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Monday, August 22, 2011

Climate change is turning rivers of Mekong Delta salty

Climate change is turning rivers of Mekong Delta salty, spelling disaster for millions of poor farmers.   See full Guardian article

The Mekong delta is one of the major crop growing areas of the world. Losing this growing area will put greater strain on the world's food system. Since the rising seas is not a local problem, it is not surprising that the Nile delta is experiencing a similar problem. See full article on "Nile River Delta Falls Prey to Climate Change"

A post from Columbia University (see full post) tells how the Mississippi River delta is eroding away primarily from river management practices of the Army Corps of Engineers. With New Orleans already below sea level, how will Louisiana cope if the oceans rise even a little? With some forecasts for the oceans to rise three to six feet by 2100, how will that be managed? Will New Orleans have to be abandoned? What will we do for the people displaced? What will happen to all the food production of the Mississippi delta? Can we adapt to growing other foodstuffs?

Of course, these questions will need to be addressed for every river that flows into the sea.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Arctic Melting Close to Setting New Record

The Arctic is getting close to setting a new record for minimum summer ice.
The current northern hemisphere sea ice area is at 3.344 million sq. kilometers. This is 1.994 million square kilometers less than than average area for August 13th from 1979 to 2008. An area equivalent to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada is not covered with ice as it normally would be. 

This is just a continuation of the trend towards less and less summer ice. Combined with the record minimum winter ice set last winter, the direction is unmistakable. The Arctic IS losing ice. The ice that is there is much thinner than it used to be making it that much easier for ice to melt each succeeding year. 

Now changing weather conditions, changing currents, and changing winds will ensure that some minor recoveries in ice area may occur. The years after the record summer ice minimum of 2007 seemed to show some minor recovery since they did not exceed that record. However, for each year since 2007 the record minimum was less than the 1979-2008 norm by more than 2 std. deviations. That means that the old Arctic ice pattern is permanently changed.  

The Arctic ice minimum for 2011 will happen in another four to five weeks. Looking at the graphs and the Arctic conditions now,  The above picture is from Cryosphere Today. Notice the large areas that are blue or green.  These are areas that that have much less than 100% ice coverage. In effect, they are like a huge ice slushy. The blue area could also melt before the minimum is set. As you can see, that is a large area. Gong by this, a record low of 2.0 to 2.5 million sq. kilometers could be set. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Environment: Germany - Nuclear Free by 2022

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, declared this week Germany's commitment to be nuclear free by 2022. All seventeen of the country's nuclear power plants are to be shut down by then. The effort to remediate the radiation and return the nuclear sites to safe and normal use will take over 100 years.

Germany was recently planning on expanding its usage of nuclear power. The Fukushima disaster altered those plans. The power production of the seventeen plants will be replaced by new solar and wind energy power plants. Neighboring Denmark has had recent success employing wind energy.

Germany is already a world leader in solar energy technology. This decision will strengthen the position of their companies in the growing world market of renewable energy. As nation's around the world begin to understand fully the benefits of renewable energy Germany will be the leading country to benefit from that market growth.

Meanwhile, the United States is in total denial about the need for renewable energy production. The only response from our government to non-fossil fuel energy production is to expand nuclear energy. When you take in the 100 years required to decommission and renature a nuclear site and the cost of handling and storing spent nuclear rods, the real cost of nuclear energy us much higher than all other forms.  That high cost is there even if potential disasters do not happen.

Since a recent poll showed that the majority of the members of Congress do not accept global warming, it is very doubtful that any efforts to help our renewable energy industry to compete will be enacted. It used to be a major function of our government to help new industries to get started. That does not seem to be the case for renewable energy. 

The global warming denial machine funded by the oil interests and others is making sure nothing will happen. The lies spewing from that machine is sowing confusion and distrust in the public and the politicians. Oddly, the public inaction by the government is contrary to the plans by the military and the oil industry to deal with increased oil exploration in the Arctic. British Petroleum, BP, who gave us the Gulf oil spill disaster has contracted with Russia to explore for offshore oil in the Arctic Ocean. This could not have been done when the Arctic was ice covered year round.

While the US is shackled in indecision, other countries are making progress. A market that could be ours for the taking will be dominated by other countries. They will have the good manufacturing jobs, and we will be left flipping hamburgers.

It is a pity. 

