It’s Going to Be Way Too Hot in the West This Week

Temperatures could smash all-time records, worsening the megadrought gripping the region.

Dharna NoorToday 12:10PM6SaveAlerts

It’s about to get worse.

Record heat is searing the West for the second time this month. A massive heat dome is building over the region and is set to intensify for the latter half of this week. The heat wave could cause some all-time records to fall while worsening the region’s already catastrophic drought.

The region is already in the grips of sweltering temperatures. Over the weekend, temperatures topped 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46.1 degrees Celsius) in Phoenix and reached 110 degrees (43.3 degrees Celsius) in both Las Vegas and Palm Springs. The National Weather Service is warning of “dangerously hot conditions” on Monday across parts of Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah. More than 48 million people in 10 states are under a heat advisory watch or warning.

The extreme heat is only a taste of what’s the come, though, as high pressure spreads and locks in sunny skies and even more intense heat over a wide area. Later this week, temperatures from the Southwest to the Northern Rockies are forecast to be 15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 13.8 degrees Celsius) above average. Thursday and Friday are expected to be particularly brutal.

Many daily and monthly heat records are expected to be broken, and some places may even see their highest temperatures in recorded history. Parts of California are expected to get as hot as 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius). Last Vegas is currently forecast to hit 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.7 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday and again on Friday, just a degree off its all-time heat record. Record hot overnight lows in the 90s also mean cooling off will be nigh impossible without access to air conditioning.


7 Shocking Satellite Images Reveal the West’s MegadroughtCalifornia’s Drought Is So Bad, Farmers Are Ripping Up Almond TreesScientists Link Nearly 40% of Heat-Related Deaths to Human-Induced Climate Change

But that will be tame compared to the heat at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. Regularly one of the hottest places on Earth, Furnace Creek is forecast to reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit (51.7 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. That’s a shade off the record it set last year for the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth, but that’s hardly comforting. Even places as far north as Montana could reach triple-digit heat.Skip Ad

Extreme heat is becoming all the more common due to the climate crisis. It isn’t just uncomfortable, it can also be deadly. Research shows that high temperatures are the deadliest form of extreme weather on the planet due to increased threat of conditions like heat stress, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Older people are especially at risk, and the National Weather Service underscored that in its warnings this week referring to the heat as “DEADLY” in all caps.

The week’s severe heat will also further parch the West, which is experiencing a megadrought. The entirety of California, Utah, Nevada, and Oregon are in some form of drought, according to the Drought Monitor. The conditions are already spurring almond farmers to tear out their orchards, and California officials to create schemes to truck millions of salmon to the sea since waterways are too shallow and hot for the fish to navigate safely. Meanwhile, Lake Mead has dropped to its lowest levels since the Hoover Dam was built. This week’s heat will almost certainly make things much worse.

Perhaps the scariest thing about the coming heat it will make the West even more of a tinderbox, exacerbating wildfire conditions. Parts of the Southwest are already under “critical” or “extreme” fire warnings, and dire conditions could spread to the Northwest later this week. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are 22 large blazes are already alight, including ones that prompted evacuations in California, Utah, and Arizona this past weekend. With more heat on the way, things are looking pretty terrifying. If you’re out there, please check the forecasts regularly and do all you can to stay safe.

Can redesigning aeroplanes save the planet?

26 MAY 2021|DESIGN

Can we make air travel more sustainable and environmentally friendly? It’s a race against time to decarbonise aviation – engineers, scientists and aerospace companies are all working on solutions to bring down emissions generated by aircraft.

We explore some of the radical solutions being developed in the UK to address these urgent issues.

Written and Presented by Marc Cieslak
Camera & Edit: Ben ListerBBC Click

China punishes 27 officials after deadly ultramarathon kills 21 participants



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  • China has punished 27 government officials deemed responsible for last month’s ultramarathon deaths, the state-run People’s Daily said.
  • Twenty-one people died of hypothermia when extremely cold weather suddenly descended on a government-organized 100 km marathon on May 22 in the rugged northwestern province of Gansu.
Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the opening ceremony of the fifth annual meeting of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank via video link, in Beijing, capital of China, July 28, 2020.

Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the opening ceremony of the fifth annual meeting of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank via video link, in Beijing, capital of China, July 28, 2020.Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

China has punished 27 government officials deemed responsible for last month’s ultramarathon deaths, the state-run People’s Daily said on Friday, one of the world’s deadliest sporting tragedies in recent history.

Twenty-one people died of hypothermia when extremely cold weather suddenly descended on a government-organized 100 km marathon on May 22 in the rugged northwestern province of Gansu.

The head of Jingtai county, where the race was held, was dismissed from her post, the People’s Daily reported, citing a news briefing by investigators.

Other organizers held accountable included the mayor and the Communist Party chief of the city of Baiyin, to which the jurisdiction of Jingtai belongs.

Other punishments imposed on officials included major demerit ratings and disciplinary warnings.WATCH NOWVIDEO06:54Asia’s growing addiction to the ultramarathon

Li Zuobi, the Jingtai county party chief, fell from his apartment building on June 9 and died, state media reported, adding that the police have ruled out homicide while Li’s death was still being investigated.

It was not clear whether or not Li’s death was linked to the ultramarathon.

The investigators said the tragedy was a public safety incident brought about by extreme weather including high winds, heavy rain and plunging temperatures, as well as unprofessional organization and operation.

China’s sport administration said last week it was suspending all high-risk sports events that lack a supervisory body, established rules and clear safety standards.

The activities halted include mountain and desert trail sports, wingsuit flying and ultra-long distance running.

Climate and nature crises: solve both or solve neither, say experts

Restoring nature boosts biodiversity and ecosystems that can rapidly and cheaply absorb carbon emissions

A snorkeler observes coral bleaching in the Maldives.
A snorkeler swims through bleached coral in the Maldives. Half of the world’s coral cover has been lost since Victorian times, say scientists. Photograph: AP

Damian Carrington Environment editor@dpcarringtonThu 10 Jun 2021 09.00 EDT

Humanity must solve the climate and nature crises together or solve neither, according to a report from 50 of the world’s leading scientists.

Global heating and the destruction of wildlife is wreaking increasing damage on the natural world, which humanity depends on for food, water and clean air. Many of the human activities causing the crises are the same and the scientists said increased use of nature as a solution was vital.

The devastation of forests, peatlands, mangroves and other ecosystems has decimated wildlife populations and released huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Rising temperatures and extreme weather are, in turn increasingly damaging biodiversity.

But restoring and protecting nature boosts biodiversity and the ecosystems that can rapidly and cheaply absorb carbon again, the researchers said. While this is crucial, the scientists emphasise that rapid cuts in fossil fuel burning is also essential to ending the climate emergency.AdvertisementRevealed: rightwing firm posed as leftist group on Facebook to divide DemocratsJustice department calls for internal inquiry into seizure of Democrats’ data – liveAntónio Guterres on the climate crisis: ‘We are coming to a point of no return’All the Queen’s presidents: Biden joins long line of US leaders to meet royalScientists link intense exercise with MND risk in some peopleAstronomers find blinking giant star near heart of Milky WayAll the Queen’s presidents: Biden joins long line of USleaders to meet royal the Queen’s presidents: Biden joins long line of US leaders to meet royal

They also warned against action on one crisis inadvertently aggravating the other, such as creating monoculture tree plantations that store carbon but are wildlife deserts and more vulnerable to extreme weather.

“It is clear that we cannot solve [the global biodiversity and climate crises] in isolation – we either solve both or we solve neither,” said Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway’s climate and environment minister.

The peer-reviewed report was produced by the world’s leading biodiversity and climate experts, who were convened by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, both which report to the world’s political leaders.

The report identified actions to simultaneously fight the climate and nature crises, including expanding nature reserves and restoring – or halting the loss of – ecosystems rich in species and carbon, such as forests, natural grasslands and kelp forests.

“It’s very disturbing to see the impacts over recent years,” said Prof Alex David Rogers, of conservation group REV Ocean and the University of Oxford, and a report author. “Between 1970 and 2000, mangrove forests have lost about 40% of their cover and salt marshes an estimated 60%. We’ve also lost half of coral cover since Victorian times.”

Food systems cause a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and more sustainable farming is another important action, helped by the ending of destructive subsidies and rich nations eating less meat and cutting food waste.

