Focus of the Week – New sea level rise warning and — a year of action
2–CLIMATE CHANGE AND EXTREME EVENTS with special DROUGHT section
3– ADAPTATION and HOPE
NOTE: Please pass on my weekly news update that has been prepared for
Point Blue Conservation Science
staff. You can find these weekly compilations posted on line by clicking here. For more information please see www.pointblue.org.
The items contained in this update were drawn from www.dailyclimate.org, www.sciencedaily.com, http://news.google.com, www.climateprogress.org, www.sfgate.com, and other sources as indicated. This is a compilation of information available on-line, not verified and not endorsed by Point Blue Conservation Science.
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Focus of the Week– New sea level rise warning and — a year of action
Monday’s new study greatly increases the potential for catastrophic near-term sea level rise. Here, Miami Beach, among the most vulnerable cities to sea level rise in the world. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
By Eric Holthaus July 20 2015 4:23 PM slate.com
In what may prove to be a turning point for political action on climate change, a breathtaking new study casts extreme doubt about the near-term stability of global sea levels. The study—written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, and 16 co-authors, many of whom are considered among the top in their fields—concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years.
The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, brings new importance to a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate. Hansen, who is known for being alarmist and also right, acknowledges that his study implies change far beyond previous consensus estimates. In a conference call with reporters, he said he hoped the new findings would be “substantially more persuasive than anything previously published.” I certainly find them to be. To come to their findings, the authors used a mixture of paleoclimate records, computer models, and observations of current rates of sea level rise, but “the real world is moving somewhat faster than the model,” Hansen says….
Hansen’s study does not attempt to predict the precise timing of the feedback loop,only that it is “likely” to occur this century. The implications are mindboggling: In the study’s likely scenario, New York City—and every other coastal city on the planet—may only have a few more decades of habitability left. That dire prediction, in Hansen’s view, requires “emergency cooperation among nations.” ….
The village of Ilulissat is seen near icebergs that broke off from the Jakobshavn Glacier on July 24, 2013 in Ilulissat, Greenland. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
By Chris Mooney July 23 2015 Washington Post
It has been widely discussed — but not yet peer reviewed. Now, though, you can at least read it for yourself and see what you think. A lengthy, ambitious, and already contested paper by longtime NASA climate scientist James Hansen and 16 colleagues appeared online Thursday in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion, an open-access journal published by the European Geosciences Union. The paper, entitled “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 ◦C global warming is highly dangerous” is now open for comment — peer review in this journal happens in public.
And given how much attention the work has already received, it’s likely to generate plenty of comments from fellow scientists. The study raises the possibility of a more rapid rate of sea level rise in this century than forecast by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose research is widely regarded as the gold standard of climate research — but also often criticized for being too conservative. Moreover, the study postulates that this faster sea level rise, brought on by the melting of parts of Antarctica and Greenland, could lead to a number of climate change “feedbacks” that could shut down the oceans’ circulation; stratify the polar seas with warmer waters trapped below cold surface layers; increase the temperature difference between low and high latitudes; and generate stronger storms.
In reporting on the paper this week, The Post solicited comments from five noted climate scientists — as did other journalists — so in a sense, the peer review has already begun. One of them — Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research — strongly criticized the study, saying that “there are way too many assumptions and extrapolations for anything here to be taken seriously other than to promote further studies.” Other researchers also expressed skepticism about some parts of the work — particularly the suggested feedbacks — but acknowledged that they, too, have great concerns about sea level rise from the melting of ice sheets, especially if global warming exceeds 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. So it remains to be seen what the scientific community, overall, will make of this work. Nevertheless, it is already notable that a group of prominent scientists — not just Hansen, but also his 16 co-authors, working in fields, such as glaciology, oceanography, and paleo-climatology (or the study of the climates of past planetary eras) — are worried that sea level rise of more than 1 meter is a threat this century. Now, the question becomes to what extent the broader scientific community does — or does not — agree. In the end, that process could very well lead many researchers to seek out a middle ground. In fact, some already have. “There is no doubt that the sea level rise, within the IPCC, is a very conservative number,” says Greg Holland, a climate and hurricane researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who has also reviewed the Hansen study. “So the truth lies somewhere between IPCC and Jim.”
To read the full Hansen et al study, click here. [The world’s most famous climate scientist just outlined an alarming scenario for our planet’s future]
A New Climate-Change Danger Zone?
By Elizabeth Kolbert July 23, 2015 the New Yorker
How much does the climate have to change for it to be “dangerous”? This question has vexed scientists ever since the first climate models were developed, back in the nineteen-seventies. It was provisionally answered in 2009, though by politicians rather than scientists. According to an agreement known as the Copenhagen Accord, which was brokered by President Barack Obama, to avoid danger, the world needs “to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius” (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Now a group of climate modellers is arguing that the danger point is, in fact, a lot lower than that. In a paper set to appear online this week in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, the modellers, led by James Hansen, the former director of NASA‘s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warn that an increase of two degrees Celsius could still be enough to melt large portions of Antarctica, which, in turn, could result in several metres’ worth of sea-level rise in a matter of decades. What’s important about the paper from a layperson’s perspective—besides the fate of the world’s major coastal cities, many of which would be swamped if the oceans rose that high—is that it shows just how far from resolved, scientifically speaking, the question of danger levels remains. And this has important political implications, though it seems doubtful that politicians will heed them.
To understand the significance of the new paper, it helps to go back to a pair of earlier papers on Antarctic melt, which appeared last year. In those papers, two teams of scientists independently reached the same conclusion: the disintegration of a major portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably already under way. “Early stage collapse has begun,” one of the teams wrote in the journal Science. The leader of the other team seconded that view, saying, “The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears unstoppable.”
The two papers were, to put it mildly, bad news. “This is what a holy shit moment for global warming looks like” is how Mother Jones put it. All told, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough water to raise global sea levels by more than ten feet. Still, both of last year’s papers concluded that the melt of a major portion of the ice sheet, while perhaps already irreversible, would likely take centuries to play out.
What the new paper does is look back at a previous relatively warm period, known as the Eemian, or, even less melodically, as Marine Isotope Stage 5e, which took place before the last ice age, about a hundred and twenty thousand years ago. During the Eemian, average global temperatures seem to have been only about one degree Celsius above today’s, but sea levels were several metres higher. The explanation for this, the new paper suggests, is that melt from Antarctica is a non-linear process. Its rate accelerates as fresh water spills off the ice sheet, producing a sort of “lid” that keeps heat locked in the ocean and helps to melt more ice from below. From this, the authors conclude that “rapid sea level rise may begin sooner than is generally assumed,” and also that a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius would put the world well beyond “danger.”
“We conclude that the 2°C global warming ‘guardrail,’ affirmed in the Copenhagen Accord, does not provide safety, as such warming would likely yield sea level rise of several metres along with numerous other severely disruptive consequences for human society and ecosystems,” Hansen and his colleagues wrote.
The new paper has received a lot of attention because, as Eric Holthaus put it for Slate, Hansen is “known for being alarmist and also right.” (I wrote a Profile of Hansen for the magazine, in 2009.) The paper has not been peer-reviewed—it is being published in a “discussion” journal—and several other scientists have called its methods iffy. Kevin Trenberth, a prominent researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado, for example, told the Washington Post that the paper was “rife with speculation and ‘what if’ scenarios,’ ” and that many of the scenarios “did not seem at all realistic.”
