Clear and Immediate Danger in Jorasses Park

Peril looms as Alpine glaciers shrink, and preserving the last bastion remaining free of coronavirus (because nobody can get there): It's time for the Haaretz climate change briefs!

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Planpincieux Glacier is falling
Planpincieux Glacier is fallingCredit: Local Team/AP
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Homes in the valley town of Courmayeur in Italy were evacuated this weekend in anticipation of a massive glacial collapse on Mont Blanc. On Wednesday experts with the Safe Mountain Foundation warned on Wednesday that 500,000 cubic meters of ice could fall off Planpincieux glacier on the Alpine mountain of Grandes Jorasses, which straddles the French-Italian border, with no warning. 

“Collapse” in Jorasses Park means that at some point, maybe as you read and maybe much later, a vast mass of ice will slide down the slope into the Italian valley in the space of a couple of minutes. The hazard isn’t a shock. All Alpine glaciers have been retreating. Experts estimated last year that by 2100, two-thirds of the Alpine glaciers will be toast. Or all of them, in the more pessimistic scenarios

This isn’t business as usual. It’s because of global warming that some Alpine glaciers are turning pink. No, it isn’t kicky: The pink is algae that compounds the warming. The plants darken the ice, leading it to absorb more sun, so the ice melts even faster. 

Jorasses Park collapseCredit: YouTube

What does the Fox glacier say?

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the pace of glacier melt has doubled since the “ice rivers” were at their greatest extent, which was at the end of the Little Ice Age, a University of Leeds study done with New Zealand scientists reports. The Little Ice Age is a hotly debated period of cooling in Europe and North America that began in around 1250 to 1300, intensified in the mid-1400s and then abated by the mid-19th century. Well, in the small span from 1978 to 2019, the Kiwi glaciers lost up to 17 percent of the volume they’d had during the Little Ice Age, Phys.Org reports. Fox had been one of the island nation’s most touristed glaciers, but you can’t get there by foot anymore. 

Apropos North America, we bid farewell to Canada’s last intact ice shelf this weekend. Again surprising nobody or his dog, the ice sheet crumbled into icebergs, one the size of Manhattan – which is how big? About 55 square kilometers. Yes, it’s climate change, which is baking the far north. Temperatures in northern Canada from May to August this year were 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the 1980-2010 average.  University of Ottawa glaciology professor Luke Copland told ABC that the ice shelf was gnawed at by both hotter air above and warmer water below, adding: “There aren’t very many ice shelves around the Arctic anymore.”

Credit: tandemich / Shutterstock.com

How many will heat kill by 2100?

Science has been warning about the rising likelihood (and increasing protraction) of deadly heat waves and now the U.S.-based National Bureau of Economic Research has done the math. Based on actual data of morbidity and mortality caused by heat waves, the authors project around 8.5 million deaths from heat around the world by 2100, ZME Science reports. We beg to stress that using air conditioning mnay provide a temporary respite but actually just exacerbates emissions and climate change.

And how many did the Amazon fires already kill?

All other damage done aside, the 2019 fires in the Amazon killed nearly 5,000 people and that’s just by breathing the ash, not burning, reports a new study in GeoHealth, disseminated by the American Geophysical Union. “Biomass burning emissions throughout Brazil contribute significantly to premature deaths,” the authors write. The wildfires are partly natural and largely not: Many are deliberately set to clear rainforest for agriculture. 

A hurricane named XæA-13

One of the forecasts in climate change science is more, stronger hurricanes. Right on the nail: The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season will be “extremely active,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned on Thursday, CNN reports. How active? NOAA is predicting 19 to 25 “named storms,” of which seven to 11 will be hurricanes during the summer season (June 1 - November 30). “This year, we expect more, stronger and longer-lived storms than average,” forecaster Gerry Bell told CNN. A study looking at storms over 40 years demonstrated in May that hurricanes indeed are growing stronger as predicted. Really, voting for climate-denying pols makes less sense than ever. Meanwhile, with so many storms a-looming, USA Today frets, “What happens if we run out of names?” Cue in the Greek letters.

Walking the dog in a tropical storn
Walking the dog in a tropical stornCredit: Matt Slocum/AP

China rethinking food policy

Food insecurity is a worry in a changing world. China imports many crucial foodstuffs, including pork and soybeans. Given the pressures of climate change and probably also because of U.S. President Donald Trump’s escalating negative rhetoric as the American election approaches, Chinese Agriculture Minister Han Changfu is promoting self-reliance. “The bowls of the Chinese, in any situation, must rest soundly in our own hands. Our bowls should be filled mainly with Chinese grain,” he told the People’s Daily. Last December Changfu was urging China to boost pig production following the devastating swine flu. “By guaranteeing food security, China can continue to be fully confident in response to the complicated international situation,” the Daily concluded.

The final frontier

And the good news? There’s no COVID-19 in the Antarctic. Yet. Of course that’s probably because nobody much has gone there since the virus began to explode worldwide, but scientists tend to flock to the icy north – a hotbed of climate change effects – in the summer. They could bring the disease with them. National Geographic explains why this matters – why we need the scientists to go there, and what can be done to reduce the risk of bringing the coronavirus to the last untouched continent.

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