Circling Antarctica, the huge Southern Ocean is out of sight of most of the world. It’s been mostly out of mind, too: It plays a critical role in Earth’s climate, but because conditions are so wild and dangerous, there’s been far less research there compared with other oceans.
That’s now changing, thanks in large part to autonomous water-measuring floats that drift up, down and around the ocean, bobbing to the surface regularly to send data to satellites. With so much new information at hand, oceanographers and climate scientists are now learning more about the Southern Ocean. And what they are learning is worrying. The ocean is changing as the world warms as a result of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
As I wrote in an article this week — one that is accompanied by fascinating visualizations, created by my colleague Jeremy White, of some of the new float data — the changes have huge implications for the future. The Southern Ocean may eventually release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, making it harder for the world to reduce emissions enough to stem global warming. And the ocean may accelerate the melting of Antarctic ice, which over the long term threatens to be by far the biggest contributor to sea level rise.
Key numbers: By some estimates the oceans have taken up about 25 percent of the excess carbon dioxide, and more than 90 percent of the excess heat, that has resulted from burning of fossil fuels and other human activities since the 19th century.
Tornadoes and climate change
In recent years, attribution studies have allowed scientists to understand how climate change is worsening hurricanes, heat waves, floods and droughts. But, so far, the same can’t be said of tornadoes like the ones that tore through six states this month.
Even as scientists are learning more about tornadoes and their behavior, it remains unclear exactly what role warming plays. Why? One reason is that tornadoes are small. That makes them harder to model, and modeling is the primary tool that scientists use when attributing extreme weather events to climate change. Another is that tornadoes are incredibly complicated, forming only when the perfect conditions come together.
Quotable: “This is the hardest phenomenon to connect to climate change,” said Michael Tippett, an associate professor of applied physics and mathematics at Columbia University.
Here’s what we know, and don’t know, about tornadoes.
A cleaner, greener federal government
The Biden administration announced this month that every United States government building would have to be powered by clean energy within 10 years and that, by 2035, all new cars and trucks in the federal fleet would have to be zero-emissions.
Achieving those goals, officials said, would make the government carbon neutral by 2050 and bolster the market for clean energy and vehicles. “As the single largest landowner, energy consumer and employer in the nation, the federal government can catalyze private sector investment,” the White House said in a statement laying out the new rules.
What’s next: The procurement rules, issued by executive order, can go into effect without a lengthy regulatory process. But that doesn’t mean the effort will be easy. Several Republicans have criticized the plan and, if their party wins control of either chamber of Congress next year, they could withhold funding. A future Republican president could also easily reverse the plan.
Understand the Lastest News on Climate Change
A hawk wearing a special camera and microphone, deployed to fly through swarms of bats. A baby turtle with a satellite transmitter attached to its shell. An animal as tiny as a wasp outfitted with a tag to track its movements.
As scientists race to slow a catastrophic decline in biodiversity, technology offers them cutting-edge tools. After all, to conserve wild species, it helps to understand them. But, according to a new study in Conservation Biology, researchers aren’t making the most of new technology.
“We’re not really leveraging it as well as we need to be to keep up with these conservation challenges,” said Talia Speaker, one of the authors and research lead at WildLabs, a group focused on conservation technology. “We need to more effectively work together and share data and be able to ask these big global scale questions.”
For more, check out these photos of wildlife and technology.
If you’re not getting Climate Fwd: in your inbox, you can sign up here
We’d love your feedback on the newsletter. We read every message, and reply to many! Please email thoughts and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.