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The International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer falls every year on September 16. While it is healing and on the path to recovery by 2060, currently measuring about 7.6 million square miles, wildfire smoke from Australia’s Black Summer has destroyed 1% of the ozone layer, a recent assessment found.

Smoke from the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires have destroyed high-altitude ozone circling above the Southern Hemisphere, threatening the recovery progress on the ozone layer and one of the most successful climate restoration stories. 

A recent assessment by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Association showed that the ozone layer is on track to being healed by 2060. But according to two new scientific studies, smoke from wildfires could impede progress following a discovery that smoke particles from the Australian fires triggered a chain of chemical reactions that destroyed 1% of the ozone layer. 

A hole in the ozone layer has formed above the Antarctic continent for nearly 50 years. As the ozone layer serves as a protective shield against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, exposure can result in increased risks of skin cancers. 

The hole in the ozone layer kept growing until the year 2000 before it stalled and started to shrink. Some of the reasons behind the drastic increase in chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – toxic atoms that break down the Earth’s ozone layer – especially during the 1930s was an exponential increase in refrigerants, air conditioning, aerosol sprays, ad foam blowing agents.

It was not until the 1970s that scientists realised that CFCs could react with atmospheric ozone, produce oxygen and depleting the protective ozone layer. The Vienna convention saw the Montreal Protocol being signed in 1987 to phase out CFCs. The extremely successful Protocol is also the only UN treaty that has ever been ratified in every country.

By 2019, the ozone hole had diminished to its smallest since the 1980s at a peak area of 16.4 million km2. The hole is currently about 7.6 million square miles wide. That’s 1.3 million square miles smaller than last year.

ozone layer hole

Image 1: The antarctic ozone hole

But during that same year, Australia wildfires razed down 42 million acres, destroyed thousands of buildings, as well as killing dozens of people and 3 billion animals. It also created a cloud of smoke so large that it rose into the stratosphere that circled the southern hemisphere. Using data gathered by the Canadian Space Agency, researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada found that smoke particles from the fires disrupted the delicate chemical processes that maintain the ozone layer.

“Smoke was not supposed to do this,” Peter Bernath, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Waterloo, who co-authored one of the studies. “It was completely unexpected that smoke made these atmospheric changes. So this is new chemistry.”

Smoke from the Australian bushfires resulted in a 1% decrease in the ozone in March 2020, which is a significant number as it takes a decade for the ozone layer to recover 1-3%. In another study led by Bernath, wildfire smoke led to a rise in compounds, such as hypochlorous acid, which react with ozone molecules to break them apart. 

Together these findings demonstrate possible future implications and how fires are preventing the ozone layer from healing, especially as more frequent and severe wildfires are expected across the globe. The UN warns that global wildfires are set to rise by 50% by 2100, with regions that were previously unaffected by wildfires such as the Arctic will experience burnings as well. 

You might also like: What is Ozone Pollution and How Does Nitrogen Oxide Contribute to It?

A new study found that the rapid glacial melting in Greenland will raise global sea levels more than twice as much as previously forecast.

A phenomenon known as “zombie ice”  will eventually raise global sea level by at least 10.6 inches (27 centimetres), according to a new study.

The term zombie ice refers to doomed ice that is no longer getting replenished by parent glaciers as they are now receiving less snow. Consequently, the doomed ice is rapidly melting from climate change and will eventually and inevitably raise global sea levels.

“It’s dead ice. It’s just going to melt and disappear from the ice sheet,” William Colgan, a glaciologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland and co-author of the research said. “This ice has been consigned to the ocean, regardless of what climate (emissions) scenario we take now.”

More than 120 trillion tons (110 trillion metric tons) of Greenland’s ice is unable to replenish and thus set to melt from global warming, one of the authors said. 

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that, while a scenario where global sea level rise by about 10 inches is inevitable, it could reach as much as 30 inches (78 centimetres). 

The new prediction is almost twice as much as last year’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected: a range of 2 to 5 inches (6 to 13 centimetres) of sea level rise from glacial melting in Greenland by the end of the century.

