Tag Archives: global warming

How Climate Change Will End Wine As We Know It

Hotter and less predictable temperatures mean that much of the world’s premium wine regions are now under threat and new ones are emerging. How the wine industry is — and isn’t — reacting says a lot about the future of agriculture.

“All the grapes were ripening at once,” Wendy Cameron recalls of the harvest that was the wake-up call.

Cameron is head winemaker at Brown Brothers, one of Australia’s largest and oldest wine producers. In her 16 years there, Cameron had seen changes — hotter summers, harvest dates inching earlier. While heat waves aren’t unheard of in Australia, the one they had during the late summer of 2008 was unlike anything she’d ever seen: It was over 105 degrees for 10 days straight.

You can’t just leave ripe grapes on the vine — their sugars will get too high, yielding wines that are too alcoholic. Too much sun exposure can also affect flavor, and eventually grapes will begin to raisin. Everything had to be harvested at once, Cameron knew, but they only had so many employees. The winery was designed to handle a limited amount of production at a time. They didn’t have enough refrigerators. They didn’t have enough water. (Water prices had tripled over the past year.) Those were taxing, frightening days, and Cameron says they got through it pretty well, all things considered. But it made her wonder about the future of Australian wine and whether the vineyards would remain cool enough to survive.

Two years later, in 2010, Brown Brothers’ chief executive Ross Brown announced the purchase of a large vineyard in Tasmania, an island 150 miles off the southern coast of Australia. Long thought to be too cold to make quality wine, that too had been changing in recent years. “’We want to position ourselves to combat global warming,” Brown said at the time of the sale, a statement that garnered headlines — and upset many.

“I know Ross got some calls that were utterly scathing,” Cameron says. Others, especially others in the wine business who’d likewise seen the writing on the wall, praised his candor, albeit quietly. “People said, ‘Wow. I can’t believe you’ve done that, it’s so progressive and forward and good on you.’”

“Climate change isn’t a straight line,” Cameron says. “It goes up and down. There were a couple of years there where, certainly as an industry, we had a bit of a taste of what it might be like. The Brown Brothers have just celebrated their 125-year anniversary. My job is to give them the right information so we can be viable in another 125 years.”

The question is how difficult a task that will be, not only in Australia and other hotter wine-producing regions, like southern Italy, Spain, and California’s Central Valley, but throughout the wine world. A splashy, controversial study published last year by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that in major wine-producing regions, the area suitable for viticulture — wine-grape growing — is threatened. By 2050, such terrain will decrease by between 19% and 62%, under a business-as-usual carbon emissions scenario, and between 25% and 73% if carbon emissions increase, which some argue is more likely. The U.S. government’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, which lays out in spectacular detail and no uncertain terms what our country should anticipate in terms of climate change, summarizes American wine’s situation thusly: “The area capable of consistently producing grapes required for the highest quality wines is projected to decline by more than 50% by late this century.”

The story of how wine will react to climate change is one small but telling piece of the larger one of how agriculture as a whole will endure. But researchers are looking at wine specifically because for this slow-moving, climate-sensitive industry, anticipating how to properly adapt will be a particular challenge.

You can’t just move Napa or Bordeaux a few hundred miles north. Even a small change in overall temperature, or increased instances of extreme weather, will throw wrenches into the hard-won understanding producers have of their grapes, land, and climate — and of how to coax from that combination the best possible beverage. It’s not all bad news: A changing climate means that colder regions like Tasmania — and England, Scandinavia, and British Columbia — now have shots at becoming major wine players like never before. Will these new wine regions actually be able to replace the ones that have been cultivated for decades and in some cases centuries? Or will fine wine be something we lose to climate change?

Innes Lake Vineyards in Australia. Flickr: minerva95aus/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) / Via Flickr: 9822025@N04

“We chose wine because it’s a canary in the coal mine,” says Rebecca Shaw, who co-authored the PNAS paper. Shaw is the associate vice president and senior lead scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. She and her collaborators, most of them academics, sought to understand how agriculture at large will adapt to climate change. We’re chatting in a conference room in the EDF’s downtown San Francisco 28th-floor offices. The Bay Bridge looms in the window behind us, defogging itself over the course of our conversation.

On a map, the world’s wine regions are particular little bands that fall in between the 30th and 50th parallels, the majority in highly biodiverse Mediterranean climates. This is because, as crops go, quality wine grape vines are super finicky. They need a cold — but not too cold — winter. They need a mostly frost-free spring during which their buds can safely emerge. They need a long, sunny growing season and eventual temperatures that are fairly warm — but not so hot that the grapes will sunburn or ripen too quickly. They need a fluctuation between daytime and nighttime temperatures, which enable the development of compounds that eventually become the complex flavors in a fine wine. Wine grapes are prima donnas; you don’t give them exactly what they demand, they don’t perform. Complicating things further, there are many different kinds of wine grapes, called varietals, like chardonnay, merlot, or riesling, which are even more particular about where and under which conditions they’ll best grow. Go over a certain threshold of temperature? You can’t grow pinot noir. Go under? You can’t ripen cabernet sauvignon.

This fussiness also makes wine grapes especially useful for gathering data about weather: Each vine is like a remote sensor out in a field, and the behavior of wines across a region can paint a picture as to a given season’s weather. European vintners have been keeping records for about a thousand years, which is one way climatologists have learned about Europe’s historical climate, including the Little Ice Age that struck the continent between 200 and 700 years ago.

Figuring out which grapes perform best where is painstakingly slow: It takes five to seven years for a newly planted vineyard to begin producing grapes suitable for winemaking. It takes years more still before vines produce good or, with luck, great — or, with further luck, excellent — fruit. The best fine wine, and certainly the world’s most expensive wines, come from regions or even individual rows of vines that have been cultivated for so long, whose behaviors are so well understood, that extremely high-quality grapes — and therefore extremely high-quality wines — are more or less guaranteed. (Certain European wine regions are steeped in so much tradition they’re recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.) In Europe, the identity of a wine is so tied to a fixed place that the wines themselves are named after where they’re made: Chianti is from Chianti, Champagne from Champagne. (If Americans played by the same rules, we’d call Napa Valley wines Napas.)

