In a joint briefing at the 101st American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting, NASA and NOAA revealed 2020's scorching climate data.
A dead heat<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ2MDU4Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzM0MzIwNH0.3NrKDBoOdpFL5IXF3cDbom-Dp2RlrzJgvAciXcb0GDE/img.jpg?width=980" id="69d06" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="886a2617e756181e6a11e20a00b65dff" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1266" data-height="654" />
A graph showing the global mean temperatures from 1880–2020 (with the years 1951–1980 serving as the mean baseline).
Credit: NASA and NOAA<p>For <a href="https://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/" target="_blank">its 2020 analysis</a>, NASA gathered surface temperature measurements from more than 26,000 weather stations. This data was incorporated with data from satellites as well as sea-surface temperatures taken from ship and buoy instruments. Once tallied, NASA's data showed 2020 barely edged out 2016 as the warmest year on record, with average global temperatures 1.02°C (1.84°F) above the baseline mean (1951-1980).</p><p>In a separate analysis of the raw data, NOAA found 2020 to be slightly cooler than 2016. This distinction is the result of the different methodologies used in each—for example, NOAA uses a different baseline period (1901–2000) and does not infer temperatures in polar regions lacking observations. Together, these analyses put 2020 in a statistical dead heat with the sweltering 2016 and demonstrate the global-warming trend of the past four decades.</p><p>"The last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, typifying the ongoing and dramatic warming trend," <a href="http://email.prnewswire.com/ls/click?upn=OXp-2BEvHp8OzhyU1j9bSWuwMvMWelqIco5RbfBrouY-2BQCsSv6FnrhBjR9xReGqV57KGOs0rVc5GKMmgs-2FJKbOzjb0sJ6yjzUvrv2w75ulYk3EUck8pSjkzYhoy5ADXO0eOcn7LDjqsHyK2gp2NRf2UysMK-2F9SN4oYUmRylQcRtSUo6-2FcYeK-2B9naUetByXNCR2gF8u_FU3lc-2FvIcVOtjb4iEuBVjFYoW0IRF5dtM-2FDfzzkhmYHO5IVgq387-2BxdHEMunBZ1-2Fy0-2BJDgXnZEYvN604G1TWJfy4M4HKnIouyasgRyWEHIYmPTiDXeFrd9FqRmsl0JQfksEElkp2ITvgyFkkivWV3GiFH7z7tl1cTZ2rNh2c-2FbCRKQxkH4-2BChgYT6uWeYOvXusiC4cDsZkEBvw7lOEdPsPq78JT8F5x5gc5cMRaRJY-2FZ8q8peaKsS7Mfc5OQ6yjyEU5YUHR4QKJ1Fn-2FDuwJ5jk4Gm28sxJZNXX9IEO-2FOHlhyRcJbl6rMWcoeJZDEd-2BM8UJ5ZY-2FYqc1DHevd1Mz-2B1fQ-3D-3D" target="_blank">Gavin Schmidt</a>, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210115103020.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said in a release</a>. "Whether one year is a record or not is not really that important—the important things are long-term trends. With these trends, and as the human impact on the climate increases, we have to expect that records will continue to be broken."</p><p>And they are. According to the analyses, 2020 was the warmest year on record for Asia and Europe, the second warmest for South America, the fourth warmest for Africa and Australia, and the tenth warmest for North America. </p><p>All told, 2020 was 1.19°C (2.14°F) above averages from the late-19<sup>th</sup> century, a period that provides a rough approximate for pre-industrial conditions. This temperature is closing in on the Paris Climate Agreement's preferred goal of <a href="https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreemen" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">limiting global warming to 1.5°C</a> of those pre-industrial conditions.</p>
2020's hotspot was—the Arctic?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ2MDU5My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTA5OTU1MH0.0ZCixGwhHbjmyO6By_eaMI-cXrM2-rsPq32J-pAVWPs/img.jpg?width=980" id="34c94" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="846b12bfa65c6d1b8d0a5b0d0214e091" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1106" data-height="672" />
A map of global mean temperatures in 2020 shows an scorching year for the Arctic.