Arctic: Arctic Melt Progresses

The Arctic ice cap continues to melt following the same pattern seen since 2007.  The Arctic is about one million square kilometers under the average ice cover.  An area the size of Texas and New Mexico combined is open water now, that used to be covered in ice.  This area added open water area is absorbing solar radiation and further warming the Arctic. This solar heating feedback has been in place since  2007.

Earlier this spring, much of the ice cover was at less than 100% coverage, indicating thin and easily melted ice. This created the expectation that a new record low in summer ice area would be set this coming September. The current conditions point towards coming close, and maybe just passing the record low of 2007.

As interesting as it is to watch for records to be broken, it is more important to be aware of the recurring pattern we have seen each year since 2007.  Each summer since then, the Kara, Leptev, East Siberian, Chuchki, and Beaufort seas have become virtually ice free. Not long ago, these seas were mostly ice bound year round. These shallow seas are now absorbing solar energy each summer that they did not before. This feedback loop is expected to continue, and in time, to lead to the complete melting of the Arctic in the summer. 

Notice the areas colored red, yellow, orange, and green. Those are areas where the ice is covering the water at less than 100%. Sea Ice Extent data includes those areas as within the extent area, giving a false impression of the amount of ice. Because these areas of less than 100% ice coverage are within the Arctic Basin, I expect some significant melting to occur this year or next. At the end of each of the recent summers, the Arctic Basin melted back from its area of 4 msk to about 2.5 msk, with the rest of the Arctic Ocean being mostly ice free, giving a total ice area of 3.0 msk. The Arctic Basin is the next area to begin showing year to year increased open ocean when the annual summer ice minimum is reached. 

The climatologists differ on their projections of when the summer ice minimum will be zero.  Some say 2020. Some say 2030. Some say 2040. A few years ago, many said 2100, but almost none say that now. From a climate change point of view, Whether it happens in 2020, 2030, or 2040, matters little. The main thing is that continued global warming is projected, and no process is known that may reverse the trend. The past increase in atmospheric CO2 to today's level of 393 ppm is seen as the only explanation for the recent warming.

Projected levels of CO2 to 415 ppm by 2020, 445 by 2030, and 475 by 2040, points to not only continued global warming, but to an increased  rate of warming.  CO2 is expected to rise at 3 ppm per year at least if nothing is done.

How warm will it get before it stabilizes? That is the big question. If it stabilizes at the type of climate that existed the last time the Earth had 400 ppm in its atmosphere, then that would be the climate of the Pliocene.  The Pliocene was 3.5 mya. The climate was much warmer. There was no ice on Greenland. Antarctica had less ice. The oceans were 30 meters (90 ft) deeper.

It could stabilize at a level not as warm as the Pliocene with more ice being retained.  However, CO2 levels will soon be going far above the levels seen in the Pliocene.

What do you think are the possible and likely results?  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More Coal -- Is That Good News?

African Energy Resources recently confirmed a major thermal coal discovery in land-locked Botswana. Some 2.7 billion tonnes of the stuff if you don’t mind."  Confirmation that it was big – and capable of growing bigger still. But with the Indians stomping around Africa looking for new long-term coal supplies, it’s a fair bet that interest in AFR is not over yet.
The Indians themselves reckon that apart from its indigenous coal supplies, it will need 150-200 million tonnes of additional imports by 2025 to meet the electrification demands of the population."

India getting long term contracts for coal imports to power their economic growth is not good news for the prospects of the world's nations to control the growth of atmospheric CO2.  The desire of India to produce electricity is very understandable. Electricity is the basis for industry, and is fundamental to living the modern middle class life. One billion people in India want to have that modern life. The government of India and its energy companies must ensure that happens. 

However, the long term impact on the planet and on India will be very dire. 

Atmospheric CO2 is at 393 ppm and growing at 2.5 ppm per year. The level during the Pliocene matched our current levels. The oceans were 90 feet deeper than today. That means that even if we stabilized CO2 levels at the current level, that Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would eventually melt raising the oceans about 90 feet. 

That will be catastrophic. No Bangladesh. The cities of Mumbai, Surat, Karachi, Hyderabad, Goa,  Chennai, Calcutta, Bangkok, Saigon, Shangai, Seoul, Tokyo, Washington D.C., and many other coastal cities will be underwater.  River delta regions around the globe will be flooded along with the immense food production currently produced. 

Now this may seem unthinkable. But it is important to understand how CO2 works in the atmosphere. CO2 helps trap solar energy by reducing the amount of heat that can be radiated back into space. This impact can presently be measured. On a clear night, the air stays slightly warmer than it used to, since less heat can be radiated out into space. 

