Monday, March 27, 2017

Weather Extremes:  Humans Likely Influence Giant Airstreams

On the left is an image of the global circulation pattern on a normal day. On the right is the image of the global circulation pattern when extreme weather occurs. The pattern on the right shows extreme patterns of wind speeds going north and south, while the normal pattern on the left shows moderate speed winds in both the north and south directions. (Credit: Michael Mann / Penn State) Click to Enlarge.
The increase of devastating weather extremes in summer is likely linked to human-made climate change, mounting evidence shows.  Giant airstreams are circling the Earth, waving up and down between the Arctic and the tropics.  These planetary waves transport heat and moisture.  When these planetary waves stall, droughts or floods can occur.  Warming caused by greenhouse-gases from fossil fuels creates favorable conditions for such events, an international team of scientists now finds.

"The unprecedented 2016 California drought, the 2011 U.S. heatwave, and 2010 Pakistan flood as well as the 2003 European hot spell all belong to a most worrying series of extremes," says Michael Mann from the Pennsylvania State University in the U.S., lead-author of the study now published in Scientific Reports.  "The increased incidence of these events exceeds what we would expect from the direct effects of global warming alone, so there must be an additional climate change effect.  In data from computer simulations as well as observations, we identify changes that favor unusually persistent, extreme meanders of the jet stream that support such extreme weather events.  Human activity has been suspected of contributing to this pattern before, but now we uncover a clear fingerprint of human activity."

How sunny days can turn into a serious heat wave
"If the same weather persists for weeks on end in one region, then sunny days can turn into a serious heat wave and drought, or lasting rains can lead to flooding", explains co-author Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.  "This occurs under specific conditions that favor what we call a quasi-resonant amplification that makes the north-south undulations of the jet stream grow very large.  It also makes theses waves grind to a halt rather than moving from west to east.  Identifying the human fingerprint on this process is advanced forensics."

Read more at Weather Extremes:  Humans Likely Influence Giant Airstreams

Sunday, March 26, 2017

  Sunday, Mar 26

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Why the World Economy Has to Be Carbon Free by 2050 - NYTimes Op Ed

In front of the financial district of Pudong amid heavy smog in Shanghai in 2015.In front of the financial district of Pudong amid heavy smog in Shanghai in 2015. (Credit: Aly Song/Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
Global warming is a scientific fact as much as the hole in the ozone layer or Earth’s orbit around the sun.  Global temperature records have been broken three years running.  Arctic Sea ice is declining rapidly.  Sea levels are rising.  For some societies, such as small island nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, environmental havoc is not a distant threat.  It has arrived.

To reduce the risk of a global environmental catastrophe, and to avoid reversing the course of human progress, the world must urgently bend the curve of global emissions away from fossil fuels.  Global warming must be kept below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit); beyond that we will face major social and economic consequences.

The math to keep the increase below that critical level doesn’t get much simpler.  Emissions must peak no later than 2020, and we must reach a fossil-fuel-free world economy by 2050.   National pledges made for the Paris Climate Agreement fall short.  Indeed, the political landscape is dominated by governments willing to make only incremental progress:  two steps forward and one step back, or giant leaps back, in the case of the United States, where President Trump has threatened to retreat from international climate action and has proposed devastating cuts in funding for climate science and international collaboration. 
The vast divide between what is necessary and what politicians are willing to do leaves many scientists nervous that we could blow our last chance to reduce the grave risk to our environment and world stability.

Still, there are good reasons for cautious optimism.  Despite the halting progress made by politicians, history shows that the modern world has been shaped by major moments of disruption.  Think about the recent United States election, Brexit, the global financial crisis of 2008, and the rapid advances made in the technology sector in recent decades.

Read more at Why the World Economy Has to Be Carbon Free by 2050

Efficiency of Silicon Solar Cells Climbs

Solar Cell (Photo Credit: Kunta Yoshikawa/Kaneka/Nature Energy) Click to Enlarge.
In research published this week in Nature Energy, researchers at Kaneka Corp., a resin and plastics manufacturer based in Osaka, describe the first silicon solar cell to achieve a record-breaking 26.3 percent efficiency—a 0.7 percent increase over the previous record.  That may not seem like a lot, but it’s really a big step when you consider that silicon solar cells’ theoretical maximum efficiency is just 29 percent.

Kaneka is a member of a project set up by the New Energy and industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), a Japanese government entity established to help develop and promote new energy technologies.

In producing its new 180.43-square-centimeter monocrystalline silicon prototype cell, Kaneka further developed and improved on several of the technologies promo0ted by NEDO.  Chief among them is Kaneka’s proprietary heterojunction technology.  It reduces recombination, or resistive loss, where instead of exiting the device to produce electricity, positive and negative charges in the solar cell combine and produce heat.

