Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images
Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

July 2016 Was the Hottest Month Ever Recorded

Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images
Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

New reports out from NOAA and NASA show that we’ve yet again lived through a record-breaking month of warmth—global temperature readings revealed that July 2016 was “absolutely the hottest month” ever recorded, according to NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt. This past July was 0.87°C (1.57°F) hotter than the 20th century average in NOAA’s monthly climate report, and the month finished up 0.84°C (1.55°F) above average in NASA’s findings.

Global temperature anomalies in July 2016. Image credit: NOAA

Data collected by thousands of observation stations on land and at sea discovered that temperatures were either the warmest ever recorded or much warmer than average across wide swaths of the planet. Areas that saw all-time record heat included a small part of the southeastern United States, as well as portions of southern Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

Not only was last month the warmest July on record, but this record temperature anomaly made it the warmest month ever recorded. July typically sees the year’s highest average global temperature because it’s the peak of summer heating in the Northern Hemisphere, which has 68 percent of the world's land, making it more prone to extreme heat than the Southern Hemisphere as a whole. This year’s warming trend was likely given a measurable assist by El Niño, the abnormal warming of the equatorial waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean. The warm water of an El Niño can raise air temperatures and alter weather patterns in a way that creates abnormally warm weather elsewhere in the world.

If it seems like you’ve seen this news before, there’s good reason for it—NOAA found that this July was the 15th month in a row with record-breaking global temperature anomalies. Every month since May 2015 has broken its respective all-time warmest record. The unbroken streak of anomalies made 2015 the world’s warmest year since instrumental records began in 1880. Unfortunately, 2014 broke the record for the hottest year too, and it looks like 2016 is on pace to break 2015's record.

Yearly global temperature anomalies between 1880 and 2015. Image credit: NOAA

So far, the global temperature anomaly in 2016 through July is +1.03°C (1.8°F), which is the first time we’ve ever recorded temperature a full one degree above normal. NOAA’s records show that the average global temperature has been at least a little above normal every month except one for the past 455 months, or since September 1978. The lone below-average month during that 38-year period was December 1984, when the global average temperature was 0.09°C (0.16°F) below normal.

A few tenths of a degree Celsius above normal doesn’t seem like a very big deal, but just like the small temperature fluctuations brought about by an El Niño or La Niña, these seemingly tiny temperature anomalies can have a significant impact on both short-term weather and long-term climate trends. If the long-term trend of rising temperatures continues, some of the likely effects will include more frequent droughts, more intense heat waves, more intense bouts of heavy rain, and rising sea levels.

An Eco-Friendly Startup Is Converting Banana Peels Into Fabric for Clothes

A new startup has found a unique way to tackle pollution while simultaneously supporting sustainable fashion. Circular Systems, a “clean-tech new materials company,” is transforming banana byproducts, pineapple leaves, sugarcane bark, and flax and hemp stalk into natural fabrics, according to Fast Company.

These five crops alone meet more than twice the global demand for fibers, and the conversion process provides farmers with an additional revenue stream, according to the company’s website. Fashion brands like H&M and Levi’s are already in talks with Circular Systems to incorporate some of these sustainable fibers into their clothes.

Additionally, Circular Systems recycles used clothing to make new fibers, and another technology called Orbital spins those textile scraps and crop byproducts together to create a durable type of yarn.

People eat about 100 billion bananas per year globally, resulting in 270 million tons of discarded peels. (Americans alone consume 3.2 billion pounds of bananas annually.) Although peels are biodegradable, they emit methane—a greenhouse gas—during decomposition. Crop burning, on the other hand, is even worse because it causes significant air pollution.

As Fast Company points out, using leaves and bark to create clothing may seem pretty groundbreaking, but 97 percent of the fibers used in clothes in 1960 were natural. Today, that figure is only 35 percent.

However, Circular Systems has joined a growing number of fashion brands and textile companies that are seeking out sustainable alternatives. Gucci has started incorporating a biodegradable material into some of its sunglasses, Bolt Threads invented a material made from mushroom filaments, and pineapple “leather” has been around for a couple of years now.

[h/t Fast Company]

Undersea Internet Cables Could Be Key to the Future of Earthquake Detection

Considering that 70 percent of the planet is covered by oceans, we don't have all that many underwater earthquake sensors. Though there's plenty of seismic activity that happens out in the middle of the ocean, most detection equipment is located on land, with the exception of a few offshore sensor projects in Japan, the U.S., and Canada.

To get better earthquake data for tremors and quakes that happen far from existing sensors, a group of scientists in the UK, Italy, and Malta suggest turning to the internet. As Science News reports, the fiber-optic cables already laid down to carry communication between continents could be repurposed as seismic sensors with the help of lasers.

The new study, detailed in a recent issue of Science, proposes beaming a laser into one end of the optical fiber, then measuring how that light changes. When the cable is disturbed by seismic shaking, the light will change.

This method, which the researchers tested during earthquakes in Italy, New Zealand, Japan, and Mexico, would allow scientists to use data from multiple undersea cables to both detect and measure earthquake activity, including pinpointing the epicenter and estimating the magnitude. They were able to sense quakes in New Zealand and Japan from a land-based fiber-optic cable in England, and measure an earthquake in the Malta Sea from an undersea cable running between Malta and Sicily that was located more than 50 miles away from the epicenter.

A map of the world's undersea cable connections with a diagram of how lasers can measure their movement
Marra et al., Science (2018)

Seismic sensors installed on the sea floor are expensive, but they can save lives: During the deadly Japanese earthquake in 2011, the country's extensive early-warning system, including underwater sensors, was able to alert people in Tokyo of the quake 90 seconds before the shaking started.

Using existing cable links that run across the ocean floor would allow scientists to collect data on earthquakes that start in the middle of the ocean that are too weak to register on land-based seismic sensors. The fact that hundreds of thousands of miles of these cables already crisscross the globe makes this method far, far cheaper to implement than installing brand-new seismic sensors at the bottom of the ocean, giving scientists potential access to data on earthquake activity throughout the world, rather than only from the select places that already have offshore sensors installed.

The researchers haven't yet studied how the laser method works on the long fiber-optic cables that run between continents, so it's not ready for the big leagues yet. But eventually, it could help bolster tsunami detection, monitor earthquakes in remote areas like the Arctic, and more.

[h/t Science News]


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