Record-Breaking Heat Wave In India Threatens Residents, Crucial Wheat Harvest

A record-breaking heat wave in India exposing hundreds of millions to dangerous temperatures is damaging the country’s wheat harvest, which experts say could hit countries seeking to make up imports of the food staple from conflict-riven Ukraine. NBC News reports: With some states in India’s breadbasket northern and central regions seeing forecasts with highs of 120 Fahrenheit this week, observers fear a range of lasting impacts, both local and international, from the hot spell. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month that India could step in to ease the shortfall created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The two countries account for nearly a third of all global wheat exports, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that the conflict could leave an additional 8 million to 13 million people undernourished by next year.

India’s wheat exports hit 8.7 million tons in the fiscal year ending in March, with the government predicting record production levels — some 122 million tons — in 2022. But the country has just endured its hottest March since records began, according to the India Meteorological Department, and the heat wave is dragging well into harvest time. The heat wave is hitting India’s main wheat-growing regions particularly hard, with temperatures this week set to hit 112 F in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh; 120 F in Chandigarh, Punjab; and 109 F in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Devendra Singh Chauhan, a farmer from Uttar Pradesh’s Etawah district, told NBC News that his wheat crop was down 60 percent compared to normal harvests.

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In California, an Army of Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Awaits Release

The U.S. government recently gave California approval to release millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes bred by British biotech company Oxitec, reports the Los Angeles Times:

Oxitec, a private company, says its genetically modified bugs could help save half the world’s population from the invasive Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can spread diseases such as yellow fever, chikungunya and dengue to humans. Female offspring produced by these modified insects will die, according to Oxitec’s plan, causing the population to collapse. “Precise. Environmentally sustainable. Non-toxic,” the company says on its website of its product trademarked as the “Friendly” mosquito.

Scientists independent from the company and critical of the proposal say not so fast. They say unleashing the experimental creatures into nature has risks that haven’t yet been fully studied, including possible harm to other species or unexpectedly making the local mosquito population harder to control….

Nathan Rose, Oxitec’s head of regulatory affairs, noted that the company found its mosquito reduced the population in a Brazilian neighborhood by 95% in just 13 weeks. So far, Oxitec has released little of its data from that experiment or from a more recent release in the Florida Keys. It hasn’t yet published any of those results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal — publications that scientists expect when evaluating a new drug or technology….

Among scientists’ concerns is that releasing the genetically modified mosquitoes into neighborhoods could create hybrids that are hardier and more dangerous to humans than the state’s current population…. An EPA spokesperson said regulators expected that mosquitoes with the corporate genes “would disappear from the environment within 10 generations of mosquitoes because they are not able to reproduce as successfully as local populations.” To prove this, the agency has required Oxitec to monitor neighborhoods for mosquitoes that have DNA from its engineered insects until none have been found for at least 10 consecutive weeks.
One bioethicist at Harvard Medical School told the Times that California has never had a case where this breed of mosquitos had actually transmitted disease, and argued that America’s Environmental Protection Agency was “not a modern enough regulatory structure for a very modern and complicated technology.”
After the U.S. government’s approval, the genetically-engineered mosquitors still face several more months of scientific evaluation from California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation.
Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 for sharing the link

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Amazon Nears ‘Tipping Point’ Where Rainforest Could Transform Into Savanna

If deforestation continues, the Amazon rainforest could reach a critical tipping point where most of it transforms into a dry savanna, a new study warns. Live Science reports: The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggests that more than 75% of the rainforest has steadily lost “resilience” since the 2000s, meaning those portions of the rainforest now can’t recover as easily from disturbances, such as droughts and wildfires. Regions of the rainforest that show the most profound losses in resilience are located near farms, urban areas and areas used for logging, Inside Climate News reported. Climate change, rampant deforestation and burnings conducted for agriculture and ranching have left the Amazon far warmer and drier than in decades past, and since 2000, the region has endured three major droughts, The New York Times reported.

By examining satellite images taken between 1991 and 2016, the researchers determined how long the rainforest took to bounce back after such events, The Guardian reported. The researchers determined that, since the turn of the 21st century, the rainforest has been taking longer and longer to recover biomass, meaning the mass of living trees and other vegetation, after droughts and fires. “That lack of resilience shows that, indeed, there is only so much of a beating that this forest can take,” Paulo Brando, a tropical ecologist at the University of California, Irvine who was not involved in the study, told The New York Times. If the rainforests surpasses this tipping point, the ecosystem could swiftly change into a vast savanna, unleashing tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide during the transformation, The Guardian reported.

