Monday, August 30, 2021

Wild Free and Happy Sample 57


[Note: This is the fifty-seventh sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews.  These samples are not freestanding pieces.  They will be easier to understand if you start with sample 01, and follow the sequence listed HERE — if you happen to have some free time.  If you prefer audiobooks, Michael Dowd is in the process of reading and recording my book HERE.

[Continued from Climate Crisis 02 Sample 56]

Water and Climate

In The Great Acceleration, McNeill and Engelke described how a warming climate is disturbing the relationship between water and the family of life.  The precipitation patterns of the past are changing, creating new challenges for ecosystems, human societies, and life as we know it.

Extreme weather events are expected to occur more frequently.  When ocean surface temperatures get warmer, cyclones are more likely to be spawned.  Warmer air can hold more moisture.  In regions having a moist climate, clouds bloated with water are more likely to form.  More and more often, storms are dumping huge loads of rain, sudden deluges that cause destructive floods and landslides.  In regions having a dryer climate, warmer air will create fewer clouds, produce less rain, crank up the air temperature, intensify drought conditions, and encourage wildfires. 

With a warming climate, the glaciers of the world are melting and retreating more rapidly.  Winter precipitation is delivering more rain, less snow.  Winter rain tends to run off promptly.  Snowpack retains the moisture longer.  It melts later, closer to the growing season, when the water can be used to irrigate thirsty cropland. 

The water flowing out of the Himalayas feeds the Indus, Yangzi, Mekong, Ganges, Yellow, Brahmaputra, and Irrawaddy rivers.  Two billion people depend on this water arriving in adequate amounts, at the appropriate time.  In the coming years, more water shortages and major changes are expected.

Paul Ehrlich and John Harte wrote that a third of global crop production depends on irrigation.  Melting snow has been an essential source of irrigation water.  “The winter snowpack in mountainous regions such as the Himalayas, the Rockies, the Sierra, and the Andes is a most efficient reservoir, storing water through the cold months and releasing it gradually as snowmelt in warm months when farmers need it.”

“In response to severe and prolonged drought in many regions of the world, including China, India, Thailand, Italy, and California, loss of surface irrigation water has resulted in excessive pumping of groundwater, which in turn has led to land subsidence, groundwater depletion, and irreversible loss of aquifer volume.”  Food production is also challenged by droughts, deluges, super storms, heat waves, aggressive wildfires, declining insect pollinators, soil salinization, soil depletion, erosion, and so on.

Sahana Ghosh reported that the once mighty Ganges River is wheezing.  Over the years, river volume has been declining, because farmers have been diverting too much water via their irrigation canals.  The river got shallower.  Then, they switched to tube wells with motorized pumps.  Naturally, overpumping the groundwater has serious consequences.  In the dry months, the river now looks more like a mudflat.  Reduced flow also concentrates the load of pollutants.  Researcher Abhijit Mukherjee said, “Our prediction shows that about 115 million people can be impacted due to insufficient food availability in the next few decades.”

Jim Robbins wrote about the Colorado River blues.  The 1,450 mile (2,333 km) watershed starts in the Rocky Mountains and ends at the Pacific.  It used to empty into the Gulf of California, but not a single drop of water enters the Gulf today.  In 2018, river volume was just two-thirds of normal, tied for the record low.

The Colorado is one of the most heavily engineered waterways in the world — designed for the benefit of humans, not nature.  It is the source of much contention.  It serves 40 million people, and the number of users keeps growing.  A drought since 2000 has reduced its flow.  It is the most severe drought in 1,250 years.  The Lake Mead reservoir at Hoover Dam, and the Lake Powell reservoir at Glen Canyon Dam, are at all-time lows.

Some suspect that climate change is drying out the West.  This is not just a temporary drought, the West may actually be getting permanently dryer.  “Worst case, if the reservoirs ever hit ‘dead pool’ — when levels drop too low for water to be piped out — many people in the region could become climate refugees.”

Agriculture uses 80 percent of the Colorado’s water, cities use 10 percent.  As demand exceeds supply, some users will be cut off.  Dewatering agriculture would snuff out many farms and nearby towns.  Wildlife does not have a top priority. 

Frederick Pleitgen and team described an emerging water shortage crisis in the Middle East, caused by persistent drought and extreme heat.  Temperatures sometimes soar to life threatening levels.  Rainfall mostly evaporates.  Rivers, lakes, and wetlands are drying up.  As Iran’s once large and beautiful Lake Urmia shrinks, its water is getting too salty, so farmers are pumping groundwater for irrigation.  Aquifers are being overpumped, depleting the limited reserves.  If current trends continue, some regions will become uninhabitable.

Homes in Jordan receive some water once or twice a week.  Numerous upstream dams limit the amount of water that eventually arrives at the end of the watershed.  Israel has a huge water desalinization program that requires large amounts of fossil energy to operate, adding still more carbon into the atmosphere.