Worldwide, winemakers aspire to create wines that best express the personality of a given area’s climate and weather, a concept called terroir, or the taste of the place. A given wine is thought of as an expression of a given geography’s climate; much the way that you can’t make New York bagels in Iowa, the idea is you can’t make a Burgundy anywhere but.

Shaw says that’s the other reason they chose to focus on wine — people care about where their wines originate. “No one cares about where their corn comes from, nobody cares about where their wheat comes from,” she says. Wine consumers — especially in America, where wine is often believed to be snobby, unapproachable, or expensive — tend to be conservative in their selections and have internalized the idea that some wines from some places are better bets than others. Chances are, even if you prefer boxed wine over bottled, you might scoff at a wine from New Jersey.

In their study, Shaw explains, they wanted to look at the extent to which the wine industry would have to move poleward — further south in the Southern Hemisphere, further north in the Northern Hemisphere — as a result of the changing climate, and then what the impact would be upon that movement on existent ecosystems. What is the potential conservation impact of vineyards being planted in Tasmania, or British Columbia, or England? Their paper specifically mentioned the potential effects upon a giant panda habitat in China and in the Yukon-Yellowstone corridor. “Bid adieu to Bordeaux, but also, quite possibly, a hello to Chateau Yellowstone,” the The Guardian quipped in response.

Shaw expresses frustration that many in the press were distracted by the detail in their report about the pandas and missed the bigger stakes. “One of the major focuses of our work is to feed the planet without killing it,” she says. “How does agriculture need to change? What are the incentives that need to be put in place that won’t undermine the long-term sustainability and don’t create more environmental harm?”

Wine isn’t actually food, though. Especially if we’re talking about fine wine, it’s a luxury.

“Wine is food to many cultures,” she responds, adding that most crops both deliver sustenance and are meaningful culturally. Corn is meaningful. Rice is meaningful. Humans have been cultivating wine for 8,000 years. “You can get into an argument about what’s food and what’s necessary and what’s not necessary,” she says. “The bottom line is wine is a very, very important part of many, many cultures.”

There’s a touch of emotion in her voice as she says this. We could live in a world without wine, of course, but would we want to?

Photograph by Matthew Tucker for BuzzFeed

This year has been one of the driest in California’s history, and on the radio, there’s no end to the talk about the low snowpack, the parched reservoirs, the depleted Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. Though it’s late February, the hillsides are tawny, not green. When I drive to Wine Country, many are quick to offer their opinions that the drought isn’t caused by global warming. Strolling through his blocks of chardonnay, one grizzled grower in Sonoma, who declines to be interviewed when he learns my line of questioning, whistles dismissively, “I guess everybody has to do something.”

In Napa, I meet with David Graves, who co-owns a winery called Saintsbury. Graves and his business partner met while graduate students at UC Davis in the late ‘70s — Graves’ background is in biology — and have been making climate-sensitive pinot noir and chardonnay here since 1981. The vineyard is gorgeous in the misty morning; blackbirds alight above the rows.

He is jolly and peppers his speech with quotes and anecdotes and jokes. Steel tanks loom overhead and two dogs pace around a tennis ball by our feet. We’re talking about how grape growers and winemakers have to be risk-averse given that they get only a single shot each year to make do with what that year’s weather produced. “If I were going to culinary school, if my sauce curdles, it doesn’t cost a year’s wages to do it again,” he says.

He recalls once visiting a cousin who’s a brewer. His cousin excused himself for a moment — someone had added too much water to a batch of beer and rather than boil it down, elected to just throw it all out and start again. Graves laughs: “I said, ‘This is a dream!’”

It’s vital, in other words, that Graves understand what’s happening in his vineyard, which he says isn’t warming.

Some researchers, in particular a Southern Oregon University climatologist named Gregory Jones, argue that Napa has been experiencing overall increased temperatures. In the ’80s and early ’90s, long before there was scientific consensus concerning climate change, Jones was looking at the question of how it might affect wine-grape growing. (Jones had done his dissertation in Bordeaux, and his family owns a winery in Oregon.) “I didn’t think we really knew enough about the basics,” he explains over the phone.

To Jones, it wasn’t hard to see that warming had already been affecting wine: “If you go back to Burgundy 10 years ago or Germany 10 years ago, they’d have one good vintage in eight or nine or ten. It was because they were variable and much colder,” he says. “And today they have seven or eight or nine good vintages in 10.” This matches what he’s witnessed in Oregon: “In my region, 50 years ago it was difficult because there was too much frost and a longer growing season. Bingo — we can do it.” Another way to trace climate change’s effect on wine already, Jones argues, is the increased alcohol levels in wines around the world — warmer years mean more sugar in the berries, as they’re sometimes called, which means more alcohol in the wine. (Others would argue that it’s simply become fashionable to make more alcoholic wines.)

David Graves, convinced he hasn’t seen a warming trend, partnered with a climate researcher named Dan Cayan at University of California, San Diego, and a trade group called the Napa Valley Vintners, which represents about 400 of Napa’s wineries. The data they gathered was more localized than Jones’. Their study, which hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, found that the warming trend in most non-urban parts of Napa Valley over the last 60 to 80 years has been “significantly less” than what Jones had claimed. (I later ask Cayan about the fact that it hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal. “That’s partly my own fault for being a slacker,” he says, adding that there is additional work they are doing, in terms of sourcing and then cleaning up the data they’re gathering.)

Red shows area currently suitable for wine grape growing that will be unsuitable by 2050, according to the PNAS study. Green shows areas that will remain suitable for wine grape growing through 2050. Blue shows areas that will be suitable for wine grape growing by 2050. Conservation International

“I really, really don’t want to give aid and comfort to climate-change denialists,” Graves says. All they wanted to do was shrink the proverbial pixel size: “Let’s get the resolution so we’re not in a grid that’s a hundred kilometers by a hundred kilometers, we’re in a grid that’s five kilometers by five kilometers. And ultimately that really matters because that could be the difference between you growing pinot noir and syrah.”

Graves says, in fact, he’s seen a cooling trend in his vineyard in recent years; whether that’s a short-term thing, he doesn’t know. And it’s true that the world will not warm uniformly. Some areas will encounter colder temperatures, or wetter ones, or extreme weather like heat waves or hail. Ultimately the scariest thing for grape growers and wine makers is uncertainty or large variation year to year. Graves and the polite Napa Valley Vintners representative I sit down with later that day say they don’t plan to use the data they’ve collected to model Napa’s future; climate modeling is expensive.

