GeoLog

Atmosphere

October GeoRoundUp: the best of the Earth sciences from around the web


Carbon dioxide plays a significant role in trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. The gas is released from human activities like burning fossil fuels, and the concentration of carbon dioxide moves and changes through the seasons. Using observations from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) satellite, scientists developed a model of the behavior of carbon in the atmosphere from Sept. 1, 2014, to Aug. 31, 2015. Scientists can use models like this one to better understand and predict where concentrations of carbon dioxide could be especially high or low, based on activity on the ground. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/K. Mersmann, M. Radcliff, producers

Drawing inspiration from popular stories on our social media channels, as well as unique and quirky research news, this monthly column aims to bring you the best of the Earth and planetary sciences from around the web.

Major story

Our top pick for October is a late breaking story which made headlines across news channels world-wide. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that ‘Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere had surged to new records’ in 2016.

“Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016, up from 400.00 ppm in 2015 because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event,” reported the WMO in the their press release.

The last time Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3 to 5 million years ago (around the period of the Pliocene Epoch), when temperatures were 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now. You can put that into context by taking a look at this brief history of Earth’s CO2 .

Rising levels of atmospheric CO2  present a threat to the planet, most notably driving rising global temperatures. The new findings compromise last year’s Paris Climate Accord, where 175 nations agreed to work towards limiting the rise of global temperatures by 1.5 degrees celsius (since pre-industrial levels).

No doubt the issue will be discussed at the upcoming COP 23 (Conference of Parties), which takes place in Bonn from 6th to 17th of November in Bonn. Fiji, a small island nation particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather phenomena (a direct result of climate change), is the meeting organiser.

What you might have missed

The 2017 Hurricane season has been devastating (as we’ve written about on the blog previously), but in a somewhat unexpected turn of events, one of the latest storms to form over the waters of the Atlantic, took a turn towards Europe.

Storm Ophelia formed in waters south-west of the Azores, where the mid-latitude jet stream push the storm toward the UK and Ireland. By the time it made landfall it had been downgraded to a tropical storm, but was still powerful enough to caused severe damage. Ireland, battered by 160 kmph winds, declared a national emergency following the deaths of three people.

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite took this thermal image of Hurricane Ophelia over Ireland on Oct. 16 at 02:54 UTC (Oct. 15 at 10:54 p.m. EDT).
Credits: NOAA/NASA Goddard Rapid Response Team

The effects of the storm weren’t only felt across the UK and Ireland. In the wake of an already destructive summer fire season, October brought further devastating forest fires to the Iberian Peninsula. The blazes claimed 32 victims in Portugal and 5 in Spain. Despite many of the wildfires in Spain thought to have been provoked by humans, Ophelia’s strong winds fanned the fire’s flames, making firefighter’s efforts to control the flames much more difficult.

On 16th October many in the UK woke up to eerie red haze in the sky, which turned the Sun red too. The unusual effect was caused by Ophelia’s winds pulling dust from the Sahara desert northward, as well as debris and smoke from the Iberian wildfires.

And when you thought it wasn’t possible for Ophelia to become more remarkable, it also turns out that it became the 10th storm of 2017 to reach hurricane strength, making this year the fourth on record (and the first in over a century) to hit that milestone.

But extreme weather wasn’t only limited to the UK and Ireland this month. Cyclone Herwart brought powerful winds to Southern Denmark, Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic over the final weekend of October. Trains were suspended in parts of northern Germany and thousands of Czechs and Poles were left without power. Six people have been reported dead. Hamburg’s inner city area saw significant flooding, while German authorities are closely monitoring the “Glory Amsterdam”, a freighter laden with oil, which ran aground in the North Sea during the storm. A potential oil spillage, if the ship’s hull is damaged, is a chief concern, as it would have dire environmental concerns for the Wadden Sea (protected by UNESCO).

Links we liked

The EGU story

This month we released not one but two press releases from research published in our open access journals. The finding of both studies have important societal implications. Take a look at them below

Deforestation linked to palm oil production is making Indonesia warmer

In the past decades, large areas of forest in Sumatra, Indonesia have been replaced by cash crops like oil palm and rubber plantations. New research, published in the European Geosciences Union journal Biogeosciences, shows that these changes in land use increase temperatures in the region. The added warming could affect plants and animals and make parts of the country more vulnerable to wildfires.

