While COP21 was happening in Paris, scientists kept churning out climate change research

The UN Conference on Climate Change ran from November 30th to December 11th, 2015.

With United Nations Conference on Climate Change drawing to a close, I wanted to compile a round-up of the climate change news released since the start of the conference.

Before I begin with the news, I found a few non-news related tidbits about the conference. I found this map of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). It provides insight into the various climate regimes within the convention. I also found this article about climate activism and what drives climate change efforts And finally, this report came out of COP21, and it describes the benefits and trade-offs of low-carbon energy (for the full report, click here).

On to the news.

Aedes aegypti, a tropical disease-carrying mosquito. Photo credit: James Gathany (CDC – PHIL) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

November 30, 2015:
  • USGS projects large loss of permafrost by 2100: Permafrost is soil that’s remained frozen for at least two consecutive years. It is a major store of carbon since a lot of organic material is frozen there. Alaska’s permafrost is projected to be reduced by 16 to 24 percent before 2100.
  • Climate change likely to increase black carbon input into the Arctic Ocean: Black Carbon (formed when organic matter burns) is generally a very stable form of carbon soils. But with rising temperatures in the Arctic, this stable, black carbon is making its way into the ocean where it can be converted into greenhouse gases that can contribute to further climate change.
  • Advanced new camera can measure greenhouse gases: A new camera developed at Linköping University and Stockholm University can visualize methane (a potent greenhouse gas that is invisible to the human eye). The camera can measure methane at very high resolution which will be an invaluable asset to researchers studying methane production and fluctuations.
  • Global warming may affect pesticide effectiveness: A class of insecticides seems to have decreased effectiveness at higher temperatures when administered to Aedes aegypti. This mosquito transmits yellow, dengue, and chikungunya fever among other diseases and is relegated to the tropics where climate change is causing increases in temperature.
Clouds over the Atlantic Ocean

Rising ocean temperatures could disrupt plankton photosynthesis, the major source of oxygen on our planet. Image Credit: By Tiago Fioreze (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

December 1, 2015:
  • Global warming disaster could suffocate life on planet earth, study shows: While we often think of rising CO2 levels as a major problem of climate change, dropping oxygen levels can also be a major threat. Phytoplankton are microscopic photosynthesizers that produce the bulk of Earth’s oxygen. If ocean temperatures increase by 6 degrees before 2100, these tiny plants may not be able to photosynthesize properly.
December 2nd, 2015:
Nepenthes herbarium specimens

By comparing modern samples with preserved samples like the one in this image, scientists are able to determine the rate of photosynthesis in plants spanning many years. Image credit: By François MEY (François MEY) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

December 7 2015:
  • Warm nights could flood the atmosphere with carbon under climate change: Plant produce oxygen through photosynthesis by using water carbon dioxide and sunlight. But, like us, plants also produce some carbon dioxide through respiration and this is usually done at night while the sun is away. With climate change, nights may become warmer. These warm nights can lead plants to respirate even more and dump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Increased carbon dioxide has altered the photosynthesis of plants over the 20th century: By examining historical samples of plants and comparing them to modern specimens, researchers have found that increasing carbon dioxide levels has shifted the balance of photosynthesis and respiration in favor of photosynthesis.
  • Including plant acclimation to temperature changes improves climate models: While plants do grow better in warmer temperatures, if the temperature gets too high, it can stress them and decrease their ability to photosynthesize. But, plants can adjust their physiology to rising temperatures. Researchers have demonstrated that by incorporating predictions of plants’ ability to acclimate to temperature increases they can improve the outlook of climate change models as plants absorb a great deal of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis.
  • More Aggressive Climate Policies Are Needed to Save the Future Poor: The current climate change models and mitigation strategies will have markedly different effects on the wealthy and the poor. If we do not make changes future poor will be even more impoverished than ever before.
Coal power plant Datteln 2 Crop1

Fortunately, coal power plants like this one are in decline in Canada. Image Credit: By Image by Arnold Paul cropped by Gralo (Image by Arnold Paul cropped by Gralo) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

December 8 2015:
December 9 2015:
  • The Climate outlook may be worse than feared, global study suggestsA new study out of the UK predicts that if no action is taken to modify our behaviour, global land temperatures could increase 7.9 C by 2100, which is far above the UN’s safe limit of a 2-degree rise in global temperatures.
  • UM Study: Plants absorb less carbon dioxide than models show: Plants do grow better under higher CO2 concentrations, and this is hoped to offset increased carbon emissions. However, based on satellite images, plants are absorbing less carbon dioxide than current models predict they will. It is possible that availability of water and nutrients are factors that create this discrepancy.
Ponds on the Ocean, ICESCAPE

Arctic sea ice is on the decline. Image Credit: By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA (Ponds on the Ocean Uploaded by PDTillman) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

December 10- 2015:
  • Cloudy with a chance of warming: As sea ice melts in the Arctic a new moist, cloudy atmosphere can act as an insulator and accelerate Arctic warming at certain times of the year.
  • Trees either hunker down or press on in a drying and warming western U.S. climate: Different species of trees have different strategies for coping with drying habitat. One strategy is to shut down, stop growing, and ‘wait’ until the drought ends. Another strategy is for trees to modify their structures to cope with reduced water which will allow them to continue growing. But only for a while.
  • Scientists develop diesel that emits far less CO2Researchers in the Netherlands have developed a more efficient method of producing diesel fuel. When this new type of diesel is used in cars, it will release less carbon dioxide. Their new lab technique can be scaled to industrial levels and can be applied to other petrochemical fuels.
  • Plant growth enhanced by increased CO2, but food webs give rise to significant variations: Despite the fact that plants experience accelerated productivity with higher carbon dioxide concentrations in a lab setting, in the field, plant growth is highly variable from year to year. The cause seems to be the food-webs that the plants live in.  Organisms in the food web have different sensitivities to temperature and various roles for the plant, and as their populations change the plant responds to this shifting ecosystem.
December 11 2015:
  • Tropical ground water resources resilient to climate change: Climate change it supposed to lead to fewer but more intense rainfalls in the tropics and ground water may be the most reliable source of water in these regions. The heavy rainfall will replenish the aquifers but managing the resource effectively will be vital to the survival of the people who live in the affected areas.

Hope you found that informative. Feel free to share any other news you come across in the comments below.


Dr Ash Signature


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