But it’s also not hard to intuit why producers and the NVV might not want more press about how their $50 billion valley, the crown jewel of American wine, is screwed. What they seem to want is a little impossible: to acknowledge that climate change is real, but that somehow they will be unaffected. (And on some level, isn’t that what we all want?)

Gregory Jones thinks people are simply afraid of speaking publicly, lest they inspire backlash like Ross Brown did after his Tasmanian purchase: “I’ve had conversations with the biggest winemakers in Napa,” he says. “I don’t have conversations with them at their front door, I have conservations at their back door.”

Regardless, there is a generally split opinion between what researchers and what industry professionals are saying (or are willing to say). Many took issue with the PNAS estimate — a potential 25% to 73% loss — when it was a published and covered in the mainstream press. As pre-eminent wine writer Jancis Robinson says over email, “I think those proportions are way too high, but I have certainly witnessed considerable changes.”

Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford professor who studies climate and food security and who has published several papers about climate change’s effects on wine, says there are a few big things we can take away: “I’m confident that we’ll see increasing temperatures in the areas that are currently the high-value, high-quality growing regions.” He goes on, “I’m impressed with human ingenuity and the ability of humans to succeed in a variety of environments.”

Worldwide, grape growers and winemakers are already adapting, as they always have, to a given year or month or day’s varying demands and challenges. There are things they can do in the case of really hot weather. They’re managing canopies to increase air circulation around berries. They’re spraying vines with what’s basically wine-grape sunscreen. They’re in some cases going to turn to technology — remote sensors or drones to help monitor vineyards and use water resources more intelligently, or even cloud seeding to artificially create rain. In some cases, they are starting to replant vineyards to varietals that they anticipate will better handle the increased temperatures to come.

Many of the biggest players in American wine are starting to look into what their options will be as things worsen. One of the largest domestic producers, Constellation, has partnered with a research extension of the University of California system to identify less commonly known varietals that are more suitable to a hotter, drier climate, especially in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where much of our supermarket wine originates. There are rumors of others — the largest producer, Gallo, and another giant, Bronco, which sells two-buck Chuck — experimenting with varietal cultivation and genetic modification to the same end. (Neither company responded to interview requests.) Inexpensive mass-market wines are also going to be less susceptible to climate change because they’re already so loaded up with additives, like powdered tannins, a super-concentrated grape juice called Mega Purple that adds color, and what’s essentially liquified oak chips. (And bottles aren’t labeled with ingredients, meaning consumers are often unaware of whether their wines are natural or full of additives.) These wines are less about terroir and more about drinkability attained as cheaply as possible.

Throughout the world, some big producers are looking into and purchasing sites in cooler areas, as Brown Brothers did in Tasmania. J. Barrie Graham, a banker with experience in financing and advising Northern California wineries, says no one was thinking or talking about global warming seven or eight years ago when making long-term financial decisions. “I would say now it’s a very common discussion.”

For now, David Graves says he’s not doing anything significant to react to potential changes in climate in southern Napa: “In the 25-year time frame, I’m ready to say probably we’re not going to see a radical change.” He adds that there are other potential changes that could threaten Californian wine — first among them the scarcity of water, changing consumer tastes, and changes in immigration that will affect California wine’s primarily Hispanic labor force. He then sighs. “Beyond that, from, say, 2040 on? All bets are off.”

“I’m reminded of two things,” he says. “One is that Harry Truman famously said he wanted a one-armed economist so the economist couldn’t say ‘on the other hand.’” His loud laugh echoes through the high winery roof: “The other thing is what Keynes is reputed to have said: ‘In the long run we’re all dead.’”

Photograph by Matthew Tucker for BuzzFeed

Nowhere is the story of what is going to happen to viticulture if nothing is done to curb climate change more starkly painted than in Europe. Europe is the world capital of wine, home to France, Italy, and Spain, the world’s first three largest producers, respectively. (The U.S. is fourth.) Most — and some would argue all — of the world’s best wines are produced there. In many European nations, laws govern which varietals can be grown where, at what density vines can be planted, whether irrigation is allowed, whether the addition of sugar is allowed — it goes on and on. Additives? Out of the question. Such laws seek to protect regional products but may end up having the opposite effect.

A much-repeated example is that in Burgundy, France, growers grow pinot noir as their red grape. If pinot noir is no longer optimal in Burgundy, growers won’t be able to switch their vineyards over to different red grapes and sell them as anything but cheap table wines — forgoing the hundreds or thousands of dollars that fine Burgundies can fetch. “As one of my colleagues in Germany likes to say, ‘Europeans are growing grapes and making wine in a cage,’” Gregory Jones says.

Jean-Marc Touzard, economist and research director at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, says they’ve observed the effects of climate change on wine since the 1980s. For example, “The vine matures faster because of higher temperatures. In Languedoc Roussillon, the harvest used to be in September, now it’s at the end of August.” Hotter, more compressed growing seasons have also affected the wines themselves — acidity is lower; sugar and therefore alcohol are higher. Flavor profiles are changing.

That said, Touzard argues that the laws are starting to evolve, offering the example that in some southern growing regions, they now allow irrigation — “under certain date restrictions” — something that before would have been unheard of in French wine. It’s of course debatable whether this change, which to an outsider may sound insignificant, is enough.

Two things are clear: In France and around the world, it’s going to be the small producers, the ones with fewer resources to purchase new vineyard sites, or replant, or survive a few bad years, that are at greatest risk. In Europe especially, these are sometimes single-man operations. They make a handicraft. A wine blogger I speak with, Bertrand Celce, travels to France (and elsewhere) discovering and documenting the efforts of such producers. He says some grape growers he’s encountering certainly are pessimistic. Wet conditions, for example, means an increased instance of disease, something such producers — who don’t use herbicides — have limited means to combat.

“The problem is they have to do more work,” Celse says. “They have smaller surfaces, but they tend to have little employment.” If the case study of American Prohibition serves as an example, the end result of global warming will be a wine scene that is more homogenous in terms of style, and owned by fewer, richer players. Eventually, when the best wines in the world become more scarce, the bottles remaining will become even more valuable, meaning fine wine will be even more of a luxury commodity than it already is.

