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Reading Recommendations

April 2019

Learning about climate change uncertainty enables flexible water infrastructure planning

Water resources planning requires decision-making about infrastructure development under uncertainty in future regional climate conditions. However, uncertainty in climate change projections will evolve over the 100-year lifetime of a dam as new climate observations become available. 


Greenhouse gases are depriving our oceans of oxygen

In dialogues about ocean issues, the effects of greenhouse gases, such as ground-level ozone and carbon dioxide, haven’t received nearly as much attention as plastic, largely because they aren’t visible. But oxygen is as essential for the ocean as it is on land.

UN Environment

Long-term ozone exposures and cause-specific mortality in a US Medicare cohort

We examined the association of long-term, daily 1-h maximum O3 (ozone) exposures on cause-specific mortality for 22.2 million US Medicare beneficiaries between 2000–2008.



New climate models predict a warming surge

For nearly 40 years, the massive computer models used to simulate global climate have delivered a fairly consistent picture of how fast human carbon emissions might warm the world. But a host of global climate models developed for the United Nations’s next major assessment of global warming, due in 2021, are now showing a puzzling but undeniable trend. They are running hotter than they have in the past. Soon the world could be, too.



Reflections on an interdisciplinary collaboration to inform public understanding of climate change, mitigation, and impacts

We describe two interdisciplinary projects in which natural scientists and engineers, as well as psychologists and other behavioral scientists, worked together to better communicate about climate change, including mitigation and impacts. In both projects, we applied the mental-models approach, which aims to design effective communications by using insights from interdisciplinary teams of experts and mental models elicited from intended audience members.



Sensitive intervention points in the post-carbon transition

Conventional approaches to mitigating climate change are not working. Despite the actions pledged under the 2015 Paris Agreement, actual progress is falling well short . Given limited time and resources, traditional efforts such as the climate stabilization wedge approach are unlikely to be effective on their own. Physical science has shown how complex adaptive systems can cross critical thresholds, such that a relatively small change can trigger a larger change that becomes irreversible, where nonlinear feedback effects act as amplifiers. We propose to examine how to exploit similar sensitive intervention points  and amplification mechanisms in socioeconomic, technological, and political systems to advance climate change mitigation.



Global glacier mass changes and their contributions to sea-level rise from 1961 to 2016

Glaciers distinct from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets cover an area of approximately 706,000 square kilometres globally, with an estimated total volume of 170,000 cubic kilometres, or 0.4 metres of potential sea-level-rise equivalent. Retreating and thinning glaciers are icons of climate change and affect regional runoff as well as global sea level.



Turning organic waste into hydrogen

Researchers are using bacteria to transform various types of waste into a clean-burning fuel. A narrow tower two stories high sits behind chemical engineer S. Venkata Mohan’s lab at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s Indian Institute of Chemical Technology. Every other day for 6 months in 2017, he and his team fed this “beast.” They collected food waste from the institute’s cafeteria, ground it up, filtered out large particles, drained the oils, and added it to the tower, which contains an anaerobic digester filled with a soup of waste and bacteria. Munching on the leftover lunch, those microorganisms didn’t produce a conventional biogas, the typical output of digesters. With some scientific innovation from Mohan and his team, the microbes instead produced a gas rich in hydrogen. Building on the beast’s ability to pump out 5 kg of hydrogen per day.



Urban heat island: Aerodynamics or imperviousness?

More than half of the world’s population now live in cities, which are known to be heat islands. While daytime urban heat islands (UHIs) are traditionally thought to be the consequence of less evaporative cooling in cities, recent work sparks new debate, showing that geographic variations of daytime UHI intensity were largely explained by variations in the efficiency with which urban and rural areas convect heat from the land surface to the lower atmosphere. Here, we reconcile this debate by demonstrating that the difference between the recent finding and the traditional paradigm can be explained by the difference in the attribution methods.



Low-cost high-efficiency system for solar-driven conversion of CO2 to hydrocarbons

Carbon dioxide electroreduction may constitute a key technology in coming years to valorize CO2 as high value-added chemicals such as hydrocarbons and a way to store intermittent solar energy durably. In this article, we show that this goal can be reached using a low-cost and easily processable perovskite photovoltaic minimodule combined to an electrolyzer device using the same Cu-based catalysts at both electrodes and in which all energy losses have been minimized.