(Photo: NASA and NOAA)<p>Heatwaves have become more common all over the world, but a region that really endured the heat in 2020 was the <a href="https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/arctic-meteorology/climate_change.html#:~:text=Over%20the%20past%2030%20years,climate%20change%20in%20the%20Arctic." target="_blank">Arctic</a>.</p><p>"The big story this year is Siberia; it was a hotspot," Russell Vose, chief of the analysis and synthesis branch of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information, said during the briefing. "In May, some places were 18°F above the average. There was a town in Siberia […] that reported a high temperature of 104°F. If that gets verified by the World Metrological Organization, it will the first there's been a weather station in the Arctic with a temperature above 100°F."</p><p>The Arctic is warming at three times the global mean, thanks to <a href="https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/arctic-meteorology/climate_change.html#:~:text=Over%20the%20past%2030%20years,climate%20change%20in%20the%20Arctic." target="_blank">a phenomenon known as Arctic Amplification</a>. As the Arctic warms, it loses its sea ice, and this creates a feedback loop. The more Arctic sea ice loss, the more heat introduced into the oceans; the more heat introduced, the more sea ice loss. And the longer this trend continues, the more devastating the effects.</p><p>For example, since the 1980s, there's been a 50 percent decline in sea ice, and this loss has exposed more of the ocean to the sun's rays. That energy then gets trapped in the ocean as heat. As the <a href="https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-ocean-heat-content" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ocean heat content</a> rises, it threatens rising sea levels and the sustainability of natural ecosystems. In 2020 alone, 255 zeta joules of heat above the baseline were introduced into Earth's oceans. In (admittedly) dramatic terms, that's <a href="https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/01/14/twin-cities-scientist-heat-of-5-to-6-hiroshima-atom-bombs-per-second-into-earths-oceans" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the equivalent of introducing 5 to 6 Hiroshima atom bombs</a> worth of energy every second of every day.</p><p>Looking beyond the Arctic, the average snow cover for the Northern Hemisphere was also the lowest on record. Like the Arctic sea ices, such <a href="https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/snow/climate.html#:~:text=Snow's%20effect%20on%20climate,especially%20the%20western%20United%20States." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">snow cover</a> helps regulate Earth's surface temperatures. Its melt off in the spring and summer also provides the freshwater ecosystems rely on to survive and farmers need to grow crops, especially in <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/too-many-trees?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2" target="_self">the Western United States</a>.</p>
Natural disasters get a man-made bump<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ2MDU5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUwMjE0Mn0.R_juvxCWUw-S9RDkAobjXeMn2qMHg-XVgsOHW74Uz-s/img.jpg?width=980" id="51830" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7b3e734e1d03eaec341dca40df0939f0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1123" data-height="672" />
A map of 2020's billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, which totaled approximately $95 billion in losses.
