TIME Environment

A Bad Day for Climate Change Deniers … and the Planet

Deeper, hotter, sicker—and the oceans are only part of it
Deeper, hotter, sicker—and the oceans are only part of it Roc Canals Photography; Getty Images/Flickr Select

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Three new studies offer new proof of how bad the earth's fever has gotten

It’s not often that the climate change deniers get clobbered three times in just two days. But that’s what happened with the release of a trio of new studies that ought to serve as solid body blows to the fading but persistent fiction that human-mediated warming is somehow a hoax. Good news for the forces of reason, however, is bad news for the planet—especially the oceans.

The most straightforward of the three studies was a report from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirming what a lot of people who sweltered through 2014 already suspected: the year is entering the record books as the hottest ever since reliable records started being kept in 1880—and the results weren’t even close.

Average global surface temperature worldwide was 58.24ºF (14.58º C) — surpassing previous records set in 2005 and 2007 — and making 2014 a full 2ºF (1.1ºC) hotter than the average for the entire 20th century. And before you say 2ºF doesn’t seem like much, think about whether you’d prefer to run a fever of 99ºF or 101ºF. The planet is every bit as sensitive to small variations as you are.

“Today’s news is a clear and undeniable warning for all of us that we need to cut climate pollution and prepare for what’s coming,” said Lou Leonard, vice president for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund.

When it concerns the ocean, what’s coming may already be here. A sobering study in Nature looked at sea level rise in both the periods from 1901 to 1990 and from 1993 to 2010 in an attempt to sort out a seeming inconsistency: measurements from 622 tide gauges around the world showed that levels had risen 6 in. (15.24 cm) over the past century, but computer models and other tools put the figure at only 5 in. (12.7 cm). Here too, what seems like a little is actually a lot: a single inch of water spread around all of the planet’s oceans and seas represents two quadrillion gallons of water.

This could have meant good news, since it might have indicated that we’d overestimated the impact of melting glaciers and ice caps. But new computer modeling recalculated the degree of sea level rise over the last century and found that the tide gauges had it right all along, and the only thing that was wrong was that sea levels had risen more slowly than believed in the 90 years that followed 1900, and much faster in the 17 years from 1993 to 2010 — close to three times as fast per year. What does that mean in the long term? Perhaps 3 ft. (0.9 m) greater increase by the end of this century if we keep on the way we’re going.

Finally, according to the journal Science, at the same time sea levels are rising higher, marine life forms are growing sicker, with a “major extinction event” a very real possibility. All through the oceans, the signs of ecosystem breakdown are evident: the death of coral reefs, the collapse of fish stocks, the migration of species from waters that have grown too warm for them to the patches that remain cool enough.

What’s more, the increase in the number of massive container ships crossing the oceans has resulted in a growing number of collisions with whales — encounters in which the animals wind up the losers. Seafloor mining and bottom-trawling nets both plunder fish populations and further damage the environment in which deepwater species can live.

“Humans,” wrote the authors of the Science paper, “have already powerfully changed virtually all major marine ecosystems.”

No part of this bad-news trifecta is likely to change the minds of the rump faction of climate deniers — particularly in Washington. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is set to assume chairmanship of the committee that oversees science in general and NASA in particular had this to say to CNN about climate change: “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened.”

He’s wrong on the facts — as the new temperature readings demonstrate — and wrong on his interpretation of the science which shows that the rate of atmospheric warming has indeed slowed a bit in the past decade and a half. The reason for that seeming happy development is not that climate change isn’t real, but that the oceans, for now, are sopping up more heat than anticipated—see, for example, those migrating fish.

Meantime, Cruz’s Oklahoma colleague Senator James Inhofe is set to become chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This is the same Inhofe who persists in his very vocal belief that climate change is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” and that even if it is true, it might actually be good for the world.

Ultimately, reason will prevail; in the long arc of scientific history it usually does. How much ocean and atmosphere and wildlife we’ll have left when that happens, however, is another matter entirely.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME climate change

2014 Was the Hottest Year on Record

'Climate change is perhaps the major challenge of our generation'

2014 was the hottest year since temperature record keeping began in 1880, scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Friday. The average global surface temperature hit 58.24 F (14.58 C), easily surpassing the previous record, set in 2005 and 2010, by 0.07 degrees.

