An exceptional wildfire in northern Alaska in 2007 put as much carbon into the air as the entire Arctic tundra absorbs in a year, scientists say.
The Anaktuvuk River fire burned across more than 1,000 sq km (400 sq miles), doubling the extent of Alaskan tundra visited by fire since 1950. With the Arctic warming fast, the team suggests in the journal Nature that fires could become more common. If that happens, it could create a new climate feedback, they say. Fires in the tundra are uncommon because the ground is covered in snow and ice for large periods of the year. Temperatures are low even in summer, and the ground can also remain wet after the ice has melted. But 2007 saw unusually warm and dry conditions across much of the Arctic – resulting, among other things, in spectacularly fast melting of Arctic sea ice. This created conditions more conducive to fire, and when lightning struck the tundra in July, the Anaktuvuk River fire ignited.
“Most tundra fires have been very small – this was an order of magnitude larger than the historical size,” said Michelle Mack from the University of Florida in Gainesville, who led the research team on the Nature paper and is currently conducting further field studies in Alaska. “In 2007, we had a hot, dry summer, there was no rain for a long period of time. So the tundra must have been highly flammable, with just the right conditions for fire to spread until the snow in October finally stopped it.”
Continue reading “Huge Arctic Fire Hints at New Climate Cue”
BEIJING -(Dow Jones)- China will soon release detailed plans to ensure that its near-term goals to reduce carbon intensity are attainable, and it has started examining technical options for cutting carbon dioxide emissions in the longer term, the official China Daily newspaper reported Friday. China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has refused to accept a binding commitment to cut the overall volume of its emissions and instead says emissions growth will slow due to its plan to cut carbon intensity, or the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of gross domestic product.
The Chinese government has said it will introduce measures to cut carbon intensity by 17% of 2005 levels by 2015, and by 40%-45% by 2020. China Daily said that Xie Zhenhua, a top official with economic planner the National Development and Reform Commission, told a conference earlier in this week that a comprehensive plan to allow China to meet its objective–laid out in its 2011-2015 five-year plan–will be released soon. Xie also said carbon capture and storage could be an important means of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions in the next few decades, and that use of this technology needs to be considered.
Continue reading “China Soon To Issue Blueprint For Reducing Carbon Intensity”
The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission voted Wednesday to close a well used to dispose of natural gas fluids and ban the drilling of others in an area north of Conway where hundreds of earthquakes have struck. The well between Greenbrier and Enola is operated by Deep-Six Water Disposal Services, a subsidiary of Hurst Oil Investments Inc. The moratorium would not affect the drilling of natural gas wells, but it would change how fluids from the process are disposed.
Gas companies have tapped natural gas by injecting water and chemicals under high pressure to fracture the shale, a process known as fracking. Those fluids are injected into separate wells for disposal. The commission pinpointed four wells that it said needed to be closed. Operators of three of the wells agreed to close them by Sept. 30. Deep-Six, which operates the fourth, says its disposal well does not cause any seismic activity.
The University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, target of “ClimateGate”, has released nearly all its remaining data on temperature measurements following a freedom of information bid.
The unit works with the UK Met Office to compile one of the world’s most used records of global temperature change. Most temperature data was already available, but critics of climate science want everything public. Data from Trinidad and Tobago is being released against the country’s wishes. Following the latest release, raw data from virtually all of the world’s 5,000-plus weather stations is freely available. The only exceptions concern 19 weather stations in Poland, for which the Polish national weather service has declined to release data, for reasons it has not elaborated.
The requests were made two years ago by Jonathan Jones, a quantum computing specialist at Oxford University, and Don Keiller, a biologist at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. They demanded that the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) release data that had been sent to other researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, concerning weather stations from 30 degrees north to 40 degrees south of the equator – a belt around the world. “It was very much a matter of principle,” Dr Jones told BBC News. “This dataset wasn’t particularly interesting, but we thought the data in general should be available, and we thought people shouldn’t have to make FoI requests for it.
“So when earlier requests were turned down by the University of East Anglia (UEA) on what I thought were foolish grounds, I decided to push this to the limit.”
Continue reading “Climate Unit Releases Virtually All Remaining Data”
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Peter Key knew something was strange when the water levels in his tropical fish tank began to go down last summer. Then the washing machine took 40 minutes to fill, and the toilets would not flush. But even as Mr. Key and neighbors spent $14,000 to deepen their community well here, they had identified a likely culprit. They blamed water banking, a system in which water-rights holders — mostly in the rural West — store water in underground reservoirs either for their own future use or for leasing to fast-growing urban areas. So the neighbors’ small local water utility has gone to state court to challenge the wealthy farming interests that dominate two of the country’s largest water banks.
Viewed as test cases for the size and scope of water-banking operations, the lawsuits claim that enormous withdrawals of water by the banks lowered the water table, causing geological damage, service disruptions and costly repairs. Water managers and the farmers they serve have long been major political players here in Kern County, a center of conservative political power. But even inside these tight circles, there is increasing friction as governments, businesses — especially agriculture — and a population that has swelled by 26 percent in a decade all compete for water. Even a trendy fruit, the pomegranate, plays a role in these water wars.
