones. This year, hurricane season hit U.S. coastal communities and islands in the Caribbean at an alarming scale, causing massive infrastructure damage and loss of life. Meanwhile, wildfires are wreaking havoc in Southern California. These natural disasters are influenced by a warming climate. As the sea level rises and average temperatures continue to increase, these disasters will become more frequent and intense. Climate change is expected to displace millions of people in the coming decades, and countries will increasingly have to grapple with this issue.

    When disaster strikes, what happens to the communities in harm’s way? Where do the displaced people stay? Will they be able to return to their homes in areas that climate change may have rendered unlivable? Experts from Columbia University discussed these challenges and more at a recent event hosted by the Earth Institute.

    Climate scientist Radley Horton from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory moderated the panel. The speakers included: Lisa Dale, a lecturer in the undergraduate program in Sustainable Development; Alex de Sherbinin, a geographer at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network; and Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. The event was part of the Earth Institute’s Climate Adaptation Initiative—a three-year project to enhance Columbia’s impact on sustainability problem-solving. One of the themes of this initiative is climate-induced retreat to safer areas.

    Where Will Climate Migrants Go?

    Some experts estimate that climate change could force between 150 and 300 million people to find a new place to live by the middle of this century, though there is considerable uncertainty about the amount. Finding suitable locations to house them will be a significant impediment. As Michael Gerrard explained, “part of the problem is scale. If we’re talking about millions of people having to be on the move, it just doesn’t work.”

    In the U.S., there are very few habitable places that aren’t already occupied by homes, businesses, or agriculture, or preserved as park lands or forests. Meanwhile, rural areas would provide few opportunities for migrants to find employment and rebuild their lives.

    Instead, Gerrard suggested moving people from high-risk areas to cities whose populations are shrinking, such as Detroit, Michigan. He sees cities’ potential for vertical development, energy-efficient buildings, and public transportation as a way to sustainably host climate migrants.

    The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a protected refugee as someone who leaves his or her home country due to racial, religious, or social persecution, or reasonable fear of such persecution. These refugees have the right to seek asylum and protection from participating members of the United Nations (though these countries are not obligated to take them in). However, people displaced by climate change do not fit this definition. At the international level, there is no legal mechanism in place to protect climate migrants’ rights and to ensure assistance from other countries. In terms of cross-border migration, Gerrard said, “there is no international law that compels a country to take in people from other countries; it’s wholly voluntary.”

    When Should Climate Migration Happen?

    Once a major disaster strikes with little or no warning, victims can become ‘distressed’ migrants—people who have lost their homes and are forced to flee with nothing but the shirts on their backs.

    A better scenario would be to resettle people outside of at-risk areas before disaster strikes. That way, people would have some degree of choice in where to go and what to bring.

    However, Alex de Sherbinin pointed out that the U.S. government has no policy mechanism designed to relocate people before a disaster strikes.

    Not only does relocating people cost money, but governments miss out on tax revenues if land is left empty. “This is why there is an impetus to build up and grow in vulnerable coastal zones,” said de Sherbinin.

    But it’s not impossible to be proactive about climate migration. China has ‘ecological migration,’ a relocation program designed to anticipate future disasters. The government has resettled large communities from rural areas damaged by climate change, industrialization, and other problems. The program is partly an effort to reduce dust storms produced by agriculture. It works out economically because it was no longer financially tenable for the Chinese government to support these communities in rural areas.

    Where Would the Money Come From?

    Michael Gerrard views carbon pricing as an ideal solution to funding climate relocation. Displacement by sea level rise, hurricanes, and wildfires is, as he put it, “a negative externality of burning fossil fuels, so if you were to build that into the price and pay for some of this through a price on carbon, you would generate a whole lot of money that way.” In this scenario, the money paid by carbon emitters could help fund climate relocation while creating a major economic incentive to move away from fossil fuels.

    The panelists agreed that countries also need to be forward-looking. In order to avoid the US’ reactive disaster planning, we must plan ahead for future damage and associated costs from natural disasters when thinking about how to manage the retreat from at-risk areas.

    Unfortunately, U.S. disaster response is typically reactive instead of proactive. Lisa Dale explained how, much like flood planning, the federal fire budget is backward-looking. “The U.S. Forest Service’s annual budget is based on the last 10 years of fire costs,” she said, “so they are always estimating too low.” Meanwhile, the cost of suppressing fire has grown substantially, she added.

    A more progressive approach would lead to better management of funds to add protective measures against climate-related catastrophes, build resilience, and in extreme cases relocate at-risk communities.

    With a lack of finance, policy, and legal frameworks, managed retreat will be a huge challenge in the United States. So it is no wonder that developing nations are not receiving the financial and technical assistance they so desperately need to recover from disasters and to rebuild in a climate-resilient way. Gerrard pointed out that the U.S. is “one of the richest places on the planet and we’re struggling to come up with resources to fund it.”

    Changing Climate, Changing Cultures

    For climate relocation to work, governments need to care and commit to international responsibility and burden-sharing. However, in the current global political context of fear of terrorism, an increased refugee influx into Europe, and an overall rise of xenophobia, countries are more likely to opt for stricter policies on cross-border migration. Rex Tillerson announced on December 3 that the U.S. is pulling out of the Global Compact for Migration, arguing (falsely, in Gerrard’s view) that it was a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

    “There is such an anti-immigrant fervor that it’s hard to imagine the U.S. in the short-term taking in large numbers of people,” Gerrard said.

    According to Alex de Sherbinin, framing migration as a useful adaptation (and life- and cost-saving strategy), rather than a retreat, can encourage governments to take actions to support migration.

    On the other hand, there is a human cost to any kind of permanent relocation: The threat of losing one’s cultural heritage, particularly in native communities on coastal areas and islands such as Barbuda. Many islanders have a deep attachment to their homeland, which is inextricably linked to their culture and traditions.

    Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, is pushing for tourism development and land ownership to regenerate Barbuda’s economy and reduce the island’s reliance on Antigua. The Barbuda Land Act of 2007 formally recognized that citizens communally own Barbuda’s land—a practice dating back hundreds of years—and must consent to major developments. In its place, Browne proposes to institute a system in which Barbudans can buy their plots for $1, opening up the possibility of securing bank loans for reconstruction. Many people and representatives in the Barbuda Council are opposed to this new system, as it would threaten their culture and would potentially open up their island to foreign investment and development.

    As Alex de Sherbinin noted, “rebuilding homes is one thing, but also rebuilding communities and allowing the tissue of community to reform requires funds to facilitate.”

    There is a lot of work ahead of us to solve the climate migration issue, and as Michael Gerrard pointed out, “it’s really a question of trying to find sufficient humanity.”

    A video of the event, Climate Change Impacts: Relocation to Safer Ground, can be found here [1 hour lecture].

    See the full article here .

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    Columbia U Campus

    Columbia University was founded in 1754 as King’s College by royal charter of King George II of England. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States.

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