Agriculture and Climate

Every variety of plant and animal has different environmental requirements for optimal health.  They all have evolved to survive within a limited range of conditions.  Humans can’t survive extreme conditions, nor can the livestock and crops we depend on.  When reality is shifting into a new and unusual trend, the family of life will struggle, and some will blink out.  Evolution is not a speedy process. 

With regard to crop plants, important variables include temperature, sunlight hours, pH, available moisture, soil fertility, and so on.  As warming proceeds, the regions that have a tropical climate are expanding from their equatorial homeland toward the poles.  Regions that used to be temperate are getting hotter.  In the good old days, frigid winters used to provide beneficial pest control, by freezing lots of insects and other things that harmed crops and humans.  Winter precipitation was stored in ice and snow.

Brian Halweil emphasized how important a stable climate is to agriculture.  In 2003, for the first time, the potato blight fungus came to visit the town of Chacllabamba, Peru.  It almost totally destroyed their crop.  Located at an altitude of 13,000 feet (4,000 m), a cool climate had protected the potato fields for thousands of years.  No more.  Spuds had been their staple food.

Jerry Hatfield and John Prueger investigated how rising temperatures affected a variety of crop plants.  Extreme heat events may last a few days, and have a big impact.  When temperatures are outside of the ideal range, plant growth, pollination, and reproductive processes can be affected.  Pollination is especially sensitive to rising temperatures.  High temperatures during the reproductive phase of the life cycle can reduce corn yields by as much as 80 to 90 percent. 

When wheat is maturing, a frost can cause the grains to be sterile.  Too much heat can reduce the number of grains that form.  Rice is especially vulnerable to high heat during the pollination process.  For the major crops, yields are expected to decrease as global temperatures rise. 

Kimberly Cartier noted that growing conditions are getting less predictable than in the past.  Rainy seasons may be more intense than usual, or less.  Their arrival may be earlier than the ideal time, or later.  The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) pattern is associated with precipitation patterns, and it is a well-known troublemaker.  In 1983, an unusual ENSO coincided with the largest global failure of corn (maize) crops in modern records.  ENSO can also alter wheat and soybean production on a global scale.

Mike Davis wrote about a horrific era of ENSO related droughts and famines.  In the years 1876-79 and 1896-1902 between 12.2 and 29.3 million died of famine in India.  In the Madras Deccan, “the only well-fed part of the local population were the pariah dogs, ‘fat as sheep,’ that feasted on the bodies of dead children.”  In the same period, between 19.5 and 30 million died of famine in China, and 2 million in Brazil.  Famine hit these three nations the hardest, but many other nations were also affected.  In the U.S., churches organized to send relief to hungry farmers in the Dakotas and western Kansas.

Samuel Markings wrote about the relationship between photosynthesis and temperature.  In plants, photosynthesis is the process that uses sunlight to transform water and CO2 into food (glucose) and oxygen.  Optimum temperatures range between 50 to 68°F (10 to 20°C).  Above this range, higher temperatures slow photosynthesis.  The process declines sharply when temps rise above 104°F (40°C).  When temps persist in this range, plant survival is endangered.

Abdul Wahid and team wrote an extensive report on heat tolerance in plants.  Each crop species has a threshold temperature.  If this temperature is exceeded too long, the result is heat stress — irreversible damage to plant growth and development.  Harm varies based on intensity (temperature in degrees), duration, and the rate at which the temperate rose.

Qunying Luo extensively described threshold temperatures for a number of major crop species.  At different stages of a plant’s life, they can be damaged by excess heat — leaf initiation, shoot growth, root growth, sowing to emergence, grain filling, etc.  For example, “Several studies found that temperatures of above 35°C (95°F) are lethal to maize pollen viability”

Tnau Agritech Portal published a report on the effects of high temperature on plant growth in India.  Each plant species has a thermal death point.  For many annual crops, 122°F (50°C) is fatal.  Excess heat can reduce yields, and inhibit the absorption and assimilation of nutrients.  It can cause pollen abortion, which reduces the grain set.  Even short exposure can affect the growth of shoots and roots. 

Evelyn Lamb wrote that rice provides 16 to 20 percent of the calories consumed by humankind.  Corn and wheat are similarly popular.  Thus, more than half of the calories consumed by humans are provided by rice, corn, and wheat.  Growing rice in flooded paddies produces more greenhouse gas emissions per calorie than corn or wheat, twice the emissions from wheat.

Santosh Koirala reported that most rice crops begin by transplanting young plants in flooded paddies (“puddling”).  “When rice is grown under puddled transplanted conditions, paddy soil becomes anoxic — depleted of dissolved oxygen — and then, in the absence of oxygen, microbes that break down plant matter produce methane.”  Puddling “is becoming less profitable because of the costs of labour, shortage of water, and high energy costs.”  It results in depletion of soil quality, and higher methane emissions.

 “Methane is the second major greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide, and agriculture accounts for 40% of these greenhouse emissions.  Although farm animals are a major source, flooded rice paddies emit as much as 500 million tons, which is around 20% of total manmade emissions of this gas.”