“Climate change is perhaps the major challenge of our generation,” NASA scientist Michael Freilich warned in on a conference call. “Our changing climate presents us with vast opportunities as well as the potential for profound societal impacts.”

Every continent experienced record high temperatures in some area. Alaska, the west coast of the United States, Europe, Australia and Siberia were among the areas that saw particularly intense temperature rises. Other regions, like the U.S. Northeast, saw relatively low temperatures. Overall, the average global land temperature was nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher in 2014 than the average temperature in the 20th century.

Though a temperature rise of a few degrees may seem insignificant, University of Georgia meteorologist Marshall Shepherd likens the disparity to “the difference between a low-grade fever and one just a few degrees higher that can have an impact on the body.”

“If you are younger than 29-years old, you haven’t lived in a month that was cooler than the 20th century average,” he said in a statement. February 1985 was the last time where average global temperatures for the month were colder than they were for the 20th century on average.

Environmental activists and scientists used the announcement as an opportunity to counter claims that climate change has slowed or stopped in recent years. These claims cite data showing that temperatures have risen at a slower rate since the turn of the century than in past decades.

“Why do we keep getting so many record-warm years?” NASA scientist Dr. Gavin Schmidt asked in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s because the planet is warming. The basic issue is the long-term trend, and it is not going away.”

“Today’s news is a clear and undeniable warning for all of us—nations, businesses, cities, and individuals—that we need to cut climate pollution and prepare for what’s coming,” said Lou Leonard, vice president for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, in a statement.

Gavin Schmidt described determining the cause of any temperature rise as a “complicated finger printing,” but said that it’s clear that greenhouse gases added to the climate by humans are a major contributor to the warming.

While last year’s record may be alarming in itself, scientists pointed out that long-term trends are equally alarming. Nine out of the ten warmest years on record occurred in the 21st century. “The key thing we’re talking about here is not just 2014, but the long-term trends,” said Schmidt on a conference call. “We may anticipate further record highs into the years to come.”

TIME space

See the SpaceX Rocket Crash Land in Middle of the Ocean

SpaceX Rocket Crash
GIF by Mia Tramz for TIME

“Close but no cigar,” Elon Musk tweeted

SpaceX launched a resupply ship to the International Space Station last week, but it narrowly failed a test to securely navigate the rocket back to earth.

The company founded by Elon Musk believes that a reusable rocket could drastically reduce the costs of space transportation, and as you can see in the GIF above compiled from images that Musk tweeted, they’re very close to finalizing the technology. In the first attempt, the Falcon 9 rocket descended back to floating platform about 200 miles off the Florida coast. But it was a hard landing, and the rocket was largely wrecked.

“Close but no cigar,” Musk tweeted at the time.

 

TIME space

Missing Beagle 2 Mars Lander Spotted on Planet’s Surface

The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander, which was transported by ESA's Mars Express mission and was lost on Mars since 2003, on the Red Planet's surface, in a photo released on Jan. 16, 2015.
The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander, which was transported by ESA's Mars Express mission and was lost on Mars since 2003, on the Red Planet's surface, in a photo released on Jan. 16, 2015. HIRISE/NASA/EPA

Spacecraft has been lost for ten years

The missing Mars lander Beagle 2 has been found on the surface of the planet after more than a decade, scientists announced Friday, solving the mystery of what happened to its doomed mission.

The robot was supposed to make a soft touchdown on Mars on Christmas Day in 2003 but contact was lost.

New images from planet’s surface show that it made a successful touchdown and was partially deployed, the U.K. Space Agency said in a statement.

However, it will not be possible to recover any data from the device.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME space

Phantom of the Opera Soprano Sarah Brightman Has Started Space Training

Sarah Brightman
Sarah Brightman at her concert "Dream Haser" on 14th December, 2014 in Taipei, Taiwan, China. TPG—Getty Images

Her vacation will cost $52 million

Now we know why those Broadway lights just weren’t bright enough for Sarah Brightman — she wants to see the stars, up close and personal. The Phantom of the Opera soprano started training in Russia this week to make a 10-day trip to the International Space Station. Her stellar vacation cost her a cool $52 million.

Brightman will be the eighth tourist to travel to the ISS, and the first since NASA retired its shuttles in 2011, leaving Russia’s Soyuz as the sole transporter. If Brightman, who delayed her training due to a cold, is unable to make the trip at the end of her nine-month training period, Japanese entrepreneur Satoshi Takamatsu will take her place.

