Climate change to decrease average number of mild weather days


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Residents enjoy pleasant weather at Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Louis/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 24, 2017

The first of its kind, a recent study found that climate change is likely to decrease the number of “nice weather” days worldwide.

The authors of the study, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and Princeton University, define “nice” or “mild” days as those days when temperatures are between 64 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, dew points are below 68 degrees Fahrenheit and less than half of an inch of rain falls. Currently there are an average of 74 nice days globally per year, but that number is likely to drop to 70 in the next twenty years and to 64 by 2081.

Karin van der Wiel is a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University and lead author of the study. She said,

“We used a climate model to simulate the current climate. In that simulation we counted the number of mild days. Then, we increased greenhouse gases in the climate model to simulate the future effects of climate change. This leads to increasing temperatures, changes in humidity, changes in precipitation over the whole world and with very specific patterns. In this new, future climate, we counted the number of mild days again. We could then calculate the change — increase or decrease — of mild weather days for each location globally.”

Not all corners of the Earth will be affected equally, however. Tropical regions are expected to lose the most nice days, with some areas losing up to 50 per year by the end of this century. Meanwhile, London is expected to gain 24 nice days each year.

Predictions for Cedar Rapids, Iowa mirror global averages. Eastern Iowa currently enjoys 76 nice days annually; researchers say that number is expected to drop to an average of 72 between 2016 and 2035 and to 66 each year between 2081 through 2100.

Frequent high humidity makes it tough for Iowa to meet the pleasant weather criteria outlined in the study. Absolute humidity has risen by 13 percent during the summer months in Des Moines since 1970, according to Iowa State climate scientist Gene Takle. Increased humidity also contributes to the extreme rain events that have plagued Iowa in recent years.

van der Wiel said, “Mild weather is something everyone knows, experiences, and has memories of,” she continued, “Our study shows that human-caused climate change is going to lead to changes in mild weather all over… The changes are happening now, and where people live.”

2016 marks third consecutive hottest year on record


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Ethiopia, among many other African countries, experienced extreme drought and famine in 2016. (European Comission DG Echo/flickr)

 Jenna Ladd | January 19, 2017

Yet another record was set on Wednesday when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) released its annual Climate Report.

The report announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year. Deke Arndt is the chief of the monitoring group at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, N.C.

Arndt said, “[Last year] was the warmest year on record, beating 2015 by a few hundredths of a degree, and together those two years really blow away the rest of our record.” He continued, “And that doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you take that and you average it all the way around the planet, that’s a big number.”

Rising temperatures were not limited to certain regions. Experts said that some part of every major ocean and every major continent experienced record heat. The Arctic, however, saw some of the most extreme warming. During Fall of 2016, temperatures were a full 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average across large parts of the Arctic ocean.

Scientists say the long-term warming caused by climate change was intensified by the El Niño weather phenomenon during 2015 and 2016. Their combined effect caused drought and famine in Zambia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, among other countries. Now that El Niño is coming to an end, Arndt said that the annual temperature-recording breaking probably will too, but an overall warming trend will continue.

Arndt said, “The long-term warming is driven almost entirely by greenhouse gases. We’ve seen a warming trend related to greenhouse gases for four, five, six decades now.”

The Climate Report, along with a separate analysis by NASA which duplicated its results, were released on the same day that confirmation hearings began for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated by President-elect Trump to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, who staunchly supports the fossil fuel industry, is identified as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” in his official biography.

The complete report and a summary of its findings can be found here.

New research predicts the future of coral reefs


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Extensive stand of severely bleached coral at Lisianski Island in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (NOAA)

 Jake Slobe | January 18, 2017

New climate model projections of the world’s coral reefs reveal which reefs will be hit by annual coral bleaching first.

