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Introducing Glory Zone

The momentum builds to a breathtaking climax in Gordon’s new novel Glory Zone, a spellbinding story about a future world of body-part clone banks, gene cures, flying prying eyes, perpetual war fought by the old, courageous resistance to oppressive power, and love found late in life.

Gordon’s Blog

Quiet US Hurricane Season — So Far

Four named tropical storms have developed so far during the 2016 hurricane season, but none have done major damage to US coastal cities.

On May 29, Tropical Storm Bonnie weakened to a tropical depression before making landfall near Charleston, South Carolina. Heavy rains associated with Bonnie caused local flooding and treacherous rip currents along the Southeast US coastline. One person drowned in North Carolina and another in Florida.

Tropical Storm Colin came ashore in the Big Bend area of Florida on June 7, triggering heavy rain and flash floods. 4 people drowned due to rip currents along the beaches of the Florida Panhandle.

On June 21, Tropical Storm Danielle with wind speeds of 45mph (75km/h} hit Veracruz, Mexico, closing the port and flooding areas, requiring the evacuation of 1,200 families.

Hurricane Earl struck Belize in Central America on August 4. Earl, with wind speeds of 80mph (130km/h), regenerated and hit Veracruz on August 6, where a landslide killed 3 people.

Colorado State University and NOAA both forecast an average hurricane year in 2016, made up of 12 to 15 named storms including 6 hurricanes. The two main factors leading this forecast of a near average season are the development of a weak La Niña and cooler than normal North Atlantic sea surface temperatures.

When and where the storms will make landfall is not part of the forecast. According to NOAA, historically 1 to 2 hurricanes come ashore in the US each season, although the number making US landfall has been below average for the last decade.

The hurricane season traditionally runs from June through November. However tropical storms can and have occurred in other months, some bringing heavy property damage and loss of life. As of this writing, there are still many weeks left in the 2016 hurricane season. Whether all or none of the remaining predicted storms will occur is up to Mother Nature. But just in case, those living on or near the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast should be prepared.

 

 

 

 

 

Record Heat & Renewable Energy

It should come as no surprise that the first half of 2016 has gone down as earth’s hottest 6 months on record.

According to a July, 2016, NOAA report on global temperatures, “Six record warm monthly global temperatures during the first half of 2016 resulted in the highest global land and ocean average temperature for January-June at 1.05°C (1.89°F) above the twentieth century average, besting the previous record set in 2015 by 0.20°C (0.36°F).” Arctic sea ice extent and thickness were the lowest on record in June, 2016.

Scientists agree that emissions into the atmosphere from the continued burning of coal, oil, and gasoline are main contributors to the dramatic increase in global temperatures. The question remains, is anyone doing anything about it?

The answer is yes. Renewable energy production in the US and EU keeps gaining in percentage of all energy produced year after year, but progress is slow. It takes time and major financial investment to build enough wind farms and solar arrays to replace the energy produced by billions of tons of coal and oil every year.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reports that renewable energy sources at the end of 2015 accounted for 17.83% of total installed operating generating capacity in the United States, compared to 13.71% in 2010. During that 5-year period, coal’s share of US generating capacity dropped from 30.37% to 26.16%. FERC’s renewable energy sources are made up of hydro, wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal.

Many European countries are doing even better than the US in converting to renewable energy. Here are some examples of renewable energy’s percentage of total energy production: Denmark 66%, Portugal 30%, Germany 27%, Spain 24%, and Italy and the UK 23%. China has invested heavily in renewable energy, but still relies mainly on coal for energy production.

In the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, 196 nations agreed to reduce fossil fuel emissions and aim for totally eliminating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2050. Island nations threatened by sea level rise led the fight to reach this goal by 2050 instead of the originally agreed timetable of “the second half of the 21 century.” We hope the participating nations keep their word and accomplish the changeover from a fossil fuel world to a renewable energy world of clean air by century’s midpoint.

