Polluters like Southeast Side plant often get a pass on air-quality violations in Chicago, Sun-Times finds

Read the full story in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Fewer than half of all citations written by Chicago city health inspectors in recent years for air pollution end up sticking, records show. That’s left neighbors of polluters unhappy.

Atmospheric rivers are hitting the Arctic more often, and increasingly melting its sea ice

Rain and warm air make it harder for sea ice to grow. Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

by Pengfei Zhang, Penn State

Atmospheric rivers, those long, powerful streams of moisture in the sky, are becoming more frequent in the Arctic, and they’re helping to drive dramatic shrinking of the Arctic’s sea ice cover.

While less ice might have some benefits – it would allow more shipping in winter and access to minerals – sea ice loss also contributes to global warming and to extreme storms that cause economic damage well beyond the Arctic.

I’m an atmospheric scientist. In a new study of the Barents-Kara Seas and the neighboring central Arctic, published Feb. 6, 2023, in Nature Climate Change, my colleagues and I found that these storms reached this region more often and were responsible for over a third of the region’s early winter sea ice decline since 1979.

More frequent atmospheric rivers

By early winter, the temperature in most of the Arctic is well below freezing and the days are mostly dark. Sea ice should be growing and spreading over a wider area. Yet the total area with Arctic sea ice has fallen dramatically in recent decades.

Part of the reason is that atmospheric rivers have been penetrating into the region more frequently in recent decades.

Atmospheric rivers get their name because they are essentially long rivers of water vapor in the sky. They carry heat and water from the subtropical oceans into the midlatitudes and beyond. California and New Zealand both saw extreme rainfall from multiple atmospheric rivers in January 2023. These storms also drive the bulk of moisture reaching the Arctic.

Warm air can hold more water vapor. So as the planet and the Arctic warm, atmospheric rivers and other storms carrying lots of moisture can become more common – including in colder regions like the Arctic.

When atmospheric rivers cross over newly formed sea ice, their heat and rainfall can melt the thin, fragile ice cover away. Ice will start to regrow fairly quickly, but episodic atmospheric river penetrations can easily melt it again. The increasing frequency of these storms means it takes longer for stable ice cover to become established.

As a result, sea ice doesn’t spread to the extent that the cold winter temperature normally would allow it to, leaving more ocean water open longer to release heat energy.

How atmospheric rivers melt sea ice

Atmospheric rivers affect sea ice melting in two primary ways.

More precipitation is falling as rain. But a larger influence on ice loss involves water vapor in the atmosphere. As water vapor turns into rainfall, the process releases a lot of heat, which warms the atmosphere. Water vapor also has a greenhouse effect that prevents heat from escaping into space. Together with the effect of clouds, they make the atmosphere much warmer than the sea ice.

A world map showing long storms going generally north-south in many parts of the world.
Atmospheric rivers around the world in February 2017. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Scientists have known for years that heat from strong moisture transports could melt sea ice, but no one knew to what extent. That’s because it’s nearly impossible to install instruments on wild ice to conduct long-term energy exchange observation.

The area studied involves the Arctic Ocean quadrant with the Kara and Barents Seas – the shallower regions north of Norway and Russia – and the neighboring central Arctic. NOAA

We looked at it in a different way. We were able to establish a statistical linkage between the amount of ice lost and the average count of atmospheric rivers that arrived. In the Barents-Kara Seas and central Arctic, the Arctic quadrant with the most atmospheric river activity, we found that about 34% of the ice decline from 1979 to 2021 can be attributed to the increased frequency of atmospheric rivers.

Other studies have described increases in atmospheric rivers affecting ice loss on Antarctica, Greenland and across the Arctic during the near-record low-ice winter of 2016-2017.

Anthropogenic warming – temperature rise caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels – is a key reason for the increase in atmospheric rivers. We also noticed some influence from natural variability in the tropical Pacific, but studies have found that anthropogenic forcing is likely to overwhelm the influence of natural variability by the middle of the 21st century.

Our earlier research has suggested that after the middle of this century, when temperatures are warmer, just about every part of the polar regions should see a substantial increase in atmospheric rivers.

What sea ice decline means for humans

Like just about everything, sea ice loss has both bad and good effects.

