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Reading Recommendations

August 2019

Photochemical impacts of haze pollution in an urban environment

Photolysis rates are highly sensitive not only to the vertical distribution of aerosols but also to their composition, as this can impact how the incoming solar radiation is scattered or absorbed.


Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics

Time’s up, CO2

The Charney report demonstrates the power of scientific prediction. Since its release, scientists have built a formidable evidence base on climate change. At no time since 1979 has the science backed down from its dire predictions for the prospects of human civilization to prosper in a world warming well beyond limits encountered in all of human history. The scientific community must better connect the issues with what now matters to the public, so that the evidence is acted upon for the benefit of society.



Keeping air pollution policies on track

Measurements from air quality monitoring stations are often used for public information, but their main purpose is to determine compliance with legal limits. However, a focus on attaining regulatory thresholds can lead to isolated actions in the worst affected places and can incentivize polluting up to the threshold in compliant areas. With little or no evidence of zero-effect thresholds for air pollutants, it would be better to focus on reducing concentrations and exposure across the whole population. Switching the emphasis to trends and rates of change, rather than compliance, would provide a transparent connection between policy measures and outcomes.



Alarming Sonar Results Show Glaciers May Be Melting Faster Than We Expected

Direct measurements reveal a glacier is melting 10 to 100 times quicker than previously thought, with implications for sea-level rise.From Alaska to Antarctica, thousands of glaciers flow over the land and out to the ocean. These tidewater glaciers are rapidly retreating and melting, like much of Earth’s ice, continually adding to rising sea levels.


Scientific American

Effects of changing population or density on urban carbon dioxide emissions

Here, we propose a generalized framework that simultaneously considers the effects of population and area along with possible interactions between these urban metrics. Our results significantly improve the description of emissions and reveal the coupled role between population and density on emissions. These models show that variations in emissions associated with proportionate changes in population or density may not only depend on the magnitude of these changes but also on the initial values of these quantities. For US areas, the larger the city, the higher is the impact of changing its population or density on its emissions; but population changes always have a greater effect on emissions than population density.



Sustainable development will falter without data

Unless governments establish competent monitoring systems, the world will not reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals, says Jessica Espey. Data collectors need clear standards, policies and terminology. These can make or break governments’ and private companies’ will to collaborate and support a shared mission. Thus, governments cannot accurately measure how many people have been affected by a hurricane or a tsunami, and the UN does not know how much assistance to send.



Estimating and tracking the remaining carbon budget for stringent climate targets

Research reported during the past decade has shown that global warming is roughly proportional to the total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. This makes it possible to estimate the remaining carbon budget: the total amount of anthropogenic carbon dioxide that can still be emitted into the atmosphere while holding the global average temperature increase to the limit set by the Paris Agreement. However, a wide range of estimates for the remaining carbon budget has been reported, reducing the effectiveness of the remaining carbon budget as a means of setting emission reduction targets that are consistent with the Paris Agreement.



Climate Solution: Use Carbon Dioxide to Generate Electricity

Sending atmospheric CO2 into underground methane hydrates could clean the air and create revenue. The world is quickly realizing it may need to actively pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to stave off the ill effects of climate change. Scientists and engineers have proposed various techniques, but most would be extremely expensive—without generating any revenue. No one wants to foot the bill.


Scientific American

Humans May Be Accidentally Geoengineering the Oceans

Iron particles released by industrial activities are falling into the seas in greater quantities than previously thought. A new study would seem to suggest that humans may already be engaging in a kind of inadvertent iron fertilization campaign. But whether it’s having any significant effect on marine ecosystems or carbon storage is still unknown.


Scientific American

Climate as a risk factor for armed conflict

Research findings on the relationship between climate and conflict are diverse and contested. Here we assess the current understanding of the relationship between climate and conflict, based on the structured judgments of experts from diverse disciplines. These experts agree that climate has affected organized armed conflict within countries.



Direct human health risks of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide

Growing evidence suggests that environmentally relevant elevations in CO2 (<5,000 ppm) may pose direct risks for human health. Increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations could make adverse exposures more frequent and prolonged through increases in indoor air concentrations and increased time spent indoors


Discussing global warming leads to greater acceptance of climate science

Climate change is an urgent global issue, with demands for personal, collective, and governmental action. Although a large body of research has investigated the influence of communication on public engagement with climate change, few studies have investigated the role of interpersonal discussion. Here we use panel data with 2 time points to investigate the role of climate conversations in shaping beliefs and feelings about global warming. We find evidence of reciprocal causality. That is, discussing global warming with friends and family leads people to learn influential facts, such as the scientific consensus that human-caused global warming is happening



Utility-Scale Energy Storage Will Enable a Renewable Grid

A roadblock to sustainable energy solutions is coming unstuck. The way the world gets its electricity is undergoing a rapid transition, driven by both the increased urgency of decarbonizing energy systems and the plummeting costs of wind and solar technology. In the past decade electricity generated by renewables in the U.S. has doubled, primarily from wind and solar installations, according to the Energy Information Administration. In January 2019 the EIA forecast that wind, solar and other nonhydroelectric renewables would be the fastest-growing slice of the electricity portfolio for the next two years.


Scientific American

The great Atlantic Sargassum belt

Floating mats of Sargassum seaweed in the center of the North Atlantic were first reported by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century. These mats, although abundant, have until recently been limited and discontinuous. However, Wang et al. report that, since 2011, the mats have increased in density and aerial extent to generate a 8850-kilometer-long belt that extends from West Africa to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico (see the Perspective by Gower and King). This represents the world’s largest macroalgal bloom. Such recurrent blooms may become the new normal.



Ozone depletion, ultraviolet radiation, climate change and prospects for a sustainable future

Changes in stratospheric ozone and climate over the past 40-plus years have altered the solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation conditions at the Earth’s surface. Ozone depletion has also contributed to climate change across the Southern Hemisphere. These changes are interacting in complex ways to affect human health, food and water security, and ecosystem services. The interactions between stratospheric ozone, climate and UV radiation will therefore shift over time; however, the Montreal Protocol will continue to have far-reaching benefits for human well-being and environmental sustainability.



Seaweed, seaweed everywhere

Thanks to the gas vesicles that give the Sargassum genus its name, the open-ocean seaweed species S. natans and S. fluitans float freely in the ocean. Wang et al.  report that patches and lines of these seaweeds have grown and spread through the Caribbean and across the north equatorial Atlantic to the west coast of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, forming what the authors call the great Atlantic Sargassum belt. Other species of Sargassum, such as S. muticum  and S. horneri, have also increased their range recently but are rooted and are probably being spread through shellfish shipments and ship ballast water.


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