At this point, can anything be done to prevent the Amazon rainforest from turning into the Amazon savanna? Experts say there is. “These systems are highly resilient, and the fact that we have reduced resilience doesn’t mean that it has lost all its resilience,” Brando told the Times. “If you leave them alone for a little bit, they come back super strongly.” But it requires key steps to be taken, experts said. “We have to get to zero deforestation, zero forest degradation,” Carlos Nobre, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Brazil, who was not involved in the study, told the Times. “We still have a chance to save the forest.”

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Methane Emissions From the Energy Sector Are 70% Higher Than Official Figures: IEA

New submitter Klaxton shares an excerpt from a new report released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA): Global methane emissions from the energy sector are about 70% greater than the amount national governments have officially reported, according to new IEA analysis released today, underlining the urgent need for enhanced monitoring efforts and stronger policy action to drive down emissions of the potent greenhouse gas. Methane is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and quick and sustained emission reductions are key to limiting near-term warming and improving air quality. Methane dissipates faster than carbon dioxide (CO2) but is a much more powerful greenhouse gas during its short lifespan, meaning that cutting methane emissions would have a rapid effect on limiting global warming.

The energy sector accounts for around 40% of methane emissions from human activity, and this year’s expanded edition of the IEA’s Global Methane Tracker includes country-by-country emissions from coal mines and bioenergy for the first time, in addition to continued detailed coverage of oil and natural gas operations. Methane emissions from the energy sector grew by just under 5% last year. This did not bring them back to their 2019 levels and slightly lagged the rise in overall energy use, indicating that some efforts to limit emissions may already be paying off. “At today’s elevated natural gas prices, nearly all of the methane emissions from oil and gas operations worldwide could be avoided at no net cost,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “The International Energy Agency has been a longstanding champion of stronger action to cut methane emissions. A vital part of those efforts is transparency on the size and location of the emissions, which is why the massive underreporting revealed by our Global Methane Tracker is so alarming.”

If all methane leaks from fossil fuel operations in 2021 had been captured and sold, then natural gas markets would have been supplied with an additional 180 billion cubic meters of natural gas. That is equivalent to all the gas used in Europe’s power sector and more than enough to ease today’s market tightness. The intensity of methane emissions from fossil fuel operations range widely from country to country: the best performing countries and companies are over 100 times better than the worst. Global methane emissions from oil and gas operations would fall by more than 90% if all producing countries matched Norway’s emissions intensity, the lowest worldwide.

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Could Texas Avoid Blackouts With Renewable Energy?

“Around this time last year, millions of Texans were shivering without power during one of the coldest spells to hit the central United States,” remembers the Washington Post. “For five days, blackouts prevented people from heating their homes, cooking or even sleeping. More than 200 people died in what is considered the nation’s costliest winter storm on record, amounting to $24 billion in damages.

“Twelve months later, the state’s electrical grid, while improved, is still vulnerable to weather-induced power outages.”

“If we got another storm this year, like Uri in 2021, the grid would go down again,” said Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. “This is still a huge risk for us.”

Now, a recent study shows that electricity blackouts can be avoided across the nation — perhaps even during intense weather events — by switching to 100 percent clean and renewable energy, such as solar, wind and water energy. “Technically and economically, we have 95 percent of the technologies we need to transition everything today,” said Mark Jacobson, lead author of the paper and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. Wind, water and solar already account for about one fifth of the nation’s electricity, although a full transition in many areas is slow.

The study showed a switch to renewables would also lower energy requirements, reduce consumer costs, create millions of new jobs and improve people’s health….

The team found the actual energy demand decreased significantly by simply shifting to renewable resources, which are more efficient. For the entire United States, total end-use energy demand decreased by around 57 percent. Per capita household annual energy costs were around 63 percent less than a “business as usual” scenario…. In Texas, a complete green transition would reduce the annual average end-use power demand by 56 percent. It also reduces peak loads, or the highest amount of energy one draws from the grid at a time. Jacobson said many homes would also have their own storage and wouldn’t need to rely on the grid as much.
The team also found interconnecting electrical grids from different geographic regions can make the power system more reliable and reduce costs. Larger regions are more likely to have the wind blowing, the sun shining or hydroelectric power running somewhere else, which may be able to help fill any supply gaps. “The intermittency of renewable energy declines as you look at larger and larger areas,” said Dessler. “If it’s not windy in Texas, it could be windy in Iowa. In that case, they could be overproducing power and they could be shipping some of their extra power to us.” The study stated costs per unit energy in Texas are 27 percent lower when interconnected with the Midwest grid than when isolated, as it currently is.

Interestingly, long-duration batteries aren’t important for grid stability. the team found, since our current 4-hour batteries can just be connected for longer-term storage. Professor Dessler tells the Post we should think of “renewables” as a system which includes storage technology and easily-dispatchable energy solutions.

