Every 200 years California suffers a storm of biblical proportions — this year’s rains are just a precursor

Photo by Brian Baer/ California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images

A series of storms have inundated California over the past few weeks, and the latest deluge is currently swelling rivers and reservoirs that are already spilling over. Vast swathes of California continue to be at risk for flooding as the storm runoff makes its way through river systems, the National Weather Service warns. Across California, residents were evacuatedwhen local rivers flooded, including a small Northern California town that experienced a levee breach Monday night.

The severe flooding may feel like a whiplash development in a state that’s been locked in drought for five years — and in an “exceptional drought” for three of them. Still, California has seen worse: massive floods have swept through the state about every 200 years for the past 2,000 years or more, climate scientists Michael Dettinger and Lynn Ingram recount in a 2013 article.

The most recent was a series of storms that lasted for a near-biblical 43 days between 1861 and 1862, creating a vast lake where California’s Central Valley had been. Floodwaters drowned thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of cattle, and forced the state’s government to move from Sacramento to San Francisco.

More than 150 years have passed since California’s last, great flood — and a team of researchers with the US Geological Survey have predicted what kind of damage a similar flood would cause today. Their simulation, called the ARkStorm, anticipates that a stretch of the Central Valley 300 miles long by 20 miles wide would be underwater. Cities up and down the coast of California would flood. Winds would howl 60 to 125 miles per hour, and landslides would make roads impassable.

Yes, that’s a waterfall behind the house. Anderson dam spillway in full force now. @CBSSF

Although the simulation didn’t include a body count, Dettinger and Ingram predicted that thousands of people would probably die. And it could happen again any time: it’s been 150 years since the 1861–1862 floods, they wrote. “So it appears that California may be due for another episode soon.”

This winter’s heavy precipitation has already caused a slew of problems; California’s governor Jerry Brown called a state of emergency after December and January’s storms to ensure that 50 counties would be able to get funds to repair the damage. Last week, the Oroville Dam’s crumbling emergency spillway triggered the emergency evacuation of more than 180,000 people.

Now, the state’s Department of Water Resources is turning its attention to the Don Pedro Dam in Tuolumne County, California — about two hours due west of Yosemite National Park. The dam operators opened the spillway Monday afternoon, which will mean higher water levels in the river system for a while, says Jon Ericson with the California Department of Water Resources. People who live along the Tuolumne River are being encouraged to move to higher ground, the LA Times reported on Monday.

“We’re really going to be very vigilant,” Ericson told The Verge on Monday. “We always are, but especially the next 24 to 48 hours there’s going to be quite a bit of water that’s going to be coming through the system.”

Don Pedro Controlled Spillway Gate has been opened.

Though the impact has been extensive, Marty Ralph, the director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the University of California, San Diego, doesn’t think that this latest storm is this century’s equivalent to the 1861–1862 floods. “They are the same type,” Ralph says. “But I don’t think that they’re the magnitude that that ARkStorm predicted.”

Both storms, Ralph says, are the result of an atmospheric river, first identified in 1998. An atmospheric river is a massive ribbon of water vapor that flows off the Pacific Ocean and combines with strong, low-altitude winds. They stretch about 250 to 375 miles across, but can reach from 1,000 to more than 2,000 miles in length. “It’s about the equivalent of 20 Mississippi Rivers’ worth of water, but it’s in the form of water vapor rather than liquid,” Ralph says. When it hits the coastal mountains, the stream of warm, wet air is forced upward, where it cools and condenses into massive rain clouds.

“It’s definitely a very unusually very wet year for us,” Ralph says, but he doesn’t think that it’s an ARkStorm type year. “Now that’s not to say that couldn’t happen, which would be highly tragic.”

Atmospheric river infographic by NOAAInfographic by NOAA

In a typical year, around nine atmospheric rivers shower California with precipitation. They’re a critical source of about a third to half of the annual water in a state where the summers are usually bone-dry. But they also frequently go hand in hand with devastating wind storms, which can cause billions of dollars of damage, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geosciences.

“When we get a sequence of them, or we get too many and the soils are real moist and the rivers are high and the reservoirs are full, then they can go from being largely beneficial — because we need water in the West — to hazards,” Ralph says.

That’s the situation we’re in now, Ralph says, with about 30 atmospheric rivers since October 1st — and it’s something we can expect to see more of. As global temperatures continue to climb, the air can hold more water vapor — which means calmer winds, but warmer and wetter atmospheric rivers, more often. And that means more flooding.

“This situation that we’re seeing with the pronounced drought punctuated by wet conditions that are producing a lot of runoff — that is exactly what we are seeing intensify in the historical record,” says Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth Sciences at Stanford University. “And it’s exactly what climate models project for the future.”

Climate change could exacerbate the dynamic as we struggle with an aging and already failing infrastructure. We can probably expect more, and worse catastrophes than Oroville’s crumbling spillway. That’s why Newsha Ajami, Stanford’s director of Urban Water Policy, says, “Coming up with new more innovative management and operational rules that reflect the 21st century climatic realities — I think that is really an important issue.”

The good news is that the weather seems to be calming down — for now. Over the past 48 hours, two to three inches of rain washed over the Sacramento valley and between five and eight inches fell in the Sierra Nevadas, Eric Kurth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told The Verge. At least a foot of snow fell at higher mountain elevations, and more is expected. The winds have calmed down today, but yesterday they howled at 199mph through California’s mountain peaks. Thursday should bring a brief dry spell, but more typical, cold winter weather will follow.

