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See Everything Bad About Climate Change in a Single California Town

Montecito is coming back to life this morning. The 9,000 person town to the east of Santa Barbara has been empty since Tuesday, when mandatory evacuations forced residents out of their homes for the fifth time in four months.

This week it was a channel of tropical moisture called the Pineapple Express, dumping bands of intense rain and triggering flash floods throughout Southern California. In January it was a once-in-a-200-year storm that dropped half an inch of water in five minutes, unleashing massive mudslides that ripped houses from their foundations and killed 27. In December it was the deadly Thomas Fire that incinerated 280,000 acres—the largest wildfire in California history.

To some, Montecito might just seem like a town hit by a string of superlatively bad luck. But to people crunching the numbers it looks less like an outlier and more like an inevitability of climate change. If you want to see what California looks like in the future, you don’t need a crystal ball. You just need to hop on the 101 and drive until you hit Montecito.

Of course, you’ll have to wait until the weather clears up. For the last few days, a plume of tropical moisture carrying as much water as the Mississippi River has been wringing out between four and nine inches of water along the coast and in the foothills. According to Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California Los Angeles, that’s nothing unusual. In fact, it’s what he would call a “textbook “atmospheric river. So why all the fuss? “It’s not the strongest atmospheric river we seen in a long time,” says Swain. “But it’s aimed directly at these burn scar regions which are incredibly vulnerable to flooding and debris flows.”

GOES-East captured the Pineapple Express funneling a Mississippi River’s worth of moisture into Southern California this week.

Credit: NOAA

He’s not exaggerating. If you look at a satellite image of the plume, it’s pointing straight at the 280,000-acre bullseye left behind by the Thomas Fire. That’s bad because fires destabilize the landscape. Without vegetation to hold back the soil, even a little bit of rain on the hills can have huge consequences. A lot of rain can turn things deadly, like it did in January. Slabs of boulders, rocks, downed trees, even wrecked cars careened down the slopes, carried by waist-high mudflows. More than 100 homes were destroyed. Power was out for days.

When the new round of evacuation orders came, the town was still recovering. On Thursday Montecito sent an excavator out to clear areas where debris was still piled up from the last flow, to prevent creeks and other outflows from sending it further downstream. With the National Weather Service predicting this storm to be even worse, local officials went door to door to make sure people got out and stayed out until the flash flood and mudslide risks subsided. But the question evacuees were asking each other Thursday night wasn’t “when can I go home?” But, “how many more times is this going to happen?”

Obviously no one can know for sure. But the science suggests that every aspect of California’s drought-to-deluge cycle is intensifying in the face of climate change. Even the Pineapple Express.

“In a future world you do see an expansion of this subtropical jet, which drives these southern atmospheric rivers, based on the models we’re using” says Christine Shields, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Sciences. “What that has meant in the projections is that these events become longer lived, carry more precipitation, and have a stronger impact.”

That’s because as the atmosphere warms up, it’s able to hold more and more water, known in weather nerd circles as the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship. This doesn’t affect the total amount of rainfall, necessarily. That’s more a function of how long the storm sticks around, which can be affected by surface wind and other pressure dynamics. But more water in the atmosphere does mean more intense precipitation—higher rainfall rates. And that’s the one that matters in California. “In these areas decimated by wildfires you may only get two inches of rain, but those two inches fall in half an hour,” says Shields. “That could be devastating.”

Understanding climate change’s impacts on precipitation intensity is an area of active research, including by Swain’s group at UCLA. He couldn’t speak to their latest findings because they’ve already been accepted for upcoming publication. But he did note that as climate change deals out more extreme weather events, scientists have a stronger financial case for running the kind of computationally expensive models groups like his use to translate global scale dynamics into regional predictions. “The present event is a really good example of why details matter,” he says. “We got the strength right but if the position is off by even 100 miles, that’s a huge difference for who gets impacted.”

This time it might have been the people of Montecito, and this time the storm might have passed without turning the hillsides into a deathtrap. But that’s the thing about California; there’s always another drought and another fire and another flood around the corner. Which means in the Golden State, it’s always evacuation season.

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Planet Earth

Climate change kicked off a new Great Migration

If you think that the effects of climate change will not come soon, you will be disappointed. Numerous scientific studies show that global warming will lead to devastating consequences, including the movement of people around the planet on an unprecedented, destabilizing scale. Thus, droughts, floods, bankruptcy and famine are already forcing people to leave their homes. 

The situation is such that environmental hazards affect populations across the planet and – under certain conditions – can stimulate migration. The most important factors are temperature changes, variability in precipitation, and rapid-onset natural disasters such as tropical storms, according to a study by researchers at the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

The findings allow researchers to identify geographic regions that may be particularly susceptible to future migration movements. Has the Great Nations Migration really begun?

Migration of peoples

The history of mankind is approximately 2.4 million years old. However, according to a 2015 study, a bone fragment found in Ethiopia in 2013 suggests that humanity is several hundred thousand years older. As the authors of the work, published in the journal Science, write, the genus of primates of the hominid family existed on Earth 2.8 million years ago.

