Publications

Global warming ‘pause’ reflects natural fluctuation

Read the full story from McGill University.

Statistical analysis of average global temperatures between 1998 and 2013 shows that the slowdown in global warming during this period is consistent with natural variations in temperature, according to research by McGill University physics professor Shaun Lovejoy.

In a paper published this month in Geophysical Research Letters, Lovejoy concludes that a natural cooling fluctuation during this period largely masked the warming effects of a continued increase in man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“Return periods of global climate fluctuations and the pause”, Shaun Lovejoy, Geophysical Research Letters, published online July 14, 2014. DOI: 10.1002/2014GL060478. Online at http://www.physics.mcgill.ca/~gang/eprints/eprintLovejoy/neweprint/Anthropause.GRL.final.13.6.14bbis.pdf

‘Microbe sniffer’ could point the way to advanced biorefining

Read the full story in Ethanol Producer Magazine.

A new biosensor invented at the University of British Columbia could help optimize biorefining processes that produce fuels, fine chemicals and advanced materials by sniffing out naturally occurring bacterial networks that are genetically wired to break down wood polymer…

The findings validating the screening were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work was funded by Genome Canada, Genome BC and the Tula Foundation.

Climate data from air, land, sea and ice in 2013 reflect trends of a warming planet

In 2013, the vast majority of worldwide climate indicators—greenhouse gases, sea levels, global temperatures, etc.—continued to reflect trends of a warmer planet, according to the indicators assessed in the State of the Climate in 2013 report, released online today by the American Meteorological Society.

Scientists from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., served as the lead editors of the report, which was compiled by 425 scientists from 57 countries around the world (highlights, visuals, full report). It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on air, land, sea, and ice.

“These findings reinforce what scientists for decades have observed: that our planet is becoming a warmer place,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D. “This report provides the foundational information we need to develop tools and services for communities, business, and nations to prepare for, and build resilience to, the impacts of climate change.”

The report uses dozens of climate indicators to track patterns, changes, and trends of the global climate system, including greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. These indicators often reflect many thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets. The report also details cases of unusual and extreme regional events, such as Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated portions of Southeast Asia in November 2013.

Highlights:

  • Greenhouse gases continued to climb: Major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide, continued to rise during 2013, once again reaching historic high values. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations increased by 2.8 ppm in 2013, reaching a global average of 395.3 ppm for the year. At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the daily concentration of CO2 exceeded 400 ppm on May 9 for the first time since measurements began at the site in 1958. This milestone follows observational sites in the Arctic that observed this CO2 threshold of 400 ppm in spring 2012.
  • Warm temperature trends continued near the Earth’s surface: Four major independent datasets show 2013 was among the warmest years on record, ranking between second and sixth depending upon the dataset used. In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia observed its warmest year on record, while Argentina had its second warmest and New Zealand its third warmest.
  • Sea surface temperatures increased: Four independent datasets indicate that the globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2013 was among the 10 warmest on record. El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-neutral conditions in the eastern central Pacific Ocean and a negative Pacific decadal oscillation pattern in the North Pacific. The North Pacific was record warm for 2013.
  • Sea level continued to rise: Global mean sea level continued to rise during 2013, on pace with a trend of 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year over the past two decades.
  • The Arctic continued to warm; sea ice extent remained low: The Arctic observed its seventh warmest year since records began in the early 20th century. Record high temperatures were measured at 20-meter depth at permafrost stations in Alaska. Arctic sea ice extent was the sixth lowest since satellite observations began in 1979. All seven lowest sea ice extents on record have occurred in the past seven years.
  • Antarctic sea ice extent reached record high for second year in a row; South Pole station set record high temperature: The Antarctic maximum sea ice extent reached a record high of 7.56 million square miles on October 1. This is 0.7 percent higher than the previous record high extent of 7.51 million square miles that occurred in 2012 and 8.6 percent higher than the record low maximum sea ice extent of 6.96 million square miles that occurred in 1986. Near the end of the year, the South Pole had its highest annual temperature since records began in 1957.
  • Tropical cyclones near average overall / Historic Super Typhoon: The number of tropical cyclones during 2013 was slightly above average, with a total of 94 storms, in comparison to the 1981-2010 average of 89. The North Atlantic Basin had its quietest season since 1994. However, in the Western North Pacific Basin, Super Typhoon Haiyan – the deadliest cyclone of 2013 – had the highest wind speed ever assigned to a tropical cyclone, with one-minute sustained winds estimated to be 196 miles per hour.