“The good part, though, is that the more precipitation that we get in the form of snow, the less is running off into streams and rivers and creeks, so it’s definitely much less of a flood issue,” Kurth says. Still, he adds, there could be some ongoing flooding in California’s Central Valley. “The ground is saturated, and creeks and rivers are high, so adding anything additional could always cause some problems.”


6 killed as strong quake strikes southern Philippines, 120 injured

A powerful nighttime earthquake in the southern Philippines killed at least six people and injured more than 120, with officials combing through cracked buildings and nearby towns Saturday to check on the damage and other possible casualties.

The magnitude 6.7 quake roused residents from their sleep late Friday in Surigao del Norte province, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes. The quake was centered about 16 kilometers (8 miles) northwest of the provincial capital of Surigao at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), said Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Seismology and Volcanology.

Nearly 100 aftershocks have been felt, officials said. Evacuation centers accommodated wary residents overnight, but many returned home Saturday, Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said, adding that officials were continuing to assess the damage in Surigao and outlying towns.

Provincial information officer Mary Jul Escalante was being interviewed by ABS-CBN TV network when another aftershock struck. “Oh sir, there’s an aftershock,” she said. “I’m shaking, we have a phobia now.”

At least six people were killed, mostly after being struck by falling debris and concrete walls, provincial disaster-response official Gilbert Gonzales said. At least 126 others were injured in Surigao, where the quake knocked out power and forced the closure of the domestic airport due to deep cracks in its runway, officials said.

Several buildings, including a state college, a hotel and a shopping mall, were damaged in the city, located about 700 kilometers (430 miles) southeast of Manila. Surigao was placed under a state of calamity to allow faster release of emergency funds, provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Anthony Maghari said by phone.

TV footage showed army troops and other rescuers pulling out the body of a man from the concrete rubble of a damaged house while relatives wept. In Surigao’s downtown area, the facade of a number of buildings were heavily cracked, their glass windows shattered with canopies and debris falling on parked cars on the street below.

Roads had visible cracks in the coastal city and a bridge collapsed in an outlying town, officials said.

“The shaking was so strong I could hardly stand,” coast guard personnel Rayner Neil Elopre said by phone.

Village leaders asked residents to move to a school building on higher ground, Elopre said, pausing briefly during a mild aftershock while talking on the phone.

Police officer Jimmy Sarael said he, his wife and two children embraced each other until the shaking eased. They later moved to the moonlit grounds outside the provincial capitol complex to join more than 1,000 jittery residents, he said.

The last major earthquake that struck Surigao, an impoverished region also dealing with a communist insurgency, was in the 1879, Solidum said. A magnitude 7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people on the northern island of Luzon in 1990.

Amid the calamity, the military appealed to New People’s Army guerrillas not to disrupt rescue and rehabilitation work. “We urge you not to attack our soldiers,” military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said.

The Philippines sits in the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanoes are common.

Milan marchers protest vandalism of ‘stumbling stone’ Holocaust memorial

ROME (JTA) – A large crowd marched through central Milan as a human chain to protest the defacement of a recently placed “Stumbling Stone” Holocaust memorial.

The marchers Saturday, estimated in the thousands, included Milan’s mayor and Italy’s justice minister.

Organized largely on social media, the march led from the Stumbling Stone commemorating Dante Coen to Milan’s central train station, where there is a large Holocaust memorial. Coen’s daughter, Ornella, also took part.

As they followed the route, participants were linked by a red cord, symbolizing the chain of memory.

Coen was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 and then killed at Buchenwald in 1945. The Stumbling Stone commemorating him was one of six installed in Milan, the first in the city, on January 19. It was found covered in black paint two days later.

“A quick and immediate reaction is important, so that whoever thinks to cancel testimony of this type achieves the opposite result,” Justice Minister Andrea Orlando  was quoted by local media as saying.

“Stumbling stones,” or “stolpersteine,” are individual commemorative cobblestones placed in front of the houses of people who were deported during the Holocaust. Placing them is an ongoing memorial and art project by the German artist Gunter Deming, who installs each one — nearly 60,000 in various countries since the mid-1990s.

Italy Avalanche: Hotel Buried After Earthquakes; Two Dead, Many Missing



Two bodies and only two survivors have been recovered from a central Italian ski resort hotel buried under an avalanche of snow triggered by earthquakes, the government said Thursday night.

Authorities continued to battle atrocious weather conditions as they tried to reach Hotel Rigopiano in the town of Farindola, on Gran Sasso mountain in the central region of Abruzzo. The national newspaper La Repubblica described the scene as “a natural paradise transformed into a frosty white hell.”

“There are many dead,” Antonio Crocetta, a member of the the Abruzzo mountain rescue team, told the Italian news agency ANSA.

Mario Mazzocca, undersecretary of the Abruzzo region civil protection agency, told RAI, Italy’s national public broadcaster, that 34 people were at the site when the avalanche hit Wednesday. The national civil protection agency confirmed late Thursday that two survivors and two bodies had been found, leaving as many as 30 other people still unaccounted for.

Image: Snow crashed into the inside of the Hotel Rigopiano.
Snow buries the Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, Italy. Reuters

“The hopes of finding people alive are reduced by the hour,” Ilario Lacchetta, the mayor of Farindola, said late Thursday.

