Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read MoreRead More
What to Expect From La Niña
On shifting weather patterns, nuclear fusion, and forever chemicals
Current conditions: California is getting a brief respite from the rain • Barcelona’s soccer club is reducing its water use as drought grips Spain • It will be chilly and windy in Las Vegas this weekend for Super Bowl LVIII.
THE TOP FIVE
1. Looming La Niña could make for more extreme weather
El Niño may be on the way out. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) yesterday issued a La Niña watch, saying there’s a 55% chance the weather pattern could emerge this summer. El Niño has contributed to above-average ocean temperatures and an intensification of extreme weather. La Niña typically cools the equatorial Pacific, but experts say it could bring stronger hurricanes, drought, and even trigger more tornadoes in the Midwest.
2. Famed climate scientist wins defamation suit
Climate scientist Michael Mann, most well-known for popularizing the “hockey stick” graph in 1998 that showed a spike in global temperatures, won a defamation lawsuit against two writers who were critical of his work. In 2012, Rand Simberg, a former adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, compared Mann to convicted child abuser Jerry Sandusky, writing that “except for instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data.” Steyn piled on Simberg’s comments and called Mann’s research “fraudulent.” A jury found the statements were written with “maliciousness, spite, ill will, vengeance or deliberate intent to harm,” and awarded Mann more than $1 million in damages. “I hope this verdict sends a message that falsely attacking climate scientists is not protected speech,” Mann said.
3. Researchers set new nuclear fusion energy record
European scientists have set a new record for the amount of energy produced from nuclear fusion: Researchers working at the Joint European Torus (JET) facility in the U.K. – one of the most powerful fusion machines in the world – produced 69 megajoules of fusion energy for five seconds, surpassing the 2021 record of 59 megajoules. That’s “enough energy to boil about 70 kettles,” according to the Financial Times’ calculation. While that might not seem like a lot, experts see it as a sign of progress toward harnessing the process that powers the sun for abundant clean energy. But that remains a long way off: The JET experiment used more energy than it produced, and “building a fusion power plant also has many engineering and materials challenges,” Aneeqa Khan, a research fellow in nuclear fusion at the University of Manchester, told CNN. This experiment is one of the last to be conducted at the JET facility, which is being decommissioned this year.
Get Heatmap AM directly in your inbox every morning:
4. Insurance industry taps scientists to help measure growing wilfire risks
The insurance industry is sponsoring research into how wildfires spread in urban areas, E&E Newsreported. The goal is to help insurers better gauge risk as wildfires fueled by a warming climate increasingly threaten buildings and cause billions in losses. Most of the costliest wildfires in U.S. history have struck in the last decade, and “global insured losses between 2011 and 2020 for wildfires alone were more than five times higher than losses in the previous three decades.” Not much modeling has been done around how fires jump from rural to urban areas, or about how different types of buildings withstand fires, and “the industry is working to get its arms around the issue so companies can more confidently do business in fire-prone areas — and incentivize homeowners to do what they can to draw down the risk.”
5. Rapid PFAS detection method discovered
Identifying “forever chemicals” lurking in our homes and the environment may soon get a lot easier. Chemists from the New Jersey Institute of Technology say they’ve found a way to detect traces of harmful PFAS in mere minutes. It could make it much easier for authorities to identify PFAS and clean them up. “The current testing methods are costly and time-consuming, taking hours for sample preparation and analysis in some cases," said Hao Chen, the study's corresponding author and NJIT chemistry professor. "What our study demonstrates is a much faster, sensitive and versatile method that can monitor our drinking water, land, and consumer products for contamination in minutes." The team used its rapid detection method to identify two kinds of PFAS in just 40mg of soil. The process took less than three minutes.
California Academy of Sciences
Ten African penguin chicks have hatched over the last 14 months at a San Francisco science museum, after four years with no new chicks.