And yet, in more northern parts of Europe, in countries that have never been viable for commercial viticulture — and perhaps have long envied their neighbors — some see an opportunity.

Photograph by Matthew Tucker for BuzzFeed

The fall day I visit Denbies Wine Estate, in Surrey, England, is comically beautiful: blue skies punctuated by clouds fluffy as sheep. The parking lot is full. I am made to follow a flock of mostly gray-haired, mostly British couples as they’re led into an octagonal movie theater where a loud video explains the winemaking process, then down a corridor past the winery itself. The guide is chirpy and her rather unnecessary-seeming headset malfunctions. At the end of the tour we are poured three wines and shepherded into a gift shop where the women browse tea towels and Christmas ornaments with furrowed brows and the men stand about with hands in pockets. What’s most remarkable, to me, aren’t the wines but the fact that this is the sort of bustling touristy affair I’d expect to find in Napa or Mendoza.

Victor Maguire is courteous and wry and leads me on a tour of the estate in a sputtering Land Rover. He’s worked at Denbies, which was founded in the late ’80s and is one of the largest vineyards in the country, for nearly a decade. While grapevines have been cultivated in England for a millennium, the practice has always been marginal, a cottage industry. The problem had always been it was a little too cold, a little too wet, for a consistently good crop.

But in the last few decades, England has witnessed something fairly spectacular: the first real emergence of a commercial wine culture. New wine regions often make their name on a particular wine or two, and England’s is sparkling wine. We are geographically not all so far from Champagne, and the soils here are very similar. Climate change means that England will become “increasingly more ideal than Champagne” for sparkling wine, Maguire says.

As numerous people in the English wine industry point out during my visit, sparkling wine was most likely invented here, in 1662. The producers of Champagne then began replicating the process, which they dubbed the méthode champenoise, or Champagne method. There is some perhaps perverse excitement, then, at notion that the French are at risk of losing their viticulture and the English might take up that mantle. (The English have wanted this for some time: When he financed his settlement at Jamestown, King James sent along French vignerons and required each homesteader to carry with him several cuttings of French wine grapes to plant, hoping his new colony would crush the French wine industry. This project failed, and the Virginians soon instead became all about tobacco.)

The day before, I visited a shop in London that sells only English spirits and wine — a whole wall of them. There are 400 vineyards in the country — though many fewer wineries — and perhaps more importantly, English producers are being recognized internationally for their quality: Four won gold medals at the International Wine Challenge this year. And indeed, some of the sparkling wines I tasted were superb.

As Maguire grips the Land Rover’s steering wheel and we wend through the rows, I ask him what he thinks of the possible effects of climate change on French wine. He pauses. “There is a school of thought that Champagne in 50 years will not have the ideal climate,” Maguire says judiciously, with a small smile. He then talks more freely about the hard weather France has seen of late. This year, for the third vintage in a row, for example, Burgundy lost a significant portion of its crop to hail, and the Languedoc was hit by the worst flooding in 60 years.

“It’s happening already, and we know that the continental growing and ripening seasons are becoming more compressed,” he says.

Photograph by Matthew Tucker for BuzzFeed

Harvest is underway at Denbies. We pass a group of laborers as they relax and lunch in the sunshine. But isn’t it a bad thing, I ask, if we lose French wine?

“I don’t think we’re losing France,” he replies. “I think they’ll have to learn to compensate.” He adds, “I think it’s great that English wine now has a place in the European arena.”

The problem, though, is that England or Tasmania is probably not going to be able to ever reach the level of output as the great traditional wine regions of the world. There’s the additional problem of styles. As wine writer Jancis Robinson points out to me, these newer regions “make completely different sorts of wine. Cool-climate wines are very different in style from those produced in the hot, dry regions under threat.” The latter produce larger-bodied reds. Most importantly, though, whereas the French or the Italians or the Spanish have been perfecting what they do for centuries — and wine is an integral part of each of those cultures — these new wine regions are in their relative infancies. People are still figuring out what works best and where, and that trial and error can take lifetimes.

If all of New York bagels were about to disappear forever, how much of a silver lining would it be if there were new opportunities for bagels in Des Moines? Especially if in this metaphor, there were bagel shops that had been perfecting their crafts for not just decades but in some cases centuries? This is the scariest part of global warming: the fact that we won’t be able to undo the damage done, that we won’t be able to extricate Venice, or New Orleans, from the sea. Their disappearance will be a net loss, regardless of what mountainside civilizations will someday rise.

Maybe we aren’t afraid enough. Or maybe we are too afraid. Maybe it’s just wine.

We turn another corner. Robust rows, their berries full and heavy, surround us. Maguire stomps his foot on the break and we lurch to a halt. His mouth falls open.

“The fruit looks spectacularly good!” he exclaims. “I’ve never seen it look so good!”

Photograph by Matthew Tucker for BuzzFeed

Marie Telling assisted with reporting in French.

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Enormous Lake In Bolivia Has Nearly Dried Up

Teeming with fish and wildlife, it used to be Bolivias second-largest lake, but now Lake Poop has been reduced to little more than a dusty plain. In just a matter of years the water body that used to support hundreds of families living on its edge has been reduced to around just two percent of its original size. While the Bolivian officials are putting it down to climate change and the continuing impact of El Nio, others are blaming the government for mismanaging the vital water source.

Located on the Bolivian altiplano at an altitude of 3,700 meters (12,139 feet), in the 1990s it used to cover an area of 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles), making it second in size only to the well-known Lake Titicaca. But due to repeated droughts and the diversion of tributaries for mining, the level of the salt water lake has continued to drop, until last year when El Nio, which some consider to be the worstin a century, virtuallyfinished it off. Millions of fish are thought to have died, as well as hundreds of birds that used to live in the wetlands.

The lake in 2009, teeming with flamingoes, fish, and other wildlife. green_lava/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This isnt the first time that the lake had dried up it did so in 1997 giving some people hope that it could return at some point. But others warn that with the melting of the glaciers high in the Andes, and the ramping up of climate change, this scenario is now unlikely. When the current drought lifts and the rains return, it is expected to fill up a little, but it is not thought that it will last. This had led to calls for the government to do something to try and help ease the situation.

