The Lesson of the Ancient Town That Survived Climate Change

Weekly roundup of must-know stories on the change around us

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The unearthed ancient riverside Turkish settlement in Tell Tayinat.
The unearthed ancient riverside Turkish settlement in Tell Tayinat.Credit: Tayinat Archaeological Project
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Survival in adverse circumstances is a crapshoot. Some people even survive getting shot in the head. The lesson of an ancient riverside Turkish settlement in Tell Tayinat – which may have been home base for the Philistines and where the population seems to have thrived despite bouts of regional climate change 4,500 and 3,000 years ago, archaeologists believe – isn’t that climatic change is survivable; some will survive. The lesson is that a significant proportion may not and that adaptability can’t be taken for granted. One can improve one’s chances by acknowledging the science and preparing. Or one can vote for climate deniers and hope your seaside manse can swim.

Arctic Ocean isn’t freezing yet, portending disaster

Normally the Arctic Ocean starts freezing in mid-September, in an abrupt turn from its summer melt. This year it hasn’t. “The edge of the ice north of Scandinavia and European Russia stayed where it was and the ice on the Laptev Sea (north of central Siberia) actually retreated further north,” MercoPress reports. Shippers are delighted but scientists are terrified: an ice-free Arctic Ocean portends a tipping point to much faster, irreversible warming. Ice and snow reflect sunlight; dark water absorbs it.

Environmental activist and campaigner Mya-Rose Craig, 18, holding a cardboard sign reading "youth strike for climate" as she sits on the ice floe in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, September 20, 2020.Credit: NATALIE THOMAS/REUTERS

Is Arctic ice doomed? Apparently so: “It could happen next year or it might not happen for another 20 years, but the train has already left the station,” Merco writes, driving home – yet again – that there’s already enough carbon dioxide in the air to melt all the sea ice in the foreseeable future.

Temperature (red) and atmospheric CO2 (blue) correlate over last 400,000 years: Note the height of CO2 and temperature lag.Credit: John Englander / National Academy of Sciences

Methane’s vicious circle staring to jack up global warming

A meltdown of methane ice on the seafloor is a nightmare scenario even portrayed as a weapon in the blockbuster climate change thriller “The Swarm.” Methane is 80 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 20 years (methane breaks down faster than CO2 in the atmosphere). The more methane is emitted, the more solar heat gets trapped, the more ice melts, etc. Now the nightmare scenario of methane hydrates (ice) melting on the Arctic seafloor is starting to happen on the Siberian continental slope, The Guardian reports. The scale of methane release there is still being studied, but methane levels at the sea surface were reportedly four to eight times the norm.

Here’s an interactive map of methane concentrations around the world, from the BBC. Enjoy.

Atmospheric geoengineering staging a comeback

Given the inexorableness of the ice meltdown that will ramp up warming, atmospheric geoengineering is suddenly coming back into fashion – frankly, because nobody can think of any other solution. You do realize that even if you stop driving and flying and go back to the cave, we’ve put enough CO2 into the atmosphere to lock in substantial heating and ice loss. Monkeying with our atmosphere has been considered too risky – until now, The New York Times explains. The principle is to create a man-made volcanic winter. Now the greater risk might be NOT doing that.

“I liken geoengineering to chemotherapy for the planet: if all else is failing, you try it,” a professor of climate change law, Michael Gerrard, told the NYT.

Where’s Nemo? In the sky

When a dog dies, it goes to heaven too, Britons seem to increasingly believe. But nobody seems to think fish are also so blessed, not even pet koi. Yet their ghostly emanations definitely are in the sky. Big fish sink fast to the ocean floor, not getting eaten up as their corpses descend, and wind up sequestering carbon at the bottom of the ocean. Fisheries are catching so many big fish that they’re becoming yet another CO2 source aside from the boats’ own emissions, a paper warns in Science Advances. It advises: let more big fish sink. 

Wild weather in the Atlantic

A storm named Eta developing in the Caribbean tied the 2005 record on Saturday by becoming the 28th named Atlantic storm in a season.

Eta may accelerate to hurricane status on Monday. USA Today explains the multifold reasons for the wild weather this year, behind the maxim that “climate change makes strong storms even stronger.” 

Greenhouse gases galore

The year 2020 is heading like a freight train for record average heat, even though it isn’t an El Niño year. Those are typically warmer than average. Also, greenhouse gases including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide rose to record concentrations in January-September – so much for the coronavirus climate change hiatus. That never was a thing. And which body is warning us about the record greenhouse gases? The World Economic Forum, which normally convenes on the snow-kissed slopes of Davos. If ever there was a sign of the times.

Note that the WEF features Trump on its “watch world class speakers page.” Well, it can’t be right about everything.

Floating ice is seen during the expedition of Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise ship at the Arctic Ocean, September 14, 2020. Credit: Natalie Thomas/REUTERS

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