The two survivors were saved because they were outside the hotel at the time, authorities said. One of them, Giampaolo Parete, 38, a restaurant cook, said his wife and two children were among the missing.

Quintino Marcella, owner of the restaurant where Parete works, said in an interview on Italian TV that Parete and his family were on vacation when Parete called him via WhatsApp in a panic.

“He told me, ‘There’s been an avalanche. The hotel is gone — gone, buried.'”

Image: Rescue at Hotel Rigopiano
An unidentified man being escorted by rescuers outside Hotel Rigopiano. AFP – Getty Images

Marcella said Parete told him he was outside when the avalanche hit because he’d gone to his car to get some medicine for his wife.

Alberto Albano, head of the emergency room at the nearby Pescara hospital, told NBC News that Parete was suffering from hypothermia but was stable.

The civil protection agency said overnight that it dispatched a team of 20 rescuers, including seven firefighters, two mountain rescue teams and six ambulances. They reached the scene at 4:30 a.m. Thursday (10:30 p.m. Wednesday ET) to find the retreat buried under huge piles of snow and debris.

Local media pictures showed rescuers with shovels digging through a wall of snow, and at least one man being led through the cleared path. Mounds of debris appeared to have smashed through a hotel wall into the lobby.

Image: Snow and rubble at Hotel Rigopiano
Piles of snow and rubble cascade down a stairway into the foyer of Hotel Rigopiano. AP

The buried hotel was just one of several rescues underway in a region that has been pummeled by more than three feet of snow in recent days.

The area has been shaken by dozens of aftershocks since a major quake last August that killed nearly 300 people and ruined buildings in historic towns and hamlets.

Related: Italian Earthquakes: A Tragedy Hundreds of Millions of Years in the Making

Four strong temblors struck Wednesday morning, adding to problems caused by cold weather and winter storms. The first, with a preliminary magnitude of 5.3, hit Montereale about 10:25 a.m. (5:25 a.m. ET), according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Throughout Wednesday, seismologists registered more than 100 aftershocks.

Image: Hotel Rigopiano
Hotel Rigopiano before the disaster. Ropi / Zuma Press

Fabrizio Curcio, head of the civil protection agency, said the rescue effort had to proceed slowly because continuing aftershocks meant “there is the possibility of further collapses.”

The three-story Hotel Rigopiano, which is billed as a four-star luxury retreat, features more than 40 rooms, a spa and a thermal pool. The last tweet on its official account was a message from Wednesday: “Because of bad weather the phone lines are down!”

Video shot by rescue teams showed huge piles of filthy snow and debris piled up inside corridors, stairwells and an indoor pool area, having slammed through the outer walls of the building. The largest wall of snow shown was in the pool area, where plastic lounge chairs were flipped on their sides and Christmas decorations still dangled from the ceiling.

The bar area appeared flooded, with nearby cracked skylights covered with snow outside.

In Rome, more than 100 miles away, the subway system was closed for several hours Wednesday as a precaution following the quakes.

Maurizio Pelosi, mayor of Capitagno, near the epicenter of Wednesday’s quakes, said many roads had been blocked by the snow even before the temblors.

20 inches of rain, 12 feet of snow finally end 5-year drought in N. California

The recent onslaught of rain and snow finally brought much-needed relief to northern California, ending a punishing five-year drought, federal officials said Thursday.

“Bye bye drought … Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” tweeted the National Weather Service’s office in Reno, Nev., which monitors parts of the region.

Overall, less than 60% of California remains in drought for the first time since early 2013, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor. A year ago, drought covered 97% of the state.

Stations up and down the Sierra mountain chain reported twice the amount of normal rain and snow for this time of year after snowstorms doubled the vital snowpack there that provides the state with much of its year-round water supply.

“It’s been a nice little miracle month after five bad years,” said meteorologist David Miskus of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who wrote this week’s drought report.

More than a foot of precipitation fell in the Sierra in the past week alone, leaving most major reservoirs at or above average levels, Miskus said.

Strawberry Valley, Calif., received 20.7 inches of precipitation, and the Heavenly Ski Area near Lake Tahoe picked up a whopping 12 feet of snow. The excessive snowfall even led to closures of some ski resorts because of blizzard conditions and road closures.

However, much of southern California remains dry, though most not at the most severe level of drought. Only 2% of the state is in that category of “exceptional” drought: an area that stretches from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Across southern California, reservoirs and underground water supplies remain below normal, the Drought Monitor said.

It will take additional rain and snow this winter, plus another wet winter next year, to pull southern California out of drought, Miskus said.

A drought emergency issued in early 2014 will remain in place until Gov. Jerry Brownlifts or eases it, the Associated Press reported. That decision likely won’t come until the end of California’s winter snow and rain season.

Miskus called the latest drought report a “great start” to the West’s water year that runs through Sept. 30. California isn’t the only state seeing improvements: Many areas of the West, including parts of Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, also made significant progress.

Nationwide, about 20% of the U.S. remains in a drought, primarily in parts of the southern Plains, the Southeast and the Northeast.

Though the drought may be over in northern California, the specter of extended dryness always hangs over the state, especially the normally arid southern regions. A 2015 scientific study found California could face permanent drought conditions by the second half of this century, due in part to man-made climate change.

Additionally, the recent drought in California is merely part of a longer-term, 15-year drought across most of the western U.S., one that scientists call a “megadrought.”