So far its estimated that two thirds of the families, some 500 in total, have left the community thatused to exist on the lake shore. Made up of fishermen and farmers raising sheep and alpaca, there is now little left for them to make a living from, forcing the government to provide at least 3,000 people with humanitarian aid just for them to survive.

The lake used to get most of its water from the Desaguardero River, which flows from the larger Lake Titicaca, and considering Titicaca still has plenty of water it seems odd that Poop is now so arid. The heavy build-up of red silt where the river used to enter the lake gives a hint as to what might also be going on. It is largely thought that this silt has come from the multitude of mining outfits which take place further up the river and divert it. The silt is thought to be a result of the mining, which has also added toxic tailing into the mix.

Despite this, the government still maintains that the blame lays on the changing climate, and has requested that the European Union provide the country with $140 million (97.5 million)to dredge the tributaries such as the Desaguadero, as well as to build water treatment plants in the rest of the lakes watershed. All these schemes, however, are probably too little, too late.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/bolivias-second-largest-lake-has-nearly-all-dried

Thousands Of People Have Been Evacuated In Canada After City-Sized Wildfires Spread Out Of Control

Right now, a wildfire is tearing its way across the Canadian province of Alberta. Its currently about850 square kilometers(about 328 square miles) in size, which is roughly thesize of Rome. Although it has recently begun to slow down, the conflagration is currently surrounding the city of Fort McMurray, and firefighters are desperate to kill it before it advances any further.

Around 8,000 people have been airlifted out of the severely damaged city, but 17,000 remain, and they are genuinely at risk of being completely trapped by the fire. Authorities hope that the only motorway capable of evacuating these residents will be safe enough by the end of Friday this week.

Let me be clear: air tankers are not going to stop this fire, said Chad Morrison, Albertas manager of wildfire prevention, as reported by theGuardian. It is going to continue to push through these dry conditions until we actually get some significant rain.

Naturally, people are beginning to wonder what caused such an unusually powerful, prolonged wildfire. Was this disaster, which has caused the largest fire evacuation in the provinces history, a one-off, or is it a sign of worse things to come?

Several climate change experts have concluded that this was in fact the result of a perfect storm, a dangerous union between themost powerful El Nio on recordand man-made climate change. Although tinder-dry plants, very low humidity and hot, strong winds have rendered the 1,100 firefighters unable to halt the fire, its ultimate cause appears to down to these twofamiliar antagonists.

Man-madeclimate changehas indubitably made wildfires both more common and more powerful: Since 1979, wildfire seasons have lengthened by nearly 19 percent. The global frequency of long fire weather seasons has also jumped by a whopping 53.4 percent, and the amount of burnable land affected has risen byover 108 percent.

Alberta itself has had 330 wildfires since the beginning of the year, which is more than double the recent annual average. As a marker of just how unusually hot it is right now, Fort McMurray recorded a temperature of 32.6C (90.7F), way above the expected high temperature of 14C (57.2F) for early May.

Although warmer winters are certainly down to climate change, the current record-setting El Nio has only served to exacerbate things. Thanks to the complex machinations of this climatic event, western Canada experienced a serious drought, so severe in fact that the province declared an agricultural emergency. This dryness has continued long into the beginning of spring.

We’ve had an incredibly dry winter, we didn’t have enough snow pack, ProfessorJudith Kulig, from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, toldBBC News. The drought, the lack of snow, the extremely high temperatures and the current lack of precipitation have all made for a rather grim tale that is not yet over.

Hopefully, the story ends with the residents of Fort McMurray being safely evacuated, but the danger is currently far from over. At the moment, out of the 49 separate wildfires in the area, seven are still listed as out of control. The scale of the fire can be tracked in real-timehere.

Ultimately, the take-home message is this: Climate change is makingextreme weather events including wildfires more likely, and these will be at their worst during El Nio years.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/city-sized-alberta-wildfires-driven-climate-change-and-powerful-el-ni-o

January 2016 Was The Hottest On Record

The world cant seem to catch a break. Its not been long since it was announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record, and it looks likely that the mercury will continue to climb. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) have just crunched the sums and found that the January just passed was the warmest globally since records began. Not only that, but it was the hottest month by the largest margin, beating the global average by 1.13C (2.03F), according to NASA.

This makes January the ninthaddition to the string of hottest months on record that began back in May last year, and was 0.3C (0.48F) warmer than last year’s. The massive ramp up in the warming of the planet has been attributed in part to a particularly strong El Nio that has persisted off the east coast of the Americas over the past few months. The weather system has been blamed for the drought thathas hit Australia, the massive forest fires seen across Indonesia, as well as severe droughts and flooding that have left almost 100 million people facing food shortages in both South Africa and South America.

The temperature departures from average by latitude, clearly showing that the Arctic, at the highest latitude, is warming faster than other parts of the world. NASA

This current El Nio seems to have finally passed its peakaccording to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), yet NOAA is yet to call it. This doesnt mean that were on the home straight, however.The WMO warns that the world will still face enormous humanitarian difficulties for months to come,asdue to the sizethe weather system reached, the impacts are still being felt in all corners of the globe. It is currently too early to confirm whether it has been the largest El Nio ever recorded, but the WMO does note that it is at least comparable to the current record holder of 1997-98.

This continuous warming of the planet is already having an impact on the environment. The Arctic is being particularly hard hit, with the sea ice shrinking to a new record low for January. According to the NOAA, the warming of the Arctic is off the chart, as they recorded temperatures at least 5.6C (9F) warmer than average over much of Alaska. The ice covered an area of 13.5 million square kilometers (5.3 million square miles) last month, which is around 1 million square kilometers (402,000 square miles) less than the last 30-year average for this time of year. Thats an area the size of both Texas and New Mexico, combined.

With carbon emissions not looking likely to be significantly cut any time soon, the climate is simply going to continue to warm, and with it the setting of new global temperature records is likely to become more and more of a common event.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/january-2016-was-hottest-record-world-continues-warm

Colossal Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapsed At End Of Last Ice Age

At the end of the last ice age, an armada of icebergs, each twice the height of the Empire State Building, broke off from the shoreline of Antarctica. According to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they were created when a 280,000-square-kilometer (108,000-square-mile)section of the colossal Ross Ice Shelf collapsed in just 1,500 years.

