The Environment Chronicle Notable environmental events
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September ozone hole has shrunk by 4 million square kilometers since 2000. Scientists at MIT and elsewhere have identified the “first fingerprints of healing” of the Antarctic ozone layer, published on 30 June 2016 in the journal Science.
Global warming results in fundamental changes to important ocean currents. As scientists from the Alfred-Wegener-Institute show in a new study, wind-driven subtropical boundary currents in the northern and southern hemisphere are not only going to increase in strength by the end of this century. The Kuroshio Current, the Agulhas Current and other oceanic currents are shifting their paths towards the pole and thus carry higher temperatures and thus the risk of storms to temperate latitudes. For this study, researchers evaluated a wealth of independent observational data and climate simulations. They showed the same pattern for all boundary currents, with the Gulf Stream as the only exception. According to the data, the latter will weaken over the next decades. On 28 June 2016 the study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research professional journal.
University of Queensland and Queensland Government researchers have confirmed that the Bramble Cay melomys – the only mammal species endemic to the Great Barrier Reef - is the first mammal to go extinct due to human-induced climate change. In published report on 14 June 2016, the scientists conducted a comprehensive survey in 2014 but failed to find any trace of the rodent. The rodent was known only to live on a small (4 ha) coral cay, just 340m long and 150m wide in the Torres Strait, between Queensland in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
In June 2016, a slow-moving weather system unleashed several days of heavy downpours on western Europe, pushing the Seine River to heights not seen in 34 years. With the Seine’s water levels 6.1 meters (20 feet) above normal in Paris, flood waters knocked out electricity for thousands of people, interrupted road and rail traffic, shut down schools, and caused an estimated 1 billion euros of damage. During the worst of the flooding, the world’s most visited museum, the Louvre, closed as employees scrambled to move artwork out of basement areas that were at risk of flooding.
Temperature records were broken in Greenland 2016 after parts of the territory's vast ice sheet began melting unusually early, the Danish Meteorological Institute said on 13 September 2016. And with abnormal temperatures continuing through the summer, three stations, Narsarsuaq, in the south, and Danmarkshavn, in the north-east, and Tasiilaq, on the eastern coast, all ended the June-August period with the highest average temperature on the books. In Tasiilaq, the summer average of 8.2°C was the highest since record keeping began there in 1895, and exceeded the 1981-2010 average by 2.3°C.
Mass bleaching has killed 35 per cent of the corals on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef, Australian Coral reef scientists said on 30 May 2016. After months of intensive aerial and underwater surveys, researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies have released an initial estimate of the death toll from coral bleaching. The impact, which is still unfolding, changes dramatically from north to south along the 2300km length of the Reef. “We found on average, that 35% of the corals are now dead or dying on 84 reefs that we surveyed along the northern and central sections of the Great Barrier Reef, between Townsville and Papua New Guinea,” says Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.
Lab studies revealed that dung pats from cattles given a common antibiotic gave off more than double the methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than those of non-treated cows, a team wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on 25 May 2016.
On 23 May 2016, the Earth passed another unfortunate milestone when carbon dioxide surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) at the South Pole for the first time in 4 million years, NOAA confirms.
On 20 May 2016, a city in northern India shattered the national heat record, registering a searing 51C – the highest since records began – amid a nationwide heatwave. The new record was set in Phalodi, a city in the desert state of Rajasthan, and is the equivalent of 123.8F. It tops a previous record of 50.6C set in 1956.
From the morning of 7 May to the afternoon of 11 May 2016, Portugal's electricity consumption was fully covered by renewable sources. For 107 hours, Portugal powered all of its electricity from biofuels, hydropower plants, wind turbines, solar panels, and geothermal heat.
The global temperature for May 2016 was 0.93 °C warmer than the May base period. Every month since October 2015 has broken the record for that month.
Nearly half of all natural World Heritage sites are threatened by harmful industrial activities, according to a WWF report, published on 6 April 2016. These sites provide vital services to people and the environment, but are at risk worldwide from activities including oil and gas exploration, mining and illegal logging. The report, produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, shows how natural World Heritage sites contribute to economic and social development through the protection of the environment, but also details global failures to protect these areas of outstanding universal value. According to the study, 114 natural and mixed World Heritage sites out of 229 either have oil, gas or mining concessions overlapping them or are under threat from at least one other harmful industrial activity.
Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the second straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA. Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean for the months of December, January and February were 2 to 6 degrees Celsius above average in nearly every region. Sea ice extent over the Arctic Ocean averaged 14.52 million square kilometers on 24 March 2016, beating last year’s record low of 14.54 million square kilometers on 25 February. The peak was later than average in the 37-year satellite record, setting up a shorter than average ice melt season for the coming spring and summer. This year’s maximum extent is 1.12 million square kilometers below the 1981 to 2010 average of 15.64 million square kilometers and 13,000 square kilometers below the previous lowest maximum that occurred last year.
On 20 March 2016 the Great Barrier Reef marine park authority raised the threat level of coral bleaching to a peak of three, triggering its highest level of response to “severe regional bleaching” in the northernmost quarter of the 344,400 sq km marine park.
WWF researchers are celebrating the first live sighting of a Sumatran rhino in Kalimantan, the Indonesia part of Borneo, since it was thought to be extinct there. This is also the first physical contact with the species in the area for over 40 years and is a major milestone for rhino conservation in Indonesia. The female Sumatran rhino, which is estimated to be between four and five years old, was safely captured in a pit trap in Kutai Barat in East Kalimantan on 12 March 2016. The captured female rhino is being held in a temporary enclosure before being translocated by helicopter to a new home – a protected forest about 150 km from the capture site. The rhino's new home is envisioned as the second Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia.
New research shows that more than 5.5 million people die prematurely every year due to household and outdoor air pollution. More than half of deaths occur in two of the world’s fastest growing economies, China and India. The research, presented on 12 February 2016 at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), found that despite efforts to limit future emissions, the number of premature deaths linked to air pollution will climb over the next two decades unless more aggressive targets are set. “Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease,” said Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health in Vancouver, Canada. “Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population.“ For the AAAS meeting, researchers from Canada, the United States, China and India assembled estimates of air pollution levels in China and India and calculated the impact on health. Their analysis shows that the two countries account for 55 per cent of the deaths caused by air pollution worldwide. About 1.6 million people died of air pollution in China and 1.4 million died in India in 2013. In China, burning coal is the biggest contributor to poor air quality. In India, a major contributor to poor air quality is the practice of burning wood, dung and similar sources of biomass for cooking and heating.
The February average temperature for the globe was 2.18°F above the 20th century average. This was not only the highest for the month of February in the 1880-2016 record (surpassing the previous record set in 2015 by 0.59°F ), but it surpassed the all-time monthly record set just two months ago in December 2015 by 0.16°F. February 2016 also marks the 10th consecutive month a monthly global temperature record has been broken.
The globally averaged temperature, over land and ocean surfaces for 2015, was the highest since record keeping began in 1880.
The 27th annual State of the Climate report has confirmed that 2016 topped 2015 as the warmest year in 137 years of record keeping. The report found that most indicators of climate change continued to follow trends of a warming world, and several, including land and ocean temperatures, sea level and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere broke records set just one year prior. This annual check-up for the planet, led by researchers from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, is based on contributions from more than 450 scientists from nearly 60 countries. Greenhouse gases were the highest on record. The 2016 average global CO2 concentration was 402.9 parts per million (ppm), an increase of 3.5 ppm compared with 2015 and the largest annual increase observed in the 58-year record. Global surface temperature was the highest on record. The 2016 combined global land and ocean surface temperature was record-high for a third consecutive year, according to four global analyses. The increase in temperature ranged from 0.45°–0.56°C above the 1981-2010 average. Average sea surface temperature was the highest on record. According to four independent datasets analyzed, the record-breaking globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2016 was 0.36–0.41 degrees C higher than the 1981–2010 average and surpassed the previous mark set in 2015 by 01–0.03 degrees C. Global upper-ocean heat content neared record high. Heat in the uppermost layer of the ocean, the top 2,300 feet (700 meters), saw a slight drop compared to the record high set in 2015. The findings are consistent with a continuing trend of warming oceans. Global sea level was the highest on record. The global average sea level rose to a new record high in 2016, and was about 3.25 inches (82 mm) higher than that observed in 1993, when satellite record-keeping for sea level began. Arctic sea ice coverage was at or near record low. The maximum Arctic sea ice extent (coverage) reached in March 2016 tied last year as the smallest in the 37-year satellite data record, while the minimum sea ice extent in September tied 2007 as the second lowest on record. Tropical cyclones were above-average overall. There were 93 named tropical cyclones across all ocean basins in 2016, above the 1981-2010 average of 82 storms.
