Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Global Grazing Lands Increasingly Vulnerable to a Changing Climate

Maps of worldwide precipitation trends show the impact on pasture -- and people.

Overall, both within and between-year precipitation variability has been increasing for global grazing lands. This map shows the changes in between-year variability: Of the total land area considered pasture in this analysis, 20 percent did not experience significant changes (in gray), while 31 percent experienced significant decreases (cool colors) and 49 percent experienced significant increases in precipitation variability (warm colors). (Credit: Nature Climate Change) Click to Enlarge.
Some 800 million people around the world depend on livestock that graze on natural vegetation for their livelihoods and food security.  In a good season, grasses and other plants flourish, supporting robust herds.  In a bad season, the system suffers -- as do the people who rely on it.  The difference between a good and bad year?  One significant and increasingly volatile factor is precipitation.

A new study in Nature Climate Change reveals that over the past century year-to-year precipitation variability has increased significantly on 49 percent of the world's grazing lands, affecting vegetation and constraining its ability to support livestock.  The study's authors, led by a team from the UMN Institute on the Environment, used climate data from 1901 to 2014 to create global maps of precipitation variability trends.  While some grazing lands showed decreases in rainfall variability, the overall trend is an increase in fluctuation, both within and between years.

"Visualizing precipitation variability trends allows us to identify grazing lands that have undergone large changes -- and to learn from those places where people have managed to adapt well despite increased variability," says lead author Lindsey Sloat, a postdoctoral research associate with IonE's Global Landscapes Initiative.

This insight is important, because grazing lands are already typically marginal:  unsuitable for crops, either too dry or with poor soils.  "Even small changes in rainfall put them at more risk," says Paul West, co-director of GLI.  Furthermore, some grazing lands are even more inhospitable than others.  Changes in precipitation variability especially affect these more vulnerable lands, which -- adding to global risk -- also tend to be home to the smallholder farmers and pastoralists who most depend on livestock for food.  The researchers found:
  • Global grazing lands already experience 25 percent more year-to-year variability in precipitation than the average global surface land area
  • Regions with high year-to-year precipitation variability support lower livestock densities than less variable regions
  • Overall precipitation variability has increased the most in areas where grazing is predicted to be important for local food access
"This study is showing us that grazing is potentially highly vulnerable to climate change, right across the world, from Australia to Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas," says co-author Mario Herrero of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. 

Read more at Global Grazing Lands Increasingly Vulnerable to a Changing Climate

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monday, Feb 19

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.

Nissan Sees 2025 As Turning Point for Electric Cars - By Peter Campbell, Financial Times with Commentary by Jennifer Runyon Chief Editor

 Leaf Charging (Credit: Nissan) Click to Enlarge.
“We think that 2025 will be the turning point where the cost of an EV [electric vehicle] car, the same EV and internal combustion engine, will be the same,” he told the Financial Times.  “That will be a turning point for the customer.”  Nissan, through its global alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi, is the world’s largest electric car producer, selling more than 500,000 since launching the first battery Leaf car in 2010.
Read more at The Financial Times ($).

Editor's Take:  I am watching closely how the U.K. and EU are approaching Electric Vehicles (EVs).  I see more news coming out of that region about plans for more charging stations, greater market adoption, government incentives for EVs than I do from any other region.  The Financial Times article that you can access from the link gives an interesting prediction about when price parity between EVs and Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs) will take place and how EVs will flourish immediately after.  In response to that article Delphine Clement, EMEA Mobility Segment Manager at Eaton sent Renewable Energy World the following statement about why the government needs to get serious about energy storage infrastructure such as charging stations and how these new grid assets will require additional solar, microgrids and load management techniques.
Looking forward, we will move from talking about ‘range anxiety’ for electric vehicles and start to really tackle the infrastructure changes needed to transform and facilitate the rise of electric vehicles.  The industry will think much more about how to work closely with the likes of major supermarkets and petrol stations to ensure sufficient charging points are installed throughout Europe.  This process will require the industry to consider what types of chargers should be installed and who will need to use them – influenced by user behaviors, autonomous vehicle uptake, commercial fleet management and external factors such as geography.

However, implementing a wider charging infrastructure will have a considerable impact on energy demand – forcing the energy sector to closely consider how peak demand and grid stability can be managed.  The solution to this issue will need to encompass not just the extension of grid infrastructure but also photovoltaics and storage, load management, smart charging and DC microgrids amongst other technologies.  In this way, the industry can enable the right infrastructure and easy access to charging to make range anxiety a thing of the past.’
Read more at Nissan Sees 2025 As Turning Point for Electric Cars

How ‘Enhanced Weathering’ Could Slow Climate Change and Boost Crop Yields

Basalt rock cliffs, Brier Island, Bay of Fundy; Nova Scotia, Canada (Credit: Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo) Click to Enlarge.
Achieving the Paris Agreement goals of keeping global warming to “well below” 2C, or to 1.5C, above pre-industrial levels will require rapid decarbonisation of human society.

