1. Smoke Signals in the Amazon
Forest fires can occur naturally, but in the world's largest rain forest, fire can signal large-scale deforestation.
2. Transforming Satellite Data into Weather Forecasts
A NASA project spans the gap between research and operations, introducing new composites of satellite imagery to weather forecasters to prepare for the next generation of satellites.
II.Space & Planets
1. NASA's New Discovery Missions Will Look Back to Our Origins
Two recently approved missions will explore our solar system's early history, looking at asteroids near Jupiter and an odd object that may be a planetary core.
III.Hydrology, Cryosphere & Earth Surface
1. Most Meltwater in Greenland Fjords Likely Comes from Icebergs
New study finds that 10% to 50% of iceberg melting happens in the fjords, not in the open ocean as assumed by previous research.
2. Boulders Limit Transport of Sand and Gravel in Steep Rivers
Mountain rivers and streams actively reshape landscapes by eroding material from uplands and depositing it in lowlands. Scientists can now predict this transport in very steep streams.
3. More Frequent Glacial Quakes on Greenland Signal Ice Retreat
Between 1993 and 2011, the annual number of earthquakes caused by gigantic blocks of ice breaking away from Greenland's glaciers has increased, further evidence of accelerating ice loss.
IV. Global Change
1. Achieving a Near-Zero Carbon Emissions Energy System
Getting Near Zero: Decarbonizing the Last 20%; Aspen, Colorado, 31 July to 5 August 2016
V. Ocean Sciences
1. Study Sheds New Insights into Global Warming "Hiatus"
Temporary slowdown in global average surface temperature warming observed between 1998 and 2013 represented a redistribution of energy within the Earth system, new research shows.
VI. Geophysical Research Letters
1. Three-dimensional displacements of a large volcano flank movement during the May 2010 eruptions at Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala
Although massive flank failure is fairly common in the evolution of volcanoes, measurements of flank movement indicative of instability are rare. Here 3-D displacements from airborne radar amplitude images derived using an amplitude image pixel offset tracking technique show that the west and southwest flanks of Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala experienced large (~4 m), discrete landsliding that was ultimately aborted. Pixel offset tracking improved measurement recovery by nearly 50% over classic interferometric synthetic aperture radar techniques, providing unique measurements at the event. The 3-D displacement field shows that the flank moved coherently downslope along a complex failure surface involving both rotational and along-slope movement. Notably, the lack of continuous movement of the slide in the years leading up to the event emphasizes that active movement should not always be expected at volcanoes for which triggering factors (e.g., magmatic intrusions and eruptions) could precipitate sudden major flank instability.
2. Local atmospheric forcing driving an unexpected California Current System response during the 2015–2016 El Niño
The 2015–2016 El Niño contributed to large anomalies across the California Current System (CalCS), but these anomalies ceased unexpectedly in late 2015. Here we use a suite of three hindcast simulations with the Regional Oceanic Modeling System to assess the responsible mechanisms for this development. We find that the early buildup was primarily driven by the early onset of this event in the tropical Pacific, driving anomalies in the CalCS through the propagation of coastally trapped waves. In contrast, the abrupt end in the central CalCS was caused by the unusual onset of upwelling favorable winds in the fall of 2015, which offset the continuing remote forcing through the coastal waveguide. Nevertheless, low-nutrient anomalies persisted, causing anomalously low phytoplankton abundance in the upwelling season of 2016. This is a recurring pattern for all El Niño events over the last 37 years, suggesting predictive skill on seasonal timescales.
3. Collapse of the North American ice saddle 14,500 years ago caused widespread cooling and reduced ocean overturning circulation
Collapse of ice sheets can cause significant sea level rise and widespread climate change. We examine the climatic response to meltwater generated by the collapse of the Cordilleran-Laurentide ice saddle (North America) ~14.5 thousand years ago (ka) using a high-resolution drainage model coupled to an ocean-atmosphere-vegetation general circulation model. Equivalent to 7.26 m global mean sea level rise in 340 years, the meltwater caused a 6 sverdrup weakening of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and widespread Northern Hemisphere cooling of 1–5°C. The greatest cooling is in the Atlantic sector high latitudes during Boreal winter (by 5–10°C), but there is also strong summer warming of 1–3°C over eastern North America. Following recent suggestions that the saddle collapse was triggered by the Bølling warming event at ~14.7–14.5 ka, we conclude that this robust submillennial mechanism may have initiated the end of the warming and/or the Older Dryas cooling through a forced AMOC weakening.
