Posts tagged Earth System Research Laboratory
The Earth’s climate zones are shifting at an accelerating pace, says a new study led by a scientist at the CU’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.
The acceleration of change means that the species inhabiting each zone have less time to adapt to the climatic changes, said lead author Irina Mahlstein, a CIRES scientist who works at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. “The warmer the climate gets, the faster the climate zones are shifting. This could make it harder for plants and animals to adjust.”
The study is the first to look at the accelerating pace of the shifting of climate zones, which are areas of the Earth defined by annual and seasonal cycles of temperature and precipitation, as well as temperature and precipitation thresholds of plant species. Over 30 different climate zones are found on Earth; examples include the equatorial monsoonal zone, the polar tundra zone and cold arid desert zone.
“A shift in the climate zone is probably a better measure of ‘reality’ for living systems, more so than changing temperature by a degree or precipitation by a centimeter,” said Mahlstein.
The scientists used climate model simulations and a well-known ecosystem classification scheme to look at the shifts between climate zones over a two-century period, 1900 to 2098. The team found that for an initial 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, about 5 percent of Earth’s land area shifts to a new climate zone.
The models show that the pace of change quickens for the next 3.6 F of warming as an additional 10 percent of the land area shifts to a new climate zone. The paper was published online in the journal Nature Climate Change on April 21.
Certain regions of the globe, such as northern middle and high latitudes, will undergo more changes than other regions, such as the tropics, the scientists found. In the tropics, mountainous regions will experience bigger changes than low-altitude areas.
In the coming century, the findings suggest that frost climates — the coldest climate zone of the planet — will largely decrease. In general, dry regions in different areas of the globe will increase, and a large fraction of land area will change from cool summers to hot summers, according to the study.
The scientists also investigated whether temperature or precipitation had a greater impact on how much of the land area changed zones. “We found that temperature is the main factor, at least through the end of this century,” said Mahlstein.
John Daniel at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory and Susan Solomon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology co-authored the study.
-CU press release
Analysis of 90 years of observational data has revealed that summer climates in regions across the globe are changing — mostly, but not always, warming –according to a new study led by a scientist from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences headquartered at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“It is the first time that we show on a local scale that there are significant changes in summer temperatures,” said lead author CIRES scientist Irina Mahlstein. “This result shows us that we are experiencing a new summer climate regime in some regions.”
The technique, which reveals location-by-location temperature changes rather than global averages, could yield valuable insights into changes in ecosystems on a regional scale. Because the methodology relies on detecting temperatures outside the expected norm, it is more relevant to understand changes to the animal and plant life of a particular region, which scientists would expect to show sensitivity to changes that lie outside of normal variability.
“If the summers are actually significantly different from the way that they used to be, it could affect ecosystems,” said Mahlstein, who works in the Chemical Sciences Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory.
To identify potential temperature changes, the team used climate observations recorded from 1920 to 2010 from around the globe. The scientists termed the 30-year interval from 1920 to 1949 the “base period,” and then compared the base period to other 30-year test intervals starting every 10 years since 1930.
The comparison used statistics to assess whether the test interval differed from the base period beyond what would be expected due to yearly temperature variability for that geographical area.
Their analysis found that some changes began to appear as early as the 1960s, and the observed changes were more prevalent in tropical areas. In these regions, temperatures varied little throughout the years, so the scientists could more easily detect any changes that did occur, Mahlstein said.
The scientists found significant summer temperature changes in 40 percent of tropical areas and 20 percent of higher-latitude areas. In the majority of cases, the researchers observed warming summer temperatures, but in some cases they observed cooling summer temperatures.
“This study has applied a new approach to the question, ‘Has the temperature changed in local areas?’ ” Mahlstein said. The study is in press in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.
The study’s findings are consistent with other approaches used to answer the same question, such as modeling and analysis of trends, Mahlstein said. But this technique uses only observed data to come to the same result. “Looking at the graphs of our results, you can visibly see how things are changing,” she said.
In particular the scientists were able to look at the earlier time periods, note the temperature extremes, and observe that those values became more frequent in the later time periods. “You see how the extreme events of the past have become a normal event,” Mahlstein said.
The scientists used 90 years of data for their study, a little more than the average lifespan of a human being. So if inhabitants of those areas believe that summers have changed since they were younger, they can be confident it is not a figment of their imagination.
“We can actually say that these changes have happened in the lifetime of a person,” Mahlstein said.
Co-authors on the study were Gabriele Hegerl from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Susan Solomon from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
CIRES is a joint institute of CU-Boulder and NOAA.
NOAA selects CU-Boulder to
continue joint leadership of CIRES
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has selected the University of Colorado Boulder to continue a federal/academic partnership that extends NOAA’s ability to study climate change, improve weather models and better predict how solar storms can disrupt communication and navigation technologies.
