Archive | Climate Change

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Faster Glacier Retreat as Court & Scientists Speak

Posted on 21 August 2015 by Jerry

Two independent reports give separate results to explain away the lack of increase in the average world temperature beginning in 2000 and lasting about a decade.   They both come to the conclusion there was no long pause in the rise of the world’s average temperature – in other words it kept rising.

The first study that was conducted by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology said the apparent period of no growth was caused by a decade long shift of ocean heat collection to another area.  Their study found a heating of the top layer of water in the Indian Ocean with some residual heating still in the Pacific Ocean.  This heating offset a corresponding temperature stability or change in the rest of the Pacific Ocean.

This study shows the shifting heat from one region to another as cooler ocean water absorbed more heat to bring its heat into balance with the other oceans.  The research shows this phenomenon started in 2003 and lasted some ten years or so.  As a result you should conclude there was no pause in the rise of the world’s heat.  It was absorbed by another region of the ocean.

Researchers from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and LMI in McLean, Virginia conducted the second study.  It re-examined data and estimates used by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

It finds that the data trends used by the IPCC were less than was justified by what the data actually showed.  This was especially true for recent decades where “the rate of warming during the first 15 years of the 21st century is at least as great as the last half of the 20th century.”  This data does not support the notion of any slowdown at all in the rate of global warming.

In related activities a top court has ruled that a country must increase its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.  The government of the Netherlands was ordered by a court in The Hague to increase its commitment to cut at least 25% of its greenhouse-gas emissions by the year 2020 from levels in the year 1990.  The upcoming European Union (EU) obligations would require the government of the Netherlands to target a 17% reduction.  The Court has ruled this level is not enough in response to a lawsuit brought by an environmental group named Urgenda.

Two more studies of glaciers have not given us any good news.  One study conducted by scientists at the World Glacier Monitoring Service completed an analysis of more than 47,000 separate observations dating back to the 1600’s.  They conclude that glaciers are shrinking almost twice as fast as they were during the late twentieth century.

A second study offers an explanation at least for glaciers in Greenland that explains their rapid rate of disappearance.  It appears these glaciers are more susceptible to global warming than was thought.  This is because the use of sonar under the surface of the ocean has shown that the glaciers go hundreds of meters farther down under the water than previously thought or reflected on maps.  This allows their ice to come into greater contact with the warmer layers of water in the Atlantic Ocean.  This produces more melting of the glaciers than previously thought.

All of this shrinkage does not bode well for coastal areas around the world that are concerned about rising ocean levels.  They were hoping for at least some refuge from global warming and its negative effects.  This does not appear to be the case and will prompt continued monitoring of melting ice and the resulting sea levels around the world.

Of course the solution to this problem is to decrease temperature rise by putting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  In other words we must slow the rate of global climate change.

Use the following links to access additional information or look at the original documents used to prepare this article. (scroll down to Trend Watch)

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Politics & Pope Speak to Failure of Climate Efforts

Posted on 28 June 2015 by Jerry

The fact that greater promises came from the G7 countries (without specifics) and pointed religious pleas from the Pope are at the forefront of our news show we are running out of time.  These pronouncements indicate the growing fear of the world’s leaders that not enough is being done to respond to climate change.  It marks an effort by those concerned about the rising temperatures of the world to drown out the climate deniers who have so far successfully blocked meaningful progress to limit the use of fossil fuels.

In rapid-fire succession on June 8, 2015 the G7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and United States) agreed and announced a target of reducing greenhouse emissions to 70% of 2010 levels by 2050 to help the world achieve its climate goals.  In a very short number of days, on June 18, 2015, the Pope released his climate change “Encyclical”, a wide-ranging document that called for immediate progress on Climate Change.

It is easy to be critical of both efforts, those of the G7 and the Pope.  The G7 objective can be criticized as not as ambitious as it sounds.  Both the United States and the United Kingdom have already announced cuts that would be bigger.  The United States committed to an 83% cut of greenhouse gas emissions based on 2005 levels by 2050 and the U.K. has said it will reduce emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by mid century.

This criticism ignores that the G7 objective commits Japan and Canada to major cuts.  Both countries have been identified as laggards and have here-to-fore not lined up to fight climate change.  This agreement at least gets both countries committed to progress in controlling global warming.

