Climate Change Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Younger Generation Goes Forward

Two weeks ago, Judge Thomas Coffin of Oregon, issued what history may in the future recognize as one of the most important court decisions in history.  That decision allowed a plaintiff group made up of younger Americans aged 8-19 to sue the U.S. Government and the Oil and Gas Industry for being collectively responsible for climate change.  The suit also says the defendants knew they were destroying the climate and decided to go ahead with their actions anyway.

The case, which many expected to be a challenging one even in its initial motions phase, is quite radical in many ways.

As the Judge stated in his summary about the case, the suit alleges that its plaintiff group:

“seeks relief from government action and inaction that allegedly results in carbon pollution of the atmosphere, climate destabilization, and ocean acidification. The government action and inaction allegedly threatens catastrophic consequences which have already begun and will progressively worsen in the future.”

So far it may to appear to be like any other such lawsuits. This time the plaintiff group is very different.   Again quoting from Judge Coffin’s decision:

“Plaintiffs include a group of younger individuals (aged 8-19) who assert concrete harm from excessive carbon emissions. Also among the plaintiffs are associations of activists who assert they are beneficiaries of a federal public trust which is being harmed by allegedly substantial impairment and alienation of public trust resources through ongoing actions to allow fossil fuel exploitation. Finally, plaintiff Dr. James Hansen participates as a guardian for plaintiff ‘future generations’.”

The suit filed goes on to say that the “government has known for decades that carbon dioxide pollution has been causing catastrophic climate change”, has failed to take actions to curtail it, and, worse, has “taken action or failed to take action that has resulted in increased carbon pollution through fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, transportation, and exportation”.

In describing the case, the Judge himself notes the unusual nature of the court case, saying that:

“In essence, plaintiffs assert a novel theory somewhere between a civil rights action and NEPA/Clean Air Act/Clean Water Act suit to force the government to take action to reduce harmful pollution.”

Also, just to make sure all necessary parties were represented in the case, the court earlier allowed the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) the opportunity to intervene in the action.

Those entities along with the government moved in a past filing to dismiss all the claims of this action.

Their basis for requesting the dismissal covered a series of important legal issues, with some of the biggest involving:

Standing:  Is it even possible that the plaintiffs could prove “(1) they suffered an injury in fact that is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct; and (3) the injury is likely to be redressed by a favorable court decision”.

Public Trust:  Is the U.S. Government really responsible for a “public trust” on behalf of the defendants?

Constitutional Issue:  Is it really true, as the plaintiffs’ assert, that fundamental Constitutional rights have been violated in this matter?

On all issues, Judge Coffin pushed down the defendants’ motions and supported the plaintiffs.

On the issue of Standing, the Judge cited not just a long-term history of climate change problems but also supported the plaintiff’s complaints of damages more specifically related to the decision to locate the Jordan Cove Energy Project in Coos Bay, Oregon, along with its associated pipeline.  And as an example of a concrete type of decision a court might eventually issue in this case he noted as an example “that a Dutch court, on June 24, 2015, did order a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide by at least 25% by 2020”.

On the Public Trust issue that was dealt with quickly as being in fact much of what the government is responsible for just by its very nature.

And as to the question of the Constitutional issue involved, the Judge agreed that the plaintiff’s assertion that their Fifth Amendment rights, which in part include the statement that ‘no person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law’ was at least a good place for a full court to begin its deliberations on the matter.

So, after much discussion and in a conclusion, Judge Coffin said in the end that:

“For the reasons stated above, the intervenors’ motion to dismiss … and the government’s motion to dismiss … should be denied.  The government’s motion to strike … is denied.”

It is now so ruled that the case should proceed.  Much work is ahead but this could lead to a major final decision, perhaps going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, that the U.S. Government will finally be ordered to do something major about climate change.  And by doing so rip the management process out of the hands of politicians.

 

 

The Irreversible Damage Coming From Sea Level Rise, Ice Melt, and Superstorms

James Hansen, one of the early scientists who warned of the dangers of climate change, has prepared another paper about to be published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Journal.

The subject this time is the impact of the accelerating rate of ice melt on the planet and what it could and will mean to the world’s climate — and all of us living there.  The damage coming is major and the changes it will bring with it may never be reversible.

