Northern Hemisphere Just Had Its Hottest Summer on Record
It’s been a remarkably steamy, record-setting last three months for Mother Earth, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Not only was August 2020 the second-warmest August on record, but the Northern Hemisphere had its warmest summer, and the globe as a whole had its third-hottest three-month season, too.
According to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the average global land and ocean surface temperature in August was 1.69 degrees F (0.94 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average of 60.1 degrees F (15.6 degrees C), making it the second-hottest August in the 141-year record, behind August 2016.
The Northern Hemisphere had its hottest August on record with a temperature departure from average of 2.14 degrees F (1.19 degrees C), besting the previous record set in August 2016.
Globally, the 10 warmest Augusts have all occurred since 1998, with the five warmest occurring since 2015.
The 3-month season from June through August 2020 was the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest meteorological summer on record, surpassing both 2019 and 2016, which were previously tied for hottest.
The period, which also marks the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, was Earth’s third warmest in the 141-year record at 1.66 degrees F (0.92 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average.
Globally, the year to date (YTD, January through August) ranked as second hottest recorded, at 1.85 degrees F (1.03 degrees C) above the 20th-century average of 57.3 degrees F (14.0 degrees C) – just behind the record set in 2016. The Northern Hemisphere’s YTD tied with 2016 as the hottest since global records began in 1880.
According to a statistical analysis done by NCEI scientists, 2020 is very likely to rank among the five-warmest years on record.
Other notable climate stats and facts include:
- Arctic sea ice continued declining: The average Arctic sea ice extent (coverage) in August was the third smallest on record, 29.4% below the 1981-2010 average, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice extent was close to normal, and had its highest coverage since 2016.
- A few continents baked: North America as a whole had its hottest August on record (the Caribbean region saw its third-hottest), beating the previous record set in 2011 by 0.23 of a degree F (0.13 of a degree C). Elsewhere, Europe had its third hottest August, and South America and Oceania had their fourth hottest August.
- 2020 has been a real boiler of a year, so far: Europe, Asia and the Caribbean region had their hottest January-August period on record. South America’s YTD average temperature ranked as second-hottest ever recorded.
EPA Says ‘No’ to Dozens of ‘Gap-Year’ Small Refinery Exemptions
The biofuel industry and growers that provide its feedstocks received some welcome news earlier this month when the EPA announced that it would reject 54 “gap-year” small-refinery exemptions (SREs) to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) may have been a big victory for biofuels and agriculture producers.
But the issue remains far from over. While the EPA said it was also going to reject another 14 gap year extension requests still under review at the DOE, industry leaders say the agency has much to do to repair the damage they say EPA’s mismanagement of the RFS has rendered under the Trump administration.
American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) CEO Brian Jennings said during a teleconference with reporters last week that the EPA action removal of the gap-year waivers was needed, arguing that they never should have been considered to start with.
“The unfortunate reality is that the Environmental Protection Agency has so badly mismanaged the RFS over the last three and a half years,” he said.
“You think about it, so many ethanol promises – promises to do right by this industry – have collected dust that I think too many folks misinterpreted [EPA]’s decision to reject some of these gap-year waivers is a significant turning point,” Jennings said.
“It was not,” Jennings said. “It was a step in the right direction. But these gap-year waivers should never have been given credibility. They were really nothing more than an outrageous attempt by refiners, really a last-gasp attempt by refiners hoping to avoid the consequences of our victory in the 10th Circuit.”
ACE, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Farmers Union, all NACSAA partners, joined with the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) to successfully petition the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, gaining a unanimous finding from a panel of the court’s judges in January declaring the EPA abused its authority by granting SRE’s to refineries that were not extensions of previously existing exemptions.
In the wake of the decision, small refineries flooded EPA with 67 petitions for retroactive waivers – some going back as far as 2011 – to try and comply with court decision language and establish a back-dated sequence of continuously extended exemptions.
When reports began to circulate earlier this month that the White House was calling on EPA to reject to gap-year waivers, the four plaintiff organizations issued a statement then that commended the administration for its action, but expressed continued disappointment, particularly over the refiners’ appeal of the 10th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court. The high court historically agrees to hear only about 1 percent of the cases brought forth from the appellate courts.
