What should be like a snowcone is becoming more like a popsicle, speeding up the runoff from the melting ice sheet.
When the remnants of Europe’s second summertime heat wave migrated over Greenland in late July, more than half of the ice sheet’s surface started melting for the first time since 2012. A study published Wednesday in Nature shows that mega-melts like that one, which are being amplified by climate change, aren’t just causing Greenland to shed billions of tons of ice. They’re causing the remaining ice to become denser.
“Ice slabs”—solid planks of ice that can span hundreds of square miles and grow to be 50 feet thick—are spreading across the porous, air pocket-filled surface of the Greenland ice sheet as it melts and refreezes more often. From 2001 to 2014, the slabs expanded in area by about 25,000 square miles, forming an impermeable barrier the size of West Virginia that prevents meltwater from trickling down through the ice. Instead, the meltwater becomes runoff that flows overland, eventually making its way out to sea.
As the ice slabs continue to spread, the study’s authors predict more and more of Greenland’s surface will become a “runoff zone,” boosting the ice sheet’s contribution to global sea level rise and, perhaps, causing unexpected changes.
“We’re watching an ice sheet rapidly transform its state in front of our eyes, which is terrifying,” says lead study author Mike MacFerrin, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
A ‘turtle shell’ for ice
It’s easy to think of Greenland as a solid, impenetrable hunk of ice. But in reality about 80 percent of the ice sheet’s surface is like a snowcone: A dusting of fresh snowfall covers a thick layer of old snow, called firn, that’s slowly being compressed into glacier ice but still contains plenty of air pockets. When the top of this snow cone melts in the summer, liquid water percolates down into the firn, which soaks it up like a 100-foot-thick sponge.
MacFerrin and his colleagues got their first hint that the firn may be losing its absorbency in the spring of 2012, when they were drilling boreholes through the firn in southwest Greenland. They started finding dense, compacted layers of ice in core after core, just below the seasonal snow layer. It was, MacFerrin says, as if a “turtle shell” had formed over the firn.
MacFerrin and his colleagues immediately wondered whether that shell might be preventing meltwater from percolating into the firn.
“That was May of 2012,” MacFerrin says. “And July was this record-breaking melt year, and we got our answer very quickly.”
That summer, for the first time on record, meltwater from this part of Greenland visibly started to flow away as runoff.
Realizing they had witnessed something significant, the researchers set about drilling more cores over a larger region to see how extensive the ice shell was. They discovered that it spanned a transect 25 miles long and was having widespread effects on local hydrology.
Those findings, published in 2016 in Nature Climate Change, were the springboard for the new study. Using radar data from NASA’s IceBridge airborne campaign, as well as ground-based surveys, MacFerrin and his colleagues have now created a first-of-its-kind map of ice slabs across the entire surface of Greenland.
Based on modelling results, the researchers think the shell began to form and spread widely in the early 2000s. As of 2014, it covered some 4 percent of Greenland’s surface, according to the new analysis. Every summer that extensive melting occurs, it gets thicker and spreads inland to colder, higher ground.
“Every handful of years, these big melt summers are doing a number on the firn,” MacFerrin says. “That’s causing this whole process to grow inland pretty quickly.”
Sea level rise and unexpected consequences
Ice slabs have already caused Greenland’s runoff zone to expand by about 26 percent, according to the new study. So far the additional runoff has only added about a millimeter to global sea levels.Greenland now contributes a little under a millimeter per year to rising sea levels, through a combination of icebergs breaking off glaciers and melt occurring at the surface and base of the ice sheet.
But if Greenland’s surface hardens more, runoff could rise dramatically. Under a worst-case scenario where carbon emissions continue to climb until the end of the century, the researchers calculated that ice slab proliferation could add up to 3 inches of sea level rise by 2100, boosting the ice sheet’s overall sea level rise contribution by nearly a third. In both a middle-of-the-road scenario where emissions peak by mid-century and the high emissions one, the amount of runoff from Greenland’s interior roughly doubles by century’s end.
But more runoff is only one potential consequence of the transformation taking place in Greenland’s ice. Kristin Poinar, a glaciologist at the University of Buffalo who wasn’t involved in the study, pointed out that slabs of solid ice aren’t nearly as reflective as bright white snowfall.
“And so, if we start getting these ice slabs forming near the ice sheet’s surface, it could potentially…cause the ice sheet to absorb more solar radiation and warm up,” she says. “And that would create more ice slabs.”