New satellite data from earlier this year revealed that the melting of Greenland’s massive ice sheet is occurring so rapidly that it is now the main factor in global sea level rise

Research by Polar Portal, a joint project between four Danish government research institutions, found that over the past 20 years, Greenland lost more than 5,100 billion tons (4,700 billion metric tons) of ice, enough to flood the entire United States in 1.5 feet (0.5 metres) of water. 

You might also like: Sea Level Rise Projections: Top 10 Cities at Risk of Flooding

Despite being a major win for the climate, analysts warn that California’s ambitious plan to ban gas-powered cars by 2035 faces several challenges.

In an unanimous vote last Thursday, the California Air Resources Board –  the state’s top air regulator – voted to ban the sale of gas-powered cars effectively by 2035. 

With the adoption of the Advanced Clean Cars II, the statewide plan that mandates the sale of zero emissions and hybrid plug-in vehicles, California became the world’s first government to effectively ban gas-powered cars.

The plan’s initial goals are set for 2026 and 2030. By then, at least 35% and 68% of total new vehicle sales respectively must be powered by batteries or hydrogen. 

You might also like: Hydrogen vs. Electric Cars: Comparing Innovative Sustainability

“This is monumental,” California Air Resources Board member Daniel Sperling told CNN. “This is the most important thing that CARB has done in the last 30 years. It’s important not just for California, but it’s important for the country and the world.”

California’s cities are notorious for having congested freeways and smog-filled skies. Not surprisingly, Los Angeles – where more than one in every two people own a car – is the leading city on the most ozone-polluted list

To reduce air pollution, the state recently adopted some of the nation’s strictest regulations for vehicles. To target personal vehicular emissions, many California cities are now increasing public transportation infrastructure. The government is also encouraging residents to transition to electric vehicles (EVs) by offering tax breaks and other financial incentives while expanding its network of charging stations. 

According to the California Energy Commission, in 2021 alone, EVs represented 12.4% of all vehicle sales, placing the state as the indisputable US market leader. Furthermore, California has almost 35,000 charging stations, by far the highest number across the country. 

Despite all this, analysts say the industry faces several challenges in ending sales of gas-powered cars by 2035.

Among the main roadblocks is the cost prices of electric vehicles. With the average price currently being around US$66,000, EVs are effectively well beyond the means of many people, and this despite the recent $7,500 tax credit provided by the Inflation Reduction Act adopted by the US government earlier this month.

Moreover, even though California has one of the most advanced infrastructure networks for electric vehicles in the whole country, experts believe that other states must drastically increase the availability and reliability of charging stations if they hope to incentivise people to buy EVs.

You might also like: New Law Aims at Drastically Reducing Plastic Pollution in California by 2032

Pakistan floods have killed more than 1,000 people and displaced millions since mid-June, causing widespread damage and threatening the country’s economic recovery.

Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh – three of Pakistan’s four provinces – have experienced record-breaking rainfall this summer, with the latter receiving almost eight times the average amount expected in August.

“We left our homes in a hurry and could not gather all the supplies to cook”, a survivor of the floods told the BBC. “Some days we are able to eat, some days we have nothing.

More than 1,000 people have lost their lives and nearly one million homes have been damaged, displacing more than 30 million people or about 15% of the population. The flooding is the worst to hit the country in at least a decade.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is working to distribute shelter material, and water purification units to guarantee access to safe drinking water. Pakistan is also dealing with malaria and dengue disease outbreaks, rising health concerns among the millions displaced.

In an interview with the Financial Times, climate change and environment minister Sherry Rehman described Pakistan’s floods as “the climate catastrophe of the decade”, claiming that “in living memory, [the country] has not seen such a biblical flood”. 

The country was hit by an early and prolonged heatwave in April. The sudden shift from winter to summer temperatures left crops without the opportunity for effective germination. Now, Pakistan’s floods have washed away huge parts of harvested crops and compromised the little that was left after an extremely challenging year in terms of climate. 

