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08 Jan

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

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Seas absorb 90% of climate change’s energy as new research reveals vast heating over past 150 years

An Argo float is deployed into the ocean

An Argo float is deployed into the ocean. Photograph: CSIRO

Global warming has heated the oceans by the equivalent of one atomic bomb explosion per second for the past 150 years, according to analysis of new research.

More than 90% of the heat trapped by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions has been absorbed by the seas, with just a few per cent heating the air, land and ice caps respectively. The vast amount of energy being added to the oceans drives sea-level rise and enables hurricanes and typhoons to become more intense.

Much of the heat has been stored in the ocean depths but measurements here only began in recent decades and existing estimates of the total heat the oceans have absorbed stretch back only to about 1950. The new work extends that back to 1871. Scientists have said that understanding past changes in ocean heat was critical for predicting the future impact of climate change.

A Guardian calculation found the average heating across that 150-year period was equivalent to about 1.5 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs per second. But the heating has accelerated over that time as carbon emissions have risen, and was now the equivalent of between three and six atomic bombs per second.

“I try not to make this type of calculation, simply because I find it worrisome,” said Prof Laure Zanna, at the University of Oxford, who led the new research. “We usually try to compare the heating to [human] energy use, to make it less scary.”

She added: “But obviously, we are putting a lot of excess energy into the climate system and a lot of that ends up in the ocean,. There is no doubt.” The total heat taken up by the oceans over the past 150 years was about 1,000 times the annual energy use of the entire global population.

The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and combined measurements of the surface temperature of the ocean since 1871 with computer models of ocean circulation.

Prof Samar Khatiwala, also at the University of Oxford and part of the team, said: “Our approach is akin to ‘painting’ different bits of the ocean surface with dyes of different colours and monitoring how they spread into the interior over time. If we know what the sea surface temperature anomaly was in 1871 in the North Atlantic Ocean we can figure out how much it contributes to the warming in, say, the deep Indian Ocean in 2018.”

Rising sea level has been among the most dangerous long-term impacts of climate change, threatening billions of people living in coastal cities, and estimating future rises is vital in preparing defences. Some of the rise comes from the melting of land-bound ice in Greenland and elsewhere, but another major factor has been the physical expansion of water as it gets warmer.

However, the seas do not warm uniformly as ocean currents transport heat around the world. Reconstructing the amount of heat absorbed by the oceans over the past 150 years is important as it provides a baseline. In the Atlantic, for example, the team found that half the rise seen since 1971 at low and middle latitudes resulted from heat transported into the region by currents.

The new work would help researchers make better predictions of sea-level rise for different regions in the future. “Future changes in ocean transport could have severe consequences for regional sea-level rise and the risk of coastal flooding,” the researchers said. “Understanding ocean heat change and the role of circulation in shaping the patterns of warming remain key to predicting global and regional climate change and sea-level rise.”

Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist who was not involved in the new research, said: “The ocean heating rate has increased as global warming has accelerated, and the value is somewhere between roughly three to six Hiroshima bombs per second in recent decades, depending on which dataset and which timeframe is used. This new study estimates the ocean heating rate at about three Hiroshima bombs per second for the period of 1990 to 2015, which is on the low end of other estimates.”

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When the ice melts: the catastrophe of vanishing glaciers

 

Denali national park and preserve, Alaska. Photograph: Dahr Jamail

As global temperatures rise, shrivelling glaciers and thawing permafrost threaten yet more climate disruption. How should we confront what is happening to our world?

By

As global temperatures rise, shrivelling glaciers and thawing permafrost threaten yet more climate disruption. How should we confront what is happening to our world?

The fall lasts long enough that I have time to watch the blue ice race upward, aeons of time compressed into glacial ice, flashing by in fractions of seconds. I assume I’ve fallen far enough that I’ve pulled my climbing partner, Sean, into the crevasse with me. This is what it’s like to die in the mountains, a voice in my head tells me.

Just as my mind completes that thought, the rope wrenches my climbing harness up. I bounce languidly up and down as the dynamic physics inherent in the rope play themselves out. Somehow Sean has checked my fall while still on the surface of the glacier.

I brush the snow and chunks of ice from my hair, arms and chest and pull down the sleeves of my shirt. Finding my glacier glasses hanging from the pocket of my climbing bib, I tuck them away. I check myself for injuries and, incredibly, find none. Assessing my situation, I find there’s no ice shelf nearby to ease the tension from the rope, so Sean will not be able to begin setting up a pulley system to extract me.

