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July 2016 Was the Hottest Month Ever Recorded

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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.

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Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Grass-Fed Beef Is Actually Worse for the Planet, Report Finds
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There are plenty of reasons to reject factory farming, but in the case of beef, your carbon footprint shouldn’t be one of them. According to EcoWatch, new research shows that grazed cattle provide an outsized contribution to greenhouse gasses, as opposed to cattle kept largely indoors and fed on grain.

The report [PDF], released by Oxford’s Food Climate Research Network, aims to provide definitive answers to what has been a heavily debated topic in environmental circles. Some research has found that grazing cattle actually reduces the carbon footprints of beef operations, because all that pasture stores carbon and prevents it from being released into the atmosphere, and because all that chomping stimulates new vegetation growth. Other research has found that the benefits aren’t as great as the grass-fed boosters estimate—especially since the fields of grain used to grow cattle feed for factory farms sequester carbon, too.

The new Oxford research comes down firmly on the side of the latter camp. It finds that while grass-fed operations can help sequester carbon, it’s “only under very specific conditions,” in part since the definition of what a grassland is can vary wildly. There are natural ranges dominated by wild vegetation, there are pastures that are actively maintained and managed by farmers, and there is land that lies somewhere in between. Overgrazing, trampling, and soil conditions can all negatively impact how much carbon the grasses can sequester. And even under the best conditions, the gains can be short-lived. “This sequestering of carbon is even then small, time-limited, reversible, and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions these grazing animals generate,” according to FCRN.

And it seems that even if the vegetation does sequester carbon, grass-fed beef is still an outsized source of greenhouse gasses.

To begin with, all cattle are a huge drain on the environment, no matter how you feed them. The report estimates that the livestock supply chain generates around 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle create 65 percent of those livestock emissions. But even compared to cattle in general, grass-fed animals are heavy polluters. Within the global protein supply, grass-fed beef makes up around 1 gram of protein per person, per day, compared to 13 grams from all ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, etc.). But these grazed cattle generate up to a third of all global greenhouse emissions from ruminants. In other words, grass-eating cattle create an outsized cost—emissions-wise—compared to the meat they provide.

And the carbon sequestration doesn't help enough to offset that. The report estimates that the carbon sequestration that might occur from grazing practices would only offset emissions by 20 percent.

There are other reasons to buy grass-fed beef, of course, whether it’s about ethical concerns with factory farming or just a taste preference. But if you’re going to choose grass-fed, your reason shouldn’t be concern for the environment.

[h/t EcoWatch]

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