Pakistan floods are just the latest of the climate change-induced catastrophes that have hit the South Asian nation in recent months, adding to its financial distress and threatening its economic recovery.

On Monday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is expected to approve a US$1.2 billion disbursement, a deal hailed by Pakistani prime minister Shehbaz Sharif last week as the nation seeks to avert a balance of payment crisis.

The foreign minister said Pakistan needs financial help to deal with the “overwhelming floods” and hopes that financial institutions will take the massive economic fallout into account – Reuters reported.

You might also like: Climate Change Made Deadly Indian Heatwave 30-100 Times More Likely

Tropical regions including Northern Australia could experience extremely hot weather most days of the year by the end of the decade. Extreme heat will also occur three to 10 times as often in western Europe, the US, China, and Japan, a new study found.

Even if the world meets the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 2C, the risk of dangerous heat occurring across the tropics will “likely increase by 50-100% […] and increase by a factor of 3-10 in many regions throughout the midlatitudes”, new research suggests.

These changes refer to the global Heat Index – a metric combining air temperature and humidity to quantify the actual heat exposure in human beings.

The study, published on Thursday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, suggests that “anthropogenic CO2 emissions will increase global exposure to dangerous environments in the coming decades.”

The team of researchers at Harvard and the University of Washington combined historic climate data with future projections of population and economic growth as well as carbon emission scenarios to estimate global temperatures in the future.

hot weather

Image 1: Local temperature change across months in 2100

Despite the scenario for 2100 indicating changes over land regions are typically 5C, with even greater increases in the Arctic region, how high temperatures will rise “hugely” and ultimately depends on our ability to curb emissions in the coming decades.

In the tropics, up to half of the days in a year will have “dangerously hot” weather – meaning they will reach or surpass 39.4C. In tropical regions, the “extremely dangerous” heat index threshold – when temperatures reach 51C – will likely be exceeded on more than 15 days each year.

“The health consequences of regular very high temperatures, particularly for the elderly, poor, and outdoor workers, would be profound and require a basic reorientation to the risks of extreme heat,” the researchers found.

“The difference between being very proactive and limiting carbon emissions to keep within those parameters set forward by the Paris agreement, and not doing that, is just hugely consequential for billions of people, primarily throughout the global south,” said Lucas Vargas Zeppetello, one of the lead authors of the study.

“The difference between the two case scenarios is sort of night and day.”

You might also like: The Key Takeaways From This Summer’s Heatwaves

More than two months of abnormally high temperatures and no rain have dried up the Yangtze river, straining the country’s energy grids, damaging crops, and intensifying forest fires.

Southwest China is battling the worst drought in more than half a century. Rainfall in the Yangtze River Basin is at its lowest since 1961, down 45% from last July, and some areas have not seen rain in more than two months. 

Water levels in the Yangtze river – the third-largest in the world flowing about 6,300 kilometres (3,900 miles) through China– have halved, affecting trade, limiting drinking water supplies, and causing rolling blackouts. 

Meanwhile, a heatwave has brought scorching temperatures across large parts of the country, with dozens of cities recording temperatures over 40C (104F) for several days straight. 

Last week, for the first time in nine years, the government issued a national drought alert while local authorities in Sichuan ordered power cuts to homes, businesses, and factories amid persistent blackouts. Here, water shortages have severely reduced hydroelectric power generation, on which the province depends for more than 80% of its energy, and that accounts for about 18% of China’s power generation, its largest source of clean energy according to BloombergNEF.

power grids

Daily hydropower generation was slashed by half and reservoir water levels are down by 4 billion cubic metres from last year, Bloomberg reports.

Power shortages are affecting manufacturers of pesticides and solar panels as well as threatening the supplies of everything from grains and aluminium to battery materials used in electric vehicles. Sichuan, a major manufacturing hub, is home to some of the world’s biggest car and tech companies. The power cuts issued in the province affected, among others, suppliers of Toyota, Volkswagen, Tesla, Intel, and Apple, with risks of major repercussions on the global supply chain.

