The science behind the floods and fires. From UCLA, Jesse Norris reports: we know for certain extreme rainfall events are more common now than in the past. What does that mean for our future? Then one of the top experts on wildfires in the Western United States, Dr. David Peterson. David has the insight from decades of working on wildfires. Get the big picture view that mainstream media never touches.
FINALLY, A FLOOD OF CLIMATE CHANGE CONFESSION ON MAINSTREAM MEDIA
I began the show with a mashup from ABC Nightline News September 3, 2021. For the first time ever, lead ABC Meteorologist Ginger Zee actually said the words “human-induced climate change”. In Canada, the business-oriented national network Global News ran almost half an hour on climate change. The network talked out loud about Canada’s dirty carbon secrets, from the Tar Sands to our continuing coal exports, even while Canada talks so green. I’ve never seen anything like the flood of “this is climate change” confessions on almost all mainstream media. Could 2021 become a tipping point for actual action to save a livable climate?
Global National: Sept. 2, 2021 | Ida’s wrath in US highlights hard climate change truths
Last week climate disruption got real. Millionaires’ getaway spot Lake Tahoe was evacuated from the Caldor super fire. Louisiana and several southern states were drowned by Hurricane Ida with multiple deaths. Now they are struggling without air-conditioning in heat feeling like 110 degrees, 43 C. with the humidity. Some people still have no power, no drinking water, no food.
Meanwhile, the unthinkable, happened. A Gulf Hurricane continued up through America as a tropical storm, flooding Northeast states. New York City was paralyzed with at least 13 dead there, with another 25 dead and counting in New Jersey. There were 9 confirmed tornadoes in New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The flooding in Pennsylvania, right into Philadelphia was epic. And how could it be otherwise when 7 to 10 inches of rain fell within 24 hours, smashing precipitation records all over the place. It was mayhem.
Apparently that is what it takes for mainstream news to say the words “human-made climate change”. After decades from warnings by scientists, even the lamest national newscasters and weather people reported climate change like that was breaking news. People in the United States and Northern Europe are beyond worried now. We are scared and we should be.
You and I knew this was coming. But it’s still a stock to see how powerfully natural systems react when we disrupt the climate with greenhouse gases. In this program we start with the science behind the mega rains striking all over the world, and then switch to super fires.
EXTREME RAINS: JESSE NORRIS
On Saturday 21st of August, an impossible 17 inches of rain – 43 centimeters – fell on Waverly Tennessee, a little town West of Nashville. More than 20 people were killed in a surprise rush of water. In Europe mid-July, record-busting rains brought floods killing at least 165 people in Germany, and 31 in Belgium. Extreme precipitation events are popping up all over the world. Could it happen where you are, and is it climate change?
At the University of California Los Angeles, Dr. Jesse Norris specializes in these small scale but large impact weather events. Educated in the UK at the University of Manchester, Norris is a Post Doctoral researcher at UCLA and co-author of timely new science answering many of our questions.
Dr. Jesse Norris, UCLA
Within weeks of the deadly July 13 floods in Northern Europe, a group of scientists called “World Weather Attribution” released a report finding intense summer rain storms in Western Europe are more likely, and will happen more often in coming years, due to climate change. How can they know that?
On August 21st, the “We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert” was suddenly shut down with more rain in two hours than ever recorded in Central Park in such a short period – and they have records going back a long way. Barry Manilow was unable to sing his1980 hit, “I Made It Through Rain”, so maybe climate change does have some benefits….
If the skies can just open up and pour like we have never seen, well beyond our drains and local waterways, this makes a warming world sound like an even more unstable place to be.
This new paper led by Gavin D. Madakumbura and the UCLA team was published in the journal Nature on July 6, 2021 – just a week before the freak floods in Northern Europe. That was pretty good timing don’t you think? But as Jesse Norris points out in the interview, they could have published this paper any time – and be just in time for another extreme rainfall event.
A study published in June 2021 in Geophysical Research Letters found on our current emissions path, extreme storms over Europe might be up to 14 times more common by the year 2100 than they were in the year 2000. The title is “Quasi-Stationary Intense Rainstorms Spread Across Europe Under Climate Change.” That sounds pretty serious, not only in terms of human lives lost, but very costly to keep rebuilding when floods are so common.
But the paper notes helpful results from machine learning do not include the possibility of rare events like a big volcanic eruption. And they may not account for long-term variability like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. So if one of these years, several volcanoes blow, that could throw off predictions about extreme rain and extreme drought.
MAIN PAPER FOR INTERVIEW HERE:
Open Access Published: 06 July 2021 [available as free full-text]
Gavin D. Madakumbura, Chad W. Thackeray, Jesse Norris, Naomi Goldenson & Alex Hall Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 3944 (2021)
Jesse Norris also just co-authored a paper in June 2021 called “A Distinct Atmospheric Mode for California Precipitation.”
VIDEO OF FLOOD EVENTS; UNIVERSITY OF READING
At the @UniofReading, Professor Hannah Cloke and Dr Liz Stephens are helping the world become better prepared for destructive flooding through improved forecasting.
— Universities UK (@UniversitiesUK) August 17, 2021
All of this is part of the great cycle of water on this planet, the science of hydrology.
ANOTHER FLASH FLOOD IN SPAIN
“We had to swim out of cars:” Flash floods in Spain submerge towns after intense storm
8,034 views Sep 2, 2021
An intense storm on Wednesday wreaked havoc in Spain, causing severe flooding in some coastal towns like Alcanar, leaving thousands of people without electricity and forcing the closure of some roads and rail links. And the beat (of extreme rains falling) goes on.
