The Eco News Roundup brings stories and commentary about issues related to climate change, renewable energy and the environment.
European leaders have struck a broad climate change pact obliging the EU as a whole to cut greenhouse gases by at least 40% by 2030.
But key aspects of the deal that will form a bargaining position for global climate talks in Paris next year were left vague or voluntary, raising questions as to how the aims would be realised.
As well as the greenhouse gas, two 27% targets were agreed – for renewable energy market share and increase in energy efficiency improvement. The former would be binding only on the EU as a whole. The latter would be optional, although it could be raised to 30% by a review in 2020.
The risk of severe winters in Europe and northern Asia has been doubled by global warming, according to new research. The counter-intuitive finding is the result of climate change melting the Arctic ice cap and causing new wind patterns that push freezing air and snow southwards.
Severe winters over the last decade have been associated with those years in which the melting of Arctic sea ice was greatest. But the new work is the most comprehensive computer modelling study to date and indicates the frozen winters are being caused by climate change, not simply by natural variations in weather.
In the last 34 years, the average October temperature in Barrow has risen by more than 7°C − an increase that, on its own, makes a mockery of international efforts to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels.
A study by scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks analysed several decades of weather information. These show that temperature trends are closely linked to sea ice concentrations, which have been recorded since 1979, when accurate satellite measurements began.
The study, published in the Open Atmospheric Science Journal, traces what has happened to average annual and monthly temperatures in Barrow from 1979 to 2012.
Scientists have developed new geochemical tracers that can identify hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment. The tracers, which were created by a team of U.S. and French researchers, have been field-tested at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania.
“This gives us new forensic tools to detect if ‘frac fluids’ are escaping into our water supply and what risks, if any, they might pose,” said Duke University geochemist Avner Vengosh, who co-led the research.
Tiny soil microbes are among the world’s biggest potential amplifiers of human-caused climate change, but whether microbial communities are mere slaves to their environment or influential actors in their own right is an open question. Now, research by an international team of scientists from the U.S., Sweden and Australia, led by University of Arizona scientists, shows that a single species of microbe, discovered only very recently, is an unexpected key player in climate change. The findings, published in the journal Nature, should help scientists improve their simulations of future climate by replacing assumptions about the different greenhouse gases emitted from thawing permafrost with new understanding of how different communities of microbes control the release of these gases.
Washington’s coast is so close to the seismically active Cascadia Subduction Zone that if a megathrust earthquake were to occur, a tsunami would hit the Washington shoreline in just 25 minutes. One coastal community is preparing for such a disaster by starting construction on the nation’s first tsunami evacuation refuge, large enough to shelter more than 1,000 people who are within 20-minute walking distance.
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