Now the retention of this heat energy is cumulative. Each year more heat is retained, raising the heat energy stored in the oceans and atmosphere. Each year, the Earth gets a little bit warmer. Just as the growth of a child is not noticeable day-to-day, the effect of the additional heat is not noticeable year-to-year. And just as a child grows to become an adult, the constant currently high level of CO2 will bring on a Pliocene like climate. 

During the Pliocene, there was no ice in the Arctic, and there were tropical plants in Canada.  

Hearing that India is contracting with African countries to guarantee its future supply of coal is not good news.  How can the global community make any progress on eliminating fossil fuel use if commitments like these are being made? 

No one intends on making this happen. But, by not looking at the evidence and learning to understand the long term effects of climate change, we are committing our planet to a very different future than we have known. Each year that goes by without a global commitment to that change, will make our future efforts that much more difficult. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Arctic Oil Exploitation - A Growing Danger

"The accidental release of crude oil into the ocean environment is of increasing concern because of the damage to marine and coastal wildlife as well as its adverse impact on humans that depend on the sea. The BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico has made it obvious that, as the demand for oil expands and drilling takes place in technically challenging locations, the likelihood of accidents will increase. The Arctic is a particular concern because, unlike spills in the warm waters of the Gulf, natural dissipation and dispersion of the oil is slowed by the cold temperatures. Moreover, human efforts at remediation are severely hampered by the extreme weather, by ice cover and by winter darkness. The National Energy Board and the CBC state that Canada is not set to start offshore drilling for arctic oil until 2014. However in August 2010 an exploration licence was granted to Chevron."

Oil exploration in the Arctic is going to explode in the next few years as it becomes warmer. The BP tragedy in the Gulf would be much worse if it happened in the Arctic. Some of the greatest fisheries in the world are located their. They may be destroyed when an oil drilling accident occurs.

Granted that in the short term we have little choice but to use oil and gas to enable our transportation and heating our homes. However, that does not mean that we have to commit ourselves to that technology forever. Mankind must start weaning itself from oil and gas. The process may take a long time. As the ancient Chinese proverb says, "a thousand mile journey begins with the first step." We have not made that first step.

Sure, some windfarms have been built, and some solar energy plants are running. But, there has been no commitment to the replacement and dismantling of all the existing coal, oil, and gas electric power stations in the world.  This is what needs to be done, or something close to it.

Nuclear power is NOT the solution. The Fukushima disaster should show that. The bigger problem with nuclear power is there is no solution for the long term handling and storage of the spent nuclear rods. A meltdown can poison groundwater for generations. Nearby farmland can be made useless. Nearby communities can be destroyed. Nuclear power is not an alternative.

Solar, wind, and geothermal are all proven technologies. They would get even better if governments around the world committed themselves to non-fossil fuel electricity production. Wave and tidal energy is also a possibility.  All these energies are there for the taking. They are clean, so they can be put near population centers with no fear of health issues. 

Destroying the last unspoiled wldernesses on Earth that feed us is not the answer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Making Global Warming Simple

This year the CO2 in the atmosphere reached the level of 392 ppm. The level of CO2 for the past 800,000 years was at its highest about 280 ppm, which is where it was before the industrial revolution began around 1800.  By 1950, the CO2 level was at 315 ppm and rising at about .5 ppm per year. Now it is rising at about 2.5 ppm per year.  So the rate of increase has itself increased. Unabated, we will be at 415 ppm by 2020, and about 470 ppm by 2050.

OK, well and good, but what does that really mean? We have to look at truly ancient climates to get possible answers to that question. We have to look past the relatively recent cycle of ice ages and interglacial periods of the last 800,000 years. We need to look at the ages where CO2 levels were about what they are now and where they might be if the CO2 levels are allowed to rise unabated.

If we go back about 3.5 million years we get to the climate age called the Pliocene.  The Pliocene lasted from approximately 5.5 million years ago (mya) to about 2.5 mya.  Over this time, the continental drift caused the Mediterranean Sea to be formed and the Isthmus of Panama to rise and connect North and South America.

The seas were warmer and the climate was +2.5C (+4.5F) warmer than today.  There was no Greenland Ice Cap, and no Arctic Ice at all. The oceans were 25m (80ft) deeper than they are today.  The CO2 levels were about 390 ppm.