Hansen has prepared a video shown below summarizing the key points of that paper.  Please watch and pass it on.

Regional Climate Change: Who Pays The Biggest Price?

As greenhouse gas emissions grow and the planet gets hotter, another even more disturbing conclusion is becoming evident. Those regions in the world which had the least impact on climate change are being affected the fastest worldwide – and may become inhabitable by the end of the century.

In a new paper just published online by noted climatologists James Hansen and Makiko Sato, this pattern is both painful and obvious.

They begin by providing new versions of their now famous “bell curve” studies of how fast the once only occasional extremely hot summers or warmer winters have become commonplace.  In each case they include the original baseline data showing the temperature distributions in the 1951-1980 period, followed by data on how it has changed since then.

In these summary graphs, the top line shows the summer data for the entire Northern Hemisphere. The bottom set of graphs covers winters for the same region.

In those one can see how cooler-than-normal summers may still happen (to the delight of those claiming there IS no climate change) but instead of happening often they now only appear around 19% of the time. More extreme heat – defined by the authors as 3X the standard deviation from the 1951-1980 temperature average – also now happens around 7% of the time. It almost never happened 50 years ago.

That is bad enough but now the authors dig deep into the issue of regional variations of climate change.

To set the stage, they first note that the U.S. and Europe, those early adopters of fossil fuels in large quantities and they drove the industrial revolution forward, are accountable for around 25% of all total greenhouse gas emissions to date. China is coming up to speed quite fast as a contributor and overall produced around 10% of all such emissions. India is the fourth biggest polluter to date, with a tally of 3% worldwide. (For the record, China is currently the highest annual emitter and growing, the U.S. a strong number two but holding more steady in its damage, and India the third highest emitter annually by country.)

How those countries have been affected versus other regions is perhaps the most difficult part of Hansen’s paper to take. Because unlike the line about those who “live by the sword” being “doomed to die by the sword”, the exact opposite appears to be true when it comes to climate change. Metaphorically, at least.

The following graphs from the paper explain that quite well.

In the top line, the U.S. can be seen as having to live with a bell curve shift of just over one standard deviation of temperature in summer and less than half that in the winter. Both are small enough so your average senator or congress person could probably live with cranking up the air conditioning a little or running the heater longer at the appropriate times.

In China the shift is also quite small as well.

Europe’s problem is a little higher than the U.S. with almost 1.5 standard deviations in the summer and one standard deviation in the winter. That is already becoming evident as a major change, especially for those elderly who remember “the old days”.

The shift becomes more drastic as the data looks at the Mediterranean and the Middle East, where the bell curve shift in summer runs 2.5 standard deviations from normal. This already puts the temperature range in some regions where it is almost physically impossible for human beings to be outdoors in some places, just because they cannot sweat enough to cool down as their body needs.

The last curve shows Southeast Asia with a shift of 2.15 times the standard deviation from normal. And though the sweltering heat of the Middle East makes more headlines, the likelihood that large portions of the tropics will begin to be unlivable looks highly likely in less than a few decades from now.

It is possible the trends could be reversed with real and drastic measures to curtain greenhouse gas emissions around the planet now. But if the so-called developed countries keep doing what they have been doing, we are doomed.

Instead we may be doomed to see a world where the high heat drives even more country conflicts. And where the fight gets even worse for the new precious commodity of fresh water, coastal flooding drives people inland, and critical fisheries and croplands stop producing.

Discarded Car Batteries Could Power the World

A simple technique can convert discarded car batteries into inexpensive solar panels, according to MIT.  The researchers calculate that a single lead-acid car battery could supply enough lead to make more than 700 square meters of perovskite solar cells.

At a conservative 15% efficiency the solar cells from just one average sized car battery would provide enough electricity to power to up to 30 households. Powering the entire United States would take about 12.2 million recycled car batteries, fabricated into 8,634 square kilometers of perovskite solar panels operating under conditions similar to those in Nevada.

The U.S. already recycles more than 50 million batteries each year, so there are more than enough batteries available.

Progressive communities could setup their own factories to employ local residents to manufacture the solar panels for a fraction of the cost of conventional panels imported from China or made domestically.

