July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth
2019 could prove to be the second-hottest year on record.
- A new report from the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Programme describes how 2019 has already logged several record-hot months.
- Alarmingly, these temperature increases are occurring even though the planet is transitioning into a more neutral El Niño phase.
- This year brought several severe heat waves to Europe, India, and Pakistan, among other areas.
July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, with temperatures narrowly exceeding the previous record of July 2016, according to meteorologists with the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Programme. Alarmingly, 2019 has already logged several record-hot months – April, May, June – and is expected to be the second-hottest year ever, behind 2016.
"With continued greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting impact on global temperatures, records will continue to be broken in the future," said Jean-Noël Thépaut, head of the Copernicus program.
What's more, 2019 is bringing these scorching temperatures even though the planet is transitioning into a more neutral El Niño phase – a natural climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean that raises temperatures and precipitation levels. People across the globe have suffered from this year's heat, especially during the record-setting heat waves that broiled Europe, India, and Pakistan this summer.
🌡📈☀️ July 2019 is on course to be the hottest month in recorded history, and at the least equaled the record set in… https://t.co/dWGNVnJ0dU— WMO | OMM (@WMO | OMM)1564684216.0
In 2016, Earth's hottest year on record, global temperatures were about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If global temperatures rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the planet will likely see more extreme and destructive weather events and food shortages that would affect millions of people, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Copernicus Climate Change Programme
The Paris Agreement set an international goal of "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C." The difference between a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels would be significant: longer heatwaves, increased precipitation, problems with food production, and sea level rise. It would also hit certain parts of the planet much harder than others, particularly coastal cities.
Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, said this July has "rewritten climate history, with dozens of new temperature records at the local, national and global level."
"This is not science fiction," Taalas said. "It is the reality of climate change. It is happening now, and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action. Time is running out to rein in dangerous temperature increases with multiple impacts on our planet."
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An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.
- A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
- A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
- Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.
The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.
Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .
The Barry Arm Fjord
Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach
Image source: Matt Zimmerman
The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.
Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest
Image source: whrc.org
There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.
The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.
"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."
Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.
What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord
Moving slowly at first...
Image source: whrc.org
"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."
The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.
Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.
Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.
While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.
Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."
How do you prepare for something like this?
Image source: whrc.org
The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:
"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."
In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.
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