Earth’s Less Cloudy Future

Two recent scientific papers – one an analysis by NASA in May, 2016, the other a study by Scripps Institute of Oceanography in July, 2016, – confirm that earth’s cloud cover is gradually moving toward the north and south poles, cloud tops are rising higher into the atmosphere, and boundaries of the tropical zone are expanding.

 Clouds play a key role in heating and cooling the planet. When they are present, they reflect solar energy back into space, and shade the earth below. Without clouds, when skies are clear, solar energy beats down directly onto earth’s surface.

 The tropical zone currently runs from 30° south latitude to 30° north latitude. Cities on the 30° north latitude line are Cairo, Egypt, and Jacksonville Florida. As cloud cover moves toward the North Pole in the northern hemisphere, and the South Pole in the southern hemisphere, more and more of earth’s surface will fall within the tropical zone. Cities and farmland now in moderate climate zones will gradually be exposed to more sun, and become hotter and dryer.

The NASA analysis, led by scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, attribute the poleward shift of the clouds to major changes in air circulation relating to the expansion of the tropical zone.

 According to the Scripps study, “these findings confirm predictions from computer climate models that changes that took place during the last several decades were consequences of accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere generated by human populations.” The NASA study concurs.

 Fossil fuel emissions pump over 100 billions of tons of CO2 and other pollutants into our atmosphere every year, heating our planet, acidifying our oceans, and stripping away our cloud cover. All are good reasons to accelerate the change over from the carbon energy to renewable energy.

Author’s Note.

I’ve been sidelined with some health issues the past few weeks, and have not been able to post any new blogs. The natural world marched ahead without me during that time with earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador, floods in Texas, volcanic eruptions in the Aleutians, tornadoes in the South and Midwest, and a continuing drought in the US Southwest. As my stamina gradually returns, I plan to resume blogging from time to time on natural disasters and natural phenomena.

The main recent item of note has been the report that the South Pole Observatory in Antarctica has recorded a CO2 level of 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time. With that event, every reporting station in the world has now reached or exceeded the 400 ppm mark. The last time the planet’s atmosphere was that high in CO2 was 4 million years ago, according to an article published by the Guardian’s Climate Central dated June 16, 2016.

The burning of fossil fuels continues to elevate the amount of CO2 in the air, and continues to heat the planet. Since 1900, global temperature has risen 1.8°F (1.0°C), sea levels have increased by a foot (30cm). Since 1980, Arctic sea ice volume has decreased by 35%. Because much of the excess carbon in the atmosphere settles in the sea, the acidity of our oceans is the highest it has been in millions of years. Coral reefs are dying and some shellfish populations are dwindling.

We hope the Paris Accords in which all nations agreed to reduce carbon emissions, will be honored by all signatories, giving our planet a chance to have clean air and put the brakes on global warming.

 

Coastal Floods, Heat Waves & Health

As we humans continue to burn fossil fuels and pump 40 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, and as our planet continues its present warming trend, changes are taking place that will affect where we live and how we feel, according to two recently published studies.

The first study published on March 30, 2016, in the journal Nature, states that the massive Antarctic ice sheet could start melting and breaking up much sooner than projected by the UN Panel on Climate Change, potentially producing a 6 ft. (2m) sea level rise by 2100. The study by research scientists at University of Massachusetts and Penn State University compares today’s sea levels with those of two earlier warming periods in earth’s geologic history when temperatures and CO2 levels were about the same as present conditions. In those earlier episodes, one 150,000 years ago and the other about 3 million years ago, sea levels rose 20 to  30 ft. (6 to 9m) higher than they are now. Given that conditions are comparable, why are we not getting the same dramatic sea level rise now as the earth did then? That’s what the research sought to determine.