But national commitments to rein in greenhouse gas emissions are currently insufficient to meet these agreed limits.  It is increasingly likely that “negative emissions”, or “carbon dioxide removal”, technologies will be needed to take up the slack.

These techniques involve extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it indefinitely.  Scientists have proposed a range of different approaches and we now need realistic assessment of these strategies, what they might be able to deliver, and what the challenges are.

In a new paper for Nature Plants, we tackle an under-discussed technique of CO2 removal called “enhanced rock weathering”.  Our research highlights the potential wider benefits for crop yields and soil health, and sets out a research agenda for the next steps.

What is enhanced weathering?
As you might remember from geography classes at school, chemical weathering is a natural process that continuously erodes away rocks in our landscapes and sequesters atmospheric CO2 over millions of years.

The process begins with rain, which is usually slightly acidic having absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere on its journey to the ground.  The acidic rain reacts with the rocks and soils it lands on, gradually breaking them down into minute rock grains and forming bicarbonate in the process.  Eventually, this bicarbonate washes into the oceans, where the carbon is stored in dissolve form for hundreds of thousands of years or locked up on the sea floor.

Enhanced weathering scales up this process.  It involves pulverizing silicate rocks such as basalt – left over from ancient volcanic eruptions – to bypass the slow weathering action. The resulting powder, with a high reactive surface area, is then spread on large areas of agricultural land where plant roots and microbes in the soil speed up the chemical reactions.

As natural rock weathering absorbs around 3% of global fossil fuel emissions, enhanced weathering can provide a boost to remove even more CO2 from our atmosphere.

But the potential benefits do not end there.  As enhanced weathering makes water more alkaline, it can help counteract ocean acidification.

And adding minerals to soils can boost nutrient levels, improving crop yields and helping restore degraded agricultural soils.

Food demand
The need to cut CO2 emissions is unfolding alongside an unprecedented increase in food demand – linked to dietary changes and a growing population that may surpass 11 billion by 2100 (pdf).  At the same time, farming itself a growing contributor to climate change.

Critically, enhanced rock weathering works together with existing managed croplands.   Unlike other negative emissions techniques under consideration, it doesn’t compete for land used to grow food or increase the demand for freshwater.

Read more at How ‘Enhanced Weathering’ Could Slow Climate Change and Boost Crop Yields

Electric Vehicles Do Work in Cold Weather

Electric cars do work in the cold.  Their driving range decreases in the cold, as is the case for all cars — because physics.  However, they still function fine, and you can also pre-heat many of them.

Charging in snow (Image Credit: Nissan) Click to Enlarge.
Critics of electric vehicles sometimes mistakenly or misleadingly try to dismiss electric vehicles by claiming that they don’t work in cold weather.  This view is quite untrue and easily proven incorrect.  All EVs operate in cold weather.  But their driving ranges do decrease to varying degrees in cold weather.

For example, the Tesla Model S 70D reportedly experiences a loss of about 19% in driving range in deep cold (0°F with the heater on), according to a post made by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  If you read the Tesla forums, some posters have written that on winter days in Chicago, they have experienced up to a 50% reduction in range.

That figure may be for multiple short trips.  One poster wrote that for longer trips in cold weather his driving reduction was about 20–30%. This figure is in line with what a Nissan LEAF owner in Colorado wrote in a blog post about his experiences driving in cold weather there.   “This means that in cold weather (15°F), you get about 20% less range, even though you could heat the battery to room temperature with just 0.5 kWh (under 2%) of its energy.  Or simply use wall power when it’s plugged in.  A 20% penalty in cold climates to avoid adding a $100 heater.  Why!??!”