When Tesla’s new battery factory starts production, the cost of electrical power storage will drop dramatically and it will be feasible for many communities to get off fossil fuels while saving money.  Mass transit could be converted to electric.

When the new Tesla Model 3 is available for purchase in 2017 there will be little reason for drivers to switch to an electric car.

NASA Makes It Official: 2015 Was the Hottest Year Ever

Thanks to a team of worldwide scientists and high-end computer models, it is now official:   2015 was the hottest year on record.


Thanks to the human impacts on climate change, a strong El Niño almost as big as the record-setting one in 1998, and a flywheel effect of what happens from past almost-as-hot years make the next one even hotter, the Earth’s global surface temperatures registered an average +0.87°C (~1.6°F) hotter than the 1951-1980 base years measured in NASA Goddard’s GISSTEMP analysis. That makes it the hottest year ever for any year with temperatures scientifically verified by instrumentation.

2015vs2014+2010_v4In the chart shown above it is perhaps even easier to see both long-term temperature trends as well as how 2015’s El Niño effects began to make their appearance felt. The three graphs showing maps of globe surface temperature anomalies relative to the base period are well-marked, with a color scheme ranging from deep purple and blue at one end (where temperatures were actually lower than the base period) all the way up to a dark blood red for the most extreme variations from the baseline.

In the bottom left quadrant is the 2010 data set. In that one, note that even though the baseline was still significantly higher than normal overall by +0.72°C and coming in at the third hottest year on record, there are areas on the globe with little to no variance above the baseline. Most of those were over larger water regions and in less populated areas over the eastern and higher latitude parts of the Russia/China Asian land masses.

For 2014, the second warmest year on record, the variations are getting bigger and there are few regions where temperatures are close to the baseline figures. In this case the average surface temperature measured in at +0.74°C higher than the baseline.

In 2015, the globe dramatically rose in average temperature, all the way up to +0.87°C beyond the baseline. That’s a 0.13°C jump all in one year.

In the bottom right hand quadrant of this graph, it also possible to see how 2015’s El Niño made its presence felt. For it and the other two years charted here, through mid-year it could be said that temperature variations were following a similar pattern for each year on a month-to-month basis. After mid-year, however, the earth’s heating system kicked into high gear and surface temperatures began to climb quickly. In July 2015, the mean surface temperature measured in at +0.7°C over baseline. By December surface temperatures had risen dramatically, with a new mean value of +1.11°C.

This much change is bad enough, but another piece of climate change data which has only just begun to hit mass media is how it is the upper latitudes that are seeing the biggest temperature changes overall.

In this graph, starting from the bottom up is a good way to go to grasp its implications quickly. The bottom graph shows the long-term surface temperature trends over time for the southernmost latitudes, starting at 23.6°C South Latitude and running to 90° South. Using other descriptors, that is from the Tropic of Capricorn, the southern border of the tropics, to well beyond the southern Arctic Circle (which is located at about 66.5° south latitude. For this region all values have been climbing over time, but even now – in 2015 – the temperature anomaly runs only around +0.5°C relative to baseline.

The next graph, which depicts temperatures on either side of the equator marking the region known as the tropics, the temperature anomaly is a little higher relative to normal, showing a mean overall rise of between +0.8°C and +0.9°C.

When you get to the highest latitudes, from 23.6°N to 90N, running from the Tropic of Cancer, the northernmost part of what is known as the tropics, to well beyond the northern Arctic Circle (around 66.5°C), the temperature change is at its highest level, peaking as of the end of last year at around +1.1°C relative to the baseline. With such high temperatures in this northern region, one can expect faster melting of the ice caps than in the southern region – along with higher temperatures overall, which will impact all manner of animals, birds, and sea life.

With the current El Niño certainly far from finished in doing its best to continue its work well into 2016, and with the top three global greenhouse gas emitters (China, the U.S., and India) dumping more into the atmosphere, it is safe to assume 2015 will not retain its record at the hottest year ever for long. By next December, a number of scientists are already predicting 2016 will set even hotter records everywhere.

For the full report this article was based on, click here. NASA’s full data bank of information behind the graphs shown in this article – along with access to some of the computer programs used to do the analysis them – are available here.

