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Rising Heat, Decreasing Water

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Jerry

As a result of climate change supported by a consensus of the scientific community, extremely hot temperatures are being experienced more frequently around the world.  James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute in a recent report shared that extreme heat which used to strike about .02% of the world’s land area in any given summer now strikes about 10%.  The estimate is that within 10 years this will rise to 16.7%.

An article in the September 8, 2012 issue of Science News quotes John M. Wallace of the University of Washington as saying he sees a shift toward more extremely warm days and hotter extremes within those days.  He said there is good reason to believe global warming elevates extremes.

For a preview of areas of the world where water shortages will be significant by 2050 look at the accompanying chart which is reprinted from an article that appeared in Nature Magazine.  If you live in an area of the world where the human population is using water at a faster pace than it can be replenished you may need to follow the water and relocate to an area which still has a robust aquifer to support its population.  If you haven’t looked at the current technology and cost of desalinization, you may be in a place that will not be able to get water from the ocean.

At first glance, the surprise in the chart is the identity and number of areas with large ground water resources.  After some thought you may conclude the plentiful water supply correlates with relatively small human populations and/or areas which do not have large agricultural production and irrigation.  The authors of the article indicate the hyper water consuming nations are India, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mexico and the United States.

Focusing on just one of the areas of water shortage, an article in the February 8, 2013 issue of Science explores China’s worries about rising temperatures and the shrinking aquifer in the eastern rim of the North China Plain, China’s breadbasket.  In a country that already has 20% of the world’s population and only 7 percent of its arable land, which is shrinking due to urbanization, there is increasing demand for greater food consumption.  This added to rising temperatures which will further shorten the traditional growing seasons, will inevitably lead to lower crop yields. 

Northern China depends on the Yellow River and natural water table for irrigation.  Unfortunately, pollution of the river and diverting water for urban uses has caused the region to rely more heavily on its aquifer.  This has led to a steady shrinkage of available water as more water is consumed than can be replaced by rainfall.  The last four decades have seen the area use approximate 120 billion cubic meters more water than have been replenished in the aquifer. This coupled with rising sea levels in the traditional rice growing areas will put significant pressure on China to solve its water shortages and long term threats to its food supply.

After a few years of significant droughts in the United States, early signs from the nation’s snowpack show the droughts will continue.  With very light snow fall in the Rocky Mountains, the Western states reservoir water levels are still only half full.  This indicates the soil in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada is drier than normal once again.  In a New York Times article a Colorado farmer, Mike Hungenberg states “It’s approaching a critical situation.  A year ago we went into the spring season with most of the reservoirs full.  This year, you’re going in with basically everything empty.”

Some areas of the United States have benefited from a good winter snow which will ease their water shortages.  Some parts of Montana, Oregon, Utah, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri have reason for hope as a result of new rains and snows. Other areas are anticipating another year of drought.

Climate change leads to higher average temperatures which cause shrinking water supplies.  Increasing urbanization adds pressure on present aquifers.  The need to protect water supplies and/or plan for acquisition of water from other sources is a clear and present need for the areas affected.  We all should be mindful of what is causing this shortfall and what each of us needs to do to help fix it.  We should all embrace actions which conserve water even in areas where it is plentiful.

For additional information use the following links:

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/342823/description/extreme_hot_spells_rising

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v488/n7410/full/nature11295.html  

http://www.nature.com/news/demand-for-water-outstrips-supply-1.11143

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6120/644.summary?sid=183e5277-6810-4ce1-aa13-9c8c09bb8086

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/23/us/in-drought-stricken-heartland-snow-is-no-savior.html

 

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Coal to Overtake Oil, Natural Gas is a Questionable Substitute

Posted on 31 January 2013 by Jerry

At the present rate of demand, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that coal will overtake oil as the top world energy source within a decade.  Driven by increasing use around the globe this does not bode well for efforts to slow or reduce climate change.  Increasing consumption in both China and India is projected to exceed that of the United States by 2017.  Without any significant breakthroughs in carbon capture and sequester (CCS), which would remove harmful chemicals from the output of coal plants, coal will continue to be very cheap and very dirty.

United States coal demand is declining because of the substitution of plentiful, less expensive natural gas.  New natural gas extraction techniques, such as hydraulic fracking which pulls gas out of shale deposits, coupled with increasing distribution around the world purportedly offer a cost effective, cleaner substitute for coal.  IEA executive director, Maria van der Hoeven has said that “The U.S. experience suggests that a more efficient gas market marked by flexible pricing and fueled by indigenous unconventional resources that are produced sustainably, can reduce coal use, CO2 emissions and consumer electricity bills, without harming energy security.”

Unfortunately (see 2-26-12 post, “Natural Gas My Speed Climate Change”) the natural gas bonanza for the U.S. may ultimately turn out to be part of the problem rather than solution.  In the earlier article we described results from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and University of Colorado study of methane leaks conducted in a natural gas field near Denver.  Methane is the dominant component of natural gas.  That original study showed a total leakage of 4% of the total gas produced at that field.  This 4% is twice the level the government has assumed for these fields.  Two percent makes natural gas competitive with coal.  Four percent or higher makes coal the better choice. The four percent level of leakage makes natural gas dirtier and more harmful to the environment than coal.

Now the same scientists have reported new data from the original Colorado gas field which supports earlier findings.  In addition, they have released preliminary results of a new, more sophisticated, study of leakage at a natural gas field in Utah which showed an even higher level of leakage.  These measurements show a 9% leakage of total production.  These two high levels of natural gas leakage if duplicated in other studies across the country would suggest we halt production until the leakage problem is corrected.

It also indicates we should not approve the Keystone XL Pipeline which will open up many more areas of Canada to natural gas production.  Otherwise natural gas is a much greater contributor to climate change than we ever imagined, greater than coal.  It will be very difficult however, to slow the land rush for natural gas since the profit motive is often the dominant and overriding motivator in the U.S. and Canada.

Use the following links to access additional information:

http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2012/december/name,34441,en.html

http://www.nature.com/news/methane-leaks-erode-green-credentials-of-natural-gas-1.12123

http://iamaguardian.com/490/natural-gas-may-speed-climate-change/

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