The Eco News Roundup brings stories and commentary about issues related to climate change, renewable energy and the environment.
Twenty-five years ago, miles of marshy land and grasses separated the small fishing outpost of Buras, Louisiana, from the Gulf of Mexico. But years of erosion – along with the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – have washed away much of that barrier. Today, the islands, inlets, and bays that once defined the coastline of Plaquemines Parish have begun to melt together.
Like all coasts, the land around the Mississippi River is constantly evolving. In past centuries, that process was slowed by the annual flooding of the River’s vast delta, which brought new sediment to replace what was lost.
But climate change, coupled with better engineering (which brought effective channeling and stronger levees), have turned this coastline into one of the most rapidly eroding areas of the U.S. In the area around Buras, gone are the formerly distinct waterways of English Bay, Bay Jacquin, and Scofield Bay, leaving a vast expanse of water between the mainland and the barrier islands.
Climate models project increasing days of extreme rainfall in the Northwest, Midwest, and parts of the Northeast, including some populated coastal areas that are already challenged by inundation and sea level rise. Several major watersheds are predicted to have more days of extreme rainfall by the middle of the century, including the Pacific Northwest, the Ohio River Basin, the Great Lakes, and parts of the Great River and Missouri River Basin. Meanwhile, the Southwest and some other areas frequented by drought are expected to see little difference in the number of extreme rainfall days.
Winter in the Arctic is not only cold and dark; it is also storm season when hurricane-like cyclones traverse the northern waters from Iceland to Alaska. These cyclones are characterized by strong localized drops in sea level pressure, and as Arctic-wide decreases in sea level pressure are one of the expected results of climate change, this could increase extreme Arctic cyclone activity, including powerful storms in the spring and fall. A new study in Geophysical Research Letters uses historical climate model simulations to demonstrate that there has been an Arctic-wide decrease in sea level pressure since the 1800’s.
Twenty-five years after the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, beaches on the Alaska Peninsula hundreds of kilometers from the incident still harbor small hidden pockets of surprisingly unchanged oil, according to new research being presented here today. The focus of the study is to learn how oil persists long after a spill. Researchers presenting the work caution that the amount of oil being studied is a trace of what was originally spilled and that results from these sites cannot be simply extrapolated to the entire spill area.
Losses from extreme floods in Europe could more than double by 2050, because of climate change and socioeconomic development. Understanding the risk posed by large-scale floods is of growing importance and will be key for managing climate adaptation. Current flood losses in Europe are likely to double by 2050, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change by researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Institute for Environmental Studies in Amsterdam, and other European research centers. Socioeconomic growth accounts for about two-thirds of the increased risk, as development leads to more buildings and infrastructure that could be damaged in a flood. The other third of the increase comes from climate change, which is projected to change rainfall patterns in Europe.
In the mid-1970s, the first available satellite images of Antarctica during the polar winter revealed a huge ice-free region within the ice pack of the Weddell Sea. This ice-free region, or polynya, stayed open for three full winters before it closed. Subsequent research showed that the opening was maintained as relatively warm waters churned upward from kilometres below the ocean’s surface and released heat from the ocean’s deepest reaches. But the polynya — which was the size of New Zealand — has not reappeared in the nearly 40 years since it closed, and scientists have since come to view it as a naturally rare event.
Now, however, a study led by researchers from McGill University suggests a new explanation: The 1970s polynya may have been the last gasp of what was previously a more common feature of the Southern Ocean, and which is now suppressed due to the effects of climate change on ocean salinity.
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