But whether or not Hansen is in this case right, his new paper highlights a crucial point, one that even those who question his methods would probably agree on. The two-degree goal offered in the Copenhagen Accord is more a reflection of what seemed politically feasible than what is scientifically advisable. A group of prominent climatologists put it this way a few months before the accord was drafted: “We feel compelled to note that even a ‘moderate’ warming of 2°C stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society, leading potentially to the conflict and suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations.”
Meanwhile, holding warming to two degrees would, at this point, require a herculean effort—one that the same world leaders who agreed to the Copenhagen Accord now seem unwilling or unable to make. A number of commentators have recently questioned whether, practically speaking, it is even still possible. “The goal is effectively unachievable,” David Victor, of the University of California, San Diego, and Charles Kennel, of the Scripps Institution, wrote recently in Nature. (The commentary was accompanied by a drawing of a feverish and exhausted-looking globe hooked up to a variety of life-support systems.) Thus, whether the “danger” zone lies below two degrees Celsius or above, the world seems bent on reaching it—with all the suffering and challenges to “civilized society” that go with it.
JOHAVEL / ISTOCK / THINKSTOCK
A year of action
Nature Climate Change Editorial
Nature Climate Change 5, 703 (2015) doi:10.1038/nclimate2752 Published online 24 July 2015
This year is make or break for climate and a sustainable future. The opportunity to make genuine progress on these grand societal challenges must not be squandered.
Later this year, the twenty-first Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is expected to agree an international and legally binding agreement on climate action. Preparation for COP21 is underway, with countries slowly beginning to communicate their planned post-2020 climate actions (intended nationally determined contributions) to the UNFCCC secretariat (http://go.nature.com/OUU2rq). But with only 18 pledges so far on the table there is still a long way to go, and it is by no means clear that the global community is prepared to do what is needed to limit warming to 2 °C, let alone to achieve the more ambitious targets called for by some developing countries.
It is not just climate change that is being addressed on the international policy stage this year; sustainable development will also be in the spotlight, with the United Nations Summit to Adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda being held in New York in September. The summit is expected to agree and set in motion the sustainable development goals (SDGs) first mooted at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012. These new goals will run to 2030, and follow on from the eight Millennium Development Goals established in 2000, which have achieved varying levels of success (www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs290/en). The SDGs will need to account for future climate change, making 2015 a crucial year for international action in both the climate change and development spheres.
These upcoming meetings have spurred action from many sections of society and encouraged debate on what people want for the future. For example, in an encyclical letter to Catholics, Pope Francis acknowledges that anthropogenic climate change is real and that it has potentially serious implications for humanity (http://go.nature.com/7IbiB5). Pope Francis notes the overconsumption by rich nations and the impact this is having on the poor, as well as the lack of global action on climate change, and encourages individuals to make personal changes.
Reaching a potentially different audience — certainly a trendier one — boy band One Direction launched Action/1D (http://action1d.onedirectionmusic.com), part of action/2015 (http://action2015.org), which strives to inspire individuals to make their voices heard and influence world leaders. Alongside other similar initiatives, these will help open up the debate and engage a wider group of actors than just policymakers and politicians.
Individuals’ perceptions of climate change are important in determining the level of public support for global actions to tackle it. But their experiences of local weather can also affect their climate change beliefs. Indeed, personal exposure to extreme events such as heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods can motivate people to take their own action on climate change — by using energy and resources more efficiently or sparingly, for example. Flavio Lehner and Thomas Stocker (page 731) assess the influence of local experiences versus global change on climate change beliefs, showing that the former can be critical. Their analysis reveals a steady increase in the share of the world population exposed to warmer-than-normal temperatures. This is not what would be expected if one were just to consider global mean temperature anomalies, or indeed the much-hyped slowdown in surface temperatures over recent decades, but it is in line with current climate models. Presenting the information in this way, rather than talking about global averages, should help increase confidence in climate model projections.
How best to convey climate change science is an ongoing discussion. The IPCC has prepared five reports since 1990, each including a summary for policymakers, yet there is concern that these reports have not been sufficiently effective in communicating information about climate change, especially to the general public (see, for example, the recent Commentary by Richard Black (Nature Clim. Change
5, 282–284; 2015).
So how can communication improve? Every discipline speaks its own language, with terminology and jargon specific to a field, and this can be impenetrable to outsiders. But greater contact and discussion between fields should lead to a ‘common’ language. No doubt with this in the minds of its organizers, Our Common Future Under Climate Change (a meeting held in Paris this July) brought together scientists from a diverse range of disciplines, along with stakeholders and the general public to discuss and prepare for COP21 and its outcomes.
If, as so many people hope, 2015 sees the emergence of a grand coalition of nations and citizens determined to act individually and collectively on climate change and sustainable development, it will be a year to remember for all the right reasons.
Long-billed dowitchers like this one have full plumage when they’re breeding, but they lose feathers on their migratory stopovers. Without their flight feathers, they can’t fly long distances or avoid predators. Tim Fitzharris, Minden/National Geographic
Migrating birds are weakened or sickened as they wing their way along the Pacific flyway in search of fresh water.
By Jane Kay, National Geographic PUBLISHED July 16, 2015
Suisun City, California—In years past, long-billed dowitchers flying in from Alaska could count on California stopovers to offer vast stretches of fresh melted snow teeming with plants and insects. But now, as the Sierra Nevada snowpack has vanished and clouds offer little rain, few lush sanctuaries are available to sustain these shorebirds on their journey along the avian highway known as the Pacific flyway. Experts say that once the dowitchers arrive in the Central Valley this month, their prospects look bleak. Along the 4,000-mile-long Pacific flyway—one of four main routes in North America for migrating birds—up to six million ducks, geese, and swans wing south every year to find warmth after raising young in the rich habitats of Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. They are joined by millions of shorebirds, songbirds, and seabirds, including the ultimate endurance winner, the arctic tern. But California’s drought has dried up its wetlands. Many insects, fish, and plants are gone. As a result, some migrating birds have died or been depleted of so much energy that they have trouble reproducing. Thousands of ducks and geese, crowded onto parched rivers and marshes, are felled by botulism and cholera, which race through their feeding grounds. Drought and deluge are part of the natural cycle of life in California. But species that have migrated for thousands of years on the same routes since glacial sheets melted at the end of the Pleistocene now struggle to adapt to human-managed water supplies in the backdrop of a globally changing climate that exacerbates dry spells. “The longer droughts are the worst. At first, the energy deficits from too little food affect the weaker or younger ones. In back-to-back droughts, even the strong birds get pushed to the limit,” says Blake Barbaree, an avian ecologist at Point Blue Conservation Science, a nonprofit research center in Petaluma, California. The Pacific flyway cuts through interior California and along the state’s coast, through habitat that has vastly changed after four years of severe drought and decades of water diversions. Sandhill cranes and greater yellowlegs flying from Anchorage, Alaska, will reach the Kern National Wildlife Refuge near Bakersfield only to find a mere trickle….
Posted: 22 Jul 2015 01:42 PM PDT
The benefits people reap from nature — or the harm they can suffer from natural disasters — can seem as obvious as an earthquake. Yet putting numbers to changes in those ecosystem services and how human well-being is affected has fallen short, until now. A team of researchers is advancing new modeling technology to quantify human dependence on nature, human well-being, and relationships between the two.
Posted: 22 Jul 2015 01:42 PM PDT
Animal populations on islands tend to develop weird traits over time, becoming big or small or losing the ability to fly. One less-studied pattern of evolution on islands is the tendency for animal populations to develop ‘melanism’ (dark coloration), and researchers have now confirmed that bird populations on smaller islands include more dark individuals, for a surprising reason: melanic birds are more aggressive, making them better competitors when space is limited.
