Blue Marble - August 2012

Photos: Despite Record Melt, Signs of Hope for Greenland Ice

| Fri Aug. 3, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

To view photo descriptions, click full screen, then "Show info."

One of the primary forces behind climate-change-driven sea level rise is the Greenland Ice Sheet. Covering 80 percent of Greenland, it's the world's second-largest chunk of ice (after the Antarctic Ice Sheet) and dumps 240 billion tons of fresh water into the oceans every year, accounting for a full fifth of annual sea level rise. And in recent years it's been melting faster than ever, enough to make it a primary target of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has tapped teams of scientists to see what the full effect of the increased melting could be. Some reports say the rise worldwide from a disappearing Greenland Ice Sheet could be as much as a meter, enough to wreak havoc on places like New York City and low-lying Palau.

But a study out yesterday in Science paints a more optimistic picture: Even with global warming, the ice sheet may be able to slow its melting rate much faster than previously thought. A team of Danish researchers used archived aerial photos (shown in the slideshow above) of the ice sheet, dating back to the early '80s, to compare other episodes of rapid melting in the last few decades. What they show, lead author Kurt Kjær of the University of Copenhagen said in a statement, is that the ice sheet is dynamic, able to shift quickly from melting to holding firm; the record melt we've seen recently could be over in as soon as eight years. For that reason, he said, it's wrong to use the current melting rate to make predictions about sea level rise in the coming century, as some studies have done.

"It's too early to proclaim the 'ice sheet's future doom' and subsequent contribution to serious water problems for the world," he said. "It turns out that the ice sheet is able to more quickly stabilize itself in comparison to what many other models and computer calculations predict."

Photos courtesy of Niels J. Korsgaard and Anders A. Bjørk, Natural History Museum of Denmark

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WATCH: The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers

Thu Aug. 2, 2012 12:25 PM EDT

This story was produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Americans love hamburgers—we each eat an average of three a week. But what are the hidden costs? It turns out that industrial beef creates about as much greenhouse gas pollution as cars, planes and other forms of transport. It also takes a heavy environmental toll on land and water worldwide. How can we reduce our impact? Learn more in this animated short from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Credits:

Carrie Ching: Director/Producer/Reporter
Sarah Terry-Cobo: Reporter/Narrator
Arthur Jones: Illustrator/Animator

Highlight Reel: Senate Climate Change Smackdown

| Thu Aug. 2, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

In summer 2009, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) butted heads in what was to be the last Senate hearing on climate change for three years. Then, the debate was over pending climate change legislation, with both sides firing off the usual arguments: obstructionism by the right and overspending by the left. The two powerhouse legislators locked horns again yesterday on climate change for the first time since then, but this time the argument amongst members of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee was back to climate kindergarten: Is it actually happening?

Fortunately, there were actually a few climate scientists on hand, including IPCC lead author Christopher Field and Harvard oceanographer James McCarthy, along with John Christy, an Alabama climatologist tapped by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to lead the denial side. Later, the panel heard from a trio of business and civic planning officials, who testified on the public health risks posed by climate change and on ways private enterprise can adapt (or not).

Maps: The Secrets Drillers Can Hide About the Fracking in Your Backyard

| Wed Aug. 1, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Are frackers in your state allowed to keep secrets?

A new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that most states where fracking occurs have no disclosure laws at all, and that those that do are woefully behind when it comes to revealing behind-the-scenes details of their operations. While the Obama administration has put some new rules in place, many decisions about what drillers are allowed to hide are left to the states; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar complained to Reuters that state-level regulation is "not good enough for me, because states are at very different levels, some have zero, some have decent rules."

That's a problem, study author Amy Mall said, because unlike coal plants and other large-scale energy operations, fracked natural gas wells are often in close proximity to houses, schools, or other high-traffic areas.

At stake is a trove of information: exact ingredients of the chemical cocktail used to frack a particular site, when and where drillers plan to frack, how toxic wastewater is to be dealt with, and many more basic details, all of which could be useful to local politicians and residents concerned about health impacts, groundwater and air pollution, and seismic activity associated with fracking.

"The state laws on the books aren't anywhere near where they need to be for the public to have information to protect their communities," Mall said.

The maps below highlight just a few areas covered by the report. Click on states for info on their laws, and for more detail check out the full version here.

Are drillers required to disclose chemical mixes before fracking?

Are drillers required to notify nearby stakeholders of their intent to frack?

Are drillers required to disclose details about their wastewater?

Are drillers required to disclose trade secrets to health care providers?