The current stability of Antarctic ice shelves, the floating seaward extensions of ice sheets, is incredibly low. Man-made climate change is leading to unprecedented degrees of warming, causing the undersides of huge ice masses to melt and weaken. As a result, Larsen-A in the Antarctic Peninsula collapsed in 1995, followed by Larsen-B in 2002. Larsen-C, which is roughly 2.5 times the size of Wales, is due to follow suit.

Although these land-anchored ice shelves do not significantly contribute to sea level rise as they tumble into the ocean, they are acting as barricades for the landlocked ice sheets behind them. When removed, these enormous sheets may begin to join their watery grave, dramatically raising sea levels. For these reasons, researchers are keen to try and predict the future of gigantic ice shelves, and the Ross Ice Shelf, which is currently the size of France, is no exception to this.

The research vessel peeking at the ancient striations within the basin. L. Simkins/Rice University

At the height of the last ice age, we know that the sheet of ice covering the Antarctic continent was larger and thicker than it is today, said John Anderson, a professor of oceanography at Rice University and co-author of the paper, in a statement. This continent-enveloping ice sheet extended all the way to the continental shelf, and in western Antarctica it filled the entire Ross Sea basin.

Up to 18,000 years ago, this basin was packed with thick, heavy ice all the way down to the seafloor. The team decided to look for the telltale signatures of the movement of ice, large grooves in the seafloor known as striations, within this basin. To accomplish this, they used cutting-edge seafloor mapping systems aboard a U.S. research vessel the most sensitive ever employed in the Antarctic.

By tracing the paths of these massive striations, they found that around 10,000 years ago, as the ice age ended, a huge number of icebergs broke off from the shelf and pushed themselves out to sea. As this happened, the remaining part of the shelf retreated back onto the land as the warmer and more acidic sea eroded its exposed front.

Within 1,500 years, an area the size of Colorado had fallen into the sea. Theres a chance that in our rapidly warming world, such collapses could become more commonplace, unleashing massive volumes of ice on the continent into the oceans.

When Larsen-B broke apart, the glaciers behind it began to move forwards toward the sea 10 times faster than they used to. If the Ross Ice Shelf follows the same path, a fleet of glaciers could plunge into the sea soon afterwards. Worryingly, the modern day Ross Ice Shelf is considered by glaciologists to be unstable, behaving in a similar way to its ancient predecessor prior to its dramatic, rapid collapse.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/colossal-antarctic-ice-shelf-collapsed-end-last-ice-age

Rising Atmospheric CO2 Has Lead To A Global “Greening” Effect

The rise in atmospheric CO2 over the past 100 or so years has been having some devastating effects. From the record temperatures being observed with increased frequency, to the melting of the Arctic ice, there is little doubt that the climate is indeed changing. But it seems that there has been another impact, as the world appears to have gotten greener. Even so, the authors note that the negatives of more CO2 in the atmosphere far outweigh the benefits.

A new study published in Nature Climate Change has found a massive increase in the growth of trees and plants, and concludes that this has been driven by the increase in concentration of atmospheric CO2. Using data from the NASA-MODIS and NOAA-AVHRR satellite sensors, an international team of 32 researchers from 24 institutions found that over the last 33 years, between 25 and 50 percent of Earths vegetated land has shown significant greening.

The planet has actually seen a significant increase in leaf cover around the world. Prof. R. Myneni/Boston University

If all green leaves on Earth werelaid out the area would cover around 32 percent of the entire planet, and the new study has shown that the dramatic increase in atmospheric CO2 from around 220 parts per million (ppm)at the start of the industrial revolution to 403 ppm has added the equivalent of enough leaves to cover the continental U.S. twice over.

But an increase in CO2 is not totally sufficient to entirely explain the observed greening across much of the land. Using computer models, the researchers calculate that while the greenhouse gas accounts for around 70 percent of the increase in growth, other factors are involved. They reckon that an increase in nitrogen in the system is responsible for around 9 percent of the growth, climate change is responsible for around 8 percent, and changes in land use clocks up about 4 percent.

Inevitably, the study has been seized upon by climate skeptics, some of whom argue that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is actually good for the planet due to this increase in growth of vegetation. Yet this effect diminishes over time, the researchers say, as plants acclimatize to the higher concentrations of CO2, and get limited by other factors such as water and nutrients. But obviously, there are other impacts from the increase in greenhouse gasses.

The increase in leaf cover would cover allof the continental U.S., twice. IVDMStock/Shutterstock

The fallacy of the contrarian argument is two-fold, explains Dr. Philippe Ciais, one of the co-authors of the study from the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in Gif-surYvette, France. First, the many negative aspects of climate change, namely global warming, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and sea ice, more severe tropical storms, etc. are not acknowledged. Second, studies have shown that plants acclimatize, or adjust, to rising CO2 concentration and the fertilization effect diminishes over time.

Despite what many a climate denier might argue, this increase in CO2 uptake by plants is simply not going to be sufficient, and has actually already been factored in by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) when they make their models. Not only that, but while CO2 is the most prominent greenhouse gas, it is not the only one we have to worry about. The warming planet has already started to thaw out the permafrost of the northern hemisphere, beginning the release of massive reserves of methane, and there is little plants can do with that.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/rising-atmospheric-co2-has-lead-greening-effect

Eastern Mediterranean Drought The Worst To Hit The Region In 900 Years

Modeling the historic droughts that have hit the Mediterranean basin, scientists have found that the region’s latestdry period was the worst drought to have hit the area in the past 900 years. The study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, highlights the concerns that climate change may be contributing to observed drying trends, and that those impacts might already be being felt.

The researchers looked back at the records of droughts documented in tree rings from all around the Mediterranean, sampling trees from North Africa, Greece, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey, as well as using existing tree ring data from Spain, France and Italy. They found that the growth of the trees matched up with historical records written at the time of droughts to have hit the region between 1100 CE and 2012 CE. Although the variability between wet and dry periods was quite large, the most recent 1998-2012 drought was still found to be about 50 percent drier than the driest period in the last 500 years, and over 10 percent drier than any in the past 900.

For January 2012, brown shades show the decrease in water storage from the 2002-2015 average in the Mediterranean region. NASA

The scale of the project also allowed the researchers to look at how droughts affected different regions of the Mediterranean. They found that if the east was experiencing a dry period, then it was likely that the west was going through a similar spell. This is important,because it has all sorts of implications for food and water security withinthe region as a whole if everyone is experiencing a drought at the same time, and could help predict where conflict over these resources might arise.

