Seven years ago I wrote about an endangered member of the crow family in Ethiopia whose range is small and shrinking. Similar in size and sociability to our Florida scrub-jay, Stresemann’s bush-crow (Zavattariornis stresemanni or Ethiopian bush-crow) lives in just 6,000 square miles of southern Ethiopia’s Borana rangelands in an area smaller than New Jersey.
Has the bird’s status changed in the last seven years? No, but we know more.
A 2012 study found that his range was limited by daily high temperature. In 2018 a team of scientists investigated further, taking temperatures throughout the region and comparing the bush-crow’s range to two other local species — white-crowned and superb starlings. Their report at the British Ornithological Union blog showed that Stresemann’s bush-crow has a narrow favorite temperature range and is heat intolerant.
The starlings don’t care how hot it gets but the bush-crow won’t live where the maximum daily temperature is over 30 degrees C (86 degrees F). (Graphs embedded below from bou.org)
This wouldn’t be a problem except that it’s getting hotter.
Every November air pollution spikes in India as farmers in the Punjab burn their fields in preparation for the next crop. Because the practice causes terrible air pollution it was outlawed in 2015, but small farmers cannot afford to buy the machines needed to clear the fields so the practice continues year after year.
When the stubble burns Delhi is smothered in dangerous air pollution. The smoke from thousands of fires swirls high in the atmosphere and can be seen from satellites.
Meanwhile glaciers in the Himalayas have been retreating for the past decade. Scientists wondered if atmospheric carbon air pollution, landing on the white ice, was a factor in their warming. A team led by Yuan Q placed air pollution monitors in remote locations on the northern side of the Himalayas. Their report, published by the American Chemical Society on 4 November 2020, found an amazing thing:
Using electron microscopy, the researchers unexpectedly found that about 28% of the thousands of particles in the air samples from the Himalayan research station were tarballs, and the percentage increased on days with elevated levels of pollution.
Microscopic tarballs form from brown carbon in the smoke of organic fires — in this case, stubble burning. They are so lightweight that they travel far, rising over the Himalayas to deposit on the other side. Their dark color absorbs sunlight and causes the glaciers to melt faster.
Stubble burning is a persistent annual problem in India as shown in the 2018 video from France 24 below.
Dec 2018: Crop burning crisis: India chokes as farmers set fields on fire, France 24 News
As India’s government provides community-shared machines for clearing stubble, the burning will come to an end. Will it be soon enough for the glaciers? Probably not.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons, chart embedded from acs.org; click on the captions to see the originals)
The study is here: Yuan Q et al. Evidence for Large Amounts of Brown Carbonaceous Tarballs in the Himalayan Atmosphere. Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Published 4 November 2020. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00735
As temperatures soared this week from 9 to 19 degrees above normal, I remembered the time when our furnace broke in late September 2009. We thought we could tough it out while we waited for the new furnace to arrive but it was cold! The temperature went down on 25 September 2009 and never came up again. Like ducklings, we huddled inside to stay warm.
This graph shows how much we needed the furnace in the fall of 2009. The higher the blue line, the more we needed heat. We didn’t need air conditioning (orange line) after 25 Sept 2009.
Not so this year! Every 10 days or so the temperature climbs so high that we’d benefit from air conditioning. Rather than flipping the thermostat from heat (blue line) to A/C (red line), I wear my summer clothes again. Climate change makes the temperature fluctuate widely.
For five days this month it was summertime even though the trees couldn’t provide much shade.
Today the weather will turn cold. The furnace is ready. No need to huddle this year.
p.s. Read about our no-furnace adventure in this vintage article: Huddle!
(photos from Wikimedia Commons and by Kate St. John)
Arctic sea ice melts in the summer reaching it’s lowest extent every year in September. On 21 September 2020, Climate.gov reported that ice coverage reached its minimum on 15 September, the second lowest extent in 40 years of tracking. (The lowest low was in 2012 only 8 years ago.)
We might think this lack of sea ice won’t affect us but in fact ice acts like a thermoregulator, reflecting the sun’s heat so that Earth’s climate stays relatively constant. As the ice disappears we’re subjected to heat waves, droughts, fires, and the cold Polar Vortex.
This 5-minute video from NASA Goddard shows how Arctic sea ice is connected to everything else.
In late August reports started trickling in that high numbers of migratory birds were being found dead in New Mexico. The first report was at White Sands Missile Range on 20 August but as time passed the reports became more frequent, the locations increased, and so did the death toll. By now experts believe that hundreds of thousands of birds have died — perhaps millions — not only in New Mexico (red on map below) but in Colorado, Arizona and western Texas (orange highlight on map).
Austin Fisher took a video of the carnage last Sunday, 13 September 2020 in Velarde, New Mexico.
Science Alert reports that only migratory birds are affected, not the local residents. Most of the dead birds are warblers, swallows and flycatchers and “the affected travelers seem to act strangely before their deaths, spending more time on the ground than perched in trees, and generally appearing dazed, sleepy, and lethargic.”
Unfortunately birds’ respiratory systems are so different from ours and so efficient that they succumb quickly to bad air.
We turn oxygen into CO2 in one breath — in/out. Every exhalation releases the CO2/remains of the air we just breathed in.
When birds breathe, the air that enters their bodies stays inside for two breaths — in/out + in/out. During its 4-step journey, the air molecule travels through the lungs, two sets of air sacs and into the birds’ hollow bones where it waits for the next step. Click on the diagram below to watch the airflow inside a bird.
This week’s spooky sunsets and hazy skies in eastern North America are due to smoke from the massive wildfires in Washington, Oregon and California. The smoke is so intense that it’s dispersing across the continent and across the Atlantic, causing haze in Europe.
Near sunset on Monday 14 September the sun was a strange shade of pink in Pittsburgh, captured above in true color by Jonathan Nadle.
We can’t see the smoke coming but the satellites do, blowing eastward in two paths on Tuesday 15 September: one over the Northern Plains and Great Lakes, the other over Nebraska to Kentucky and Virginia.
The haze is inconvenient for us but truly hazardous on the West Coast. The dark brown colors on the map below are the worst air quality in the world. The air is so bad that people are leaving the area. I know of at least one person who’s fleeing from San Francisco to Pittsburgh.
Lake Mead at Hoover Dam, 1998 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Lake Mead at Hoover Dam, 2015 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
It’s hard to remember what we worried about before the coronavirus, but long term water crises provoked by climate change are still chugging along in the U.S. West. The most troubling of these is looming at the Colorado River, the water source for over 40 million people.
Many of the seven western states in the Colorado River watershed are suffering under severe to extreme drought. Of course it affects the river.
Albedo is a reflectivity measure of various surfaces as they reflect sunlight back into space. Snow and ice have high albedo, bare ground and trees have low albedo. Melting snow and ice expose low albedo ground so the temperature rises. As the temperature rises more snow and ice melt. This climate change feedback loop is affecting the Colorado River.
The two photos at top span 22 years on the Colorado River at Lake Mead where Hoover Dam holds back the river. The amount of water in the lake is highly controlled by upstream dams but about 20% of that “bathtub ring” can be attributed to the albedo effect.