Credit: NASA and NOAA<p>2020 was also a record-breaking year for natural disasters. In the U.S. alone, there were 22 billion-dollar disasters, the most ever recorded. Combined, they resulted in a total of $95 billion in losses. The western wildfires alone consumed more than 10 million acres and destroyed large portions of Oregon, Colorado, and California.</p><p>The year also witnessed a record-setting Atlantic Hurricane season with more than 30 named storms, 13 of which were hurricanes. Typically, the World Meteorological Organization <a href="https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnames_history.shtml#:~:text=Instead%20a%20strict%20procedure%20has,is%20repeated%20every%20sixth%20year." target="_blank">names storms</a> from an annual list of 21 selected names—one for each letter of the alphabet, minus Q, U, X, Y, and Z. For only <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/18/914453403/so-2020-new-storm-forms-named-alpha-because-weve-run-out-of-letters" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the second time in history</a>, the Organization had to resort to naming storms after Greek letters because they ran out of alphabet.</p>
For the record, there's a consensus about the record<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9bb94f5d5a58d40f03e1515f3c2e467c"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gzksqQDI_kE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Such records are a dramatic reminder of climate change's ongoing effect on our planet. They make for an eye-catching headline, sure. But those headlines can sometimes mask the fact that these years are part of decade-long trends, trends providing a preview of what a climate-changed world will be like. </p><p>And in case there was any question as to whether these trends were the result of natural processes or man-made conditions, Schmidt and Vose did not mince words. </p><p>As Schmidt said in the briefing: "Many, many things have caused the climate to change in the past: asteroids, wobbles in the Earth's orbit, moving continents. But when we look at the 20<sup>th</sup> century, we can see very clearly what has been happening. We know the continents have not moved very much, we know the orbit has not changed very much, we know when there were volcanoes, we know what the sun is doing, and we know what we've been doing."</p><p>He continued, "When we do an attribution by driver of climate change over the 20<sup>th</sup> century, what we find is that the overwhelming cause of the warming is the increase of greenhouse gases. When you add in all of the things humans have done, all of the trends over this period are attributable to human activity."</p><p>The data are in; the consensus is in. The only thing left is to figure out how to prevent the worst of climate change before it's too late. As bad as 2020 was, it was only a preview of what could come.<strong></strong></p>
The arc of geological history is long, but it bends towards supercontinents – so, what will the next one look like?
- We're halfway through a 'supercontinent cycle'.
- The next one is due in 200-300 million years.
- Here are four plausible scenarios of what it will look like.
Moving at fingernail speed<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTE2NTY5Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjAyMzIyOX0.gZZO2j3E14_8S2r8yHj9bg8y0gbMiJd1--VYVMaihLY/img.jpg?width=980" id="9202a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4c5df1b5ba6e2e6eb781f25c921abff1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Jacques Kornprobst (redesigned after Bullard, E., Everett, J.E. and Smith, A.G., 1965. The fit of the continents around the Atlantic. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., A 258, 1088, 41-51" data-width="1772" data-height="2256" />
How the American, African and European continents once fit together before the Atlantic – and may one day again, if and when the local 'Wilson cycle' reverses.
Credit: Jacques Kornprobst, after E. Bullard et al. (1965), CC BY-SA 4.0<p>For things so massive and seemingly immovable, continents are pretty hard to pin down. Of course, that's because they do move, if only at the speed at which your fingernails grow: about two inches (5 cm) per year. </p><p><span></span>Accelerate the film of Earth's geology, and you see the landmasses dance across the globe like islands of foam on a running bath. One peculiarity of our drifting continents is that they tend to combine, over massive amounts of time, into one single supercontinent. It helps that the Earth is round, unlike your bath.</p><p>Then, millions of years later, tectonic forces cause the supercontinent to break up again – only for the individual continents to recombine much, much later. All at fingernail speed. <br></p>
The usual suspects<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTE3NTUzOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjAwMjk3Nn0.1xybWFd9sOuojVgjUIaiLYAbVZV5VX902_T9Ksik5L0/img.jpg?width=980" id="d84c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="176bbeda9b0c7904fd34ba9ffbd1c81e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Paleogeographic globe in the Norwegian language" data-width="960" data-height="720" />
Norwegian map of what the supercontinent of Columbia/Nuna may well have looked like, 1,590 million years ago.
