Climate Watch Joins New KQED Science Unit

Move forms California’s largest science & environmental unit for electronic media

Keven Guillory

Climate Watch Sr. Editor Craig Miller with Producer Molly Samuel in the KQED studios.

After four years, numerous awards, and something just shy of 900 blog posts, the multimedia reporting effort that’s been known as Climate Watch is turning a significant page. KQED is combining our efforts with Quest, the station’s more broadly-based science and environmental news and programming effort.

We’ll continue to cover climate-related issues, as evidenced by the recent rollout of Heat and Harvest, a major multimedia project with the combined resources of Climate Watch, Quest and the Center for Investigative Reporting. Through a documentary now airing on public television stations throughout California, radio features on The California Report and an extensive lineup of online features, Heat and Harvest examines some of the ways in which climate change is already challenging farmers in the Golden State. Continue reading

Autumn Makes a Sultry Entrance

California’s heat wave came late and is staying late

Craig Miller

Sunset on San Pablo Bay. Coastal areas saw a balmy end to September, accompanied by air quality alerts.

The Great American Heat Wave of 2012 arrived later in California than in many parts of the country — and it’s in no hurry to leave.

Having nudged the upper 90s on Sunday, Sacramento closed out the month of September with a record 26 days of 90-plus highs, surpassing the 1974 record of 24 days. The trend is forecast to continue into the first several days of October, with a chance of hitting 100 for the first time since mid-August. Farther north, Sacramento Valley towns like Redding and Red Bluff are suffering similar bake-offs. Continue reading

Reality Check: California’s Ultra-Low-Greenhouse Gas Future

What will it really take to meet the state’s aggressive carbon reduction goals?

As the centerpiece of California’s climate strategy, the law known as AB 32 gets all the attention. But a little-known component of the state’s plan to mitigate climate change, Executive Order S-3-05, is even more ambitious. A new report from the independent California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) takes aim at its aggressive greenhouse-gas-reduction goal for 2050, and shows just how difficult it will be to reach it.

Signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in June 2005, EO S-3-05 calls for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 (a target also written into AB 32 and passed the following year), and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 — effectively a 90% per-capita decrease when population growth is factored in. The 2020 goal sounds easy enough — especially if a third of our electricity generation is renewable by then — but existing efforts, including cap-and-trade, still won’t be enough. In other words, the state has got to come up with even more reductions in the next eight years. Continue reading

Oysters May Foreshadow Acidic Oceans’ Effects

Research on local oysters sheds light on how animals will adapt to ocean acidification

Bodega Marine Lab / UC Davis

Scientists from UC Davis are studying oysters and mussels to figure out if organisms will be able to adapt to climate change.

This week, scientists from around the world are meeting in Monterey to discuss what they call the “other” climate change problem: the oceans are becoming more acidic. It happens as oceans absorb the carbon dioxide we add to the air through burning fossil fuels. It can be bad news for oysters, mussels and the marine food web. How bad? Scientists are hoping that ocean conditions off the California coast will help them find out.

At the Hog Island Oyster Company, near Point Reyes, Terry Sawyer orders oysters from hatcheries in Oregon and Washington when they’re small. They grow up in big mesh bags that sit out in Tomales Bay, where they get plump in the cold waters of the Pacific.

But a few years ago, Sawyer started getting calls from those suppliers. They couldn’t fill his orders. Continue reading

California’s Farm Belt Didn’t Dodge the Summer Heat Wave

Abnormally warm summer temperatures were felt across much of interior California

By Nicholas Christen and Craig Miller

Craig Miller / KQED

Even tomatoes can only take so much heat. A belt from Bakersfield to the northern Sacramento Valley produces a third of the nation's canning tomatoes.

Autumn is here, so says the calendar. Living on the coast, it might be easy to think that California escaped the heat wave suffered by much of the nation this summer. While that may be true for most of the large coastal population centers, it was a different story for much of the state’s interior farm belt.

Throughout June and July, even Central Valley spots escaped much of the heat felt by the Great Plains, though Cal Expo officials blamed the heat, in part, for tamping down attendance at the state fair. Then things heated up quickly — especially in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys — through August and into September.  Valley towns including Redding, Red Bluff, Sacramento, Merced, Madera, Fresno, and Bakersfield, have been on the order of three-to-five degrees above normal for the duration of August and September. Continue reading

Heat and Harvest: Calif. Farms on a Climate Collision Course

The Midwestern corn belt isn’t the only place threatened by climate change

New pests, a shrinking water supply and rising temperatures will alter agriculture in California.

