Wearable Artwork Raises Awareness about Air Quality

The air we breathe is not always good for us. Air pollution has been linked to a number of health concerns, from asthma to heart disease, and even cancer. To raise awareness about this issue, artist Dominque Paul has created a dress that changes colors to indicate how safe the air we breathe actually is. It’s called Air Quality Interactive Wearable.

With the exception of smog and wildfire smoke, air pollution is not something we can always see with the naked eye. To make it visible, Ms. Paul uses an Air Beam, a portable device that measures the amount of small particles (PM 2.5) in the air. These are particles that are less than 2.5 microns or 0.0001 inches in diameter. Using the Air Beam’s calculation, a color from the EPA’s Air Quality Index is assigned to the dress. These colors range from green for good air quality to yellow, orange, red, and purple, which indicate increasing levels of pollution.

Ms. Paul created this wearable art piece as part of a residency program with IDEAS xLab, a non-profit organization that uses art to raise awareness about public health. Watch the video below of her “Air Walk” in the South Bronx section of New York City.

Weather History: Ten Year Anniversary of NYC’s Strongest Tornado

Ten years ago today, an EF2 tornado roared through New York City. It was the strongest twister on record to hit the Big Apple.

NYC Tornado of 2007. Credit: NYT

With winds measured up to 135 mph, it left a trail of destruction nine miles long from Staten Island to Brooklyn with the hardest hit neighborhoods being Bay Ridge and Sunset Park. The storm toppled trees and knocked out power to more than 4,000 customers. It damaged hundreds of cars and dozens of homes, including five that had their roofs ripped off. The storm also dumped 1.91 inches of rain in just one hour, which caused flash floods and the temporary suspension of subway service during the morning commute.

Historically, tornadoes have been rare events in NYC. In recent years, however, they have been happening more frequently. Of the eleven twisters that have touched down in the city since 1950, seven have occurred since 2003.

Note: Tornado ratings moved from the Fujita Scale (F) to the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF) in 2007.

Weather Lingo: Invest

The Hurricane Season officially began in June, but August is when things typically start to ramp up. It is also when the word “invest” (short for an investigative area) becomes more prevalent in weather forecasts.

When the National Hurricane Center (NHC) wants to take a closer look at an area of disturbed weather that could possibly develop into a tropical cyclone, it designates it as an invest. This opens up specialized resources, such as computer models and satellites that provide forecasters with additional data on the area in question. That said, an invest does not always become a tropical system.

More than one invest can exist at any given time, so the NHC has a special way to identify them. They are numbered from 90 to 99, followed by a letter. If the invest is in the Atlantic, the letter will be “L” and if it is in the Eastern Pacific, it will be an “E”. The numbers can be reused throughout a season, as necessary.

The Central Pacific Hurricane Center and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center follow a similar system. Letters for the basins they cover include “C” for the Central Pacific, “W” for the Western Pacific, “A” for the Arabian Sea, and “B” for the Bay of Bengal.

If an invest in any basin develops into a tropical storm, it is reclassified and given a name from that season’s pre-determined list.

An example of how the National Hurricane Center monitors and forecasts the development track of an Invest. Red is the current Invest 99L and Yellow is 90L Credit: NHC

NYC Monthly Summary: July 2017

July was a month of extremes in New York City. It delivered five days with temperatures in the 90s and the city’s third heat wave of the season. However, it also produced a few unseasonably cool days. On July 14, the high only reached 73°F, tying the record low maximum temperature for the date that was set in 1963. The average high for the date is 84°F. Nonetheless, the heat and the chill balanced each other out in the end. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 76.8°F which is only 0.3°F above average.

July is usually the city’s wettest month, but this year precipitation was slightly below normal. Only eight of thirty-one days produced measurable rainfall. Overall, 4.19 inches was recorded in Central Park. Of this total, 1.78 inches (42% of the total) fell in a single day. On average, the city gets 4.60 inches for the entire month of July.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Tropical Storm Emily Soaks Florida’s Gulf Coast

Tropical Storm Emily, the fifth named storm of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season, made landfall at Anna Maria Island in Tampa Bay, FL on Monday morning. It slammed the Sunshine state’s west coast with heavy rain and winds measured up to 45 mph.