DAVID PETERSON ON THE WESTERN WILDFIRES
At the end of August, over 20,000 residents of South Lake Tahoe were ordered to evacuate. The terrible Caldor fire raged right over the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was only the second fire escaped over those mountains. The first was also this year, the Dixie Fire. This is yet another new phenomenon in this rapidly changing world. Why are super-fires happening? Going forward into a new climate, is there anything we can do?
We reached Dr. David Peterson, Professor of Forest Biology at the University of Washington and emeritus Senior Research Biologist with the U.S. Forest Service. Peterson contributed to four books and published over 200 scientific articles, including a series of in-depth papers on climate and fire science in the American West.
WILL REPLANTED CUT BLOCKS GROW BACK AGAIN?
David and a slew of other professional foresters say we need a system of small controlled burns to regenerate forest life and help protect against mega-fires. But what if climate-driven factors like extreme heat and drought prevent the expected return of forests? What if they convert to grasslands or other scrub instead?
Canadian fire expert Michael Flannigan told us there are two other grave risks that can prevent regrowth of forests. First, if the fire returns to the same spot within 3 to 5 years, that could overcome the regeneration system trees evolved to cope with fire. Second, if the fires are super hot, they may sterilize the soil.
Down in Tasmania, forest scientist David Bowman warned of those concerns. In our interview, David worried if fires that normally come back in 75 years return within 5 years, some of the Australia Alps ecosystems could flip toward super weeds instead of slow-growing forests.
Why are the public, and most governments they elect, so fire-shy? Why do we resist calls to fight fire with fire? Along with religious imagery of Hell, we have a cultural fear of fire. I guess all animals do. Are we getting those fears confused with reality on the ground, or are we really heading into a more fiery Hellscape as humans heat the planet?
TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WILDFIRES IN THE WEST
During 2017 and 2018, David worked with a group of scientists led by Jessica Halofsky to produce a series of studies on climate change vulnerability and adaptation for several mountain chains in the Pacific Northwest. This is fundamental science is you want to dig in.
I also recommend the podcast “These Lands: The Northwest Climate Hub Podcast”. It is just one of many climate hubs provided by the US Department of Agriculture.
RE FIRE HISTORY AND ABORIGINAL FIRE MAKERS IN S. HEMISPHERE
I interview a senior scientist at Harvard with expertise on wildfire smoke and climate change. Dr. Loretta J. Mickley is Senior Research Fellow at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Loretta is Senior Author in the new paper “Improved estimates of preindustrial biomass burning, reduce the magnitude of aerosol climate forcing in the Southern Hemisphere”. That was published May 28, 2021 in the journal Science Advances. The lead author is her recent grad student Pengfei Liu.
BUT ACTUALLY, THERE IS LESS AREA BURNED EVEN WITH CLIMATE CHANGE
In 2017, a team led by Niel Andela at Cardiff University published their paper “A human-driven decline in global burned area”. They used NASA satellite data to show that, unexpectedly, global area burned declined by almost 25% over the past 18 years, despite the influence of global warming. But it is key to recall that much of that decline is due to less agricultural burning, especially in Africa, in recent decades. This “global burned area” includes those grass fires as well as forest fires.
SO HERE IS THE SURPRISING THING
Perhaps due to increased media coverage, and satellite photos, we all presume there are MORE wildfires in the last two hundred years, due to human activity. But in the Southern Hemisphere this turns out not to be true In fact, even with burning large amounts of fossil fuels, which emit black carbon like wildfires, the Black Carbon measured in Antarctica seem about the same.
This could only be the case if wildfires in the last 200 years have actually DECREASED, despite our impressions. When humans fragment the land (clearing for fields) we reduce large-scale wildfire spread. We also try to limit or put out some wildfires. Because of health concerns, there has also been a push by southern governments and international bodies to reduce clearing by fire, whether in the Amazon or by African farmers. For example, have fire emissions in Australia actually dropped, despite the recent horrible wildfires, because the Aboriginal people burned even more? I still have a lot of questions.
ALEX CHIMES IN
So here we are. The movement to stop climate change becomes a ground-swell to survive it. We are reaping the whirlwind of climate deniers in top levels of government, and green delayers talking endlessly. The physics of how this planet works, from the crust to space, does not care about your politics, or what you believe. Air currents and gases enhance the power of the sun, changing life on the surface.
Surely we have to be more than victims and witnesses. We must get off fossil fuels starting now. Governments who sell oil and gas development leases are working with the storms and fires. Any expansion of fossil fuel production or use is treason against the natural systems we inhabit. Our lives and homes are at stake. All the other species are helplessly counting on us to avoid a great mass extinction. That is not hyperbole. Current events demonstrate the path to destructive forces much greater than human powers. What will you do to help now, and help the future?
Next week we continue the mission to develop an awareness as a planet. While we battle extreme climate events and a pandemic, a few places far beyond our homes and lands are already tipping toward a rapid climate shift. We need to travel to Greenland, to Antarctica, and next week – to the Amazon.
Remember when saving the Amazon rainforest was a big thing? That international pressure worked for a while, but now it is all falling apart. The Amazon forest has been absorbing anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of all human emissions, including the exhaust from my carbon burning and yours. That is going away along with the disappearing heart of the Amazon in South America. Instead, parts of the Amazon have tipped, adding MORE carbon to the atmosphere than it can absorb. If that forest all goes, life in New York, London, Moscow, Beijing and Mumbai will suffer through more heat waves and rising waters. Be sure to tune in next week as Amazon hand Kerry Bowman returns with news from the lungs of the planet.
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