Kritee Kritee and team noted that rice is a staple food for almost half of humankind, so it’s especially important to pay attention to its climate impacts.  Globally, one third of water used for irrigation goes to rice farming.  Rice receives one seventh of all fertilizer used.  “Methane from global rice cultivation currently accounts for one-half of all crop-related greenhouse gas emissions.”

Experts recommended that these methane emissions could be reduced by shifting from continuously flooded rice fields to intermittent flooding.  Unfortunately, the team was surprised to discover that this brilliant solution had an unintended consequence.  The emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) tripled — a greenhouse gas that persists in the atmosphere much longer than methane.  It is an unintended consequence of using nitrogen rich fertilizer.

Janet Ranganathan and team wrote a hefty and thorough report filled with recommendations for reducing the environmental harm caused by high impact diets and overpopulation.  Consumption of animal-based foods is growing, and these foods (especially beef), result in higher emissions of greenhouse gases. 

Meat and dairy foods are not necessary for adequate nutrition, so less is better.  “Plant-based foods can be readily combined to provide the full set of essential amino acids, as with rice and beans or peanut butter and bread.”  The only essential not provided by a vegetarian diet is vitamin B12, which supplements can provide. 

Obesity is a growing trend, even among low-income people.  “Globally, there are now two-and-a-half times more overweight than undernourished people.  More than one in three adults are overweight.”  Folks around the world are overdoing the consumption of calories and protein. 

The Second State of the Carbon Cycle Report is a spellbinding 878 page report on the carbon cycle in North America.  I learned a very important fact of life:  “Globally, soils contain more than three times as much carbon as the atmosphere, and four and a half times more carbon than the world’s biota [living things]; therefore, even small changes in soil carbon stocks could lead to large changes in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2).”

Carbon compounds are central to the existence of the entire family of life.  The CO2 that plants extract from the atmosphere allows them to live and grow.  Plants exhale oxygen that animals need, and animals exhale CO2 that plants need.  Soil is home to an amazing community of fantastic microbes.  Dead organic material contains carbon.  When it drops to the ground, soil microbes eagerly decompose it, and do so in a way that stabilizes the carbon, so it is more likely to be retained in the soil, rather than float away.  Soil microbes that encourage carbon retention do not enjoy unusual shifts in moisture or temperature.  They don’t enjoy deforestation, tilling, or being sprayed with farm chemicals. 

Livestock production is a significant source of greenhouse gases — CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide.  Ruminants include cattle, sheep, goats, elk, deer, bison, etc.  The digestive system in ruminants includes a process called enteric fermentation, which produces methane emissions (3% farts, 97% belches).  Poultry, hogs, and horses emit greenhouse gases in smaller volumes via different processes.  Manure stored in large quantities generates large emissions of methane.  Pools of deep shit contain little or no oxygen, so they provide ideal conditions for producing methane.

“Soils in North America have lost, on average, 20% to 75% of their original topsoil carbon with historical conversion to agriculture.”  Most of this conversion took place in the last 200 years or so.  To add insult to injury, “On a per-person basis, food loss and waste in North America is 375 to 500 kilograms per year.” (826 to 1,102 pounds)

Arctic Fires

Zombie fires were the subject of a BBC story.  They are also called overwintering fires or peat fires.  They occur in Russia, Canada, and Alaska.  In recent years, temperatures in the Arctic have been soaring, and permafrost has been thawing.  When tundra and forest lands dry out, they become prone to wildfires.  These fires can ignite ancient peat deposits beneath the surface.  Toasty peat can smolder all winter, beneath the snow cover.  When spring arrives, the snow melts, oxygen reaches the embers, and the fire can reignite.  They “come back from the dead,” hence the zombie tag. 

Alexandra Witze reported that in the summer of 2020, there were many Siberian tundra fires, and they emitted 244 megatons of CO2, a 35 percent increase over the intense 2019 fire season.  About half of the fires were burning on peat lands, the most carbon-dense ecosystems.  When shallow layers near the surface dry out, they are more susceptible to burning.  Warmer winters and springs mean the fire season starts sooner.  In the Arctic, the fire zone is moving northward, into lands that have traditionally been fire-resistant. 

Portia Kentish reported that the climate crisis is well underway in Arctic regions, causing huge and spooky impacts — a powerful warning to the rest of the world, which is not leaping to action.  During a May 2020 heat wave, locations in Siberia that are normally close to freezing had temperatures hotter than Athens or Rome.  Some Arctic permafrost is up to 80,000 years old.  When permafrost thaws, methane emissions begin.  Heat waves encourage wildfires.  They are burning peat deposits that have been building up for 15,000 years.  About half of Russia’s Arctic fires are consuming peat soil. 

Forest Impacts

We could sequester lots of CO2 by planting enormous numbers of trees.  That sounds wholesome.  Sadly, the current fad is deforestation — cutting enormous numbers of trees to grow soybeans, create livestock pastures, make charcoal, produce wood products, and clear the way for urban sprawl.