Continue reading “Storing Water for a Dry Day Leads to Suits”
A “HEAT dome” is descending on Washington. It’s hovering over much of America , actually, sending temperatures into triple digits (or the upper 30s, if you prefer). This is just the latest in what has been a remarkable series of extraordinary weather events. America’s south is experiencing a record drought. So, too, is the horn of Africa, where a famine may impact millions of people. In late June, an airport in Oman recorded the highest ever low temperature; on the evening of the 27th, the mercury failed to drop below 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Droughts, floods, deadly storms: the news is full of them. While it’s not easy to attribute any individual event to climate change, it is clear that a hotter planet translates into a higher frequency of extreme weather events.
When we emit carbon into the atmosphere, we impose a tiny cost on society as a whole in the form of more rapid global warming and a greater intensity of the accompanying social ills. Views of the magnitude of this cost differ. Many studies peg it at somewhere between $5 and $150 per tonne of carbon. Other studies indicate that it could be far higher—perhaps more than $1,000 per tonne. But the cost is positive, and a crucial first step to dealing with climate change, therefore, is to charge people for the carbon they emit. If you put a positive price on carbon, this price will be reflected in the cost of transactions, people will internalise the effect of their behaviour on the climate, and emissions will fall.
This is a pretty straightforward policy solution, and it’s one that’s been embraced by economists and various other wonks for years. And yet it’s strikingly difficult to impose a carbon price in practice. There’s no shortage of crises in the world today, and these troubles collectively reveal the many shortcomings in the institutional arrangements of our modern world. But in some ways, the continuing failure to address climate change in an appropriate fashion is the bigger indictment of government today. The fall-out from an American default would be hugely costly, but it almost certainly wouldn’t represent an existential threat to humanity.
Continue reading “It’s Hot Out There”
PANELS of experts assessing scientific investigations tend to be messy affairs, particularly when their customers are governments. People with expertise in one field, such as renewable energy, may have a bias towards it. Summaries of their work are the result of political negotiations. And findings are further boiled down in an attempt to win media coverage.
Much of this can be seen in a new “special report” on renewable energy by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released last week. Possible conflicts of interest, revealed by Steve McIntyre, a blogger, have led to another controversy about the panel—only 18 months after its embarrassment over an incorrect claim about the imminent demise of the Himalayas’ glaciers.
For a start, the press release about the report was misleading. “Close to 80% of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies, a new report shows,” it claims. In fact, the report merely discusses the assumptions needed to produce this outcome, one of the more extreme scenarios the IPCC looked at.
Continue reading “A Climate of Conflict: The World’s Climate Experts Must Work Harder to Avoid Conflicts of Interest”
The natural-gas industry, bowing to longtime pressure, will disclose more information about the chemicals it uses in the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing.
On Friday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a bill that will require companies to make public the chemicals they use on every hydraulic fracturing job in the state. While a handful of other states have passed similar measures, Texas’s law is significant because oil and gas drilling is a key industry in the state and the industry vocally supported the measure.
Environmental groups said the law doesn’t go far enough, but they agreed it was an important step.
Until recently, much of the industry opposed providing detailed information about its chemicals, arguing that they are trade secrets. But in recent months, as drilling opponents have accused companies of secrecy, many industry leaders have come to view that position as untenable.
Continue reading “‘Fracking’ Disclosure to Rise”
LIANYUNGANG, CHINA — The six massive silos standing beside this industrial port in northeastern China hold seemingly contradictory promises: They could help improve the quality of China’s polluted air, but they might also contribute to faster global warming.
The silos, which are scheduled to start operation in July, are designed to blend cleaner-burning imported coal with China’s own high-polluting domestic coal, which is contaminated with sulfur and dust.
Coal blending will produce a mixture that will help electric utilities meet China’s steadily tightening environmental regulations. It will also increase the efficiency of coal-fired plants by slightly reducing the quantity of coal needed. Burning less coal means less greenhouse gases emitted. But critics argue there is a darker side to cleaner coal.
Continue reading “A Green Solution, or the Dark Side to Cleaner Coal?”
The increasing abundance of cheap natural gas, coupled with rising demand for the fuel from China and the fall-out from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, may have set the stage for a “golden age of gas,” the International Energy Agency said Monday.
Under a scenario set out by the IEA, global consumption of natural gas could rise by more than 50% over the next 25 years, with it accounting for more than a quarter of global energy demand by 2035, up from 21% now.
But while natural gas is more clean-burning than coal and oil, it is still a fossil fuel, and its increased use will lead to higher emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, the IEA warned. More gas will also mean less take-up for low-carbon energy sources like renewables and nuclear power. “An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change,” said Nobuo Tanaka, the IEA’s executive director.
Continue reading “Natural Gas Entering ‘Golden Age’”