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A study led by NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, CO, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are completely stopped. If atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise to 450-600 parts per million from the current 385 parts per million, persistent decreases in rainfall comparable to the 1930s North American "Dust Bowl" in zones including southern Europe, northern Africa, southwestern North America, southern Africa, and western Australia are among projected impacts.
NOAA researcher drinks from a melt pond (NOAA)
Arctic summers may be ice-free in as few as 30 years, not at the end of the century as previously thought, based on research conducted by NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory along with numerous partners around the world. The updated forecast is the result of a new analysis of computer models coupled with the most recent summer ice. The area covered by summer sea ice is expected to decline from its current 4.6 million square kilometers (about 1.8 million square miles) to about 1 million square kilometers (about 390,000 square miles) . Much of the sea ice would remain in the area north of Canada and Greenland and decrease between Alaska and Russia in the Pacific Arctic.
Records of Atlantic hurricanes seem to show an increase in storm frequency since the late 19th century, but research published by NOAA scientists in the Journal of Climate in 2009 reveals that the increase in tropical storm and hurricane numbers is likely due to better observations of short-lived storms. Improvements in observational tools and analysis techniques have resulted in more complete storm monitoring and recording systems. A sampling methodology developed by NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory scientists takes into account the possibility of "missing " storms not measured by ships over the open Atlantic.
OCEAN & CLIMATE: New Study Details Ocean Acidification in the Caribbean
Significant ocean acidification has been confirmed in by NOAA scientists and partners across much of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Strong natural variations in ocean chemistry reported for some parts of the Caribbean could affect the way reefs respond to future ocean acidification. The study was conducted by NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory and the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, appeared in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Oceans in 2008. Data concerning short-term variability may help scientists predict long-term impacts of ocean acidification on coral reefs.
Methane gas hydrate forming below a rock overhang at the sea floor on the Blake Ridge diapir. This image, taken from the DSV Alvin during the NOAA-sponsored Deep East cruise in 2001, marked the first discovery of gas hydrate at the sea floor on the Blake Ridge. Methane bubbling out of the sea floor below this overhang quickly "freezes," forming this downward hanging hydrate deposit, dubbed the "inverted snowcone." (NOAA)
OCEAN: Methane Vent Site Discovered by Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV)
A new methane vent site was discovered in 2009 in the Mississippi Canyon 118 site in the Gulf of Mexico. The vent was detected by a mass spectrometer mounted on the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Eagle Ray. The vent was found in an area of seafloor known to contain ice-like formations called methane hydrates. Methane hydrates can release methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas that could affect climate change. This is the first time a mass spectrometer carried by an AUV created a methane map similar in quality to maps generated by multibeam sonar. The discovery was part of a National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology project funded by NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.
The National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, OK, and numerous research partners conducted the first phase of the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment - 2 (VORTEX2) in May/June 2009. VORTEX2, the largest tornado field experiment in history, aims to answer detailed questions about how, when, and why tornadoes form. VORTEX2 data should help increase warning time for those in the path of deadly storms.
NSSL Field Command Vehicle with Wyoming tornado in the background. (NOAA)
In collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the National Park Service, NOAA's Air Resources Laboratory began monitoring ambient air concentrations of mercury at the Allegheny Portage Railroad Site in Cambria County, PA. Power plants in Pennsylvania emit more than 3.26 tons of mercury per year, nearly 80 percent of all mercury emission in the state. Pennsylvania ranks second only to Texas in total mercury emissions. Atmospheric mercury is the primary source of new mercury entering watersheds, and Pennsylvania has more than 80 rivers and lakes on the U.S. EPA list of mercury-impaired waters. Human exposure to mercury comes primarily from eating contaminated fish and other aquatic sources. The monitoring data will be used to assess the effectiveness of Pennsylvania's mercury emission controls.
Fish trawl from Lake Michigan (NOAA)
Researchers at NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) in Ann Arbor, MI, identified recent declines of a tiny shrimp-like species Diporeia coincident with the explosive growth of non-native quagga mussels in Lake Michigan. As invasive mussel numbers increase, food sources for Diporeia and many aquatic species have steadily and unilaterally declined, adversely affecting Lake Michigan fish populations dependent on Diporeia as a food source. GLERL scientists project impacts on fish populations will continue and become more pronounced as quagga mussels further spread to all depths occupied by the dwindling Diporeia. The study was published in Freshwater Biology.
COMMERCE & TRANSPORTATION: Maritime Shipping Makes Hefty Contribution to Harmful Air Pollution
Commercial ships emit almost half as much particulate matter pollutants as the total amount released by the world's cars, according to a study led by the Earth System Research Laboratory and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Since more than 70 percent of shipping traffic takes place within 250 miles of the coastline, this is a significant health concern for coastal communities. The study is the first to provide a global estimate of maritime shipping's total contribution to air particle pollution based on direct measurements of emissions, and was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
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