As the planet gets warmer, forests will become more vulnerable to pests and pathogens.  Droughts will become hotter, longer, and dryer.  This encourages wildfires.  Wikipedia is posting pages that, year by year, document wildfire activity in the world.  The report for the record breaking year of 2021 is [HERE].  As of August 19, fires had been reported in Algeria, South Africa, Cyprus, India, Israel, Russia, Turkey, France, Greece, Italy (10 regions), Canada, and United States (9 states), Argentina, and Australia.

Rodrigo Pérez Ortega reported that climate change is encouraging trees to grow fast and die young.  Research suggests that this may be universal, affecting almost all tree species and climates.  Based on tree ring analysis, this trend corresponds with the exponential growth of human caused CO2 emissions, as well as rising temperatures — a combo that stimulates rapid growth.  This reduces their potential for maximum long term CO2 absorption. 

Nate McDowell and team studied changing forests.  “Shifts in forest dynamics are already occurring, and the emerging pattern is that global forests are tending toward younger stands with faster turnover as old-growth forest with stable dynamics are dwindling.”  These shifts are occurring because of “anthropogenic-driven exacerbation of chronic drivers, such as rising temperature and CO2, and increasing transient disturbances, including wildfire, drought, windthrow, biotic attack, and land-use change.”  Their findings indicate that it is “highly likely that tree mortality rates will continue to increase.” 

Robert Hunziker reported on new information linking rising temperatures with the increase in tree deaths.  In the U.S., giant sequoias are dying from the top down.  In the Southwest, drought has killed hundreds of millions of trees.  In Africa, 2,000 year old baobab trees are wheezing and dying.  In Germany, dead trees are everywhere.  Dead and dying trees are more vulnerable to insects and disease.  They provide abundant fuel for forest fires.  Siberia is burning up.  “New studies show drought and heat waves will cause massive die-offs, killing most trees alive today.” 

Dahr Jamail visited Glacier National Park, home to a formerly thriving boreal forest.  A warming climate has delighted millions of hungry pine bark beetles, some of whom can now have two life cycles per year.  In the last 20 years, beetles have killed 40 million acres (16 million ha) of trees.  They kill fewer pines now, because fewer pines remain alive.  The latest serial killer is white pine blister rust, which has infected almost 85 percent of the trees in the park.

Songlin Fei and team studied how insects and diseases are hammering U.S. forests, which are now home to more than 450 nonnative tree-feeding insects and tree pathogens.  The study focused on the 15 most destructive nonnative forest pests.  It found that “41.1% of the total live forest biomass in the conterminous United States is at risk of future loss from these 15 pests.  These results indicate that forest pest invasions, driven primarily by globalization, represent a huge risk to U.S. forests and have significant impacts on carbon dynamics.” 

Peter Wohlleben shared his intimate knowledge of the trees in his beloved German forest.  Trees can’t walk, but forests are always slowly wandering.  Since the end of the last ice age, a warming climate has enabled the trees of central Europe to gradually migrate northward.  Animals and winds move seeds away from their source.  Today, the climate is warming way too fast, which presents a mortal threat to temperature sensitive species.  Human tree huggers are working to relocate and transplant as many types of trees as possible.  Assisted migration is a heroic effort to “help forests walk.”

Climate and Disease

The climate crisis is not expected to promote miraculous advances in the health of humankind.  The huge herd is moving into an era of food insecurity, power shortages, water scarcity, poor sanitation, infectious diseases, deteriorating medical care systems, and so on.  A hotter climate and extreme weather events will add to these challenges.

The Lancet’s 2020 report presented a competent 42 page discussion on the climate change impacts on health.  Warming trends are increasing the frequency and intensity of floods, drought, storms, wildfire, temperature anomalies, and food scarcity.  These changes are killing more folks in the 65+ age range.  In 2018, heat waves killed about 296,000 people.

“The climate suitability for infectious disease transmission has been growing rapidly since the 1950s.”  The dengue virus is spreading across South America.  “From 1950 to 2018, the global climate suitability for the transmission of dengue increased by 8.9% for Aedes aegypti and 15% for Aedes albopictus.  In 2015 to 2019, suitability for malaria transmission in highland areas was 38.7% higher in the African region and 149.7% higher in the Western Pacific region compared with a 1950s baseline.”

David Wallace-Wells added that malaria also thrives in hotter regions because “for every degree increase in temperature, the parasite reproduces ten times faster.”  Consequently, by 2050, up to 5.2 billion people may be infected, according to World Bank estimates.  As tropical climates move northward, so will tropical pathogens.

Tipping Points

A tipping point in an ecosystem is a threshold that, when exceeded, can lead to large changes.  Sometimes an imbalance can reach a level of intensity that triggers an irreversible cascade of events, like a chain reaction of falling dominoes.  The climate crisis is a momentous tipping point in the human saga.  Melting Arctic ice has busted loose an avalanche of devastating changes.  Clever humans, with all their gee-whiz technology, are powerless to refreeze the Arctic, halt the avalanche, put the carbon back where it came from, and make everything nice again.

Over the millennia, high impact cultures have increasingly evolved into aggressive control freaks, radically manipulating ecosystems to satisfy their impulsive whims.  They are unencumbered by foresight, and display little respect for the family of life and the generations yet to come. 

