Wildfire smoke is more harmful than car exhaust emissions

March 8, 2021 by  
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New research published in the journal Nature Communications has revealed that pollution caused by wildfires is more harmful to humans than than poor air quality caused by car exhaust. The study, conducted by researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, was achieved through an analysis of health records. The study follows increasing wildfire events in the United States. Last year, many western states experienced fires, with heavy smoke clouding major cities. In some areas, residents were warned against stepping outside their homes to avoid possible health risks. Related: Wildfires have burned 2.3M acres across California this year The researchers looked at health records over the past 14 years and determined that there was a 10% spike in hospital admissions in Southern California during wildfire breakouts. According to Tom Corringham, one of the authors of the study, the economic impacts of wildfires are typically highlighted, with little focus on health impacts that are usually of the same magnitude. “We’re pretty aware of the physical costs of wildfire, in terms of firefighting costs and damage to property,” Corringham said. “But there’s been a lot of work that has shown that the health impacts due to wildfire smoke are on the same order of magnitude, or possibly even greater than the direct physical cost.” In the study, researchers focused on PM2.5, which are very common in wildfire smoke. These microscopic particles are very small and can bypass the human body’s security systems. When this happens, they make their way into the lungs and the bloodstream. There are various health risks that have been associated with these particles, including increased risk of respiratory problems, heart attacks and strokes. “We’ve seen it getting much worse in the last decade,” Corringham said of the wildfires. “Anything we can do today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the global climate system will have significant benefits.” A separate study on air quality on the West Coast found that one in every seven residents experienced at least one day in unhealthy air conditions last year due to wildfires. + Nature Communications Via NPR Image via Peter Buschmann / USDA

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Climate change doubles natural disaster costs in the US

January 8, 2021 by  
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If you think that investing in solar panels and a sustainable wardrobe instead of fast fashion are expensive, take a look at how climate change is escalating the cost of repairing disasters. The U.S. spent $95 billion on fixing damage caused by natural disasters last year, which was almost twice the 2019 costs. These figures come from Munich Re, a German company that provides insurance to other insurance companies and is an expert in insurance-related risks. Last year was one of the warmest on record. In the U.S., people suffered from hurricanes in the south and east as well as massive wildfires in the west. “ Climate change plays a role in this upward trend of losses,” said Ernst Rauch, chief climate scientist at Munich Re, in an interview with The New York Times . Related: Wildfires have burned 2.3M acres across California this year Hurricane Laura, which hit southwestern Louisiana in August, was the costliest U.S. catastrophe in 2020, causing $13 billion in damage. But Hurrican Laura was only one of 30 named storms last year, 12 of which made landfall. Together they cost $43 billion in losses, accounting for nearly half the 2020 U.S. disaster total. Once hurricanes hit the land, climate change makes them likelier to stall, pummeling areas with wind and rain for more extended periods than usual, Rauch explained. Other types of costly storm activity in 2020 included tornadoes, hailstorms and derechos, a type of long-lived windstorm. An August derecho in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest decimated soybeans and cornfields and caused nearly $7 billion in damage. Insurers are worried. New buildings need to stand up better to natural disasters. “We can’t, as an industry, continue to just collect more and more money, and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild in the same way,” said Donald L. Griffin, a vice president at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association. “We’ve got to place an emphasis on preventing and reducing loss.” Of course, the U.S. isn’t the only country to be ravaged by the effects of climate change. Internationally, last year saw summer flooding in China, with only 2% of losses insured, and Cyclone Amphan, which hit Bangladesh and India, in May. Very few of Cyclone Amphan’s victims were insured. According to Munich Re, only $3 billion out of a total of $67 billion in natural disaster damage across Asia was covered last year. Via The New York Times Image via NOAA

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Birds are dying mid-air possibly due to climate crisis effects