Posted: 23 Jul 2015 04:05 PM PDT
More than 70 percent of pollen and honey samples collected from foraging bees in Massachusetts contain at least one neonicotinoid, a class of pesticide that has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder, in which adult bees abandon their hives during winter….
Posted: 23 Jul 2015 09:56 AM PDT
Both prescription and illegal drugs such as morphine, cocaine and oxycodone have been found in surface waters in Canadian rivers. New research shows that wastewater discharged from wastewater treatment plants in the Grand River watershed of southern Ontario has the potential to contaminate sources of drinking water with these drugs.
Posted: 23 Jul 2015 06:19 AM PDT
Reintroducing a species into an area where it has vanished can be a great tool for conservation, but for reintroduction to be successful it’s crucial to understand how the habitat has changed in the interim. A recent study examined the diet of reintroduced Bald Eagles in California’s Channel Islands and compared it to the diet of the historical population, and the results show evidence of a healthy ecosystem bolstered by recent seabird conservation efforts.
By Point Blue Research Associate Dr. Annie Schmidt (and collaborators) — Chapter 2 of her thesis in PLOS One on the shifting influence of ocean conditions on survival and probability of breeding in Brandt’s Cormorants:
Annie E. Schmidt , Kristen E. Dybala, Louis W. Botsford, John M. Eadie, Russell W. Bradley, Jaime Jahncke
Published: July 13, 2015DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0132372
Scientists must work closely with farmers to ensure that agriculture can stand up to the ravages of climate change.
21 July 2015 NATURE
Ignore the climate sceptics who set up a straw man of the need for ‘settled science’ and then burn it to the ground. Ambiguity is the acknowledged refrain of the climate-change symphony. From storms to sea-level rise, all projections of future change are surrounded by a residual uncertainty that will not go away, no matter how sophisticated our climate (and climate-impact) models may become. The future of global agriculture is one of the most urgent issues in a warming world. Farmers must prepare for, and adapt to, a changed climate that is likely to feature more erratic rainfall, temperature extremes, drought, soil erosion, invasive weeds and durable pests. Science, error bars included, has much to offer these efforts. But if adaptation is to work, climate scientists, agricultural researchers, farmers and government officials must work closely together….And climate change is far from the only uncertain outcome that farmers must grapple with as they prepare for the future. Trade, technology and socio-economic change can affect agriculture just as profoundly as changes in rainfall and temperature. Farmers are natural adaptors. They have been tweaking and changing their practices since humans first began to grow food, and most today have a keen sense of what works best on their fields. But climate change may require drastic measures beyond the capability of individual farmers, from expensive irrigation schemes to the transformation of farming systems. …. There are as many different ways for agriculture to adapt to climate change as there are different types of agriculture.”The science of climate-change adaptation must engage and listen to the people it is supposed to serve.”
Models of different scenarios concerning crops, climate and economics can help, but only up to a point. Agriculture is an early adopter when it comes to using science to inform and guide adaptation. However, this use of science does not rely only on the scale of models and the skills of modellers: trust, intuition and cultural empathy are just as important.
Developing an improved crop variety in the lab is a very different thing from convincing farmers to adopt conservation agriculture, switch to semi-arid farming systems or do anything else that may not come with an immediate, tangible benefit. To produce any ‘actionable’ outcomes, the science of climate-change adaptation must therefore engage and listen to the people it is supposed to serve.
As we discuss in a News Feature on page 396, adaptation researchers are increasingly aware of this communication challenge. Science-led initiatives, such as Modelling European Agriculture with Climate Change for Food Security and the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP), are being pursued in close consultation with local experts and farming communities. Such programmes are a valuable step beyond coarse academic projections of climate impacts such as changes in global crop yields, which lack regional specificity.
Regional studies suffer from the inevitable uncertainty over the magnitude and manifestations of climate change, and perhaps even more over the course of socio-economic and technological development. But carefully crafted regional case studies, informed by locally sourced data, can produce plausible future scenarios from which local planners can draw a range of tailored adaptation options. AgMIP aims to produce a standard experimental protocol to study climate impacts on farming, which will help adaptation efforts even further. If it succeeds, the programme should solidify adaptation research, in the same way that model comparisons have improved the consistency of the physical climate sciences. The future is uncertain, but that cannot be used as an excuse to fail to plan for it.
Resilient: Soil, water and the new stewards of the American West
(10 minute video)
Jun 15, 2015
A new study by Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) proposed a new estimate on upper 0-700m ocean warming rate from 1970 to 2014: 0.55 ± 0.14 × 1022 J yr−1 (168TW). This estimate indicates a quicker upper ocean warming than previous estimates (i.e. the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, IPCC-AR5). Ocen heat content (OHC) change contributes substantially to global sea level rise (30%~50%), and provides a key metric for the earth’s energy budget (90% of the earth’s energy imbalance is stored in the ocean), so it is a vital task for the climate research community to estimate historical OHC. While there are large uncertainties regarding its value. IPCC AR5 provided five independent estimates of historical OHC change from 1970 to 2010 by five different international groups ranging from 74TW~137TW. Among these values, the minimum is as much as a half of the maximum, implying large divergence in the assessment of the ocean warming rate. That’s because there are several major error sources during OHC estimation. Dr. CHENG Lijing, Prof. ZHU Jiang from IAP carried out a series of studies examining and quantifying the error sources in OHC estimates, including systematic biases in ocean temperature observations: expendable bathythermograph (XBT) data (Cheng et al. 2014), insufficient vertical resolution of historical temperature profiles (Cheng and Zhu, 2014a), choosing a proper climatology, and how to infill the data gaps (Cheng and Zhu, 2014b). These improvements lead to a new reconstruction of historical upper (0–700 m) OHC change, which is presented in this study as the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) version of historical upper OHC assessment.
CHENG and ZHU then worked with John Abraham from University of St. Thomas, USA, and obtained upper 0–700 m OHC trend which is 0.55 ± 0.14 × 1022 J yr−1 (168TW) from 1970 to 2014 (Figure 1a, in red), stronger than IPCC-AR5’s estimates. The long-term trend reveals the signal of anthropogenic forcing since industrial revolution, and inter-annual variability is dominated by El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
Furthermore, they show that Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, Phase 5 (CMIP5) simulations have limited ability in capturing the interannual and decadal variability of historical upper OHC changes during the past 45 years (Figure 1b).
Climate markers continue to show global warming trend
July 17, 2015 NOAA
In 2014, the most essential indicators of Earth’s changing climate continued to reflect trends of a warming planet, with several markers such as rising land and ocean temperature, sea levels and greenhouse gases — setting new records. These key findings and others can be found in the State of the Climate in 2014 report released online by the American Meteorological Society (AMS)…. The report, compiled by NOAA’s Center for Weather and Climate at the National Centers for Environmental Information is based on contributions from 413 scientists from 58 countries around the world. It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments located on land, water, ice, and in space.
- Tropical Pacific Ocean moves towards El Niño-Southern Oscillation conditions: The El Niño-Southern Oscillation was in a neutral state during 2014, although it was on the cool side of neutral at the beginning of the year and approached warm El Niño conditions by the end of the year. This pattern played a major role in several regional climate outcomes.
- Sea surface temperatures were record high: The globally averaged sea surface temperature was the highest on record. The warmth was particularly notable in the North Pacific Ocean, where temperatures are in part likely driven by a transition of the Pacific decadal oscillation — a recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centered in the region.