It is important to understand that over the entire period of its existence, human populations have regularly migrated. So, the first to leave Africa and populate Eurasia was Homo erectus (Homo erectus), whose migrations began about 2 million years ago. It was followed by the expansion of Homo sapiens and its close relatives: Neanderthals and Denisovans. A modern man came to the Middle East about 80 thousand years ago.

Today, migration is called any territorial movement of the population associated with the crossing of both external and internal borders in order to change their permanent residence or temporary stay in the territory for study or work, regardless of the factors that contribute to resettlement.

The relentless impact of drought, floods, bankruptcy and famine are forcing people to leave their homes.


Ecological migration is most pronounced in middle-income countries, as well as in countries with developed agriculture. “Environmental factors can stimulate migration, but the magnitude of the impact depends on the specific economic and socio-political conditions in the countries,” writes the lead author of the new study, Roman Hoffmann.

In both low- and high-income countries, the environmental impact on migration is weaker. Presumably because either people are too poor to leave, or in rich countries people have enough financial resources to cope with the consequences. It is in the regions with average incomes and dependence on agriculture that strong waves of population migration are observed.

A large-scale meta-analysis, the results of which are published in the journal Nature Climate Change, revealed a number of interesting patterns. It turned out that the impact on migration depends on the types of environmental hazards and that different hazards can mutually reinforce each other. While temperature changes in the region have the greatest impact on migration, fast-onset natural disasters, changing precipitation variability and anomalies can also play a role.

Brave new world

As the authors of the meta-analysis emphasize, ecological migration always depends on a number of economic and socio-political factors. The story of climate refugees heading for Europe or the US can be oversimplified. For example, researchers have found strong evidence that environmental change in vulnerable countries mainly leads to internal migration or migration to other low- and middle-income countries, rather than cross-border migration to high-income countries. Affected populations often migrate to locations in their own region and eventually return to their homes within a relatively short period of time.

Burgundy marks the regions in which the largest increase in migration is observed; Regions of international population migration are marked in red; Regions of traditional growth of migrants are marked in yellow. 

The results of the study also point to regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change, in which ecological migration may be especially widespread. The authors of the work note that the population of Latin America and the Caribbean, several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the Sahel region and East Africa, and Western, South and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk.

Given the expected increase in global average temperature, researchers believe that the topic of environmental migration will begin to attract more attention in the future. The best way to protect those affected is to stabilize the global climate, namely to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. While migration can be an effective adaptation strategy for households, it can be involuntary and accompanied by human suffering. However, the most important conclusion of this meta-analysis, in my opinion, is the fact that forced climatic migrations of large population groups can be avoided.

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Planet Earth

In the Netherlands, people began to be buried in mushroom coffins

This accelerates the decomposition of the body several times.

In the Netherlands, you can continue to help the ecosystem after death by choosing a living mushroom coffin that accelerates the decay of your body. The coffin transforms corpses into compost, which enriches the soil thanks to mycelium.

The idea was coined by Bob Hendrix of the Delft University of Technology. According to him, such a “living cocoon” was the first in the world. 

“This is the world’s first ‘living’ coffin, and last Saturday a deceased person in the Netherlands was composted for the first time and brought back into the cycle of life”

Bob Hendrix

The coffin was the resting place of an 82-year-old woman whose body would decompose within two to three years. The decomposition process in a traditional coffin with lacquered wood and metal handles usually takes over ten years. 

The mushroom coffin itself decomposes within 30-45 days. According to Hendrix, mycelium is the most suitable material for environmentally friendly burial. 

The technology for the production of the coffin includes the collection of moss, the extraction of mycelium from the mushrooms and the addition of wood chips.

The resulting solution hardens in seven days, and then becomes activated again when moisture gets on it. According to Hendrix, this material is a complete organism. 

The bottom of the coffin is covered with moss, which has been added with various soil creatures. This further accelerates the decomposition of the body. 

Hendrix’s startup was named Loop. The scientist has already signed a contract with one of the funeral homes and expects that his work will be a great success. 

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Planet Earth

A tourist fell into a fire trap: published a creepy video from California

The video, which was filmed in the Sierra National Forest, located in California, shows how one of the holidaymakers was in the heart of a fire trap.

This vacationer turned out to be just one person out of 207 who were also captured in the fire and were saved in the very last moments. The rescue service came to their aid, which took people to a safe place. 

In the video, which was made by a man on the estate of Jeremy Remington, you can clearly see how cars burn, and the flame is getting closer to tourists and its speed is noticeably increasing.

People were in a real trap. Fire surrounded them on all sides, and the roads that could be driven were destroyed. According to the information provided by the Emergency Situations Department, work to rescue tourists began on Saturday evening and continued until Sunday morning. 

More than 20 people had to be transported to hospitals. Two of the victims were in critical condition and required immediate medical attention. At the same time, two people who were vacationing in the National Forest refused the proposed evacuation.

The scale of the wildfire that started on Friday is not too large. But at the same time, the fire managed to destroy more than 71 square miles of forest. By the middle of Saturday, due to the increase in the rate of spread of fire, a 7 times larger area was destroyed. 

On Sunday morning, it was possible to stop the fire by no more than 5%, so the work continued actively and further.

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