Data included in this article was provided by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and their GISS Surface Temperature Analysis website and in the following publications:

Obama Halts Coal Mining Leases on Public Lands, Temporarily

by Nadia Prupis, CommonDreams.org

The White House on Friday will announce a halt to new coal mining leases on federal lands until the administration conducts a comprehensive review on coal companies’ royalty fees—a move that is expected to give new momentum to the environmental campaigns calling for a post-fossil fuel era.

“The only safe place for coal in the 21st century is deep underground—these reforms will help keep more of it there,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of climate advocacy group 350.org. “And they’ll set the precedent that must quickly be applied to oil and gas as well.”

A moratorium would effectively block coal production on federal lands and could put the “nail in the coffin” for the rapidly dwindling coal industry, activists said. Roughly 40 percent of coal produced in the U.S. comes from reserves on federal lands.

President Barack Obama in his final State of the Union speech on Tuesday indicated he would move forward with the moratorium, stating, “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future—especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”

But 350 and other environmental groups credited the outcome to the long-term efforts of climate campaigners who brought the issue to national attention, comparing it to other recent wins like Obama’s rejection last November of the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial project that would have carted more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands daily from Alberta, Canada to oil refineries in the Gulf Coast.

People power works, they said—and it’s getting stronger.

“This measure signifies a key step towards sunsetting a practice that has led to immense environmental destruction, human and health impacts, and is one of the greatest sources of carbon emissions worldwide,” said Amanda Starbuck, climate and energy program director at the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).

350.org policy director Jason Kowalski added, “This announcement is another nail in the coffin for the coal industry, and a warning to all fossil fuel companies that the era of unrestrained development is coming to an end. Over the coming months, the President will come under increasing pressure to stop offshore drilling, get tougher on fracking, and end all new fossil fuel leases on our public lands. How well he keeps fossil fuels in the ground has quickly become the new test for climate leadership.”

The moratorium will have no effect on existing operations. An administration official told Yahoo News on Friday that companies will still be able to mine reserves already under lease, where “billions of tons of coal” have already been stockpiled.

As Tom Sanzillo, director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, pointed out on Friday, “Under the Obama administration the Bureau of Land Management has entered into leases on 13 applications amounting to over 2.2 billion tons of coal. These new reserves plus the reserves already under lease should offer an ample supply of coal in the coming years.”

However, the vast majority of “public” fossil fuels—those sitting under federal lands—have yet to be sold to the industry.

“The coal industry, once a critical player in the energy future of the U.S., is now little more than a self-interested party seeking a bailout,” Sanzillo said. “The industry has forfeited its claim to protected status…A federal lease moratorium allows the federal government, as owner of the coal, and stakeholders to establish a new business model for coal.”

A report released in August 2015, compiled by environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity, found that ending the policy of selling coal, oil, and gas would keep 90 percent of those fossil fuels in the ground—which would, in turn, keep 450 billion tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, activists said.

“The fossil fuel industry already has five times more carbon than they can safely burn and keep global warming from running out of control. It’s high time the U.S. government got out of the business of climate destruction,” Kowalski said. “This new attention to fossil fuels on public lands can’t stop with coal.”

How Carbon Leaks into Freshwater from Trees

Forests help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by storing it in trees, but a sizable amount of the greenhouse gas actually escapes through the soil and into rivers and streams.

That’s the main finding of a paper to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s the first study to comprehensively look at how carbon moves in freshwater across the entire U.S.

The researchers found that across the country, the ability of forests to store carbon is not as robust once freshwater is factored into the equation. They hope to introduce this as an important concept to consider when modeling how much carbon is stored in terrestrial landscapes.

“If our goal is to use forests as a way to manage carbon stocks, we should know what is leaking into streams, rivers and lakes,” said lead author David Butman, an assistant professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington.

“Our research suggests that in fact these landscapes might not be taking up as much carbon as we think because we’re not accounting for what’s being lost in aquatic systems.”

Butman, who is also an affiliate researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey, along with collaborators from the federal agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, scoured all existing data and studies that accounted for carbon in freshwater rivers, lakes and reservoirs around the country, then synthesized the data and created new models to take a first-ever countrywide look at how much carbon is moving in the water.

