• Risk of extreme weather events higher if Paris Agreement goals are not met

    The Paris Agreement has aspirational goals of limiting temperature rise that will not be met by current commitments but the individual commitments made by parties of the UN Paris Agreement are not enough to fulfill the agreement’s overall goal of limiting global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The difference between the UN goal and the actual country commitments is a mere 1 C, which may seem negligible, but a new study finds that even that 1-degree difference could increase the likelihood of extreme weather.

  • Running out of water: Cape Town, the U.S., and drought

    The recent news that Cape Town, South Africa—a modern city of nearly 4 million residents (plus over 1.5 million tourists yearly)—was on the brink of running out of water, the taps about to run dry, put water back into the headlines. After years of drought in several American states, could this happen closer to home? “The current crisis in Cape Town will almost inevitably repeat itself elsewhere,” says an expert. “Because of geography, many cities in the United States and the world are highly or entirely reliant on local precipitation. In California, for example, most of the Central Coast, including Monterey and Santa Cruz, currently depend on local rainfall. Given climate change, moreover, droughts in the arid regions of the world are likely to become more frequent and more severe. Warmer temperatures, moreover, will raise evapotranspiration rates—increasing agricultural water needs and the amount of stored water lost to evaporation.”

  • Cape Town water crisis highlights a worldwide problem

    The water supply is running dry in Cape Town, South Africa. The city’s reservoirs are shrinking as a three-year drought wears on. If it doesn’t rain soon, the drought could bring South Africa’s second most populous city to its knees. Cape Town residents are adapting as best they can. They are skipping showers and finding new ways to conserve and reuse their meager allowance of 50 liters (13 gallons) per person per day. That allowance may soon be cut in half, too. As soon as April or May, Cape Town could reach “Day Zero,” when the city will shut off the taps in homes and businesses. Residents will need to line up at collection stations to gather their water rations. Only hospitals, schools, and other essential services would still receive piped water. If things continue on in this way, Cape Town is in danger of becoming the world’s first major city to run entirely out of water. How can this happen in a city of four million residents? And what other cities may be at risk?

  • Comparing pollution levels before and after Hurricane Harvey

    Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in late August 2017, brought more than 64 inches of rain to the Houston area, flooding 200,000 homes, 13 Superfund sites, and more than 800 wastewater treatment facilities. As disasters become more frequent and populations living in vulnerable areas increase, interest in the health effects of exposure to the combination of natural and technological disasters has grown. A new study examined concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) before and after Hurricane Harvey in the Houston neighborhood of Manchester. Manchester, which is located near refineries and other industrial sites along the Houston Ship Channel, is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where residents face disproportionate health risks due to pollution and other environmental hazards.

  • With glaciers disappearing, will water become scarce?

    There are around 200,000 glaciers worldwide. They play a central role in the water cycle, particularly in the middle and low latitudes, by offsetting runoff fluctuations. Rivers are lifelines on which billions of people depend worldwide, either directly or indirectly. The world’s largest rivers begin in glaciated mountain regions. Climate change may cause many glaciers to disappear. Will water become scarce? Will the Alps, the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains and the Andes continue to act as water towers? Climate change is a global problem with local consequences. If the international community succeeds in restricting the temperature rise to an acceptable level via contributions from each individual member, the effects may be mitigated. Many glaciers would still shrink significantly even with major climate protection efforts, but the consequences for water resources would be more moderate.

  • Massive reserves of mercury hidden in permafrost hold significant implications for human health

    Researchers have discovered permafrost in the northern hemisphere stores massive amounts of natural mercury, a finding with significant implications for human health and ecosystems worldwide. The scientists measured mercury concentrations in permafrost cores from Alaska and estimated how much mercury has been trapped in permafrost north of the equator since the last Ice Age. Their study reveals northern permafrost soils are the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, storing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean and the atmosphere combined.

  • Cape Town water crisis should serve as a “wakeup call to all major U.S. cities”: Expert

    Cape Town, South Africa is hurtling towards a water apocalypse with “Day Zero” — when authorities will turn off the taps — pegged for the first half of April. The crisis, which has placed the city in peril, was caused by years of draught, insufficient and aging infrastructure, and population growth. To find out what this means for Cape Town residents and if a similar disaster could strike Phoenix, ASU Now turned to Dave White, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, a unit within ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions and director of Decision Center for a Desert City.