Initially ordered for three days, power rationing orders were extended by about a week and are set to remain in force at least until August 25.

Besides straining energy grids, the drought has damaged thousands of acres of crops in Sichuan and neighbouring Hubei province. In a bid to minimise the heatwave’s impact on agriculture, China’s Ministry of Agriculture will try to artificially increase rainfall through cloud seeding as well as cover crops with a water-retaining agent – Grist reports. The government has also ordered the discharge of water from several large upstream reservoirs.

The drought comes as China’s economy is already struggling under Beijing’s strict Covid Zero strategy, which has kept most foreigners outside the country for more than two years. 

You might also like: China to Increase Coal Production Amid Heatwave-sparked Surge in Electricity Demand

The continent is experiencing abnormally hot and dry conditions, with experts fearing for agriculture and energy as the drought warning persists.

47% of Europe is under drought “warning” conditions in what scientists call its worst drought in at least 500 years, the European Drought Observatory (EDO) said.

Precipitation in July and August has been significantly lower than usual and soil moisture is in deficit in nearly half of the continent. Meanwhile, 17% of the EU is on “alert”, meaning vegetation and crops are also experiencing the negative effects of drought. 

2022 yields from maize are set to be 16% below the average of the previous five years. Soybean and sunflowers will fall by 15% and 12% respectively.

Among the most severely affected regions are Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.

Drought Warning

Image 1: Combined Drought Indicator (CDI v.2.1), August 2022

The report also warned of the “severe impacts” on the energy sector. The severe precipitation deficit has widely affected rivers across the continent, warming up waters and contributing to levels dropping significantly, with countries such as Italy and France unable to power hydroelectric plants or cool down nuclear plants.

This is also raising trade concerns. Just last week, river Rhine’s water levels plumbed new depths, hitting such a low level at a key juncture that most large ships transporting goods, including coal to diesel, were effectively unable to transit. Despite conditions slowly improving in the last few days, the emergency is not over.

Warm and dry conditions have also fuelled “a wildfire season sensibly above the average”, with Spain and Portugal experiencing particularly acute forest fires.  

This summer has been one of the driest on record in Europe, with several countries facing weeks of baking temperatures. Assuming final data at the end of the season confirms the preliminary assessment, this will be the continent’s worst drought in at least five centuries.

“Warmer and drier than usual conditions are likely to occur in the western Euro-Mediterranean region in the coming months till November 2022”, the report said. 

You might also like: The Key Takeaways From This Summer’s Heatwaves

Carbon price in the EU hit a new all-time high on Friday as Russia announced further curbs on gas supplies to the continent.

As traders warn coal is becoming re-embedded in Europe’s energy mix amid tight gas supplies, the carbon price in the EU hit a new all-time high on Friday, as Emission Trading System (ETS) credits – bought by polluters to compensate for their carbon emissions – neared €100, surpassing the previous high of €98.49 reached earlier this year ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

The record high carbon price comes as surging natural gas prices increase the appeal of switching toward more carbon-intensive fuel for power generation, contrary to expectations that this would make low-emitting renewable energy sources more attractive.

carbon price

Image 1: Carbon price in the EU hit a new all-time high, surpassing the previous record recorded in February

The European Union is going back to coal for power generation to secure enough supply ahead of what many predict is going to be a difficult winter. 

On Monday, German utility Uniper SE announced it will start producing electricity at its Heyden 4 hard-coal-fired power plant from August 29 until April 30, 2023. Since mid-2021, Heyden 4 only served as a reserve power plant, while electricity production was halted completely.

The decision came after Russian giant energy corporation Gazprom announced further cuts in gas supplies to the continent, with a three-day halt of natural gas supplies to Europe expected next week.

Earlier this month, the head of the federal network agency Klaus Müller told the Financial Times that Germany must cut its gas use by a fifth as well as increase its reliance on imports of gas from other European countries if it wants to avoid a crippling shortage this winter.

You might also like: The European Energy Crisis: How Are Countries Handling the Gas Shortage?