He also generously listed some of the benefits of having an EV in such weather:
The electronic traction and stability control systems work much better with an electric motor, because it can be controlled more precisely.  In practice this means that while a normal car would dig itself into a rut, the Leaf applies just enough power to get through the snowbank.  Or it stops the wheel, giving you a chance to reverse and give it another go.
  • There’s no cold-cranking worries or waiting for a cold engine to warm up.  You press the button, the car is on, and cabin heat is instantaneous.
  • The heated seats and steering wheel make the experience even more luxurious (and reduce the need for cabin heat).
  • Remote heating with an in-dash timer or from an app on your phone means your car can be heated and defrosted (or cooled in summer) before you even reach it in your driveway.  Without even consuming battery power, if you have the car plugged in.
  • Big wheel diameter, low center of gravity and 50/50 weight balance make for better handling and traction.
  • Front-wheel drive prevents fishtailing, and is every bit as safe as all-wheel drive.  Adding snow tires in winter turns the Leaf into a monster snow crusher.
People who are on the fence about getting EVs might feel that old issue of range anxiety anxiety rising when they hear about reduced ranges in cold weather.  However, gas-powered vehicles also have lower fuel efficiency in cold weather.  “Fuel economy tests show that, in short-trip city driving, a conventional gasoline car’s gas mileage is about 12% lower at 20°F than it would be at 77°F.  It can drop as much as 22% for very short trips (3 to 4 miles).”

So, reduced energy efficiency in cold weather is not only an issue for electric vehicles, but EV critics will probably not mention this fact — or they are not aware enough to mention it.

Read more at Electric Vehicles Do Work in Cold Weather

Electric Car Myth Buster — Well-to-Wheel Emissions

Electric car well-to-wheel emissions are far, far less than gasmobile well-to-wheel emissions.

UK pure electric and plug in hybrid cars photo (Image Credit: cleantechnica.com) Click to Enlarge.
Unfortunately, there are always some people who spread false information about new technology, especially if it threatens to interrupt their source of income.  That’s precisely what is happening with the electric car revolution right now.  The people who have become wealthy selling cars and the fuels that make them go are petrified that electric cars are going to deprive them of the enormous profits they are used to, so they manufacture falsehoods designed to scare people away from considering purchasing one.

A favorite fib is that electric cars pollute the environment just as much as conventional cars do.  Let’s blow that myth out of the water right now by looking at the facts, not the lies the car companies and fossil fuel interests want you to believe.  The Union of Concerned Scientists has done a thorough study about this that took two years to complete.

The scientists wanted to know exactly how many emissions conventional cars were responsible for and how many emissions electric cars were responsible for.  It’s conclusion?  “We found that battery electric cars generate half the emissions of the average comparable gasoline car, even when pollution from battery manufacturing is accounted for.”  Half.

Let’s take that last part first.  Those who oppose electric cars like to say that electric cars create more emissions during manufacturing than conventional cars do.  And you know what?  They’re right!  The UCS found that “Manufacturing a midsized EV with an 84-mile range results in about 15% more emissions than manufacturing an equivalent gasoline vehicle.  For larger, longer-range EVs that travel more than 250 miles per charge, the manufacturing emissions can be as much as 68% higher.”

Wow!  68% higher.  That’s a lot, huh?  So, it’s true, electric cars are dirtier than conventional cars, right?  Well, actually, no.  The UCS report goes on to say, “These differences change as soon as the cars are driven.  EVs are powered by electricity, which is generally a cleaner energy source than gasoline.  Battery electric cars make up for their higher manufacturing emissions within eighteen months of driving — shorter range models can offset the extra emissions within 6 months — and continue to outperform gasoline cars until the end of their lives.”

Read more at Electric Car Myth Buster — Well-to-Wheel Emissions

Wind Farms Are Hardly the Bird Slayers They’re Made Out to Be.  Here’s Why.

The potential to harm local birdlife is often used to oppose wind farm development. But research into how birds die shows wind farms should be the least of our concerns. (Image Credit: Shutterstock.com) Click to Enlarge.
People who oppose wind farms often claim wind turbine blades kill large numbers of birds, often referring to them as “bird choppers”.  And claims of dangers to iconic or rare birds, especially raptors, have attracted a lot of attention.

Wind turbine blades do indeed kill birds and bats, but their contribution to total bird deaths is extremely low, as these three studies show.

A 2009 study using US and European data on bird deaths estimated the number of birds killed per unit of power generated by wind, fossil fuel, and nuclear power systems.

It concluded:
wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while fossil-fuelled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per GWh.
That’s nearly 15 times more.  From this, the author estimated:
wind farms killed approximately seven thousand birds in the United States in 2006 but nuclear plants killed about 327,000 and fossil-fuelled power plants 14.5 million.
In other words, for every one bird killed by a wind turbine, nuclear, and fossil fuel powered plants killed 2,118 birds.

Read more at Wind Farms Are Hardly the Bird Slayers They’re Made Out to Be.  Here’s Why.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Alaska's Bering Sea Lost a Third of Its Ice in Just 8 Days

Globally, sea ice is at record lows as the polar regions warm faster than the rest of the planet.  Along the Alaska coast, it's affecting people's lives.

