Climate change in the Antarctic

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Photo Credit Ted Scambos, NSIDC

Why is Antarctic ice not melting as fast as Arctic ice?

Response:

According to NSIDC, the National Snow and Ice Data Center, some areas in East Antarctica show some cooling and some increase in snowfall. This is not unexpected, the effect of warmer air is to increase evaporation, (water vapor rising from the Earth) , and so it also increases the amount of rain and snow.

One reason why the Antarctic has warmed less than the Arctic is that water currents and winds flow around the Antarctic from west-to-east acting like a barrier against the warmer air and water to the north. The Arctic, however, is wide open to warmer waters and air from the south.

Another factor keeping the Antarctic cool, according to  recent research, is the thinning of the protective ozone layer in the atmosphere, most severe over the Antarctic. International agreements to halt production of chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons that destroy ozone, are expected to allow that hole to start repairing itself by 2020. That may increase temperatures at the Antarctic.

The Antarctic is about the size of the US and Mexico combined. Part of the Antarctic, the Peninsula, has warmed 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1950, and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is getting thinner.

Climate scientists measure the volume and movement of ice in the Antarctic with satellite spectrometry, laser and radar altimetry, radar interferometry, ice core drilling and other really cold and dangerous hard work.

The loss of Arctic ice is like turning off an air conditioner, it magnifies the warming. Arctic ice floats on water, so it is not raising sea levels much. However Greenland and Antarctic ice is mostly land based, so it will flood ports and erode seacoasts.

There are markets for U.S. made solar panels, wind turbines, smart grids, batteries and algae fuel around the world.  Now is the time for us to develop these industries for export profits and a healthy, prosperous future.

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Climate Legislation in Australia

For nearly a decade, Australia suffered from a devastating drought. In 2007, Australia began requiring corporations and entities over a certain size to report their greenhouse gas emissions, energy production, and energy consumption under the  National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act (NGER)

Prime Minister Rudd tried to pass a carbon emissions trading scheme, but it stalled in 2009.

Julia Gillard challenged Rudd and was elected leader of the Labor Party. In 2011, the drought ended, with heavy rains flooding huge areas. She helped negotiate a one time tax on incomes over $50,000 to help with reconstruction after the floods,

In December of last year an agreement was reached in Parliament on a carbon pricing mechanism requiring 500 largest emitters of greenhouse gases to buy permits. This week, the pricing for the permits was modified, under an agreement with the European Union. In Australia the price will be  fixed $A23 per ton, but change to a floating price in 2015 and emitters will be allowed to purchase half their required permits on the European Union market at their price now, which is around $A10 per ton.  Europeans will also be able to buy permits from Australia in a few years.

Emitters will be able to buy offsets, under some restrictions, and for no more than half of their obligation.

Part of the revenue from the sale of permits will be returned to Australian households to buffer the rising price of energy, and part will be used to ease impacts on industries, and to boost investments in renewable power and energy efficiency.

Hurricane damage prevention

Hurricane warnings lead to flight and train cancellations, evacuations, and shut-downs of oil and gas output.

Response:

Hurricane warnings remind us of the need for another kind of preventive measure.

A dish of water on a windowsill evaporates faster on a sunny day than on a cool day. Higher temperatures mean more evaporation. More water vapor in air makes the air heavier, so when the air starts whirling, it packs a larger punch. That is why hurricanes, this year, with temperatures averaging 1.5oF higher, are likely to be, on the average,  more powerful, more destructive, than hurricanes 100 years in the past.

Scientists with NASA, the same agency that landed the rover Curiosity on Mars, tell us, with “high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gasses produced by human activities.” And they “forecast a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees F over the next century. http://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

To keep the temperature rise at the low end of the predictions and reduce damage to our homes and businesses, we need to phase out the burning of fossil fuels. There is profit in the alternatives, which are now scaling up with new investment, $257 billion worldwide last year.  Renewable power capacity increased by 8% and the cost of PV cells dropped by over 50% last year, and according to a REN21 report.

If the  billions invested in fossil fuel capacity, $302 billion last year, were invested in renewables instead, we could speed up expansion of  cheaper energy and prevent of some of worst effects of global warming.

Investment in solar energy

A Wall Street Journal editorial criticizes a new Interior Department plan to make it easier for utilities to get permits to build solar electric plants on public land and help them link up with transmission lines.

Response:

Investments in solar and wind electricity make sense. Some government encouragement for clean energy will help the industries mature, compete, and provide us with many benefits. Most people, whether or not they are concerned about global warming, want to see clean energy developed.

The solar and wind industries are growing, costs for consumers are dropping, and design discoveries are increasing their potential.  The export potential is large and we can produce this technology in the U.S.

Renewable energy grew even in 2009 when many other businesses were shrinking, according to  Renewable Energy Policy Network’s 2011 report.  By early 2011, one quarter of global power capacity came from renewables.  During 2011, half the new electricity generation capacity added in the world was renewable.

In the U.S., photovoltaic projects have grown by 58% a year since 2004, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. Now, new financing mechanisms are being developed, including third party financing structures, solar-backed securities, master limited partnerships, investment trusts, and publicly listed ownership funds.