  • Sea level rise will make Oregon’s existing flooding problems worse

    The hot spots of sea level rise in the United States tend to be located on the East and Gulf Coasts, where sinking land and changes in ocean circulation are amplifying the global sea level rise rate. But when we take a deeper dive into our interactive maps of chronic flooding due to sea level rise, it’s clear that small but significant areas within many of Oregon’s idyllic coastal towns–Coos Bay and Tillamook, for example–are also at risk of chronic inundation in the coming decades. Because it will take decades for the benefits of emissions reductions to be felt, today’s business owners may not benefit from such reductions themselves. But for the towns of coastal Oregon to continue to be dynamic, thriving places for the next generation of entrepreneurs and residents, the case for building resilience to flooding and reducing carbon emissions is clear.

  • Hazard mitigation, recovery plans for coastal cities

    The field of urban planning is gaining interest as cities around the world are facing increased exposure to weather-related risks and hazards ranging from sea level rise and flooding to temperature build-up and urban heat island effect. A recently completed five-year research project examined 175 hazard mitigation plans adopted by counties and municipalities along the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific Northwest coastlines. These local governments are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to adopt such plans to be eligible for pre-disaster and post-disaster mitigation funds. The National Research Council concluded that land use strategies that guide growth away from hazard areas are the most promising long-term solution to reducing risk; yet, land use strategies are rarely used. Instead, mitigation plans emphasize other mitigation approaches like levees, elevation of buildings and emergency management.

  • Humans need to learn to co-exist with wildfires. Here’s how we can do it.

    As housing developments creep into wild and natural areas, proactive planning can reduce the risk of harm in the face of fire. Urban planning for wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas now centers on creating and maintaining development and building codes that incorporate the home ignition zone (HIZ) principles. These codes promote practices such as using fire-resistant building materials for siding and rooftops; maintaining “defensible space” by clearing dead leaves from rooftops, gutters and decks; trimming trees and removing vegetation that can fuel fires during the dry season; and governing subdivision design to include multiple routes by which residents can flee and fire-fighting equipment can enter. Collectively, these types of policies are loosely referred to as WUI codes.

  • Climate change-related risks to 50% of U.S. military infrastructure: Pentagon

    Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics released a comprehensive new survey of climate change-related risks to military infrastructure worldwide. The vulnerability assessment does not offer any specific cost estimates related to these vulnerabilities, but it does paint a concerning picture of current climate change-related risks to military installations both at home and abroad, with around 50 percent of 1,684 sites reporting damage from six key categories of those risks: Flooding due to storm surge; flooding due to non-storm surge events (e.g., rain, snow, sleet, ice, river overflow); extreme temperatures (both hot and cold); wind; drought; and wildfire. Given that rapid climate change is projected to exacerbate most of the above categories of risks throughout this century (its effect on wind is less certain), the reasonable expectation is that vulnerabilities to military sites will only increase.

  • Be prepared: Society saves $6 for every $1 spent preparing for natural disasters

    A new report from the National Institute of Building Sciences, a public-private partnership Congress established in 1974, examines the cost savings of preparing for natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, many of which are worsened by climate change. The report builds on, and updates, the Institute’s groundbreaking 2005 analysis of the same name. The original analysis found that for every dollar invested in pre-disaster mitigation there is a $4 savings to society. The new report makes an even stronger case for advanced planning, finding that for every $1 invested in federally funded pre-disaster mitigation grants society saves $6, and for every $1 spent on building codes society saves $4.

  • New study examines the causes and consequences of the 2015 Texas floods

    The Memorial Day 2015 Wimberley, Texas flood along the Blanco River destroyed 350 homes and claimed 13 lives. The Texas Hill Country, where Wimberly is located, is known as “Flash Flood Alley” because it leads North America as the most flash-flood prone region. In the past five years, Flash Flood Alley has seen two “500-year storms” and one “300-year storm.” Researchers call for better storm preparations in light of this revelation, to allow for blocking roads and evacuation of residents.

  • Central, Western Europe flood risk to increase substantially as a result of global warming

    Europe is expected to see a considerable increase in flood risk in coming years, even under an optimistic climate change scenario of 1.5°C warming compared to pre-industrial levels. A study assesses flood impacts for three scenarios – of 1.5°C, 2°C, and 3°C warming – and finds that most of Central and Western Europe will experience substantial increase in flood risk at all warming levels, and the higher the warming, the higher the risk. Damage from floods across Europe is projected to more than double, from a 113 percent average increase if warming is kept to 1.5°C, to 145 percent under the 3°C scenario.

  • Mitigation, adaptation measures required now as river flood risks increase around the globe

    Rainfall changes caused by global warming will increase river flood risks across the globe. Already today, fluvial floods are among the most common and devastating natural disasters. Scientists have now calculated the required increase in flood protection until the 2040s worldwide, breaking it down to single regions and cities. Inaction would expose many millions of people to severe flooding.