In addition, the company improved the energy-collection efficiency of the solar cell’s interdigitated electrodes.  But even more important, Kaneka moved the grid of electrodes from the front of the cell—the light-receiving area—to the back, boosting the amount of sunlight entering the cell, thereby reducing losses in the optics. 

Panasonic, a member of the same NEDO project and holder of the previous energy-conversion-rate record of 25.6 percent for its 143.7-cm2 solar cell set in 2014, employed the same key features in its device, namely heterojunction with interdigitated back contacts (HJ-IBC).

“But there are many types of materials, manufacturing processes, and architectures that can be selected,” says Kunta Yoshikawa, a member of the Kaneka research team that worked on the new solar cell.  “We achieved 26.3 percent efficiency by developing our CVD (chemical vapor deposition) technology, optical management, and electrical-contact technology using thin-film silicon and our [heterojunction] technology.”

Read more at Efficiency of Silicon Solar Cells Climbs

Peru’s Deadly Floods Ring Alarm Bell for Latin America

Residents cross a flooded street after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains in Juarmey, Ancash, Peru on March 22, 2017. (Credit: Reuters/Guadalupe Pardo) Click to Enlarge.
Peru's deadly floods are a wake-up call for cities across Latin America to prepare better for extreme weather as climate change and poor urban planning, alongside rapid population growth, worsen the problem of flooding, experts say.

In Peru the worst downpours in decades have triggered floods and landslides, killing at least 78 people and making around 70,000 homeless.  The government has declared a state of emergency.

The disaster has highlighted the heavy human toll and economic damage floods bring, raising questions over how well prepared the region is to deal with disasters.

"The issue of disaster risk prevention still isn't a priority for many governments in Latin America.  There's a long way to go," said Mauro Nalesso, lead water specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

"It seems that we are always waiting for the lessons learnt from the last disaster.  I always hope (it) will raise alarm bells among governments in Latin America," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

Climate change is expected to bring more frequent and intense floods, droughts and storms, making a deeper understanding of the way climate change affects local weather patterns crucial, experts say.

Meanwhile, surging urban populations across cities in Latin America - a result of mass migration from rural to urban areas in recent decades - make them vulnerable to floods.

Read more at Peru’s Deadly Floods Ring Alarm Bell for Latin America

Saturday, March 25, 2017

  Saturday, Mar 25

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

California Approves Vehicle Pollution Rules in Rebuke to Trump

2A smog testing facility sign is shown marking a garage as a certified testing station for vehicles in Encinitas, California September 23, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake/File Photo) Click to Enlarge.
California on Friday challenged the Trump administration's approach to car pollution, approving standards that the White House said still need review and setting up a potential face-off between federal and state regulators.

California Governor Jerry Brown and other state officials have vowed to lead the defense of environmental and other traditionally liberal causes against President Donald Trump.

About a dozen states follow California's car regulations in full or part, and the potential face-off between federal and state regulators could be expensive for automakers and a headache for consumers.

On Friday, the California Air Resources Board in a unanimous vote finalized 2022-2025 vehicle pollution rules for the state, set a mandate for zero-emission sales over the same time period, and ordered its staff to start work on targets for after 2025.

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would reconsider the 2022-2025 tailpipe emissions targets after auto makers requested the review.

Read more at California Approves Vehicle Pollution Rules in Rebuke to Trump

Trump Adviser Urges President to Stay in Paris Climate Agreement, but Scrap Pledges

Rep. Kevin Cramer argues the U.S. should stay at the global negotiating table, but walk back all its commitments to cut carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a key energy advisor to Donald Trump, argues the country should stay in the Paris climate accord. (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
A letter being circulated on Capitol Hill by a key Congressional ally of Donald Trump and the fossil fuel industry argues that the United States should stay in the Paris climate agreement—but on some starkly different terms.

In the letter, Rep. Kevin Cramer, (R-N.D.) said the United States should not flatly renounce the global agreement, but should walk back its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions to something less ambitious. He also said the U.S. should stop aid payments to the UN's main climate action fund altogether.

That would mean abandoning key promises while attempting to retain influence over future climate actions.  It plainly puts the fossil fuel agenda first and relinquishes U.S. leadership toward the treaty's underlying goal of eliminating emissions of carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels within a few decades.

President Obama pledged to make a 26 to 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, compared to a 2005 baseline.  And in follow-up talks, Obama's negotiators agreed that the cuts would have to be even deeper by mid-century.

"This target would cause irreparable harm to our economy, particularly our manufacturing and energy sectors, and should be rejected," Cramer claimed in the letter.