The selection means that NOAA will continue funding the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, for at least five years and up to 10 more years. CIRES was established at CU-Boulder in 1967.
The amount of the award is contingent on the availability of funding in the federal budget, but NOAA anticipates that up to $32 million may be available annually. Total NOAA funding is variable from year to year and is based on the number of projects the university proposes and NOAA approves.
Following a competitive process, NOAA selected CU-Boulder to administer the CIRES partnership which leverages university resources to expand understanding of the “Earth system” — the interrelationships among the atmosphere, oceans, land, living things and the sun’s energy.
“Improving our understanding of the Earth system is critically important as the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is forcing changes in all of its processes,” said Robert Detrick, assistant administrator of the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and chairman of the NOAA Research Council. “The University of Colorado has been an excellent partner to NOAA in pursuing this mission.”
NOAA’s first cooperative institute, CIRES is marking its 45th anniversary this year and is now one of 18 NOAA cooperative institutes nationwide. NOAA competitively funds cooperative institutes at universities with strong research programs relevant to NOAA’s mission. These institutes provide resources and opportunities that extend beyond the agency’s own research capacity.
“Partnership in environmental research with the NOAA Boulder laboratories is the keystone of CIRES research,” said CIRES Interim Director William Lewis Jr. “We have great ambitions in joint research with NOAA over the next five years.”
The partnership allows researchers at CU-Boulder to receive support for research projects that may involve NOAA scientists, primarily at the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder as well as other NOAA cooperative institutes.
The CIRES partnership will focus on nine research themes:
- Air quality in a changing environment
- Climate forcing feedbacks and analysis
- Earth systems dynamics, variability and change
- Management and exploitation of geophysical data
- Regional science and applications
- Scientific outreach and education
- Space weather understanding and predictability
- Stratospheric processes and trends
- Systems and prediction models development
“With pressing issues like air quality, climate change and space weather now at the forefront globally, the University of Colorado Boulder is eager to continue this crucial partnership with NOAA,” said CU-Boulder Vice Chancellor for Research Stein Sture. “CIRES is known around the world for advancing our understanding of the complex Earth system and as a premier institution in educating the next generation of environmental scientists.”
NOAA supports cooperative institutes to conduct research, education, training and outreach aligned with its mission. Cooperative institutes also promote the involvement of students and postdoctoral scientists in NOAA-funded research. This unique setting provides NOAA the benefit of working with the complementary capabilities of a research institution that contribute to NOAA-related sciences ranging from satellite climatology and fisheries biology to atmospheric chemistry and coastal ecology.
Gasoline worse than diesel when it
comes to some types of air pollution
The exhaust fumes from gasoline vehicles contribute more to the production of a specific type of air pollution — secondary organic aerosols — than those from diesel vehicles, according to a new study by scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and other colleagues.
“The surprising result we found was that it wasn’t diesel engines that were contributing the most to the organic aerosols in L.A.,” said CIRES research scientist Roya Bahreini who led the study and also works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ESRL. “This was contrary to what the scientific community expected.”
SOAs are tiny particles that are formed in air and make up typically 40-60 percent of the aerosol mass in urban environments. This is important because fine-particle pollution can cause human health effects, such as heart or respiratory problems.
Due to the harmful nature of these particles and the fact that they can also impact the climate and can reduce visibility, scientists want to understand how they form, Bahreini said. Researchers had already established that SOAs could be formed from gases released by gasoline engines, diesel engines and natural sources — biogenic agents from plants and trees — but they had not determined which of these sources were the most important, she said.
“We needed to do the study in a location where we could separate the contribution from vehicles from that of natural emissions from vegetation,” Bahreini said.
Los Angeles proved to be an ideal location. Flanked by an ocean on one side and by mountains to the north and the east, it is, in terms of air circulation, relatively isolated, Bahreini said. At this location, the scientists made three weekday and three weekend flights with the NOAA P3 research aircraft, which hosted an arsenal of instruments designed to measure different aspects of air pollution.
“Each instrument tells a story about one piece of the puzzle,” Bahreini said. “Where do the particles come from? How are they different from weekday to weekend, and are the sources of vehicle emissions different from weekday to weekend?”
From their measurements, the scientists were able to confirm, as expected, that diesel trucks were used less during weekends, while the use of gasoline vehicles remained nearly constant throughout the week. The team then expected that the weekend levels of SOAs would take a dive from their weekday levels, Bahreini said.
But that was not what they found.
Instead, the levels of SOA particles remained relatively unchanged from their weekday levels. Because the scientists knew that the only two sources for SOA production in this location were gasoline and diesel fumes, the study’s result pointed directly to gasoline as the key source.
“The contribution of diesel to SOA is almost negligible,” Bahreini said. “Even being conservative, we could deduce from our results that the maximum upper limit of contribution to SOA would be 20 percent.”