According to the NWS, Valrico, FL, a few miles east of Tampa, saw 8.19 inches of rain. Widespread flooding was reported across the region and Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 31 counties.

Most land-falling tropical storms come with a few days warning, as they develop over the ocean before moving toward populated areas. Emily, however, sprung up very quickly. It formed as the result of an out-of season cold front stalling out over the extremely warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico near Florida’s west coast.

Moving across the Florida peninsula, away from the warm waters that fueled it, the storm weakened quickly and was downgraded to a tropical depression. It is forecast to travel northeast out into the Atlantic Ocean. No major impacts are expected along the Eastern Seaboard, but rip currents will be an issue for beachgoers over the next few days from Florida to the Carolinas.

TS Emily moves over central Florida. Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES

June 2017: Earth’s Third Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with June 2017 marking the third warmest June ever recorded on this planet. Only June 2015 and 2016 were warmer.

According to the state of the climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 61.38°F. That is 1.48°F above the 20th-century average. June was also the 390th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

While heat dominated most of the planet in June, some places were particularly warm, including Europe, Central Asia, and the southwestern United States. For the contiguous US as a whole, it was the 20th warmest June on NOAA’s books.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in June, which means there was neither an El Niño nor a La Niña to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first six months of 2017 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

June 2017 was Earth’s 3rd Warmest June on Record. Credit: NOAA

Talking Climate Change with Climate Mama ED Harriet Shugarman

Talking Climate Change is an interview series focused on the variety of people addressing the issue of our changing climate. Participants run the gamut of professions, from scientists to artists, and together we discuss the subject from a multitude of perspectives. For this installment, I spoke with Harriet Shugarman, the Founder and Executive Director of Climate Mama.

Melissa Fleming: Tell us about yourself. How did you get involved with climate change? What motivated you?

“Climate Mama”, Harriet Shugarman. Source: ClimateMama.

Harriet Shugarman: Most days it seems that working on climate has been a part of my life forever. I worked in and around climate change policy at the international level way back in the early 1990’s for the International Monetary Fund at the United Nations. Part of our job was to participate in drafting the first Earth Summit documents for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. Then, for the next 10 years or so, I attended meetings at the UN headquarters in New York and around the world that looked at how the international community could expand and define its role on climate change impacts and policy.

But, I wasn’t emotionally attached to the issue yet and these meetings seemed so far away from how they would actually impact people and their communities around the world. My motivation and my passion for personally getting involved were first ignited in the spring of 2007 when I trained with former Vice President Al Gore and the Climate Reality Project, to become a Climate Reality Leader. For me, this was the transformational moment when I knew that working on climate change would become the primary focus of my life moving forward. I had two young children and my eyes were opened to the fact that their future really was in our collective hands and that this issue must be my focus. It has become my life’s work.

MF: You started an organization called Climate Mama. Tell us about it.

HS: A few years after my Climate Reality training I decided I would jump in with both feet and I founded ClimateMama in late 2009. As a mom, I realized that many of the parents I was meeting and speaking with in the playground, in my community, my house of worship, and at my children’s school had no idea how urgent the climate crisis actually was.  Having left the big stage at the UN, and being engaged in my community, I could see ways that those international agreements could and should be enacted at a local level.

Even when the parents I was meeting did have an inkling to the climate crisis we faced, they seemed frozen, not able to speak to their children about it, or really grasp how they could be involved in climate solutions. ClimateMama began as an online place for parents to learn more about the climate crisis and what we all can do about it. We showcased climate parents so that others could learn from them and see how each of us could be empowered to take action.

As time has evolved, and my personal interests and actions have taken a more activist tone, we have become more active on the ground, resisting fossil fuel infrastructure and connecting the dots between fossil fuels and our children’s health.

MF: Why did you choose to focus on “Mamas and Papas”?

HS: Becoming a parent changed me forever. The realization that our children’s future will be increasingly difficult and in fact is directly threatened because of our lack of action today, is something that parents should and must become emotionally connected to. I felt and still feel that empowering parents to take action is a critical part of our success. Regardless of where you live or your political or religious persuasion, as a parent, our hopes for our children remain similar. We want them to live healthy, happy, and productive lives. If we can fully understand that climate change threatens every part of those dreams for our children, then there is hope that parents can and will be spurred on to solve the climate crisis.