- Key highlights from the report include:
- Greenhouse gases continued to climb: Major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, continued to rise during 2014, once again reaching historic high values. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations increased by 1.9 ppm in 2014, reaching a global average of 397.2 ppm for the year. This compares with a global average of 354.0 in 1990 when this report was first published just 25 years ago.
- Record temperatures observed near the Earth’s surface: Four independent global datasets showed that 2014 was the warmest year on record. The warmth was widespread across land areas. Europe experienced its warmest year on record, with more than 20 countries exceeding their previous records. Africa had above-average temperatures across most of the continent throughout 2014, Australia saw its third warmest year on record, Mexico had its warmest year on record, and Argentina and Uruguay each had their second warmest year on record. Eastern North America was the only major region to experience below-average annual temperatures.
- Sea surface temperatures were record high: The globally averaged sea surface temperature was the highest on record. The warmth was particularly notable in the North Pacific Ocean, where temperatures are in part likely driven by a transition of the Pacific decadal oscillation — a recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centered in the region. Tropical Pacific Ocean moves towards El Niño-Southern Oscillation conditions: The El Niño-Southern Oscillation was in a neutral state during 2014, although it was on the cool side of neutral at the beginning of the year and approached warm El Niño conditions by the end of the year. This pattern played a major role in several regional climate outcomes.
- Global upper ocean heat content was record high: Globally, upper ocean heat content reached a record high for the year, reflecting the continuing accumulation of thermal energy in the upper layer of the oceans. Oceans absorb over 90 percent of Earth’s excess heat from greenhouse gas forcing.
- Global sea level was record high: Global average sea level rose to a record high in 2014. This keeps pace with the 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year trend in sea level growth observed over the past two decades.
- The Arctic continued to warm; sea ice extent remained low: The Arctic experienced its fourth warmest year since records began in the early 20th century. Arctic snow melt occurred 20-30 days earlier than the 1998-2010 average. On the North Slope of Alaska, record high temperatures at 20-meter depth were measured at four of five permafrost observatories. The Arctic minimum sea ice extent reached 1.94 million square miles on September 17, the sixth lowest since satellite observations began in 1979. The eight lowest minimum sea ice extents during this period have occurred in the last eight years.
- The Antarctic showed highly variable temperature patterns; sea ice extent reached record high: Temperature patterns across the Antarctic showed strong seasonal and regional patterns of warmer-than-normal and cooler-than-normal conditions, resulting in near-average conditions for the year for the continent as a whole. The Antarctic maximum sea ice extent reached a record high of 7.78 million square miles on September 20. This is 220,000 square miles more than the previous record of 7.56 million square miles that occurred in 2013. This was the third consecutive year of record maximum sea ice extent.
- Tropical cyclones above average overall: There were 91 tropical cyclones in 2014, well above the 1981-2010 average of 82 storms. The 22 named storms in the Eastern/Central Pacific were the most to occur in the basin since 1992. Similar to 2013, the North Atlantic season was quieter than most years of the last two decades with respect to the number of storms.
The State of the Climate in 2014 is the 25th edition in a peer-reviewed series published annually as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The journal makes the full report openly available online.
The Earth is on track to beating 2014 as the hottest year ever recorded.
By Seth Borenstein Posted: 07/20/2015 | Edited: 07/20/2015 08:05 PM EDT WASHINGTON (AP) — Earth dialed the heat up in June, smashing warm temperature records for both the month and the first half of the year.
Off-the-charts heat is “getting to be a monthly thing,” said Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. June was the fourth month of 2015 that set a record, she said. “There is almost no way that 2015 isn’t going to be the warmest on record,” she added. NOAA calculated that the world’s average temperature in June hit 61.48 degrees Fahrenheit (16.33 Celsius), breaking the old record set last year by 0.22 degrees (.12 degrees Celsius). Usually temperature records are broken by one or two one-hundredths of a degree, not nearly a quarter of a degree, Blunden said. And the picture is even more dramatic when the half-year is considered….
Posted: 20 Jul 2015 10:32 AM PDT
Marine biologists have found that an increased ocean acidification will dramatically affect global populations of phytoplankton — microorganisms on the ocean surface that make up the base of the marine food chain. Oceans have absorbed up to 30 percent of human-made carbon dioxide around the world, storing dissolved carbon for hundreds of years. As the uptake of carbon dioxide has increased in the last century, so has the acidity of oceans worldwide. Since pre-industrial times, the pH of the oceans has dropped from an average of 8.2 to 8.1 today. Projections of climate change estimate that by the year 2100, this number will drop further, to around 7.8 — significantly lower than any levels seen in open ocean marine communities today. …In a study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers report that increased ocean acidification by 2100 will spur a range of responses in phytoplankton: Some species will die out, while others will flourish, changing the balance of plankton species around the world. The researchers also compared phytoplankton’s response not only to ocean acidification, but also to other projected drivers of climate change, such as warming temperatures and lower nutrient supplies. For instance, the team used a numerical model to see how phytoplankton as a whole will migrate significantly, with most populations shifting toward the poles as the planet warms. Based on global simulations, however, they found the most dramatic effects stemmed from ocean acidification….”The fact that there are so many different possible changes, that different phytoplankton respond differently, means there might be some quite traumatic changes in the communities over the course of the 21st century. A whole rearrangement of the communities means something to both the food web further up, but also for things like cycling of carbon.”… the team performed a meta-analysis, compiling data from 49 papers in which others have studied how single species grow at lower pH levels. Such experiments typically involve placing organisms in a flask and recording their biomass in solutions of varying acidity. In all, the papers examined 154 experiments of phytoplankton. The researchers divided the species into six general, functional groups, including diatoms, Prochlorococcus, and coccolithophores, then charted the growth rates under more acidic conditions. They found a whole range of responses to increasing acidity, even within functional groups, with some “winners” that grew faster than normal, while other “losers” died out….
Stephanie Dutkiewicz, J. Jeffrey Morris, Michael J. Follows, Jeffery Scott, Orly Levitan, Sonya T. Dyhrman, Ilana Berman-Frank. Impact of ocean acidification on the structure of future phytoplankton communities. Nature Climate Change, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2722
Posted: 20 Jul 2015 06:24 AM PDT
Marine species that already roam far and wide throughout our oceans are extending their territories further and faster in response to climate change, according to new research an international team of biodiversity experts. The study found that while species that have large ranges are able to make their way to cooler waters, small-ranging species are in increased jeopardy as our planet’s oceans continue to warm.
Jennifer M. Sunday, Gretta T. Pecl, Stewart Frusher, Alistair J. Hobday, Nicole Hill, Neil J. Holbrook, Graham J. Edgar, Rick Stuart-Smith, Neville Barrett, Thomas Wernberg, Reg A. Watson, Dan A. Smale, Elizabeth A. Fulton, Dirk Slawinski, Ming Feng, Ben T. Radford, Peter A. Thompson, Amanda E. Bates. Species traits and climate velocity explain geographic range shifts in an ocean-warming hotspot. Ecology Letters, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12474
Posted: 23 Jul 2015 03:13 PM PDT
New research reveals that some of the earliest civilizations in the Middle East and the Fertile Crescent may have been affected by abrupt climate change. These findings show that while socio-economic factors were traditionally considered to shape ancient human societies in this region, the influence of abrupt climate change should not be underestimated.
