Dead rats and circumcision

IMG_3372 - Version 2Saturday afternoon in Lima.

On the good side, the one place selling good coffee is still open (the proper machines, rather than the horrible little Nescafe machines that the locals call ‘no es café.”) And I’ve managed to eke out my stack of kiwi Dark Ghana chocolate, saving the last big block for today.

On the not so good side, there’s rumours of the meeting reconvening from anywhere from 6pm to 9pm this evening. Goodness knows when it will end. Conversation turns to whether this will beat the record of Durban, which ended at 6.30 am on the Sunday morning.

Being a bit of a COP veteran, I left the centre at 8.30 last night, got dinner and a good night’s sleep, coming back for 10 am this morning to see a lot of bleary-eyed people who’d been up all night to witness a complete lack of agreement. Continue reading “Dead rats and circumcision”

Extremes report 2013: NZ drought and record Aussie heat made worse by warming

The latest climate extremes report finds that 9 out of 16 extreme weather events from last year were influenced by climate change. In particular, the conditions that led to New Zealand’s severe North Island drought — the worst for 41 years, estimated to have cost the economy NZ$1.3 billion — were made more likely by the effects of continued warming. Australia’s hottest ever year and run of record-breaking heatwaves also had humanity’s fingerprints all over it. The new research — Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective [pdf] — published as a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is the latest in a series of reports designed to look at weather extremes soon after they happen, and look for signs of the influence of climate change.

The NZ paper, The role of anthropogenic climate change in the 2013 drought over North Island, New Zealand by Luke Harrington, Suzanne Rosier, Sam M. Dean, Stephen Stuart, and Alice Scahill (page s45 in the pdf), finds that a long term trend towards increasing summer high pressure systems over the North Island — seen in climate models as the system warms — has increased the risk of drought substantially.

No fewer than 5 studies in the new report found clear links between Australia’s record-breaking 2013 heat and the influence of human-induced warming, as explained by The Conversation here.

Climate change is already increasing the likelihood of heatwaves occurring in Australia and the temperatures we experience during these heatwaves. Extremely hot months, seasons and years are already more likely in Australia.

This human handprint will likely increase the future risk of extremely warm days, months, season and years in Australia. We will likely also see an increase in the risk of heatwaves and dry conditions acting in combination with heat to produce drought.

A summary of the report’s contents is available from NOAA, Climate Central has a very nice timeline, and The Guardian does it with pictures. Strangely, given the subject matter, only TV3 picked up on the NZ drought link (basing their story on a press release from the Green Party), while the NZ Herald chose to run an AFP story that led with the Aussie heatwaves and only mentioned the NZ drought in passing. Neither NIWA nor VUW chose to issue press releases about the study, despite its obvious newsworthiness and relevance to the NZ agricultural community.

[Update 2/10: Stuff.co.nz finally covers the story, with quotes from NIWA’s Sam Dean.]

The Sixth Extinction

Elizabeth Kolbert’s recent book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is science journalism of a high order. As with her earlier notable book on climate change, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, she includes lively narrative accounts of her visits to places around the world where scientists are at work and communicates the import of their work with clarity and intelligence. Well-informed background discussions on the general topic of extinction are woven into these narratives, in passages well pitched to the understanding of the general reader. Foreboding though the subject may be the book is a pleasure to read.

The phenomenon of species extinction has only begun to be understood in relatively recent times. Kolbert traces the discussions of the 19th century from the ground-breaking conclusion of Cuvier to the doubting Lyell and finally Darwin, whose theory of evolution necessarily involved the disappearance as well as the emergence of species.

In evolutionary terms the mass extinctions of the distant past are a special case, arising from relatively sudden events for which natural selection over long periods of time had not prepared many of the species which disappeared under the stress of a rapidly changed environment. Kolbert comments on the fact that just as we have recovered the story of these past events and identified five of them we have discovered that we are causing another. Whether it will reach the proportions of the Big Five is not yet known, but the indications are significant enough for it to be called the Sixth Extinction. She notes the estimation that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all freshwater mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles , and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion. It’s no small matter.