MF: What have you found to be the biggest challenges in communicating climate change?

HS: To me, the biggest challenges seem to be around helping people understand the urgency and seriousness of the crisis before us, without creating a sense of paralyzing fear and helplessness. I think that all of us in the climate communication world deal with this issue on a regular basis. We need to help empower and promote the opportunities because climate change does pose endless opportunities to take action, create change, and build hope.

Climate change is the most complicated issue that the human race has or will face, and as such, there is an endless myriad of fixes. I wish there was a “silver bullet” or even a “top three”, but there isn’t. So, we need to turn the discussion around and help each of us understand that we must be part of the solution in any way that we can. This isn’t to say that we don’t need big solutions. We do. We need them now and we need to support, elect, and promote those people working on and creating them. In “UN speak”, we say that we each have “common but differentiated abilities and responsibilities.” Those of us that can “go big” must.

MF: Climate change is a politically charged topic these days.  Do you ever have to deal with climate skeptics?  If so, how do you handle it and what advice would you give to others who do?

HS: When faced with climate skeptics or outright deniers, I would say that – it depends. Some people have dug in so deep, there is no changing their minds. You can either politely “agree to disagree” or just choose to ignore them, but this can be hard if they are a good friend or in your immediate family.

That said, this group of deniers is small but very vocal. We need to marginalize their voices and get the truth out.  In this age of “alternative facts”, we need to make sure that at every opportunity we share facts and reality. If you have time, send people peer- reviewed studies and factually based information. Especially with friends and family, I would recommend starting from a position of love and mutual respect – not from a combative place. Find common ground (for me this is our children ) and work from there. Make it personal and emotional. We each intuitively live, see and feel climate change all around us. Help people make those connections, and then follow up with the plethora of facts.

The reality is that the material that skeptics use to back up their so-called “facts” all come from the same 5-10 sources and the same small number of so-called “experts.” There aren’t a plethora of “alternative facts” on climate change, the reality of its causes and effects are clear and there are thousands and thousands of fact based, scientific data to back this up, as well as real world examples that mother nature is showing us every day.

MF: As someone who has been involved in a number of different climate related marches and demonstrations, have you seen a change in these types of public events over the years?

HS: Good question. Yes and no. Marches and demonstrations in their own right have always been important. They connect people to one another directly and help us all feel part of something big and powerful. But organizers are now realizing that we also need to provide people with tools, ideas, and opportunities to become more engaged once they return to their own communities. This, I see as a change.

MF: Thank you, Harriet!  For more information about Harriet and her work, visit www.climatemamma.com

Climate Mama, Harriet Shugarman, and supporters at The Clean Energy March in Philadelphia, 2016. Source: ClimateMama

Panel Discussion: Art and Sustainability in the Anthropocene

Climate change is a complex scientific subject with a plethora of data-rich reports that detail its causes and diverse impacts. Not everyone, however, responds to facts and figures or charts and graphs. That is why art, which taps into human emotion, can help create new pathways of understanding and raise awareness about this critical issue.

On Thursday, July 13, I will be discussing the intersection of art and climate change as part of a panel at the 24th International Conference of Europeanists in Glasgow, Scotland. Moderated by Julie Reiss of Christie’s Education, the panel is titled “Art and Sustainability in the Anthropocene”. My fellow panelists include Martha Schwendener (New York Times), Weiyi Chang (University of British Columbia), and Patrizia Costantin (Manchester School of Art).

This annual conference is organized by the Council for European Studies (CES), whose mission is to produce and support multidisciplinary research about Europe. They are “particularly committed to supporting research that can play a critical role in understanding and applying the lessons of European history and integration to contemporary problems, including those in the areas of global security, sustainability, environmental stewardship, and democracy.” The theme of year’s event is sustainability and transformation.

Credit: CES

A Brief History of How We Know CO2 Drives Climate Change

The US Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, recently denied that CO2 is the main driver behind our changing climate. Nominated by President Trump, his comments are in line with the Administration’s rollback of the Clean Power Plan and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. The fact is, however, the scientific fundamentals of the greenhouse effect have been understood since the 1800s.