For a very long time, their enthusiastic cleverness usually didn’t slam head-on into devastating limits.  They kept nature on a short leash, and brutally abused her.  The game is different now.  We’ve created changes that threaten our survival, changes we can’t undo.  We are no longer in the driver’s seat. 

Nature has put a tight leash around our necks, and we’re about to discover what it’s like to be powerless, kicked, and beaten.  Mistakes indeed have consequences (ouch!).  Our seat in the family of life is not a throne.  We are not the Crown of Creation.  We’re often more like hyperactive children who get completely lost, confused, and anxious.

Many folks who deliberately pay acute attention to reality are totally spooked.  These hyper alert folks have developed a special ability to comprehend the obvious — we’re in the <bleeping> express lane to surprising changes.  Many of them seem to perceive tipping points to be elements of a remarkable cosmic drama.  Tipping points are fire-breathing dragons that we must heroically slay in order avert runaway warming, and a hellish ecological apocalypse called Hothouse Earth.  

The alert ones are jumping up and down and shouting about tipping points, in a desperate frantic effort to wake up the clueless billions.  Dudes!  It’s time for action!  We only have ten years to fix this mess!  It’s not too late!  The presumption is that the mess is a solvable problem.  We are heavily indoctrinated with the illusion that technology can overcome any challenge. 

At the same time, the titans of industry assure us that they are ready and eager to sell us the miracles we need: electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines — clean green energy, and a prosperous economy that will grow until the end of time!  We can simply shop our way to a better tomorrow.  Everything will be OK.  Think happy thoughts.  Hope will save the world.

Will electric cars will be so cool that the Arctic ice refreezes?  Will the glaciers rise and shine again?  Will green energy be so cool that the permafrost stops thawing, and the methane seeps go back to sleep?  Is learning how to walk as hard as they say?  To learn more about tipping points, check out Fred Pearce, Timothy Lenton, Katharyn Duffy, and Will Steffen. 

[Continued in Climate Crisis 04, Sample 58]

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Wild Free and Happy Sample 56


[Note: This is the fifty-sixth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews.  These samples are not freestanding pieces.  They will be easier to understand if you start with sample 01, and follow the sequence listed HERE — if you happen to have some free time.  If you prefer audiobooks, Michael Dowd is in the process of reading and recording my book HERE.

[Continued from Climate Crisis 01 Sample 55]

Super Seeps

Valeria Sukhova and Olga Gertcyk wrote an update on sea floor methane seeps.  Scientists have been doing research in the Laptev and East Siberian seas, where there are large deposits of offshore permafrost and methane hydrates.  Numerous seeps are releasing methane into the atmosphere.  In the air above the water’s surface, methane levels are 16 to 32 ppm (parts per million).  This is 15 times higher than the average methane content for the world atmosphere. 

Over a thousand large seep fields (super seeps) have been found so far.  “They probably are not having a large impact on atmospheric CO2 or methane yet.”  Meanwhile, the Arctic climate is rapidly warming, the ice continues melting, the water continues warming, and there are large deposits of seabed hydrates that have not yet thawed. 

Methane Craters

Methane craters are massive holes in the tundra that are caused by methane explosions.  As the climate warms, thawing permafrost leads to methane releases that can accumulate in underground pockets.  The holes are also called gas emission craters, blowout craters, funnels, and hydrolaccoliths.  Methane craters not the same as thaw slumps caused by subsidence, when the land surface softens and sinks due to thawing permafrost.  Slumps sometimes fill with water, creating lakes or ponds.

Anna Liesowska reported that methane craters are a recent surprise, appearing on the Yamal and Taymyr (Gyden) peninsulas of northern Siberia.  The first one was discovered in 2014, by a plane passing over tundra in the middle of nowhere on the Yamal peninsula.  Until this sighting, these craters were unknown.  She mentioned this 2014 discovery in a July 2020 article that announced the discovery of the seventeenth methane crater.  It was about 164 feet (50 m) deep. 

Her article included a number of stunning photographs.  They included two photos of pingos, large mounds created by rising pressure.  The Pingo article in Wikipedia will further illuminate your understanding.  Pingos are only found in permafrost regions.  There may be 11,000 of them on Earth.  One region in Canada has permafrost that’s more than 50,000 years old.

Richard Gray created an excellent article for the BBC.  It is recent (November 2020), provides a deeper discussion of methane craters, and includes a number of dramatic photographs.  Satellite images, taken over multiple years, indicate that the site of the seventeenth crater (2020) had previously been a pingo that first appeared in the autumn of 2013.  In northwest Siberia, the exploding pingos are apparently created by concentrated pockets of methane, and they develop in a few years.  They are located in regions located above deep deposits of gas and oil. 

The explosions can be very exciting.  “Local reindeer herders reported seeing flames and smoke after one crater explosion in June 2017 along the banks of the Myudriyakha River. Villagers in nearby Seyakha — a settlement about 20.5 miles (33 km) south of the crater — claimed the gas kept burning for about 90 minutes and the flames reached 13 to16 feet (4 to 5 m) high.”

