State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Climate News Roundup – Week of 8/16

U.S. Chamber lawsuit attacks basis for EPA emissions limitsThe Hill

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is suing the EPA after they rejected its petition to reconsider the regulation of greenhouse gases.  In 2009, the EPA announced an “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases threaten humanity, and could therefore be regulated by the agency under the Clean Air Act.  In response, the Chamber of Commerce, the states of Virginia and Texas, and conservative thinktanks and industry lobbyists petitioned the EPA not to pursue regulation on the grounds that it would negatively impact job growth.  EPA Adminstrator Lisa Jackson described the petitions as based “on selectively edited, out-of-context data and a manufactured controversy,” referring to climategate, and summarily dismissed the petitions.  Accordingly, the Chamber has filed for judicial review in the District of Columbia Circuit.

Massive Coral Bleaching Recorded off the Coast of Indonesia, The Wildlife Conservation Society

A major increase in water temperatures off the coast of Aceh province in Indonesia has resulted in the “bleaching” of over 60% of coral populations.  The phenomenon of bleaching occurs when algae living within the tissue of coral – the same algae that give coral their characteristic coloring – are expelled due to environmental stress, such as sea surface temperature changes, which may be associated with rising temperatures attributable to climate change.  While some species recover from bleaching, many more die and the World Conservation Society has recorded the death of nearly 80% of some species since their initial assessment of the bleaching in May.  This marks one of the most severe bleaching events in recorded history.  As the WCS notes, 2010 has been a devastating year for coral populations as other major bleaching events have been recorded in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, and many parts of Indonesia.

Study: Higher Air and Water Temperatures Affecting the Range of Blue Mussels, Science Daily

While coral populations have been experiencing bleaching events around Indonesia, scientists at the University of South Carolina have also discovered that the population range of the blue mussel has shrunk significantly since as early as 60 years ago.  In a paper published in the Journal of Biogeography, researchers note that blue marine mussel ranges used to extend from as far south as Cape Hatteras, NC but now only extend as far as Lewes, Delaware.  All animals have a north-south range that is limited, it is thought, by temperature, and as the ocean off of the Atlantic coast has warmed – in some places by as much as several degrees – the range for the blue mussel has shifted.  As Science Daily indicates, the findings are significant because they may demonstrate how climate change is affecting marine organisms along the coast, and provide a way of understanding how populations and ecosystems will change as climate change continues and accelerates.

Pakistan — a Sad New Benchmark in Climate-Related Disasters, The New York Times

It will be at least a year until scientists fully and definitively understand how the recent flooding in Pakistan might be related to climate change, but already U.N. officials and climatologists are openly stating that they believe the two events are related.  According to ClimateWire and the New York Times, scientists at the World Meteorological Organization relate the heavy rain events in Pakistan to higher Atlantic Ocean temperatures linked to climate change, and could also be responsible for the heat waves in Russia and flooding in western China.  Warmer waters mean that more moisture is evaporating into the atmosphere, and while normal air patterns would distribute the precipitation over a larger area, airflow related to La Nina created a pressure zone that blocked vapor-laden air from its regular west-to-east movement.  Millions of people in Pakistan have been affected by the flooding, and if the floods are related to changes in climate, then the current disaster is an ill omen of events to come.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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