I look down. Nothing but blackness. I look at the wall of blue ice directly in front of me, take a deep breath and peer up at the tiny hole I made when I fell through the snow bridge spanning the crevasse – the same bridge Sean had crossed without incident as we made our way up Alaska’s Matanuska Glacier towards Mount Marcus Baker in the Chugach Range.

“You get to look down one more time, then that’s it,” I tell myself out loud.

Again, there’s only the black void yawning beneath me, swallowing everything, even sound. My stomach clenches. I remind myself to breathe.

“Sean, are you OK?” I yell as I clamp my mechanical ascenders to the rope in preparation to climb up.

“Yeah, I’m all right, but I’m right on the edge,” he calls back. “I can’t set up an anchor, so we’re just going to have to wait for the other guys to catch up.”

Time passes. The onset of hypothermia means I can’t control my body from periodically shaking. To ignore my fear of dying, I gaze meditatively at the ice a few feet in front of me as I dangle.

The miniature air pockets found in the whiter ice near the top of the glacier have long since been compressed, producing the mesmerising beauty of centuries-old turquoise ice. Slightly deeper into the crevasse is ice that has been there since long before the Neanderthals.

I hang suspended in silence, mindful not to move for fear of dislodging Sean. Giving my full attention to the ice immediately within my vision, I focus on how the gently refracting light from above seems to penetrate and reflect off the perfectly smooth wall. Staring into it, the blue seems infinite. Despite the danger of my situation, the glacier’s beauty calms me.

Eventually our two other teammates arrive and work to extract Sean from his perch just six inches from the edge of the crevasse. The three of them set up a three-way pulley system. Laboriously, my teammates begin to haul me up, inches at a time, out of what nearly became my tomb. I continue to focus on the delicately shifting shades of blue in the ice as I draw closer to the surface.

My teammates pull me up to the lip of the crevasse. I repeatedly plunge the pick of my ice axe into the snow and haul myself out, never before as grateful for being on top of a glacier. I stand and gaze up at a mountain to the west, behind which the sun has just set. Snow plumes stream off one of its ridges, turned into red ribbons by the setting sun. Snowflakes flicker as they float into space.

As relief floods my shivering body, I roar in gratitude. Utterly overwhelmed by being alive and surrounded by the beauty of the mountain world, I hug each of my three climbing partners. Now that I am safe, it sinks in just how close to death I’ve been.

That was 22 April 2003 – Earth Day. In hindsight, I believe the emotion I felt then stemmed in part from something else – a deeper consciousness that the ice I had seen was vanishing. Seven years of climbing in Alaska had provided me with a front-row seat from where I could witness the dramatic impact of human-caused climate disruption. Each year, we found that the toe of the glacier had shrivelled further. Each year, for the annual early season ice-climbing festival on this glacier, we found ourselves hiking further up the crusty frozen mud left behind by its rapidly retreating terminus. Each year, the parking lot was moved closer to the glacier, only to be left farther away as the ice withdrew. Even sections of Denali – the highest mountain in North America, which stands more than 20,000 feet tall and is roughly 250 miles from the Arctic Circle – had already undergone startling changes in 2003: the ice of its glaciers was disappearing quickly…………………..

When I was 10 years old, I saw the Rocky Mountains of Colorado for the first time, their silhouettes against the setting sun, and I was awestruck. Years later I travelled to Alaska and drove a short way into Denali national park and preserve. When the afternoon clouds parted to reveal the majesty of Denali’s summit, my first inclination was to bow in wonderment. A year after that I moved to Alaska, and began training myself in the mountaineering skills I needed to access these sanctuaries that stand far from the violence, speed and greed of society. John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist, author, philosopher and early wilderness-preservation advocate, captured my feelings precisely: “I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.”

Dahr Jamail in Alaska.

Dahr Jamail in Alaska. Photograph: Supplied by Dahr Jamail

A glacier is essentially suspended energy, suspended force. It is, in a sense, life frozen in time. But now they are themselves running out of time. The planet’s ecosystems, pushed far beyond their capacity to adapt to human-generated traumas and stresses, are in a state of freefall. Just as I watched hundreds of years of time compressed into glacial ice flash before my eyes in a matter of seconds as I fell into the crevasse, swathes of the natural world are, in the blink of a geological eye, falling into oblivion.

Modern life has compressed time and space. You can traverse the globe in a matter of hours, or gain information in nanoseconds. The price for this, along with everything we want, on demand, all the time, is a total disconnection from the planet that sustains our lives.

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