Posted: 23 Jul 2015 03:11 PM PDT
New research has revealed abrupt warming, that closely resembles the rapid man-made warming occurring today, has repeatedly played a key role in mass extinction events of large animals, the megafauna, in Earth’s past
Posted: 20 Jul 2015 10:36 AM PDT
Over a 35-year period, the length of forest fire seasons worldwide increased by 18.7 percent due to more rain-free days and hotter temperatures, according to research. The study examined weather data from 1979 through 2013 to determine how a changing climate impacts forest ecosystems.
Posted: 23 Jul 2015 05:38 AM PDT
Mangrove forests could play a crucial role in protecting coastal areas from sea level rise caused by climate change, according to new research. Scientists did leading-edge mathematical simulations to study how mangrove forests respond to elevated sea levels. Taking New Zealand mangrove data as the basis of a new modelling system, the team were able to predict what will happen to different types of estuaries and river deltas when sea levels rise
Filtration tanks at Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant on Feb. 18. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Santa Barbara City Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved spending $55 million to reactivate a mothballed desalination plant that could provide the city with nearly a third of its drinking water. The Charles E. Meyer Desalination Facility was built during a drought in the 1990s but closed in 1992 when desperation for water subsided. The plant was never utilized beyond a testing period, but the city maintained it in the event that a severe water shortage might once again threaten the city. “Desalination has been a last resort,” Mayor Helene Schneider told The Times Tuesday night after the vote. “The way the drought has continued these last four years, we are really getting at that last resort.” The process of reopening the plant began last September, when Lake Cachuma, the city’s main reservoir, dipped below 30% capacity. The City Council that month voted to jump-start efforts to bring the desalination plant back online. The contract approved Tuesday includes about $46.6 million for design and construction. Additional costs come from legal and consulting fees during the permitting process. The plant is expected to be operating by fall 2016. “We recognize it’s a big decision to make,” Schneider said. “We also recognize that desalination is not just for this particular drought — they are cyclical.” The city has been recognized for its water conservation efforts, with per capita water use falling several gallons below other Southern California cities.
CREDIT: Courtesy of WaterFX. The parabolic solar panels at WaterFX’s demonstration solar desalination plant in California’s Panoche Water and Drainage District.
by Ari Phillips Jul 23, 2015 8:00am
Solar power turns the sun’s energy into electricity. Desalination removes unwanted minerals from saltwater so it can be used for drinking or agriculture. These two technologies have typically been employed separately in the effort to live more sustainably and limit dependence on finite resources. Now in California, a company has found a way to merge the two with the aim of providing long-term relief to farmers suffering the impacts of the state’s devastating four-year drought. The implications are far-reaching, as agriculture accounts for 80 percent of water use in California and roughly 70 percent of water use globally. In California alone, there is an estimated one million acre-feet of irrigation drainage that could be treated and reused if solar desalination catches on. “Conserving or recycling even a small share of this water can make a big difference,” Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project and a Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society, told ThinkProgress. WaterFX, a San Francisco-based water producer for agricultural and commercial users, recently announced that its California subsidiary, HydroRevolution, plans to build the state’s first commercial solar desalination plant. To be located in the agriculture-intensive Central Valley, the plant will ultimately generate up to 5,000 acre-feet, or 1.6 billion gallons, of clean water per year — enough water for 10,000 homes or 2,000 acres of cropland. It will be built on 35 acres of land currently used to grow salt-tolerant crops, and will recycle unusable irrigation water from a 7,000-acre drainage area into a new and much-needed source of freshwater for nearby water districts by removing unwanted mineral and salts. It could be a win-win for farmers and the environment. Using something called Aqua4 technology, the desalination process creates zero excess discharge and produces only freshwater and solid salt as co-products. This differs from traditional desalination where up to half the discharge ends up as brine back in the ocean. This is not the only way solar desalination differs from traditional reverse osmosis desalination projects, where sea water is the main input. There are currently several of these large-scale projects in use or under construction along the California coastline. Conventional desalination plants force salt and other minerals through a membrane; they are energy-intensive and can also harm marine life and disturb coastal ecosystems. The solar desalination plants developed by WaterFX use solar thermal energy to avoid the use of fossil fuel-powered electricity….
Some tropical fish are essentially “switching certain genes on and off,” to cope with warmer ocean temperatures. Photo: Jennifer Donelson
July 21, 2015 – 8:47AM Lucy Cormack
As climate change continues to heat up the world’s oceans, many aquatic species will face increasing threats to their survival. But one little fish has found a way to genetically adapt.
In an Australian-led study, researchers examined the genes of coral reef fish and the way they responded after many generations living at higher temperatures predicted under climate change. “What we’ve known from recent studies is that some fish in particular are able to improve their performance at higher temperatures if both the offspring and their parents have been under the high temperatures,” said Professor Philip Munday, a report author from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. They found significantly higher levels of metabolic gene activity in fish exposed to higher temperatures for two generations, as well as higher levels of immune and stress genes in the second generation. Professor Munday said the fish are essentially “switching certain genes on and off”. “This tells us that metabolic processes and energy use are likely to be really important in helping animals cope with warming in the future,” said Professor Munday. The species involved in the study was the spiny damselfish, a number of which were brought in from the Great Barrier Reef for breeding and observation in a purpose built facility at James Cook University. The study is the first to highlight the molecular processes that may help coral reef fishes and other marine species adjust to warmer conditions in the future….
Urgenda supporters celebrate at The Hague after court ruling requiring Dutch government to slash emissions. Photograph: Chantal Bekker/Urgenda
Dutch court orders state to reduce emissions by 25% within five years to protect its citizens from climate change in world’s first climate liability suit
Arthur Neslen The Hague
Wednesday 24 June 2015 06.04 EDT Last modified on Thursday 25 June 2015 11.48 EDT
A court in The Hague has ordered the Dutch government to cut its emissions by at least 25% within five years, in a landmark ruling expected to cause ripples around the world. To cheers and hoots from climate campaigners in court, three judges ruled that government plans to cut emissions by just 14-17% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful, given the scale of the threat posed by climate change. Jubilant campaigners said that governments preparing for the Paris climate summit later this year would now need to look over their shoulders for civil rights era-style legal challenges where emissions-cutting pledges are inadequate. “Before this judgement, the only legal obligations on states were those they agreed among themselves in international treaties,” said Dennis van Berkel, legal counsel for Urgenda, the group that brought the suit. “This is the first a time a court has determined that states have an independent legal obligation towards their citizens. That must inform the reduction commitments in Paris because if it doesn’t, they can expect pressure from courts in their own jurisdictions.” In what was the first climate liability suit brought under human rights and tort law, Judge Hans Hofhuis told the court that the threat posed by global warming was severe and acknowledged by the Dutch government in international pacts. “The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts,” the judges’ ruling said. “Any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change and as a developed country the Netherlands should take the lead in this.” After a legal campaign that took two and a half years to get to its first hearing in April, normally dispassionate lawyers were visibly moved by the judge’s words. “As the verdict was being read out, I actually had tears in my eyes,” Roger Cox, Urgenda’s lead advocate, told the Guardian. “It was an emotional moment.”….
CREDIT: Courtesy VolkerWessels VolkerWessels’ concept for the PlasticRoad.
by Katie Valentine Jul 22, 2015 10:32am
The Netherlands is already home to the world’s first solar road (or bike lane, technically). Now, the country could soon be the first to use recycled plastic as pavement.