And the Post adds that a grid powered by renewables “would also produce cleaner air, which could reduce pollution-related deaths by 53,000 people per year and reduce pollution-related illnesses for millions of people in 2050.”

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Should Winter Sports Venues Use Resource-Intensive Artificial Snow?

The region around this Winter’s Olympic venues “is in an extreme drought,” reports CNN, though “even in normal years, it isn’t particularly suitable for snow sports.” In fact, it’s the first year all the snow for the Winter Games has been created by a single company:

It is almost beautiful — except that the venues are surrounded by an endless brown, dry landscape completely devoid of snow. In an Olympic first, though not an achievement to boast about, climate variability has forced the Winter Games to be virtually 100% reliant on artificial snow — part of a trend that is taking place across winter sports venues around the world. Just one of the 21 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics in the past 50 years will have a climate suitable for winter sports by the end of the century, a recent study found, if fossil fuel emissions remain unchecked.

As the planet warms and the weather becomes increasingly more erratic, natural snow is becoming less reliable for winter sports, which forces venues to lean more on artificial snow. But it comes at a cost: human-made snow is incredibly resource-intensive, requiring massive amounts of energy and water to produce in a climate that’s getting warmer and warmer. Elite athletes also say that the sports themselves become trickier and less safe when human-made snow is involved…. “There have been recent technological advances that allow for the generation of snow when it is above freezing,” explained Jordy Hendrikx, the director of the Snow and Avalanche Laboratory at Montana State University. “This is not your ‘light fluffy’ snow that you might think of — it is much denser and not very soft….”

Making snow demands significant resources, namely energy and water…. And with 1.2 million cubic meters of snow needed to cover roughly 800,000 square meters of competition area… the water demand at this year’s Winter Olympics is massive. [According to a “Slippery Slopes” report led by Loughborough University in London on how the climate crisis is affecting the Winter Olympics.] The International Olympic Committee estimated that 49 million gallons of water will be needed to produce snow for The Games, which is a lot when you consider how rapidly the world is running out of freshwater. It’s enough to fill 3,600 average-sized backyard swimming pools, or — more to the point — it’s a day’s worth of drinking water for nearly 100 million people….

The IOC does not face these challenges alone. Artificial snow is being used as a tool to extend ski seasons in competitions and at resorts across the globe, many of which are threatened by the warming temperatures of the climate crisis. These challenges will continue to drive the snow sports industry toward artificial snow when Mother Nature doesn’t produce it.

But the question remains — just because we can, does that mean we should?

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The World Was Cooler In 2021 Than 2020. That’s Not Good News.

2021 was actually cooler than 2020, points out Wired science journalist Matt Simon. So is that good news?

One reason for cooler temperatures in 2021 was likely La Niña, a band of cold water in the Pacific. It’s the product of strong trade winds that scour the ocean, pushing the top layer of water toward Asia, causing deeper, colder waters to rush to the surface to fill the void. This in turn influences the atmosphere, for instance changing the jet stream above the United States and leading to more hurricanes in the Atlantic. The sea itself cools things off by absorbing heat from the atmosphere.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have had an additional influence, but not in the way you might think. As the world locked down in 2020, fewer emissions went into the sky, including aerosols that typically reflect some of the sun’s energy back into space. “If you take them away, you make the air cleaner, then that’s a slight warming impact on the climate,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, during a Thursday press conference announcing the findings. But as economic activity ramped back up in 2021, so did aerosol pollution, contributing again to that cooling effect. The 2021 temperature drop “may be possibly due to a resumption of activity that produces aerosols in the atmosphere,” Schmidt said…

Today’s findings are all the more alarming precisely because 2021 managed to overcome these cooling effects and still tally the sixth-highest temperature. And while global temperatures were cooler in 2021 than the year before, last year 1.8 billion people lived in places that experienced their hottest temperatures ever recorded, according to a report released today by Berkeley Earth. This includes Asian countries like China and North and South Korea, African nations like Nigeria and Liberia, and in the Middle East places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “We talk a lot about global average temperatures, but no one lives in the global average,” says Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Berkeley Earth. “In fact most of the globe, two-thirds of it, is ocean, and no one lives in the ocean — or very few people at least. And land areas, on average, are warming much faster than the rest of the world….”

