Broto Conference 2019: Exploring Climate Science Through Art

Art and science are coming together in Provincetown, MA this weekend at the BrotoEco Conference. Now in its second year, the event focuses on brainstorming ideas and fostering collaborations across these seemingly divergent fields of study.

Named after the Portuguese word for “sprout”, this two-day event will include speakers, panels, and even a comedy show. I am thrilled to be part of the “Globalizing Art and Science” panel, where we will be discussing how art can help to scale up the global conversation on climate change.

For more information on the event, including a full list of speakers, please visit the Broto website.

Image Credit: Broto

Spring Nor’easter Brings Unseasonably Cold, Wet Weather to NYC

A late season nor’easter soaked the northeastern United States on Monday. Heavy rain triggered flood alerts and advisories from Virginia to Connecticut, and areas further north reported snow.

Here in New York City, 0.70 inches of rain fell in Central Park. This came on the heels of the 1.32 inches that fell the day before when a separate storm system moved through the area. To date this May, the city has received 3.70 inches of rain and it is only the middle of the month. May, on average, brings the city a total of 4.19 inches of rain.

The storm also ushered in unseasonably cool temperatures, making it feel more like March than May. The high in NYC only made it to 48°F on Monday, setting a new record for the coldest high temperature for the date. The old record of 49°F was set in 1914. The normal high for this time of year is 70°F.

This storm was the result of a deep dip in the jet stream that moved over the region, which, in turn, helped generate an area of low pressure off the coast. Producing gusty northeasterly winds, it was categorized as a nor’easter. While this type of storm is more common during the fall and winter months, they can develop any time of the year.

A late spring nor’easter soaked the northeastern US. Credit: weather.com

Spring is Heating Up

Spring is a transitional season. It is a time when the chill of winter fades away and the warmth of summer gradually returns. But, as our climate changes, the season is heating up.

Across the contiguous United States, spring temperatures have increased an average of more than 2°F over the past fifty years, according to Climate Central. The southwest part of the country has seen the fastest seasonal increase, with Las Vegas, NV and Tucson, AZ warming more than 6°F since 1970.

Warming temperatures mean more frost-free days. While this may lengthen the growing season for some crops, it also extends the allergy season and allows pests like mosquitos and ticks to live and thrive longer.

Looking ahead, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, scientists say spring could arrive at least two weeks earlier by 2050 compared to recent years.

Atmospheric CO2 Levels Reach Yet Another Record High

Our planet’s atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) has broken yet another record. April’s average reading of 413.52 parts per million (ppm) set a new record high, according to Scripps’ Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This marks yet another high point on the definitively upward trend of the Keeling Curve, a well-known climate change indicator.

To put this rapidly increasing number into perspective, consider that when the observatory was first established in 1958, the CO2 level was 315 ppm, slightly higher than the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm. Going back even further, ice-core research shows that today’s level of atmospheric COis unprecedented in the last 800,000 years.

CO2  is one of the most prevalent greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. While it is a vital part of our atmosphere’s mix of gases and helps keep the planet from freezing, too much of it causes problems. Simply put, more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap more heat and increase the planet’s average temperature.

Since the pre-industrial era, according to the IPCC, Earth’s mean temperature has increased 1°C (1.8°F).  As temperatures rise, long established weather patterns are shifting. Some areas are getting wetter, while others are getting dryer, and coastal communities are feeling the impacts of rising sea levels.

This new COmilestone, therefore, is not good news. The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C released this past autumn clearly states that the impacts of climate change will be greater at a lower degree of warming than previously thought. To avoid the worst of these various impacts, the report says greenhouse gas pollution must be reduced by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and slashed to net zero by 2050.

This type of reduction will require massive action and enormous political will.

Credit: Scripps/NOAA

April 2019: Eighth Warmest April on Record for NYC

April 2019 was unusually warm in New York City. It produced 18 days with above average readings, including one day where the temperature reached a summer-like 80°F. Overnight lows were also mostly warmer than normal.  In fact, on April 14, the mercury only fell to 60°F, setting a new record warm low temperature for the date. In the end, the city’s mean temperature for the month was 55.5°F, which is 2.5°F above average. That means April 2019 is now tied with April 1985 as the city’s eighth warmest April on record. The city saw its warmest April in 2010, when the average temperature for the month was 57.9°F.

