Archive by category | Anna Barnett

Why a climate crisis is like an epileptic seizure

Why a climate crisis is like an epileptic seizure

Tipping points – those critical thresholds in a complex system where a small nudge can cause a catastrophic response – are perhaps the most fearsome threats to the Earth’s climate, but they also haunt ecosystems, financial markets, and even sufferers of medical conditions such as epilepsy and asthma. A fascinating review in Nature today (subscription) sketches out the mathematical patterns on which many of these instances seem to be based, and describes giveaway signs that might warn us to change course before the system tips.  Read more

Time to unleash seabed methane?

Time to unleash seabed methane?

A new reservoir of fossil fuel could be ready to tap much sooner than previously thought. R&Ders have been talking up natural gas extraction from methane hydrates – a solid form of the greenhouse gas, found tucked away beneath the sea floor where low temperature and high pressure keep it stable.  Read more

China cuts methane emissions from rice fields

China cuts methane emissions from rice fields

Rice paddies produce an estimated 20% of the methane released by human activities. But according to data presented at a Beijing climate conference last week, a switch to certain farming practices could erase most of those emissions. Jane Qiu reports on the research over at Nature News.  Read more

When money grows on trees

When money grows on trees

In this year’s series of UN climate talks – the latest of which took place last week in Bonn – one of the issues negotiators are sinking their teeth into is a source of greenhouse gases that has previously been sidestepped. Chopping and burning trees causes an estimated one-fifth of global emissions, and slowing down deforestation could be the cheapest and quickest way to keep a substantial load of gas out of the atmosphere. With this in mind, the Bali meeting in 2007 called for a decision on forests to be made by the time the 2009 talks wrap up in Copenhagen this December.  Read more

Timeline: Ice memory

Some of scientists’ gravest concerns about future climate change are rooted in the past. Records studied by paleoclimatologists reveal that the more extreme possibilities for this century and beyond — temperatures soaring, ice sheets vanishing, fertile lands withering into deserts — were realized previously on Earth when atmospheric greenhouse gas levels surged. At this summer’s AGU Chapman Conference on Abrupt Climate Change, researchers described this turbulent history through all manner of proxies – ice, tree rings, corals, marine and lake sediments, among others. But few talks went without a slide showing the wiggly line of a deep ice core.  Read more

Cloud shields breached by warming

Cloud shields breached by warming

Blankets of low clouds shield and cool the Earth’s surface – but in a warming climate, will this safety blanket thicken, or will it deteriorate? That question has bugged climatologists for decades. A paper published in Science today (subscription) now offers convincing evidence that warming leads to fewer clouds, and thus exposure to more warming.  Read more

IMO stalls decision on shipping emissions

IMO stalls decision on shipping emissions

There’s an update over at Nature News on efforts to get a regulatory handle on carbon dioxide emissions from the shipping industry. I noted last month, when the International Maritime Organization was taking criticism for not moving faster on the issue, that an IMO official had said a July meeting might come up with ideas.  Read more

Unknown climate culprit for Palaeocene-Eocene warming

Unknown climate culprit for Palaeocene-Eocene warming

A reconstruction of the Earth’s climatic history during a key hot period 55 million years ago has highlighted a yawning gap in our understanding: this period’s rise in carbon dioxide accounts for just half of its warming. Some as-yet-unidentified climate feedbacks could be at work, the scientists behind the research conclude.  Read more

Interview: Lonnie Thompson

Interview: Lonnie Thompson

At the AGU Chapman Conference last month I met up with Lonnie Thompson, the alpine glaciologist who has spent more time above 20,000 feet than any other human. Despite being interrupted by last-minute demands from Peruvian customs officials – he was squeezing me in before taking off for a new expedition in the Andes – an unphased Thompson carefully laid out the past and present-day climate change that his work has uncovered. Here’s an extract: What information can you garner from glaciers? Glaciers are like sentinels, and they’re telling us that the system is changing. The first thing we look  … Read more