Study reveals new threat to the ozone layer

“Ozone depletion is a well-known phenomenon and, thanks to the success of the Montreal Protocol, is widely perceived as a problem solved,” says University of East Anglia’s David Oram. But an international team of researchers, led by Oram, has now found an unexpected, growing danger to the ozone layer from substances not regulated by the treaty. The study is published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

Imaggeo on Mondays: A thermal inversion

Imaggeo on Mondays: A thermal inversion

This week’s Imaggeo on Mondays image is brought to you by Cyril Mayaud, from the University of Graz (Austria), who writes about an impressive hike and layers of cold and warm air.

Thermal inversion is a meteorological phenomenon which occurs when a layer of cold air is trapped near the Earth’s surface by an overlying layer of warmer air. This can happen frequently at the boundary between mountainous and lowland regions such as in Slovenia and last for weeks, obscuring the sun from view to the people living below. When this phenomenon occurs over a large city, the consequence is that it can cause important pollution problems, as the lack of air circulation, prevents the rising and scattering of pollutants in the atmosphere.

The picture was taken at dusk from the top of the Porezen, a 1630 m high mountain located near the town of Cerkno and belonging to the Slovenian Prealps. This mountain is very popular among local hikers because its summit offers an impressive panorama of large parts of Slovenia, comprising the highest peaks of the Julian Alps, the Ljubljana Basin and even Snežnik Mountain located close to the Croatian border. A thick, low altitude, layer of clouds was covering the whole country during the preceding week, but clear, sunny skies prevailed above the clouds, a not too uncommon phenomena.. We made our way to the summit over several hours and spent some time enjoying the panorama and the sunset. As a result of the thermal inversion, the air temperature was warmer at the summit than in the surrounding lowlands. As soon as the sun began to set, the fog slowly started to move forward and cover the narrow valleys below the mountain. By the end of the day, the valley in the foreground was also totally engulfed by fog.

By Cyril Mayaud, Researcher at the University of Graz, Austria

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/

Exhibits at EGU 2014 – The Face of the Earth

This year, the conference will have a theme: The Face of the Earth. Much like a human face, our planet exhibits a huge diversity of shapes and forms, and the 2014 theme celebrates this diversity in geoscience processes – from the Earth’s core to interplanetary space.

In line with this year’s theme, you’ll find exhibits on each of the Earth’s faces – Rocks of the Earth, Waters of the Earth, Life of the Earth, Atmosphere of the Earth, and Space and the Earth – throughout the General Assembly venue. Here’s a hint of what’s in store…

Rocks smallRocks of the Earth

Bring your own rock. In the Entrance Hall we will be collecting rocks from around the world, where they will be placed on display in our very own stone showcase. Their origin will be mapped for all participants to see in an exhibit made by EGU participants, for EGU participants. Don’t forget to bring yours! Check the rock requirements on the General Assembly website.

Space small

Space and the Earth

What we find on Earth is mirrored in other planets – volcanoes on Venus generate a landscape that looks a lot like ours, despite the planet’s wildly different atmosphere and tumultuous tectonic system. Mars’ dusty surface looks a lot like the Earth’s arid landscapes. Search for the similarities between Earth and its neighbours in the Space and the Earth exhibit (Foyer C, Red Level).

Waters small

Waters of the Earth

Water affects virtually all physical, chemical and biological processes, and has shaped a significant part of human history and culture, as well as our lives today. The Waters of the Earth Exhibit will be, quite aptly, on the Blue Level of the conference centre. We don’t want to give all the exhibitions away though! Come down to the basement to see what it’s all about!

Life smallLife of the Earth

Life on Earth began about 4 billion years ago expanding and adapting to almost every environment imaginable: from the poles to the Equator, and from scalding vents on the sea floor to the tops of icy mountains. On the first floor you’ll find the Life of the Earth Exhibition Spot – a truly global view of life on this planet.

Atmosphere small

Atmosphere of the Earth

The Earth’s atmosphere is an incredible thing. It shields us from solar radiation, supplies us with water and shifts weather systems around the world. The atmosphere of the Earth inspires research at all scales, from the tiniest of aerosols to awe-inspiring phenomena that can be seen from space. This exhibit lets you experience the awesomeness of the atmosphere first-hand. Head to Foyer B on the Red Level.

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria (27 April-2 May). Find out more at www.egu2014.eu