This April was also above average in terms of precipitation, with 18 out of 30 days producing measurable rainfall. In all, 4.55 inches of rain was measured in Central Park. Of that total, 1.03 inches fell on a single day. The city, on average, gets 4.50 inches of rain for the entire month.

April 2019 was NYC’s 8th warmest April on record. Credit: The Weather Gamut

How Trees Help Fight Climate Change

Today is Arbor Day, a holiday that honors trees. While their beauty has been celebrated in countless poems and images over the years, trees are much more than aesthetic figures in the landscape. They are an essential part of the global ecosystem and play an important role in fighting climate change.

Trees are natural carbon sinks. They absorb and store carbon dioxide, and release oxygen via photosynthesis. Through this process, forests offset 10% to 20% of American greenhouse gas emissions every year, according to the US Forest Service. Moreover, they absorb other air pollutants and particulate matter produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists say trees remove over 35 billion pounds of pollution annually in the US, directly benefiting human health.

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.”

Credit: Climate Central

Why Earth Day Matters

Every day is Earth Day, as the saying goes. But, today marks the official celebration.

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.

Today, forty-nine years after the original, Earth Day is celebrated in nearly 200 countries around the world. Some communities have even expanded the celebration into a series of events for Earth Week or Earth Month. These continuing efforts to raise environmental awareness are more important than ever as we face the global challenges of climate change.

The scale of the problems presented by our changing climate are massive and require a government level response. But, individual actions also add up and can collectively put pressure on elected officials to respond to the issue.  To learn more about the personal actions you can take to protect the environment, visit: https://www.earthday.org/take-action

Image Credit: William Anders/NASA

Summer Preview Brings NYC First 80° Day of the Year

It felt more like June than April in New York City on Friday. The temperature in Central Park soared to 80°F, marking the city’s first 80-degree day of the year.

Topping out at 17°F above average, the day was unseasonably warm. However, it was not a record breaker. That honor belongs to April 19, 1976, when the mercury soared to 92°F. The low temperature was 58°F, which is also warmer than normal for the date.

This spring heat was the result of a ridge in the jet-stream that allowed warm southern air to move further north than it normally would at this time of year.  These balmy conditions did not last long, though. A heavy rainstorm moved through the region over night and brought temperatures back to more seasonable levels.

Summer does not officially begin until June 21.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

After Review Hurricane Michael Upgraded to Rare Category-5 Status

Hurricane Michael, which pummeled the Florida panhandle in October, has been upgraded from a category-4 to a category-5 storm, the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

According to a report by the National Hurricane Center, the storm’s winds reached 160mph when it made landfall near Mexico Beach, FL. That is a 5mph increase from the estimate used last autumn. The agency says the uptick was the result of a re-analysis of reams of data, including aircraft winds, surface winds, surface pressures, satellite intensity estimates, and Doppler radar velocities.  The review also took into account data that was not available in real time.

In the grand scheme of things, an increase of 5mph may not sounds like a lot, but it puts Michael in rare company. It now ranks as the fourth category-5 storm on record to make landfall in the US. The other three were the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Camille in 1969, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Michael is also the third cat-5 storm to hit the Sunshine state.

Regardless of the technical upgrade and historic statistics, Hurricane Michael was a devastating storm that will be long remembered by those it affected. The storm claimed the lives of 16 people and caused an estimated $25 billion in damage. More than six months after coming ashore, much of the area is still recovering.

Hurricane Michael making landfall as a Category 5 storm along the Florida Panhandle on October 10, 2018. Credit: NOAA

March 2019: Earth’s Second Warmest March on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with March 2019 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 56.81°F. That is 1.91°F above the 20th-century average. March was also the 411th 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 Alaska, northwestern Canada, as well as  large parts of Europe and Asia. These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change.

For many people in the contiguous US, especially in the northern and central parts of the country, this March was relatively cold. To put this disparity into context, consider that the United States constitutes less than 2% of the total surface of the Earth. This detail  also highlights the fact that climate change is a complex global phenomenon that involves much more than the short-term weather conditions that are happening in any one part of the world.

Year to date, the first three months of 2019 were the third warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

March 2019 was the planet’s second warmest March on record. Credit: NOAA