And runoff from ice slabs doesn’t have to flow into the ocean, said Indrani Das, a glaciologist at Columbia University who wasn’t involved in the study. She worries about how it could seep into the large crevasses that exist at lower elevations on the ice sheet. From there, the runoff could, potentially, flow all the way down to bedrock, lubricating the zone where the ice makes contact with it.
“That could make the ice sheet flow faster,” Das says, which could cause glaciers to spill their contents into the ocean more quickly, like ice cream sliding off a piece of cake.
To Poinar, the most significant contribution of the new study is that it will allow scientists to improve their projections of future sea level rise, giving coastal communities the information they need to prepare. At the same time, the study highlights the fact that the more carbon we spew into the atmosphere, the more we’re likely to transform Earth’s northern ice sheet in insidious and unexpected ways. And that could have consequences that are difficult to anticipate.
“We have never observed an ice sheet behaving this way before,” Poinar says. “It’s unprecedented in human scientific history.”
Do We Really Have Only 12 Years to Avoid Climate Disaster?
Sliding Down the Climate Slope
Twelve years is at once an eternity and right around the corner. Just ask any parent watching their kids grow up. So it hits home when a growing chorus of often young voices — from proponents of the Green New Deal to the global Youth Climate Strike — says forcefully that the world has 12 years left to avoid disastrous climate change. This is just the latest dire warning about time running out issued over the past 20 years. But this deadline is different — it’s both entirely wrong, and oh so right.
The idea of a 12-year deadline arose last fall with the release of a special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The United Nations group of climate scientists from around the world said that if the planet’s governments want to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial temperatures, a mere 1 degree Fahrenheit above today’s levels, society will have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about half by 2030, declining further to net zero by around midcentury. The “about” and “around” typically get dropped in translation, rendering the outcome falsely precise, especially in headlines about the report. The Guardian, for example,announced: “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns U.N.”
Now, of course, it would be 11 years.
Technically, this deadline is wrong, not least because it is much too precise. The world won’t end in 2030 if emissions don’t decline. The NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel summed it up perfectly: “Climate change isn’t a cliff we fall off, but a slope we slide down.”
That’s one of the many reasons climate change is such a difficult problem. There’s no obvious stop sign, no simple red line. The reverse is also true: There won’t be a superhero ending to this movie, a point when climate change will have been “solved.” Our children and grandchildren — and theirs — will be managing the impacts of climate change for decades and centuries to come.
Still, the equation is simple: fewer emissions equal a more hospitable climate. Rising average temperatures make extreme heat more likely, hurricanes and storms more intense and threaten fresh water supplies. Climate impacts have already started to hit.
Halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 would be a tall order, to say the least. Changes to infrastructure take a long time. Cars on the road today are on average about 12 years old, and a new car sold in 2020 could still be on the road in 2040 or later. Power plants are built to stay in service much longer. There are a few coal-fired electric power plants in the United States that first began operation in the 1950s and are still producing electricity today. The inherent inertia that society is up against makes a climate action deadline of about a decade not just a sensible option, but an imperative.
We need to speed up the transition to clean and efficient transportation, electricity, industry, agriculture and buildings, and also make infrastructure and human systems more resilient. Achieving this requires much more than business as usual. It demands an enormous public and private undertaking of policy commitments, investments and innovation initiatives. Ten to 12 years is close enough to focus minds and attention. It’s far enough to allow for the necessary fundamental, systemic changes to take effect. None of that guarantees success.
For one, there is plenty of climate hurt already built in, regardless of how much emissions are cut this coming decade. Second, emissions reductions aiming to limit global average temperatures to 2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 or 2ºC) are not assured of success. Even if the world started out along a path to limit temperatures to, say, 3.6ºF, a chance remains that temperatures climb (much) higher. Some of the I.P.C.C.’s latest “2ºC pathways” go up to a 50-50 chance of exceeding that level. That’s a planetary game of chance no one should want to play, and precisely why deep decarbonization needs to go hand-in-hand with strong and equitable resilience efforts. But it’s not too late to reduce emissions — it will never be too late. It’s hard to imagine a world where we will regret having reduced emissions.
Achieving big reductions in emissions in less than a dozen years requires political action now, or at least soon after the next presidential election. Whether it is the Green New Deal, fundamental green tax reform, or a combination of any of the comprehensive climate plans being proposed now — there are plenty of options that could be taken to bend the emissions trajectory toward zero both in the United States and around the world. The young people, like the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, speaking on behalf of millions are correct in calling for bold climate action now.