Credit: Bjoertvedt, CC BY-SA 3.0<p>Here's one question with an un-pin-downable answer: How many supercontinents have there been in Earth's deep past? At least three or at least seven; as many as 11 or perhaps even a few more. Like the continents themselves, scientific theories diverge. Here are some of the usual suspects (most recent first, ages are approximate):</p><ul><li>Pangea (300-180 million years ago)</li><li>Gondwana (600-180 mya)</li><li>Pannotia (630-540 mya)</li><li>Rodinia (1.1 bya-750 mya)</li><li>Columbia, a.k.a. Nuna (1.8-1.5 billion years ago)</li><li>Kenorland (2.7-2.1 bya)</li><li>Ur (2.8-2.4 mya)</li><li>Vaalbara (3.6-2.8 bya)</li></ul><p>That's if we spool back the tape. What happens if we fast-forward? Even though Pangea, the last supercontinent, broke up almost 200 million years ago, geologists are pretty sure there will be another one, but not for some time to come. Right now, we're about halfway through a 'supercontinent cycle'. The next one will be around between 200 and 300 million years from now. <br></p>
Wilson cycles<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTE3NTYwNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzcyMTEzMX0.tkjKsBMqN6Wia0AucfoIsBAwPVsldqsQhVKe_4gIJdE/img.jpg?width=980" id="abed8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f09ffdffc65ee7a7ea786791a4d6aa05" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="John Tuzo Wilson (1908-93) refined and championed the theory of plate tectonics in the 1960s, when it was still controversial. He was the first non-U.S. citizen to become president of the American Geophysical Union." data-width="2000" data-height="1650" />
John Tuzo Wilson (1908-93) refined and championed the theory of plate tectonics in the 1960s, when it was still controversial. He was the first non-U.S. citizen to become president of the American Geophysical Union.
Credit: UC Davis<p>That brings us to the next question with an answer that's hard to pin down: What will that next supercontinent look like? That is, of course, unknowable, as no one alive today will be around to check. But one can speculate. Using what we know about the tectonic forces that power the movements of continental plates, three scientists line up four plausible scenarios for the formation of the next supercontinent.</p><p>In "<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921818118302054" target="_blank">Back to the future: Testing different scenarios for the next supercontinent gathering</a>," Hannah S. Davies, J.A. Mattias Green, and Joāo C. Duarte present four supercontinents, each the outcome of a different tectonic what-if. <br></p><p>Each scenario is a different combination of two basic drivers of continental conglomeration (and fragmentation): the supercontinent cycle itself, and the so-called Wilson cycle.</p><p>In 1966, Canadian geologist John Tuzo Wilson proposed that the Atlantic had opened up along a zone where another ocean had previously existed. A 'Wilson cycle' therefore describes the cyclical opening and closing of ocean basins. Since those aren't necessarily in sync with supercontinent cycles, they can lead to various outcomes – supercontinents of different shapes and at different types.</p><p>The next supercontinent will take shape when at least one ocean closes. That can happen in one of two ways:</p><ul><li>Introversion: the 'internal', expanding ocean starts to contract and closes up again; or</li><li>Extroversion: the 'exterior' ocean keeps expanding, closing an 'internal' ocean elsewhere.</li></ul><p>In the first option, the Wilson cycle and the supercontinent cycle coincide, creating the possibility that the new supercontinent will have more or less the same dimensions as the old one. In the second option, the Wilson and supercontinent cycles do not coincide.</p>In their paper, the researchers line up and standardise the evidence for four well-known scenarios on future supercontinent formation:<ul><li>The closure of the Atlantic Ocean, leading to <em>Pangea Ultima</em>;</li><li>The closure of the Pacific Ocean, giving rise to <em>Novopangea</em>;</li><li>The closure of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, creating <em>Aurica</em>; and</li><li>The closure of the Arctic Ocean, forming <em>Amasia</em>.</li></ul>
Pangea Ultima: keystone Africa<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTE2NTk0OC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTY5NTQyMX0.yLxXa6Nq9UVBvivt8ZLF854q3EDgc8ZA6uibHrXCMzA/img.png?width=980" id="2ea7d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="951c72c6b02d127b2de4d36ac8d1aa62" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u2018Ultimate\u2019 Pangea would be a remake of the \u2018old\u2019 Pangea, more or less." data-width="1921" data-height="1084" />
'Ultimate' Pangea would be a remake of the 'old' Pangea, more or less.