State of the Climate in 2013 is the 24th edition in a peer-reviewed series published annually as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The journal makes the full report openly available online.

“State of the Climate is vital to documenting the world’s climate,” said Dr. Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director. “AMS members in all parts of the world contribute to this NOAA-led effort to give the public a detailed scientific snapshot of what’s happening in our world and builds on prior reports we’ve published.”

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and our other social media channels.

New Web Series Highlights Pollution Prevention Accomplishments

Via EPA’s Greenversations Blog.

For many toxic chemicals and industry sectors, reported TRI releases have trended downward considerably in recent years.  In such cases, TRI’s Pollution Prevention (P2) Search Tool is a great resource for identifying the P2 activities or other environmentally-friendly practices that have contributed.

To spur discussion of these practices, we looked at how the metals industry reduced their use, waste generation, and releases of a recognized carcinogen (trichloroethylene). We examined the P2 information that fabricated metals facilities submitted to the Toxics Release Inventory, and also followed up with one of the facilities with the largest reductions to find out more about what they did.

Check out our findings in our first P2 Accomplishments Bulletin and let us know what you think. Should EPA offer more of these analyses? Which other chemicals and sectors are worth highlighting from the standpoint of P2?

Corporate Sustainability Practices: Waste & Recycling

Download the document.

When it comes to waste, everyone knows the 3-R mantra: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. But it’s tough to follow the 3 Rs when products, packaging and materials aren’t designed with end-of-life in mind.

GreenBiz Group and Waste Management recently conducted a joint research effort to identify current trends in waste reduction and recycling. The research was undertaken to identify insights into how waste and recycling decisions are made by sustainability executives, the metrics they are employing in their drive toward waste reduction, and the actions they plan to undertake in the future.

Charles Darwin’s evolutionary reading: HMS Beagle’s library goes online

Read the full story in The Guardian.

The lost collection of books that kept Charles Darwin company aboard HMS Beagle and provided inspiration for his later works on evolution has been made publicly available for the first time today.

Hundreds of titles that filled the shelves of the ship’s library on Darwin’s five-year circumnavigation of the globe in the 1830s have been brought together and made freely available through the Darwin Online Beagle Library project.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan: States’ Tools for Reducing Costs & Increasing Benefits to Consumers

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States are well positioned to implement the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, according to a new study conducted by Analysis Group Senior Advisor Susan Tierney and Vice Presidents Paul Hibbard and Andrea Okie. The report, “EPA’s Clean Power Plan: States’ Tools for Reducing Costs & Increasing Benefits to Consumers,”is based on a careful analysis of states that already have experience regulating carbon pollution. It finds that those states’ economies have seen net increases in economic output and jobs. “Several states have already put a price on carbon dioxide pollution, and their economies are doing fine. The bottom line: the economy can handle – and actually benefit from – these rules,” said Dr. Tierney.

The EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would regulate carbon emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants using EPA’s existing authority under the Clean Air Act. The draft rules, due to be finalized next year, allow a variety of market-based and other approaches states can choose from to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The Analysis Group team analyzed the carbon-control rules already in place in several states to see what insights they might hold for the success of the national rule. The report was based on states’ existing track records, rather than projecting costs and benefits that might be expected under the Clean Power Plan. The report, funded by the Energy Foundation and the Merck Family Fund, was released at the summer conference of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) in Dallas, Texas.