Another Bloomberg paper, Re-considering the Economics of Photovoltaic Power, explains reasons for the recent rapid drops in the cost of photovoltaics (PVs). Renewables have demonstrated that they can work, that manufacturing materials are available, that the industries can expand, and that they can provide fair returns on the high initial installation costs.

Feed-in tariffs, and concern about energy security and climate change stimulated PV production between 2004 and 2008 in Germany and Spain, but shortages of the raw material for PVs, polysilicon,  held it in check. Then polysilicon manufacturing expanded, and although incentives for PV production in Spain ended in 2008,  prices for PVs fell from $4.00/W to $2.00/W, with investors still making profits.

The cost of the raw material, silicon, which is about 20% of the cost of modules, has dropped from $450/kg in 2008 to less $27/kg.

There are export opportunities now in many areas. Solar PVs are a clearly a cheaper alternative where diesel generators provide electricity, as in parts of Africa, the Persian Gulf area, and India. In many other areas, solar and wind can provide electricity at the same price as electricity from coal or natural gas fired plants.

Right now, there is no uniform way of measuring all the costs that go into producing power.  Analysts use, and sometimes confuse, price-per-watt, levelized cost of energy (LCOE), and grid parity. Better metrics will help investors see even more opportunities in these alternative technologies.

Drought pulls ocean water up Mississippi

Louisiana Wetlands

The low level of the Mississippi River has allowed saltwater to travel 75 miles further upriver than usual according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The reporter claims that saltwater fish are ‘selected to survive these things,’ which, the writer claims, have been happening for tens of thousands of years.

Response:

This article is an example of media disregard for the evidence  of climate change, with the added implication  that recent extreme weather events are  natural fluctuations. Recent studies have helped policy makers sort out the difference between unusual weather that is part of natural variation and record breaking extreme weather events due to global warming.

According to NOAA, the odds of this heat wave and drought happening randomly is  one in 1,594,323.

The article includes mention that the oil refineries near the mouth of the Mississippi, which use lots of fresh water, are operational. A more inclusive and informative report would have told us the amount of carbon dioxide those refineries emit daily, and the amount of CO2 that will be released when the oil they refine each day is burned. It would also be interesting to know whether Phillips 66 will invest any of its  $1.2 billion in oil profits and $47.8 billion in revenue from the second quarter of 2012  in green technology that would provide us with power without incurring hundreds of billions of dollars in damages  to human health, crops and timber yields.

Why droughts will get worse

Variation in carbon dioxide concentration during the past 400,000 years (historical data from the Vostock ice core).

NASA  CO2 parts per million

A columnist says ‘evidence suggests that droughts will become more intense in many parts of the world if the planet keeps heating up.’

Response:

The planet is heating up, there is no uncertainty that it is happening or why, only how fast.

The basic facts of global warming are simple. In laboratories and videos we can see three processes:  when fossil fuels, namely oil, coal and natural gas, burn, they release carbon dioxide, a gas. Carbon dioxide holds heat in air, the more carbon dioxide in air, the warmer it gets. People have burned a LOT of fossil fuels since 1900. The level of carbon dioxide in air is higher than it has been in way over 650,000 years.

Temperatures are also increasing, as shown in this NASA graph.

Understanding of the basic process of global warming has been confirmed by study of its effects.  Melting ice, more evaporation causing more rain and snow in the wet season, and drier land in the dry season, causing forest fires removing cooling tree cover, leading to warmer air and so on in positive feedback loops.  The carbon dioxide  (carbonic acid in water) makes the oceans acid, dissolving shells and coral.

The columnist suggests that farmers can adapt by using organic techniques because they use water supplies more efficiently.  However, he also cites a 2011 paper by Michael Roberts and Wolfram Schenkler which estimated that average corn, soybean and cotton yields in existing U.S. farm regions are predicted to decline between 30 and 82 percent by the end of the century due to the warming.

The media needs to stop implying that climate change is uncertain, and help us stop it. We have options to reduce the burning of fossil fuels. We can pass a carbon tax, with rebates to the public. The government could specify that it will only purchase solar, wind, geothermal energy with an initial phase-in period. Citizens could vote against candidates who keep us under the domination of the fossil fuel interests. It is time to close ranks and get the climate stabilized.

What are the odds?

‘You cannot prove that burning fossil fuel caused this heat wave.’ says our gasman.

Response:

We can, however, find correlations and calculate the odds. Which would you rather do, walk through a field of land mines where there is a 1 in 10 chance of setting off an explosion, or where there is a 1 in 300 chance of explosion?

Well, 1 in 300 is the odds we had 35 years ago of getting these deadly, crop blistering heat waves, and now the odds are 1 in 10, according to a new NASA statistical study.

Scientists began measuring and correlating the amount of carbon dioxide released by burning oil, coal and natural gas with rising temperatures sixty years ago. Now 40 different models have been created of the evidence and causes of the changing climate, and they all agree that human activities are causing the planet to overheat, with the main offender being the burning of fossil fuels. On the NASA site you can see the changing levels of CO2, global temperature, sea level, land ice and polar ice cover.

So the relevant question is not whether any single weather event is ‘caused’ by global warming, but  how the odds have changed, and how they are likely to change in the future.

An article on this report includes a slide show of 53 things that ‘Climate Change Just Might Ruin.’