September 17, 2020 by  
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The deaths of thousands of birds in the southwestern U.S. have sparked concern from scientists. This phenomenon has been described as a national tragedy by ornithologists, who suggest that it could be related to the climate crisis. The species of birds affected include flycatchers, warblers and swallows. Bird carcasses have been spotted in numerous places, including New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Nebraska. According to Martha Desmond, a biology professor at New Mexico State University (NMSU), many of the cases show signs of starvation. The carcasses have little remaining fat reserves, and many of the birds appear to have nose-dived into the ground mid-flight. Related: Migratory birds triumph over Trump administration “I collected over a dozen in just a two-mile stretch in front of my house,” Desmond said. “To see this and to be picking up these carcasses and realizing how widespread this is, is personally devastating. To see this many individuals and species dying is a national tragedy.” Many of the birds belonged to a group of long-distance migrants that fly from Alaska and Canada to Central and South America. These birds travel long journeys and have to make several landings for food before they proceed. However, the recent fires across the western states might have made it difficult for the birds to follow their regular route. If the birds moved farther inland to the Chihuahuan desert, they likely struggled to find food and water, leading to starvation. At the same time, the southwestern states have experienced drier conditions than usual, which might have reduced the number of insects on which the birds could feed. Scientists have also discussed the possibility that the wildfires and their accompanying smoke may have harmed the birds’ lungs. “It could be a combination of things. It could be something that’s still completely unknown to us,” said Allison Salas, graduate student at NMSU. “The fact that we’re finding hundreds of these birds dying, just kind of falling out of the sky is extremely alarming. … The volume of carcasses that we have found has literally given me chills.” Via The Guardian Image via Florian Hahn

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Redwoods, condor sanctuary are damaged in California wildfires

August 28, 2020 by  
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The beloved giants of Big Basin Redwoods State Park have been facing massive wildfires in California. Fortunately, many survived, proving how tough and resilient these trees can be, although there has still been considerable damage. Meanwhile, a condor sanctuary has also been devastated, with experts fearing the loss of some of these critically endangered birds. Big Basin’s redwoods have stood in the Santa Cruz Mountains for more than 1,000 years. In 1902, the area became California’s first state park. The trees are a combination of old-growth and second-growth redwood forest, mixed with oaks, conifer and chaparral. The park is a popular hiking destination with more than 80 miles of trails, multiple waterfalls and good bird-watching opportunities. Related: Arctic wildfires rage through Siberia Early reports of the Santa Cruz Lightning Complex fires claimed the redwood trees were all gone. But a visitor on Tuesday found most trees still intact, though the park’s historic headquarters and other structures had burned in the fires. “But the forest is not gone,” Laura McLendon, conservation director for the Sempervirens Fund, told KQED . “It will regrow. Every old growth redwood I’ve ever seen, in Big Basin and other parks, has fire scars on them. They’ve been through multiple fires, possibly worse than this.” Scientists have done some interesting studies on redwoods, including one concluding that redwoods might be benefiting from climate change . A warming climate means less fog in northern California, which allows redwoods more sunshine and therefore more photosynthesis. Researchers have also looked into cloning giant redwoods, which could save the species if they burn in future fires. A sanctuary for endangered condors in Big Sur also suffered from the wildfires. Kelly Sorenson, executive director of Ventana Wildlife Society, which operates the sanctuary, watched in horror as fire took out a remote camera trained on a condor chick in a nest. Sorenson saw the chick’s parents fly away. “We were horrified. It was hard to watch. We still don’t know if the chick survived, or how well the free-flying birds have done,” Sorenson told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m concerned we may have lost some condors. Any loss is a setback. I’m trying to keep the faith and keep hopeful.” The fate of at least four other wild condors who live in the sanctuary is also still unknown. Via CleanTechnica , EcoWatch and KQED Image via Anita Ritenour

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Arctic wildfires rage through Siberia