After days of research, scientists found that a significant overgrowth of rare toxic algae linked to climate change is likely to be behind the death of tonnes of fish in the river Oder since late July.

Very rare and highly toxic algae linked to industrial pollution might be behind the mass fish die-off in the river Oder, scientists say. 

Since late July, tonnes of dead fish have been found in the river Oder, in the proximity of the village of Widuchowa in western Poland, not far from the border with Germany. In Germany alone, approximately 36 tons of fish were killed in just a few weeks, according to Environment Minister Steffy Lemke.

An analysis of fish conducted by the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) led to the discovery of the rare golden algae – known as Prymnesium parvum – in all samples taken from the river in recent weeks. Lab tests also showed high levels of salinity in the river’s water. 

The golden algae produce several toxins. Ichthyotoxin in particular affects gill-breathing organisms such as fish, amphibians, and some species of plankton

Elisabeth Varga from the University of Vienna, who led the analysis of the IGB samples, said that “When this specific type of algae is present in very large quantities, as is the case in the Oder samples, very high toxin concentrations must also be assumed.” 

Water conditions such as high salinity levels, sulphate, and chloride, positively affect these algae’s development. For this reason, several scientists involved in researching the mysterious die-off are now convinced that climate change could have played a crucial role, given that higher temperatures lead to more evaporation from inland waters as well as higher salinity levels.  

“Low water levels […] result in an increase in concentration, because adverse substances are transported in a much smaller volume of water. This extreme state is a major stressor for fish communities. During these phases, many creatures are already fighting for survival — and if, then, other hazards such as toxic algal blooms or chemical contamination are added to existing pollution, this can soon destroy entire freshwater ecosystems,” explained IGB scientist Tobias Goldhammer.

The mass die-off in the river Oder comes as Germany and other European countries experience historic and in some areas unprecedented heatwaves, drying up rivers and significantly warming their waters. If nothing was done to decrease salt levels, such toxic overgrowths could occur again during a hot, dry summer, Goldhammer said.

You might also like: River Rhine Set to Become Virtually Impassable, Threatening European Trade

Over the past century, bees have become stressed by climate change. Hotter ad wetter conditions can even affect the wings of bumblebees, a study found.

An analysis of bumblebees from a network of UK institutions published on Wednesday in the Journal of Animal Ecology found that pollinators can develop asymmetric wings as a result of climate stress. 

Over the 21st century, hotter and wetter conditions have contributed to increased stress among bee populations, which affects their growth and can lead to the development of asymmetrical wings. 

Published on Wednesday, the study – the first of its kind –examined the body shapes of bee specimens from the past 100 years. The scientists found that bumblebees showed a higher level of wing asymmetry in hotter and wetter years, concluding that climate change-induced stress plays a role in the pollinators’ development.

The analysis of four bumblebee species found in the UK evidenced that climate stress among the animals got progressively higher as the century progressed, with its lowest point around the mid-1920s.

You might also like: UK Government Launches Plan to Preserve Honey Bee Populations

The research provides a huge contribution to the scientific community, offering important evidence for how environmental factors can and will likely impact future insect populations. One of the authors of the paper, Dr Andres Arce, said: “Our goal is to better understand responses to specific environmental factors and learn from the past to predict the future.”

“We hope to be able to forecast where and when bumblebees will be most at risk and target effective conservation action.”

Scientists from Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum published a second paper in Methods in Ecology & Evolution. The team of researchers successfully sequenced the genomes of more than a hundred bumblebee museum specimens dating back to the 19th century through a method that up until now was only used to study woolly mammoths and ancient humans.

Dr Victoria Mullin, one of the authors, said: “Museum insect collections offer an unparalleled opportunity to directly study how the genomes of populations and species have been affected by environmental changes through time. However, they are a finite resource and understanding how best to utilise them for genetic studies is important.”

The new reference genome will be used for further research aimed at investigating how bee populations have evolved and adapted to changing ecosystem conditions. 

You might also like: Climate Change Threats Against the Honey Bee and Endangered Bee Species

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