The crack in this Antarctic ice shelf just grew by 11 miles. A dramatic break could be imminent.

An enormous rift in one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves grew dramatically over the past month, and a chunk nearly the size of Delaware could break away as soon as later this winter, British scientists reported this week.

If this happens, it could accelerate a further breakup of the ice shelf, essentially removing a massive cork of ice that keeps some of Antarctica’s glaciers from flowing into the ocean. The long term result, scientists project, could be to noticeably raise global sea levels by 10 centimeters, or almost four inches.

It’s the latest sign of major ice loss in the fast warming Antarctic Peninsula, which has already seen the breakup of two other shelves in the same region, events that have been widely attributed to climate change.

The crack in the ice shelf, known as Larsen C, has been growing at an accelerating rate. Since the beginning of December, it has grown about 11 miles in length, after extending 13 miles earlier in the year. In total, the rift has grown about 50 miles since 2011 (it’s almost 100 miles long in total), and has widened to well over 1,000 feet. Now, only 12 miles of ice continue to connect the chunk with the rest of the ice shelf.

When it breaks away, the loss would be of nearly 2,000 square miles of ice, say the researchers with Project MIDAS, a British government-funded collaboration based at Swansea and Aberystwyth universities in Wales. That’s larger than Rhode Island and almost as big as Delaware.

The consequences of the break could be dramatic.

“When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10% of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula,” said the researchers in a statement about the rift.

“We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was prior to the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event.”

Here’s an image showing the apparently accelerating advance of the rift, per the Project Midas team:

The British Antarctic Survey also released a statement on the growing rift, saying a huge iceberg is “set to calve” from Larsen C.

“Because of the uncertainty surrounding the stability of the Larsen C ice shelf, we chose not to camp on the ice this season,” David Vaughan, the survey’s director of science, said in the statement.

The floating ice shelf is fed by the flow of ice glaciers that sit above sea level on the Antarctic Peninsula. As the shelf loses mass, these glaciers could flow more quickly — which would contribute to rising sea levels. Losses from the ice shelf alone, however dramatic, would not have that effect, as the shelf is already floating on water, just like an ice cube in a glass of water.

Fortunately, the Antarctic Peninsula does not contain nearly as much ice as other, thicker parts of Antarctica, such as the West and East Antarctic ice sheets. The potential sea level rise if Larsen C is lost would be measured in centimeters, not feet.

Still, it would subtract a major, enduring feature from the planet, and add to already dramatic changes that have been seen in the Antarctic Peninsula, the portion of the icy continent that extends northward towards South America.

At the end of the Earth, a scientific struggle to understand one of Greenland’s most enormous glaciers


Two scientists trek to remote Petermann glacier in northern Greenland to find out how quickly it is melting and what that means for global sea level rise. (Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post)

Two smaller ice shelves near Larsen C – Larsen A, and Larsen B – have already largely disintegrated. Larsen B retains a remnant of its former size, but scientists have determined that this ice, too, could vanish before too long. They have also documented that following the collapse of much of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, the glaciers behind it sped up their flow towards the sea. Now, the fear is the same process could be unleashed on the larger Larsen C shelf.

The Larsen C ice shelf is more than 1,000 feet thick, and in spatial extent, nearly the size of Scotland. It is the fourth-largest ice shelf in Antarctica, although nothing compared with the two largest, the Ross and Filchner-Ronne ice shelves.

NASA, during a flight in November, captured several spectacular photos of the rift, including the one at the top of this article and also the close-up below. But that was before further extension of the rift last month:

The Antarctic continent is ringed with ice shelves, which are the ocean-front portions of larger glaciers. But as the climate changes, these features have been thinning and in some cases breaking apart dramatically.

The Project MIDAS group did not immediately make a statement attributing the development at Larsen C to climate change, but the fact that the shelf would be “at its most retreated position ever recorded” after the break is certainly suggestive.

Previous research has also documented that the Larsen C ice shelf is becoming less thick, and so floating lower in the water, and this appears tied to the warming of the Antarctic Peninsula in recent decades. Warmer seas could also be playing a role.

Now, the wait for the anticipated break begins.

Swansea University’s Adrian Luckman, who heads up Project MIDAS, told the BBC that “If it doesn’t go in the next few months, I’ll be amazed.”

Daniela Jansen, a researcher with the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany who collaborates with the Project MIDAS team, largely agreed in an email to The Washington Post.

“I think the iceberg will calve soon,” she said. “The jumps of the rift tip occurred in shorter time intervals the longer the rift got. This is probably due to the longer ‘lever’ for the forces acting to advance the rift, such as the up and down of the tides or strong winds towards the sea. Whether it will be months or maybe next year, I don’t know.”

Scientists are frantically copying U.S. climate data, fearing it might vanish under Trump (GOOD!!!!)

Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.

“Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” said Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, who over the weekend began copying government climate data onto a nongovernment server, where it will remain available to the public. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”

In recent weeks, President-elect Donald Trump has nominated a growing list of Cabinet members who have questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus around global warming. His transition team at the Department of Energy has asked agency officials for names of employees and contractors who have participated in international climate talks and worked on the scientific basis for Obama administration-era regulations of carbon emissions. One Trump adviser suggested that NASA no longer should conduct climate research and instead should focus on space exploration.

Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings

The Trump transition team has issued a list of 74 questions for the Energy Department, asking officials there to identify which department employees and contractors have worked on forging an international climate pact as well as domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output.(Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post)

Those moves have stoked fears among the scientific community that Trump, who has called the notion of man-made climate change “a hoax” and vowed to reverse environmental policies put in place by President Obama, could try to alter or dismantle parts of the federal government’s repository of data on everything from rising sea levels to the number of wildfires in the country.

Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that Trump has appointed a “band of climate conspiracy theorists” to run transition efforts at various agencies, along with nominees to lead them who share similar views.

“They have been salivating at the possibility of dismantling federal climate research programs for years. It’s not unreasonable to think they would want to take down the very data that they dispute,” Halpern said in an email. “There is a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared, and scientists are doing their best to be prepared. . . . Scientists are right to preserve data and archive websites before those who want to dismantle federal climate change research programs storm the castle.”

To be clear, neither Trump nor his transition team have said the new administration plans to manipulate or curtail publicly available data. The transition team did not respond to a request for comment. But some scientists aren’t taking any chances.

“What are the most important .gov climate assets?” Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and self-proclaimed “climate hawk,” tweeted from his Arizona home Saturday evening. “Scientists: Do you have a US .gov climate database that you don’t want to see disappear?”

Within hours, responses flooded in from around the country. Scientists added links to dozens of government databases to a Google spreadsheet. Investors offered to help fund efforts to copy and safeguard key climate data. Lawyers offered pro bono legal help. Database experts offered server space and help organizing mountains of data. In California, Santos began building an online repository to “make sure these data sets remain freely and broadly accessible.”

Climate data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been politically vulnerable. When Tom Karl, director of the National Centers for Environmental Information, and his colleagues published a study in 2015 seeking to challenge the idea that there had been a global warming “slowdown” or “pause” during the 2000s, they relied, in significant part, on updates to NOAA’s ocean temperature data set, saying the data “do not support the notion of a global warming ‘hiatus.’”

In response, the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee chair, Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.), tried to subpoena the scientists and their records.

That effort launched by Holthaus is one of several underway to preserve key federal scientific data.

In Philadelphia, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, along with members of groups such as Open Data Philly and the software company Azavea, have been meeting to figure out ways to harvest and store important data sets.

At the University of Toronto this weekend, researchers are holding what they call a “guerrilla archiving” event to catalogue key federal environmental data ahead of Trump’s inauguration. The event “is focused on preserving information and data from the Environmental Protection Agency, which has programs and data at high risk of being removed from online public access or even deleted,” the organizers said. “This includes climate change, water, air, toxics programs.”

The event is part of a broader effort to help San Francisco-based Internet Archive with its End of Term 2016project, an effort by university, government and nonprofit officials to find and archive valuable pages on federal websites. The project has existed through several presidential transitions.

At the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco, where more than 20,000 earth and climate scientists have swarmed the city’s biggest conference center this week, an air of gallows humor marked many conversations. Some young scientists said their biggest personal concern is funding for their research, much of which relies on support from NASA and other agencies.

“You just don’t know what’s coming,” said Adam Campbell, who studies the imperiled Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica.

But others also arrived at the meeting with a strengthened sense of resolve. Campbell was planning to join hundreds of other people at a rally Tuesday, organized in part by the activist group ClimateTruth.org, encouraging researchers to “stand up for science.” “People have felt a call to arms,” Campbell said. “We need to be outspoken.”

What a Trump presidency means for climate change

Donald Trump will enter the White House with an environmental policy agenda opposed to that of the Obama administration and many other nations that have pledged support to the Paris climate agreement. The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney breaks down what a Donald Trump presidency will mean when it comes to climate change. (Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

Lawyers with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund — which provides legal assistance to researchers facing lawsuits over their work on climate change — will be holding one-on-one consultations with researchers who think they might need help from a lawyer. And the organization’s table in the AGU exhibition hall is piled high with booklets titled “Handling Political Harassment and Legal Intimidation: A Pocket Guide for Scientists.”

“We literally thought about it the day after the election,” said Lauren Kurtz, the legal defense fund’s executive director. “I have gotten a lot of calls from scientists who are really concerned. . . . So it’s intended in some ways to be reassuring, to say, ‘There is a game plan; we’re here to help you.’”

The 16-page guide contains advice for government researchers who believe their work is being suppressed, as well as how scientists should react if they receive hate mail or death threats.

Holthaus, who encouraged scientists to flag key databases, said the effort to safeguard them is mostly precautionary.

“I don’t actually think that it will happen,” he said of efforts by an incoming administration to obscure or alter scientific data. “But I think it could happen. . . . All of these data sets are priceless, in the sense that if there is a gap, it greatly diminishes their usefulness.”

“I think it’s much more likely they’d try to end the collection of data, which would minimize its value. Having continuous data is crucial for understanding long-term trends,” Dessler said. “Trends are what climate change is about — understanding these long-term changes. Think about how much better off the people who don’t want to do anything about climate change would be if all the long-term temperature trends didn’t exist.”

He added, “If you can just get rid of the data, you’re in a stronger position to argue we should do nothing about climate change.”

Unfrozen: Greenland Was Once Ice-Free for 280,000 Years

More than a million years ago, frosty Greenland was ice-free, its bare bedrock exposed for 280,000 years, researchers have found.

During this exposed stint, the island’s overall ice cover could have dropped by more than 90 percent, the scientists reported today (Dec. 7) in the journal Nature.