The globally averaged temperature in 2016 was about 1.1°C higher than the pre-industrial period. It was approximately 0.83° Celsius above the long term average (14°C) of the WMO 1961-1990 reference period, and about 0.07°C warmer than the previous record set in 2015. WMO uses data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. WMO also draws on reanalysis data from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which use a weather forecasting system to combine many sources of data to provide a more complete picture of global temperatures, including in Polar regions.
Climate change is rapidly warming lakes across the globe. This is the result of a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and presented on 16 December 2015 during the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). In this first worldwide synthesis of in situ and satellite-derived lake data, the scientists find that lake summer surface water temperatures rose rapidly (global mean = 0.34°C decade−1) between 1985 and 2009. Their analyses show that surface water warming rates are dependent on combinations of climate and local characteristics, rather than just lake location, leading to the counterintuitive result that regional consistency in lake warming is the exception, rather than the rule. The most rapidly warming lakes are widely geographically distributed, and their warming is associated with interactions among different climatic factors—from seasonally ice-covered lakes in areas where temperature and solar radiation are increasing while cloud cover is diminishing (0.72°C decade−1) to ice-free lakes experiencing increases in air temperature and solar radiation (0.53°C decade−1). The pervasive and rapid warming observed here signals the urgent need to incorporate climate impacts into vulnerability assessments and adaptation efforts for lakes.
On 1 December 2015, Japan’s whaling fleet set sail for the Antarctic despite international pressure to end its annual hunts. A mother ship and three other vessels, along with 160 crew, plan to kill 333 minke whales in the Antarctic. The Japanese fisheries agency said the fleet would conduct research, despite the International Court of Justice in den Haag, ruling last year that the hunts were a cover for commercial whaling and have no proven scientific merit.
On 30 Novemver 2015, Beijing suffered its worst air pollution of the year. The city said the levels of hazardous tiny PM2.5 particles in the air exceeded 600 micrograms per cubic meter at several monitoring sites late Monday afternoon. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing reported 666 micrograms per cubic metre at 8 p.m.
A new report issued on 23 November 2015 by the UN, “The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters” in Geneva, shows that over the last twenty years, 90% of major disasters have been caused by 6,457 recorded floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events. The five countries hit by the highest number of disasters are the United States (472), China (441), India (288), Philippines (274), and Indonesia, (163). The report and analysis compiled by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Belgian-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) demonstrates that since the first Climate Change Conference (COP1) in 1995, 606,000 lives have been lost and 4.1 billion people have been injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance as a result of weather-related disasters.
On 3 November 2015, the New York Times reported that,"China has been burning up to 17 percent more coal a year than the government previously disclosed, according to newly released data. Even for a country of China’s size, the scale of the correction is immense. The sharp upward revision in official figures means that China has released much more carbon dioxide — almost a billion more tons a year according to initial calculations — than previously estimated. The increase alone is greater than the whole German economy emits annually from fossil fuels. The new data, which appeared recently in an energy statistics yearbook published by China’s statistical agency, show that coal consumption has been underestimated since 2000, and particularly in recent years. The revisions were based on a census of the economy in 2013 that exposed gaps in data collection, especially from small companies and factories.
From Hawaii to Papua New Guinea to the Maldives, coral reefs are bleaching — in so many regions that the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially declared a global bleaching event on 8 October 2015. The event, the third in recorded history, is expected to grow worse in coming months. By the end of the year, the bleaching could affect more than a third of the world’s coral reefs and kill more than 12,000 square kilometres of them, NOAA estimates.
Thirty-one percent of cactus species are threatened with extinction, according to the first comprehensive, global assessment of the species group by IUCN and partners, published on 5 October 2015 in the journal Nature Plants.
On 11 September 2015, sea ice extent dropped to 4.41 million square kilometers, the fourth lowest minimum in the satellite record. The minimum extent was reached four days earlier than the 1981 to 2010 average minimum date of September 15. The extent ranked behind 2012 (lowest), 2007 (second lowest), and 2011 (third lowest). Moreover, the nine lowest extents in the satellite era have all occurred in the last nine years.
Seas around the world have risen an average of nearly 8 centimeters since 1992, with some locations rising more than 25 centimeters due to natural variation, according to the latest satellite measurements from NASA and its partners.