Detractors further cited the International Energy Agency (IEA) that recently stated the present agreement only provides the planet another 8 months of runway compared to projected increases in the absence of these reductions.  The IEA observed that the present commitments will only keep the world’s temperature under the 2° C objective until approximately 2040 when it will continue rising.  Unless further progress is made, the world’s temperature is estimated to rise to a minimum of 2.6° C.

The Pope’s climate change Encyclical can be criticized by detractors as taking the Catholic Church into an issue that is primarily political and not religious.   It can also be said to be an opportunistic move to attack capitalism’s profit motive, a rich country refusal to help the world’s poor and various plans for cap and trade systems.

These criticisms aside, the Pope’s Encyclical does reiterate the scientific conclusions that the temperatures of the world are rising, climate change is the cause and mankind’s commitment to burning fossil fuels is the major contributing cause of climate change.  It is useful to remember that the Pope’s college training is in chemistry.  The hope is that the Pope’s position, if not silencing the opposition, will cause the deniers to keep their doubts to themselves.  The hope is that it will move deniers out of the way of meaningful progress to slow climate change.

A recent article appearing in the Guardian on June 18, 2015 states, “Even among Catholics in the US, views on global warming are sharply divided along political lines.  A recent survey by Pew Research showed that Catholic Republicans view the nearly universally accepted scientific facts with deep skepticism.”

The article continued, “Overall, the survey found that 71% of US Catholics believe the earth is warming, and about half (47%) believe humans are the cause and it is a serious problem.  But while eight in 10 Catholic Democrats say that there is solid evidence that global warming is real, only about half of Catholic Republicans agree.  Far fewer – just a quarter of Catholic Republicans – believe that global warming is caused by humans.”

It is hoped the Pope’s Encyclical will help convince the bulk of the world’s Catholics to support the steps necessary to make progress on climate change.  There is common belief the Pope’s pronouncements will constructively lead to what needs to be done.

This does not obscure that the world is not making enough meaningful change to keep us at or under the scientific goal of keeping our average world temperature rise to less than 2° Celsius.  Many scientists believe that if nothing changes we are on a course to go up to or over 4° Celsius by the end of the century.  When speaking about the G7 goals Jennifer Morgan, director of the global climate programme of the World Resources Institute said that hitting the 2° Celsius target would depend on how quickly reductions could be implemented.

She said, “It totally depends on the pace of decarburization.   You either need to be there by 2050 for CO2 and a bit later for all greenhouse gases if you want a high chance of staying below the 2C.  If you’re up for a 66% chance then you go longer out into the century.”

We are still waiting for actual action to show a worldwide, united approach to climate change.  After all it has been 18 years since the last formal world “agreement” to limit climate change.  Some progress has been made as a result of Obama’s actions but much more needs to be done by the politicians who claim they are running things.  So far, in my mind the European Union has been the clear leader in making progress to limit climate change.  However, everyone needs to do more.

Use the following links to gain further information of the Pope’s Encyclical or the G7 commitments or see the source documents used to prepare this article.

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Waiting Means Being Too Late

Posted on 10 June 2015 by Jerry

We have a few researchers talking about how to put something in our atmosphere to protect us from the sun’s warmth and rising temperatures and/or how to remove carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere and sequester it safely somewhere.  These are the main two areas of emphasis of ‘climate engineering’.

Most scientists believe that climate engineering, or intentionally manipulating the global climate, is not desirable and would be our last option.  While they completely discount removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequestering it underground as ineffective given the size of the effort involved, they are concerned that putting something in the atmosphere to increase reflectivity will be tried and be very dangerous.

A broad range of options have been suggested as to how we can modify our atmosphere to increase its reflectivity where sunlight is directed back into space.  These include injecting sulphate particles into the stratosphere mimicing the natural cooling effects of volcanic ash and/or spraying seawater into the air to brighten clouds and reflect more sunlight back into space.  Thoughts have gone so far as even to suggest placing giant mirrors into orbit to reflect sunlight before it reaches Earth.

One of the first suggestions was from Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize for his work to understand the stratospheric chemistry to which our ozone is subject.  He suggested we inject tiny particles of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to shield Earth from solar radiation that would warm our planet.

The problem is that while Crutzen’s suggestion has spawned much talk of research, according to Anders Levermann (see article below), a Berlin-based climate scientist and Physics Professor, while it might cool the planet on average, it would do nothing to reverse the effect of greenhouse gases.  In a Huffington Post article published on May 8, 2015 entitled “Why Climate Engineering Won’t Work” he outlines the problem as he sees it.