“Animal agriculture not only emits 10 to 100 times more greenhouse gases per unit product than plant-based foods, they also use 10 to 100 times more land,” said Prof Pete Smith, of the University of Aberdeen. “So more plant-based diets would mean more environmentally friendly farming and then there would be more land on which to apply nature-based solutions.”

The scientists also warned against actions that tackled one crisis but worsened the other. “When I went for a walk in a plantation forest in England, it was sterile. It was a single, non-native species of tree,” said Prof Camille Parmesan, of the University of Plymouth. “There was nothing else there, no insects, no birds, no undergrowth. You might as well have built a concrete building.”

Past tree planting on carbon-rich peatlands that had never been forested was another example, said Smith. “That was an epic fail for the climate and for biodiversity.”

Planting very large areas with single crops to burn for energy was also problematic, even if the CO2 was captured and buried, Smith said: “To get the billions of tonnes of carbon removal that has been proposed in some scenarios for global stabilisation of climate, you would need thousands of millions of hectares – an area twice the size of India.”

Protecting and restoring natural ecosystems was the fastest and cheapest way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the scientists said. Cutting fossil fuel emissions was essential, but not enough at this point in the climate crisis, said Parmesan. “We cannot avoid dangerous climate change without soaking up some of the carbon that we’ve already put into the atmosphere and the best way to suck up carbon is using the power of plants,” she said.

“The science of restoration of ecosystems has really blossomed over the last 40 years. We are now able to efficiently and effectively restore complex systems, tropical rainforest, coastal wetlands, kelp forests and seagrass meadows, natural American prairie, and UK meadows back to their near historical diversity.”

Prof Mark Maslin, of University College London, said the report was seminal: “The science is very clear that climate change and biodiversity are inseparable. To stabilise climate change we need massive rewilding and reforestation.”

The UK environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, said: “This is an absolutely critical year for nature and climate. With the UN biodiversity [and climate summits], we have an opportunity and responsibility to put the world on a path to recovery. This hugely valuable report makes it clear that addressing biodiversity loss and climate change together offers our best chance of doing so.”

Carbon dioxide in the air at highest level since measurements began

Story by Reuters

Updated 11:09 PM ET, Mon June 7, 2021A 2019 photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii.A 2019 photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii.

Despite a massive reduction in commuting and in many commercial activities during the early months of the pandemic, the amount of carbon in Earth’s atmosphere in May reached its highest level in modern history, a global indicator released on Monday showed.Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, said the findings, based on the amount of carbon dioxide in the air at NOAA’s weather station on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, was the highest since measurements began 63 years ago.The measurement, called the Keeling Curve after Charles David Keeling, the scientist who began tracking carbon dioxide there in 1958, is a global benchmark for atmospheric carbon levels.

Instruments perched on NOAA’s mountaintop observatory recorded carbon dioxide at about 419 parts per million last month, more than the 417 parts per million in May 2020.

The amount of carbon in the air now is as much as it was about 4 million years ago, a time when sea level was 78 feet (24 meters) higher than it is today and the average temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was before the Industrial Revolution, said a report on the emissions.

There is more CO2 in the atmosphere today than any point since the evolution of humansCarbon dioxide is a key driver of climate change, and the findings show that reducing the use of fossil fuels, deforestation and other practices that lead to carbon emissions must be a top priority to avoid catastrophic consequences, said Pieter Tans, a scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory.Enter your email to sign up for the Wonder Theory newsletter.“close dialog”

Want to stay updated on the latest space and science news?We’ve got you.Sign Me UpBy subscribing you agree to ourprivacy policy.“We are adding roughly 40 billion metric tons of CO2 pollution to the atmosphere per year,” Tans wrote in the report. “That is a mountain of carbon that we dig up out of the Earth, burn, and release into the atmosphere as CO2 — year after year.”

Despite the pandemic lockdown, scientists were not able to see a drop in the overall amount of carbon in the atmosphere partly because of wildfires, which also release carbon, as well as the natural behavior of carbon in the atmosphere, the report said.The carbon dioxide levels measured were not affected by the eruption of Hawaiian volcanoes, Tans said, adding the station is situated far enough from active volcanoes that measurements are not distorted, and occasional plumes of carbon dioxide are removed from the data.

