Current (May 2014) resources on climate change

May, 2014, was a busy month for climate change information. Here is an annotated bibliography of source materials that appeared in just the first half of the month.

  1. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Don Hopey, summarizing the "sector" section of the third National Climate Assessment. Significant points in the article include:
    • [Pennsylvania can expect] warmer winters and less snowfall,... more intense [rainstorms,] greater flood risk, particularly in valleys, where people, infrastructure and agriculture tend to be concentrated.
    • [C]ontinuing sea level rise could triple the frequency of flooding and severely damage water, sewer and electrical systems and human health. [F]looding along the Atlantic seaboard could cause “multiple systems failures in a cascade effect,” and ...extreme heat waves could be deadly for young people, the elderly and the disadvantaged.
    • Pennsylvania ... approved an almost 800-page climate action plan in December 2009. The state Department of Environmental Protection issued an updated report at the end of last year that removed a provision in the 2009 plan that set an air pollution reduction target of 30 percent by 2020, pays little attention to renewable energy or proposed expansion of natural gas usage and mandates no state action. [Emphasis added]
  2. An analysis sponsored by the United States Department of Defense, summarized in the New York Times, describing the military implications of climate disruption. The report concludes that the DOD needs to be prepared for:
    • Violent conflicts around the world, caused by competition for scarce water.
    • Degraded military capabilities, due to climate impacts on US naval and military bases.
    • Political instability, with more displaced populations and rise in 'terrorism'.

    The New York Times article also quoted reaction from the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee (which oversees the DOD), James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma. Sen. Inhofe is a climate-science skeptic who wants the Pentagon to stay focused on more traditional threats:
    For anyone to say that any type of global warming is anywhere close to the threat that we have with crazy people running around with nuclear weapons, it shows how desperate they are to get the public to buy this.

  3. Two scientific papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, documented the accelerated melting of Antarctic ice, which they conclude is now "irreversible."
    • Eric Rignot, et al., in Geophysical Research Letters, used satellite measurements to track the retreat of glaciers, and assessed the effect of the sea-bottom terrain beneath the ice shelf. The report concluded that "supports are vanishing" and "we find no major bed obstacle that would prevent the glaciers from further retreat and draw[ing] down the entire basin." In a press conference announcing the publication, Dr. Rignot said, "A large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into irreversible retreat. It has passed the point of no return." He estimated that the melting of these glaciers alone would contribute to a rise in average sea levels of between four and twelve feet (depending on the cascading effects on other Antarctic ice which have not been adequately modeled).
    • The other paper, in the journal Science, by Ian Joughin, et al, used numerical simulations to model how instability would grow, given the observed early stages of melting of the glaciers. The authors concluded that "early-stage collapse has begun" and has already become irreversibly unstable. A companion article in Science magazine, written for lay readers, puts the conclusions more starkly:
      A disaster may be unfolding—in slow motion. Earlier this week, two teams of scientists reported that Thwaites Glacier, a keystone holding the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet together, is starting to collapse. In the long run, they say, the entire ice sheet is doomed. It would release enough meltwater to raise sea levels by more than 3 meters.

    In April, two other research papers documented the contributions of fracking to climate change. (They are summarized in an article in Ecowatch):

  4. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Stanford University reported on actual measurements of atmospheric methane in Washington County (PA).
    In coverage of this study in the Los Angeles Times, the researchers noted that their measurements were higher "by two or three orders of magnitude" (i.e., by 100 to 1,000 times) than the estimates given by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The researchers also noted that "the EPA's approach puts the regulators at the mercy of the energy companies, which control access to the places where methane measurements should be made."
  5. A broader study, reported in Science magazine, also suggests that 'official' estimates are seriously understating the magnitued of fugitive methane emissions from operations of the natural gas industry. Their work synthesized reports from many different studies, and supported the suggestion that 'industry self-selection' introduces a bias into the government's estimating process - which relies on individual operators' decision to self-report.