Antarctica Warmer Than Tel Aviv: The Climate Change Stories on Our Radar

Here are the climate change stories our science editor didn't report on this week – but thought you should be reading

Ruth Schuster
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A penguin stands on an iceberg in Yankee Harbour, Antarctica, February 18, 2018.
A penguin stands on an iceberg in Yankee Harbour, Antarctica, February 18, 2018. Credit: Alexandre Meneghini/ REUTERS
Ruth Schuster

Antarctica warmer than Tel Aviv's average on February 6

Temperature in the northern Antarctic peninsula hit an all-time high of 18.3 degrees Celsius (64.9 degrees Fahrenheit) on February 6, says an Argentine research station there. In February, the daytime temperature in Tel Aviv averages 64.5 degrees. True, on February 6, 2020 it was 22 degrees Celsius in Tel Aviv – almost four whole degrees higher than in the northern Antarctic. 

Overheated plants could dry out America

Overpopulation is depleting groundwater around the world. Now a new study proves that not only drought but heat affect shallow aquifers: Thirsty plants soak up more water, when they can reach it. In the United States, water demand has been roughly balanced by supply, but the west has been becoming drier and the east is in danger, too. "Warming shifts the balance between water supply and demand," explains the team in Nature: "Shallow groundwater storage can buffer plant water stress; but only where shallow groundwater connections are present, and not indefinitely." 

Antarctic ice sheet, MIA

Surprisingly soon during the last interglacial, which was 129,000 to 110,000 years ago, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet suddenly melted, reports a team led by the University of New South Wales. Then, polar ocean temperatures were likely less than 2°C warmer than today, and the study supports the contention that most of that ice sheet will be toast in a warmer world. That sudden meltdown added 3 meters to sea levels, they estimate: During this last interglacial, global mean sea levels were six to nine meters (or 11….) higher than today, depending where you measure it. Greenland's ice melting was responsible for a mere two meters of that. 

You'll yet miss mosquitoes 

Don't be fooled by sudden plagues like the flies in Karachi or locusts swarming in Africa. Insectaggedon is happening, thanks slightly to climate change and mainly to rampant use of agricultural pesticides, and are we clear that in a world without insects, we would all die fast? In two weeks, maybe: "In the insects' absence, we'd be trapped in a brutal fight for survival in a toxic world covered in dung, while we starve due to crop failures," warns Newshub of New Zealand. The Guardian optimistically proposes that lab-grown food will replace farming and thus save insects and life itself. 

An Alaskan snow mosquito biting a hand in Alaska, U.S.
An Alaskan snow mosquito biting a hand in Alaska, U.S.Credit: Fabrice Simon / Biosphoto / AFP

Yes, go ahead and slap the mosquito landing on your arm, but it's time to rethink pesticide-free produce if you can afford it, and if you can't – at least vote green

Algal blooms implicated in bird deaths

Algal blooms cause dead zones by deoxygenating the water and emitting toxins, and are getting worse for several reasons: They like the warming waters and our habit of polluting waterways. Now an illness among the migratory red knot shorebirds (and others) has been associated with cyanobacterial blooms in New Zealand’s Firth of Thames bay, not botulism as had been initially suspected, reports.

El Niño driving dung beetles to the edge

El Niño is becoming more frequent, and is contributing to global insect collapse, Lancaster University scientists warn in Biotropica. “El Niño impacts on human-modified tropical forests: Consequences for dung beetle diversity and associated ecological processes” is based on surveys conducted between 2010 and 2017 of the “humble, but ecologically key, dung beetle” in the Amazon. El Niño-driven drought and wildfires, exacerbated by human disturbance, caused dung beetle numbers to fall by more than half in 30 forest plots in the Brazilian state of Pará, within the Amazon. The scientists also note, however, that part of the problem could be decimation of large animals whose dung the beetles need. 

Ruth Schuster is Senior Editor for archaeology and science at the Haaretz English Edition.