Continue reading “The Sixth Extinction”

IPCC WG2 impacts report released: fire, floods and rising seas in all our futures

After the usual run of late nights and argument, the IPCC has released the second part of its fifth report — the Working Group 2 report on climate impacts and risks management. Commenting on the report, VUW climate scientist Professor Tim Naish said “this latest report makes it quite clear that New Zealand is under-prepared and faces a significant ‘adaptation deficit’ in the context of the projected impacts and risks from global average warming of +2 to 4°C by the end of the century.”

The IPCC identifies eight key regional risks for New Zealand and Australia:

  • significant impacts on coral reefs in Australia as oceans warm and acidify
  • loss of montane ecosystems in Australia, as climate warms and snow lines rise
  • increased frequency of and intensity of flooding in NZ and Australia
  • water resources in Southern Australia will be under increased pressure
  • more intense heatwaves will bring increased death rates and infrastructure damage
  • increasing risks of damaging wildfires in New Zealand and southern Australia
  • increased risks to coastal infrastructure and ecosystems from sea level rise
  • risk of severe drying in parts of Australia could hit agricultural production

For New Zealand, extreme weather events such as flooding and heatwaves are expected to increase in frequency and severity, and rainfall is expected to increase on the already wet west coast and decrease in the east and north east. Sea level rise of up to one metre is expected to cause significant problems for coastal communities.

VUW’s Jim Renwick points to sea level rise as a big issue:

Every 10cm of rise triples the risk of a given inundation event, and we are expecting something like a metre of rise this century. That would mean today’s 1-in-100 year event occurs at least annually at many New Zealand coastal locations. New Zealand has a great deal of valuable property and infrastructure close to the coast that will be increasingly at risk as time goes on.

The Summary for Policymakers of the WG2 report is available here (pdf), and the final draft of the full report can be downloaded from this page. The Australia and New Zealand chapter (25) is here (pdf) and the Small Islands (Ch 29) here (pdf).

A huge amount of coverage of the report’s findings has already hit the net, and there will be more to come. Check out The Guardian‘s take on the five key points in the report, The Conversation’s examination of climate health risks, Graham Readfearn’s commentary on 25 years of IPCC warnings, and Peter Griffin’s look at the prospects for agriculture. I’ll have a post about the NZ political response to the report tomorrow.

It’s hot down here: 2013 was the New Zealand region’s 2nd warmest year

NZ temperature expert Jim Salinger has been crunching last year’s data, and this morning confirmed that 2013 was a hot year in the New Zealand region — the second warmest in the long term record, beaten only by 1998. Based on 22 land stations and the three offshore islands, the annual average temperature was 0.84ºC above the 1961–1990 long term average of 12.17°C (1998 was +0.89ºC).

Winter 2013 was the warmest ever recorded, and Masterton, Omarama, Timaru, Invercargill and the Chatham Islands set new annual temperature records. In the last ten years only two years (2004 and 2009) have been cooler than average, and the ten year mean temperature was 0.26ºC above average, the highest on record.

NZ2013Salinger
Source: Jim Salinger

During 2013 the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) was in a neutral phase, and the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) was negative. According to Salinger, this favours more easterlies and north easterlies when temperatures are above average. Sea surface temperatures were also well above average, especially around the South Island and to the east of the country. Jim is also expecting 2014 to be warm:

ENSO neutral conditions are expected to persist at least until winter 2014, and negative IPO conditions are very likely to persist for the remainder of 2014. These conditions are expected to bring temperatures of +0.2 to +0.6°C above average for the New Zealand region.

Across the Tasman, Australia has just recorded its warmest year since records began — with a remarkable number of heat records being set. Final figures for the annual global average temperature on main terrestrial datasets has yet to be released, but the World Meteorological Organisation expects 2013 to be 6th warmest. A few days ago the University of Alabama in Huntsville revealed that its satellite temperature dataset provisionally put 2013 in 4th place since 1979.