In this region of northern Siberia, satellite images taken from 1984 to 2007 indicate a five percent change in the landscape, as the climate warms, and more permafrost thaws.  The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, so permafrost will continue thawing in summer months, and more methane will be released.  How many more craters will explode in the coming years?  How much more methane will be released into the atmosphere?  Also worrisome is that craters are exploding in a region of gas and oil extraction.  There are many pipelines running across the land, and some are close to pingos.  There is potential here for eco-catastrophes. 

Portia Kentish reported on impacts caused by the 2020 heat wave in Siberia, “where melting permafrost means the ground is no longer able to support structures built on it.  For many, this raises particular concerns over the oil and gas industry, which is the primary economic sector in the Arctic Circle.  Pipelines, processing plants and storage tanks on unstable and thawing ground become a serious threat to the natural environment.”

In 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report.  It found that “45 per cent of oil and natural gas production fields in the Russian Arctic are located in the most hazardous and at-risk region.  Moreover, areas of discontinuous permafrost could see a 50-75 per cent drop in load bearing capacity over the period from 2015-25 in comparison to 1975-85.”  Stuff like roads, bridges, power grids, and towns are vulnerable. 

Undersea Craters

Nancy Bazilchuk reported on research in the Barents Sea, which is a region of the Arctic Ocean located between Norwegian and Russian territorial waters.  In the 1990s, scientists discovered craters that blew out of the seafloor 12,000 to 15,000 years ago.  Recent research has discovered hundreds more ancient craters.  Some are 300 to 1,000 meters (328 to 1093 yards) in diameter, and blasted out of solid bedrock.

Karin Andreassen and team have been doing this undersea research, and they published a very detailed paper.  Over the eons, there have been numerous glaciations (ice ages).  When regions freeze, methane is trapped beneath ice sheets, and solidifies into methane hydrates.  When warm periods return, some of the frozen methane can thaw and be released.  Releases can be gradual, in streams of bubbles, or they can be abrupt, with crater-making explosions. 

The incredible genius of humankind now allows us to cleverly disrupt the climate in a remarkable number of ways.  Andreassen assures us that there are still enormous amounts of methane stored in sea beds and terrestrial permafrost.  “It is apparent that extensive sub-glacial hydrate accumulations exist beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets today.”  She expects more methane craters will explode. 

Life as we know it is moving into the rear view mirror.  The Hot Age just got out of bed, yawning, making coffee.  Nobody knows how hot it will get, how long it will last, and what it will remain when it’s over.

Ocean Heating

Cheryl Katz discussed how oceans have been softening climate impacts by soaking up excess heat that has been trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases.  By keeping the atmosphere a bit cooler for a while, this has delayed our inevitable head-on collision with reality.  Currently, up to half of our CO2 emissions are absorbed into seawater.  Also, heating up the oceans has accelerated acidification and deoxygenation (more on these below). 

Experts are learning that the surface waters are now warming faster and deeper than ever.  The situation was worse than they thought.  Heat gain had been underestimated by as much as half — too little attention had been devoted to the Southern Hemisphere, where 60 percent of ocean water resides.  Most of the heat gain was happening well south of the equator.  At the same time, the Arctic Ocean is heating especially fast, as its ice cover melts and shrinks. 

When water gets warmer, it expands.  So, warmer oceans contribute to higher sea levels, as does the huge volume of water flowing out of melting glaciers and icepacks.  The art of accurately predicting upcoming sea level changes has yet to be perfected.  The world is far more complex and capricious than the programmers of computer models can imagine.  There are limits to how much heat oceans can store.  As their ability to absorb heat maxes out, they may stop absorbing heat, and begin releasing stored heat into the atmosphere.

Paul Ehrlich and John Harte noted that in a warming climate, higher ocean temperatures can power more intense storm events, and the warmer atmosphere has the capacity to store more water, so rainstorms are more intense.

Tierney Smith notes that oceans absorb between 35 and 42 percent of CO2 emissions.  They also absorb around 90 percent of the excess heat energy that results from the warming climate.  This elevates surface temperatures, and a warmer surface will absorb less of our CO2 emissions.  So, more carbon will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, further warming the planet.

Timothy Lenton wrote, “Ocean heatwaves have led to mass coral bleaching and to the loss of half of the shallow-water corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  A staggering 99% of tropical corals are projected to be lost if global average temperature rises by 2°C, owing to interactions between warming, ocean acidification, and pollution.  This would represent a profound loss of marine biodiversity and human livelihoods.”

Todd Woody reported on the findings of the IPCC’s 2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.  It noted that the rate of ocean warming has doubled since 1993.  Extreme flooding of coastal areas will likely occur at least yearly by 2050.  Fish populations face collapse thanks to a combination of ocean acidification, loss of oxygen, and warming of the ocean’s surface, which blocks the flow of nutrients to and from the deep sea.

