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.
In case you missed it: On Saturday 20 June 2020 the temperature hit 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C) in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, north of the Arctic Circle! This is the town that also sets coldest temperature records.
Verkhoyansk holds the record for both the hottest and the coldest temperatures ever recorded above the Arctic circle, with 38.0 °C (100.4 °F) and – 67.8 °C (- 90.0 °F) respectively.
There’s a rule of thumb from the last century that says “Spring moves north 13 miles a day.” On average this means that if crocuses began blooming in Morgantown, West Virginia a week ago they ought to start blooming in Butler, PA today.
However this year’s spring is so early and so hot that I’m wondering if the rule is still true. The animated map below shows spring leaf out moving north from 1 January through 10 March 2020. Some days spring leaps many miles.
According to the USA National Phenology Network, spring is many weeks ahead of schedule, particularly in the eastern US. It’s “three to four weeks earlier than a long-term average (1981-2010) in some locations. Washington, DC and New York City are 24 days early, Nantucket is 30 days early.” Wow!
Leaf out in Pittsburgh began in early February, tulip leaves emerged in late February and I saw the first crocus bloom last week.
So what do you think? Is spring moving faster than it used to? Or just sooner?
Follow the signs of spring at the USA National Phenology Network and Journey North. Here are some cool maps that track what’s going on:
According to the USA National Phenology Network, Spring is three weeks ahead of schedule in the southeastern US:
Spring leaf out has arrived in the Southeast, over three weeks earlier than a long-term average (1981-2010) in some locations. Charlottesville, VA is 24 days early, Knoxville, TN is 20 days early, and Nashville, TN is 18 days early.