Instead, Cramer wrote, the president should come up with a new pledge.  "We should showcase the energy security, consumer, and emission benefits produced by the shale revolution," he said, adding the country should emphasize clean coal and nuclear technologies, among other things.  Ultimately, the new pledge should help ensure the future of fossil fuels, he wrote.

The letter overlooks one key part of the Paris agreement, though: not only are countries prohibited from backsliding in their ambition, they are required to ratchet up those ambitions.

Trump Adviser Urges President to Stay in Paris Climate Agreement, but Scrap Pledges

Friday, March 24, 2017

  Friday, Mar 24

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Harvard Scientists Moving Ahead on Plans for Atmospheric Geoengineering Experiments

The climate researchers intend to launch a high-altitude balloon that would spray a small quantity of reflective particles into the stratosphere.

Harvard University professor David Keith (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
A pair of Harvard climate scientists are preparing small-scale atmospheric experiments that could offer insights into the feasibility and risks of deliberately altering the climate to ease global warming.

They would be among the earliest official geoengineering-related experiments conducted outside of a controlled laboratory or computer model, underscoring the growing sense of urgency among scientists to begin seriously studying the possibility as the threat of climate change mounts.

Sometime next year, Harvard professors David Keith and Frank Keutsch hope to launch a high-altitude balloon, tethered to a gondola equipped with propellers and sensors, from a site in Tucson, Arizona.  After initial engineering tests, the “StratoCruiser” would spray a fine mist of materials such as sulfur dioxide, alumina, or calcium carbonate into the stratosphere.  The sensors would then measure the reflectivity of the particles, the degree to which they disperse or coalesce, and the way they interact with other compounds in the atmosphere.

The researchers first proposed these balloon experiments in a 2014 paper.  But at a geoengineering conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Keith said they have begun engineering design work with Arizona test balloon company World View Enterprises.   They’ve also started discussions about the appropriate governance structure for such an experiment, and they plan to set up an independent body to review their proposals.

“We would like to have the first flights next year,” he said at the Forum on U.S. Solar Geoengineering Research, held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In an earlier interview with MIT Technology Review, Keith stressed that the experiments would not be a binary test of geoengineering itself.  But they should provide useful information about the proposed method that he has closely studied, known as solar radiation management. 

Read more at Harvard Scientists Moving Ahead on Plans for Atmospheric Geoengineering Experiments

A 'Carbon Law' Offers Pathway to Halve Emissions Every Decade

On the eve of this year's Earth hour (March 25), researchers propose a solution in the journal Science for the global economy to rapidly reduce carbon emissions.  The authors argue a carbon roadmap, driven by a simple rule of thumb or 'carbon law' of halving emissions every decade, could catalyze disruptive innovation.

On the eve of this year's Earth hour (25 March), researchers propose a solution in the journal Science (24 March) for the global economy to rapidly reduce carbon emissions.  The authors argue a carbon roadmap, driven by a simple rule of thumb or "carbon law" of halving emissions every decade, could catalyse disruptive innovation.

Such a "carbon law," based on Moore's Law in the computer industry, applies to cities, nations and industrial sectors.

The authors say fossil-fuel emissions should peak by 2020 at the latest and fall to around zero by 2050 to meet the UN's Paris Agreement's climate goal of limiting the global temperature rise to "well below 2°C" from preindustrial times.

A "carbon law" approach, say the international team of scientists, ensures that the greatest efforts to reduce emissions happens sooner not later and reduces the risk of blowing the remaining global carbon budget to stay below 2°C.

The researchers say halving emissions every decade should be complemented by equally ambitious, exponential roll-out of renewables.  For example, doubling renewables in the energy sector every 5-7 years, ramping up technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and rapidly reducing emissions from agriculture and deforestation.

Read more at A 'Carbon Law' Offers Pathway to Halve Emissions Every Decade

How Broadcast Networks Covered Climate Change in 2016

In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015, even though there were a host of important climate-related stories, including the announcement of 2015 as the hottest year on record, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and numerous climate-related extreme weather events.  There were also two presidential candidates to cover, and they held diametrically opposed positions on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and even on whether climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Apart from PBS, the networks also failed to devote significant coverage to climate-related policies, but they still found the time to uncritically air climate denial -- the majority of which came from now-President Donald Trump and his team.

Total Coverage of Climate Change in 2015 and 2016 (Credit: Media Matters) Click to Enlarge.
Combined climate coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News Sunday decreased significantly from 2015 to 2016, despite ample opportunity to cover climate change.  In 2016 ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday* aired a combined 50 minutes of climate coverage on their evening and Sunday news programs, which was 96 minutes less than in 2015 -- a drop of about 66 percent.