More open water may enable more direct shipping, so ships could sail from Northern Europe to North America and East Asia through the Arctic, which would be much cheaper. It can also increase access to natural resources, including oil, natural gas and minerals crucial for clean energy production.

Of course, atmospheric rivers are also accompanied by strong wind, which can mean more dangerous wind storms for shipping and erosion for coastal areas. For some wildlife, the effects would be a disaster. Polar bears, for example, rely on sea ice to hunt seals. Loss of sea ice also contributes to climate change. Sea ice reflects incoming energy back into space. Without it, the dark oceans absorb more than 90% of that energy, which causes the oceans to heat up, with wide implications.

According to the latest global assessment published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Arctic could be almost entirely ice-free in summer by the middle of this century. That means thin, fragile ice across almost the entire region in early winter that would be susceptible to increasing storms.

Pengfei Zhang, Assistant Research Professor of Atmospheric Science, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Sierra Club tries to move past John Muir, George Floyd and #MeToo

Read the full story in the New York Times.

For three years, the nation’s most prominent environmental organization has been ruminating about its past and future. Like many other American institutions, the Sierra Club was convulsed by the 2020 murder of George Floyd, beset by painful questions about its mission and history, including whether its founder, John Muir, was biased against people of color.

Now, the organization is trying to emerge from the other side of that appraisal. It has named Ben Jealous, a civil rights activist, author, investor and nonprofit leader as its new executive director.

Mr. Jealous, 50, chief executive of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 2008 to 2013, is the first person of color to lead the Sierra Club. (The club has had three people of color on its board serve as president.)

A plan for blowing up U.S. climate politics

Read the full story at Politico.

An Australian consultant tells his U.S. counterparts that conservative voters will respond to climate messages — as long as they aren’t pushed by liberals.

Reducing steel corrosion vital to combating climate change

Read the full story from Ohio State University.

Every year, the United States spends nearly a trillion dollars fighting metallic corrosion, an electrochemical reaction that occurs when metals oxidize and begin to rust. By taking on this surprisingly insidious issue, researchers have now estimated how much corrosion is gradually worsening global carbon emissions.

ECB launches new financed emissions and sustainable finance indicators to track climate risk

Read the full story at ESG Today.

The European Central Bank (ECB) announced today the publication of a series of new statistical indicators aimed at helping to analyze climate-related risks in the financial sector and track the progress of the sustainable finance market.

The launch of the new statistical indicators forms part of the ECB’s climate action plan, launched by the central bank in July 2022, which included initiatives to further incorporate climate change considerations into its monetary policy framework, as well as to enhance its risk assessment tools and capabilities to better include climate-related risks, and to improve the external assessment of climate risks.

Wanted (by scientists): Dead birds and bats, felled by renewables

Read the full story at Undark.

Collecting, studying, and storing the carcasses from wind and solar facilities, scientists say, can unlock new insights.

Students want to know more about careers in climate change—now

Read the full story in Education Week.

Students who are watching increasingly dangerous and more frequent storms batter cities and seeing families fleeing wildfires want more information on how climate change might shape their career choices.

But workforce education has been slow to provide answers, or revamp training programs, to prepare students for jobs that help mitigate the effects of climate change, educators and experts say.

In fact, 30 percent of the roughly 1,000 teenagers surveyed by the EdWeek Research Center last fall said they wanted to learn more about job opportunities related to sustainability and climate change. But few are hearing about those kinds of careers in school: 22 percent of teachers say they talk to students about those kinds of career opportunities.

Action Plan for a Resilient Great Lakes Basin

Download the report.

The action plan helps to prioritize efforts and forms a roadmap to advance climate resilience in the Great Lakes basin. The action plan leverages existing efforts and supports collaboration among jurisdictions to promote shared learning and resources, and to create strategic partnerships that accelerate efforts for a more resilient and adaptive Great Lakes basin and that the waters of the Great Lakes are fishable, swimmable, and drinkable for everyone in the region

Armed with flea meds, Michigan defends hemlock trees against deadly invader

Read the full story at Bridge Michigan.

The hemlock wooly adelgid, an aphid-like invader, threatens Michigan’s 170 million hemlock trees. With help from chemical treatments and Michigan’s cold winters, workers aim to keep the pest at bay. Climate change threatens to give the pest a better foothold