The Tibetan plateau is heating up by 0.3°C each decade. At more than twice the worldwide average, according to a new study from the Tibet Meteorological Bureau, as reported by New Scientist. The research reinforces a growing realization that high altitudes in tropical regions are experiencing dramatic temperature increases similar to those at the poles. Over the last 50 years, temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctica have risen by 0.2°C and approximately 0.5°C per decade, respectively, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The reason surface temperatures at the poles are warming so quickly is because the seawater temperature around them has risen faster there than anywhere else on Earth. Warming waters also play a role in the tropics. When the already warm tropical waters heat up further, due to global warming, they evaporate even more moisture, which rises straight to the upper atmosphere.
In 2000, researchers published a study looking at temperature changes on the Tibetan plateau since the 1950s, which found that temperature was not only increasing with time, but also with elevation across the plateau. They concluded the plateau is one of the most sensitive areas in the world in its response to global climate change. A study published in 2006 in Science found similar increases in air temperature at high-elevation weather stations in the Andes.
Greenhouse-gas emissions have made the Northern Hemisphere wetter &mdash and climate models appear to have underestimated the changes. Research from the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, published in Nature, finds that human activity has made the weather wetter in a large slice of the Northern Hemisphere, while making the regions just south of the Equator wetter, and those just north of it drier. Agriculture and human health have already been affected. The proof that human activity has altered rainfall patterns was found in comparisons of observed changes with climate models. Specifically with observed rainfall during the twentieth century compared to rainfall predicted by 14 climate models. In the zone between 40 and 70 °N, which includes much of North America and most of Europe, rainfall increased by 62 millimeters per century between 1925 and 1999. The researchers estimate that between 50 and 85% of this increase can be attributed to human activity.
A quarter of adult New Yorkers have elevated blood mercury levels. According to survey results released today by the New York City Health Department (read the full stats here), the elevations are closely tied to fish consumption. Asian and higher-income New Yorkers eat more fish, and have higher average mercury levels, than others both locally and nationally. The Health Department says these levels may increase the risk of cognitive delays for children whose mothers had high mercury levels during pregnancy. The Department also claims these elevated levels pose little if any health risk for most adults. . . Hmm. Right. So how come Canada's "safe" mercury level is half that of the U.S., while Britain's and China's are one-third? JULIA WHITTY
More than half the whales killed by Japanese whalers in the Antarctic last summer were pregnant females. The Mercury, in Hobart, Tasmania, reports on the claims of the Humane Society International that of the 505 Antarctic minke whales killed, 262 were pregnant females, while one of the three giant fin whales killed was also pregnant. The findings came from a review of Japanese reports from their most recent 2006-07 whale hunt in Antarctic waters and were released ahead of the resumption of an Australian Federal Court case the HSI is taking against Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd. "These are gruesome statistics that the Japanese government dresses up as science," HSI spokeswoman Nicola Beynon said in a statement. "The full hearing will be to determine whether Japanese whalers are in breach of Australian law when they hunt whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary in Antarctica and whether the court will issue an injunction for the hunt to be stopped," Ms Beynon said. . . Fingers crossed. JULIA WHITTY
Researchers have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets. Someday homeowners will be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers, say the inventors from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations. "Imagine some day driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine," says author Somenath Mitra of NJIT. . . Bring it on. There are millions of us waiting.JULIA WHITTY
Renewable energy projects in Britain not only help in the fight against climate change but also bring people together, revitalize local economies, and alleviate poverty. This according to a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The study documented more than 500 community energy projects happening in the UK, far more than researchers expected to find. "There is a huge demand for this," says project leader Professor Gordon Walker. "It's no longer a question of convincing the public that small scale renewable energy is a good idea. Whenever money is made available it is snapped up immediately." The vast majority of projects, which are rural, provide new income for farmers. Some have been set up and run by communities, with shared ownership of the technology, like the cooperatively owned 750-kilowatt wind turbine at Bro Dyfi in Wales. The researchers found good projects are often driven forward by strong local enthusiasts intent on meeting a local need. . . Sounds delightfully subversive. JULIA WHITTY
Ice loss from glaciers and ice caps is expected to cause more global sea rise this century than the massive Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. A startling new University of Colorado at Boulder study finds glaciers and ice caps currently contributing 60 percent of the world's ice to the oceans, with the rate markedly accelerating in the past decade. The contribution is presently 100 cubic miles of ice annually, a volume nearly equal to the water in Lake Erie, and is rising by three cubic miles per year. In contrast, Greenland now contributes 28 percent of the total global sea rise from ice loss and Antarctica 12 percent. The acceleration of glaciers and ice caps is due, at least in part, to rapid changes in the flow of tidewater glaciers discharging icebergs into the ocean. The team estimates the accelerating melt of glaciers and ice caps could add 4 inches to 9.5 inches of additional sea-level rise globally by 2100 &mdash not including the thermal expansion of warming ocean water, which could double those numbers. A one-foot sea-level rise typically causes a shoreline retreat of 100 feet or more. . . In other words, even if the big canons stay frozen, these little guys are going to inflict a lot of damage.
A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home. This, according to New Scientist's Daniele Fanelli, is the conclusion of a study out of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan. The team looked at the effects of beef production on global warming, water acidification and eutrophication, and energy consumption. They focussed on calf production, animal management, and the effects of producing and transporting feed, to calculate the total environmental load of a portion of beef. They concluded that a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometers (155 miles), and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. The calculations did not include the impact of managing farm infrastructure and transporting the meat, so the total environmental load is even higher. . . Still want that burger? How about one of these instead? Yum yum. JULIA WHITTY
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