Ocean Deoxygenation

Karin Limburg reported that oxygen levels in the oceans have been declining for about 70 years.  This is gradually suffocating saltwater ecosystems (“oceans are losing their breath”).  Low oxygen conditions exist in a number of coastal sites, semi-enclosed seas, and the open ocean.  At the extreme, the Baltic Sea has regions of water with too little oxygen to measure (anoxic).

More than 700 coastal sites are experiencing low oxygen conditions (hypoxic).  They are overloaded with nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, runoff from fertilizer and sewage.  We call them dead zones, but they aren’t completely dead.  They are home to large mobs of wee microbes that thrive in nutrient rich water.  Algae (phytoplankton) are wee aquatic plants that feast on the nutrients, explode in number, and create algal blooms.  In the process, they emit lots of oxygen.  When the nutrients run low, the algae die and decompose.  Then, blooms are often followed by a surge of wee aquatic animals (zooplankton) that feast on the rich stew of dead algae and absorb the abundant oxygen.  Depleted oxygen = dead zone.

Polluted water is not caused by climate change, it’s the result large swarms of untidy primates that dump staggering amounts of crud into waterways.  Skanky water is one cause of deoxygenation.  Another cause is climate change, which is affecting open waters that are not nutrient rich. 

Rising temperatures make water close to the surface warmer and lighter, which intensifies thermal stratification.  This reduces the mixing of warmer surface water with deeper water that is denser and colder.  Colder water is able to absorb more oxygen, but the warmer water above inhibits its exposure to airborne oxygen.  Also, climate change is melting more and more ice, sending lots of freshwater into the salty sea.  Freshwater is less dense than salt water, so it stratifies above colder, deeper water — another obstacle.

So, compared to earlier times, less oxygen is now available in deeper waters.  Some sea animals are able to survive in zones of minimal oxygen, others are forced to move.  Animals having a high metabolism, like tuna or sharks, move to shallower depths, where they are more likely to be caught.  Migration introduces some chaos into traditional food webs, as more species become crowded together.

Ocean Acidification

Cody Sullivan and Rebecca Lindsey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) wrote about how oceans are being affected by human-produced CO2.  Oceans are the only long-term sink for manmade CO2 emissions.  Colder waters tend to absorb CO2, while warmer waters tend to release it back into the atmosphere.  Since 2000, the overall net increase in CO2 absorption has been trending upward at a robust rate.  Unfortunately, the higher uptake of carbon also encourages ocean acidification.

Cheryl Katz studies ocean acidification (“global warming’s evil twin”).  In the Arctic, and in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, lots of ice is busy melting away, exposing the water below.  In cold polar waters, CO2 is more soluble, so more of it can be absorbed.   Some of it reacts with the water to form carbonic acid.  Consequently, the frigid waters near both poles are becoming highly acidified.  Conditions in the polar regions are getting close to a tipping point into extreme acidification.

The area of increasingly corrosive water is expected to expand into the North Atlantic and North Pacific, impact the ocean food web, and threaten important fisheries.  Already, oysters are dying off in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.  Shell-building organisms need carbonate minerals.  In the past, carbonate ions in the water provided a buffer against the acids.  As these ions are depleted, acidity is able to rise.  Creatures with shells are having a harder time building and maintaining shells, because they corrode.

Increasing ocean acidification is a severe threat to the planet.  It is expected to have a big impact on fisheries in Alaska and throughout the Arctic.  As waters warm, species like Atlantic cod are migrating toward the cooler Arctic, where acidification is high.  Fish populations are likely to decline, impacting the global food supply for humans.

Stephanie Dutkiewicz and team studied the impact of acidification on phytoplankton (algae), the tiny plants that are the foundation of the marine food web.  They absorb CO2 and emit the life-giving oxygen that’s necessary for the existence of animal life.  Oceans absorb about 30 percent of manmade carbon emissions, and this intensifies acidification.  Their analysis concluded, “At the level of ecological function of the phytoplankton community, acidification had a greater impact than warming or reduced nutrient supply.”

Dahr Jamail noted that “phytoplankton photosynthesis produces half the total oxygen supply for the planet.”  Growing acidification will eliminate some species, and disturb vital ecological balances.

Thermohaline Circulation

Ocean current circulation is a very big deal.  It has a major impact on regional climates, because it moves heat.  In plain English, it’s called the global conveyor belt.  In science speak, it’s called the thermohaline circulation (THC).  The THC moves heat around the world via a long and winding pathway.  Wikipedia provides a nice plain English description of the THC [HERE].

The flow of the current is driven by seawater density, which is determined by variations of surface temperature and salt content (salinity).  Warm water is less dense than cold, so it rises to the top.  Freshwater is lighter, less dense, so it stays close to the surface.  Salt water is denser and heavier. 

Today, melting ice sheets, glaciers, and sea ice are pouring huge amounts of cold freshwater into the ocean, which throws a monkey wrench into the traditional operation of the current.  Global warming will increasingly have an impact on ocean circulation.  These changes are expected to eventually alter the traditional patterns of the THC as we know it.  Some experts are contemplating the possibility of a slowdown or shutdown of the THC.  Wikipedia discusses the possibilities [HERE]. 

Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)

One segment of the global thermohaline circulation is the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).  As the name implies, this involves the currents moving north and then south in the Atlantic Ocean.  The AMOC is fed by warm and salty water flowing past the cape of Africa, heading northwest to the Caribbean, then up the coast of North America, then northeast to Iceland and Scandinavia.  In the far north, the current loses much heat, and sends cool water back down toward the South Pole.

The segment of the AMOC that moves warm water from the Gulf of Mexico toward the Arctic is called the Gulf Stream.  It keeps the climate of the eastern U.S. and northern Europe warmer than is typical at such a high latitude.  This allows modern agriculture in these regions.  Some worry that the melting arctic will increase the frigid freshwater flowing into the AMOC, and this could lead to a slowdown or shutdown of the current, and possibly a chillier future for the eastern U.S. and western Europe. 

Some have presented evidence that the AMOC is slowing down.  Others don’t find this evidence to be compelling, and they don’t expect a slowdown in the near term future.  Much is not known about ocean currents, and controversies abound.  Scientists are far from full agreement on what is happening, and what might happen in the future.

Nicola Jones wrote an easy to understand description of current AMOC research and debates.  Undersea instruments that measure the current’s flow are indicating a significant slowdown.  Experts aren’t sure if this is worrisome evidence of climate change, or simply reflects normal variations. 

“Should the AMOC shut down, models show that changes in rainfall patterns would dry up Europe’s rivers, and North America’s entire Eastern Seaboard could see an additional 30 inches (76 cm) of sea level rise as the backed-up currents pile water up on East Coast shores.”  This hasn’t happened yet.  For now, data collection continues, and the debates rumble on.


David Wallace-Wells wrote that the five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002.  Rising heat will have the most dramatic impacts in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, where record temperatures have soared to frightening heights.  In 2015, temps as high as 163°F (73°C) were recorded.

Matthew Lewis described how rising numbers of people are dying because extreme heat events are becoming more common.  “Deadly heat is cooking us alive.”  When our bodies get too warm, we sweat, which helps us shed excess heat as it evaporates.  If you’re lucky, this keeps your body temperature in the normal range. 

We evolved our ability to sweat on African savannahs, where the humidity is typically low (“dry heat”).  So, we can survive for a few hours of 120°F (49°C) in Death Valley, California.  It’s a different story in super-humid Florida, where “a single day of 120-degree temperatures in Palm Beach would be a mass casualty event.  Dead bodies would pile up in the morgues, victims of hyperthermia, or heatstroke — cooked, alive, in their own bodies.”  Alas, the cooling powers of sweating have limits.

Tara Santora explored the maximum amount of heat that the human body can endure.  Air temperature is the scale of heat that a thermometer displays.  Wet bulb temperature is produced by a thermometer covered in a water-soaked cloth.  It takes into account both air temperature and the humidity level.  She reported that the limit we humans can endure is a wet bulb temperature of 95°F (35°C).  You probably wouldn’t last three hours.

When the air temperature is 115°F (46.1°C) and humidity is 30%, the wet bulb temperature is 87°F (30.5°C).  When the air temperature is 102°F (38.9°C) and humidity is 77%, the wet bulb temperature is 95°F (35°C).  When the wet bulb temperature is close to your normal body temperature, you still sweat, but this doesn’t cool you.  You can also overheat at lower temperatures if you are exercising and/or exposed to direct sunlight.  As the climate warms, the risks of overheating increase. 

Janet Larsen noted that a warming climate is expected to increase the number and intensity of heat waves in the coming years.  In 2003, a blast furnace heat wave caused the deaths of more than 52,000 people across Europe.  It was the hottest weather in at least 500 years.  Temperatures were over 104°F (40°C) for up to two weeks.  Fatalities rose to 2,000 per day in France.  The higher the humidity, the higher the death rate.  City folks were most at risk, because urban areas are heat islands.  Jean-Marie Robine and team did additional research and estimated that the actual mortality in 2003 was more than 70,000.

John Gowdy added, “During the record heat in Europe in Summer 2003, maize production fell by 30% in France and 36% in Italy.  A 2008 study found that southern Africa could lose 30% of its maize crop by 2030 due to the negative effects of climate change.  Losses of maize and rice crops in South Asia could also be significant.”

Extreme heat dries out the land, making it more flammable.  Wikipedia noted that the 2003 European heat wave corresponded with a series of fires in Portugal that destroyed 1,160 square miles (3010 km2) of forest, and 170 square miles (440 km2) of agricultural land.  In southern Portugal, the temperatures reached as high as 117°F (47°C). 

Deepa Shivaram reported on a heat wave that hit British Columbia in July 2021.  Along the coastline of Vancouver, on one beach alone, the rocky shore was covered with hundreds of thousands of dead mussels.  It also killed barnacles, clams, crabs, sea stars, and intertidal anemones.  Overall, an estimated one billion sea creatures died from the heat.  Other animals that depend on sea life for food were also affected.  During the same heat wave, 180 wildfires ignited.

[Continued in Climate Crisis 03, Sample 57]