Last summer in western Canada and the US Pacific Northwest, absurd temperatures of over 120 degrees Fahrenheit killed hundreds of people. According to Hausfather, the heat wave in Portland, Oregon, would have been effectively impossible without climate change, something like a once-every-150,000-year event.
It’s a fascinating article, that looks at trouble spots like Antarctica’s sea level-threatening “Doomsday Glacier” and a warming Gulf of Mexico, mapping the intensity of 2021’s temperature anomalies along with trend graphs for both global temperatures and land-vs-ocean averages. It touches on how climate change is impacting weather — everything from rain and floods to wildfires and locusts — as Bridget Seegers, an oceanographer at NASA, points out that “Extremes are getting worse. People are losing their homes and their lives and air quality, because the wildfires are bad.”
But Seegers somehow arrives at a positive thought. “There’s just a lot going on, and I want people to also feel empowered that we understand the problem. It’s just this other issue of deciding to take collective action….

“There’s a lot of reasons for optimism. We’re in charge. This would be a lot worse if we’re like, ‘Oh, it’s warming because we’re heading toward the sun, and we can’t stop it.'”

(Thanks to Slashdot reader Sanja Pantic for sharing the article!)

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World’s Largest Fish Breeding Grounds Found Under the Antarctic Ice

sciencehabit shares a report from The most extensive and densely populated breeding colony of fish anywhere lurks deep underneath the ice of the Weddell Sea, scientists aboard an Antarctic research cruise have discovered. The 240 square kilometers of regularly spaced icefish nests, east of the Antarctic Peninsula, has astonished marine ecologists. “We had no idea that it would be just on this scale, and I think that’s the most fantastic thing,” says Mark Belchier, a fish biologist with the British Antarctic Survey and the government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, who was not involved in the new work.

In February 2021, the RV Polarstern — a large German research ship — was breaking through sea ice in the Weddell Sea to study marine life. While towing video cameras and other instruments half a kilometer down, near the sea floor, the ship came upon thousands of 75-centimeter-wide nests, each occupied by a single adult icefish — and up to 2100 eggs. “It was really an amazing sight,” says deep-sea biologist Autun Purser of the Alfred Wegener Institute, who led the ship’s underwater imaging. Sonar revealed nests extending for several hundred meters, like a World War I battlefield scarred by miniature craters. High-resolution video and cameras captured more than 12,000 adult icefish (Neopagetopsis ionah). The fish, which grow to about 60 centimeters, are adapted to life in the extreme cold. They produce antifreezelike compounds, and — thanks to the region’s oxygen-rich waters — are among the only vertebrates to have colorless, hemoglobin-free blood.

Including three subsequent tows, the team on the RV Polarstern saw 16,160 closely packed fish nests, 76% of which were guarded by solitary males. Assuming a similar density of nests in the areas between the ship’s transects, the researchers estimate that about 60 million nests cover roughly 240 square kilometers, they report today in Current Biology. Because of their sheer numbers, the icefish and their eggs are likely key players in the local ecosystem. […] The vast colony, the researchers say, is a new reason to create a marine protected area in the Weddell Sea, an idea has been proposed five out of the past 6 years to the intergovernmental treaty organization that regulates fisheries there.

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Himalayan Glaciers Are Melting at Furious Rate, New Study Shows

Glaciers across the Himalayas are melting at an extraordinary rate, with new research showing that the vast ice sheets there shrank 10 times faster in the past 40 years than during the previous seven centuries. From a report: Avalanches, flooding and other effects of the accelerating loss of ice imperil residents in India, Nepal and Bhutan and threaten to disrupt agriculture for hundreds of millions of people across South Asia, according to the researchers. And since water from melting glaciers contributes to sea-level rise, glacial ice loss in the Himalayas also adds to the threat of inundation and related problems faced by coastal communities around the world. “This part of the world is changing faster than perhaps anybody realized,” said Jonathan Carrivick, a University of Leeds glaciologist and the co-author of a paper detailing the research published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports. “It’s not just that the Himalayas are changing really fast, it’s that they’re changing ever faster.”

Scientists have long observed ice loss from large glaciers in New Zealand, Greenland, Patagonia and other parts of the world. But ice loss in the Himalayas is especially rapid, the new study found. The researchers didn’t pinpoint a reason but noted that regional climate factors, such as shifts in the South Asian monsoon, may play a role. The new finding comes as there is scientific consensus that ice loss from glaciers and polar ice sheets results from rising global temperatures caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Many peer-reviewed scientific studies have identified human activity as a cause of rising global temperatures. So did a report issued in August by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said “human influence is very likely the main driver of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s.” For the new study, Dr. Carrivick and his colleagues scanned satellite photos of almost 15,000 glaciers in the region for signs of the large ridges of rock and debris that glaciers leave behind as they slowly grind their way through the valleys. Using the locations of these ancient glacial tracks, the scientists estimated the span of ice sheet coverage in previous centuries.

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