Restoring natural forests is the best way to remove atmospheric carbon

Plans to triple the area of plantations will not meet 1.5 °C climate goals. New natural forests can. Keeping global warming below 1.5 °C to avoid dangerous climate change1 requires the removal of vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as drastic cuts in emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that around 730 billion tonnes of CO2 (730 petagrams of CO2, or 199 petagrams of carbon, Pg C) must be taken out of the atmosphere by the end of this century.



Renewables Cheaper Than 75 Percent of U.S. Coal Fleet, Report Finds

Nearly 75 percent of coal-fired power plants in the United States generate electricity that is more expensive than local wind and solar energy resources, according to a new report from Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. Wind power, in particular, can at times provide electricity at half the cost of coal, the report found.


Yale 360

How Toxic Waste from Coal-Burning Power Plants Can Help Limit Climate Change

Adding fly ash to concrete makes it stronger and greener at the same time. In discussions on climate change, much of the conversation focuses on CO2 emissions from the nation’s coal power plants. However, a recent report from the Environmental Integrity Group on how coal ash is contaminating our water supplies provides a needed reminder that our love of coal is killing us softly not just through air pollution but also water pollution. Yet there may be an easy solution to this right under our feet in the concrete we walk on every day.


Scientific American

Carbon payments could prove more profitable than mining or logging for some nations

Logging, mining, and other activities plow through the tropical forests of developing countries, releasing 10 to 18 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. One proposed solution is for wealthy countries to pay developing nations to keep their forests intact. A new study in World Development suggests the approach could make financial sense for the governments of tropical nations.



Making more from methane

Methane, the major component in natural gas, is one of the most difficult molecules to activate in a controlled manner, because almost any initial oxidation product is easier to oxidize than methane itself and most of the product is carbon dioxide. Instead, methane is currently converted to syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, from which many useful products, such as methanol or Fischer-Tropsch hydrocarbons, can be synthesized in subsequent steps. However, syngas production is characterized by severe economies of scale.



The sharing economy promotes sustainable societies

A simultaneous improvement in both ecological and economic efficiency is necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The new sharing economy has potential to promote the needed shifts in collective consumption behaviour, but better governance models are urgently required.



Marine heatwaves threaten global biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services

The global ocean has warmed substantially over the past century, with far-reaching implications for marine ecosystems. Concurrent with long-term persistent warming, discrete periods of extreme regional ocean warming (marine heatwaves, MHWs) have increased in frequency2. Here we quantify trends and attributes of MHWs across all ocean basins and examine their biological impacts from species to ecosystems.


Nature Climate Change

The southern amplifier

Earth’s natural climate variability of the past ∼2.6 million years has been dominated by glacial-interglacial cycles. These cycles are paced by variations in incoming solar radiation due to changes in Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Feedbacks in the Earth system, including variations in greenhouse gas concentrations and the growth and retreat of Northern Hemispheric ice sheets, amplify the effects of the insolation changes. The characteristics and amplitude of the cycles changed fundamentally at the mid-Pleistocene transition, between 1.25 million and 700,000 years ago.



Wetland carbon storage controlled by millennial-scale variation in relative sea-level rise

Coastal wetlands (mangrove, tidal marsh and seagrass) sustain the highest rates of carbon sequestration per unit area of all natural systems, primarily because of their comparatively high productivity and preservation of organic carbon within sedimentary substrates. Climate change and associated relative sea-level rise (RSLR) have been proposed to increase the rate of organic-carbon burial in coastal wetlands in the first half of the twenty-first century, but these carbon–climate feedback effects have been modelled to diminish over time as wetlands are increasingly submerged and carbon stores become compromised by erosion.



Radical transformation pathway towards sustainable electricity via evolutionary steps

This research describes a global, 100% renewable electricity system, which can be achieved by 2050, and the steps required to enable a realistic transition that prevents societal disruption. Modelling results show that a carbon neutral electricity system can be built in all regions of the world in an economically feasible manner. This radical transformation will require steady but evolutionary changes for the next 35 years, and will lead to sustainable and affordable power supply globally.



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