The scientists urged the global community to transition to solar and wind energy instead of fossil fuels, warning that the world has been unable to slow, let alone reverse, annual carbon dioxide levels thus far.”The solution is right before our eyes,” said Tans. “If we take real action soon, we might still be able to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

Japan proposes meat alternatives to reduce carbon emissions

  • Burgers using a meat alternative made with canola protein powder | BLOOMBERG
  • JIJI

The government on Tuesday proposed the use of meat alternatives as part of efforts to achieve a decarbonized society.

In its 2021 white paper on the environment, “sound material-cycle society” — where waste and use of natural resources is reduced as much as possible — and biodiversity, the government stressed the need to reform lifestyles to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The white paper took up the issue of substitute meat products, such as those using soybeans and other plant-based ingredients, for the first time, noting that they cause less carbon dioxide emissions than meat during the manufacturing process.

The move comes after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared last October that Japan will seek to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Food “may cause environmental impacts, such as through CO2 emissions during the production, processing and disposal stages, and development of forest areas for use as farmland,” the white paper said. The production of meat especially causes high levels of carbon dioxide emissions through the production and transport of feed, and the release of methane by livestock.

The report cited an increase in the number of restaurants and convenience stores offering meat alternatives.

“It is expected that alternative foods that look and feel like meat will be developed and become more familiar items,” it noted.

The white paper also emphasized the need to reduce carbon emissions related to the production, consumption and disposal of clothes.

It called on people to insulate their homes and use electricity generated from renewable energy sources.

“Mega-drought” in West means threat of extreme fire season ahead


UPDATED ON: JUNE 9, 2021 / 7:16 AM / CBS NEWS

By almost any measure the drought in the Western states this year is about as bad as we’ve ever seen — perhaps the worst in modern history. A severe lack of rainfall over the past two years, combined with a steadily heating climate, has turned California into a tinderbox, setting the stage for what will likely be a catastrophic fire season ahead.

This comes on the heels of the worst fire season in recorded history in the West, setting a new bar for what seemed possible. In 2020, more than 8 million acres burned, with California and Colorado experiencing their largest fires ever. 

That’s why it’s startling to see the comparison between last year’s relatively modest drought and this year’s record-setting drought. Drought conditions this time last year are a blip on the radar compared to where we are right now. 


The orange in the above map represents severe drought, the red is extreme drought and the dark red is exceptional drought. A total of 72% of the West is blanketed in one of these three categories and more than one-quarter is in exceptional drought — the highest category.

Over the past 20 years, the coverage of exceptional drought has never surpassed 11%. Right now it is a staggering 27%.


The escalating drought has severely dried out vegetation weeks before fire season really kicks in. The energy, or fuel, available to feed fires, technically called the Energy Release Component, is at a record level for this time of year. 

In the chart below for the Central Sierra mountains of California, the blue line represents the current energy available for fires, and the red line shows the previous highs. 


Although it appears that our current level is a record for all time, not just for the date, that needs some context. The data plotted for the Central Sierras only spans the last 10 years, so incorporating more years would likely show that the current amount of available energy is indeed a record for the date, but not for the entire fire season.

Fire season in the West traditionally ramps up in the summer and maximizes in the fall, but this season we have already seen numerous fires in the region. The Fire Weather Research Laboratory at San Jose State University says that vegetation moisture is so low that critical fuel moisture may be reached as early as this month.

This year’s drought is being caused by two factors: low rainfall the past two years and, over the longer term, human-caused climate change.

“The computers never saw it coming”

Inland Northwest Weather Blog

A discussion of weather and climate of the Inland Northwest.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

We’ve never seen a drought like this

 We’ve never seen a drought like this

It’s well known that weather in the western US is drier than in the eastern US.  As such, droughts are more common in the West.  Most of the West is designed to accommodate this drier climate.  The mountains get heavy snow in the winter, which slowly melts off in the spring and summer.  There are numerous dams throughout the West which catch much of the snow melt, using it to irrigate our farmland (as well as generate electricity).  This enables western farmers to grow crops in some rather arid locations.  
Still, there are some areas in the West that, similar to their eastern counterparts, rely solely on the rain and snow to irrigate their croplands.  In the West we call this “dryland farming”.  The biggest example of this is typically wheat and barley, but also includes a lot of hay.  The Inland Northwest is known as one of the largest producers of wheat in the US.  

