Random Climate Factoids

Wineries and growers in California are hedging their risk from a changing climate by purchasing vineyard land in Oregon and Washington. The Northwest states, relative newcomers to the wine business, initially were known for Pinot Noir and Riesling, varieties that struggled in cooler environments but did spectacularly well some vintages. The quality of Northwest wines, though, varied from year to year because of inconsistent weather. Wines produced in the prime regions of northern California, differentiated themselves according to micro-climates, with weather patterns predictably reliable each year.

As the planet warms, vintners see northern California wine grapes becoming more like their cousins in the dry, hot Central Valley: abundant yields producing wines lacking nuance, usually blended into inexpensive bulk-produced wines. Northwest climate is becoming what California was, growing premium wine grapes that are now thriving further north.

The same scenario is playing out in Europe. France, for centuries the haughty center of the wine world, is now casting its eye northward, to Denmark, perceiving a bright long-term future for vineyards in the not-as-chilly-as-it-used-to-be north.

Five-thousand miles southwest of California lie the Marshall Islands, tiny specks in the Pacific Ocean, five-hundred miles north of the equator. The 53,000 residents of the islands watch with trepidation as rising sea waters lap at a concrete vessel left behind by the U.S. more than sixty years ago. The aging container, named the “Runit Dome,” holds 3.1 million cubic feet of radioactive soil and debris mixed with plutonium. Beginning in 1946, the United States detonated sixty-seven nuclear bombs as part of its Cold War atomic testing program. When the program ended in1958, the testers packed up the nuclear waste and sealed it into a concrete coffin and left it there. Known to locals as “the Tomb,” the container in the decades since has been deteriorating from ever-rising tides and other effects of exposure to the changing climate.

The President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands wants the U.S. to take care of it: “We don’t want it. We didn’t build it. The garbage inside is not ours. It’s theirs.” America’s response: Nope. The dome is on Marshallese land and therefore the responsibility of the Marshallese government. Marshallese citizens wait with dread for doomsday when the Tomb can no longer contain its radioactive waste.

Meanwhile, up in the Arctic Circle, the tundra is slowly melting. Below the thawing permafrost sit 1,400 gigatons of carbon. (A gigaton is one billion tons.) For perspective, the earth’s atmosphere presently contains 850 gigatons of carbon. The carbon from roots, other plant material and animals has been decaying over millennia into methane gas. Will the melting ice release the methane gradually or will the gases escape in one cataclysmic phenomenon?

Or is this all just part of the climate-change hoax?

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