*Fox Broadcast Co. does not air a nightly news program

As was the case in 2015, ABC aired the least amount of climate coverage in 2016, covering the topic for just six minutes, about seven minutes less than in 2015.  All the other major networks also significantly reduced their coverage from the previous year, with NBC showing the biggest decrease (from 50 minutes in 2015 to 10 minutes in 2016), followed by Fox (39 minutes in 2015 to seven minutes in 2016) and CBS (from 45 minutes in 2015 to 27 minutes in 2016).

Read more at How Broadcast Networks Covered Climate Change in 2016

Thursday, March 23, 2017

  Thursday, Mar 23

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Eating Less Beef Dropped Americans' Carbon Emissions by 9%

A decline in carbon-intensive foods like beef and orange juice has shrunk individuals' carbon footprints between 2005 and 2014

Beef (Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
The carbon footprint of the average American's diet has shrunk by about 9 percent, largely because people are eating less beef, according to a new report.

Changes in the American diet—lower consumption of not only beef, but orange juice, pork, whole milk and chicken—meant that the average American's diet-related greenhouse gas emissions dropped from 1,932 kilograms in 2005 to 1,762 in 2014.

The analysis "just shows that small changes in our diets have impacts," said Sujatha Bergen, a food specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.  "There's a very concrete association between reduced red meat consumption and reduced emissions."

The biggest contributor to the reduction was a decline in beef consumption of about 19 percent over the course of the decade, adding up to a cumulative reduction of 185 million tons of climate change pollution.  Total emissions cuts from dietary changes were 271 million tons. During that time, overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions averaged more than 6 billion tons a year.

Despite the improvement, the dietary changes pale by comparison to overall American emissions from a wealthy lifestyle.  The average American has a carbon footprint of about 16 tons and the average U.S. car accounts for roughly 5 tons of emissions per year.  China is the world leader in total carbon pollution, but the average Chinese citizen is responsible for less than half that amount. 

Americans eat more beef per capita than any other country except Argentina and Uruguay, and beef still contributed more than a third of the United States' diet-related climate emissions — about 34 percent in 2014.

Read more at Eating Less Beef Dropped Americans' Carbon Emissions by 9%

Cost of U.S. Car Fuel Standards Could Be 40 Percent Lower

A woman pumps gas at a station in Falls Church, Virginia December 16, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque) Click to Enlarge.
The cost to implement tough fuel-efficiency standards for cars imposed by the Obama administration for the first half of the next decade could be up to 40 percent lower than previously estimated using existing conventional technologies, according to a report from a nonprofit group released on Wednesday.

If accurate, the report could present a challenge to automakers which have lobbied strongly against the implementation of the standards largely on the grounds of excessive cost.

Technologies like turbo-chargers, advanced transmissions and use of lighter weight materials - such as aluminum instead of steel - could reduce compliance costs by 34 percent to 40 percent per vehicle from 2022 through 2025, according to the report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an independent research group.

"All of those evolutionary changes, just getting a few percent here and a few percent there from those allow more cost-effective implementation of the regulations, said the report's principal author Nic Lutsey.

Instead of an average cost of $875 per vehicle for incremental technology needed to meet the new standards, as compared with 2021 standards, estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the ICCT's analysis of available data is for an additional cost of $551.

Under former Democratic President Barack Obama the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in cooperation with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), negotiated the rules with automakers in 2012.

They were aimed at doubling average fleet-wide fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025, although the real-world mileage figures would be much lower - the ICCT report assumes 35 mpg in 2025 versus a fleet average of 26 mpg today.

Republican U.S. President Donald Trump, who took office in January, last week ordered a review of those standards which many in the industry expect will lead to a relaxation of the fuel-efficiency targets or a slowdown in their implementation.

Automakers, through their lobbying groups, have said the Obama rules were too expensive and could cost American jobs.

California is expected to press forward with the Obama administration rules at a CARB meeting being held this Thursday and Friday. 

Read more at Cost of U.S. Car Fuel Standards Could Be 40 Percent Lower:  Report

Global Warming Is Increasing Rainfall Rates

The world is warming because humans are emitting heat-trapping greenhouse gases.  We know this for certain; the science on this question is settled.  Humans emit greenhouse gases, those gases should warm the planet, and we know the planet is warming.  All of those statements are settled science.

Okay so what?  Well, we would like to know what the implications are.  Should we do something about it or not?  How should we respond?  How fast will changes occur?  What are the costs of action compared to inaction?  These are all areas of active research.

Part of answering these questions requires knowing how weather will change as the Earth warms.  One weather phenomenon that directly affects humans is the pattern, amount, and intensity of rainfall and the availability of water.  Water is essential wherever humans live, for agriculture, drinking, industry, etc.  Too little water and drought increases risk of wild fires and can debilitate societies.  Too much water and flooding can occur, washing away infrastructure and lives.