Credit: Pilgrim-Ivanhoe, reproduced with kind permission<p>'Ultimate Pangea' will come about via an introversion scenario, with the closing of the Atlantic and the re-formation of the 'old' Pangea – sort of. Introversion is the 'classic' scenario for supercontinent formation; in fact, Pangea itself was likely formed by introversion, with the closing of the Rheic and Iapetus Oceans. </p><p>Africa is the key continent here; first by colliding with Europe to form the new continent of Eurafrica, and ultimately as the keystone tying South and North America, Europe and Asia together. Remnants of the Atlantic and Indian oceans reincarnate as the 'ultimate' Mediterranean, closed off from the world ocean by East Antarctica. </p>
Novopangea: Rift becomes Ocean<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTE2NjAyOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MjM4NjI2NX0.mFp5fjezbmpp6GztShxrl32AlDXBNagr0h2LGLF5uZ4/img.png?width=980" id="6dd67" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="09f133f5b609ed9796fedc0be5cec6d9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="How Novopangea might come to be: the Pacific closes and a new ocean forms along the East African Rift." data-width="1926" data-height="1080" />
How Novopangea might come to be: the Pacific closes and a new ocean forms along the East African Rift.
Credit: Pilgrim-Ivanhoe, reproduced with kind permission<p>A 'classic' extroversion scenario leads to the closure of the Pacific Ocean, and to a 'new' Pangea – not just a re-forming of the old one. The East African Rift keeps growing, developing into a new ocean, replacing the Indian one. East Africa gets stuck against India's west coast. </p>
Aurica: America in the middle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTE2NjA3OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDYxMTYyMX0.-rI753T_-5iOImNB04Tj6YleOLJ4dD0wCOyJaKE9wQE/img.png?width=980" id="9ebd2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="15f641569079217b47d7193f40099ddb" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Two Wilson cycles in sync with a supercontinent cycle, and hey presto: Aurica." data-width="1919" data-height="1072" />
Two Wilson cycles in sync with a supercontinent cycle, and hey presto: Aurica.
Credit: Pilgrim-Ivanhoe, reproduced with kind permission<p>The Aurica scenario presupposes two Wilson cycles in sync with the supercontinent cycle. Both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans close, helping to form the supercontinent of Aurica, with the Americas in the middle. </p><p>This requires the opening-up of at least one new ocean – for example, at a large rift along the present-day border between India and Pakistan. This new Pan-Asian Ocean, merged with the Indian Ocean, pushes these areas apart, turning them from next-door neighbors into lands on either side of Aurica. </p><p>Australia is now entirely landlocked, between Antarctica, East Asia, and North America. Europe and Africa have collided with the Americas from the other side. To the south, Madagascar stubbornly continues its separate course. </p>
Amasia, the Arctic supercontinent<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTE2NjE1Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjU2NjQwNn0.VTZTLicoOuJpkso6mGGYhvy7Jgg7LsNCT8EE25bIrDI/img.png?width=980" id="a7509" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3e8aacbdd95a3e8760ccdd6180365467" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="In the Amasian scenario, almost all continents would be joined \u2018at the top\u2019." data-width="1914" data-height="1088" />
In the Amasian scenario, almost all continents would be joined 'at the top'.
Credit: Pilgrim-Ivanhoe, reproduced with kind permission<p>The Arctic Ocean closes. Almost all continents are joined at the 'top of the world', with the exception of Antarctica, the only one not drifting northward. It'll be a short hop from North America to North Africa, with Southern Europe acting as a land bridge in between. South America has repositioned itself, with its western edge against the eastern flank of North America.<br></p><p><em>These images produced by Pilgrim-Ivanhoe, reproduced with kind permission. Original context <a href="https://www.reddit.com/r/imaginarymaps/comments/ej..." target="_blank">here</a>. Images based on the aforementioned article: </em><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921818118302054" target="_blank">Back to the future: Testing different scenarios for the next supercontinent gathering</a><em>, by Hannah S. Davies, J.A. Mattias Green and João C. Duarte, published in </em><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/global-and-p..." target="_blank">Global and Planetary Change</a><em> (Vol. 169, October 2018).</em></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1064</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a><em>.</em><br></p>
Researchers from Norway discover that the Moon's tides influence the release of methane from the ocean floor.