The idea for plastic roads comes from VolkerWessels, a Netherlands-based construction firm. According to the company, plastic roads would be a “virtually maintenance free product” that’s “unaffected by corrosion and the weather.” The roads could handle temperatures as low as -40°F and as high as 176°F. The company says that this hardiness will make the roads’ lifespans three times as long as typical asphalt roads.
According to the company, any type of recycled plastic can be used. The main goal, the company says, is to keep plastic out of the oceans.
The idea for plastic roads came after the company took a look at all the different road-related problems cities face, said Simon Jorritsma from InfraLinq, a subdivision of VolkerWessels and KWS Infra that works specifically with asphalt. Those problems included a future where oil — the main component of asphalt — is less available, as well as more immediate problems like flooding and road maintenance.
“For contractors, asphalt is a great and sound product to build roads,” Jorritsma said in an email to ThinkProgress. “However, contractors have to meet more and more demands concerning noise reduction, water permeability, and flatness. These questions and conditions were the inspiration which have led to the idea of the PlasticRoad.”
The company is also hoping to avoid some carbon dioxide emissions by switching asphalt roads to plastic ones. The carbon footprint of asphalt totals 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, the company says, so using recycled plastic instead could help cut down on some of those emissions. Jorritsma said that using plastic instead of asphalt would cut down on the carbon dioxide required to produce, transport, and process asphalt. And, he said, because plastic roads are predicted to last longer than traditional roads, the CO2 associated with regularly replacing the surfaces will also be saved…..
July 6, 2015 4.10pm EDT Anna Skarbek CEO at ClimateWorks Australia at Monash University
To avoid dangerous climate change there is a finite amount of greenhouse gas emissions, in particular CO2 that we can add to the atmosphere – our global carbon budget. If we use our budget wisely, we have until about 2050 to transition to zero net emissions. But how do we get there? For Australia to play its role, we’ll also need to get to zero net emissions by 2050. In a recently launched website from ClimateWorks, we’ve created an online tool to demonstrate that there are various ways to get there. You can create your own way of getting to zero net emissions by 2050. Internationally the world has agreed to limit warming to 2C. To keep under this limit, globally we can emit around 1,700 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases (measured in CO2-equivalent) between 2000 and 2050. This would give us a 67% chance of limiting warming to 2C or less. Just over a third of this budget was already used up between 2000 and 2012, leaving approximately 1,100 billion tonnes – this is the remaining global carbon budget. Global emissions are currently projected to rise without further actions, putting us on a pathway to exceed this carbon budget and experience temperature rises of 4C or more.
Australia’s carbon budget
The Climate Change Authority has calculated Australia’s equitable share of the global carbon budget as 10.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for the period 2013 to 2050. If we continue to emit at our current rate, we will exceed our carbon budget by 2028 – that’s just 13 years from now. If we are to live within our carbon budget, we must begin to reduce emissions now. This will allow us to use our remaining budget over a longer period of time and enable a smoother transition to a low carbon Australia. If we delay, the transition will need to be faster, meaning more cost and more disruption….. The good news is Australia can balance its carbon budget. Research by ClimateWorks and Australian National University has found that Australia can achieve zero net emissions by 2050 and live within its recommended carbon budget, using technologies that exist today, while still growing the economy. This pathway relies on four “pillars” of action:
- Ambitious energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport
- Low carbon electricity, either through 100% renewables or a mix of renewables and other technologies
- Electrification where possible of transport and energy-using equipment in buildings and industry where possible, and elsewhere switching to low carbon fuels
- Reducing non-energy emissions through improvements in industrial processes and agricultural practices, and offsetting residual emissions through carbon forestry.
- Choose your own pathway
This research is explained in our interactive 2050 Pathways website. Australia is fortunate to have an abundance of energy and natural resources, providing us with a diversity of choice in reducing our emissions. This means that there are many ways Australia could balance its carbon budget. The online 2050 Pathways Calculator allows users to create their own pathways to net zero emissions by 2050, staying within our carbon budget….
Reuters – Wed, 22 Jul 2015 15:53 GMT
* Two-day conference held at Vatican
* Vatican’s latest foray into climate change, development
* Mayors came from mostly large cities around the world
By Philip Pullella and Chris Arsenault
VATICAN CITY, July 22 (Reuters) – More than 65 mayors from around the world pledged on Wednesday to implement the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their cities and to combat global warming, saying society was facing numerous threats. The mayors signed a pledge at a Vatican-hosted conference where participants included New York’s Bill de Blasio, Anne Hildago of Paris as well the mayors of Rio de Janeiro, Stockholm, Johannesburg and Mexico City. “The very tissue of our societies is under threat of growing inequalities, the unmet needs of the extreme poor and the extremely vulnerable, and a natural environment being hit by more frequent and intense heat waves, droughts, floods, rising sea levels, and other climate-related threats,” the pledge said. The U.N. is due to adopt the SDGs in September. They include 17 commitments from world leaders to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty by 2030, reduce inequality within and between countries, achieve gender equality, ensure sustainable water management and energy, and take urgent action to combat climate change. Meeting the goals would cost between $3.3 trillion and $4.5 trillion a year, while combating climate change and adapting to its effects will cost poor countries an estimated $100 billion annually…..
When Gov. Jerry Brown visits the Vatican this week for an international conference, he’ll be carrying a resolution from state lawmakers supporting Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change. He’s hoping the Legislature will send an even stronger message later this year by passing new environmental rules aimed at helping California slash greenhouse-gas emissions over the next few decades. Approval of the legislation, intended to enact goals outlined by the governor this year, would bolster Brown’s calls for global action on climate change with a display of regulatory muscle in his own state. Oil companies have ramped up opposition, and utilities are angling for changes in the bill that would make it easier for them to fulfill requirements to produce renewable energy. But so far, no one has been able to stop the legislation, which has passed the state Senate and is advancing in the Assembly. Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), one of the bill’s authors and its most high-profile champion in the Legislature, has been meeting individually with Assembly members to further secure their support. “I’m not taking anything for granted,” he said. The proposal would increase the generation of electricity from renewable sources, boost energy efficiency in older buildings and reduce by half the amount of gasoline used on state roads. The pope’s invitation to Brown for the Vatican conference is a sign that “the world is watching what happens in Sacramento very closely,” De León said, and he plans to ensure that the legislation reaches the governor’s desk. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said there are still some kinks to work out in the proposal — she is one of several lawmakers to say “the devil is in the details” — but she expects it to move forward. “It’s one of the most important things that we’re going to do this year,” Atkins said. “We see this as one of the big challenges on how California moves forward.” Brown is one of dozens of officials from around the world who were invited to the Vatican conference, which will focus on climate change and modern slavery. The governor is scheduled to address the gathering Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s the latest of several international trips the governor has taken to urge others to do more to curb global warming. He’s also been rallying states and provinces to sign an agreement to match California’s target for reducing emissions by 2050…The measure has already been amended to spur the installation of more charging stations for electric vehicles, and De León said he’s been talking to utility companies about their concerns. “The bill is still fluid and dynamic,” he said. The legislation would require utilities to obtain half of their electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2030, up from a mandate of one-third by 2020. Utilities have expressed conditional support for the bill, but they want rooftop solar panels to be factored into the equation….Another provision of the legislation, slashing the use of gasoline, has been hotly contested by oil companies and questioned by lawmakers from both parties. Eloy Garcia, a lobbyist for the Western States Petroleum Assn., recently told an Assembly committee that the proposal is unfair and impossible to fulfill…An analysis from E3, an environmental consulting firm based in San Francisco, said the state could need up to 8 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030 to help slash carbon pollution as much as Brown wants. Right now there are only 142,000 such vehicles on the road, according to the Air Resources Board….