It’s a well-known scientific principle that warmer air holds more water vapor.  In fact the amount of moisture that can be held in air grows very rapidly as temperatures increase.  So, it’s expected that in general, air will get moister as the Earth warms – provided there is a moisture source.  This may cause more intense rainfalls and snow events, which lead to increased risk of flooding. 

But warmer air can also more quickly evaporate water from surfaces.  This means that areas where it’s not precipitating dry out more quickly.  In fact, it’s likely that some regions will experience both more drought and more flooding in the future (just not at the same time!).  The dry spells are longer and with faster evaporation causing dryness in soils.  But, when the rains fall, they come in heavy downpours potentially leading to more floods.  The recent flooding in California – which followed a very intense and prolonged drought – provides a great example.

Okay so what have we observed?  It turns out our expectations were correct.  Observations reveal more intense rainfalls and flooding in some areas.  But in other regions there’s more evaporation and drying with increased drought.  Some areas experience both.

Some questions remain.  When temperatures get too high, there’s no continued increase in intense rain events.  In fact, heavy precipitation events decrease at the highest temperatures. There are some clear reasons for this but for brevity, regardless of where measurements are made on Earth, there appears to be an increase of precipitation with temperature up until a peak and thereafter, more warming coincides with decreased precipitation. 

A new clever study by Dr. Guiling Wang from the University of Connecticut and her colleagues has looked into this and they’ve made a surprising discovery.  Their work was just published in Nature Climate Change.  They report that the peak temperature (the temperature where maximum precipitation occurs) is not fixed in space or time.  It is increasing in a warming world. 

The idea is shown in the sketch below.  Details vary with location but, as the world warms, there is a shift from one curve to the next, from left to right.  The result is a shift such that more intense precipitation occurs at higher temperatures in future, while the drop-off moves to even higher temperatures.

Read more at Global Warming Is Increasing Rainfall Rates

Climate Change Could Lead to an Uptick in Type-2 Diabetes

Yet another way global warming poses a risk to health.

The association between mean annual temperature and diabetes incidence in the United States over the period 1996–2009. (Credit: BMJ) Click to Enlarge.
Global warming already widens the footprint of Lyme disease while Zika virus exacerbates asthma and lung diseases and increases the risks posed by violent weather and wildfires.

Now, new research suggests rising temperatures lead to a surge in diagnoses of type-2 diabetes.

The study, published Monday in the BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, compared annual average temperatures across the United States from 1996 to 2009 with reported new cases of type-2 diabetes.  The disease, which typically develops later in life, prevents the body from absorbing glucose needed to produce energy.  In particularly hot years, the number of new diagnoses spiked.

“When it gets warmer, there is higher incidence of diabetes,” Lisanne Blauw, the study’s co-author and a PhD candidate at the Netherlands-based Einthoven Laboratory, told The Huffington Post by phone on Tuesday.  “It’s important to realize global warming has further effects on our health, not only on the climate.”

Read more at Climate Change Could Lead to an Uptick in Type-2 Diabetes

The Foundation of Aquatic Life Can Rapidly Adapt to Global Warming, New Research Suggests

Phytoplankton can increase the rate at which they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen while in warmer water temperatures. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Important microscopic creatures which produce half of the oxygen in the atmosphere can rapidly adapt to global warming, new research suggests.

Phytoplankton, which also act as an essential food supply for fish, can increase the rate at which they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen while in warmer water temperatures, a long-running experiment shows.

Monitoring of one species, a green algae, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, after ten years of them being in waters of a higher temperature shows they quickly adapt so they are still able to photosynthesise more than they respire.

Phytoplankton use chlorophyll to capture sunlight, and photosynthesis to turn it into chemical energy.  This means they are critical for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and for providing food for aquatic life.

It is crucial to know how these tiny organisms - which are not visible to the naked eye - react to climate change in the long-term.  Experts had made predictions that that climate change would have negative effects on phytoplankton.  But a new study shows green algae can adjust to warmer water temperatures.  They become more competitive and increase the amount they are able to photosynthesize.

Read more at The Foundation of Aquatic Life Can Rapidly Adapt to Global Warming, New Research Suggests

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

  Wednesday, Mar 22

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

More Than Half of U.S. Medical Professionals Unite to Raise Alarm About Climate Change

Global warming poses an increased risk for asthma, lung illnesses, Lyme disease, Zika virus and anxiety, among other things.

Children, the elderly and suffers of chronic diseases are among the most vulnerable to climate change-related health risks. (Credit: Andresr / Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Our summers are getting hotter and what does that mean for children, their health and their safety,” Samantha Ahdoot, a doctor at Pediatric Associates of Alexandria, told The Huffington Post by phone on Tuesday.  “Climate change isn’t about our grandchildren or great-grandchildren, just as it’s not about polar bears and penguins.  Climate change is about people and their health today in 2017.”