[Sky News]

TIME Television

Now There’s a Netflix for Science Fans

The service will be available on all Internet devices as well as Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast

Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks is launching a streaming service for science enthusiasts.

The service is called CuriosityStream and hits on March 18, Deadline reports.

Costing $2.99 a month for standard video and $9.99 a month for high-definition viewing, it will provide access to science and nature material from BBC Worldwide, Terra Noa, Japanese channel NHK and France’s ZED. There will also be original programming, including interviews with prominent thinkers.

“For consumers, our aim is to provide the first and best on-demand video streaming destination that aggregates and curates the world’s best factual content,” said Hendricks, who retired from Discovery Communications last May.

[Deadline]

TIME Archaeology

Neanderthals May Have Used Tools, Making Them Smarter Than We Thought

A multipurpose bone tool dating back to before the Stone Age was discovered in France

A new discovery suggests that Neanderthals, the immediate ancestors of human beings, may not have been as technologically inferior to our species as previously thought.

Researchers from the University of Montreal found a multipurpose bone tool in Burgundy, France, that dates back to the Neanderthal era, Science Daily reported.

“It proves that Neanderthals were able to understand the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use it to make tools, abilities usually attributed to our species, Homo sapiens,” said Luc Doyon, a University of Montreal anthropologist who participated in the excavation.

The pre–Stone Age implement is the first of its kind ever discovered, and challenges a long-held assumption that Neanderthals did not have the cognitive ability to create tools. Marks on the artifact, supposedly fashioned from the left femur of a reindeer, indicate that it was used as a scraper, a sharpener for stone tools and a device to puncture meat.

[Science Daily]

TIME nature

Rock Stars: See Historic Climbing Moments on Yosemite’s El Capitan

The impossible has just been achieved

On Jan. 14, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, two American climbers, scaled the fabled Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park using just hands and feet. The façade, located on the southeast side of the massive El Capitan rock formation, was widely considered an impossible climb without the help of ropes. Caldwell and Jorgeson’s story builds upon decades of record-breaking (and bone-breaking) climbs on El Capitan in the Yosemite Valley. Above are some of the trailblazers who paved the way for their success.

Two of those featured are Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell (no relation to Tommy), who over nearly 27 days in 1970 became the first to scale the Dawn Wall, though using ropes and rivets. In the video below, co-directors Nick Rosen and Peter Mortimer share with TIME an exclusive clip from the award-winning documentary Valley Uprising, which shows Harding and Caldwell’s infamous 1970 ascent. The film, which will be available on Vimeo starting Jan. 15, documents the epic stories of the men and women who have made history conquering El Capitan over the past 50 years.

Read next: This week’s TIME magazine article, Man vs. Yosemite

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Environment

Ingested Drugs, Passed Through Sewers, May Threaten Lake Michigan Fish

Study finds exposure to a diabetic drug can throw a minnow's hormones off balance

Researchers warned that a cocktail of ingested medications has slipped past sewage treatment plants and gradually accumulated in Lake Michigan, threatening to alter the hormonal balance of local fish.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences have detected traces of coffee, birth control pills and antibiotics in Lake Michigan’s waters, the Detroit Free-Press reports. The most prevalent drug was Metformin, a medication commonly used to treat Type 2 diabetes.

Fathead minnows exposed to Metformin at the same concentrations found in the lake exhibited unusual hormonal imbalances four weeks later. Male minnows, for instance, began to produce a hormone typically associated with female egg production, though researchers say they have not yet ascertained the long-term effects of the hormonal changes.

“It’s enough to raise an alarm bell that this might be something that causes changes in reproduction of fish,” study author Rebecca Klaper said.

Read more at Detroit Free-Press.

TIME space

Fear of Ammonia Leak Leads to Partial Space Station Evacuation

The International Space Station.
The International Space Station. NASA TV/EPA

There is the possibility that this was a false alarm, NASA said

The crew of the International Space Station evacuated the U.S. section on Wednesday as a precautionary measure after Mission Control saw pressure changes that raised fears of a possible ammonia leak.

All crew members were safe and had moved to the Russian side of the facility after controllers on the ground saw changes in water loop and cabin pressure that indicated the possibility of an ammonia leak, NASA said. No actual leak has been confirmed. Crew members put on emergency masks and moved to the Russian portion of the station. There is the possibility that this was a false alarm, NASA said…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

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