April 2019: Earth’s Second Warmest April on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with April 2019 marking the second warmest April ever recorded on this planet. Only April 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 58.37°F. That is 1.67°F above the 20th-century average. April was also the 412th 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 April, some places were particularly warm, including parts of Greenland, Scandinavia, 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 April was relatively cool. 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 four months of 2019 were the third warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

April 2019 was Earth’s second warmest April on record. Credit: NOAA

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 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

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

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

 

Climate Change is Making Allergy Season Longer

Spring is a season of rebirth. As temperatures warm, plants awaken from winter dormancy, generate pollen, and produce beautiful blooms. For allergy sufferers, however, the season can be a double-edged sword. With climate change extending the growing season, the outlook for people with seasonal allergies is less than rosy.

Across the US, the growing season – the period between the last and first freezes of the year – has lengthened by an average of two weeks since the 1970s, according to Climate Central. That means pollen allergies are staring earlier in the spring and lasting longer into the autumn. Tree pollen comes out in the spring, grass pollen strikes in the summer, and weed pollen is prevalent in the fall.

If global warming continues unchecked, studies show the growing season, and therefore the allergy season, expanding even further.

These changes to the growing season, like other climate change impacts, vary from region to region. The largest increase has been noted in the western states, according to the National Climate Assessment. Here in NYC, the growing season has increased an average of 21 days between 1970 and 2018.

Rising temperatures, however, are not the only factor for worsening allergy conditions. The carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air that causes the atmosphere to warm also plays a more direct role. When plants, particularly ragweed, are exposed to higher levels of CO2, they produce more pollen. Therefore, as concentrations of atmospheric CO2 continue to increase, pollen production will intensify.

Earth Posts 5th Warmest February and 4th Warmest Dec-Feb Season on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. February 2019 marked not only the fifth warmest February, but also closed out the planet’s fourth warmest December – February season on record.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for February – over both land and sea surfaces – was 55.32°F, which is 1.42°F above the 20th-century average. This February also marked the 410th 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.

The three-month period of December, January, and February – meteorological winter in the northern hemisphere – was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.51°F above the 20th century average of 53.8°F. That makes it the fourth warmest such period on record.

While heat dominated most of the planet this season, some places were particularly warm, including Alaska, Europe, Australia, and parts of Russia and Asia. Here in the contiguous US, this winter ranked among the warmest third of the nation’s 125-year period of record.

Coming on the heels of 2018 – the Earth’s fourth warmest year on record – these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

“Encounter 2019”: An Art and Science Exhibition on Climate Change

Art and science are coming together in Durham, England to help expand the public conversation on climate change. In a group exhibition titled Encounter 2019 at Ustinov College at Durham University, artworks of various mediums along with scientific research posters explore the diverse impacts of this pressing issue.

Curated by Miyoko Yamashita McGregor, the overall theme of the show investigates the interaction between climate change, nature, and society. It features the work of over 30 contributors, including several scientists who presented aspects of their research as artwork. Two examples from this category are The Heat is Piling Up and A Story of Climate Change. Both are artful and engaging displays of scientific data.

The Heat is Piling Up, by Professor Glenn McGregor, Principal of Ustinov College, and Professor Camila Caiado, is a colorful column of stripes that shows how the average temperature in Durham has been increasing since record keeping began there in 1850. (Image far left)

A Story of Climate Change by Professor Dave Roberts is a digital x-ray image of a sediment core collected from the Hebridean Continental Shelf. It was taken as part of the NERC Britice-Chrono project, which is attempting to reconstruct a picture of the advance and retreat of the British-Irish Ice Sheet during the last glacial cycle. (Image near left).

Honored to be included in the exhibition, several pieces from my Under Glass series and my ongoing project, American Glaciers: Going, Going, Gone are also on display.

Encounter 2019 is the second of three Encounter exhibits planned by the University. It will be on view from March 2 – 14, 2019 at Ustinov College, Sheraton Park, Durham University, Durham DH1 4FL, UK.

Icebergs break off from Portage Glacier, AK. Credit: Melissa Fleming