On Wednesday, Ahdoot joined more than 434,000 practitioners ― more than half the medical professionals in the U.S. ― in a newly formed medical consortium warning the public about the effects climate change is already having on health.  The Consortium on Climate & Health includes a dozen top medical associations covering fields ranging from allergies and asthma to internal medicine to psychiatry.  In one of its first moves, the nonprofit coalition plans to lobby governors, mayors, manufacturers, Fortune 500 chief executives, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Trump administration to invest in renewable energy and slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The group faces an uphill battle.  President Donald Trump has made axing environmental regulations a top priority as the White House seeks to boost the economy.  Already, his administration has lifted regulations to protect streams and waterways from toxic pollution, scrapped a rule requiring oil and gas drillers to report methane leaks and proposed gutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.  In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly canceled a climate change summit just days before Trump was sworn in.  Last week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt ignited a firestorm when he said on CNBC that he doesn’t believe carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming.

Even in red states, the vast majority of Americans disagree with the White House.  Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening, and 53 percent understand that humans are to blame, according to 2016 survey data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.  Yet despite 71 percent of those surveyed saying they trust scientists’ conclusions on global warming, less than half realized that most scientists believe climate change is real.

That’s a problem.  For years, oil companies, particularly Exxon Mobil Corporation, have funded groups that reject the overwhelming scientific consensus on the causes of climate change as part of disinformation campaigns modeled on efforts by tobacco companies and automakers to hide the health effects of smoking and leaded gasoline.  In fact, study after study shows 97 percent or more of climate scientists who actively publish in peer-reviewed journals agree that increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are warming the planet.  The surge in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane irrefutably mirrors the dramatic upswing in industrial emissions, both of which track rising temperatures.

“At this point, physicians are really trying to speak out about their own observations and let everyone know it isn’t just climate scientists,” Mona Sarfaty, director of the new consortium and a professor at George Mason University, told HuffPost by phone.  “Physicians ― who have a closer relationship with the public than scientists, generally ― are seeing this, and they feel concerned and feel a responsibility to speak directly to the American public.”

“To get 12 different major medical organizations coming together like this is rare,” she added. “It doesn’t happen often.  It only happens when the stakes are really high.”

Read more at More Than Half of U.S. Medical Professionals Unite to Raise Alarm About Climate Change

Earth’s Continued Warming Has Taken Us into Uncharted Territory

Record high temperatures, unprecedented sea-ice lows, and the highest carbon dioxide levels in four million years—but what happens next is up to us

Nuisance high tides are even hitting Washington, D.C. (Photograph Credit: Mark Wilson | Getty) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change is pushing Earth into uncharted territory.

That’s according to a new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization, which points to “extreme and unusual” climate-related measurements and events from 2016 that are continuing into 2017.  And the effects on the planet in the future will be large, varied, and often unexpected.

Last year provided no shortage of heart-in-the-mouth moments for climate scientists.  Sea-ice levels hit record lows at both poles.  Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels surpassed the symbolic threshold of 400 parts per million, the highest level in four million years.  Sea levels rose sharply.  Warming oceans affected fish stocks and killed coral.

Indeed, the overall message of the WMO’s assessment is that even as the El Niño climate cycle now wanes, the world is warming and will continue to do so.  The organization’s report explains that global average temperatures were 1.1 °C above preindustrial levels in 2016—0.06 °C above the previous record, set in 2015.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system,” explained David Carlson, director of World Climate Research Program, in a statement.  “We are now in truly uncharted territory.”

In many ways, continued warming will bring more of the same, only worse.  We can expect, of course, more sea-ice melt, causing further sea-level rises and more flooding.  And we can anticipate global temperature rises, with more droughts and struggling crops.

But the upheaval will not be limited to physical phenomena:  as we have pointed out before, there will also be complex social ramifications.  Rising temperatures will increase social tensions and lead to more violence.  They will warp our economic stability, reduce our productivity, and potentially lead to huge drops in gross domestic product.  These effects will lead to rising inequality.

Then, as Carlson suggests, there’s the fact that we’ve never lived through warming like this before.  So we’re likely to be unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with whatever happens.

Read more at Earth’s Continued Warming Has Taken Us into Uncharted Territory

Coal Power Pipeline Shrinks Dramatically in Boon for Climate

A freeze on projects in China and India gives fresh hope of meeting tough global warming limits, according to a report by Coal Swarm, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club

China has excess coal power capacity and a big problem with air pollution (Photo Credit: Nian Shan/Greenpeace) Click to Enlarge.
The capacity of coal plants in pre-construction planning worldwide nearly halved in 2016, boosting hopes of averting dangerous climate change.

After a decade-long coal boom, government intervention in China and a finance crunch in India are shrinking the pipeline of power stations.