The Bering Sea is a volatile police, with powerful storms and changing sea ice. Here, a ship plows through the ice toward Nome, Alaska, in January 2012. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
In just eight days in mid-February, nearly a third of the sea ice covering the Bering Sea off Alaska's west coast disappeared.  That kind of ice loss and the changing climate as the planet warms is affecting the lives of the people who live along the coast.

At a time when the sea ice should be growing toward its maximum extent for the year, it's shrinking instead—the area of the Bering Sea covered by ice is now 60 percent below its average from 1981-2010.

"[Bering sea ice] is in a league by itself at this point," said Richard Thoman, the climate science and services manager for the National Weather Service Alaska region.  "And looking at the weather over the next week, this value isn't going to go up significantly. It's going to go down.

Read more at Alaska's Bering Sea Lost a Third of Its Ice in Just 8 Days

Backbone for New England Offshore Wind Farms “Massachusetts Ocean Grid” Takes Shape

[Credit Image: Postprocessing (crop, rotation, color adjustment, dust spot removal and noise reduction) by Richard Bartz and Kim Hansen. (Own work)] Click to Enlarge.
On Tuesday February 13, Anbaric Development Partners (ADP) announced that it had gained approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the right to develop a shared transmission system, which it says will enable Massachusetts to fully harness the potential of offshore wind power.

The FERC decision grants authority to solicit customers and sell transmission rights to a 2,000 to 2,400 megawatt offshore wind transmission system in southern New England called the “Massachusetts Ocean Grid.”

FERC’s approval of the application allows ADP to offer its backbone transmission system to offshore wind developers that currently hold federal leases as well as future lease holders who are likely to emerge. 

“We fundamentally believe that the separation of transmission and generation is important, that you need to build out the backbone system to realize the full potential of the resource,” said Steve Conant, a partner and member of the transmission team with ADP.  Conant added that the company is starting with Massachusetts but is also eyeing New York and New Jersey as other potential offshore wind transmission backbone opportunities.

The Massachusetts Ocean Grid will provide a common offshore interconnection point for multiple wind developers, the company explained in a press release, so that each individual developer doesn’t have to build its own individual generator lead.

Read more at Backbone for New England Offshore Wind FarRead more atms “Massachusetts Ocean Grid” Takes Shape

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday, Feb 16

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.

Polar Ice Is Lost at Sea

Our planet reached another miserable milestone earlier this week:  Sea ice fell to its lowest level since human civilization began more than 12,000 years ago.

That worrying development is just the latest sign that rising temperatures are inflicting lasting changes on the coldest corners of the globe.  The new record low comes as the planet’s climate system shifts further from the relatively stable period that helped give rise to cities, commerce, and the way we live now.

So far, the new year has been remarkably warm on both poles.  The past 30 days have averaged more than 21 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal in Svalbard, Norway — the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world.  Last month, a tanker ship completed the first wintertime crossing of the Arctic Ocean without the assistance of an icebreaker.  Down south in the Antarctic, sea ice is all but gone for the third straight year as summer winds to a close.  

The loss of Earth’s polar sea ice has long been considered one of the most important tipping points as the planet warms.  That’s because as the bright white ice melts, it exposes less-reflective ocean water, which more easily absorbs heat.  And that, sorry to say, kicks off a new cycle of further warming.

According to  research published last fall, that cycle appears to be the primary driver of ice melt in the Arctic, effectively marking the beginning of the end of permanent ice cover there. The wide-ranging consequences of this transition, such as more extreme weather and ecosystem shifts, are already being felt far beyond the Arctic.

Read more at Polar Ice Is Lost at Sea

Thursday, February 15, 2018

New Science Suggests Methane Packs More Warming Power Than Previously Thought

Methane (CH4) Molecule (Credit: theenergycollective.com) Click to Enlarge.
It’s long been known that methane is a major contributor to global warming, responsible for roughly a quarter of the warming we’re experiencing today and second only to carbon dioxide in its impact on the current climate.

But research suggests methane has an even more potent warming effect on the climate than scientists previously thought.

For example, a study in Geophysical Research Letters significantly revises estimates of the energy trapped by methane by including its previously-neglected absorption of near-infrared radiation (past research included only infrared absorption—a different part of the radiation spectrum).