They found that freshwater rivers and streams transport or store more than 220 billion pounds of carbon each year. This carbon ends up in the ocean, in the sediment at the bottom of lakes and reservoirs, or in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. With these new U.S.-wide numbers, scientists may be overestimating the ability of terrestrial landscapes to store carbon by almost 30 percent, the study found.

“We’re suggesting that once you account for the carbon that’s leaking out of landscapes into aquatic environments, the amount of actual carbon storage is decreased by almost 30 percent,” Butman said. “That’s a high number, and it has to help inform the larger conversation of where carbon is stored.”

The researchers presented the findings at this month’s American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting and their results will contribute to the next federal State of the Carbon Cycle Report. The first report, released in 2007, didn’t include freshwater ecosystems as part of a national carbon assessment, Butman said.

Results varied by region, but researchers found that the Pacific Northwest’s high volume of rainfall each year moves carbon relatively quickly through the landscape and to coastal waters faster than in other regions. These forests are usually thought of as vast storage sinks for carbon, so these new results may have particular significance for the region, Butman said.

The U.S. Geological Survey spent four years on this countrywide carbon assessment, which began with Department of Homeland Security funding to try to understand and calculate carbon stocks and fluxes in the natural environment. Butman joined the project as part of his postdoctoral work at Yale University, specifically looking at how carbon moves in freshwater.

Butman is currently focused on how carbon enters freshwater ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. His recent paper in Nature Geoscience suggests that the size of the river or stream helps dictate the origin of carbon — either seeping in from groundwater and carbon-rich soils, or being released from aquatic organisms that respire and decay — in these waterways.

Other co-authors are Sarah Stackpoole, Edward Stets, David Clow and Robert Striegl of the U.S. Geological Survey and Cory McDonald of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Storms Cause Salt Marsh Erosion

For salt marshes, hurricanes are just another day at the beach.

These coastal wetlands are in retreat in many locations around the globe—raising deep concerns about damage to the wildlife that the marshes nourish and the loss of their ability to protect against violent storms. The biggest cause of their erosion is waves driven by moderate storms, not occasional major events such as Hurricane Sandy, researchers from Boston University and the United States Geological Survey now have shown.

“Waves are very powerful because they attack the marsh in its weakest part,” says Nicoletta Leonardi, a Ph.D. candidate at BU’s Department of Earth & Environment and lead author on a paper published in the journal PNAS.

“Generally, the more a salt marsh is exposed to waves, the faster it is eroding.”

Analyzing eight salt marsh locations in Australia, Italy and the United States, “we found that the behavior of salt marshes is very predictable,” says Leonardi, with a constant relationship between wave energy and the speed of marsh erosion.

In fact, the work shows that hurricanes and other violent storms contribute less than 1 percent of salt marsh deterioration in those marshes, says Sergio Fagherazzi, BU Earth & Environment associate professor and co-author on the paper.

Along the New England coast, for example, the moderate northeast storms that may hit every few months strip away far more from the marshes than the hurricanes that may sweep through a few times a decade. “Salt marshes survive for thousands of years, which means they know how to cope against hurricane waves,” he says.

In a major storm, “beaches or dunes on a beach just collapse all at once,” Fagherazzi adds.

“Marshes don’t, which is a major advantage if you are serious about using them for hazard mitigation and coast protection.”

“While hurricanes are catastrophic events, the salt marsh doesn’t respond catastrophically,” says Neil Kamal Ganju, a co-author and research oceanographer with USGS in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In addition to the infrequency of hurricanes, that may be because a hurricane’s surge brings up water level so high over a marsh that waves have relatively little effect, he suggests.

Improved knowledge about salt marsh erosion brings an important new tool to those responsible for management and restoration of wetlands. “You can take the geography of a salt marsh and the estuary around it, and if you understand the wind climate and the wave climate, using historical data, you now can predict the marsh erosion,” says Ganju.

Globally, salt marshes are being lost to waves, changes in land use, higher sea levels, loss of sediment from upstream dams and other factors. This puts at risk “a lot of ecosystem services that we need to preserve,” Leonardi emphasizes. Many initiatives around the world now seek to protect and rebuild salt marshes. Evidence also suggests that, at least in some coastal environments, marshes can adapt to rising sea levels.