It improves the odds of meeting international climate goals, a report by Coal Swarm, Greenpeace and Sierra Club said on Wednesday.

“This has been a messy year, and an unusual one,” said Ted Nace, director of Coal Swarm. “It’s not normal to see construction frozen at scores of locations, but central authorities in China and bankers in India have come to recognize overbuilding of coal plants as a major waste of resources.”

Coal Swarm’s coal plant tracker, a comprehensive database drawn on by influential bodies like the International Energy Agency, shows a slowdown at every stage of development.  The volume of capacity on the drawing board fell from 1,100GW in January 2016 to 570GW in January 2017.  The number to start construction dropped 62% to 65GW and the total under construction went from 340GW to 270GW.

As the most prolific builder of coal plants, China made the biggest course correction.  Beijing ordered provincial authorities to halt projects judged to be no longer necessary.  “Astonishing clean energy growth has made new coal-fired power plants redundant, with all additional power needs covered from non-fossil sources since 2013,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, campaigner at Greenpeace.

More surprisingly, India’s latest National Electricity Plan showed no need for further plants beyond those already under construction.  Despite huge latent demand, with around one in three Indians off the power grid, some stations have been idling.  Affordability and a lack of network infrastructure remain barriers to access – and financiers are getting cold feet.

Meanwhile, 27GW of power stations closed last year, mostly in richer countries.  President Donald Trump has promised to scrap curbs on US coal power production, but the sector still faces tough competition from shale gas and renewables.  Nicole Ghio, of the Sierra Club, said: “Markets are demanding clean energy, and no amount of rhetoric from Donald Trump will be able to stop the fall of coal in the US and across the globe.”

Overall, newly built coal plants outnumbered retirements last year, increasing global capacity by 3%.  There will need to be a further shift away from the polluting fuel to meet the Paris Agreement target of holding global warming “well below 2C”, the analysis warned.

Read more at Coal Power Pipeline Shrinks Dramatically in Boon for Climate

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

  Tuesday, Mar 21

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Trump Repeal of Climate Rules Means U.S. Paris Target Now Out of Reach

The U.S. would have had to ramp up its climate ambitions to help slow global warming to the 2 degrees C goal, but under Trump, it's going in the opposite direction.

President Trump may not have waved goodbye formally to the Paris agreement, but his policies are keeping the U.S. from meeting its goals. (Credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts) Click to Enlarge.
Whether the U.S. meets its emissions-reduction commitments under the Paris climate accord is pivotal to the success of the global agreement, but the Trump administration's policies have all but ensured the U.S. will fall far short.  One recent analysis says the country will miss its target by more than 1 billion metric tons.

Under President Barack Obama, the United States pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.  That means emissions must be cut about 1.7 billion metric tons, according to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency's latest greenhouse gas inventory.  The nation is a third of the way to that target, but the rest was to be achieved via an array of regulations, especially the Clean Power Plan, that are now targeted for elimination by President Donald Trump.  Not only was the goal dependent on those rules, it would have also required even more rigorous policies from Obama's successor because reductions from those rules would not have been enough, numerous studies have found.

David Bookbinder, a longtime environmental lawyer and a fellow at the libertarian think tank the Niskanen Center, released a new analysis that puts the shortfall at 1 billion metric tons if Trump succeeds in undoing most of the Obama-era climate rules.  Meaning, emissions from the world's second-largest carbon polluter would be virtually unchanged from today.  That would jeopardize any chance the world has to set a course of deep and rapid decarbonization over the next critical few years.

"There were people at the [EPA] hard at work on 2.0 [of climate policy], and they were going to ratchet it up, and it was going to be justified by Paris.  It all would have worked, except for that whole election thing," Bookbinder said.  "Now, it's all over...We're at square zero."

InsideClimate News compiled a chart showing exactly how far the United States still has to go to meet its Paris pledge.  We discovered that the U.S. has already achieved an emissions reduction of 572 million metric tons, a third of the Paris target.  That was largely the result of coal being driven out of the market under competitive pressure from natural gas and renewables, greater efficiency throughout the economy and a broad range of regulations.  Most of the remaining two-thirds counted on the Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era rules. Even if those were implemented, the chart shows, the U.S would still fall 17 percent short of meeting its Paris pledge.

Read more at Trump Repeal of Climate Rules Means U.S. Paris Target Now Out of Reach

US Budget Broadside on Climate Change

Donald Trump’s proposed budget for next year would devastate science programs aimed at combating the impacts of climate change.

Donald Trump’s spending plans underline his lack of concern on climate change issues. (Image Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
If anything, it’s worse than expected:  sweeping cutbacks to environmental programs; an abandonment of efforts aimed at cleaning up air and water pollution around the US; and, most worrying for the world in general, an end to multimillion-dollar funding for satellite launches and other science projects aimed at tackling climate change.