Steyer and de León: Climate soulmates
by Laurel Rosenhall July 19 2015
One of them grew up in the barrio of San Diego, the son of an immigrant maid who struggled to pay the rent. The other was raised in one of the nation’s most exclusive zip codes, the youngest son of a New York City lawyer. Their lives diverged for decades. The boy who spent his childhood along the Mexican border dropped out of college and went to work advocating for immigrants and teacher unions. The kid from New York’s Upper East Side graduated from Yale and Stanford, and then started an investment firm in San Francisco. Today, one is among California’s most powerful politicians, the other is a billionaire. And they have built a friendship that may shape the future of the state. Kevin de León, leader of the California Senate, and Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, have joined forces around their shared desire to fight global warming. After working together to pass an energy-efficiency ballot measure in 2012, they are teaming up this year to push for legislation that would reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions and shift the economy away from oil and gas. Both men are lifelong Democrats, but came to environmentalism later in life and from different starting points – de León, 48, from a focus on justice, Steyer, 58, from a belief in God. “We share the same goals together,” said de León, D-Los Angeles. “And we continue to be supportive of each other because this is an issue we care deeply about.” Steyer, a major donor to Democrats nationwide, is pouring money into the California Capitol, and de León is introducing bills that echo Steyer’s environmental agenda. This kind of coalescence is common in American politics, where campaign spending gives some advocates an outsized voice, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who sits on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.
A coal plant in northwest China. Technologies to limit the earth’s warming are still in their infancy. Credit China Daily/Reuters
In the race to develop technologies to slow climate change, the world is off track.
JULY 21, 2015 NY Times Eduardo Porter
That’s the latest assessment from the International Energy Agency, which presented a bleak outlook ahead of the planned climate summit meeting in Paris this December, where countries rich and poor are hoping to agree on a strategy to slow global warming. Even under the more optimistic assessments of humanity’s technological capabilities, limiting the atmosphere’s warming to two degrees Celsius above the average in the preindustrial era — considered by many scientists to be a tipping point toward climatic upheaval — seems to be slipping out of reach. “For the first time since the I.E.A. started monitoring clean energy progress, not one of the technology fields tracked is meeting its objectives,” Maria van der Hoeven, the agency’s executive director, wrote in a foreword to the report. “Our ability to deliver a future in which temperatures rise modestly is at risk of being jeopardized.” Deployment of renewable energy is progressing, but not fast enough. Nuclear power is behind the curve. Key technologies like carbon capture and storage, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has deemed critical to staying within the target, are still in their infancy. Except for a one-time burst in funding during the recession, Congress has held the Energy Department’s research budget relatively flat in recent years, despite recommendations by scientists to invest more in breakthrough technologies with the potential to help curb climate change. The only commercial scale coal-fired power plant equipped with carbon dioxide capture technology opened last October in Canada. In the absence of a carbon price that might make removing carbon dioxide from the air a worthwhile investment, inventors in the United States hope they might make a profit by turning carbon dioxide into baking soda. Perhaps most critically, the world’s collective effort to reshape energy infrastructure seems to be losing steam. In 2014, global investments in renewable energy declined for the fourth year in a row, to under $250 billion. The United States, the most technologically proficient nation on earth, could be expected to take the lead in developing new energy alternatives. It isn’t. Awash in cheap energy from shale oil and gas — the product of a surge in federally funded research decades ago — America has lost sight of the goal: decarbonizing the world’s energy supply within a matter of decades.
Consider the sun. The world has made huge leaps in solar technology. The price of solar panels has fallen sharply — in substantial part because of significant Chinese investment in panel manufacturing. Smart grid technologies have enabled owners of solar homes to buy power from the grid when the sun is down and sell it back when it is shining, and new business models have encouraged a boom in residential solar installations. In some parts of the country, solar energy has become competitive with conventional power from fossil sources. Yet solar energy today accounts for only about 1 percent of the world’s power. To keep up with rising demand for electricity, solar energy might have to supply 27 percent of electric power by 2050, according to one model by the International Energy Agency that assumes nuclear power will be constrained by high costs and public opposition.
A recent report from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology highlighted the challenge.
To provide a big share of the world’s energy, the M.I.T. researchers wrote, solar power must overcome three big obstacles: It is still more expensive than fossil fuels; it is tiny relative to the scale it will need to play a major role in the global energy system; and it is intermittent.
For starters, this calls for energy storage at large scale: huge batteries, perhaps, or alternatively, natural gas generators with carbon capture technology to pick up the slack when the sun is down. Neither exists yet.
And turning to the sun for a big chunk of power requires a leap in the basic technology converting photons into electric power to sharply reduce the price. The silicon-based solar panels that produce most solar energy today won’t cut it. Scientists and entrepreneurs have developed promising approaches to these challenges, including perovskites or colloidal quantum dot photovoltaics. A critical question — to be discussed by scientists, policy makers and entrepreneurs at the Energy Thought Summit starting Wednesday in Chicago — is how to scale these early ideas into commercially viable alternatives.
Still, the private sector will not, on its own, step in to fill this gap. “It’s pathetic how little resources are being devoted,” said a speaker at the conference, David Miller of the Clean Energy Venture Group, an angel investor that provides seed capital to energy innovators. “They could reach a commercial scale but don’t have the funding to get there.” In the absence of a carbon tax, investors are subject to the ups and downs of the energy market. “The price of fossil fuels has had a tremendous impact, because it lowers the base line against which you are benchmarking your technology,” said Jason Blumberg, chief executive at Energy Foundry, a venture capital firm focusing on new energy technologies. “It doesn’t kill off everything but reduces the number of options.” And despite all the public commitment of the Obama administration to curbing climate change, the federal government is failing to fill the gap.
“Spending on solar RD&D has been low relative to spending on other energy technologies with less long-term potential, it has been variable over time, and it has been too focused on short-term gains rather than long-term reductions in the cost of solar electricity,” the M.I.T. report noted, referring to research, development and demonstration. The uproar after the solar panel maker Solyndra defaulted on $528 million worth of federally guaranteed loans illustrates the government’s quandary. Despite the criticism over the loss, the main weakness in the federal government’s support for solar energy is that it has been too safe, unlikely to produce real breakthroughs. It has lost, in fact, too little money.The tragedy is that the riskiest investments in basic science — the first building block of a new energy future — are stalling. The Energy Department’s budget for research, development and demonstration remains stuck at some $5 billion, roughly the same level of half a decade ago. At barely 2 percent of the federal government’s total research and development budget, it pales next to other countries’ efforts. China, for instance, spends a fifth of its government research budget on energy. “A step-change in the United States’ commitment to federal energy innovation is critical,” noted a report released in February by the American Energy Innovation Council. “Any serious business leader would recognize that the country needs to take advantage of its current strength and act now to create a clean energy future.” Too many political leaders think otherwise. So far, federal support for basic energy research has been limited by the many Republicans in Congress who deny man-made climate change and oppose spending more money to prevent it. With Congress blocking funding for innovation, the Obama administration has turned to its only available tool to change the nation’s energy profile: regulation. The Environmental Protection Agency will unveil the final rules of its Clean Power Plan soon, which, if it survives legal challenges, would force power plants to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. That is a necessary step. Without a big technological push, though, it will probably prove an insufficient one.