These projections, based on global climate models, predict when and where annual coral bleaching will occur. The projections show that reefs in Taiwan and around the Turks and Caicos archipelago will be among the world’s first reefs to experience annual bleaching. Other reefs, like those off the coast of Bahrain, in Chile and in French Polynesia, will be hit decades later, according to research recently published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said about the study:

“These predictions are a treasure trove for those who are fighting to protect one of the world’s most magnificent and important ecosystems from the ravages of climate change. They allow conservationists and governments to prioritize the protection of reefs that may still have time to acclimatize to our warming seas. The projections show us where we still have time to act before it’s too late.”

The dangerous effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef have long worried scientists. In April of last year, a team of researchers reported that coral bleaching of the reef in 2016 was the worst that had ever been observed.

If current trends continue, according to the study, 99 percent of all reefs on Earth will experience severe bleaching every year within the next 100 years.

The new study shows that, on average, the world’s reefs will start suffering annual bleaching in 2043. About 5 percent of them will be hit a decade or earlier, while about 11 percent will suffer annual bleaching a decade or later than this date.

If emission reductions meet pledges made by countries under the Paris Agreement, coral reefs would have another 11 years, on average, to adapt to warming seas before they are hit by annual bleaching. If such emissions reductions become reality, many high and low latitude reefs in Australia, the south Pacific, India, Coral Triangle and the Florida Reef Tract will have at least 25 more years before annual bleaching occurs, buying time for conservation efforts. However, reefs near the equator will experience annual bleaching much sooner, even if emissions reductions pledges become reality.

Predicting when and where annual bleaching occurs will help policymakers and conservationists decide which reefs to prioritize. Study leader Dr. Ruben van Hooidonk of NOAA and the University of Miami said:

“Reefs that will suffer annual bleaching later – known as climate “refugia” – are top priorities because they have more time to respond positively to efforts that seek to reduce bleaching vulnerability.”

Some of these efforts include reducing land-based pollution, halting overfishing, and preventing damage from tourism.

Coral reefs, which are already under threat from overfishing and tourism, are especially vulnerable to climate change because they are easily affected by warm water. When sea temperatures rise, the algae that give coral its bright colors leave their host.. The loss of algae, which provide coral with much of its energy, make corals vulnerable to starvation and disease.

Known as the world’s underwater cities, coral reefs provide hundreds of millions of people with food, income and coastal protection. They are home to at least one-quarter of all marine life and they generate an estimated $375 billion per year from fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection.

Arctic region sees unprecedented warming in 2016


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NASA scientists surveying Arctic melt ponds during the summer months of 2011. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 14, 2016

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) presented its annual Arctic Report Card on Tuesday, and there’s no cause for celebration.

Scientists say that the Arctic experienced its warmest year ever recorded, and temperatures in the region are rising at “astonishing” rates. Jeremy Mathis is director of NOAA’s Arctic research program, he said, “Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year.”

Scientists explained that warming which used to only have an effect in the summer months is now affecting the Arctic year-round. Mathis added, “The Arctic as a whole is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet.”

The report said that the warming of the Arctic can be explained by long-term increases in carbon dioxide emissions and air temperatures as well as natural seasonal and regional variability. These effects are compounded by the feedback loops in the Arctic climate system. Before human-induced climate change, the Arctic region remained cool because large areas of ice and snow reflected much of the sun’s rays back into space. Now that large areas of the ice and snow are melting away, the sun’s rays absorb into the dark land masses and ocean water, causing temperatures to rise more quickly.

Mathis said, “What happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

He explained that warm temperatures in the Arctic could be influencing jet stream patterns in the Northern hemisphere, potentially causing extreme weather in the United States.

Rafe Pomerance, a member of the Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences, was not involved with the report card. He said,“The 2016 Arctic Report Card further documents the unraveling of the Arctic and the crumbling of the pillars of the global climate system that the Arctic maintains.”

Researchers perplexed by tornado clusters’ growing size


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An image of a tornado touching down in Oklahoma in May of 1981 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s photo archive. (NOAA/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 2, 2016

A recent study in the journal Science reveals that tornado outbreaks are growing in size, and scientists are unsure why.

