As the Middle East Bakes, Humans Show Earth’s Orbit Who’s Boss

As 2020 takes shape as the hottest year ever, animals in Spain are losing their prophetic qualities, brought to you by the Haaretz climate change briefs

Ruth Schuster
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Scientists boarding the D/V JOIDES Resolution off New Jersey in 1993. The sea level in an ice-free world would be shoulder-high to the Statue of Liberty.
Scientists boarding the D/V JOIDES Resolution off New Jersey in 1993. The sea level in an ice-free world would be shoulder-high to the Statue of Liberty. Credit: Kenneth G. Miller, James V. Browning and Gregory S. Mountain
Ruth Schuster

Sea levels are rising and this time it’s because of human activity and not chiefly because of changes in the Earth’s orbit as has been the case in the planet's history, scientists at Rutgers University reaffirm in Science Advances, with a nice picture showing the Statue of Liberty all but drowning. In an ice-free world, sea levels will be 66 meters (217 feet) higher than now, they project. 

While about it, the researchers show that the history of ice ages is more complicated than we thought, and pre-humankind, the overriding impetus was usually variation in the Earth’s orbit rather than changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Not this time, the Rutgers scientists say. It’s us. We showed that solar system a thing or two.

Hot? Just wait for it

Think it’s hot today in Israel and Egypt? Certainly for this time of year? It is and we ain’t seen nothing yet. Heat waves aren’t anomalous for May but this one, which began at the end of last week, is more intense and longer than usual in both countries; the Israel Meterological Service says this is “probably” because of climate change.

In Israel the heat should peak on Tuesday and Wednesday at above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), about 15 degrees above the monthly average, though the average temperature depends on where you are in Israel. For such a small country it has quite a range of conditions. In Cairo the heat is only expected to subside at the end of the week. Briefly. As for further down the line, forecasting the weather has become ever less reliable as climate change wreaks havoc with the parameters.

April was second-hottest ever

March was the planet’s second-warmest March since record-keeping began in 1880. Then April was the second-hottest April. The hottest yet was in 2016, a year featuring warming from El Niño. January-April ranks as the second warmest first four months on record, Scientific American says. Again, we can take credit for all this.

And 2020 is fixing to be the hottest

At this point, 2020 has a 99 percent chance of being one of the five hottest years on record, and a 69 percent probability of being the hottest. May isn’t shaping up any better, and what can Israel expect? Well, probably, disobedience. The blistering heat this weekend led the authorities to ban hiking on many routes, but many Israelis didn’t obey (much as the directive to wear masks against the coronavirus seems to be widely interpreted as "position straps over ears, cover your Adam’s apple”).

Self-broiled fish?

In April, global ocean temperatures were the warmest on record, which isn’t surprising because air temperatures have been climbing in general. Yes, some areas experience cold snaps or even unseasonal blizzards like the one that slammed the U.S. northeast in early May.

But the fact is, global average surface temperatures are running at near record levels even though there was no “El Niño event warming” this year. This year Australia can expect above-normal precipitation, according to the Global Seasonal Climate Update, while southern South America and the Indian subcontinent are expected to get less than usual.

Rainy forecast for the Sahel

Good news for lizards and other desert dwellers: It’s going to be a wetter year than average in the Sudanian and Sahelian strip, comprising the stretch of Africa under the Sahara, the World Meteorological Organization projects. And when is the “rainy” season in the Sahel and Sudan? About June to September. But remember that climate change has been altering the parameters, and forecasting has become harder, at least if one aspires to accuracy.

Young cows stand on a field near the village Altenstadt, southern Germany, on Monday, July 30, 2007.
Young cows near the village of Altenstadt, Germany, July 30, 2007.Credit: Christof Stache, AP

Manipulating bovine flatulence 

It has become clear that methane emissions by bovines, either through burping, flatulence or that waft you get from manure, are contributing significantly to global warming. A Ben-Gurion University scientist, Prof. Itzhak Mizrahi, compared naturally birthed calves to caesarean-delivered peers, he reported in Nature Communications, and found biome differences. Then he and colleagues at UCLA developed an algorithm to predict microbiome development in cows. The goal is to manipulate bovine biomes; that is, gut bacteria, with the hope of enabling bovine husbandry with less farting.

How now wet cow

Apropos cows, we’ve all heard hoary proverbs about the weather such as “my achin’ knee says a storm’s a-comin’” or “the frogs are croaking, it’s not because of their procreative instinct but because it’s gonna rain.” Now a study in the journal Regional Environmental Change claims that in rural Spain, folksy proverbs are becoming increasingly unreliable, insofar as they ever were, because of climate change.

The mountains where self-proclaimed precipitation prophets live in Spain are experiencing accelerated climate change, the researchers note; they add that in that region, the people traditionally relied on forecasting based on “clouds, wind patterns, animal behavior.” And now? “In the past, cattle used to announce the rain; but now they only know when it rains after they get wet, as rain now is unpredictable,” one Sierra Nevadan told the research team from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

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