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Your Next Email Could Heat a Swimming Pool

January 21, 2024

Is the Recent Cold Weather Attributable to Global Warming?

Last week, severe cold weather in the U.S. led to more than 80 deaths, according to CBS News, including 19 people in Tennessee and 16 in Oregon. The frigid conditions caused more than 60 oil spills in North Dakota, where windchills reached -70 degrees Fahrenheit (-57C). The oil leaks came from strains on equipment and workers, which can result in accidents, according to the Bismarck Tribune. Additionally, water mains broke in numerous places in the country due to the dangerous cold.

Credit: NOAA

Some scientists say the cold weather can be linked to climate change, although there is no consensus. However, there is consensus that freezing temperatures don’t contradict the fact that global warming is happening.

Last week’s weather is connected to the polar vortex, cold air above the Arctic that flows counterclockwise and usually stays in place near the North Pole. Writing in The Conversation, Mathew Barlow a climate scientist at University of Massachusetts, Lowell, says there is evidence suggesting Arctic changes associated with global warming have increased the chances of disruptions in the polar vortex that lead to cold snaps.

As Judah Cohen, a weather expert, explained to the Associated Press, the vortex is like a rapidly spinning ice skater with her arms tucked into her chest.  When the polar vortex weakens, the arms start flailing out, the skater slips, and all the cold air then gets released away from the center.

Barlow adds that for large areas in the U.S. and Europe, the number of severe cold events is decreasing. However, when they occur their intensity is not diminishing.

Trawling the Seafloor Is Releasing Ancient CO2 into the Atmosphere

Trawling is the practice of dragging immense nets across the ocean floor to catch fish. Some of the nets can be as big as ten passenger jets and can do much damage, destroying seabed habitats by tearing up animal burrows and pulling up plants from their roots. 

Credit: Joachim Müllerchen/Creative Commons

Now, a new study from Utah State University shows that, in addition to all that destruction, trawling the ocean floor releases millions of tons of carbon dioxide that makes its way up into the atmosphere—an estimated 370 million metric tonnes of CO2 annually, double that of the world’s entire fishing fleet of about four million vessels. Lead author Trisha Atwood said that trawling unleashes plumes of carbon from organic matter that would otherwise be buried for millennia on the ocean floor and that half of it gets released into the air over a span of about ten years.  

The scientists showed that carbon emissions from trawling are especially high in the East China, Baltic, and North Seas, as well as the Greenland Sea. They also showed that not all the carbon dredged up by trawling gets released into the atmosphere. About 45 percent stays trapped in the ocean, which could lead to acidification that can damage marine life.

The researchers described trawling as “marine deforestation” and hope their study will provide leaders with enough information to make policy changes.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

Butterflies Are Adapting to Climate Change by Changing Their Spots

There is an idiom that leopards can’t change their spots, meaning we are who we are, but meadow brown butterflies (Maniola jurtina) might not agree. New research shows the insects are losing spots on their wings as temperatures rise due to global warming.

A female meadow brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina)  |  Credit: Charles J. Sharp   

The earth-toned butterflies, which have a two-inch wingspan, can be found fluttering about in grassland areas in much of Western Europe, and even in parts of Northern Africa and Western Asia. They have large “eyespots” on their forewings, assumed to be for scaring off predators, as well as smaller spots on their hindwings, presumably for camouflage when the butterflies are resting in the grass.

But, according to new research from the University of Exeter, those hindwing spots are disappearing when females are exposed to higher temperatures during their pupal stage in a chrysalis before emerging as butterflies.

The team found female pupa that developed at 11°C had six spots on average, while those who developed at 15°C had just three. The researchers believe the butterflies are adapting their camouflage based on temperature. With fewer spots they may be harder to see on dry, brown grass that would be more common in hotter weather. The scientists did not see a similar adaptation in males, possibly because their spots are used for attracting females.

Co-author Richard ffrench-Constant added in a university press release that the finding is an unexpected consequence of climate change. “We tend to think about species moving north, rather than changing their appearance.”

The paper was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

How Swimming Pools Are Being Heated by Data

There are a staggering number of data centers around the globe, nearly 11,000 by last count. As they facilitate everything from sending an email and complex IT operations to cryptocurrencies and now artificial intelligence, they are increasingly scrutinized for their environmental impact, which includes high energy use and subsequent greenhouse gas emissions as well as huge amounts of water needed to cool racks of servers, not to mention acres of land the warehouses require.

The industry, which accounts for about four percent of global energy consumption and one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, is trying to decarbonize and become more sustainable by using renewable energy and recycling water.  

One company in the UK has a novel idea to shrink the environmental footprint of data centers—literally. Instead of sprawling warehouses taking up a lot of land, the UK tech startup Deep Green has developed a micro data center, roughly the size of a refrigerator.

Its selling point? Deep Green offers the heat its computers generate to its customers for free—an offer swimming pools in the UK would be happy to have, after soaring energy prices caused many to close. It’s a win-win for the environment, since the pools would no longer have to purchase power to heat water, much of which was from fossil fuels. In return, Deep Green gets free cooling from the pool water, which lowers its operating costs so it can provide cheaper computing to businesses.

Deep Green says its data centers could work with other energy-hungry customers, like distilleries or district heating networks and claims that with just one percent of the UK’s data center usage, it could heat all public pools in the country. Last week, Deep Green and its heat re-use technology got a massive investment from the renewable power provider Octopus Energy, so suffice it to say—sustainability efforts seem to be going swimmingly.