The study was published just days after 18 tornadoes devastated parts of the Southeast United States Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. The study’s lead author, Michael Tippett of Columbia University, said that 50 years ago tornado clusters, may have involved about 12 tornados, now they average roughly 20. The researchers studied the most extreme outbreaks, which happen about once every five years, and discovered a steady increase in tornado cluster size since the mid-1960’s.

Before the outbreak on Tuesday, 2016 had seen a record low number of tornadoes. In an interview with the Associated Press, Tippett said,“Something’s up. The tornadoes that do occur are occurring in clusters. It’s not any increase in the (total) number of tornadoes.” In contrast with upticks in other kinds of extreme weather, researchers are not seeing a connection between human-induced climate change and larger tornado clusters. Tippett said, “It’s not what we expected. Either it’s not climate change because not everything is, or it is some aspect of climate change we don’t understand yet.”

The article mentioned that the circulation of warm water in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans could be responsible for the tornado clusters’ growth over the years, but there is no evidence yet to support this claim.

Other scientists question the validity of Tippett’s study, claiming that increased reporting and the prevalence of urban sprawl may be responsible for the perceived growth of tornado outbreaks. One critic is Howard Bluestein, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma. He said, “It’s a useful exercise, but I would be very, very careful in accepting it.”

Seven people were killed by this week’s tornado cluster, several more were injured.

NOAA expects Iowa winter to be unpredictable


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Iowa falls between regions of the country that will a experience particularly  cold winter and those that will have a particularly warm winter. (NOAA)
Jenna Ladd | October 21, 2016

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its predictions for winter weather on Thursday.

Last year the midwest experienced the warmest winter on record in 121 years, but this year NOAA says that Iowans can expect a grab bag of both warm and cold temperatures. Both temperature and precipitation are expected to hover around average from December through February for much of the state, except for the northern most part of the state, which is expected to be colder than usual.

NOAA also expects a weak La Niña this year. La Niña is characterized by particularly cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, and often affects weather trends in the United States. Variances in La Niña’s strength and duration from year to year can make forecasting winter temperatures difficult. Mike Halpert is deputy director with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, he said, “Because there is still some uncertainly about when La Niña will develop and persist through the winter, probabilities on the maps this year are fairly conservative.”

Winter 2015-2016 was the wettest Iowa winter on record in 101 years. Other parts of the Midwest and the Western U.S. are predicted to receive high amounts precipitation this year, with Idaho, North Dakota and the Ohio Valley all among those that will be affected. Unusually cool temperatures are on the forecast from Eastern Montana through Wisconsin.

In short, NOAA expects wetter and colder than usual temperatures for the far northern Midwest and warmer with drier winter conditions for the Southern U.S., and most of Iowa falls somewhere in the middle. Much like most winters, Iowans should prepare for anything.

Study: Fireworks contribute to air pollution, public health issues


A 2008 Fourth of July fireworks show in Des Moines. (Andy Langager/Flickr)
A 2008 Fourth of July firework show in Des Moines. (Andy Langager/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | July 3, 2015

Firework shows have long been a Fourth of July tradition but new research finds that they could be more damaging to the environment and public health than previously thought.

A recent study published in the journal Atmospheric Science found that firework shows lead to a 42 percent increase in concentrations of fine particulate matter in the air on July 4 alone. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) looked at data from 315 sites around the country between 1999 and 2013 and found that ten of the sites saw air quality levels that would be deemed unsafe based on Environmental Protection Agency standards. Air quality was found to be poorest between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Independence Day with levels generally returning to normal around noon on July 5.

“We chose the holiday, not to put a damper on celebrations of America’s independence, but because it is the best way to do a nationwide study of the effects of fireworks on air quality,” said Dian Seidel, a senior scientist at NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory in College Park, Maryland. “These results will help improve air quality predictions, which currently don’t account for fireworks as a source of air pollution. The study is also another wake up call for those who may be particularly sensitive to the effects of fine particulate matter.”

Data from EPA shows that high levels of fine particulate matter can cause health issues ranging from heart attacks to respiratory problems.

Check out this interactive map to look at real-time air quality data in your area.