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Denver wildfires, new heat records, the case against road salt, and shrinking ice sheets

Updated: Jan 9

The Clim8

01.02.22-01.08.22

Photo Credit: Chona via The New York Times

Skiers resorting to touring equipment as a result of the pandemic and climate change (NY Times)

As snow cover declines worldwide, skiers are adjusting to the changes caused by both a warming planet and a global pandemic. When the pandemic shut down many ski resorts in 2020, skiers were left to figure out how to get uphill without using a lift. Many resorted to using touring equipment, which uses “removable traction strips called skins on their skis and adjustable bindings with free heels that allow them to walk.” With it being so difficult to reach “untouched powder,” many skiers have begun to try touring gear.

 
Photo Credit: Alyson McClaran / Reuters via ABC

Denver experiences wildfires during the Winter season (ABC)

While wildfires aren’t historically seen during the Winter in Boulder County, they “may not be that unusual in the future.” Between July 1st and December 29th of 2021, Denver’s precipitation and snowfall levels were at an all-time low. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the nonprofit Nature Conservancy, has no doubt that climate change contributed to the wildfires, saying “the ground was primed for the wind-whipped fire to take off, and wildfire seasons could lengthen similarly in other areas.” Experts say that part of addressing the problem is recognizing that certain areas aren’t immune to events like this.

 
Photo Credit: by Unsplash/Johannes Plenio via UN News

Quick facts to know about greenhouse gasses (UN News)

Though people may understand the concept of greenhouse gases (GHG) and their effect on the planet, it is important to comprehend what these gases are and how exactly they contribute to global warming. GHG emissions are trapped in the atmosphere, and cannot escape the earth. Therefore, that energy returns to the surface of the planet and is reabsorbed, increasing surface temperatures. The increasing global temperature has a very long-term effect on climate. For example, extreme natural events and disasters which destroy communities and result in tons of costs. GHG emissions must be cut in half by 2030, so that global warming can be limited to 1.5 degrees celsius. The main GHGS are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. However, water vapor is the largest contributor to the greenhouse effect. Human activity produces these GHGS, including the production of coal, oil and natural gas.

 
Photo Credit: by Miloš Bičanski/Getty Images via The Guardian

Hot, hot, hot! Over 400 weather stations worldwide surpassed heat records in 2021 (The Guardian)

Climatologist Maximiliano Herrera records extreme weather across the globe, and has been collecting weather extremes for over 30 years. Each year, he publishes a list of records broken from the previous year. In 2021, ten countries (Oman, UAE, Canada, the United States, Morocco, Turkey, Taiwan, Italy, Tunisia and Dominica) each surpassed or met their highest ever temperatures. Meanwhile, 107 countries exceeded their monthly records and five countries passed their monthly low records. So, regions across the planet are experiencing the extremes of both highs and lows. Most notably, there is concern about the extensive amount of weather stations recording these high temperatures, which can be attributed to the increasing global warming and climate change.

 
Photo Credit: via AP

Council for Environmental Quality director steps down from White House (AP News)

Cecilia Martinez, a senior director for environmental justice in the Council for Environmental quality, stepped down from her position on Friday. Martinez stated her reason for departure was to rest and spend time with her family. This comes after months of hard work on crafting environmental policy for Biden where Martinez was instrumental in shaping Biden’s climate policy to aid disadvantaged communities. While the Biden administration has brought back repealed environmental regulations and instituted the Justice40 initiative, many environmental activists around the US are frustrated with a “lack of progress” from the Biden administration regarding environmental legislation on pollution and even Martinez believes there is much more to be done.

 
Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via The New York Times

States rethink use of road salt because of environmental consequences (The New York Times)

Road salt is commonly used to clear roads of ice during the winters but studies find that de-icing roads with salt causes the contamination of drinking water and the endangerment of freshwater wildlife. When road ice melts due to road salt, the salt runs off into drinking water reservoirs and increases the salinity levels in lakes and streams, making the water toxic to fish and amphibians. There are also health consequences for people with low sodium or restricted sodium diets, often associated with heart, kidney, or blood pressure conditions. Some states, like New York, are recognizing these risks and looking to reduce road salt contamination. One alternative method that has experienced some success would reduce salt usage by treating roads with salt brine solution; this method can decrease the amount of salt used by 75 percent and reduce the cost of winter maintenance.

 
Photo Credit: Karolin Eichier/WMO via UN News

The 25th year of the shrinking Greenland ice sheet (UN News)

2021 marked the 25th year in a row in which the Greenland ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season than it gained over the winter. Notably, a massive heatwave at the end of July 2021 led to a significant loss of ice for the ice sheet. During the 12-month period from August 2020 to August 2021, the sheet lost approximately 166 billion tons in terms of its “total mass balance,” or the sum of its surface-level melting (including its glacier “tongues,” its surface in contact with seawater) and loss of ice chunks as icebergs.

 
Photo Credit: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty via Nature

How research can help fight climate change (Nature)

Moving forward in the wake of COP26, a global climate summit which mobilized masses in the fight against climate change, we need to focus on one key aspect of the fight: scientific research. One of the agreements reached at COP26 requires governments to issue annual reports on their climate progress. Innovation is already at the forefront of many governments’ climate agendas, but existing technologies will simply not be sufficient to fuel the push for renewable energy that so many experts are calling for. This issue, along with several others, will no doubt be discussed in November at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.