The direction of environmental policy under President Trump – who in the past has described climate change science as “a hoax” and programmes to combat a warming world as “bullshit” – seems clear.  The new administration is determined to scupper any action aimed at tackling global warming.

‘Waste of your money’
“As to climate change, I think the president is fairly straightforward – we’re not spending money on that any more,” says Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director.  “We consider that to be a waste of your money.”

The proposed budget for 2018, announced by officials in Washington at the end of last week, aims to cut spending by more than 30% at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the main state body monitoring environmental and climate change issues.  Staff at the EPA will be reduced by 19%, the biggest cut to any government department.

US Budget Broadside on Climate Change

G20 Report Shows Competing Visions of a Clean Energy Future

The IEA and IRENA issued separate press releases for their joint report, reflecting a gulf in expectations on the relative roles of renewables, nuclear and carbon capture

Adnan Amin's IRENA and Fatih Birol's IEA did not agree on a common (Pic Credit: ETD/Michael Gottschalk/ Click to Enlarge.
One report, two press releases.  The world’s leading renewables and energy security analysts sent out mixed messages at a major conference in Berlin on Monday.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) highlighted the economic benefits of a shift to clean energy.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) emphasized the challenges.  Each cited different emissions, technology and financial figures.

The German government had asked the two agencies to collaborate on a study of the investment needed by 2050 to clean up the energy mix in line with the Paris climate deal.  This would inform discussions at the G20, where the host is keeping climate cooperation on the agenda in the face of renewed US hostility.

“Decarbonization is a huge opportunity for modernizing our economies,” said recently appointed economics and energy minister Brigitte Zypries.

IRENA and the IEA agreed on a carbon budget, the level of emissions consistent with a 66% chance of holding global warming below 2C.  But they disagreed on on methods, assumptions, and priorities – reflected in a refusal to make a joint statement.  “IRENA and the IEA are not best friends for a variety of reasons,” said a source close to the process.

IRENA, with its mandate to promote solar, wind, bioenergy and other clean sources, majored on renewables and energy efficiency.  The IEA, an institution primarily concerned with energy security, favored a “technology neutral” model that spit out large scale nuclear power and carbon capture and storage.

Read more at G20 Report Shows Competing Visions of a Clean Energy Future

Tech Jobs or Spending Cuts:  A Trump White House Dilemma

Direct wafer solar cells. (Photo Credit: @1366Tech via Twitter) Click to Enlarge.
A Massachusetts startup named 1366 Technologies has beaten one technological barrier after another in its nine-year quest for a manufacturing breakthrough for U.S.-made silicon wafers, the platform for solar power cells.

But now it has a hurdle its engineers and scientists can't answer in the laboratory.

That is to persuade the Trump administration's Department of Energy to come through with a $150 million loan guarantee promised by the Obama administration that is the key to construction of the company's first full-scale manufacturing plant in rural upstate New York.

The company's future is a test case in how the new administration will draw the line between budget cutting and seeding high-tech manufacturing jobs.

"Whether the loan guarantee is there or not is a decision [DOE Secretary] Rick Perry has to make," said Frank van Mierlo, CEO of 1366 Technologies of Bedford, Mass.

Van Mierlo and teammates set out in 2008 to invent a machine that could lift and transfer a perfect, hair-thin wafer from a molten pool of silicon, cutting the cost of wafers in half and transforming the process for making photovoltaic solar power cells.  Everywhere else around the world, the solar cell wafers are sawed from ingots of purified silicon, turning half the wafer into useless saw residue.  The company's process for making wafers without sawing ingots is still closely guarded.

"We produce the wafers for one-third the energy and half the cost.  We should by all accounts take a large amount of market share," he told E&E News.

Van Mierlo said the technology is established.  It has produced hundreds of thousands of wafers with factory-scale equipment, and the process will go somewhere else if not in New York.  The company has contracted with a subsidiary of Wacker Chemie AG, a German-based multinational, to deliver purified silicon from Wacker's new Charleston, Tenn., plant.

South Korean conglomerate Hanwha has agreed to purchase the wafers to manufacture solar cells.  Hanwha is the largest supplier of solar units to Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc., parent company of the utility Florida Power & Light Co.

Wacker and Hanwha have agreed to invest a total of $25 million, a key endorsement of the project, van Mierlo said.

ARPA-E seed money
The OMB budget blueprint issued last week proposes killing the Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program that the company has counted on, as well as funding for ARPA-E. The administration has targeted $54 billion in proposed fiscal 2018 budget cuts from DOE and other non-defense agencies, to balance the same amount of increases in defense spending.

Read more at Tech Jobs or Spending Cuts:  A Trump White House Dilemma