The beauty of trees has been celebrated in countless poems and images over the years. But, they are much more than aesthetic figures in the landscape. They are an essential part of the global ecosystem and play an important role in mitigating climate change.
Trees also provide shade. In cities, this helps reduce the urban heat island effect. More specifically, according to studies by the US Forest Service Center for Urban Research, neighborhoods with well-shaded streets can be 6-10°F cooler than communities without trees. This natural cooling benefit, in turn, lessens the need to run energy-consuming air conditioners during the warm summer months.
With rising temperatures leading to more heavy rain events, trees also help mitigate the impacts of flooding and landslides. Their root systems catch rainwater and reduce soil erosion. Climate Central, a non-profit environmental news organization, says trees help prevent nearly 400 billion gallons of runoff every year in the contiguous US.
So, as the saying goes “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Every day is Earth Day, as the saying goes. But, today marks the official celebration and fiftieth anniversay of the original event that launcehd the modern environamental movement.
The first Earth Day – spearheaded by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin – was held on April 22, 1970. An estimated 20 million people attended rallies across the US to protest against rampant industrial pollution and the deterioration of the nation’s natural environment. Raising public awareness and shifting the political tide, these events helped put environmental issues on the national agenda. They helped lead the government to create the EPA and the pass of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
Half a century later, Earth Day is now considered a global holiday celebrated with rallies and events in nearly 200 countries. These ongoing efforts to raise environmental awareness and call for govenment action have been more important than ever in recent years as the world faces the challenges of climate change. This year, however, the Coronaviurs Pandemic has moved these gatherings online.
This planet-scale public health emergency has shown how interconnected our modern world is. It has also highlighted the vital role governments must play in dealing with a crisis of such size and breadth.
The sky is always blue at the corner of West 72nd Street and Central Park West in New York City. That is because of “Sky”, a series of mosaic murals installed on the walls of that subway station by artist Yoko Ono.
Collectively spanning 973 square feet, the six murals create views of bright blue skies dotted with white, puffy, fair-weather clouds. Messages of hope, such as “love”, “dreams”, and “yes”, are also scattered across the subterranean skyscapes.
The murals, which are based on photographs of the sky, were designed to look slightly different from different angles. As such, they appear to mimic the movement of real clouds.
This collection of mosaics is part of the public art program, MTA Arts and Design. It was added to the station in 2018 as part of a renovation project.
Yoko Ono’s “Sky” at the W 72 subway station. Photo Credit: Melissa Fleming
Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with March 2020 marking the second warmest March ever recorded on this planet. Only March 2016 was warmer.
According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.99°F. That is 2.09°F above the 20th-century average. March was also the 423rd 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 March, some places were particularly warm, including most of Asia, southern South America, and the eastern half of the contiguous US. As a whole, the lower forty-eight states posted their tenth warmest March on record.
These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, March tied February 2020 for the highest temperature departure from average for any month during ENSO neutral conditions. That means neither El Niño nor La Niña was present in the Pacific to influence temperatures.
Year to date, the first three months of 2020 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. At this point, it is very likely that 2020 will finish among the top five warmest years ever recorded. Global temperature records date back to 1880.
A powerful spring storm lashed the New York City area on Monday. Strong winds and heavy rain were seen across the region.
According to the NWS, 1.92 inches of rain was measured in Central Park, setting a new record for the date. The previous record of 1.26 inches had been in place since 1920. On average, the Big Apple gets 4.5 inches of rain for the entire month of April.
Stong winds were also reported across the city. At JFK airport in Queens, wind gusts reached 53mph.
The robust storm caused a number of problems across the five boroughs, including downed trees and power outages. It also forced the closure of several tent-based coronavirus testing facilities.
According to Climate Central, a non-profit news organization, spring temperatures across the contigous US have increased an average of 2°F over the past fifty years. The western part of the country has seen the largest seasonal upswing. Since 1970, Reno, NV has warmed 7.2°F and El Paso, TX has seen a rise of more than 5°F.
These warmer temperatures may feel like a boon for some, but they also bring a number of negative impacts. Less frost-free days means the allergy season is extended and disease-carrying pests like mosquitos and ticks are able to thrive longer.
Wildlife is also feeling the effects of a warming spring. The phenology, or timing, of important seasonal events like hibernation, migration, and pollination are being skewed from their once well-synced patterns.
Looking ahead, asgreenhouse gas emissionscontinue to increase, so too will the temperature and its accompanying impacts.
The phrase, “April showers bring May flowers “ has been around for centuries. It is derived from a poem called A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry, written in 1557 by Thomas Tusser, an English poet and farmer. This old adage, however, does not necessarily hold true in the northeastern United States.
Coming on the heels of the snowy months of winter, April typically produces more rain than snow. Many people, therefore, consider it a rainy month. Since water is necessary for the overall survival of plants, they also associate it with the bloom of flowers in May. Nevertheless, according to botanists, perennials – the plants that go dormant in winter and re-grow in the spring – are more dependent on the soil moisture derived from winter snowmelt and the long-term local precipitation pattern.
In the end, though, temperature is the most significant factor in determining when a flower will bloom. As soon as the weather becomes more spring-like, flowers will start to blossom, regardless of how much it rained in April or whatever the prior month was. That said, a “false spring” – a warm spell that triggers flowering but is followed by a hard frost – can kill the fragile blooms.
It is also worth noting that while April is a wet month for many places in the US, it is not always the wettest. Here in New York City, it ranks second. July takes the top spot, because of the downpours associated with its strong summer thunderstorms.
The city had its warmest March in 1945, when the average temperature for the month was 51.1°F.
In terms of precipitation, rainfall was slightly below normal. In total, Central Park reported 3.78 inches of rain, which is 0.58 inches below average for the month. Snowfall was also below average. In fact, it was non-existent. But given the warm conditions that dominated the month, this is not that surprising. March, on average, typically brings the city 3.9 inches of snow.
“We feel the effects of climate change mostly through water: more floods, more droughts, more pollution. Just like viruses, these climate and water-related shocks respect no natural boundaries,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General.
Given the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the WMO has postponed all in-person ceremonies and activities related to their 70th anniversay.
In the meantime, you can learn more about the issues of water and climate in this short video or by visiting the WMO website.