- Sensitive instruments reveal methane beneath the Arctic Ocean for the first time.
- The gas is released in cycles that correspond to the tides.
- Rising warming oceans may help to contain the greenhouse gas.
Tidal methane<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk4NDU4OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MzMxNTkwNX0.dbRoA5swH03DwULPTFLuq15OBPcsrjShpyj_9vI9c6k/img.jpg?width=980" id="f0ff9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="81ddbfa5e3fca1229593d48478bd1223" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2048" data-height="1159" />
Screenshot of visualization from researchers' data
Credit: Andreia Plaza Faverola<p> <a href="https://www.edf.org/climate/methane-other-important-greenhouse-gas" target="_blank">Methane</a> often takes second billing to carbon dioxide in discussions of climate change, likely because it dissipates much more quickly. However, its warming effect is actually far more intense that CO<sup>2</sup>'s — it is 84 times more potent. Methane makes up about 25 percent of our greenhouse gases. </p><p> <a href="https://cage.uit.no/2020/12/11/the-moon-controls-the-release-of-methane-in-arctic-ocean/" target="_blank">Says</a> co-author of the study <a href="https://cage.uit.no/employee/andreia-plaza-faverola/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Andreia Plaza Faverola</a>, "We noticed that gas accumulations, which are in the sediments within a meter from the seafloor, are vulnerable to even slight pressure changes in the water column. Low tide means less of such hydrostatic pressure and higher intensity of methane release. High tide equals high pressure and lower intensity of the release." </p><p> This phenomenon has not been previously observed. While significant gas hydrate concentrations have been sampled in the area, no methane release had been documented. "It is the first time that this observation has been made in the Arctic Ocean," says co-author <a href="https://cage.uit.no/employee/jochen-knies/" target="_blank">Jochen Knies</a>. "It means that slight pressure changes can release significant amounts of methane. This is a game-changer and the highest impact of the study." </p>
Detecting the tidal story<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk4NDYwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2ODI5OTI0OH0.vfKQ8xqksfRHMaE9FqemZc3s-mZ-kBCHkltGBRT8V_E/img.png?width=980" id="8a168" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a6c69a000368a89bce0ca7b11bab3b77" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2048" data-height="1251" />
Screenshot from video of piezometer out of the water
Credit: Przemyslaw Domel<p>The researchers buried a tool called a piezometer in the sediment on the ocean floor, and left it in place for four days. During that time, the instrument made hourly measurements of pressure and temperature in the sediments, and these indicated the presence of methane close to the sea floor, increasing at low tide and decreasing at high tide.</p><p>Their first notable observation was, of course, the presence of the gas on the Arctic Ocean floor despite a lack of other more visible indicators of its presence. "This tells us that gas release from the seafloor is more widespread than we can see using traditional sonar surveys," says Plaza Faverola. "We saw no bubbles or columns of gas in the water." She credits the watchful presence of the piezometer for making the discovery: "Gas burps that have a periodicity of several hours won't be identified unless there is a permanent monitoring tool in place, such as the piezometer."</p><p>Enthuses Knies, "What we found was unexpected and the implications are big. This is a deep-water site. Small changes in pressure can increase the gas emissions but the methane will still stay in the ocean due to the water depth."</p><p>Of course, not all the Earth's waters are equally deep, and there may not be enough water weight in some places to contain the methane below. "But what happens in shallower sites?" asks Knies. "This approach needs to be done in shallow Arctic waters as well, over a longer period. In shallow water, the possibility that methane will reach the atmosphere is greater."</p>
The weight of water<p>The basic mechanics at play are simple. Higher tides mean more water pressing down on the methane, and this increased pressure keeps it from rising away from the sea floor. Low tide means less water, less pressure, and a greater opportunity for the methane to escape.</p><p>The researchers note in their study that this simple relationship may actually offer a silver lining to the rising of the world's ocean as the planet cools. There will be more water, and thus more pressure to keep methane from escaping up and into the atmosphere. In essence, higher sea levels may have something of a cooling effect by keeping methane out of the atmosphere.</p><p>In the end, there's not much we can do about the Moon and its tides, but the more knowledge we have of the mechanisms behind climate change the better.</p><p>As Plaza Faverola puts it:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Earth systems are interconnected in ways that we are still deciphering, and our study reveals one of such interconnections in the Arctic: The moon causes tidal forces, the tides generate pressure changes, and bottom currents that in turn shape the seafloor and impact submarine methane emissions. Fascinating!"</p>
Exceptionally high-quality videos allow scientists to formally introduce a remarkable new comb jelly.
