UN climate talks delayed one year by COVID-19

International climate negotiations will be delayed by a full year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UK government announced May 28. The next summit, officially dubbed the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), was due to take place this November in Glasgow, but has now been put off to November 2021. Delaying the talks could encourage governments, industrial concerns and financial institutions to adopt recovery plans with high climate costs. The postponement is particularly critical given the failure of last year's summit, held in Madrid, to reach any agreement. Instead, critical decisions were put off for COP26. This means a full two years will have passed before any progress can be made. (STV

Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, the energy and environment minister for Costa Rica, was among those pressing to hold the summit earlier than a full year after originally scheduled. "We're losing time," he told the New York Times. "If there are no strings attached to international aid and national recovery plans we may be in a very difficult spot. Having a COP soon would help influence global recovery plans."

Ominously, the postponement comes just a week after temperatures as high as 86 degrees Fahrenheit were reported above the Arctic Circle. The record-breaking temperatures in the Arctic Sea north of Russia and across much of northern Siberia were reported by the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The loss of sea ice, already at alarming levels, also escalated, with ice cover in the Kara Sea taking the deepest May decline ever recorded. (Gizmodo)

The Kara Sea, a western arm of the Arctic Sea, is itself slated for oil exploitation by Russian interests—with access perversely facilitated by the loss of sea ice.

Extremely depressed oil prices as a result of the pandemic have brought the industry to a virtual stand-still—but an industry bail-out is being considered in the guise of a recovery measure. In Canada, Alberta's energy minister Sonya Savage even suggested exploiting the pandemic to get the Trans Mountain pipeline built while protests are effectively banned.  The pipeline, the focus of protest by Indigenous peoples and their allies, would bring shale oil from Alberta's tar sands fields over the Rockies to ports in British Columbia.

Arctic heatwave breaks record

Alarming heat scorched Siberia on June 20 as the small town of Verkhoyansk (67.5°N latitude) reached 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, 32 degrees above the normal high temperature. If verified, this is likely the hottest temperature ever recorded in Siberia and also the hottest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle, which begins at 66.5°N. (CBS News) High temperatures in Siberia have lead to multiple wildfires this year, with more than 680,000 acres destroyed in the Sakha Republic alone. (Daily News)

Study rules out less severe global warming scenarios

A new study by NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and Columbia University finds that the most likely range of global warming from doubling carbon dioxide is between 4.1 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit (2.3 and 4.5 degrees Celsius), which would trigger irreversible damage to the planet. (WaPo)

More signs of global eco-apocalypse

Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, whose melting rates are rapidly increasing, have raised the global sea level by 1.8 cm since the 1990s, and are matching the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's worst-case climate warming scenarios.

According to a new study from the University of Leeds and the Danish Meteorological Institute, if these rates continue, the ice sheets are expected to raise sea levels by a further 17 cm and expose an additional 16 million people to annual coastal flooding by the end of the century. (Phys.org)

Meanwhile, the US National Weather Service said Los Angeles County saw its highest temperature on official record Sept. 6 after a high of 121 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded in the San Fernando Valley that day. (The Hill)

Scientists are still verifying claims by the NOAA Weather Prediction center that the temperature in Death Valley reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit on Aug. 16—which would be the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on earth. (NYT)

'Doomsday Glacier' vulnerability seen in new maps

British scientists have mapped cavities half the size of the Grand Canyon that are allowing warm ocean water to erode the vast Thwaites glacier in the Antarctic, accelerating the rise of sea levels across the world. This Antarctic colossus, dubbed the "doomsday glacier," is melting at a rapid rate, dumping billions of tons of ice in the ocean every year and pushing up global sea-levels. "These channels had not been mapped before in this kind of detail, and what we've discovered is that they're actually much bigger than anyone thought—up to 600 meters deep. Think of six football pitches back to back," said Dr Kelly Hogan from the British Antarctic Survey. (EIJ, BBC News)

Global wildlife in 'catastrophic decline'

Wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years, according to a major report by the conservation group WWF. The report says this "catastrophic decline" shows no sign of slowing. And it warns that nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before. Wildlife is "in freefall" as we burn forests, over-fish our seas and destroy wild areas, says Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF.

The Living Planet Index looked at thousands of different wildlife species monitored by conservation scientists in habitats across the world. They recorded an average 68% fall in more than 20,000 populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970. (BBC News)

Greenland ice shelf collapsing

A big chunk of ice has broken away from the Arctic''s largest remaining ice shelf—79N, or Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, in northeast Greenland. The ejected section covers about 110 square kilometers; satellite imagery shows it to have shattered into many small pieces.

The loss is further evidence say scientists of the rapid climate changes taking place in Greenland. "The atmosphere in this region has warmed by about 3C since 1980," said Dr Jenny Turton, polar researcher at Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany. "And in 2019 and 2020, it saw record summer temperatures." (BBC News)

Massive Antarctic glacier going fast

Timelapse photography released by the University of Washington reveals that Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier lost about one-fifth of its area from 2017 to 2020, mostly in three dramatic breaks. Pine Island contains roughly 180 trillion tons of ice—enough to cause 1.6 feet of sea level rise. The 160-mile-long river of ice, known as "the weak underbelly" of West Antarctica, contributes more to sea level rise than any other glacier on the continent and ranks among the fastest melting glaciers in the world. (UW News, WaPo)

Time running out for Antarctica's 'doomsday glacier'

Scientists have discovered a series of worrying weaknesses in the ice shelf holding back one of Antarctica's most dangerous glaciers, suggesting that this important buttress against sea level rise could shatter within the next three to five years.

Until recently, the ice shelf was seen as the most stable part of Thwaites Glacier, a Florida-sized frozen expanse that already contributes about 4 percent of annual global sea level rise. Because of this brace, the eastern portion of Thwaites flowed more slowly than the rest of the notorious "doomsday glacier."

But new data show that the warming ocean is eroding the eastern ice shelf from below. Satellite images taken as recently as last month and presented Dec. 13 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union show several large, diagonal cracks extending across the floating ice wedge.

These weak spots are like cracks in a windshield, said Oregon State University glaciologist Erin Pettit. One more blow and they could spiderweb across the entire ice shelf surface.

"This eastern ice shelf is likely to shatter into hundreds of icebergs," she said. "Suddenly the whole thing would collapse."

The failure of the shelf would not immediately accelerate global sea level rise. The shelf already floats on the ocean surface, taking up the same amount of space whether it is solid or liquid. But when the shelf fails, the eastern third of Thwaites Glacier will triple in speed, spitting formerly landlocked ice into the sea. Total collapse of Thwaites could result in several feet of sea level rise, scientists say, endangering millions of people in coastal areas. (WaPo)

Ocean water rushing under 'Doomsday Glacier'

Ocean water is pushing miles beneath Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier," making it more vulnerable to melting than previously thought, according to new research which used radar data from space to perform an X-ray of the crucial glacier.

As the salty, relatively warm ocean water meets the ice, it’s causing "vigorous melting" underneath the glacier and could mean global sea level rise projections are being underestimated, according to the study published May 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica—nicknamed the "Doomsday Glacier" because its collapse could cause catastrophic sea level rise—is the world’s widest glacier and roughly the size of Florida. It is also Antarctica's most vulnerable and unstable glacier, in large part because the land on which it sits slopes downward, allowing ocean waters to eat away at its ice. (Jurist)