Previous studies have reported that Greenland’s ice shrank in the distant past, but this study is the first to explain how long a span Greenland may have endured without its usual frozen cover. This discovery hints that its surface ice was more variable than once thought — which does not bode well for its future stability in a warming world, the researchers said. [In Photos: Greenland’s Ancient Landscape]

The researchers gathered their data from isotopes — atoms of the same element but with a different number of neutrons — extracted from bedrock minerals. The isotopes, beryllium 10 and aluminum 26, are produced only by cosmic rays, which means that they only occur when the rock that holds them is exposed; as such they can offer clues about when rocks were bare of ice, and for how long.

These isotopes originated in the only rocky core ever extracted from land underneath Greenland ice, drilled at the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS) summit in 1993.

Minerals from this solitary core are second only to moon rocks in their rarity and importance, as they are the only existing evidence of Greenland’s extant bedrock, according to lead author Joerg Schaeffer, a paleoclimatologist with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and a professor with the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.

When this core was first examined decades ago, researchers were able to detect isotopes in the sediment produced by cosmic rays, but their equipment wasn’t sensitive enough to gather precise climate data, Schaeffer told Live Science. In order to get to the isotopes, “we literally digested those rocks,” he said, describing how he and his colleagues dissolved minerals with acid so they could observe the atoms.

Scientists drilled nearly two miles down through the summit of the Greenland ice sheet (white dot, left), to reach bedrock. Isotopes found in the rock indicate that this site and most of Greenland were nearly ice free (right) during the recent geologic past.
Scientists drilled nearly two miles down through the summit of the Greenland ice sheet (white dot, left), to reach bedrock. Isotopes found in the rock indicate that this site and most of Greenland were nearly ice free (right) during the recent geologic past.

Credit: Schaefer et al., Nature, 2016

The atomic isotope beryllium 10 told the scientists that the rock had at one point been ice-free. To gauge how long that period lasted, they compared the amount of beryllium to quantities of another isotope, aluminium 26, which is also produced as a result of cosmic rays. It appears at a 7 to 1 ratio to beryllium 10, but decays into other substances twice as fast. The quantity of aluminium atoms relative to beryllium told the scientists that once the ice cover melted away, the rock was exposed for more than 280,000 years, until about 1.1 million years ago.

The extent to which Greenland’s ice may have waxed and waned over time was the subject of another new study, also published today (Dec. 7) in Nature. Lead author Paul Bierman, a professorof geology at the University of Vermont, told Live Science that the study found evidence of ice covering the island for a period of 7.5 million years, a much longer period than described in any prior study.

Though many scientists have investigated Greenland’s ice for clues about its behavior over time, a comprehensive picture long remained elusive. And Greenland itself is to blame for this incomplete view, as recurring changes in ice cover scrub away geologic evidence over and over again, Bierman said. [‘Dark Ice’ Speeds Up Melting in Greenland (Photos)]

Greenland Ice sheet tumbling toward a calving margin in an East Greenland fiord near Kulusuk.

Greenland Ice sheet tumbling toward a calving margin in an East Greenland fiord near Kulusuk.

Credit: Paul Bierman

“Whenever the ice expands, it wipes away what it did last time,” Bierman told Live Science. “It’s like looking at a chalkboard that’s been erased, and you have to figure out what happened three classes ago.”

Bierman and his colleagues analyzed deep-sea samples from a core of weathered bedrock that originated in East Greenland, but was carried into the ocean off the coast.

Their examination revealed that during the past 7.5 million years, Greenland ice was “persistent” but also “dynamic,” the scientists wrote in the study, allowing that there were likely periods when the ice cover dwindled due to global temperature changes.

While Bierman’s study suggests that ice consistently blanketed Greenland, that doesn’t necessarily rule out that some parts of the island were ice-free at times. High-altitude regions in the east could have stayed frozen even during warm conditions, while other parts of Greenland lost their ice, according to Ginny Catania, an associate professor with the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

Catania, who was not involved in the new studies, told Live Science in an email that both investigations support reduced ice in Greenland’s past, but more data would be required to understand the processes that contributed to massive and rapid ice loss, and how they might drive future melt. [5 Places Already Feeling the Effects of Climate Change]

Fiord choked with melting sea ice and icebergs in East Greenland, during the month of June.
Fiord choked with melting sea ice and icebergs in East Greenland, during the month of June.

Credit: Paul Bierman

“These uncertainties limit our ability to accurately predict the future of the ice sheet,” Catania said. “We are in for a lot of change in Greenland in the future. The question remains — how quickly will it happen?”

Techniques used in both studies introduce novel methods for looking at how Greenland’s ice changed, but there is still more work to be done. Determining more precisely when and why historical ice loss happened could greatly improve computer models that would find a threshold for instability in Greenland’s ice today, according to Anders Carlson, an associate professor of geology and geophysics with the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University.

“Regardless of when Greenland had ice-free conditions, the ice sheet has been unstable and collapsed in the past,” Carlson told Live Science. “And that probably occurred when CO2 [carbon dioxide] levels were below what they are now — which bodes ill for future,” he said.

And time may be running short. Seasonal melt for Greenland in 2016 was above average, with the third highest surface mass loss of ice in 38 years of satellite observations, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Were Greenland to lose the majority of its ice, as it did in the past, the water released into the world’s oceans could produce around 23 feet (7 meters) of sea level rise, Schaeffer added.