One of the first scientists to look into the planet’s energy balance was Joseph Fourier, a French physicist, in the 1820s. Given the Earth’s distance from the Sun, he was curious to know why its temperature was not cooler. Fourier felt that something other than incoming solar radiation was keeping the planet warm and hypothesized that the atmosphere was somehow acting like an insulating blanket. Working with the limited technology of the day, however, he was unable to make the detailed measurements needed to carry his idea further.

Decades later, in the 1860s, an Irish scientist named John Tyndall picked up Fourier’s theory. An alpine adventurer, he was interested in glaciers and the then controversial idea of ice ages. Wanting to know more about how they formed, he devised an experiment to see if the Earth’s atmosphere was acting like a thermostat. For this, he built a spectrophotometer – an instrument that measures the amount of heat that gases can absorb. His experiments showed that water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane were all very efficient at trapping heat. This essentially proved Fourier’s idea of a greenhouse effect.

In the 1890s, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish physicist, followed up on Tyndall’s idea of an atmospheric thermostat and ran with it. Ruling out water vapor as too transitory, he focused on carbon dioxide, which tends to linger in the atmosphere for a long time. His calculations showed that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would raise the average global temperature by 5°C (9°F).

To understand if such a large-scale change in atmospheric CO2 was possible, he turned to Arvid Hogbom, a colleague studying the global carbon cycle. This is the natural geochemical process where volcanic eruptions and the chemical weathering of rocks release CO2, while plants and oceans absorb it. Hogbom confirmed that CO2 levels could change dramatically over long periods of time. However, he also noted that industrial processes were releasing a significant amount of CO2 relatively quickly. Using this information, Arrhenius calculated that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, could alter the composition of the atmosphere and increase global temperatures. In the 1890’s, however, fossil fuel use was only a fraction of what it is today and he believed it would take more than 1,000 years for the level of atmospheric CO2 to double.

Jumping ahead to the 1950s, Charles David Keeling, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, found a way to directly monitor levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. He created an instrument called a gas chromatograph and installed it on top of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. At an elevation of more than 11,000 feet in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it is removed from both direct CO2 sources like factories and sinks such as forests that could skew the data. Still in operation today, the information recorded at this station is known as the Keeling Curve. It shows the steady increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere from 1958 to present.

Keeling’s measurements provided solid evidence that CO2 levels were rising and validated the theories of Tyndall and Arrhenius. More recently, scientists were able to extend his curve back in time by analyzing ancient air bubbles trapped in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. This lengthy record shows that pre-industrial CO2 levels in the atmosphere were about 280 ppm. Today, they are over 400ppm – the highest they have been in more than 800,000 years.

Seeing this dramatic rise in CO2 and realizing the impact that a warming climate could have on society, the UN formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. They assess the peer-reviewed research of thousands of scientists from around the world and publish a synthesized view of the current state of the science. The latest IPCC report (AR5 published in sections in 2013/2014) unconditionally states that human activities are the main drivers of modern climate change.

Therefore, while it is the nature of all science to evolve with time and research, it is safe to say that role of CO2 does not require further debate. Today, the impacts of different feedback loops within the climate system are an active area of investigation. Science is following the evidence and moving ahead. Politics needs to catch up.

Scientists have been studying the climate since the 1800s.

As CO2 levels go up, so does the temperature. Credit: Climate Central

Thomas Jefferson and the Weather in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776

Thomas Jefferson is well known as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, but he was also an astute and systematic weather observer.

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1805. Credit: NYHS

In the summer of 1776, Jefferson was in Philadelphia, PA to sign the Declaration of Independence.  While there, he purchased a thermometer and a barometer – new and expensive weather equipment at that time. For the next 50 years, he kept a meticulous weather journal.  He recorded daily temperature data wherever he was – at home in Virginia or while traveling.

On July 4, 1776, Jefferson noted that the weather conditions in Philadelphia were cloudy with a high temperature of 76°F.

In an effort to understand the bigger picture of climate in America, Jefferson established a small network of fellow observers around Virginia as well as contacts in a few other states. According to records at Monticello, he hoped to establish a national network for weather observations. While this plan did not come to fruition during his lifetime, today’s National Weather Service considers him the “father of weather observers.”

Happy Independence Day!

An excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s Weather Journal, July 1776. Credit: NCDC