The societal costs and benefits of commuter bicycling: simulating the effects of specific policies using system dynamics modeling

Macmillan A, Connor J, Witten K, Kearns R, Rees D, Woodward A. 2014. The societal costs and benefits of commuter bicycling: simulating the effects of specific policies using system dynamics modeling. Environ Health Perspect 122:335–344; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1307250

Abstract

Background: Shifting to active modes of transport in the trip to work can achieve substantial co-benefits for health, social equity, and climate change mitigation. Previous integrated modeling of transport scenarios has assumed active transport mode share and has been unable to incorporate acknowledged system feedbacks.

Objectives: We compared the effects of policies to increase bicycle commuting in a car-dominated city and explored the role of participatory modeling to support transport planning in the face of complexity.

Methods: We used system dynamics modeling (SDM) to compare realistic policies, incorporating feedback effects, nonlinear relationships, and time delays between variables. We developed a system dynamics model of commuter bicycling through interviews and workshops with policy, community, and academic stakeholders. We incorporated best available evidence to simulate five policy scenarios over the next 40 years in Auckland, New Zealand. Injury, physical activity, fuel costs, air pollution, and carbon emissions outcomes were simulated.

Results: Using the simulation model, we demonstrated the kinds of policies that would likely be needed to change a historical pattern of decline in cycling into a pattern of growth that would meet policy goals. Our model projections suggest that transforming urban roads over the next 40 years, using best practice physical separation on main roads and bicycle-friendly speed reduction on local streets, would yield benefits 10–25 times greater than costs.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first integrated simulation model of future specific bicycling policies. Our projections provide practical evidence that may be used by health and transport policy makers to optimize the benefits of transport bicycling while minimizing negative consequences in a cost-effective manner. The modeling process enhanced understanding by a range of stakeholders of cycling as a complex system. Participatory SDM can be a helpful method for integrating health and environmental outcomes in transport and urban planning.

Public Support for Conserving Bird Species Runs Counter to Climate Change Impacts on Their Distributions

Lundhede TH, Jacobsen JB, Hanley N, Fjeldså J, Rahbek C, et al. (2014) Public Support for Conserving Bird Species Runs Counter to Climate Change Impacts on Their Distributions. PLoS ONE 9(7): e101281. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101281

Abstract: There is increasing evidence that global climate change will alter the spatiotemporal occurrences and abundances of many species at continental scales. This will have implications for efficient conservation of biodiversity. We investigate if the general public in Denmark are willing to pay for the preservation of birds potentially immigrating and establishing breeding populations due to climate change to the same extent that they are for native species populations currently breeding in Denmark, but potentially emigrating due to climate change. We find that Danish citizens are willing to pay much more for the conservation of birds currently native to Denmark, than for bird species moving into the country – even when they are informed about the potential range shifts associated with climate change. The only exception is when immigrating species populations are under pressure at European level. Furthermore, people believing climate change to be man-made and people more knowledgeable about birds tended to have higher WTP for conservation of native species, relative to other people, whereas their preferences for conserving immigrant species generally resembled those of other people. Conservation investments rely heavily on public funding and hence on public support. Our results suggest that cross-country coordination of conservation efforts under climate change will be challenging in terms of achieving an appropriate balance between cost-effectiveness in adaptation and the concerns of a general public who seem mostly worried about protecting currently-native species.

Prioritizing Waterbodies To Balance Agricultural Production and Environmental Outcomes

Donnacha G. Doody, Paul J. A. Withers, and Rachael M. Dils (2014). “Prioritizing Waterbodies To Balance Agricultural Production and Environmental Outcomes.” Environmental Science & Technology 48 (14), 7697-7699. Online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es5024509.

Summary: The enrichment of aquatic ecosystems with nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) is a widespread environmental problem. Although a wide range of anthropogenic activities contribute to the poor chemical and ecological status of waterbodies, the role of agriculture in this “wicked” problem has received significant attention. This has resulted in a plethora of voluntary, incentivized, and regulatory strategies aimed at reducing nutrient exports to threshold values considered necessary for protecting human health or aquatic ecosystems. However, it is increasingly evident that achieving water quality objectives in certain areas may be unrealistic without impacting agricultural production and rural livelihoods. Here, we present the scientific arguments to support the concept of prioritization of waterbodies as a rationale approach to balancing agronomic and environmental objectives.