With children, days might last forever, but years fly by. Something similar applies to climate policy. The current days of delay and debates can seem to drag on forever, but the next presidential election is right around the corner, and so is 2030. Concrete, realistic deadlines focus the mind and jump-start action. And jump-start we must.
Gernot Wagner is a clinical associate professor at New York University and the co-author of “Climate Shock.” Constantine Samaras is an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, where he is director of the Center for Engineering and Resilience for Climate Adaptation.
[BenIndy Editor: The focus here is on New Jersey, but read on for reference to Solano County, California, up 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895. – RS]
The Washington Post, by Steven Mufson, Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin and John Muyskens, Photography by Salwan Georges. Aug. 13, 2019
LAKE HOPATCONG, N.J. — Before climate change thawed the winters of New Jersey, this lake hosted boisterous wintertime carnivals. As many as 15,000 skaters took part, and automobile owners would drive onto the thick ice. Thousands watched as local hockey clubs battled one another and the Skate Sailing Association of America held competitions, including one in 1926 that featured 21 iceboats on blades that sailed over a three-mile course.
In those days before widespread refrigeration, workers flocked here to harvest ice. They would carve blocks as much as two feet thick, float them to giant ice houses, sprinkle them with sawdust and load them onto rail cars bound for ice boxes in New York City and beyond.
“These winters do not exist anymore,” says Marty Kane, a lawyer and head of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation.
That’s because a century of climbing temperatures has changed the character of the Garden State. The massive ice industry and skate sailing association are but black-and-white photographs at the local museum. And even the hardy souls who still try to take part in ice fishing contests here have had to cancel 11 of the past dozen competitions for fear of straying onto perilously thin ice and tumbling into the frigid water.
New Jersey may seem an unlikely place to measure climate change, but it is one of the fastest-warming states in the nation. Its average temperature has climbed by close to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895 — double the average for the Lower 48 states.
Over the past two decades, the 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit number has emerged as a critical threshold for global warming. In the 2015 Paris accord, international leaders agreed that the world should act urgently to keep the Earth’s average temperature increases “well below” 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100 to avoid a host of catastrophic changes.
The potential consequences are daunting. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that if Earth heats up by an average of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, virtually all the world’s coral reefs will die; retreating ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica could unleash massive sea level rise; and summertime Arctic sea ice, a shield against further warming, would begin to disappear.
But global warming does not heat the world evenly.
A Washington Post analysis of more than a century of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration temperature data across the Lower 48 states and 3,107 counties has found that major areas are nearing or have already crossed the 3.6-degree Fahrenheit mark.
— Today, more than 1 in 10 Americans — 34 million people — are living in rapidly heating regions, including New York City and Los Angeles. Seventy-one counties have already hit the 3.6-degree Fahrenheit mark.
— Alaska is the fastest-warming state in the country, but Rhode Island is the first state in the Lower 48 whose average temperature rise has eclipsed 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Other parts of the Northeast — New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts — trail close behind.
— While many people associate global warming with summer’s melting glaciers, forest fires and disastrous flooding, it is higher winter temperatures that have made New Jersey and nearby Rhode Island the fastest warming of the Lower 48 states.
The average New Jersey temperature from December through February now exceeds 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which water freezes. That threshold, reached over the past three decades, has meant lakes don’t freeze as often, snow melts more quickly, and insects and pests don’t die as they once did in the harsher cold.
The freezing point “is the most critical threshold among all temperatures,” said David A. Robinson, New Jersey state climatologist and professor at Rutgers University’s department of geography.
The uneven rise in temperatures across the United States matches what is happening around the world.
In the past century, the Earth has warmed 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. But that’s just an average. Some parts of the globe — including the mountains of Romania and the steppes of Mongolia — have registered increases twice as large. It has taken decades or in some cases a century. But for huge swaths of the planet, climate change is a present-tense reality, not one looming ominously in the distant future.
To find the world’s 2C hot spots, its fastest-warming places, The Post analyzed temperature databases, including those kept by NASA and NOAA; peer-reviewed scientific studies; and reports by local climatologists. The global data sets draw upon thousands of land-based weather stations and other measurements, such as ocean buoys armed with sensors and ship logs dating as far back as 1850.
In any one geographic location, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit may not represent global cataclysmic change, but it can threaten ecosystems, change landscapes and upend livelihoods and cultures.