Packing a bigger punch
The study finds that the radiative efficiency—how much energy is trapped in the climate system by unit mass of methane—is 23% higher than estimates used in the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

Methane also impacts warming indirectly by creating more tropospheric ozone and stratospheric water vapor.  Its global warming potential (GWP) accounts for both its direct and indirect warming effects.  But the new research affects only the direct radiative properties.  The net increase in methane’s GWP is 14% compared to their IPCC AR5 values (over both 20- and 100-year time horizons).

Bigger challenge, greater opportunity
Reducing methane emissions is especially important for curbing near-term warming.  Because methane only lasts for a decade or so in the atmosphere, reducing emissions can have a near-immediate impact on slowing the rate of warming.  This is critical for reducing the impacts that we’re already seeing, such as sea level rise and worsened extreme weather events.  Slowing warming also gives animal and plant species a better chance at surviving climate change.

Findings like these are important because if methane impacts the climate more than we thought, it means that our actions to reduce its emissions from human activities—energy production, agriculture, and waste management—can play an even larger role in curbing warming.  In other words, policy actions and technological innovations to find and reduce emissions are more important than ever.

Read more at New Science Suggests Methane Packs More Warming Power Than Previously Thought

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wednesday, Feb 14

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.

Intelligence Agencies Warn of Climate Risks in Worldwide Threat Assessment

While top Trump administration officials deny climate change, the intelligence agencies warn global warming can fuel disasters and violent conflicts.

Intelligence officials testified before a Senate committee about global threats. Left to right: FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo. (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
In their annual summary of global threats, the nation's intelligence agencies warned on Tuesday that climate change and other environmental trends "are likely to fuel economic and social discontent—and possibly upheaval—through 2018."

While there may not be indications of an abrupt and cataclysmic event on the immediate horizon, the trends are already visible, they said in a statement presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee at a hearing where the Trump administration's top intelligence officials testified.

The statement was matter-of-fact and brief, but unambiguous. Normally, conclusions like these might not deserve much notice.  But in an administration where top officials, including some with intelligence responsibilities, have repeatedly questioned the basic science of global warming, such a frank confirmation of the mainstream consensus was striking.

The intelligence agencies' Worldwide Threat Assessment contrasted with two other recent documents issued by the Trump administration:  the National Defense Strategy published in January and the National Security Strategy published in December.  Both of those broke from the pattern of recent years and omitted climate change as a significant concern.

The intelligence community, instead, aligned itself with science agencies.  The report's views reflect those in the thoroughly peer-reviewed interagency National Climate Assessment issued last year, and the facts consistently reported by major scientific agencies like NOAA and NASA.

Read more at Intelligence Agencies Warn of Climate Risks in Worldwide Threat Assessment

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Tuesday, Feb 13

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.

Sea Level Rise Is Accelerating:  4 Inches Per Decade (or More) by 2100

Satellite data confirm what computer models have warned for years:  Oceans are rising faster as the planet warms, and coastal communities face increasing flood risk.

Rising sea levels increase the risk of storm surge flooding in coastal cities like Charleston, South Carolina, shown here after Hurricane Matthew. (Credit: Brian Blanco/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
The rate of sea level rise is accelerating so fast that some coastal communities could confront an additional 4 inches per decade by the end of the century—a growing concern now confirmed by thorough measurements from space.

At that rapid pace of change, vulnerable communities might not be able to keep up.  Storm surges will increase erosion and damage homes, businesses, and transportation infrastructure in some areas.  In other places, seawater will intrude on freshwater aquifers.  In South Asia and the islands, people will lose the land where they live and farm.  And the changes will arrive much faster than they do today.

Scientists have been warning about this speed-up for many years based on computer climate simulations.  A new study released Monday confirms the modeled trend with a detailed analysis of satellite observations spanning a quarter of a century.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reinforce the outlook that average global sea level is likely to go up at least 2 feet by the end of this century compared to 2005 levels.

The study confirms that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), NASA and the European Environmental Agency were correct when they found that the rate of change had increased in recent years.

And if the rate of acceleration intensifies—as it might if global warming speeds the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and glaciers—a 2-foot rise might be the low end of the likely range.  The study assumes a steady acceleration at only the rate observed in the past 25 years.

The satellites' ocean-scanning radar paint a 3D picture of the oceans' bulges and dips.  The findings are a "game-changer" for the climate discussion, said University of South Florida climate researcher Gary Mitchum, who co-authored the study with a team of scientists across the country.

Even cities that already know they're at risk may not be able to prepare fast enough without additional investments in disaster relief and resilience.  That includes Tampa, where his university is based.  The city has been listed as one of the 10 cities globally most vulnerable to sea level rise.  If the rates of adaptation and mitigation don't keep pace, damage from storm surges and extreme rains is likely to increase.

Building Resilience into Hurricane Recovery 
Congress may be catching on, said Rob Moore, a policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Disaster relief provisions in the federal spending bill approved on Friday include significant funding to make communities more resilient to the long-term threat of climate change.

"I'd say this recent budget deal is encouraging, but it's a one-time thing," Moore said.  "This is the kind of money we need to be investing every year, not just after major hurricanes. It's a symptom of a cycle we need to get out of.  The only time we invest is after a major disaster.  Until the country invests in adapting to long-term sea level rise, we will always be behind the curve."
Some scientists also warn that a rapid disintegration of Antarctica's ice sheets could push sea level up much faster and higher, by as much as 4 to 10 feet by 2100.

"The largest uncertainty is really Antarctica," said Ingo Sasgen, a climate researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.  "The big question for planners is how to deal with the possible extremes."

The last time Earth was as warm as it is now was about 125,000 years ago, and we know sea level was 6 meters higher than it is today, Nerem said.  "The big question is, now long will it take to get there."

Read more at Sea Level Rise Is Accelerating:  4 Inches Per Decade (or More) by 2100

Temperature Resilient Crops Now an 'Achievable Dream' Say Authors of New Study

Pod shatter is a major issue for farmers of oilseed rape worldwide who lose between 15-20 percent of yield on average per year due to prematurely dispersed seeds lost in the field. (Credit: John Innes Center) Click to Enlarge.
Breeding temperature-resilient crops is an "achievable dream" in one of the most important species of commercially-cultivated plants, according to a new study.

The vision of crop improvement in the face of climate change is outlined in research by the John Innes Center which establishes a genetic link between increased temperature and the problem of "pod shatter" (premature seed dispersal) in oilseed rape.

Research by the team led by Dr Vinod Kumar and Professor Lars Ƙstergaard, reveals that pod shatter is enhanced at higher temperature across diverse species in the Brassicaceae family which also includes cauliflower, broccoli and kale.

This new understanding brings a step closer the prospect of creating crops that are better adapted to warmer temperatures.

Read more at Temperature Resilient Crops Now an 'Achievable Dream' Say Authors of New Study

Connecting to the Cloud Will Revolutionize Off-Grid Solar

Boston Scientific - Massachusetts, USA (Credit: illumient.com) Click to Enlarge.
By connecting off-grid solar-powered systems to the cloud, a city or utility official can monitor, control, and manage street lights, telecom systems, security cameras, and other critical infrastructure from a smartphone — anywhere, anytime.  This smart off-grid technology creates the potential for off-grid solar power to be a cost-effective and reliable alternative to traditional grid infrastructure, with the added advantage of allowing these systems to be installed anywhere. 

Until now off-grid solar-powered systems have been stand-alone devices.  As an example, consider a solar-powered streetlight. It has a pole, a light, a solar panel, a battery, and a controller that manages the power into and out of the battery.  But if the battery goes dead due to lack of sunlight over many days, there used to be nothing to do but wait until the battery got enough energy to power the lights.  That might take many days to occur.

While this is a relatively minor problem if you have just one or two solar-powered street lights, any complex utility infrastructure with tens or hundreds of street lights needs to be monitored and managed continuously to prevent the kind of widespread outages of critical infrastructure that can cause serious damage to communities and businesses.  For solar-powered telecom or security systems that must be available all the time, outages of any length of time [are] unacceptable.

Wireless communications and cloud technology have already changed our lives in myriad ways; I can hail a taxi or buy tickets to a game all from my smartphone.  Now these technologies are the key to powering reliable, off-grid systems.

Smart off-grid uses built-in networking to connect off-grid devices to cloud-based management and control software, and to continuously stream data from each system to the cloud.  This provides a wealth of data points on all aspects of a solar-powered system, including battery charge and voltage readings, the status of all components, and more, via the Internet.  It also provides predictive weather analysis, which estimates energy generation for the next six days based on current load and weather forecasts.

This revolutionizes how off-grid solar power is managed.  Rather than isolated devices, the systems are connected by a communications network that enables proactive service and advanced management, and greater responsiveness to weather conditions and other potential risks.

For instance, smart off-grid solar-powered street lights have been installed by the City of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, along the Niagara escarpment.  This area is built on a unique geological formation, which would have meant tunneling through 2 kilometers of solid rock to connect the lights to the electric grid.  But with smart off-grid technology, the city could install the lights at a fraction of the cost, and still provide a reliable lighting service.  

Hamilton is also not too far from Niagara Falls, which spectacularly froze over during the recent bomb cyclone storm, so the weather can be pretty brutal in winter.  For solar-powered systems, bad weather can be a perennial problem, as prolonged periods of low sunlight can drain battery power.  Smart off-grid technology enables the system owner to monitor the solar-powered systems via the internet, and make temporary lighting profile changes to ensure the battery can continue to power the lights during such a period.

The ability to manage such smart off-grid systems via the cloud not only improves reliability, but also reduces the cost of installation and maintenance.  This is a game-changer for making off-grid solar a more cost-competitive alternative to traditional grid infrastructure for governments and municipalities looking to keep costs down.

Read more at Connecting to the Cloud Will Revolutionize Off-Grid Solar

Shipping First as LNG Tanker Crosses Arctic in Winter Without Icebreaker Escort

Teekay vessel Eduard Toll is designed to cut through ice and take advantage of the opening of Russia’s Arctic coastline to industry.

The Eduard Toll is named after a Russian geologist and explorer (Picture Credit: Teekay) Click to Enlarge.
An LNG tanker designed for icy conditions has become the first commercial ship to travel the Arctic’s northern sea route in winter.

It marks a milestone in the opening up of Russia’s northern coastline, as thawing polar ice makes industrial development and maritime trade increasingly viable.

The Teekay vessel Eduard Toll set out from South Korea in December for Sabetta terminal in northern Russia, cutting through ice 1.8m thick.  Last month, it completed the route, delivering a load of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Montoir, France.  Its voyage was captured by the crew in a timelapse video.

Bermuda-based firm Teekay is investing in six ships to serve the Yamal LNG project in northern Russia. A similarly designed vessel owned by Sovcomflot made the same passage last August. This small and growing Arctic-ready fleet can operate independently of icebreaker escorts, which are also in high demand.

Arctic sea ice is steadily thinning and receding, with seasonal fluctuation, as global temperatures rise due to human activity. In January 2018, ice extent hit another record low for the month, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.

While polar conditions remain tough, the trend creates market opportunities. The northern sea route is shorter than alternatives through the Suez Canal for many trade links between Europe and Asia.

Read more at Shipping First as LNG Tanker Crosses Arctic in Winter Without Icebreaker Escort

Hydrogen Could Replace Fossil Fuels

The surplus electricity from solar and wind power gives hydrogen the chance to replace oil and gas.

From China – the hydrogen-powered bike. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
Hydrogen is the least talked-about renewable energy but has the greatest potential to replace fossil fuels, both to heat homes and to provide fuel for road transport.

The possibility of using hydrogen has been known about for generations, but only in the last two years has it become both practical and financially viable to see it as a large-scale competitor to both gas and oil.  Networks of hydrogen filling stations are now being opened in Europe and parts of the US.

Batteries for road transport have attracted most of the recent publicity around renewables and have become the focus of many governments with targets for switching away from [gas] and diesel, particularly in cities with air pollution problems.

But hydrogen has even greater potential because its only emissions are pure water and warm air.

Storage potential
What has made hydrogen so attractive is that it can use surplus renewable electricity from wind and solar farms by using electrolyzers to produce hydrogen.  This is a process of passing an electric current through water and converting it into oxygen and hydrogen.  The hydrogen can then be stored.

The highly combustible gas can be used as a fuel to drive cars, trucks, and trains, be fed into gas pipelines along with natural gas to heat homes, or simply burned to produce electricity when power demand is high.

Hydrogen also solves a problem for the renewable energy industry – surplus production when demand is low.  The large-scale introduction of both wind and solar power has meant that increasingly, when the wind blows and the sun shines and demand for electricity is low, there is no use for the power.

However, if this surplus power is diverted to produce hydrogen that can be stored, then the cost of the valuable gas produced is low.  The hydrogen can then be used as a power source when demand is great and sold at a much higher price than the cost of production.

Read more at Hydrogen Could See Off Fossil Fuels

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sunday, Feb 110

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.

EPA Chief Pruitt Reveals Trump Climate Policy Is Built on a Lie

Pruitt says humans 'most flourished’ during warming trends.  Science says otherwise.

Temperature Change Over Past 11,000 Years (in Blue) Plus Projected Warming Over the Next Century on Humanity’s Current Emissions Path (Source: Science and ClimateProgress.org) Click to Enlarge.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been working overtime to promote fossil fuels and rollback U.S. climate action; policies that climate scientists and over 190 nations say will lead to catastrophic levels of warming.

On Tuesday Pruitt, who has long denied basic climate science, explained part of his underlying motivation for the Trump administration’s dangerous policies:  the idea that more global warming could be a good thing that helps the world “flourish.”

Pruitt told KSNV television in Nevada, “I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing.”  He falsely asserted, “We know that humans have most flourished during times of, what, warming trends?”

In fact, the scientific literature could not be clearer that humans have flourished when the climate is stable.

Indeed, stable temperatures enabled the development of modern civilization, global agriculture, and a world that could sustain a vast population.

The policies of climate science deniers like Pruitt and Trump would serve only to speed up the destruction of a livable climate, a key reason scientists have been increasingly outspoken against them.

“As the evidence becomes ever more compelling that climate change is real and human caused, the forces of denial turn to other specious argument, like ‘it will be good for us’,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress.  “And that keeps their funders like the Koch brothers, very happy.”

This isn’t the first time Pruitt has used a specious talking point this year.  In January he told Reuters, “The debate is how do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100?”  Even though scientists debunked him at the time, Pruitt actually got snarky Tuesday saying, “Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature is in the year 2100–in the year 2018?  It’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

In fact, as climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained last month, “There is no one perfect temperature for the earth, but there is for us humans, and that’s the temperature we’ve had over the last few thousands of years when we built our civilization, agriculture, economy, and infrastructure.”

She noted:  “Two-thirds of the world’s largest cities are located within a meter of sea level.  What happens when sea level rises a meter or more, as it’s likely to this century?  We can’t pick up Shanghai or London or New York and move them.  Most of our arable land is already carefully allocated and farmed. ”

Hayhoe put together an explainer video for PBS on the very talking point Pruitt is now pushing.

Bottom line:  It’s not arrogant for us to listen to the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists, and join with the rest of the world in the fight to avoid catastrophic temperature changes.  What’s arrogant is ignoring science while  jeopardizing the health and well-being of Americans and billions of people around the globe.

Read more at EPA Chief Pruitt Reveals Trump Climate Policy Is Built on a Lie

Markets Offer Solutions to New England Energy Challenges

Operational Fuel Security Analysis - Click to View.
A recent report published by ISO-New England, the Operational Fuel Security Analysis, has certainly grabbed the region’s attention.

“The ISO has been able to maintain power system reliability during severe winter conditions without using all its emergency procedures,” the report says.  “However, the evolving generation mix is increasingly susceptible to variable and uncertain factors.”

The study looks ahead at the 2024/2025 time frame, examining 23 scenarios for coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewable sources.  While it says the system is maintaining a delicate balance for now, “study results suggest that in the future, New England could be headed for significant levels of emergency actions, particularly during major fuel or resource outages.”

Although EDF doesn’t necessarily agree with all the assumptions in the study, ISO New England is asking the right questions at the right time.  So what are the best policies and actions we can take to ensure the New England utility grid is clean, reliable, and resilient?

The Search for Sensible Solutions
New England’s reliability challenge is less about a specific supply source, and more about missing economic signals.  As currently designed, today’s gas and electric markets are not conveying enough information about true supply and demand to drive the investments that may be needed to maintain reliability.

One central issue is that wintertime demand for natural gas for heat makes it more difficult and expensive for electric generators to buy fuel for their power plants.  Though the region has recently developed a pay-for-performance program to incentivize power plants to plan for this seasonal reality, ISO New England’s report is hinting that it won’t be enough.  And the more our region depends on natural gas for electricity, the more pronounced this situation becomes, potentially, according to the study, resulting in curtailments due to fuel shortages.

Look to the Markets
It is natural for stakeholders to be anxious to develop solutions, so it is no surprise that some are immediately calling for a large (presumably electric rate-payer funded) pipeline expansion.  But it is premature to jump to conclusions about the needs of the region without fully exploring the ISO’s study and the suite of potential solutions.

Committing capital for new infrastructure to ensure reliability requires a business case that is commercially beneficial for market participants including generators, pipelines, and storage operators.  Solutions lie in the design of the regional marketplace, and the means by which it fosters and rewards investment.  Designs that undercut or obscure market signals for investment will, over the long run, also undercut the willingness of those participants to innovate and compete, and will therefore diminish reliability.

Solutions lie in the design of the regional marketplace, and the means by which it fosters and rewards investment.

The ISO report kicks off a comprehensive stakeholder process designed to find the best, most cost-effective solutions to this challenge.  In the coming months EDF will be working with ISO New England and the region’s stakeholders to broaden their study’s assumptions, and help explore the answers.

Read more at Markets Offer Solutions to New England Energy Challenges