Craig Miller

Tightening water supplies, encroaching pests and dwindling winter "chill hours," vital to many crops, are just some of the climate challenges facing California farmers.

Heat and Harvest, a new series from KQED Science and the Center for Investigative Reporting looks at the multiple climate challenges confronting California farmers. It’s no trivial matter. California’s Central Valley is widely known as “the nation’s salad bowl,” and there’s more than bragging rights at stake. Ag contributes more than $30 billion a year to the state’s economy.

Previously, Climate Watch has focused on efforts in the ag sector to conserve water or lower the carbon footprint. Some farmers are trying new technologies, others are experimenting with renewable energy. But meeting climate challenges on multiple fronts will, for some farmers and ranchers, be a matter of survival.

Here are links to some previous reporting from Climate Watch, from ag’s potential role in California’s emerging cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions, to innovation on the renewable energy front and new conflicts over land use. Continue reading

New Atmospheric Compound Impacts Climate, Human Health

Role in aerosol formation could aid modeling of Central Valley temps, air quality

NASA Earth Observatory

Aerosols—and clouds seeded by them—reflect about a quarter of the Sun’s energy back to space.

For all we know about climate change and the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s amazing how much more there is to learn. Earlier this month, a team of researchers led by University of Colorado’s Roy “Lee” Mauldin III announced the discovery of a brand new atmospheric compound tied to both climate change and human health.

Above certain parts of the earth, they found, the new compound is at least as prevalent as OH, also called the hydroxyl radical, long thought to be the primary oxidant responsible for turning sulfur dioxide, an industrial pollutant, into sulfuric acid. The new compound, it turns out, can play an equally important role. Sulfuric acid contributes to acid rain and results in the formation of aerosols, airborne particulates associated with a variety of respiratory illnesses in humans and known to seed the formation of clouds. Continue reading

The New Age of Western Wildfires May Be Here

A review of national fire data suggests that the “typical” wildfire season may need redefining

This post is based on a report produced by Climate Central, a non-profit climate education group.

Climate Central

Screenshot from Climate Central's Interactive Wildfire Tracker. Click on the image to see where wildfires are currently burning.

The 2012 wildfire season isn’t over yet, but already this year is shaping up to be the one of the worst on record in the American West. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, with nearly two months still to go in the fire season, the total area already burned this year is 30% more than in an average year, and fires have consumed more than 8.6 million acres, an area larger than the state of Maryland.

Yet, what defines a “typical” wildfire year in the West is changing. In the past 40 years, rising spring and summer temperatures, along with a shrinking mountain snowpack, have increased the risk of wildfires in most parts of the West.

Studies show that continued climate change is going to make wildfires much more common in the coming decades. Continue reading

Filling the Gaps in Oakland’s Climate Plan

Study could help city prepare for impacts already on the way

Craig Miller

Oakland aims to shrink its carbon footprint by more than a third. But what about preparing for impacts already on the way?

The City of Oakland is forging a comprehensive Energy and Climate Action Plan aimed at mitigating climate change. Even by California standards; it’s ambitious, calling for a 36% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 (statewide emissions decreased 5.3% between 2005 and 2009, the most recent year for which numbers are available). It also lays out the policies and programs needed to make it happen. What the plan doesn’t answer is how the city will cope with the climate change that has already been set in motion.

Enter a study prepared by Oakland’s Pacific Institute for the California Energy Commission, published in July but not widely circulated until this month. It fills in the holes in the city’s approach by advancing “climate adaptation planning,” in which local governments prepare for dealing with climate change on a short-and-long-term basis and across all segments of the population. Continue reading

Animation: The Arctic’s Record-Breaking Ice Melt

Arctic sea area covered by ice sets new low

Nat'l Snow & Ice Data Center

NOAA has created a startling animation of this year’s record shrinkage of ice in the Arctic Ocean. The 34-second clip zooms in from a western hemisphere view and presents as a time-lapse, tracking the ice from January 1 to September 14. This is the first time since NOAA started using satellites to monitor the Arctic in 1979, that sea ice area has shrunk to less than 4,000,000 square kilometers. What happens in the polar regions has a profound effect on the world’s climate.