In Lake Hopatcong, thinning ice let loose waves of aquatic weeds that ordinarily die in the cold. This year, a new blow: Following one of the warmest springs of the past century, harmful bacteria known as blue-green algae bloomed in the lake just as the tourist season was taking off in June.
New Jersey’s largest lake was shut down after the state’s environmental agency warned against swimming or fishing “for weeks, if not longer.”
The nation’s hot spots will get worse, absent a global plan to slash emissions of the greenhouse gases fueling climate change. By the time the impacts are fully recognized, the change may be irreversible.
Daniel Pauly, an influential marine scientist at the University of British Columbia, says the 3.6-degree Fahrenheit hot spots are early warning sirens of a climate shift.
“Basically,” he said, “these hot spots are chunks of the future in the present.”
America’s hot spots
Nationwide, trends are clear. Starting in the late 1800s, U.S. temperatures began to rise and continued slowly up through the 1930s. The nation then cooled slightly for several decades. But starting around 1970, temperatures rose steeply.
At the county level, the data reveals isolated 3.6-degree Fahrenheit clusters: high-altitude deserts in Oregon; stretches of the western Rocky Mountains that feed the Colorado River; a clutch of counties along the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan — home to the famed Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near Traverse City.
Along the Canadian border, a string of counties from eastern Montana to Minnesota are quickly heating up.
The topography of warming varies. It is intense at some high elevations, such as in Utah and Colorado, and along some highly populated coasts: Temperatures have risen by 2C in Los Angeles and three neighboring counties. New York City is also warming rapidly, and so are the very different areas around it, such as the beach resorts in the Hamptons and leafy Westchester County.
The smaller the area, the more difficult it is to pinpoint the cause of warming. Urban heat effects, changing air pollution levels, ocean currents, events like the Dust Bowl, and natural climate wobbles such as El Niño could all be playing some role, experts say.
The only part of the United States that has not warmed significantly since the late 1800s is the South, especially Mississippi and Alabama, where data in some cases shows modest cooling. Scientists have attributed this “warming hole” to atmospheric cycles driven by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, along with particles of soot from smokestacks and tailpipes, which have damaging health effects but can block some of the sun’s intensity. Those types of pollutants were curtailed by environmental policies, while carbon dioxide remained unregulated for decades.
Since the 1960s, however, the region’s temperatures have been increasing along with the rest of the country’s.
The Northeast is warming especially fast.
Anthony Broccoli, a climate scientist at Rutgers, defines an unusually warm or cold month as ranking among the five most extreme in the record going back to the late 1800s. In the case of New Jersey, he says, “since 2000, we’ve had 39 months that were unusually warm and zero that were unusually cold.”
Scientists do not completely understand the Northeast hot spot. But fading winters and very warm water offshore are the most likely culprits, experts say. That’s because climate change is a cycle that feeds on itself.
Warmer winters mean less ice and snow cover. Normally, ice and snow reflect solar radiation back into space, keeping the planet relatively cool. But as the ice and snow retreat, the ground absorbs the solar radiation and warms.
NOAA data shows that in every Northeast state except Pennsylvania, the temperatures of the winter months of December through February have risen by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895-1896. And U.S. Geological Survey data shows that ice breaks up in New England lakes nine to 16 days earlier than in the 19th century.
This doesn’t mean the states can’t have extreme winters anymore. Polar vortex events, in which frigid Arctic air descends into the heart of the country, can still bring biting cold. But the overall trend remains the same and is set to continue. One recent study found that by the time the entire globe crosses 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the Northeast can expect to have risen by about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, with winter temperatures higher still.
Losing three feet of beach a year
Climate change plays havoc differently in different places.
In Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay has warmed as much as 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 50 years, and for want of cooler water, the state’s lobster catch has plummeted 75 percent in the past two decades.
Along the shoreline, the hotter and higher sea is shuffling the lineup of oceanfront homes.
Roy Carpenter’s Beach is a collection of summer cottages along a quarter-mile stretch that is eroding faster than any other part of the state — an average of 3.3 feet a year.
Rob Thoresen’s great-grandfather bought the property nearly a century ago, and residents living in 377 cottages there now lease the land from the family business.
About a decade ago, the family tried — in vain — to persuade residents to move away from the encroaching ocean. Their reluctance was no surprise; the back of the property features a view of cornfields.
