The Eco News Roundup brings stories and commentary about issues related to climate change, renewable energy and the environment.
NASA scientists detected a pulse of melting ice and water traveling through a major glacier in Greenland that was so big that it warped the solid Earth — a surge equivalent in mass to 18,000 Empire State Buildings.
The pulse — which occurred during the 2012 record melt year — traveled nearly 15 miles through the Rink Glacier in western Greenland over four months before reaching the sea, the researchers said.
“It’s a gigantic mass,” said Eric Larour, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It is able to bend the bedrock around it.”
Such a “wave” has never before been detected in a Greenland or Antarctic glacier. The total amount of mass carried in the wave — in the form of either water, ice or some combination of both — was 1.67 billion tons per month, or 6.68 billion tons over four months, according to the study, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters.
That Arctic sea ice has been seriously declining since around 2005 is a well-known fact, thanks to a series of U.S. Department of Defense satellites that have continuously recorded the region with passive microwave instrumentation since 1979. These satellites have provided scientists, citizens and government with a thorough record of the changing Arctic — informing climate research and policymaking, mid-latitude weather predictions, and geopolitical analyses useful to international shipping and natural gas exploration companies as the Arctic melts and opens up for exploitation.
But that’s about to change.
The U.S. satellites currently in orbit are already past their expiry date, with some already cutting out. When these satellites fail completely, Arctic researchers warn, the ongoing scientific recordkeeping will come to an abrupt end, with no funding and no time left to replace the aging infrastructure.
“It is unfortunate and disturbing that right at the time we’re seeing sea ice cover in rapid transition, we’re in danger of losing some of our key capabilities to observe what’s happening and understand it,” says Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
We often talk about how climate change exacerbates social and economic inequality, but rarely do we consider the opposite: that inequality itself can be a driver of climate change.
“What’s missing from the conversation is what our inequality crisis is doing to our planet,” said Susan Holmberg, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and author of a new report that shows how unequal societies inflict more environmental damage than more economically even societies. “One key topic that is still overlooked is how environmental degradation and climate change are themselves the toxic byproducts of our inequality problem,” Holmberg said.
In a sign of growing tensions between scientists and the Trump administration, researchers published a scientific paper Wednesday that was conceived and written as an explicit refutation to an assertion by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt about climate change.
The study, in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, sets up a direct test of a claim by Pruitt, made in written Senate comments following his confirmation hearing, that “over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming.”
After reviewing temperature trends contained in three satellite data sets going back to 1979, the paper concludes that the data sets show a global warming trend — and that Pruitt was incorrect.
The oil company behind the Dakota Access pipeline is facing intense scrutiny from regulators and activists over a series of recent leaks across the country, including a major spill now believed to be significantly bigger than initially reported.
Documents obtained by the Guardian suggest that a spill from the Rover pipeline that Ohio regulators originally described as 2m gallons might now be more than twice as large. The revelation was included in a legal challenge activists filed on Wednesday to block the natural gas pipeline run by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the corporation that operates the controversial Dakota Access pipeline and is now facing numerous government fines and violations.
The complaint against the Rover pipeline – which has been cited for more than a dozen environmental incidents, including a spill into a wetland that Ohio regulators described as a “tragedy” – comes on the heels of reports that Dakota Access had three recent leaks before it was even fully operational.
Devastating storms still roiling much of the American Midwest have dumped record levels of rain over the past week and caused flash flooding that has killed at least 10 people, inundated towns and highways, and forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. Parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas and Louisiana received 10 to 15 inches of rain in the past seven days, according to the National Weather Service, resulting in record crests of numerous rivers across the central United States.
Extreme storms like these have become more common as global temperatures have risen and the oceans have warmed. Some have the clear fingerprints of man-made climate change.
“Of course there is a climate change connection, because the oceans and sea surface temperatures are higher now because of climate change, and in general that adds 5 to 10 percent to the precipitation,” Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said. “There have been many so-called 500-year floods along the Mississippi about every five to 10 years since 1993.”
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday announced an ambitious plan to cut carbon pollution from the state’s power plants, taking a stand against the Trump administration’s continued efforts to dismantle carbon-cutting regulations.
McAuliffe issued an executive order directing state environmental regulators to begin creating a market-based carbon-trading program. The mandatory cap-and-trade program would become the third in the country, after California’s statewide carbon compliance market and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program consisting of nine states in the northeast. The Virginia program would likely be linked to either of these trading programs.
The probe of ExxonMobil by the New York Attorney General’s Office is widening. Investigators have taken depositions of company executives and issued additional subpoenas to determine whether the company may have destroyed evidence connected to an alias email used by former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson.
The disclosure was made Friday in arguments filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a Manhattan federal court. He is seeking dismissal of a request by Exxon for an injunction that would halt his investigation into the oil giant involving whether it misled shareholders and the public about the risks of climate change.
Attorneys for Schneiderman did not elaborate in the 25-page document on the scope of the expanded investigation other than to suggest that it involved the recent disclosure that Tillerson, now U.S. secretary of state, used an email alias when discussing issues including climate change and the risk that it posed to the company.
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