These dryland crops require moisture through the spring and into the early summer.  Grains such as wheat and barley will ripen during the hot summer months and so they don’t really require much if any rain at that point until they are harvested in late summer.  This matches the usual rainfall patterns we see here in the Inland Northwest.  But not this year.
Rainfall this spring hasn’t just been light, it’s been nearly non-existent.  We haven’t seen anything like this before.  Spokane just finished it’s driest February through May ever.  EVER.  Records for Spokane go back to 1881.  That means this was the driest spring in 140 years!  And it wasn’t just Spokane.  The dark red area in the image below shows all of the areas that have had their driest February-May on record.

As you can see, it’s been dry over much of the Northwest this spring, but the Inland Northwest has been the epicenter of this dryness.  The three month period of March through May was the driest for many other locations in the Northwest.

So the natural question is “what caused this drought?”.  The answer isn’t straightforward and probably incomplete given our current understanding of weather and climate.  One contributor that we are aware of is La Nina.  To which you may be saying “I thought La Nina meant wetter than normal conditions for our area”, and you would be correct.  Here’s a diagram showing the basic jet stream pattern for a typical La Nina that you may have seen before:

The purple and orange lines are meant to represent the variable jet stream patterns we normally see during a La Nina winter/spring.  The purple line shows a colder phase of the jet stream, diverting up into Alaska and then bringing colder but drier air into the Northwest US.  But then the jet stream will also at times follow the orange line, bringing Pacific moisture into the Northwest.  The problem is that for the spring of 2021, we’ve seen a LOT more of the purple jet stream, and not so much of the orange jet stream. 
Note in the image above the big H and the blocking High Pressure in the Gulf of Alaska.  Here’s the air pressure anomaly at about 18,000 feet in the atmosphere from the Feb-May period this spring.

What this shows is that the air pressure in the Gulf of Alaska has been higher than normal this spring.  This compares very well with the idealized La Nina image previously shown with the Blocking High in the Gulf of Alaska.  So this looks like what we would expect for a La Nina winter/spring.
But now here’s the jet stream anomaly for this past spring:

Do you see that ribbon of bright colors along the Canadian west coast?  That shows that the jet stream this year has been coming from the northwest a lot more and a lot stronger than usual.  Note that those bright colors extend all the way back to Alaska, across the north Pacifc and Kamchatka Peninsula.  In other words, the “purple” jet stream has been doing its thing during a La Nina winter like it should.
But then look at the other area of bright colors in the image above, out in the eastern Pacific.  Those show that the jet stream across the Pacific has been much weaker  and infrequent than normal.  So the “orange” jet stream that is supposed to bring the moisture, hasn’t been doing its job this spring.  
The result is that we’ve been getting a lot more of the “purple” jet stream from the northwest (which is a dry weather pattern), and not nearly enough of the “orange” jet stream from the Pacific (which is a wet weather pattern).
Is there any hope of this pattern changing?  Officially, the Climate Prediction Center declared the 2020/21 La Nina over.  That’s not to say that our weather pattern will necessarily change, especially since we are heading into the typical hot dry summer season.
Here’s the computer forecast for the June-July-August season for temperature and precipitation.  They call for a warmer and drier than normal summer overall all of the western US.  

But this of course is a computer forecast.  And you may be wondering if the computer forecasts correctly predicted our record dry spring.  That’s a good question, and the answer is no, the computers never saw it coming.  Here’s the forecast made back in February 2021 for the Feb-Mar-Apr timeframe.  That area of light blue in the Inland Northwest shows that the computer actually expected that we would see normal or possibly wetter than normal conditions for our area, which agreed with the usual La Nina pattern.