July 28, 2020 by  
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The earth’s poles have made the news a lot this summer, and not for good reasons. Now, another awful update has hit, with  Arctic wildfires burning out of control. “We’ve had exceptional and prolonged heat for months now and this has fueled devastating Arctic fires,” said Clare Nullis, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) spokesperson, at a  press conference in Geneva . “And at the same time we’re seeing rapidly decreasing  sea coverage along the Arctic coast.” Related: Siberia hits record 100 degrees Scientists use satellite images to gauge the extent of the wildfires. However, fire’s dynamic nature can make it hard for authorities to track the exact number of fires burning at once. On Wednesday, data indicated “188 probable points of fire.” The worst fire blazed in Russia’s Sakha Republic and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, in the far northeast reaches of Siberia . “We’re seeing, you know, dramatic satellite images, which show the extent of the burns surface,” said Nullis. “The fire front of the northern-most currently active Arctic wildfire is less than eight kilometres from the Arctic ocean – this should not be happening.” Pollutants found in wildfire smoke include nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, solid aerosol particles and volatile organic compounds. The WMO said that Arctic wildfires emitted the equivalent of 56 megatons of  carbon dioxide  this June, up from 53 megatons in June 2019. This year’s persistent heat is caused by what meteorologists call “blocking high pressure aloft.” A blocking high pressure system can linger over an area for a prolonged time, forcing other  weather  systems to go around it. High pressure aloft traps heat by compressing air downward and preventing cooler air from pushing through and bringing the region some relief. “In general, the Arctic is heating more than twice the global average,” said Nullis. “It’s having a big impact on local populations and  ecosystems , but we always say that what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic, it does affect our weather in different parts of the world where hundreds of millions of people live.” Via AP News and Huffpost Image via Pixabay

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Global warming makes 2018 the 4th hottest year ever

February 13, 2019 by  
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U.S. officials have confirmed that 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA just revealed that temperatures were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the worldwide average, which includes temperatures between 1951 and 1980. Temperatures in 2018 were the fourth warmest of any year since 1880. That places 2018 slightly behind the top three average temperatures on record: 2016, 2017 and 2015, respectively. According to The Guardian , the rise in temperatures affects more than just the heat index. Global warming also raises sea levels and spawns increasingly extreme weather patterns. In 2018, for example, the U.S. witnessed two of the worst hurricanes on record, while wildfires devastated California. Elsewhere around the globe, India experienced massive flooding, while a disastrous typhoon hit the Philippines. Greece and Sweden also suffered deadly wildfires , and the Arctic had one of the warmest years ever. In fact, scientists warn that the Arctic is experiencing double the warming rate of any other region on Earth. Related: Global warming will melt over 1/3 of the Himalayan ice cap by 2100 “2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend,” NASA’s Gavin Schmidt explained. “The impacts of long-term global warming are already being felt — in coastal flooding , heatwaves, intense precipitation and ecosystem change.” With global warming not showing any signs of slowing down, scientists believe hotter temperatures are the new norm. This year has already begun with El Niño in the forecast, which means it could be even hotter than last year. Unless carbon emissions are drastically cut within the next decade, it is possible that we see another record setting year between now and 2023. Even if governments around the world exceed expectations in cutting  carbon emissions, slowing global warming will be difficult. Even more disturbing is the fact that we have seen 18 of the 19 hottest years since 2001. For reference, children who are now graduating from high school have only experienced record-setting temperatures. Last year was the fourth hottest year on record, but it may turn out to be a mild one for future generations. Via The Guardian Image via Pixel2013

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Plan Ahead for Extreme Air Conditions

October 22, 2018 by  
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Residents in some parts of the American West are already … The post Plan Ahead for Extreme Air Conditions appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Wildfires and drought cause national forest closures in New Mexico and Colorado

June 13, 2018 by  
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Blazes in Colorado closed the 1.8-million-acre San Juan National Forest this week. The 416 Fire is burning on 25,900 acres and is 15 percent contained, according to a June 13 Facebook post . Meanwhile, in New Mexico , the 1.6-million-acre Santa Fe National Forest was closed “due to extreme fire danger.”  NPR quoted San Juan National Forest Fire Staff Officer Richard Bustamante as saying fire risks are at “historic levels.” The San Juan National Forest spans across nine counties, and the last full closure was in 2002. The forest order , signed by forest supervisor Kara Chadwick, says the purpose “is to protect natural resources and public safety due to the impacts of the wildland fire.” Related: NASA map shows how climate change has set the world on fire Bustamante said, “Under current conditions, one abandoned campfire or spark could cause a catastrophic wildfire , and we are not willing to take that chance with the natural and cultural resources under our protection and care, or with human life and property.” The residents of more than 2,000 homes were told to evacuate; a June 12 night update said the evacuation order for San Juan County residents would lift this morning, although people would require Rapid Tag resident credentials to return. At the time of writing, no structures have been destroyed, and 1,029 people are working the fire. The Burro Fire is also burning in the San Juan National Forest on 2,684 acres (as of last night) and is zero percent contained. The cause for both fires is under investigation. In New Mexico, some districts of the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands will be closed effective Friday. “The Cibola is a high-use forest, so this is not a decision that we made lightly,” said Fire Staff Officer Matt Rau. “The forest is tinder dry and the monsoons may still be a few weeks out. We need to take every action possible to reduce the risk of human-caused fires.” Via NPR Image via Depositphotos