“We have never seen the planet warming as fast as it is now, and we have to prepare as best we can,” Schaeffer told Live Science. “We need to get organized quickly, and, hopefully, this helps to make the case.”

Trump to name Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma attorney general suing EPA on climate change, to head the EPA

President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the oil and gas-intensive state of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, a move signaling an assault on President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy.

Pruitt has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting the very agency he is being nominated to lead.

He is the third of Trump’s appointees who have key philosophical differences with the missions of the agencies they have been tapped to run. Ben Carson, named to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has expressed a deep aversion to the social safety net programs and fair housing initiatives that have been central to that agency’s activities. Betsy DeVos, named education secretary, has a passion for private school vouchers that critics say undercut the public school systems at the core of the government’s mission.

The news about the choice of Pruitt was confirmed by a transition official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity before the official announcement.

Pruitt, who has written that the debate on climate change is “far from settled,” joined a coalition of state attorneys general in suing the agency’s Clean Power Plan, the principal Obama-era policy aimed at reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. He has also sued, with fellow state attorneys general, over the EPA’s recently announced regulations seeking to curtail the emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the oil and gas sector.

On his Linked In page, Pruitt boasts of being “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

After he was elected attorney general in 2010, Pruitt established a “Federalism Unit” to “more effectively combat unwarranted regulation and systematic overreach by federal agencies, boards and offices,” according to his online biography.

And he has gone on to challenge the administration not just over the environment but over a host of other areas. He joined other Republican attorneys general in a lawsuit over Obama’s immigration policies. He has also sued the administration over the Affordable Care Act, saying the health-care mandate on religious employers to provide coverage including contraception was unconstitutional. He has sued over the Dodd-Frank financial reform.

An ally of the energy industry, Pruitt, along with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, came to the defense of ExxonMobil when it fell under investigation by attorneys general from more liberal states seeking information about whether the oil giant failed to disclose material information about climate change.

“We do not doubt the sincerity of the beliefs of our fellow attorneys general about climate change and the role human activity plays in it,” they wrote at the conservative publication National Review. “But we call upon them to press those beliefs through debate, not through governmental intimidation of those who disagree with them.”

In an interview with The Post in September, as a D.C. federal appeals court was preparing to hear arguments over the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt detailed why he has remained a leading opponent of the EPA’s efforts to curb carbon emissions by regulating power plants.

“What concerns the states is the process, the procedures, the authority that the EPA is exerting that we think is entirely inconsistent with its constitutional and statutory authority,” he said at the time.

Agencies such as the EPA, he said, should not be trying to “pinch hit” for Congress.

“This is a unique approach by EPA, whether they want to acknowledge it or not,” he said of the provisions of the Clean Air Act that the agency had relied upon to write new regulations. “The overreach is the statutes do not permit [EPA officials] to act in the way they are. They tend to have this approach that the end justifies the means . . . They tend to justify it by saying this big issue, this is an important issue.”

But he added that’s where Congress should have authority, not EPA. “This is something from a constitutional and statutory perspective that causes great concern.”

Environmental groups reacted with alarm Wednesday at the nomination. And New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman vowed to “use the full power” of his office to wage a legal battle to “compel” enforcement of environmental laws under Trump.

“Scott Pruitt has a record of attacking the environmental protections that EPA is charged with enforcing. He has built his political career by trying to undermine EPA’s mission of environmental protection,” said Fred Krupp,  president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Our country needs — and deserves — an EPA administrator who is guided by science, who respects America’s environmental laws, and who values protecting the health and safety of all Americans ahead of the lobbying agenda of special interests.”

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that “over the past five years, Pruitt has used his position as Oklahoma’s top prosecutor to sue the EPA in a series of attempts to deny Americans the benefits of reducing mercury, arsenic, and other toxins from the air we breathe; cutting smog that can cause asthma attacks; and protecting our wetlands and streams.”

Pruitt has also fought to limit the scope of the federal government in regulating pollution of rivers under the Waters of the United States rule.

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who has been active on environmental issues, said, “Scott Pruitt would have EPA stand for Every Polluter’s Ally.”

In 2014, the New York Times reported that a letter ostensibly written by Pruitt alleging that the agency overestimated air pollution from natural gas drilling was actually written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of the state’s largest oil and gas companies.

Industry representatives expressed satisfaction with the choice Wednesday. “The office he headed was present and accounted for in the battle to keep EPA faithful to its statutory authority and respectful of the role of the states in our system of cooperative federalism,” said Scott Segal, head of the policy group at the lobbying and legal firm Bracewell. “Given that we are almost two decades overdue for an overhaul of the Clean Air Act, there is interest on both sides of the aisle to look at that statute.”

David Rivkin, a constitutional litigator who represented Pruitt and Oklahoma in challenging the Clean Power Plan, said he believed Pruitt would be able to make sure the EPA lives up to its mission of protecting air and water while avoiding federal overreach.

“General Pruitt has been the leader among the AGs in defending federalism, the key feature of our constitutional architecture,” said Rivkin, a partner at Baker Hostetler, adding that he believed Pruitt would “ensure both environmental protection and constitutional fidelity.”

Pruitt’s outlook reflects his home state: Oklahoma ranked fifth in the nation in onshore crude oil output in 2014, has five oil refineries, and is home to the giant Cushing oil storage and trading hub, where the price for the benchmark West Texas Intermediate grade is set every day. Although oil and natural gas production sagged in the 1990s and early 2000s, the surge in horizontal fracturing, or fracking, has boosted output.