Posted: 20 Jul 2015 10:33 AM PDT
In the solar power research community, a new class of materials called perovskites is causing quite a buzz, as scientists search for technology that has a better ‘energy payback time’ than the silicon-based solar panels currently dominating the market. Now, a new study reports that perovskite modules are better than any commercially available solar technology when products are compared on the basis of energy payback time….
by Joe Romm Jul 24, 2015 2:50pm
“Global coal demand is slowing fast,” is the headline in a June Business Insider Australia story. “The global coal renaissance is the most important climate story today,” is the headline in a July Vox story.
Which is correct? Mostly the first one. There was a true global coal renaissance starting around the year 2000, a resurgence due primarily to China. But it is now stalling. China was responsible for some 80 percent of the growth in global demand since 2000. You can see that in this June 15 chart from BP’s Group Chief Economist based on their newly-released “Statistical Review of World Energy 2015.”….
We are pleased to announce the completion of an expanded West Coast “Guide to Olympia Oyster Restoration and Conservation: Environmental conditions and sites that support sustainable populations”. This guide builds upon an earlier document completed by our team in 2014, which focused on central California and our work in San Francisco Bay and Elkhorn Slough. The new guide covers the entire geographic range of the Olympia oyster, and identifies key environmental conditions that affect Olympia oysters. Please access the guide at www.oysters-and-climate.org. A qualitative evaluation of 28 embayments along much of the range of the species identifies the areas at risk due to low population sizes or unreliable recruitment, and characterizes patterns of exposure to stressors. The most frequently encountered stressors were sedimentation and predation. Competition, cold water temperatures, warm air temperatures, and freshwater inputs were also common concerns at many bays. The guide also summarizes the results of quantitative site evaluations incorporating oyster attributes and environmental conditions conducted at six estuaries in California and Oregon to prioritize sites for conservation value and restoration potential. Finally, we have prepared an online site evaluation tool (available at www.oysters-and-climate.org) to allow end-users to conduct similar evaluations in new regions, thereby guiding future restoration and management efforts.
Please see our monitoring report on data from 2012-2014 at www.sfbaylivingshorelines.org. The State Coastal Conservancy (www.scc.ca.gov) and multiple state, federal, and non-profit partners constructed native oyster and eelgrass beds as part of an innovative habitat restoration and climate change adaptation pilot project constructed in summer 2012 in San Francisco Bay. Working with landowners, The Nature Conservancy and the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, the project builds upon 50 year regional goals for the restoration and protection of subtidal habitats in the bay (www.sfbaysubtidal.org). Project partners at San Francisco State University’s Romberg Tiburon Center, UC Davis, USGS Western Ecological Research Center, and ESA have been collecting data on the growth and survival of the oyster and eelgrass treatments; use by invertebrates, fish, and birds; and monitoring physical effects. Early results are providing critical information about the potential benefits of using natural reefs along the shoreline to protect habitat in the face of sea level rise and climate change.
Using Climate Science to Plan for a Resilient Future
August 24-25, 2015 Sacramento Convention Center
IPCC, Cal Natural Resources Agency, Cal EPA
- Facilitate the production, adoption and application of climate science with respect to California policy and local governance
- Provide a forum for sharing recent science and practical applications relevant to climate change impacts and vulnerability
- Foster the translation of regional climate change research into policy solutions
- Expand support for climate science research with applications to California’s environment, public health and economy
- Facilitate collaboration across scientific research fields and public policy silos
2015 Southwest Climate Summit November 2-3, 2015 Holiday Inn Capital Plaza Sacramento, CA
Join us for the 2015 Southwest Climate Summit when we’ll promote Climate-Smart Conservation by bringing together managers and scientists from across the Southwest to:
- Discover emerging climate science
- Explore adaptive management application
- Share Climate-Smart Conservation results
- Discuss management and policy responses
The California LCC, Southwest Climate Science Center, USDA Southwest Climate Hub, Great Basin LCC, and Desert LCC are hosting the Summit to foster sharing of lessons learned and collaboration across the Southwestern landscape. Click here for more information.
Grand Challenges in Coastal & Estuarine Science: Securing Our Future 8 – 12 November, 2015 Oregon Convention Center | Portland, Oregon
Registration for the CERF 23rd Biennial Conference is now open! The CERF 2015 scientific program offers four days of timely, exciting and diverse information on a vast array of estuarine and coastal subjects. Presentations will examine new findings within CERF’s traditional scientific, education and management disciplines and encourage interaction among coastal and estuarine scientists and managers. Plus, there are plenty of workshops, field trips, and special events to get involved with that will make this conference one you won’t want to miss.
Abstract Submissions are OPEN for the 21st Biennial. We are currently accepting abstract submissions for workshops, oral, speed and poster presentations for the 21st Biennial Society for Marine Mammalogy Conference, to take place in San Francisco from December 13-18, 2015. The submission deadline is May 15th, 2015. Workshops will be held on December 12-13th.
The 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting will be held 21-26 February 2016 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, located at 900 Convention Center Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70130. Cosponsored by AGU, ASLO, and TOS, the Ocean Sciences Meeting will consist of a diverse program covering topics in all areas of the ocean sciences discipline. The abstract submission site will open 15 July 2015; stay tuned for more details about how to be a part of the scientific program.
JOBS (apologies for any duplication; thanks for passing along)
American Rivers is looking for an experienced professional in Sacramento to join our Central Valley river restoration team. The Central Valley River Restoration Director will help American Rivers protect and restore floodplains in the Sacramento‐San Joaquin Basin, promote opportunities for Central Valley communities to recreate on Central Valley rivers, and promote a river stewardship ethic among California decision makers. The Director will work to promote program objectives in close collaboration with numerous organizations American Rivers has partnered with, including other conservation groups, government agencies, universities and communities. The Director will contribute policy and technical expertise to our efforts to restore Central Valley floodplain functions and reform flood management policy at the state and national level.
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. American Rivers maintains a positive work environment with a culture of learning, support and balance. For more information please visit www.americanrivers.org.
- OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST
Posted: 21 Jul 2015 09:47 AM PDT
The 11 percent decrease in climate change-causing carbon dioxide emissions in the US between 2007 and 2013 was caused by the global financial recession — not the reduced use of coal, research shows.
An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.
July 2015 Yale
From pop culture to evolutionary psychology, we have come to take kissing for granted as universally desirable among humans and inseparable from other aspects of affection and intimacy. However, a recent article in American Anthropologist by Jankowiak, Volsche and Garcia questions the notion that romantic kissing is a human universal by conducting a broad cross cultural survey to document the existence or non-existence of the romantic-sexual kiss around the world. The authors based their research on a set of 168 cultures compiled from eHRAF World Cultures (128 cultures) as well as the Standard Cross Cultural Sample (27 cultures) and by surveying 88 ethnographers (13 cultures). The report’s findings are intriguing: rather than an overwhelming popularity of romantic smooching, the global ethnographic evidence suggests that it is common in only 46% (77) of the cultures sampled. The remaining 54% (91) of cultures had no evidence of romantic kissing. In short, this new research concludes that romantic-sexual kissing is not as universal as we might presume. The report also reveals that romantic kissing is most common in the Middle East and Asia, and least common of all among Central American cultures. Similarly, the authors state that “no ethnographer working with Sub-Saharan African, New Guinea, or Amazonian foragers or horticulturalists reported having witnessed any occasion in which their study populations engaged in a romantic–sexual kiss”, whereas it is nearly ubiquitous in northern Asia and North America…..
Ellie Cohen, President and CEO
Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO)
3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11, Petaluma, CA 94954
Point Blue—Conservation science for a healthy planet.