He states, “The reason is as simple as fundamental: The extra abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere does not change our climate in a uniform manner.  The Arctic, for example, is warming almost twice as much as the tropics.  This has to do with a well-known effect called polar amplification.  The main reason for this is that warming enhances the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which then snows-off in the dry and cold polar region where it releases energy and warms the atmosphere.  Now if this sounds too complicated, one just has to hold up a thermometer in the Arctic and another one in the tropics:  They show that temperature up North rises faster than at the equator.”

He continued, “Now reflecting sunlight back into space would have the exact opposite pattern.  It would do a lot in the tropics where sunlight is strong, and less in the Arctic and Antarctic.  This is fundamentally true and cannot be fixed.  So, reflecting radiation back into space could cool the planet on average, but it cannot reverse the effect of the greenhouse gases – not even remotely.”

A recent New York Times article quotes Newt Gingrich, our former House speaker, in 2008 as saying “Instead of penalizing ordinary Americans, we would have an option to address global warming by rewarding scientific invention.”  He later added it would “Bring on American ingenuity.”  No matter how uninformed his observation, it is attractive for all since it removes the burden of changing anything, instead replacing it with a false hope.

A concern is that the political forces will rally around climate engineering or putting something in the atmosphere because it is “new business” for someone as opposed to reducing existing greenhouse gas emissions through changes in energy sources or usage that is costly for existing industries.  Existing industries are powerful lobbying sources that will use their political influence to focus efforts on others or push for climate engineering.  Companies small and large, researchers far and wide and entrepreneurs will vie for money and opportunity.

In February of 2015 a committee of the National Academy of Science (NAS) called for study of geoengineering options including federal funding for demonstration projects to test assumptions.  This does not mean however that the NAS views geoengineering positively.

In fact, the committee chairwoman, Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science Magazine and a former director of the U.S. Geological Survey, is quoted as telling The Associated Press on an Opinion Page of the New York Times “The public should read this report and say ‘This is downright scary.’  And they should say, ‘If this is our Hail Mary, what a scary, scary place we are in.’ ”

Ms. McNutt’s concern echoes that of futurist Jamais Cascio.   He suggested, “Global delays in reducing carbon emissions will likely force the human race to embark upon a set of geoengineering-based responses, not as the complete solution, but simply as a disaster-avoidance measure.”

Both have undoubtedly read a February 25, 2014 study published in Nature magazine that showed that geoengineering would not work.  They used an Earth system model and looked at the effectiveness of afforestation, artificial ocean upwelling, ocean iron fertilization, ocean alkalinization and solar radiation management during a high carbon dioxide-emission scenario.

The study team stated, “We find that even when applied continuously and at scales as large as currently deemed possible, all methods are, individually, either relatively ineffective with limited (<8%) warming reductions, or they have potentially severe side effects and cannot be stopped without causing rapid climate change.  Our simulations suggest that the potential for these types of climate engineering to make up for failed mitigation may be very limited.”

The evidence is in, existing geoengineering approaches will not work because the costs are too high, the approaches have been proven to be insufficient or with the complexity of the world atmosphere, we will certainly exchange one group of problems for another.  This only serves to delay the inevitable until it is too late.

There is a lot of talk about climate change and a lot of delay between discussion and action.  We all know we can control climate change by changing the way we live.  There is a serious question of whether we will.  The big questions are when will we act and what option will we choose.

We must follow our best scientific advice.  The scientists have said that “mitigation” or reducing the carbon dioxide modern society puts into the atmosphere is our best option.  It unfortunately requires a large change in how various industries conduct their business and in how we live.  But we must choose this option and we must do it now.  We cannot wait any longer.

Use the following links to access additional information or the source documents for this article.


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Ice Shelves & Glaciers: Melting, Melting, Melted

Posted on 28 April 2015 by Jerry

Glaciers around the world and Arctic/Antarctic ice are melting as a result of climate change.  Ice is showing its susceptibility to even small rises in temperature.  The continuing disappearance of glaciers and destruction of ice shelves is causing great concern.

The collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in the Antarctic in 2002 is continuing.  After having been one of the largest and fastest deteriorations scientists have ever seen, recent measurements show the ice shelves held glaciers in place.  Absent the shelves the glaciers have increased the speed of their flow causing a profound thinning that weakens them even further.  The glacier flow speed increased by 55% from 1997 to 2012 as the glaciers shrank even further.

A research team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego analyzed 18 years of satellite observations.  They determined the loss of ice-shelf volume in Antarctica increased from about 25 cubic kilometers per year from 1994 to 2003 to in excess of 300 cubic kilometers each year from 2003 to 2012.

Scientists have discovered ocean mixing that causes floating Arctic ice to be vulnerable to melting from warmer water below in an updraft that carries heat upward.  The article in the February 19, 2015 issue of Nature magazine states, “As sea ice disappears, the atmosphere can transfer more of its energy into the ocean which drives ocean mixing.”

Researchers led by Gary Clarke of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, have used climate models to predict 70% shrinkage of glaciers in Western Canada by the end of 2100 relative to those seen in 2005.  Their report states, “We project the maximum rate of ice volume loss, corresponding to peak input of deglacial meltwater to streams and rivers, to occur around 2020-2040.”

Climate change deniers used the surging or apparent growth of glaciers in the Himalayas as evidence that there is no global warming.  But scientists now suggest the glaciers of the Karakoram Range, which cover a total of 18,000 square kilometers or represent more than half the ice content of the Himalayas, are actually “surge” glaciers.  This means they are not necessarily adding to their mass but merely redistributing.

An article by Jane Qui in the March 27, 2015 issue of Science magazine, entitled “Himalayan ice can fool climate studies” states, “The 20 or so Karakoram glaciers they analyzed surged on a ‘surprisingly consistent’ schedule, he says (Frank Paul of the University of Zurich), at intervals ranging between 25 and 75 years….After a surge, the lower part of the glacier thins while snow accumulates on the upper part until it reaches a critical threshold, triggering another surge.”

Many scientists now believe the limit placed by most countries of the world on the heat rise from climate change will outstrip the +2° limit. While developing nations are pushing for a lower limit of +1.5°, most scientists believe this is to increase the size of assistance their countries receive from wealthier nations.  These poorer nations charge it was the wealthy countries’ economic progress that created the problem.

An article appearing in the April 2, 2015 issue of Nature magazine states, “It has become increasingly clear, however, that temperatures are destined to soar well beyond anything that humans have ever witnessed.  Even if countries keep to the emissions pledges they have made up to now, climate models predict that the world is on track for about +3° C of warming this century.”  This is the lowest level of the forecasted range of possibilities.

On a final note, we know the ice around the world is disappearing because we have seen our first article about how climate change has a negative impact on being employed.  The article in the April 16, 2015 issue of Nature magazine states that scientists who cover the cryosphere (places on Earth that are sheathed in ice) are having a difficult time coping with changes as a result of melting ice shelves and glaciers.

There are two effects of climate change that are being exacerbated by this disappearance of ice.  Glaciers provide water to downstream populations and their shrinkage will limit the fresh water that is available.  Ice shelves that are breaking up and melting will increase the water in the oceans and lead to a rising of ocean waters.

These effects are real and need to be of concern to everyone.  We need to push our elected representatives at all levels to acknowledge that these effects are real and must be dealt with before they reach the crisis stage.  We must have drinkable water and cannot afford to let the ocean invade the land.

Use the following links to access additional information or see the original articles used to prepare this blog.


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What Do We Do With Our Nuclear Waste?

Posted on 11 December 2014 by Jerry

The U.S. leads the planet in disposing of nuclear bomb related waste at its one of a kind Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) outside Carlsbad New Mexico.  This facility was featured in an earlier June 2014 article entitled “A Nuclear Explosion in the U.S. in February 2014?”

Unfortunately this article does not include descriptions of the environmental problem of having no permanent underground sites anywhere in the world to store high-level, power-related nuclear waste.  We continue to not clean up after ourselves at our nuclear power facilities.

There are over 460 nuclear power plants around the world.  A survey of nations shows many plans for underground national nuclear storage sites, none of which have been built.  The vast majority of these plans represent facilities to be constructed by 2025 or later.

Nuclear waste from power plants is characterized in four categories: Exempt waste and very low level waste, low-level waste, intermediate-level waste, and high-level waste.  While there is not an estimated figure that represents the total worldwide annual nuclear waste, we do get some sense of it from a Congressional Research Service report.