In the United States, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and many cities want to manage salt marshes as “living shorelines” that act as buffers between coastal communities and the ocean, Fagherazzi says. Such efforts kicked off in New Jersey and New York after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The effect of waves on salt marsh erosion, part of a USGS project to examine the response of estuaries to Hurricane Sandy, is being integrated into a USGS numerical model called COAWST (Coupled-Ocean-Atmosphere-Wave-Sediment Transport). COAWST combines models of ocean, atmosphere, waves and sediment transport for analysis of coastal change.

Better understanding of marsh erosion also may help in modeling carbon storage as it relates to climate change, the scientists say.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research.  With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.  BU consists of 17 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission.  In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

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The Arctic Heats Up Even As Much Of The World Ignores It

The human race in general may have finally accepted that Climate Change is real, but they need to stop looking in more temperate and equatorial regions for early warning signs. The best place to find those is instead in the arctic.

Last week the U.S. National Oceanographic and Aerospace Administration released its Arctic report card, an annual evaluation of the state of the climate, seas, and all living things in the Arctic as of year-end 2015.

The results were not pretty.  As samplings for just some of the data:

  • The extent of sea ice reached its maximum level on February 25th, a full 15 days earlier than average and the lowest value on record since 1979.
  • Sea ice also reached its minimum level back in September and was the fourth lowest ever.
  • Snow cover in June was the second lowest on record.
  • Melting occurred over more than 50% of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
  • Air temperatures from October 2014 through September 2015 exceeded 3 degrees C above average over major regions in the arctic.

So – while we in the rest of the world keep looking at rising sea levels, changing rain and drought patterns, and increased temperatures that make our own lives less bearable – and while we look around us to how to mitigate that change in the more temperature and equatorial regions of the world – the arctic is already suffering far worse impacts.

Walruses, Polar Bears, and other mammals who live around sea ice are losing their habitats as the air grows warmer around them, both on the land and in the availability of sea ice.   Also, fish communities which are dependent on cold ice ecosystems are being driven further and further north as that sea ice disappears, which in turn puts more pressure on the fish already present where those sea-borne immigrants are now appearing.  Together these kinds of changes are already reshuffling the deck for how the world, its habitats, and those who inhabit them are going to look even as close at hand as five years from now.

The reality is that both air and sea temperatures in the arctic are warming at a rate twice as anywhere else in the world, according to experts involved in preparing this most recent analysis. While we may not see the same direct temperature changes elsewhere, the impacts, in the form of changing ecosystems of fish, mammals, birds and more – and in the form of rising sea water levels throughout the world, are going to hit all of us in a much bigger way in the near future.

Those interested in learning more about the 2015 Arctic Report Card can read the information in its entirety at:  http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard.

After Four Years, NASA Arctic Carbon Flights Concluded

On Nov. 12 of this year, NASA’s Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) completed its final aircraft flight. During its four-year campaign, CARVE accumulated more than 1,000 science flight hours of measurements over Alaska, collecting data on important greenhouse gases during seven to eight months of each year.

The permafrost (perennially frozen) and peat soils of Arctic and boreal (northern region) ecosystems are the single largest reservoir of terrestrial carbon, containing twice as much carbon as is currently present in the atmosphere. As Arctic soils thaw and fires proliferate due to global warming, accentuated at high latitudes, the risk that the carbon will be released to the atmosphere continues to increase. CARVE collected detailed measurements of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane over every Alaskan Arctic and boreal ecosystem.

The end of such a long mission is bittersweet, says Principal Investigator Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “We’ve made lots of friends in Alaska. After four years, it’s almost like another university education.” The team has been making preliminary data available after each year’s campaign, and now, Miller says, “We have a few months to make sure we’ve got all data calibrated, analyzed and quality controlled to the best of our ability, and then it will go to the terrestrial ecology Distributed Active Archive Center at Oak Ridge [National Laboratory, Tennessee].” In spring 2016, all four years of data and the team’s supporting analysis and modeling results will be posted and freely available to interested users.