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New study shows some LED lights can harm wildlife

June 13, 2018 by  
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Researchers have concluded that certain types of LED lights can be harmful toward a wide variety of wildlife, calling attention to the potential hazards of the rapid expansion of LED light usage. Though LEDs made up only 9 percent of the global market in 2011, that number is expected to rise to 69 percent by 2020. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology , researchers concluded that blue and white LED lighting is the most harmful to wildlife , particularly animals such as sea turtles and insects, while green, amber and yellow are more favorable. As the urbanization of our planet continues, it is essential that policymakers and scientists understand the potential outcomes of altering a space so drastically from its natural state. “Outdoor environments are changing rapidly and in ways that can impact wildlife species,” study leader author Travis Longcore told Phys.org . The researchers incorporated existing ecological data into the study as the team examined the impacts of different kinds of LED lights on animals such as insects, sea turtles, salmon and Newell’s shearwater seabird. Related: New research links LED streetlights to increased risk of cancer LED lights seem to adversely affect species in different ways. Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings can be lured inland by artificial light rather than into the ocean , while migrating juvenile salmon’s attraction to light may leave them vulnerable to predators. To better inform the public regarding the risks of LED, the study includes the first publicly available database that documents how about 24 different kinds of light can impact wildlife. “If we don’t provide advice and information to decision-makers, they will go with the cheapest lighting or lighting that serves only one interest and does not balance other interests,” Longcore said. “We provide a method to assess the probable consequences of new light sources to keep up with the changing technology and wildlife concerns.” + Journal of Experimental Zoology Via Phys.org Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Birds called ‘firehawk raptors’ are intentionally spreading fires in Australia

January 10, 2018 by  
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When you think of causes of fire in Australia , you might think of lightning or arsonists – but you probably don’t think of birds . But at least three birds of prey species spread wildfires in Australia, according to a new paper incorporating indigenous knowledge. Penn State University geographer and lead author Mark Bonta told National Geographic , “We’re not discovering anything. Most of the data that we’ve worked with is collaborative with Aboriginal peoples…They’ve known this for probably 40,000 years or more.” ‘Firehawk raptors’ – the Black Kite ( Milvus migrans ), Brown Falcon ( Falco berigora ), and Whistling Kite ( Haliastur sphenurus ) – spread fire by carrying burning sticks in their beaks or talons. They can transport fiery sticks up to around one kilometer, or 0.6 miles, away, staring fires where the flames haven’t yet burned. And while indigenous people have known about this behavior for a long time, this new study published in the Journal of Ethnobiology late last year documenting the knowledge and around six years of ethno-ornithological research could help overcome what the paper abstract described as “official skepticism about the reality of avian fire-spreading.” Related: Carnivorous marsupial alive and well after being presumed extinct for 100 years “Intentional Fire-Spreading by “Firehawk” Raptors in Northern Australia,” Bonta et al. Journal of Ethnobiology, 37(4) (abstract): https://t.co/JJVomc5zDy #ethnobiology #ethnoornithology #birds #fire pic.twitter.com/Bv4oSA6BpC — Bob Gosford (@bgosford) January 1, 2018 Why would these birds of prey set fires? According to National Geographic, the blazes could help them find food as small animals and insects attempt to escape the fire. Co-author Bob Gosford told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2016, “Black kites and brown falcons come to these fronts because it is just literally a killing frenzy. It’s a feeding frenzy, because out of these grasslands come small birds, lizards, insects, everything fleeing the front of the fire.” And it’s important to dispel skepticism so officials could better plan land management and restoration. The researchers hope their paper will help with fire ecology and fire management that takes into account these fire-spreading birds. Via ScienceAlert and National Geographic Images via Depositphotos ( 1 , 2 )

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