But then the coast took an indirect hit from Hurricane Sandy. It damaged 11 homes in the community’s front row, with three of them washing out to sea. The surf laps over the remains of concrete foundations and wooden pylons, knocking over construction fences.
In 2013, 28 families in the first and second rows started moving to the back of the development — roughly 1,000 feet away. The community is planning to move another 20 houses.
It is expensive. Homeowners pay to physically move their cottages or demolish them and rebuild. Matunuck Beach Properties, the management company, must survey the properties and prepare new locations, laying out new roads and sewer pipes.
Tony Loura, who has summered in Roy Carpenter’s Beach for 15 years, is philosophical about his predicament. He is on the fourth row, where he has an unobstructed view of the ocean from his rocking chair. He estimates that he used to be 1,000 feet from the water. Now, the ocean is only about 150 feet away.
“I’m hoping that I’m back far enough that I won’t have to move to the back,” said Loura, 66. “Every time they say there’s a storm, I get worried.”
With 420 miles of coastline, Rhode Island is particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of the Gulf Stream, a massive warm current that travels up the East Coast from the Gulf of Mexico before making a right turn toward Greenland and Europe.
The Gulf Stream is enormous, encompassing more water than “all of the world’s rivers combined,” according to NOAA. It is one part of an even larger global “conveyor belt” of currents that transport heat around the world.
A slowing of these currents, which scientists think is caused by the melting of Arctic ice, has pushed the Gulf Stream closer to the East Coast, bringing more warm water and, perhaps, hotter temperatures onshore. Offshore, it has become its own hot spot, helping to boost water temperatures by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheitor more in some regions.
If the slowing continues, seas could rise farther and faster. That’s because when the current slows, water it was driving toward Europe drifts back across the Atlantic to the U.S. coastline. Scientists are trying to determine whether the Gulf Stream is already contributing to rapid sea level rise on the East Coast.
Tidal gauges show sea levels have risen roughly nine inches since 1930, and researchers at the University of Rhode Island have determined that the rate has quickened by about a third in recent years.
By 2030, sea level rise will flood 605 buildings six times a year, according to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council’s executive director, Grover Fugate.
Roy Carpenter’s Beach is especially vulnerable.
Some residents want the beach’s owners to fight off the sea, Loura said.
“They think they should build a sea wall, they should bring in tons of sand,” he said. “Last year, they spent a lot of money on sand. Guess what? It’s all gone.”
Thoresen’s family is moving a convenience store and office for the second time in a decade — this time all the way back to the 18th row.
“We moved it back 100 feet, and it only bought us 10 years,” Thoresen said. “That’s crazy.”
That’s what people who live in 3.6-degree Fahrenheit zones are discovering: that climate change seems remote or invisible, until all of a sudden it is inescapable.
‘The ice is not safe anymore’
Here at Lake Hopatcong, Tim Clancy, 65, a ruddy-faced fisherman and retiree, has helped run the annual ice fishing contests for years. He has a photo of himself taken in 2015, standing in the middle of the frozen lake, a string of four perch dangling from one hand, his 400-pound all-terrain buggy parked on the ice behind him.
“It was like a tailgate party. Midnight madness. People camped out with their snowmobiles,” he says. “But the ice is not safe anymore.”
At the Lake Hopatcong Foundation offices, director Kane recalls that the lake used to freeze over by Thanksgiving and now rarely does so before January.
According to records kept by the local Knee Deep Club, a fishing group, 26 fishing contests were canceled because of poor ice conditions from 1998 through 2019. Only 19 were held successfully.
Nine miles long, Lake Hopatcong sits between two counties — Sussex and Morris — in the state’s northwest. Both have been warming fast, especially in winter. According to The Post’s review of New Jersey data, winter temperatures in Sussex have increased 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit since the winter of 1895-1896. For Morris, the winter increase has been slightly sharper 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
Robinson, the state climatologist, found that January temperatures in Sussex County generally need to average around 25 to 26 degrees Fahrenheit for successful ice fishing.
Instead, average winter temperatures are moving closer to the freezing point, with some winters now exceeding 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is not just the lake that is being wracked by climate changes.
From the Jersey Shore to the shopping malls of Paramus, from hiking trails in the northwest to the Bayway oil refinery, the state faces exceptionally heavy and unpredictable rainfall — even for New Jersey. Last year, it was inundated by a record 64.77 inches of rainfall statewide, 40 percent above average.