At the present time, the Antarctic ice sheet is melting slowly as the ocean water around it warms up and causes melting from below. What the study shows is that the big change will come from above, when the atmosphere warms enough to melt the floating ice that supports the edges of the ice sheet. When the floating ice melts, it will expose towering ice cliffs that will start collapsing under their own weight, triggering massive calving and the beginning of the rapid disintegration of the ice sheet. The researchers believe that because of the continued burning of fossil fuels, the air temperature tipping point is close at hand. Under this scenario, Miami, New Orleans, and other low-lying coastal cities would be submerged by the end of the century.

In a second study, scientists from eight federal agencies of the US government worked together to produce a 300-page report on the toll that global warming will take on human health and well being, if the pace of fossil fuel emissions is not severely curtailed. The study, released on April 4, 2016, projects increased death and disease totals from bigger and more prolonged extreme events such as floods, freezes, heat waves, dust storms, tornadoes, forest fires, and tropical storms.

Air quality will continue to worsen, causing increased fatalities and illness from lung and heart diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.7 million people die prematurely each year from breathing bad air. As the planet warms, the number of hot days will increase. Hot weather increases the amount of ground level ozone and small particulates in the air, both of which can obstruct lung function. Insect-borne diseases such as malaria will also increase as the climate warms and breeds more mosquitoes. Climate change will cause an uptick in number of people with mental health problems. More violent heat waves, floods, fires, and storms will put large populations under added stress.

The US study makes many of the same points as those contained in two 2015 studies by scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and The Lancet in the UK. All 3 studies emphasize that the death and disease projections will be greatly reduced when we clean the air by replacing carbon-based energy with renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and thermal. The sooner the better, for everyone.

The Impact of Rising Seas

Ice caps are melting, ocean water is warming and expanding, and sea levels are rising. All scientific data, measurements, and models agree on these basic facts. Questions still remaining are how high will the seas rise, how fast will it happen, and what will the impact be on coastal communities?

Three recent studies shed some light on these questions. One study, published in the March 14, 2016, issue of Nature Climate Change, led by a University of Georgia demographer, predicts that up to 13.1 million people living in US coastal communities will be, by the year 2100, displaced by rising seas. The study estimates that with no protective measures, 4.9 million could be forced from the coast if seas rise 2.95 ft. (0.9m), and 13.1 million will have to vacate if seas rise 5.9 ft. (1.8m). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that sea levels will rise between 8 in. (0.3m) and 6.6 ft. (2m), depending on the speed and extent of polar ice melt. Both of the study’s scenarios fall within that range. The Southeastern US would be the area of greatest risk, with half the evacuations occurring in Florida.

Researchers at USGS published a paper in the same March 14 issue of Nature Climate Change stating that 70% of the northeast Atlantic coast has the capacity to change in response to rising seas: barrier islands may migrate inland and form protective dunes, new inlets may form. Tidal marshes can trap sediment and break down decaying plants into new soil, and build up the marshy terrain high enough to keep pace with sea level rise. This study predicts that most coastline communities from Virginia to Maine will not be submerged by sea level rise, but will adapt by forming natural barriers.

An article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Feb. 22, states that sea levels are rising at their fastest rate in 2,000 years. Measurements of past sea levels gathered at 24 sites around the world, and analysis of a 1.1-km (0.6 mi) core pulled from an Antarctic seabed, indicate that sea levels have been rising at a much faster rate in the past 100 years than at any time during the past 2 millennia. The seabed core analysis also shows that land-based ice sheets are vulnerable to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. In the past, the higher the parts-per-million of CO2, the faster the ice caps and glaciers melted. Currently, parts- per-million of CO2 register above 400, compared to the pre-industrial reading of 280. Millions of years ago, when hundreds of erupting volcanoes were changing the shape of the planet, parts-per-million spiked to 500, and ice sheets melted rapidly and retreated far inland. Ocean levels rose dramatically. If humans keep burning fossil fuels and pumping CO2 into the atmosphere at the present rate, a 500 ppm scenario could happen again.

Even with all the studies and climate models, no one knows for sure how fast these changes will take place. But if you live on or near the coastline, it’s best to help your community plan ahead for the changes that are sure to come.