But interestingly, when the researchers then looked at how dry periods affected the north and south of the region, they found an opposite relationship. When Greece, Italy, France and Spain were in drought, the eastern areas of North Africa tended to be wet. The differences between what happens in the east and west of the region when compared to the north-south are thought to be due to airflow patterns that move the weather systems around the Med.

Having such a longterm data set will be invaluable for any future events, as it in effect provides a baseline for comparison. This means that any variability can be checkedto see if drying conditions could be seen as a natural cycle, or iscaused by man-made climate change.

The magnitude and significance of human climate change requires us to really understand the full range of natural climate variability, explains Ben Cook, from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and who led the research. If we look at recent events and we start to see anomalies that are outside this range of natural variability, then we can say with some confidence that it looks like this particular event or this series of events had some kind of human-caused climate change contribution.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/eastern-mediterranean-drought-worst-hit-region-900-years

How Myths And Tabloids Feed On Anomalies In Science

UNDERSTANDING RESEARCH: What do we actually mean by research and how does it help inform our understanding of things? What if research throws up a result that calls for a new way of thinking? How do we handle that?

There are many misconceptions about science, including how science advances. One half-truth is that unexpected research findings produce crises, leading to new theories that overturn previous scientific knowledge.

Sometimes science progresses in this neat tidy fashion. But not very often. Assuming science is always so simple fuels misunderstanding of science, and provides ammunition to those who attack science, from cosmology to climate change.

Contrary to the myth, most anomalous findings have modest consequences. The vast majority of peculiar findings are usually the result of errors in data, methodology or misunderstanding the implications of existing theories.

Even when anomalies do prompt radical change, it is rare for them to completely upend large swathes of scientific knowledge.

Strange forces and Pioneers
 
In the 1970s, NASA’s Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft flew by Jupiter and Saturn before speeding towards interstellar space. As they coasted away from the sun, a strange “Pioneer Anomaly” was observed to be gently slowing the Pioneers. What was going on?

The Pioneer Anomaly has led to hundreds of papers, with many speculating on modified forms of gravity and relativity.

An artist’s impression of Pioneer 10 racing from the Solar System. NASA Ames/Donald Davis

In principle the Pioneers could measure tiny accelerations, as they cruised through space. But they were never designed for precision tests of relativity, nor were they tested (prior to launch) to see if the spacecraft themselves produced tiny accelerations.

After decades of study, it appears the Pioneer anomaly had nothing to do with new physics. The Pioneers generate heat, and thus infrared light (photons), which were subtly pushing on the spacecraft (including via reflections). The Pioneer anomaly, rather than provoking a crisis and new physics, is a triumph of century old physics.

Other anomalies have appeared and disappeared in a similar fashion. But despite this history, media reporting of anomalous results often emphasises how the laws of physics could be overturned, rather than the likelihood of anomalous results disappearing. “Einstein Wrong!” works as click-bait for headlines, but is usually not true.

A personal tale of dark matters

I measure how galaxies grow, and at the end of the 20th century something seemed very wrong with galaxy growth research.

Simulations predicted the biggest galaxies should grow rapidly, as their vast gravity dragged in gas and neighbouring galaxies. In contrast, many observational studies found massive galaxies weren’t growing at all. What happened to all that gravity?

Some speculated that the dark matter paradigm was in trouble. Perhaps galaxies were less massive than people imagined. But instead of prompting radical change, this “crisis” has slowly faded away.

In 2007, I used a vast sample of distant galaxies to detect the slow growth of massive galaxies, and others have mitigated errors that have hampered observational studies of galaxy growth. Observational evidence for dark matter also improved, including cosmic microwave background measurements and the mass distribution within colliding clusters.

As computing power improved and simulations incorporated more complicated astrophysics, including supernovae and black-holes, the growth of simulated galaxies slowed down. So the gulf between simulation and observation closed.

Not so fast big guy! The biggest galaxies don’t grow as quickly as astronomers originally expected. Sloan Digital Sky Survey/Michael Brown

The demise of this anomaly wasn’t as clean as that of the Pioneer anomaly. There were gradual improvements in both simulation and observation, and no single study tied up all the loose ends.

This gradual identification and resolution of anomalous results doesn’t always generate headlines, but it is often how science advances.

The scope for radical change

While most anomalous results fizzle and die, some do spark radical change.

The understanding of the world has been upended when scientific observations and theory have replaced pre-scientific ideas. For example, Galileo’s observations of planets resulted in heliocentric (sun-centred) models of the solar system replacing geocentric (Earth-centred) models.

Truly radical change can also happen when very limited data supports the previous hypothesis. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren won the 2005 Nobel Prize for Medicine for establishing that most stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria, not stress. While the stress causing ulcers had been widely accepted for decades, that hypothesis actually hadn’t been systematically tested.

Einstein’s theories had huge implications for physics, but didn’t upend all previous scientific knowledge. NASA

As a science becomes more mature, with a wealth of supporting data, the implications of anomalous results become more limited. An example of this is Einstein’s general theory of relatively, which was (in part) motivated by odd measurements of the speed of light and the behaviour of Mercury’s orbit.

While general relatively has had huge implications for physics, it didn’t completely upend all previous physics. Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism are still in use and Newtonian mechanics provides a good approximation of how satellites orbit the Earth.

The apple may have fallen on Newton’s head, but Einstein didn’t make the apple fly away.

Icy anomalies and the tabloids

While anomalous scientific results may seem a curiosity, they are central to public debates about science. To see why, go south!

Temperatures have increased over the past century as a result of increasing atmospheric CO2. The evidence includes (but is not limited to) lab measurements of CO2, measurements of atmospheric CO2, the spectrum of light radiated the Earth, planetary temperatures, and the pattern of temperature increase across the globe.

Increasing sea ice around Antarctica has less implications for global warming that some imagine. Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia Commons

As a consequence, Arctic sea ice is decreasing, Antarctica and Greenland are losing land ice and sea levels are rising, and yet sea ice area around Antarctica has increased.