Glaciers in Central Asia experience substantial losses in glacier mass and area. Along the Tien Shan, Central Asia’s largest mountain range, glaciers have lost 27% of their mass and 18% of their area during the last 50 years. An international research team led by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and including the institute of the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at Rennes University in particular, estimated that almost 3000 square kilometres of glaciers and an average of 5.4 gigatons of ice per year have been lost since the 1960s. In the online issue of Nature Geoscience published online 17 August 2015 , the authors estimate that about half of Tien Shan’s glacier volume could be depleted by the 2050s.
In 2015, Earth Overshoot Day falled on 13 August. In less than eight months, humanity has used up nature’s budget for the entire year, with carbon sequestration making up more than half of the demand on nature, according to data from Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability think tank with offices in North America, Europe and Asia. Earth Overshoot Day has moved from early October in 2000 to August 13th this year.
Scientists from the University of Sydney’s School of Geosciences have led the creation of the world’s first digital map of the seafloor’s geology. It is the first time the composition of the seafloor, covering 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, has been mapped in 40 years; the most recent map was hand drawn in the 1970s. Published online in the journal Geology on 5 August 2015, the map will help scientists better understand how our oceans have responded, and will respond, to environmental change. It also reveals the deep ocean basins to be much more complex than previously thought. Dr Dutkiewicz and colleagues analysed and categorised around 15,000 seafloor samples – taken over half a century on research cruise ships to generate the data for the map. She teamed with the National ICT Australia (NICTA) big data experts to find the best way to use algorithms to turn this multitude of point observations into a continuous digital map.
In an analysis of satellite data released on 29 November 2016, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in São José dos Campos estimates that 7,989 square kilometres of land — nearly the size of Puerto Rico — was cleared between August 2015 and July 2016. The total was 29% above the previous year and 75% above the 2012 level, when deforestation hit a historic low of 4,571 square kilometres
On 25 July 2015, renewables accounted for 78 percent of Germany's power consumption surpassing the old record of 73 percent. The new generation record was enabled by a combination of strong winds in the north, where most of Germany's wind turbines are installed, and sunny conditions in the south, where Germany has installed most of its solar.
In the most comprehensive analysis of climate change impacts on critical pollinators, researchers have found that rapid declines in bumblebee species across North America and Europe have a strong link to climate change. The study was published in Science on 10 July 2015. It was conducted by scientists from University of Ottawa and other North American institutions. Scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), as one of the major partners from Europe, were responsible for coordinating basic data collection.
On 30 July 2015, the German weather service announced that a new all-time hot temperature record was confirmed for the country. At 3:40 p.m. local time, Kitzingen, Germany reached a scorching high temperature of 40.3 degrees Celsius, breaking the old national temperature record of 104.4 degrees (40.2 degrees Celsius) which was previously set in 1983 and twice in 2003.
The combined globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for July 2015 was the highest for any month since record keeping began in 1880. The July average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46°F (0.81°C) above the 20th century average. As July is climatologically the warmest month for the year, this was also the all-time highest monthly temperature in the 1880–2015 record, at 61.86°F (16.61°C).
In a long-term study of more than 300,000 workers in France, the U.S. and the U.K., those with many years of exposure to low doses of radiation had an increased risk of dying from leukemia. Leukemia is known to be caused by exposure to high doses of radiation, like that released by the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. In the years following those bombings, leukemia cases increased among the survivors, the authors note in The Lancet Haematology, online 21 June 2015. But such high doses are rare today. For the new study, researchers considered 308,297 nuclear energy workers whose radiation exposures were monitored. All had worked for at least a year for the French Atomic Energy Commission or similar employers or for the Departments of Energy and Defense in the U.S., or were members of the National Registry for Radiation Workers in the U.K.The workers were followed for an average of 27 years, with data on exposure and health status through the early- to mid-2000s, depending on their country. Researchers looked for deaths from leukemia or lymphoma. About 22 percent of the workers had died by the end of follow-up. There were 531 deaths due to leukemia and 814 due to lymphoma. As cumulative dose of radiation exposure increased, so did the risk of dying from certain kinds of leukemia, the researchers found.
On 4 June 2015 a new study published online in the journal Science finds that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or "hiatus" in the rate of global warming in recent years. The study is the work of a team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) using the latest global surface temperature data.