- Gorgeous simplicity characterizes the comb jelly recently discovered by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.
- The small denizen of the deep was spotted three times beneath the waters off Puerto Rico.
- Though it's unusual to formally identify an animal strictly based on video observations, the quality of NOAA's video made it possible in a case where there's no better alternative.
Meet cute beneath the waves<p>The first encounter humanity had with the jelly<em> </em>occurred on April 10, 2015, when Deep Discoverer (a remotely operated vehicle or ROV) came across the gelatinous wonder. Fortunately, the ROV sports cameras that were sufficiently high-definition to clearly capture <em>Duobrachium sparksae's</em> fine details.</p><p>The animal was first noticed in a video feed by Mike Ford of the shoreside science team working in NOAA's Exploration Command Center far away, outside of Washington, D.C. The ROV was working the Arecibo amphitheater canyon. What Ford saw was, in his words, "a beautiful and unique organism."</p><p>Deep Discoverer's cameras produce externally high-resolution images, and are capable of measuring objects as small as a millimeter.The comb jelly's body is about 6 centimeters in size, and its tentacles are about 30 cm long.</p><p>While video-based animal identification can be controversial, there was little choice in this case. "We didn't have sample collection capabilities on the ROV at the time," says Collins. "Even if we had the equipment, there would have been very little time to process the animal because gelatinous animals don't preserve very well; ctenophores are even worse than jellyfish in this regard."</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODEwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NjA0MjMxMH0.X3YXqsUtddtArtXOz7z5w-Zli0Z2vCE1UoSRLU63898/img.jpg?width=980" id="fffe5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5b42f13f528c33eeaeb512320cac7f23" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1232" data-height="1440" />
Credit: Nicholas Bezio/NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
Describing Duobrachium sparksae<p>All told, three individuals were observed by the scientists in three separate encounters with the ROV. The image at the top of this article is from the second encounter. The fact that three separate examples were easily spotted leaves scientists hopeful that the creature is not a rarity in the seas.</p><p>Ford describes what they saw:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The ctenophore has long tentacles, and we observed some interesting movement. It moved like a hot air balloon attached to the seafloor on two lines, maintaining a specific altitude above the seafloor. Whether it's attached to the seabed, we're not sure. We did not observe direct attachment during the dive, but it seems like the organism touches the seafloor."</p><p>The role that <em>Duobrachium sparksae</em> plays in its ecosystem is not yet understood.</p><span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83f6005db2fc4b5e7ec6fc207ff70639"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/o0nkwCKpaRA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Finding a place in the family<p>The manner in which light refracted prismatically off the jelly's cilia combs immediately placed it in the ctenophore family as a start.</p><p>Collins explains, "We don't have the same microscopes as we would in a lab, but the video can give us enough information to understand the morphology in detail, such as the location of their reproductive parts and other aspects."</p><p>"We went," says Ford, "through the historical knowledge of ctenophores and it seemed clear this was a new species and genus as well. We then worked to place it in the tree of life properly."</p><p>The videos—the only "specimens" there are of <em>Duobrachium sparksae</em>—are now publicly accessible as part of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Collection.</p>
One of the world's most isolated island groups has just been made one of the world's largest ocean reserves.
- The small island group of Tristan da Cunha has created one of the world's largest ocean sanctuaries.
- Neither fishing nor extractive activities will be allowed in the area, which is three times the size of the United Kingdom.
- Animals protected by this zone include penguins, sharks, and many seabirds.