That leaves gasoline contributing the other 80 percent or more of the SOA, Bahreini said. The finding was published online March 1 in Geophysical Research Letters. “While diesel engines emit other pollutants such as soot and nitrogen oxides, for organic aerosol pollution they are not the primary culprit,” Bahreini said.
If the scientists were to apply their findings from the L.A. study to the rest of the world, a decrease in the emission of organic species from gasoline engines may significantly reduce SOA concentrations on a global scale as well. This suggests future research aimed at understanding ways to reduce gasoline emissions would be valuable.
The study was funded by NOAA’s Climate Change and Air Quality Programs, the California Air Resources Board and the National Science Foundation.
CIRES coauthors on the team include Joost de Gouw, Carsten Warneke, Harald Stark, William Dube, Jessica Gilman, Katherine Hall, John Holloway, Anne Perring, Joshua Schwarz, Ryan Spackman and Nicholas Wagner.
Cigarette smoking, burning forests and even cooking fires all release a chemical compound not previously known to exist in significant quantities in smoke and which may have potential human health impacts, says a new study involving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado Boulder.
The study was conducted by scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES — a joint institute of CU-Boulder and NOAA — along with researchers from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory.
The molecule, isocyanic acid, is similar to methyl isocyanate, the gas that leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984 killing more than 3,000 people within weeks. “The molecule has hardly been measured before — certainly not in the atmosphere,” said CIRES Fellow Joost de Gouw, coauthor of the new paper published May 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “So it was a complete surprise to find it in such large quantities.”
De Gouw and his colleagues were first able to detect isocyanic acid when they developed and tested a new instrument, a mass spectrometer designed to measure gaseous acids in the air. In the laboratory, they found biomass burning — the burning of trees or plant material — produced levels of the molecule approaching 600 parts per billion by volume, or ppbv.
“There is this molecule in smoke that we can now measure and it is there in significant quantities,” de Gouw said. “There are good reasons to believe that it can have significant health impacts.”
In the human body, isocyanic acid dissolves to form charged cyanate molecules, and the researchers found that the acid was very soluble at the pH level of human blood. This means it could potentially enter the bloodstream, said de Gouw. When the exposure levels of isocyanic acid are greater than 1 ppbv, the charged cyanate molecules are expected to be present at levels that can contribute to a variety of human health problems like cardiovascular disease, cataracts and rheumatoid arthritis.
Once the researchers discovered that fires produced the gas at the U.S. Forest Service Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Mont., they then took their instruments out of the lab to see whether smoke in a “real” environment also gave off this chemical. “We had a new tool to look around us and we just explored,” de Gouw said. “It was basically our chemical curiosity at work.”
Previous studies have shown that burning coal produces isocyanic acid, and the CIRES researchers have discovered the chemical also is present in tobacco smoke and smoke from the combustion of other plant materials. In rural areas of developing countries where biofuels are used for cooking and heating, exposure levels of the acid could be harmful, according to the research team.
But does a real fire, as opposed to a lab fire, give off the acid? The team didn’t have to wait long to find out. Starting on Labor Day 2010, the Fourmile Canyon wildfire raged in the foothills above Boulder, Colo., burning more than 6,000 acres and destroying 169 homes. Scientists at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder wasted no time in learning what they could about the event.
The team’s spectrometer detected levels of the acid up to 200 pptv in the air at the site, which was downwind from the fire. “Boulder has a world-class atmospheric chemistry building and only once in its lifetime is it going to have a full-on hit from a wildfire,” de Gouw said. “So just about everyone in that building turned on their instruments.”
One possibility was that the acid would only be prevalent in the immediate vicinity of a fire, de Gouw said. “But that didn’t happen,” he said. “We were miles away and it was still there.”
The researchers didn’t constrain their measurements to wildfires. They also used their equipment to find the levels of isocyanic acid in the urban environment of Los Angeles. “In LA we find even when there are no fires there is a little of this acid,” de Gouw said. “So smoke may not be the only source of it in the atmosphere.”
Since more isocyanic acid was measured in the atmosphere during the day, sunlight could be sparking the chemical reactions that make it, de Gouw said. Another potential source in urban air could be emissions from diesel engines outfitted with the latest generation of pollution control equipment that is now being introduced in California and Europe, he said.
“We know so little about isocyanic acid’s behavior in the atmosphere that we want to do a number of follow-up studies, “ de Gouw said. “We have some data in our paper but that is just the beginning and we need to do a lot more work.”
Other authors on the PNAS paper included Jim Roberts, Patrick Veres, Anthony Cochran, Carsten Warneke, Ian Burling, Robert Yokelson, Brian Lerner, Jessica Gilman, William Kuster and Ray Fall.