According to the report “There were 62,683 metric tons of commercial spent fuel accumulated in the United States as of the end of 2009.”   Further the report identifies that 48,818 metric tons were stored in pools (78%), 13,856 metric tons were stored in dry casks (22%) and that the total increases by 2,000 to 2,400 tons annually.   These figures do not include the weapons grade nuclear material stored at WIPP.

Some high-level waste goes through two processes.  First, spent fuel rods are kept in a pool of water on-site for at least a year.   Normally however, the spent rods are kept in the pools many years in order to cool them and provide protection from radioactivity.  These pools use reinforced concrete that is several feet thick in steel liners to store spent rods.  Many power plants never remove these spent rods from the storage pools.

Another option is to move the spent rods from the storage ponds to dry casks after they have cooled at least five years in one of the ponds.  Then the cooled and less radioactive spent fuel rods are ready for a more long-term storage solution.  A Stanford University web site states, “Dry Casks typically have a sealed metal cylinder to contain the spent fuel enclosed within a concrete or metal outer shell to provide radiation shielding.”

While the dry casks represent an enhanced level of safety over the pools with respect to accidents or terrorists, they are still more vulnerable than long-term underground storage.  Underground storage is the best possible solution according to an international scientific consensus.  This storage is generally focused on a period of 100,000 years.  Any longer time horizon is difficult.  Some would argue that as a practical matter 100,000 years is too long.

This ignores however that the stored rods would contain very radioactive elements.  Included is cesium-137 and strontium-90 have half-lives of 30 years after which they are only half as radioactive.  Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years

The World Nuclear Association describes a few countries that have plans.   As an example the “Swedish proposed KBS-3 disposal concept uses a copper container with a steel insert to contain the spent fuel. After placement in the repository about 500 meters deep in the bedrock, the container would be surrounded by a bentonite clay buffer to provide a very high level of containment of the radioactivity in the wastes over a very long time period.”

Their report continues, “Finland’s repository program is also based on the KBS-3 concept. Spent nuclear fuel packed in copper canisters will be embedded in the Olkiluoto bedrock at a depth of around 400 metres.”  A difference between country plans is the underground medium that is selected as the safest place for storage.  Some countries prefer salt deposits, others want granite and still others have selected clay.

This is yet again another example of a problem that we have refused to resolve over the last three decades.  The permanent underground storage is a more long-term solution than any other option and yet the world is incapable of moving on this solution.

Even though we can all agree that an underground storage site is desirable understandably no one wants one in their immediate vicinity.  In the U.S., after spending tens of billions of dollars, we abandoned the Yucca Mountain solution due to political opposition from the Nevada political establishment.

As long as we side step this long-term (semi) solution, nuclear power will continue to be controversial and more dangerous and costly than any solar or wind array.  Nuclear is still a better option than coal but we have to break the logjam of resistance at geologically acceptable sites before it becomes a viable alternative that falls on the “green” list of acceptable options.

A final solution is that citizens of each country must overwhelm political resistance from other people living near a geologically attractive site.  This is where the needs of the many out-weigh the desires of a few.  In the case of the U.S. this means we should insist that Yucca Mountain be made available for this nation’s long-term underground storage.

The other option is that the U.S. and other countries of the world agree on the optimum storage site in the world.  Then they collectively have to provide sufficient incentives for that country to step forward and volunteer to house the world’s nuclear waste underground storage site.

As a postscript to the earlier article about the nuclear explosion and contamination at the WIPP facility, the Columbus Dispatch has reported $54 million in fines levied by the government of New Mexico on the federal Energy Department.  These fines are largely because the WIPP and the Los Alamos lab did not follow the Energy Department’s own guidelines about handling nuclear waste.  It is reported that the Federal government will spend about $200 million more to eliminate radiation contamination at the WIPP facility.

At issue is the unsafe handling of a canister of waste that was sent to the WIPP by the Los Alamos labs.  This canister ruptured in a storage room and contaminated more than 20 workers at the facility.  The clean up has forced closure of the WIPP.  Some say the closure is for an indefinite amount of time.

Use the following links to access additional information or the source documents for this article. (click on Safely Managing Used Nuclear Fuel)–Storage-and-Disposal-Options/–fined-for-nuke-waste-errors.html

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