kottke.org posts about climate science

New study estimates U.S. climate migrations

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 05, 2020

PLOS, modeling migration patterns in the USA under sea level rise

Climate migrations are already happening across the world, although not always talked about in those words and often having more to do with droughts and famine. With sea level rise and worsening weather, those migrations are bound to multiply and accelerate, including intra country, especially in a large country with a lot of coasts.

Bistra Dilkina, a computer scientist at the University of Southern California, led a study to try and predict how sea level rise might drive U.S. migration patterns in the future. They based their estimates on the movements of displaced residents following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, used analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the effects of sea level rise, and then “trained a machine-learning model to predict where coastal populations will move when forced to leave their homes—and how that, in turn, affects the migration of non-coastal residents.”

Dilkina is careful to describe the study as only an “approximation” of how sea level change might drive migration patterns, not a precise picture of where people will actually move. “There’s still a lot of need for understanding different drivers and externalities.”

Other factors will have an impact, which means a lot more work and more data will have to go into these models so they can be used to plan appropriate measures in the coming years.

For one thing, sea level rise is just one effect of climate change. Heat waves will drive people north—and could make make cities like Duluth and Buffalo “climate havens.” Urban flooding will reshuffle populations within a city. And extreme storms will move people in yet other ways. Meanwhile, as in Paradise, “forest fires are going to have dramatic effects on the West Coast, including the Pacific Northwest,” says Keenan. “All of those things are changing land economics, housing economics, and public finance.”

Image credit: Modeling migration patterns in the USA under sea level rise report, under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.

An illustrated guide to silvopasture

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 01, 2019

Silvopasture grazing cows

Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown “is the world’s leading source of climate solutions.” In the list of solutions, perhaps surprisingly to many, silvopasture comes in at number nine. Issue 2 of the excellent Australia based Matters Journal came out with this fun illustrated guide to silvopasture.

Silvopasture is the symbiotic integration of livestock grazing and forest management. This can either be achieved by strategically planting trees into a conventional, and usually treeless, grazing pasture or by thinning a wooded forest so that livestock can graze beneath its canopy.

Drawdown estimated that silvopasture is currently practiced on 351 million acres of land globally. If this was increased to 554 million acres by 2050 then CO2 emissions could be reduced by 31.19 gigatons. To put this figure into perspective, Drawdown estimates that if seven percent of the world’s population had rooftop solar to power their houses it would avoid 24.6 gigatons of CO2 emissions.

The piece ends with quite a few links worth checking out to learn more about this agroforestry practice.

Rebecca Solnit on The West and climate change

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 04, 2019

This article reminded me of the powerful story Rebecca Solnit told at Pop-Up Magazine a couple years ago. She presented photos taken by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe at Lake Powell over several years, along with unfolding a compelling narrative expression of climate change as told through one geological place.


She also tells a cautionary tale of The West, in her companion piece later published in California Sunday magazine.

Glen Canyon Dam is a monument to overconfidence 710 feet high, an engineering marvel and an ecological mistake. The American West is full of these follies: decommissioned nuclear power plants surrounded by the spent radioactive waste that will remain dangerous for 100,000 years; the bomb-torn land of military testing and training sites; the Nevada Test Site itself, cratered and contaminated by the explosion of a thousand nuclear devices. Las Vegas and Phoenix, two cities that have grown furiously in recent decades, are monuments to the conviction that stable temperatures and fossil fuel and water could be counted upon to persist indefinitely.

You can regard the enormous projects of this era as a continuation of the Second World War. In the West, this kind of development resembled a war against nature, an attempt to conquer heat, dryness, remoteness, the variability of rainfall and river flow — to triumph over the way water limits growth. As the environmental writer Bill deBuys put it: “Thanks to reservoirs large and small, scores of dams including colossi like Hoover and Glen Canyon, more than 1,000 miles of aqueducts and countless pumps, siphons, tunnels and diversions, the West had been thoroughly re-rivered and re-engineered. It had acquired the plumbing system of a giant water-delivery machine. … Today the Colorado River, the most fully harnessed of the West’s great waterways, provides water to about 40 million people and irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland.” Along the way, so many parties sip and gulp from the Colorado that little water reaches Mexico.


It’s a longread so I recommend finding someone with a voice as soothing and clear as Solnit’s to read aloud to you (and then hold you when you realize what it all means).

N.B. Pop-Up’s spring tour tickets go on sale on April 9. It’s always an interesting show. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always poignant and well-produced. And never recorded so you must be there in person!

The perfect right angles of a tabular iceberg

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 23, 2018


NASA released this photo of a tabular iceberg. It’s thought to have just split from the Larsen C ice shelf in the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Some find it “oddly satisfying” though I found it a stark image of the disturbing trend of rising sea levels.

A year-by-year history of economic growth and pollution in the Roman Empire

posted by Tim Carmody   May 18, 2018

Lead emissions and Roman history.png

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzes deep ice cores in Greenland for traces of lead pollution in antiquity. This pollution, the scholars claim, matches the production of Roman silver coins from impure alloys from mines in what’s now modern Spain. In short, we can see Roman monetary production, and by proxy, peaks and valleys in the economy throughout the Roman world, on an extremely granular basis, captured year-by-year in arctic ice.

In 218 B.C., for instance, when Rome fought with Carthage in the Second Punic War, lead pollution appears to fall—and then it rises, abruptly, as Roman soldiers seized Carthaginian mines in southern Spain and put them to use. It also detects nonviolent events: When Rome debased its currency, reducing the amount of silver in each denarius coin in 64 A.D., lead pollution in the air fell…. When compared with other studies, research suggests that Western Europe may have seen higher lead emissions during the Pax Romana than at any time prior to the Industrial Revolution, nearly 1,800 years later.

Which is, of course, part of the lesson: one argument holds that lead pollution, both in the air, in water pipes, and other uses throughout Rome, eventually slowly poisoned and destroyed the Roman Empire, along with plagues, imperial overreach, and political dysfunction. Our civilization, however, is at least documenting its own destruction in the written record in much greater detail.