4. Profuse activity of blue electrical discharges at the tops of thunderstorms
Thunderstorm clouds may reach the lower stratosphere, affecting the exchange of greenhouse gases between the troposphere and stratosphere. This region of the atmosphere is difficult to access experimentally, and our knowledge of the processes taking place here is incomplete. We recently recorded color video footage of thunderstorms over the Bay of Bengal from the International Space Station. The observations show a multitude of blue, kilometer-scale, discharges at the cloud top layer at ~18 km altitude and a pulsating blue discharge propagating into the stratosphere reaching ~40 km altitude. The emissions are related to the so-called blue jets, blue starters, and possibly pixies. The observations are the first of their kind and give a new perspective on the electrical activity at the top of tropical thunderstorms; further, they underscore that thunderstorm discharges directly perturb the chemistry of the stratosphere with possible implications for the Earth's radiation balance.
5. Estimating methane emissions from biological and fossil-fuel sources in the San Francisco Bay Area
We present the first sector-specific analysis of methane (CH4) emissions from the San Francisco Bay Area (SFBA) using CH4 and volatile organic compound (VOC) measurements from six sites during September – December 2015. We apply a hierarchical Bayesian inversion to separate the biological from fossil-fuel (natural gas and petroleum) sources using the measurements of CH4 and selected VOCs, a source-specific 1 km CH4 emission model, and an atmospheric transport model. We estimate that SFBA CH4 emissions are 166–289 Gg CH4/yr (at 95% confidence), 1.3–2.3 times higher than a recent inventory with much of the underestimation from landfill. Including the VOCs, 82 ± 27% of total posterior median CH4 emissions are biological and 17 ± 3% fossil fuel, where landfill and natural gas dominate the biological and fossil-fuel CH4 of prior emissions, respectively.
6. Eddy saturation and frictional control of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current
The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is the strongest current in the ocean and has a pivotal impact on ocean stratification, heat content, and carbon content. The circumpolar volume transport is relatively insensitive to surface wind forcing in models that resolve turbulent ocean eddies, a process termed “eddy saturation.” Here a simple model is presented that explains the physics of eddy saturation with three ingredients: a momentum budget, a relation between the eddy form stress and eddy energy, and an eddy energy budget. The model explains both the insensitivity of circumpolar volume transport to surface wind stress and the increase of eddy energy with wind stress. The model further predicts that circumpolar transport increases with increased bottom friction, a counterintuitive result that is confirmed in eddy-permitting calculations. These results suggest an unexpected and important impact of eddy energy dissipation, through bottom drag or lee wave generation, on ocean stratification, ocean heat content, and potentially atmospheric CO2.
7. Extensive and drastically different alpine lake changes on Asia's high plateaus during the past four decades
Asia's high plateaus are sensitive to climate change and have been experiencing rapid warming over the past few decades. We found 99 new lakes and extensive lake expansion on the Tibetan Plateau during the last four decades, 1970–2013, due to increased precipitation and cryospheric contributions to its water balance. This contrasts with disappearing lakes and drastic shrinkage of lake areas on the adjacent Mongolian Plateau: 208 lakes disappeared, and 75% of the remaining lakes have shrunk. We detected a statistically significant coincidental timing of lake area changes in both plateaus, associated with the climate regime shift that occurred during 1997/1998. This distinct change in 1997/1998 is thought to be driven by large-scale atmospheric circulation changes in response to climate warming. Our findings reveal that these two adjacent plateaus have been changing in opposite directions in response to climate change. These findings shed light on the complex role of the regional climate and water cycles and provide useful information for ecological and water resource planning in these fragile landscapes.
1. What was that rumble? New research compares earthquakes to explosions
The earth shakes similarly after earthquakes and underground explosions, making it hard to distinguish between the two types of rumbling events. A new study aims to capture the subtle details of seismic signatures and ground deformation after an explosion to help scientists better differentiate between them.
2. People aren’t the only beneficiaries of power plant carbon standards
When the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power Plan in 2015, the agency exercised its authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions to protect public welfare. The Plan, now the focus of escalating debate, also put the nation on course to meet its goals under the Paris Climate Agreement. Given that other pollutants are emitted from power plants—along with carbon dioxide—research has shown that carbon emission standards for the power sector benefit human health. But new research shows they would also benefit crops and trees.
3. Communicating Real Science in a time of Fake News
Good popular science writing matters more than ever