David Attenborough Netflix documentary: Australian scientists break down in tears over climate crisis

Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet shows the toll the demise of the Earth’s natural places is having on the people who study them

two giraffes against a background of smoggy high-rise city
New David Attenborough film looks at Australia’s bushfires and the climate crisis – video trailer

Graham Readfearn@readfearnThu 3 Jun 2021 13.30 EDT

One of Australia’s leading coral reef scientists is seen breaking down in tears at the decline of the Great Barrier Reef during a new Sir David Attenborough documentary to be released globally on Friday evening.

Prof Terry Hughes is recounting three coral bleaching monitoring missions in 2016, 2017 and 2020 when he says: “It’s a job I hoped I would never have to do because it’s actually very confronting …” before tears cut him short.

The emotional scene comes during the new Netflix documentary, Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet, and shows the toll the demise of the planet’s natural places is having on some of the people who study them.

The film visits scientists working on melting ice, the degradation of the Amazon, and the loss of biodiversity, and looks at a 2019/2020 “summer from hell” for Australia that featured unprecedented bushfires and the most widespread bleaching of corals ever recorded on the Great Barrier reef.

The 70-minute film features another Australian scientist, Dr Daniella Teixeira, walking through a blackened landscape where she was working to conserve endangered glossy black cockatoos.

“There’s no sign of any wildlife at all,” says Teixeira, with footage of twisted and burnt animals and trees turned to charcoal. “There’s nothing left.”

The documentary, fronted by Attenborough, is centred on the research of Swedish scientist Prof Johan Rockström, whose work looks at the concept of tipping points and boundaries in different systems around the planet, such as the polar regions, the Earth’s biodiversity and the climate.

Netflix says the film documents “the most important scientific discovery of our time – that humanity has pushed Earth beyond the boundaries that have kept Earth stable for 10,000 years, since the dawn of civilisation.”AdvertisementBiden provides details on plan to share 80m Covid vaccine doses globally – liveNetanyahu attacks ‘dangerous’ coalition seeking to topple himClimate tipping points could topple like dominoes, warn scientistsUnited Airlines aims to revive Concorde spirit with supersonic planesUS DoJ investigating postmaster general over political fundraising‘Mind-blowing’: tenth of world’s giant sequoias may have been destroyed by a single fireClimate tipping points could topple like dominoes,warn scientists tipping points could topple like dominoes, warn scientists

Hughes has become a high-profile scientific figure in Australia for his research on the complex impacts of global heating on the world’s biggest reef system and his monitoring flights to document mass bleaching.

“In big thermal extremes like we’ve been seeing during mass bleaching events in recent decades [corals] can actually die very very quickly. They cook,” he says in the documentary.

Hughes told the Guardian that “if anything I think the emotional response has lessened over time” and that the 2016 bleaching event in the north of the reef “was the most confronting”.

“But it’s still deeply saddening,” he said.

He said Rockström’s research, which he has collaborated on, was “simple and powerful” and showed how the world was on a “trajectory that is not sustainable”.

a landscape of thousands of blackened and burnt trees
Australian scientist Daniella Teixeira revisits Kangaroo Island after the devastating black summer bushfires in Sir David Attenborough’s new Netflix documentary. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

“You can easily transgress a tipping point and not notice it for a couple of decades,” he said, adding he thought the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere had probably reached a tipping point for coral reefs in the 1980s.

Hughes, of James Cook University’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said the black summer bushfires and coral bleaching “points to Australia’s vulnerability”.

In the documentary, Attenborough says: “We are heading for a future where the Great Barrier Reef is a coral graveyard.”

He describes Australia’s 2019/20 summer as “a summer from hell, fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and drought”.

Texeira, from the University of Queensland, is filmed in February 2020 returning to sites on Kangaroo Island off the South Australian coast where she was studying endangered glossy black cockatoos.

She finds one of the nests erected to help the birds on a fallen tree with an iron plate around the trunk to stop possums climbing up and attacking the young.

With the iron buckled from the heat and the nest melted, Texeira says: “They weren’t enough to save them.”

She told the Guardian: “There are days when I still get overwhelmed. At the end of the day, we’re humans and we have emotions.”

She had been visiting the island for four years and the fires had come just as she was completing her PhD.

“I have come out the other side now but it has really made me more focused on the urgency of the problems and how we as scientists can make changes now.”

  • Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet is available on Netflix on 4 June

Climate tipping points could topple like dominoes, warn scientists

Analysis shows significant risk of cascading events even at 2C of heating, with severe long-term effects

Smoke rises from the Amazon rainforest in Brazil
A burning area of rainforest reserve in Pará state, Brazil. Much of the Amazon is close to a tipping point at which it becomes savannah, researchers have warned. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Damian Carrington Environment editor@dpcarringtonThu 3 Jun 2021 12.34 EDT

Ice sheets and ocean currents at risk of climate tipping points can destabilise each other as the world heats up, leading to a domino effect with severe consequences for humanity, according to a risk analysis.

Tipping points occur when global heating pushes temperatures beyond a critical threshold, leading to accelerated and irreversible impacts. Some large ice sheets in Antarctica are thought to already have passed their tipping points, meaning large sea-level rises in coming centuries.

The new research examined the interactions between ice sheets in West Antarctica, Greenland, the warm Atlantic Gulf Stream and the Amazon rainforest. The scientists carried out 3m computer simulations and found domino effects in a third of them, even when temperature rises were below 2C, the upper limit of the Paris agreement.AdvertisementBiden provides details on plan to share 80m Covid vaccine doses globally – liveNetanyahu attacks ‘dangerous’ coalition seeking to topple himUnited Airlines aims to revive Concorde spirit with supersonic planesUS DoJ investigating postmaster general over political fundraising‘Mind-blowing’: tenth of world’s giant sequoias may have been destroyed by a single fireUS DoJ investigating postmaster general overpolitical fundraising

The study showed that the interactions between these climate systems can lower the critical temperature thresholds at which each tipping point is passed. It found that ice sheets are potential starting points for tipping cascades, with the Atlantic currents acting as a transmitter and eventually affecting the Amazon.

“We provide a risk analysis, not a prediction, but our findings still raise concern,” said Prof Ricarda Winkelmann, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany. “[Our findings] might mean we have less time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and still prevent tipping processes.”

The level of CO2 in the atmosphere required to push temperatures beyond the thresholds could be reached in the very near future, she said. “In the next years or decades, we might be committing future generations to really severe consequences.” These could include many metres of sea-level rise from ice melting, affecting scores of coastal cities.

“We’re shifting the odds, and not in our favour – the risk clearly is increasing the more we heat our planet,” said Jonathan Donges, also at PIK and part of the research team.

In May, scientists reported that a significant part of the Greenland ice sheet was on the brink of a tipping point. A 2019 analysis led by Prof Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter suggested the world may already have crossed a series of climate tipping points, resulting in what the researchers called “an existential threat to civilisation”.

The climate crisis may also mean much of the Amazon is close to a tipping point, at which carbon-storing forest is replaced by savannah, researchers have warned. The ocean currents of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), of which the Gulf Stream is an important part and keeps western Europe mild, are at their weakest in more than a millennium.

The research, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics, used a new type of climate model because existing models are very complex and require huge computing power, making them expensive to run many times. Instead, the researchers used an approach that focused specifically on how the temperature thresholds for the tipping points changed as the systems interacted, allowing them to run the 3m simulations.

An example of the complex chain of interactions the researchers tracked is the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. This releases fresh water into the ocean and slows down the AMOC, which is driven partly by dense, salty water being pulled down towards the ocean floor. A weaker AMOC means less heat is transported from the tropics towards the north pole, which in turn leads to warmer waters in the Southern Ocean. This can then destabilise ice sheets in Antarctica, which pushes up global sea level and causes more melting at the edges of the Greenland ice sheet.

“The study suggests that below 2C of global warming – ie in the Paris agreement target range – there could still be a significant risk of triggering cascading climate tipping points,” said Lenton. “What the new study doesn’t do is unpack the timescale over which tipping points changes and cascades could unfold – instead it focuses on the eventual consequences. The results should be viewed as ‘commitments’ that we may be making soon to potentially irreversible changes and cascades, leaving as a grim legacy to future generations.”

However, the chance of a cascade of tipping points leading to a runaway greenhouse effect, where the planet gets ever hotter even if humanity stops carbon emissions, is extremely unlikely, according to Prof Anders Levermann, also at PIK but not involved in the new work. “The Earth will get as warm as we make it, which means we’re the ones [that must] stop it,” he said.