The state’s natural gas output accounts for 10 percent of the nation’s overall total. For the week ended Oct. 28, there were 73 drilling rigs in operation in Oklahoma.

Pruitt has served as head of the Republican Attorneys General Association, a group that has relied heavily on funds from ultraconservative groups and the oil industry. The biggest contributors this year included the Judicial Crisis Network, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute of Legal Reform, Sheldon Adelson, oil conglomerate Koch Industries and Murray Energy, a leading coal mining company.

Pruitt, a Kentucky native who moved to Oklahoma to attend the University of Tulsa law school, has also been active in religious groups. He serves as deacon of the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow. In 2012, Pruitt was named a trustee of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before serving as attorney general, he was a member of the state legislature.

Dallas investor Doug Deason, a friend of Pruitt, said he expects the Oklahoma attorney general to immediately get to work rolling back the EPA’s “silly overreach” and to let states handle environmental oversight.

“Just like most Republican attorney generals, especially in energy-producing states, he has been really frustrated with the government and the EPA’s overreach into everything,” Deason said.

But Deason said liberals will be happily surprised by Pruitt’s “open-minded” attitude, adding that he is “willing to look at things.”

“He will bring a more balanced, logical look” at environmental regulation,” he said.

Pruitt’s selection was strongly supported by Oklahoma oil billionaire Harold Hamm.

The nomination suggests an extraordinarily tough road ahead for the Clean Power Plan, president Obama’s signature climate policy. However, the precise fate of the regulation most immediately turns on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which has not yet ruled in the lawsuit brought by Pruitt and his fellow attorneys general against the agency Pruitt is now named to lead.

“Some have suggested that Pruitt’s hands might be tied because he participated in litigation against the agency,” Segal said in an email. “This is a silly position. There is no conflict in representing your state on litigation dealing with rules of general applicability and then serving your nation as a federal official.”

However, some of the Clean Power Plan’s objectives appear to have been already realized long before it came into effect. The United States is already burning less coal and more natural gas, meaning fewer carbon dioxide emissions.

In 2030, the EPA projected in its final Clean Power Plan rule, coal would be reduced to providing 27 percent of U.S. electricity, with natural gas at 33 percent. Yet this very year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas will provide 34 percent of U.S. electricity, and coal 30 percent.

11 Deaths Confirmed as Smokies Wildfires Devastate Tennessee (VERY VERY VERY GOOD!!!!)

Four more people have died in the ferocious wildfire that erupted across Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, authorities said Thursday, raising the death toll to 11 as officials continue to assess the damage.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters confirmed three deaths at a news conference Thursday afternoon. The state Emergency Management Agency confirmed the fourth Thursday night.

Waters did offer some good news: Search crews have found “quite a few” of the 70 or so people who were reported missing, he said at a news conference.

Seventy-four people have been treated for injuries, and some remain in hospitals, officials said. The state Emergency Management Agency said almost 8,500 customers remained without power Thursday in Sevier County.

Families, meanwhile, have been asking for help to find their loved ones.


Drenching rain on Wednesday helped firefighters beat back the massive blaze, which still burned more than 17,000 acres and was about 10 percent contained, according to the Southern Area Incident Management Team, which assumed command of the fire.

“The rain we received may have slowed this fire for a day or two at a critical time, but the threat from this fire is still there,” the team said.

Officials said crews were making significant progress in the search and clearing operations, which have been slowed by mud and rockslides caused by the wet weather.

Many county businesses were back open Thursday, and all but two county schools will be open Friday, officials said. Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner, who lost his own home, described the community as “mountain tough, telling NBC station WBIR of Knoxville: “It’s a huge bump in the road, but we’re going to be OK. We’re going to be OK.”

Photos: Smoky Mountains Charred by Three Days of Fires

Authorities had previously said seven people were dead. The family of one of them identified her to NBC News on Thursday as Alice Hagler, 70.

Image: Alice Hagler
Officials have identified Alice Hagler, 70, as one of the victims of the fire that devastated Sevier County in eastern Tennessee. Courtesy of Hagler family

Hagler was last heard from on Monday night, when she was on the phone with a son at her home in Gatlinburg and the line went dead, WBIR reported.

“My mother called me frantically that the house was on fire, yelling that the house was on fire, and I told her to get out of the house,” James Wood told the station. He tried desperately to return to the cabin where they lived, but he found that the inferno was too intense.

“I made my best to get to her,” Wood said. “The fires were absolutely, entirely impossible to get through up on Wiley Oakley Road. I did make it to the road, but two miles up I couldn’t make it any further.”

Image: Gatlinburg wildfires
Trevor Cates walks through the smoldering remains of the fellowship hall of Banner Missionary Baptist Church as he inspects damage Tuesday in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Brian Blanco / Getty Images

Incident commanders said the blazes started with the human-caused Chimney 2 Fire, which was reported in the park Nov. 23. By Monday, the region’s prolonged drought and extreme winds were causing the fire to spit out embers that quickly ignited numerous new fires, they said.

Fire commanders said more than 700 structures in Sevier County have been damaged or destroyed — about 300 of them in Gatlinburg — and as many as 14,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes, authorities said.

Rescue crews could finish searching Gatlinburg by Thursday night. City officials said owners, residents and renters will be allowed “limited access” to their properties, businesses and homes in some areas of the town Friday morning.