Since we are already at the Pliocene carbon dioxide levels, the question really is "what is going to prevent the duplication of the Pliocene climate from being recreated?".   A second question is "how long will it take for a Pliocene like climate to establish itself?"

Let's look at the first question. At this time, no process has been identified that will likely prevent the establishment of a Pliocene like climate. The identified feedbacks mostly amplify and accelerate current warming trends. Those feedbacks include 1) loss of Arctic albedo (ice reflectivity), 2) melting permafrost adding carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere, and 3) release of methane from shallow undersea formations called clathrates. Of course, mankind is still accelerating its burning of fossil fuels worldwide.

The climatologists differ significantly on their estimations of how long for warming to take effect.  The disturbing feature of their estimations is that for the past ten years their estimations have gotten progressively worse. Each time they update their estimates, they are more dire. The ocean levels rise higher and faster.  A recent update in Ice News, said that oceans may rise up to 5 ft by 2100.

Can that be right?  5 ft? That would flood much of the food producing areas of the world located in river deltas. The Nile delta, Mississippi delta, Ganges delta (Bangladesh), Mekong Delta, Danube delta, and so many more would be mostly underwater if that happened.

For that to happen the Greenland Ice cap would have to start melting at a very fast rate. To rise 60 inches by 2100 it would have to rise at over 1/2 an inch per year, or about 150mm per year. We have been rising at about the rate of 2.5 mm per year in recent years. The climatologists are expecting Greenland to start melting at a significant rate in the next decade or two. The oceans may only rise 6-12 inches by 2050. What can cause Greenland to start melting real fast?

To answer that we have to look at the position of Greenland. The Arctic Ocean is to the north. Much of its weather comes from the north and northwest which have been perpetually ice covered for hundreds of thousands of years. Soon, though, the Arctic Ocean will be ice free during the summers, and will be absorbing sunlight and getting warmer.  As that happens, then Greenland will be surrounded by open ocean at above freezing temperatures. No matter what direction the weather comes from it will bring above freezing warm air to Greenland for a season each year.

With each passing year, the Arctic Ocean gets warmer from absorbing sunlight. And each passing year, the melt season for Greenland gets longer and warmer.  Greenland melting will go into overdrive. It will go into hyper-melt mode. When that happens, then we will likely start seeing the seas rise at 100 mm to 200 mm per year.

Is this for absolute certain to happen? Unfortunately, our knowledge is still developing, and we don't know everything. As of now, no one can point to any natural process that can stop this.  Even if mankind stopped dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, these events are likely to happen. Maybe if mankind decided to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to lower levels to 350 ppm or lower, that might work.

The second question was "how fast". Even if oceans rise only 4 ft, or 3 ft, or 2 ft, does not mean that the processes won't continue and give us the same result. For some reason, the year 2100 has been used as projecting the results of global warming trends. However, the global warming will not stop at 2100.  In fact, the accelerated pace of ocean level rising that is expected to occur from 2050 to 2100 will still go on and accelerate even further.

Remember the Pliocene oceans were 80 ft deeper.  Greenland was free of ice, and the Antarctic had much less. The estimation for how long it will take the whole of the Greenland ice cap to melt (assuming mankind does nothing to reduce CO2 to 350 ppm or less) varies for 2,000 years to 300 years.  The estimated 5 ft of increased ocean rise will mostly come from Greenland. That will represent about 20%-25% of Greenland's mass. At that rate, then Greenland's ice would be gone around 2400.

Antarctica will have started melting, so a rise of  30 ft to 40 ft by 2400 seems reasonable, maybe more.   How long to reach an increased depth of 80 ft? That is difficult to answer because the climate dynamics that will be created in just the next hundred years may be very different. Ocean currents may change. Ocean temperatures will definitely change. Ocean chemistry will change. All these can effect the carbon cycle and the water cycle, and thus effect climate. Hopefully, processes will be altered or uncovered that will slow down, halt, or reverse the warming climate trend caused by higher CO2 levels.

Global Warming is undoubtedly the greatest challenge that mankind can face. People have difficulty planning ahead even a few years. A decade is beyond most people's ability.  To cope with Global Warming people have to deal with decades and centuries.  People live in cities mostly, and are cut off from the natural world around them.  Even when it is nearby, they tend not to notice. Lake Michigan was once a very cold lake to swim in, even in August. Now it is wonderfully comfortable by July. It has increased in temperature 12F since the 1960's.  The changes are around us. The changes will be more significant in the future and probably much less welcome.