Pests, no longer eradicated by cold winters, are attacking people, crops and landscapes alike.
The ⅛ -inch-long southern pine beetle had been largely confined to southern U.S. forests — hence its name. But the warmer temperatures have spurred the beetle’s migration north, where it has damaged more than 20,000 acres of the state’s Pine Barrens, a vast coastal forested plain that Congress has defined as a national reserve.
“They are changing the Pinelands,” says Matthew Ayres, a Dartmouth researcher who has studied the beetle. “It may not be too long before people are driving through the Pinelands saying, ‘Why do they call it the Pinelands?'”
Mosquitoes, once dubbed on postcards as New Jersey’s “air force,” have longer seasons. The Warren County Mosquito Control Commission, whose records date to 1987, uses fixed-wing aircraft to drop a granular, naturally occurring soil microbe on swamps to kill the mosquito larvae.
But the bugs may be winning the air war. The commission’s flights are more frequent, and the past eight years, led by 2018, have had the highest numbers of acres treated annually. Mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus came up from the South 20 years ago. Last year, Warren became the last county in the state to register human cases of the disease.
“Mosquito season used to start on June 1 and end on Sept. 30,” said Rutgers professor Dina Fonseca, an expert on insect-borne disease. But unless the air war starts earlier in the spring, “you’re not going to address the mosquito problem.”
On a cool but sunny day in May, Fred Lubnow, director of aquatic programs at Princeton Hydro, and Katie Walston, a senior scientist there, pulled up their anchor in Lake Hopatcong to find it covered with aquatic weeds. The culprit? Fertilizer runoff combined with winters too warm to kill them off.
“The plants start growing earlier and linger around longer, as well,” Lubnow said. The thick ice blocked sunlight from nurturing the weeds. But “in some of these shallow areas, as early as February, we’re looking through the ice seeing the plants growing.”
By summer, the weeds become a nuisance, forcing the state government to “harvest” them with large paddles and toss them onto a conveyor belt, then onto barges. Some years, funding has been hard to get, delaying harvesting and angering homeowners.
“If this area is not harvested, you can’t get a boat through it,” Lubnow says. Swimming isn’t possible, either. Fishing becomes difficult.
In late June, disaster struck.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection detected toxic bacteria known as blue-green algae. Aerial photos showed the telltale large streaks of “pea soup” across the lake. The agency urged people to avoid swimming, wading and watersport activities such as jet-skiing, kayaking, windsurfing and paddleboarding.
“It’s almost put us out of business,” says John Clark, co-owner of Little Nicki’s Italian restaurant, which looks out onto the lake. Little Nicki’s does nearly a tenth of its business over the first two weekends in July and is usually jammed the afternoon before July 4. Yet there were only three people there that day. Clark estimated that business was down by half.
“It’s completely dead. Everyone was having a banner year. Then you hit a wall.”
How we analyzed the data
To analyze warming temperatures in the United States, The Washington Post used the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Divisional Database (nClimDiv), which provides monthly temperature data at the national, state and county level between 1895 and 2018 for the Lower 48 states. NOAA does not provide this data for Hawaii, and its data for Alaska begins in 1925.
We calculated annual mean temperature trends in each state and county in the Lower 48 states using linear regression — analyzing both annual average temperatures and temperatures for the three-month winter season (December, January and February). While not the only approach for analyzing temperature changes over time, this is a widely used method.
County population numbers are the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate of resident total population for July 2018.
Annual temperature averages in the interactive county feature are displayed as departures from the 1895-2018 average temperature for each county. These departures from the average are referred to as “temperature anomalies” by climate scientists.
To make the maps, we applied the same linear regression method for annual average temperatures to NOAA’s Gridded 5km GHCN-Daily Temperature and Precipitation Dataset (nClimGrid), which is the basis for nClimDiv. For mapping purposes, the resolution of the data was increased using bilinear interpolation.
The warming of Alaska was treated separately, after consulting with Rick Thoman, an expert on the state’s climate at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Thoman said that a linear trend does not apply in the case of this state because the warming has been so extreme in the most recent years — something that such a trend would understate. So Thoman used a smoothed curve to plot Alaska’s warming trend, calculating about2.2 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit) just since 1925.
Kenneth Kunkel of the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies, who developed climate analyses for all 50 U.S. states during the 2013 National Climate Assessment, provided an initial analysis of the Lower 48 states’ temperature trends from 1895 through 2018 at The Post’s request.