The four industry groups said in their statement that it was “telling” that EPA did not request a rehearing in the Tenth Circuit, nor did it join the refiners’ Supreme Court appeal of the appellate court decision.
“Now, more than ever, our nation’s farmers and ethanol producers are counting on the RFS to provide market stability and certainty during an incredibly difficult and tumultuous time,” the industry groups said, calling on EPA to curb its practice under the Trump administration of granting a higher rate of waivers. The rate of same-year waivers granted by EPA has run about four times greater than those provided annually under previous administrations.
Biofuel industry leaders also want to see a more open SRE process at EPA. The House of Representatives last week passed massive energy legislation that includes provisions from Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) that would increase transparency by ensuring key information surrounding SREs is publicly disclosed. It also would set a deadline for refineries to submit SRE applications.
In response to industry complaints that the high volume of waivers that have been granted in recent years have cost the sector millions of gallons in demand and billions of dollars, the Peterson-Johnson measure would reallocate waived volumes to non-exempt obligated parties.
CFTC Subcommittee Report Aims for a Climate-Resilient Financial System
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) subcommittee this month released a report that a commissioner says will help build a climate-resistant financial system.
Released by the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee of the CFTC’s Market Risk Advisory Committee (MRAC), Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System, was adopted by the panel unanimously, 34-0.
The report come as severe wildfires wreak havoc in the West, a derecho devastated much of the corn and soybean crops in Iowa, and hurricanes are inflicting heavy damages inland from the Gulf Coast.
CFTC Commissioner Rostin Behnam, sponsor of the MRAC. said the events what is “becoming our new normal [and] will likely continue to worsen in frequency and intensity as a result of a changing climate.
“Beyond their physical devastation and tragic loss of human life and livelihood, escalating weather events also pose significant challenges to our financial system and our ability to sustain long-term economic growth,” he said.
Benham asserted that the report will help build a climate-resistant financial system.
The document, which presents 53 recommendations to mitigate the risks to financial markets posed by climate change, concludes that:
- Climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy;
- Climate risks may also exacerbate financial system vulnerability that have little to do with climate change; including vulnerabilities caused by a pandemic that has stressed balance sheets, strained government budgets, and depleted household wealth;
- S. financial regulators must recognize that climate change poses serious emerging risks to the U.S. financial system, and they should move urgently and decisively to measure, understand, and address these risks;
- Existing statutes already provide U.S. financial regulators with wide-ranging and flexible authorities that could be used to start addressing financial climate-related risk now;
- Regulators can help promote the role of financial markets as providers of solutions to climate-related risks; and
- Financial innovation is required not only to efficiently manage climate risk but also to facilitate the flow of capital to help accelerate the net-zero transition and increase economic opportunity.
“With this report in hand, policymakers, regulators, and stakeholders can begin the process of taking thoughtful and intentional steps toward building a climate-resilient financial system that prepares our country for the decades to come,” Benham said.
FFAR Seeks Research Proposals to Improve Climate Resilience in Crops
Scientists predict that climate change will lead to higher temperatures, as well as greater temperature variability. These changes will dramatically affect agriculture systems, decreasing crop productivity, harming farmers’ livelihoods and threatening global food security. To address these challenges, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is seeking research proposals providing transformative approaches and solutions to increase a crop’s tolerance for higher temperatures. The resulting research will improve crop’s climate resilience.
The Request for Proposals is part of FFAR’s Next Generation Crops Challenge Area, which is accepting applications in an anticipation of a Nov. 11 deadline.
“We have a pretty good idea what increased temperatures will do to global farming, and it’s not good,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is looking for the next generation of climate-resilient crops that can actually produce more food with fewer inputs in more variable temperatures.”
Specifically, FFAR is seeking applications that increase the basal or acquired thermotolerance of crop plants, allowing them to better survive when exposed to high temperatures.
This funding opportunity is focusing on solutions that can be applied to one or more of the following crops: maize, rice, sorghum, millet, wheat, sweet potato, cassava, banana, yam, common bean, cowpea, chickpea and groundnut.
Matching funds will be provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and are not required from researchers.
Information about the funding opportunity, including application criteria, deadlines and eligibility requirements are available on the FFAR’s Request for Proposals webpage.
Hunting for a Better Biofuel Is Scope of New UT Austin-Led Research
PHOTO CUTLINE: A research team is examining switchgrass, including how samples from different parts of the country interact with microbes and the environment and adapt to different climates. The project is funded by the DOE. Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University
A team of scientists from nine universities and research facilities hope to find out how to make switchgrass – a fast-growing perennial native to the United States
A research team is examining switchgrass_ including how samples from different parts of the country interact with microbes and the environment and adapt to different climates. The project is funded by the DOE. Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University
– into a biofuel powerhouse.
It’s part of new project funded by the DOE which awarded a $13-million grant. The grant includes more than $11 million for The University of Texas at Austin, with additional funding to support research by partners at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michigan State University, Washington State University, Texas A&M University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the University of Florida, South Dakota State University, the Argonne National Laboratory and others.
Researchers say that in nature, switchgrass sequesters carbon underground in its roots, produces cellulose that can be used to make ethanol and typically grows in soils that are unsuitable for food crops – all characteristics that make it a great candidate for biofuel. Current biofuels come primarily from agricultural crops or feedstocks such as corn.
Tom Juenger, a professor of integrative biology at UT-Austin who has been studying different types of switchgrass over the past decade, will lead the research team.
The team has developed various switchgrass plants that were transplanted at 10 field sites in multiple states, from coastal South Texas to the Great Plains of South Dakota. Having the same plants growing at these sites allows researchers to consider how the plant’s genes interact with the environment and discover genes involved in specific traits, such as biomass production, with the aid of a method called quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping.
The effort has identified a number of important traits, candidate genes and potentially beneficial root microbes for improving switchgrass – given evidence that plants’ bacterial communities play an important role in their growth. A new round of funding will extend the research with both field and lab studies, in collaboration with Ulrich Mueller, also a UT Austin professor of integrative biology, who will study switchgrass-microbe interactions to optimize root microbial communities.
The funding will also allow Juenger and his fellow researchers to genetically engineer different types of switchgrass to be better at producing biofuel. The process will take advantage of the best traits of the species and remove any genetic downsides. Researchers plan to develop general switchgrass types that can grow just about anywhere, as well as special types that can grow in specific, targeted areas. These types of switchgrass will be engineered to maximize crop yield, stress tolerance and carbon sequestration based on natural alleles, or gene variants, involved in local adaptation.
Scientists Unlock Crops’ Power to Resist Floods
Scientists at the universities of Oxford in England and Sydney in Australia have discovered the structure of an enzyme that helps control oxygen in crops. The researchers hope it provides a platform to improve crop resistance to flooding.
Enzymes that control a plant’s response to lower oxygen levels could be manipulated to make vital crops resistant to the impacts of flooding triggered by climate change, the new research would indicate.
“Climate change is a major global issue, not least for its impact on food security,” said report co-author Mark White, of the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney. “We hope these findings can help produce flood-tolerant crops to help mitigate the devastating social and economic impact of extreme weather events on food production.”
The research, largely done at the University of Oxford, was published earlier this month in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Climate change has increased the number and intensity of global flooding events, threatening food security through significant crop loss. Plants, including staple crops such as rice, wheat and barley, can survive temporary periods of flooding by activating energy pathways that don’t rely on air in response to the low oxygen conditions in water.
These responses are controlled by oxygen-sensing enzymes called the Plant Cysteine Oxidases (PCOs), which use oxygen to regulate the stability of proteins that control gene activity.
The research describes the molecular structures of the PCOs for the first time, identifying chemical features that are required for enzyme activity.
“The results provide a platform for future efforts to manipulate the enzyme function in an attempt to create flood-resistant crops that can mitigate the impact of extreme weather events,” White said.
The work was supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Research Council New Investigator Grant, the European Research Council and the Italian Ministry of Education University and Research.