The increase in Antarctic sea ice area has been the subject of numerous articles by Andrew Bolt in the Herald-Sun and David Rose in the Daily Mail, among others. Some journalists believe this increase in sea ice is a fundamental flaw in global warming. But what can we conclude from this anomalous result?

The world isn’t getting any colder, so that doesn’t explain the increase in Antarctic sea ice. While simulations didn’t predict the increase in Antarctic sea ice area, they also didn’t predict the unexpectedly rapid decrease in Arctic sea ice either.

Sea ice area depends on air temperature, winds, ocean temperatures and currents, complicating the modelling of sea ice area. A simulation correctly modelling the greenhouse effect can fail to predict sea ice area if it doesn’t correctly model polar winds and oceans. While scientists are aware of this, such nuance is often absent from the tabloid media and blogsphere.

The tabloid media and blogsphere too often falls back on the simplicity of the myth, assuming the anomalous results will upend well-established science. This approach makes for good headlines and political point scoring, but the history tells us that science is very rarely upended in the manner some are wishing for.

This article is part of a series on Understanding Research.

Further reading:
Why research beats anecdote in our search for knowledge
Clearing up confusion between correlation and causation
Where’s the proof in science? There is none
Positives in negative results: when finding ‘nothing’ means something
The risks of blowing your own trumpet too soon on research
How to find the knowns and unknowns in any research
The 10 stuff-ups we all make when interpreting research

The ConversationMichael J. I. Brown receives research funding from the Australian Research Council and Monash University, and has developed space-related titles for Monash University’s MWorld educational app.

The Conversation

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/how-myths-and-tabloids-feed-anomalies-science

New Analysis Suggests Sixth Mass Extinction Could Occur By 2200

We’ve already been warned that our planet faces a sixth mass extinction, and some even believe that we are already in the early stages of such an event. Now, the harsh reality of the impending situation has been highlighted by the scientific journal Nature, with a special report detailing the threats that major animal groups face. According to the analysis, those predicted to take the greatest hit are amphibians, with an alarming 41% of species within this group facing extinction. But mammals and birds won’t get off lightly, with 26% and 13% of species similarly threatened, respectively.

Among the known critically endangered species are numerous different primates, such as the snub-nosed monkey, black rhinos, the yangtzee river dolphin, western gorillas and the Amur leopard. But many species that are currently only listed as endangered also face being wiped out, such as bonobos and loggerhead turtles.

The primary driver? Humans. According to the Living Planet Index, exploitation—such as hunting and fishing—is playing a major role in triggering the decline in animal species. Other human activities that are helping obliterate populations include agriculture and urbanization, whereby large areas of wild habitats are destroyed to make way for buildings, infrastructure, livestock and crops.

Climate change, which is primarily due to humans, is also threatening many sensitive animals, such as polar bears and corals, and will probably accelerate extinctions in ways that are currently unknown. Increasing CO2 emissions are not only warming our planet and seas, but they are acidifying our oceans, making them a more hostile environment for marine organisms. It’s estimated that 10% of all Earth’s coral reefs are already degraded beyond recovery, and if current pressures continue, 60% could be dead by 2050.

While we know that the situation is not good for many organisms on Earth, attempting to predict how quickly species are likely to disappear is extremely difficult, which only exacerbates the problem. Much of the uncertainty comes from the fact that we only know about a fraction of our planet’s biodiversity, and many unknown groups often reside in small areas that are already being demolished by humans and may never be assessed.

When scientists attempt to assess the number of species of animals, plants and fungi alive today, estimates are wildly varied, ranging from around two million to more than 50 million. Not only that, but approximations of the rate of extinction also vary, ranging from 0.01% to 0.7%, meaning the number of species disappearing is somewhere between 500 and 36,000 a year. If we use the upper rate, a mass extinction—or loss of 75% of species—could occur within the next few hundred years. At the lower rate, however, it may not arrive for thousands of years.

Five mass extinction events have occurred before, all of which were triggered by either natural planetary transformations or asteroid strikes. But the impending 6th event will be the work of humans, who have been gradually wiping out animals since mammoths and mastodons during prehistoric times.

So what can we do? According to the report, it’s of fundamental importance that countries start extending protected areas and devoting more resources to counting and evaluating stocks of life on Earth before they disappear.

[Via Nature, Nature, The Guardian and The Independent]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/new-analysis-suggests-sixth-mass-extinction-could-occur-2200

NASA and NOAA Agree: 2014 Was Hottest Year On Record

Though it might be hard to believe right now since the Northern Hemisphere is currently experiencing the coldest part of winter, our average global temperatures are increasing at a worrying rate. NASA and NOAA have analyzed the data independently of one another and yet have arrived at the same conclusion: 2014 is the warmest year on record since 1880. This is the 38th consecutive year with above average surface temperatures. The dataset has been released by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

“NASA is at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the dynamics of the Earth’s climate on a global scale,” NASA’s John Grunsfeld said in a press release. “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.”

Surface temperatures in 2014 averaged 0.8° C (1.4° F) warmer than 1880. This doesn’t mean that 1880 was a particularly hot year; it’s just where the instrumental record begins. It might not seem like a significant increase, but it can have an incredible impact on the environment. This increase has been largely attributed to carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere due to human activity.

Those living in the Midwest or East Coast of the United States will remember last year’s Polar Vortex, which brought extreme winter weather to hundreds of millions of people. However, other parts of the country experienced record-setting temperatures during the summer, offsetting the cold experienced during the winter.

Overall, the planet has been growing increasingly warmer for several decades. Variations in weather patterns have created slight cooling periods, but looking at the larger picture shows that temperatures are definitely looking up, and not in a good way. In fact, nine out of the 10 warmest years since the record began have happened after 2000. The exception is 1998, due to the intense effects of El Niño. 2014 was not affected by El Niño.

Image credit: NASA, Hansen et al. (2010)

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” noted Gavin Schmidt, GISS Director.

Though NASA and NOAA have agreed that 2014 was the warmest year since the Industrial Revolution, they used different methods for data collection. Researchers at GISS combined data from 6,300 weather stations to get land temperatures, while ocean temps were retrieved via ships, buoys, and from the Antarctic. NOAA’s conclusion also came from data collected by ships and buoys, though it made use of satellite and radar data as well.

 

 

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/nasa-and-noaa-agree-2014-was-hottest-year-record