Project and story editing by Trish Wilson. Graphics editing by Monica Ulmanu. Design and development by Madison Walls. Copy editing by Emily Morman and Brian Malasics. Photo editing and research by Olivier Laurent. Project management by Julie Vitkovskaya.
Defending his decision not to hold a presidential debate on climate change, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez has exposed the great gulf between climate rhetoric and action within the Democratic Party machine.
Writing in Medium, Perez calls climate change “an urgent threat to our nation and our planet,” giving the obligatory nod to an issue that has risen to a top concern of Democratic voters in Iowa and across the nation.
Granting a climate debate would be unfair and unrealistic, he argues, because holding a debate on each and every issue would be infeasible. He says the DNC has received more than 50 requests to hold issue debates, but fails to mention that fifteen Democratic candidates have endorsed the call for a climate debate.
The DNC decision is an important wake-up call for climate donors and voters. Just because Democrats say climate change is an urgent threat does not mean they see it as more urgent than other issues.
The DNC’s inaction on a climate debate is especially troubling in light of the party’s long dependency on the fossil fuel lobby to fund conventions.
American Petroleum Institute (API), the top trade association for big oil and gas companies, stepped up with $700,000 for Democrats’ last convention in Philadelphia. That fell just a few money bags shy of the $900,000 API sent to the GOP.
According to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), API has spent more than $100 million lobbying Congress to “crush any pro-climate policies that might actually reduce carbon emissions” and threaten the bottom line of oil companies.
At the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, I was taken aback by the marketing extravaganza behind “clean coal,” a fictional product. “Regardless of who wins the election, we know that coal will still be running America,” proclaimed The American Council for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal industry trade association. ACCCE members Southern Company and Arch Coal contributed to the Democrats’ convention committee.
Fossil fuel trade associations are not letting up. They know that if climate change isn’t the Democrat’s top priority, then little will get done.
They aim to lull Democrats to sleep on climate, joining their Republican colleagues in action if not words by keeping climate on the back burner.
It’s a tempting lullaby for political operatives. The planet doesn’t have a bank account. Fossil fuel lobbyists pay well and pay often.
Last year, Perez momentarily seemed ready to bring needed change to the DNC. The DNC quietly passed a resolution sponsored by Christine Pelosi (daughter of Nancy Pelosi), that would have barred the DNC from accepting political contributions from fossil fuel PACs.
The DNC received swift backlash from labor, however. According to Perez, the resolution was perceived as “an attack on the working people” in energy industries.
Perez wrote a new resolution that passed the DNC overwhelmingly, reversing the prior funding ban and embracing money from all energy PACs.
A divisive battle between labor and environmentalists in 2018 would not have benefited anyone, but Perez’ swift and decisive intervention stands in stark contrast to his meek protests now that his hands are tied on a climate debate.
Alarmingly, Perez’ resolution also touted America’s “all of the above” energy economy.
When President Obama later called for an “all of the above” energy approach, environmental leaders protested. In a letter to Obama, they argued that an “all of the above” energy strategy that boosts coal, oil and gas would undermine America’s climate goals.
The DNC’s zig-zagging climate and energy rhetoric is Exhibit A in the case for a climate change debate. Squeezing climate change into other debates will only allow time for rhetoric about the urgency of the problem. A focused, in-depth climate debate will allow voters to better gauge the substance and commitment behind the talking points.
When it comes to climate politics, commitment and priority is everything. Across three decades, political advisers have whispered in the ears of presidents, cautioning against taking on the combined might of the fossil fuel lobby. This is why we are where we are today.
In the DNC’s refusal to host a climate debate, we see an early warning signal of those whispers still at work despite unprecedented demand for results from voters.
By lumping climate change in with 50 unnamed issues, Perez misses the mark entirely. All issues are not equal.
A debate focused on preserving a livable planet is a debate on justice, economic opportunity, health, security and human rights.
When you are living on a boat, the value of all things changes if the ship starts to sink.
The same holds true for the planet we share. The physics of climate change are just as relentless and unforgiving as the rush of water through a hole in a boat’s hull. The climate clock is ticking.
If Democrats do not believe climate change is important enough to change their own rules now, can we count on them to summon the political moxy to do what needs to be done after our money and votes are secured?
Jeremy Symons is a consultant at Symons Public Affairs and writer on climate change, energy policy and politics. He previously worked as vice president for political affairs at Environmental Defense Fund and as deputy staff director on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee.