Friday, June 30, 2017

Analysis Group Answers Perry’s Questions:  Changing Resources Doesn’t Make Grid Unreliable, but Does Save Consumers Money

Powerlines on road (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The news that DOE’s review of “critical issues” in the electric power system, which was expected the last week of June, would not be completed until July means that the Department – and Energy Secretary Rick Perry – would have at least one more week to consider the latest document submitted to inform the review.

That would be the report produced by Analysis Group, and commissioned by AEE and AWEA, entitled Electricity Markets, Reliability, and the Evolving U.S. Power System.  Its conclusion could not be more clear:  “Recently, some have raised concerns that current electric market conditions may be undermining the financial viability of certain conventional power plant technologies (like existing coal and nuclear units) and thus jeopardizing electric system reliability.  In addition, some point to federal and state policies supporting renewable energy as a primary cause of such impacts.  The evidence does not support this view.”

The independent assessment by this leading consulting firm is the latest in a series of reports from AEE and other industry groups intended to steer DOE clear of misconceptions about our fast-changing power grid – and it is the most authoritative.  Overall, the takeaway from Analysis Group’s report is consistent with prior submissions:  It is the low price of natural gas, not state and federal policies supporting renewable energy, that is responsible for market pressures causing coal and nuclear power plants to retire, and the shift in resources is doing nothing to make the electric power system less reliable. 

But Analysis Group goes one step further, saying that the changeover in generating resources is the expected result of market competition, which ultimately benefits consumers:  “The retirement of aging resources is a natural element of efficient and competitive market forces, and where markets are performing well, these retirements mainly represent the efficient exit of uncompetitive assets, resulting in long-run consumer benefits.”

Read more at Analysis Group Answers Perry’s Questions:  Changing Resources Doesn’t Make Grid Unreliable, but Does Save Consumers Money

Major Correction to Satellite Data Shows 140% Faster Warming Since 1998

Major Revisions Upward after 1998.  Both the old record, version 3 in grey, and new record, version 4 in red, are shown in the figure above, along with the difference between the two, in black. The trends since 1998 for both are shown by dashed lines. (Credit: Produced by Carbon Brief using data from RSS) Click to Enlarge.
A new paper published in the Journal of Climate reveals that the lower part of the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed much faster since 1979 than scientists relying on satellite data had previously thought.

Researchers from Remote Sensing Systems (RSS), based in California, have released a substantially revised version of their lower tropospheric temperature record.

After correcting for problems caused by the decaying orbit of satellites, as well as other factors, they have produced a new record showing 36% faster warming since 1979 and nearly 140% faster (i.e. 2.4 times faster) warming since 1998.  This is in comparison to the previous version 3 of the lower tropospheric temperature (TLT) data published in 2009.

Climate sceptics have long claimed that satellite data shows global warming to be less pronounced that observational data collected on the Earth’s surface.  This new correction to the RSS data substantially undermines that argument.  The new data actually show more warming than has been observed on the surface, though still slightly less than projected in most climate models. 

Read more at Major Correction to Satellite Data Shows 140% Faster Warming Since 1998

Smart Transformers Will Make the Grid Cleaner and More Flexible - by Subhashish Bhattacharya

The solid-state transformer is poised to remake the electrical distribution grid.

Ubiquitous Transformation: Electrical conversion can carry a big footprint, like this substation in the Sonoran Desert, in Arizona. (Photo Credit: Alamy) Click to Enlarge.
It would be hard to overstate the importance of transformers in our electrical networks.  They’re literally everywhere:  on poles and pads, in substations and on private property, on the ground and under it.  There are probably dozens in your neighborhood alone.  It’s hard to imagine a world without them.  But my colleagues and I are doing just that.

In the distribution system, transformers typically take medium, or “primary,” voltages measured in the thousands of volts and convert them to secondary voltages—such as 120, 240, or 480 volts—that can be safely delivered to homes and businesses all over the world.  It’s an approach that’s been used since before alternating current won the war of currents in 1892.  It is difficult to name another electrotechnology that has survived as long.

Nevertheless, it is time to start thinking beyond the conventional transformer.  For one thing, transformers are bulky.  They’re often cooled with oil, which can leak and is difficult to dispose of safely.  Crucially, transformers are passive, one-way tools.  They aren’t designed to adjust to rapidly changing loads.  This shortcoming will fast become intolerable as distributed power sources such as wind turbines, solar panels, and electric-vehicle batteries feed more and more energy to the grid.

Happily enough, research into a new kind of technology—one that could address all of these limitations—has been making significant strides.  Thanks to recent advances in power electronics, we can now contemplate building smart, efficient “solid-state transformers,” or SSTs.  They promise to handle tasks that are difficult if not impossible for a conventional transformer to accomplish, such as managing the highly variable, two-way flow of electricity between, say, a microgrid and the main grid.  What’s more, these smart transformers can be modular, making them easy to transport and install.  And they can be significantly smaller than an equivalent conventional transformer—with as little as about half the weight and a third the volume.

In the near term SSTs could be a boon for disaster-recovery efforts in places with damaged electrical infrastructure and for settings such as naval vessels, where volume and weight are at a premium.  Further in the future, they could redefine the electrical grid, creating distribution systems capable of accommodating a great influx of renewable and stored energy, dramatically improving stability and energy efficiency in the process.

Read more at Smart Transformers Will Make the Grid Cleaner and More Flexible

Clean Coal’s Flagship Project Has Failed

A plan to slash emissions from coal burning by 65 percent has proved too problematic at the beleaguered Kemper power plant.
Kemper power plant (Photograph Credit: XTUV0010 | Wikimedia) Click to Enlarge.

The Mississippi power plant widely regarded to be the biggest proof of concept yet for clean coal has failed to deliver on its promise.  Its carbon capture technique has been declared too costly and problematic, and the facility will instead burn natural gas to create electricity.

The coal-fired power station in Kemper County had many hopes pinned to it since construction began in 2010.  The theory was simple:  if a plant could be built to cleanly burn nearby lignite coal reserves—the most heavily carbon-emitting of all coal types, per unit of heat extracted—then the fuel’s future in American energy production would be assured.

Sadly, things haven’t played out that way.  The project has been mired in problems from the get-go and has run up a $7.5 billion tab—$4 billion over its planned budget—with the carbon capture scheme three years behind schedule.  Now, the New York Times reports, the plant’s owner, Southern Company, has ditched its attempts to get it working as designed, following pressure from the Mississippi Public Service Commission to switch to natural gas and stop hemorrhaging money.

The plant was supposed to gasify the soft brown lignite coal to create a fuel that emits similar amounts of carbon dioxide as natural gas when burned.  According to a description of the technology by Power magazine, that would in theory have reduced the carbon dioxide emissions associated with burning that coal by 65 percent.

But the gasification systems have not worked as planned, and the Kemper plant has instead been burning natural gas.  Now, it will continue to do so.  Southern says that it is “immediately suspending start-up and operations activities” for coal gasification at the plant.

It’s a huge blow for clean coal.  Despite some successes in cutting carbon emissions from fossil-fuel power plants, by and large the process is still considered too costly to implement at scale.  That’s especially true given that prices for renewable energy are continuing to decline swiftly.  Indeed, a newly published analysis from the Global Warming Policy Foundation suggests that carbon capture schemes will always remain too expensive to be viable as the cost of clean energy drops.

Read more at Clean Coal’s Flagship Project Has Failed

Investors Slowly Start to Push Climate Change up Their Agenda

Vapor pours from a steel mill chimney in the industrial town of Port Kembla, about 80 km (50 miles) south of Sydney July 7, 2011. (Credit: Reuters/Tim Wimborne) Click to Enlarge.
Investors are slowly starting to push companies to reduce their carbon footprint and help the world meet targets on limiting global warming that were agreed in the 2015 Paris climate talks.

Energy firms have faced shareholder demands to do more to curb carbon emissions, while some pension funds are demanding more commitment to climate goals from firms they invest in.

Yet progress has still been modest since the Paris deal agreed by almost 200 nations came into force in November last year, aiming to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

"Lots of investors are looking to align their investments with a 2 degrees world.  It's just at what pace they all get there," said Fiona Reynolds, managing director at the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment.

Advocates of the climate deal hope new impetus will come from Thursday's document[s] published by the Financial Stability Board's Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), a group set up by G20 nations.

The task force's document outlines a voluntary framework for companies to disclose the financial impact of climate-related risks and opportunities, drawing support from more than 100 companies with $11 trillion of assets.

It aims to help investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders understand how firms manage climate risk and guide companies on information they should provide to explain their climate strategy, ultimately helping ensure corporate laggards are held to account.

"The more companies report effectively on climate related risks and opportunities, the easier it becomes for investors to allocate the substantial amounts of capital required to implement the Paris Agreement," said Philippe Desfossés, chief executive of French pension fund ERAFP.

Read more at Investors Slowly Start to Push Climate Change up Their Agenda

NASA Detects Drop in Global Fires

The global area of land burned each year declined by 24 percent between 1998 and 2015, according to analysis of satellite data by NASA scientists and their colleagues. The largest decline was seen across savannas in Africa, and due to changing livelihoods. (Credit: Joshua Stevens/NASA's Earth Observatory) Click to Enlarge.
Shifting livelihoods across the tropical forest frontiers of South America, the Eurasian Steppe, and the savannas of Africa are altering landscapes and leading to a significant decline in the amount of land burned by fire, a trend that NASA's satellites have detected from space.

The ongoing transition from nomadic cultures to settled lifestyles and intensifying agriculture has led to a steep drop not only in the use of fire on local lands, but in the prevalence of fire worldwide, researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and colleagues found.

Globally, the total acreage burned by fires each year declined by 24 percent between 1998 and 2015, according to a new paper in Science that analyzes NASA's satellite data, as well as population and socioeconomic information.  The decline in burned lands was largest in savannas and grasslands, where fires are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems and habitat conservation.

Across Africa, fires typically burn an area about half the size of the continental United States every year, said Niels Andela, a research scientist at Goddard and lead author on the paper.  In traditional savanna cultures with common lands, people often set fires to keep grazing lands productive and free of shrubs.  As many of these communities have shifted to cultivate more permanent fields and to build more houses, roads and villages, the use of fire declines.  As economic development continues, the landscape becomes more fragmented, communities often enact legislation to control fires and the burned area declines even more.

By 2015, savanna fires in Africa had declined by 270,000 square miles (700,000 square kilometers) -- an area the size of Texas.

"When land use intensifies on savannas, fire is used less and less as a tool," Andela said. "As soon as people invest in houses, crops and livestock, they don't want these fires close by anymore. The way of doing agriculture changes, the practices change, and fire slowly disappears from the grassland landscape."
The impact of human-caused changes in savannas, grasslands and tropical forests is so large that it offsets much of the increased risk of fire caused by warming global temperatures, said Doug Morton, a research scientist at Goddard and a co-author of the study. Still, the impact of a warming and drying climate is seen at higher latitudes, where fire has increased in parts of Canada and the American west. Regions of China, India, Brazil and southern Africa also show an increase in burned area. But the expansiveness of savannas and grasslands puts the global trend in decline.

"Climate change has increased fire risk in many regions, but satellite burned area data show that human activity has effectively counterbalanced that climate risk, especially across the global tropics," Morton said.  "We've seen a substantial global decline over the satellite record, and the loss of fire has some really important implications for the Earth system."

Read more at NASA Detects Drop in Global Fires

Paint Stripper Poses an Increasing Threat to Ozone Layer, Study Finds

Increasing levels of dichloromethane would mean a growing springtime mean column ozone decrease (DU) in the Antarctic  (Credit: Hossaini, R. et al) Click to Enlarge.
Concentrations of a paint-stripping chemical are building in the atmosphere and scientists believe it threatens to significantly delay repair of the damaged ozone layer, which shields the earth from high levels of harmful ultraviolet radiation.

The chemical dichloromethane had been left out of the 1987 Montreal protocol, which banned the worst of the ozone-depleting chemicals, in part because it breaks down so quickly.  But recent observations published in Nature Communications show its atmospheric concentration is now increasing at a rapid clip. 

Increasing levels of dichloromethane would mean a growing springtime mean column ozone decrease (DU) in the Antarctic.

The level of the chemical rose by 8 percent a year between 2004 and 2014, and using sophisticated computer models researchers found that if levels continue to grow, the recovery of the ozone layer would be delayed by 30 years, until about 2090.  Little is known about where, exactly, the dichloromethane — which is used as an industrial solvent, an aerosol spray propellant, and a blowing agent for polyurethane foams — is leaking from or why emissions have risen so rapidly, reports the Guardian.

“Whatever the source of this gas, we must act now to stop its release to the atmosphere in order to prevent undoing over 30 years of exemplary science and policy work which has undoubtedly saved many lives,” said Grant Allen, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Manchester who was not involved in the study.

Read more at Paint Stripper Poses an Increasing Threat to Ozone Layer, Study Finds

Thursday, June 29, 2017

  Thursday, June 29

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.

Climate Change Damages US Economy, Increases Inequality

Severe costs ahead especially in south and lower midwest, pioneering analysis projects.

County-level annual damages in the median scenario for the climate from 2080 to 2099 under a business-as-usual emissions trajectory. Negative damages indicate economic benefits. [Credit: Hsiang, Kopp, Jina, Rising, et al (2017)] Click to Enlarge.
Unmitigated climate change will make the United States poorer and more unequal, according to a new study published in the journal Science.  The poorest third of counties could sustain economic damages costing as much as 20 percent of their income if warming proceeds unabated.

States in the South and lower Midwest, which tend to be poor and hot already, will lose the most, with economic opportunity traveling northward and westward.  Colder and richer counties along the northern border and in the Rockies could benefit the most as health, agriculture and energy costs are projected to improve.

Overall, the study -- led by Solomon Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley, Robert Kopp of Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Amir Jina of the University of Chicago, and James Rising, also of UC Berkeley -- projects losses, economic restructuring and widening inequality.

"Unmitigated climate change will be very expensive for huge regions of the United States," said Hsiang, Chancellor's Associate Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley.  "If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country's history."

Read more at Climate Change Damages US Economy, Increases Inequality

Trump to Announce Steps to Aid Nuclear Industry

President Trump met yesterday at the White House with state and tribal leaders. (Credit:  Emily Holden/E&E News) Click to Enlarge.
President Trump is expected to boost the nation's sagging nuclear industry today at the pinnacle of his weeklong promotion of American energy "dominance," according to multiple sources.

Trump could announce a review of nuclear energy's role in national electricity generation and possible strategies to support it, like establishing a nuclear "czar" in the White House, sources said.  Trump is scheduled to speak at the Energy Department at 3:25 p.m.

Other sources said he may debut plans to streamline the review process for exporting nuclear reactor designs. Industry has long complained that it takes too long.

Additionally, Trump is likely to announce U.S. exports of coal or liquefied natural gas to Ukraine, according to a report by Bloomberg and an E&E News source.

Nuclear and coal are facing competition from the surge of cheap natural gas and expanding renewable power in domestic markets.  While Trump's announcements would not help those fuels gain market share in the United States, it could give the industries hope for building international demand.

The efforts would also reinforce the administration's message of establishing the United States as a global energy leader in the pursuit of helping other countries build zero-carbon nuclear fleets and thwarting attempts by Russia to exert power through energy exports.

The nuclear industry contends that long-standing export policies in the United States are hampering the sale of reactor technologies and the expansion of services related to engineering and operational expertise.  They could be worth billions of dollars in the international market, industry says.

For years, the industry has called for revamping policies that were last revised in the 1980s. The industry says those policies put the U.S. nuclear industry at a disadvantage to countries like Russia and China.

Read more at Trump to Announce Steps to Aid Nuclear Industry

House Republicans OK Measure Asking Military to Study Climate Change

A year ago, the U.S. House tried to block the military from preparing for climate change. Now, several GOP members have voted to support studying the security risks.

An amendment approved by the House Armed Services Committee asks the Pentagon to issue a report within a year identifying the 10 military sites most at risk from climate change and how to protect them. (Credit: Mackenzie Brunson/CC-BY-2.0) Click to Enlarge.
The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee took a quietly momentous step Wednesday by passing an amendment requesting a Defense Department report on the security risks posed by climate change.

The importance lies less in the details of the measure—an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act—than in the political statement from a body that only one year ago tried to block the military from spending money to prepare for climate change.

"The truth is that the department can study this on their own, as they have a wide berth when it comes to assessing threats to national security," said Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island and the amendment's sponsor.  "But this amendment shows that Congress has the department's back.  It signals that we are not naive to the dangers of climate change to our defense strategy."

The amendment asks the Defense Department to issue a report within a year identifying the 10 military sites most vulnerable to the many manifestations of climate change, and what steps are needed to protect them.  It also asks for a discussion of how climate change will affect top commanders of fielded forces who may have to deal with instability brought on by a climate crisis.

The military has conducted extensive studies on the risks and impacts of climate change to its operations for more than a decade and has issued several significant reports.  Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general and former head of U.S. Central Command, has repeatedly spoken about how climate change can drive instability and threaten national security, most recently in written testimony he provided to a Senate panel. 

For years, Republicans in the House passed amendments to try to block this work, but the Senate never approved the measures.  Langevin and other supporters weren't expecting to gain Republican votes, but after a series of Democrats spoke in favor of the amendment, Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, chimed in.

"Whether the first four pages are accurate or not," he said, referring to a series of quotes by Mattis and others and a list of projected climate impacts, "there's nothing dangerous about talking about it.  This asks for a report.  I'll support the idea of having a report."

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) spoke against the measure, but several of her Republican colleagues joined Bishop, and the measure passed on a voice vote.  The committee had already included other language in the bill supporting the department's work on climate change and requiring a separate, narrower report on the flooding from rising seas at military installations.

The apparent change of sentiment is a surprising break from how House Republicans voted on the issue in the past, said Andrew Holland, senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project, a nonpartisan research organization.

"I think that's a pretty remarkable turnaround in one year, and I think it speaks to the fact that now that Republicans are fully in power they have to responsibly plan and prepare for reality."

Read more at House Republicans OK Measure Asking Military to Study Climate Change

Half a Loaf:  Lawmakers Vote to Keep Some Energy Funds Trump Would Cut

The House subcommittee’s bill would still kill ARPA-E but restores some funding for science and renewable energy.

The House Appropriations energy subcommittee's markup on Wednesday was the first step in a long budget process in Congress. (Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images.) Click to Enlarge.
Budget writers in the House of Representatives said Wednesday they were willing to support some cuts to renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, but they wouldn't approve all of President Donald Trump's proposed deep slashes to the Department of Energy's budget.

The House Appropriations energy subcommittee met to mark up their bill for funding the department.  The bill represents the first time Congressional purse-string holders have formally clarified their priorities and is the first step in a long process, but it suggests that Republicans will support many of Trump's cuts to clean energy.

Trump's proposal, released last month, calls for cutting the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E—the government's incubator for clean energy technologies—by 93 percent.  The House spending bill allocates nothing.

The draft bill endorsed by the subcommittee sets the overall agency budget at $37.6 billion, giving it about $209 million less than in fiscal 2017, but $3.65 billion above Trump's request, according to Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the subcommittee's chairman.  The bill would have to be approved by the full Appropriations panel before going to the House floor and also would have to be reconciled with any action by the Senate.

"Increases over last year are targeted to those areas where they are needed most—-to provide for our nation's defense and to support our nation's infrastructure," Simpson said.  "The bill recognizes the administration's effort to reduce federal spending and the size of the government by accepting a number of the president's proposals including the request to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy."

Democratic members made their disapproval clear.

"This bill would drastically cut energy efficiency and renewable energy, reflecting the Republican majority's dismissal of the science and consequences of climate change," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the full Appropriations Committee.  "It would terminate ARPA-E even though it has successfully propelled American innovation, led to technological advances and created jobs."  ARPA-E's budget is about $300 million this fiscal year.

Read more at Half a Loaf:  Lawmakers Vote to Keep Some Energy Funds Trump Would Cut

Mission 2020:  A New Global Strategy to ‘Rapidly’ Reduce Carbon Emissions

Former UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres. (Photo Credit: Al Jazeera) Click to Enlarge.
In April a new global initiative called Mission 2020 was launched by Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who oversaw the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in late 2015.

The aim of Mission 2020 is to bring “new urgency” to the “global climate conversation” with a call to begin “rapidly declining” global greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Today, in a co-authored commentary published in the journal Nature, Figueres sets out further details about Mission 2020’s six central calls to action.  The commentary is endorsed by 61 signatories, which include climate scientists as well as a range of NGO, religious, political, and business leaders.

Emissions peak
Figueres and colleagues argue that, if global warming is to be limited to between 1.5C and 2C by 2100, global emissions must peak before 2020 and then begin to rapidly decline.

Over the past three years, global CO2 emissions have leveled off, driven in part by large declines in coal use in China and the US.  While it is likely too early to say for certain if CO2 emissions have peaked, there is a reason to be cautiously optimistic.

However, peaking global emissions is in many ways the easy part.  Scientists say that to stave off potentially dangerous levels of warming later in the century, global emissions need to decline quickly to near-zero.

Read more at Mission 2020:  A New Global Strategy to ‘Rapidly’ Reduce Carbon Emissions

Concurrent Hot and Dry Summers More Common in Future

Climate change caused hundreds of heat-related deaths in London and Paris during the 2003 European heat wave, simulations suggest. Red regions experienced hotter July temperatures compared with those measured in 2001. (Credit: NASA) Click to Enlarge.
According to ... statistics ... extreme climate events, similar to the heatwave that affected large areas of western and central Europe in the summer of 2003, are only supposed to occur around every 100 years.  But as global warming pushes average temperatures higher, the frequency of several extreme weather events is set to increase, experts claim.

Concurrent extremes more frequent
Perhaps the statisticians need to check their figures.  Researchers have traditionally studied extreme climate events such as heatwaves and drought in isolation, producing separate forecasts of how frequently each one is likely to occur.  But when these extremes coincide -- a combination of hot and dry summers, for example -- their impact is far greater.

ETH researcher Jakob Zscheischler and Professor Sonia Seneviratne from the ETH Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science have now calculated the probability of compound climate extremes, as the co-occurrence of severe heat and drought generally depends on the correlation between temperature and precipitation in the summer.  The results of their study have just been published in the academic journal Science Advances.

Co-occurrence as much as five times greater than expected
In their study, Zscheischler and Seneviratne have calculated that the combination of heat and drought is as much as two to four times more frequent than if these two extreme climate events are studied in isolation.  In America's mid-west, for instance, the probability of this combination occurring is even up to five times higher.

Calculating the probability of these two extremes separately and then combining them is not the same as establishing the likelihood of their co-occurrence.  "Our calculations clearly show that compound climate extremes occur much more frequently than previously expected," says the ETH professor.

Zscheischler and Seneviratne have analyzed the combination of heatwaves and drought because observations show that "there are definite correlations between such compound climate events," she goes on to explain.  This was the reason for the extremely hot and dry summer that central Europe experienced in 2015.  "These scenarios are becoming more common."

Correlation amplified by unconstrained climate change
In their study, the authors show that the correlation between temperature and precipitation will intensify if climate change remains unconstrained.  As a result, very hot and dry summers will become increasingly common.

The greater frequency of compound climate extremes also poses a bigger threat to agriculture, society and the economy.  If two climate extremes are examined together, the probability of their co-occurrence often rises dramatically due to previously unaccounted dependencies -- along with the associated risks.  The latest calculations show that the risk is far greater than previously assumed, the ETH professor warns:  "We're not properly prepared for this."

Read more at Concurrent Hot and Dry Summers More Common in Future

Sunnier Skies Driving Greenland Surface Melt

Late summer sunset and clouds over the Black and Bloom field camp in Greenland in August 2016. [Credit: Black and Bloom (@Glacier_Albedo)] Click to Enlarge.
In the past two decades, the Greenland ice sheet has become the biggest single contributor to rising sea levels, mostly from melt across its vast surface.  That surface melt is, in turn, driven mostly by an uptick in clear, sunny summer skies, not just rising air temperatures, a new study finds.

What’s causing the decline in cloud cover isn’t yet clear, but the work shows that understanding what’s behind the trend and developing ways to better represent clouds in global climate models will be crucial to predicting how much Greenland will melt in the future.

The nearly two-mile-thick Greenland ice sheet covers an area about three times the size of Texas and holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by 23 feet if it were all to melt.  While that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, even smaller-scale melt can raise sea levels to the point that large swaths of coastal land will be claimed by the oceans by the end of the century, including many major cities, such as Miami and Shanghai.

Global sea level has already risen by about a foot since 1900.  Greenland’s contribution to that rise has jumped since the 1990s, accounting for about 30 percent of sea level rise since then.

While some of the water Greenland is flushing out to sea comes from warming ocean waters lapping away at the glaciers that drain the ice sheet, most is due to the melt across its surface during the summer.

Read more at Sunnier Skies Driving Greenland Surface Melt

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

  Wednesday, June 28

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.

States Betting on Giant Batteries to Cut Carbon

A Portland General Electric energy storage system. (Credit: PGE/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Some states and electric power companies are rolling out a new weapon against fossil fuels — giant batteries.

A growing number of states are requiring large batteries to be used to store electricity to help expand wind and solar power.  The trend is catching on quickly as at least three states have created energy storage targets or incentives so far this year.

Lawmakers in New York passed a bill last week requiring the state to create an energy storage target. Nevada passed a bill incentivizing energy storage in May, and Maryland passed an energy storage tax credit in April.  Those measures follow California, Oregon, and Massachusetts, which have mandates for electricity storage in batteries.

Electric power plants have historically been America’s largest source of carbon pollution contributing to climate change.  Today, electric power plants that run on both coal and natural gas emit large volumes of carbon dioxide — the primary cause of global warming.

But as more wind farms and solar power plants are built to help reduce climate pollution, electric power companies encounter one of the fundamental challenges with renewables:  The flow of electricity from wind and solar farms isn’t steady — it fluctuates as the wind blows and the sun sets. Sometimes excess energy they produce goes to waste.

“We only produce solar electricity when the sun shines.  We consume energy 24/7.  We need to have means of supplying the electricity to consumers 24 hours a day.  That’s one of the basic roles of energy storage,” said Janet Joseph, vice president of innovation and strategy for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Batteries help solve that problem.
If batteries are used to capture renewable power as it is generated, electric companies can use that stored electricity when it is needed the most, usually during the day when air conditioners are blasting and businesses have all their lights on.  Today, electric power used for those high demand times comes from power plants running on natural gas.

Read more at States Betting on Giant Batteries to Cut Carbon

Even Boeing-747 Tanker Jets Can’t Win Our Total War on Fires

The more effectively we suppress fires, the worse they become. As climate change makes the world more combustible, we need a new approach.

A US Air Force C-130 Hercules sprays retardant on a wildfire in Waldo Canyon, Colorado (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Stephany Richards/US Air Force) Click to Enlarge.
Aerial fire fighting is a critical but expensive tool for managing wildfire.  Because wildfires will become more frequent and severe due to climate change there is no question we need aerial fire fighting technology – particularly helicopters and specially trained crews that can be inserted into remote areas.  But uncritical belief and investment in aerial fire fighting technologies alone is a road to fiscal ruin.  Thoughtlessly investing in aerial fire-fighting will not meet the formidable fire management challenges that are being amplified by climate change.

A fraction of the US investments in aerial fire fighting redirected to preventative fire management, such as planned burning and strategic vegetation thinning, retrofitting poorly designed housing and training ground crews could yield a much bigger bang for the buck, as well as providing year round employment for rural communities.  The media optics of aerial drop of bright red fire retardant from a thundering fire bomber comes at considerable environment and social costs and engenders a dangerously false sense of security in a rapidly warming and more combustible world.

Read more at Even Boeing-747 Tanker Jets Can’t Win Our Total War on Fires

We Are Heading for the Warmest Climate in Half a Billion Years, Says New Study

Man walkig camels in desert (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Carbon dioxide concentrations are heading towards values not seen in the past 200m years.  The sun has also been gradually getting stronger over time.  Put together, these facts mean the climate may be heading towards warmth not seen in the past half a billion years.

A lot has happened on Earth since 500,000,000BC – continents, oceans and mountain ranges have come and gone, and complex life has evolved and moved from the oceans onto the land and into the air.  Most of these changes occur on very long timescales of millions of years or more. However, over the past 150 years global temperatures have increased by about 1℃, ice caps and glaciers have retreated, polar sea-ice has melted, and sea levels have risen.

Some will point out that Earth’s climate has undergone similar changes before.  So what’s the big deal?

Scientists can seek to understand past climates by looking at the evidence locked away in rocks, sediments and fossils.  What this tells us is that yes, the climate has changed in the past, but the current speed of change is highly unusual.  For instance, carbon dioxide hasn’t been added to the atmosphere as rapidly as today for at least the past 66m years.

In fact, if we continue on our current path and exploit all convention fossil fuels, then as well as the rate of CO₂ emissions, the absolute climate warming is also likely to be unprecedented in at least the past 420m years.  That’s according to a new study we have published in Nature Communications.
So high concentrations of carbon dioxide don’t necessarily make the world totally uninhabitable.  The dinosaurs thrived, after all.

That doesn’t mean this is no big deal, however.  For a start, there is no doubt that humanity will face major socio-economic challenges dealing with the dramatic and rapid climate change that will result from the rapid rise to 2,000 or more ppm.

But our new study also shows that the same carbon concentrations will cause more warming in future than in previous periods of high carbon dioxide. This is because the Earth’s temperature does not just depend on the level of CO₂ (or other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere.  All our energy ultimately comes from the sun, and due to the way the sun generates energy through nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium, its brightness has increased over time.  Four and a half billion years ago when the Earth was young the sun was around 30% less bright.

So what really matters is the combined effect of the sun’s changing strength and the varying greenhouse effect.  Looking through geological history we generally found that as the sun became stronger through time, atmospheric CO₂ gradually decreased, so both changes cancelled each other out on average.

But what about in the future?  We found no past time period when the drivers of climate, or climate forcing, was as high as it will be in the future if we burn all the readily available fossil fuel.  Nothing like it has been recorded in the rock record for at least 420m years.

Read more at We Are Heading for the Warmest Climate in Half a Billion Years, Says New Study

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

  Tuesday, June 27

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.

Wind Power's Big Bet:  Turbines Taller than Skyscrapers

Giant wind turbines (Credit: Dong energy, UK; Nextwind Inc.) Click to Enlarge.
Wind farm operators are betting on a new generation of colossal turbines, which will dwarf many skyscrapers, as they seek to remain profitable after European countries phase out subsidies that have defined the green industry since the 1990s.

The world's three leading offshore wind operators - DONG Energy, EnBW, and Vattenfall - all told Reuters they were looking to these megaturbines to help adapt to the upcoming reality with dwindling government handouts.

According to interviews with turbine makers and engineers, at least one manufacturer - Siemens Gamesa - will have built a prototype megaturbine by next year and the first farms could be up and running in the first half of the next decade.

These massive machines will each stand 300 meters tall – almost as high as London's Shard, western Europe's tallest building - with 200-metre rotor spans that will stretch the length of two football fields.

The wind power sector is at a critical juncture as the subsidies that have cradled it since its inception in the early 1990s, and underpinned its business model, disappear as politicians enact a long-planned push to make the industry more commercially viable and able to compete with other energy sources.

Read more at Wind Power's Big Bet:  Turbines Taller than Skyscrapers

Rising Seas Could Result in 2 Billion Refugees by 2100

Street under flood waters, Bangkok, Thailand. (Credit: © Tee11 / Fotolia) Click to Enlarge.
In the year 2100, 2 billion people -- about one-fifth of the world's population -- could become climate change refugees due to rising ocean levels.  Those who once lived on coastlines will face displacement and resettlement bottlenecks as they seek habitable places inland, according to Cornell University research.

"We're going to have more people on less land and sooner that we think," said lead author Charles Geisler, professor emeritus of development sociology at Cornell.  "The future rise in global mean sea level probably won't be gradual.  Yet few policy makers are taking stock of the significant barriers to entry that coastal climate refugees, like other refugees, will encounter when they migrate to higher ground."

Earth's escalating population is expected to top 9 billion people by 2050 and climb to 11 billion people by 2100, according to a United Nations report.  Feeding that population will require more arable land even as swelling oceans consume fertile coastal zones and river deltas, driving people to seek new places to dwell.

By 2060, about 1.4 billion people could be climate change refugees, according to the paper. Geisler extrapolated that number to 2 billion by 2100.

"The colliding forces of human fertility, submerging coastal zones, residential retreat, and impediments to inland resettlement is a huge problem.  We offer preliminary estimates of the lands unlikely to support new waves of climate refugees due to the residues of war, exhausted natural resources, declining net primary productivity, desertification, urban sprawl, land concentration, 'paving the planet' with roads and greenhouse gas storage zones offsetting permafrost melt," Geisler said.

The paper describes tangible solutions and proactive adaptations in places like Florida and China, which coordinate coastal and interior land-use policies in anticipation of weather-induced population shifts.

Florida has the second-longest coastline in the United States, and its state and local officials have planned for a coastal exodus, Geisler said, in the state's Comprehensive Planning Act.

Read more at Rising Seas Could Result in 2 Billion Refugees by 2100

Fires Rise in Arctic as 'Lightning Follows the Warming'

Climate change is driving lightning and wildfires farther north, according to new research. (Credit: Government of Alberta) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change is driving up the number of forest fires ignited by lightning, and it's pushing them farther north, to the edges of the Arctic tundra, researchers say.

Lightning-caused fires have risen 2 to 5 percent a year for the last four decades, according to a paper published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change.  And as thunderstorms intensify and become more frequent, fires are increasingly occurring in the boreal forests, and even on the permafrost tundra.  Warmer temperatures encourage more thunderstorms, which in turn bring more lightning and greater fire risk.

The changes are part of a complex climate feedback loop that is only now becoming more clear to scientists, said Sander Veraverbeke of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the study's lead author.  A feedback loop is a series of interrelated phenomena that is worsened by climate change and continues to build upon itself with additional consequences.  In the north, fires release more carbon dioxide and methane from the permafrost, he said.

"You have more fires; they creep farther north; they burn in these soils which have a lot of C02 and methane that can be exposed directly at the moment of the fire and then decades after," Veraverbeke said.  "That contributes again to global warming; you have again more fire."

Scientists studied a spike in fires caused by lightning strikes in the Canadian Northwest Territories in 2014 and in Alaska in 2015.  Because there is so little human activity in both of those regions, researchers traced the fires in remote areas to lightning strikes.

Scientists have previously connected climate change to an increase in lightning.  For every degree Celsius of warming, lightning strikes are estimated to increase 12 percent, according to research published in the journal Science in 2014.  Based on projected warming, that could mean a 50 percent increase by the end of the century.  There are currently about 20 million lightning strikes over the continental United States, and about half of all wildfires are now traced to lightning strikes.

Researchers have connected increased drought conditions and increased extreme weather to more wildfires, but most of the earlier studies have focused on the lower United States.  The research published yesterday is the first to document the feedback loop of forest fires and lightning strikes in the Arctic.

Read more at Fires Rise in Arctic as 'Lightning Follows the Warming'

U.S. Mayors Back 100% Renewable Energy, Vow to Fill Climate Leadership Void

The U.S. Conference of Mayors Also Voted to Support Quick Electrification of Vehicles and Urged Congress to Back the Clean Power Plan and Paris Climate Agreement.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (right) and Michael Bloomberg address the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Bloomberg announced a $200 million grant program to support city initiatives in areas including climate change. (Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
As the nation's mayors closed their annual meeting on Monday in Miami Beach, they sent a clear signal that cities are looking for action on climate change and are eager to fill a policy gap created by the Trump administration.

The United States Conference of Mayors, which includes both Republican an Democratic mayors from cities across the nation, adopted a series of resolutions that are far more assertive than federal climate policy, including a pledge supporting cities' adoption of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

"We are showing the world that cities and mayors can and will lead the transition away from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean, renewable energy," said Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin, a co-sponsor of the resolution, in a statement.

Cities have been pushing for stronger action on climate change for years, but the efforts have taken on new urgency since President Donald Trump took office in January.  After Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, more than 200 cities joined with nearly a dozen states and hundreds of businesses to announce that they would remain committed to the goals of the agreement.

The resolutions passed Monday include ones that:
  • Urge Congress and the Trump administration to support the Paris Agreement and the Obama administration's stalled Clean Power Plan, which would cut carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector and which Trump has been working to repeal.
  • Call for a quick electrification of the nation's transportation sector.
  • Ask Trump and Congress to "develop a comprehensive risk management program to address future flood risks from sea level rise."
  • Support greater investment from all levels of government in wind energy.
  • Encourage Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, a defunct federal program that sent money to local governments.
A main theme of the annual meeting of the conference, which represents the mayors of 1,408 American cities, was that local government can take a larger role in shaping American policy on a range of issues, supplanting the federal government.

Read more at U.S. Mayors Back 100% Renewable Energy, Vow to Fill Climate Leadership Void