Novim News

Japan Quake Is Causing Costly Shift to Fossil Fuels

YOKOSUKA, Japan — The half-century-old, oil-fueled power generators here had been idle for more than a year when, a day after the nuclear accident in March, orders came from Tokyo Electric Power headquarters to fire them up.

“They asked me how long it would take,” said Masatake Koseki, head of the Yokosuka plant, which is 40 miles south of Tokyo and run by Tokyo Electric. “The facilities are old, so I told them six months. But they said, ‘No, you must ready them by summer to prepare for an energy shortage.’ ”

Now, at summer’s peak, Yokosuka’s two fuel-oil and two gas turbines are cranking out a total of 900,000 kilowatts of electricity — and an abundance of fumes.

The generators are helping to replace the 400 million kilowatt-hours of daily electricity production lost this summer because of the shutdown of all but 15 of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.


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Posted on Categories Energy, News

Big Storms Slipping Toward Earth’s Poles


Mid-latitude storm tracks are major weather patterns that account for the majority of precipitation in the globe’s middle latitudes, which includes most of the heavily populated areas of North America, Eurasia, and Australia. Due to atmospheric circulation and the dynamics of weather systems, these bands of low pressure form repeatedly in the same locations. Apart from being meteorologically important, they’re also major players on the climate scene—clouds in these regions are responsible for reflecting much of the incoming solar radiation that is bounced back to space before penetrating Earth’s atmosphere.

Many climate models have predicted that the positions of these storm tracks would slowly migrate toward the poles, but so far this trend had not been detected. However, analysis of 25 years worth of data from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project now indicates that this shift is probably already taking place.

The International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (or ISCCP) operates a network of geostationary and polar orbiting satellites that have been collecting data on clouds since 1983. A team of researchers carefully analyzed data for Northern and Southern Hemisphere storm tracks in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to look for trends in storm track positions. (The Indian Ocean could not be included because of issues with satellite coverage.) The results indicated a slight poleward shift of the storm tracks.

These satellites have known data issues: measurement changes when new satellites came online, lower data quality at the “seams” between coverage from different satellites, etc. So the authors tried several different analysis techniques to test the robustness of the observed trend. Each technique decreased the rate of the observed poleward movement somewhat, but the general trend remained.

That’s mainly interesting because it had been predicted by many climate models. But the data also shows something that may be much more important, though there are some considerable uncertainties involved. The satellite observations also show a roughly two-to-three percent reduction in total cloud cover since 1983. This occurred through a large decrease in low-level cloudiness, and it came despite a slight increase in high-level cloudiness.

Both of these changes act as positive feedbacks to warming, and, as we recently covered, cloud feedbacks are among the largest sources of uncertainty in temperature projections. High-level cirrus clouds aren’t thick enough to reflect much incoming solar radiation, but the increase in water vapor means more trapping of outgoing infrared radiation (the greenhouse effect). Most reflective action is in the low-level clouds, so a decrease there means more incoming solar radiation penetrating to the Earth’s surface.

Although the same models that predict the poleward movement of storm tracks also predict reductions in total cloud cover, the paper is heavy on caveats here. The most interesting data comes at the limits of detection for these satellites, making it unclear how robust the signal is. Like the storm track positions, the trend is consistent among the regions studied, though. In addition, satellite observations of atmospheric radiation fluxes (from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment) corroborate the changes in cloud behavior.

Studies like this underscore the importance of Earth-monitoring satellites operated by NASA and the ESA. Global climate data isn’t easy to come by, and the analysis is often difficult under the best of circumstances. Increasingly accurate projections require the kind of data only these satellites can provide.

Citation: “Changes in extratropical storm track cloudiness 1983–2008: observational support for a poleward shift.” Frida A-M. Bender et al. Climate Dynamics, April 30, 2011. DOI: 10.1007/s00382-011-1065-6

Posted on Categories Climate, News

Plants and Animals Migrating Upward as Climate Changes

Across the globe, plants and animals are creeping, crawling, slithering and winging to higher altitudes and latitudes as temperatures climb.

Moreover, the greater the warming in any given region, the farther its plants and animals have migrated, according to the largest analysis to date of the rapidly shifting ranges of species in Europe, North America, Chile and Malaysia.

“The more warming there’s been in an area, the more you would expect a species to move, and the more they have moved,” said Chris D. Thomas, a conservation biologist at the University of York in England, who led the work published Thursday in the journal Science. “This more or less puts to bed the issue of whether these shifts are related to climate change. There isn’t any obvious alternative explanation for why species should be moving poleward in studies around the world.”

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Posted on Categories Climate, News

Climate Scientist: Don’t Read Too Much Into Hot Summer

The heat this summer has been relentless in many parts of the country, particularly in the South Central states, where Oklahoma and Texas had their warmest months on record in July. In fact, as previously noted on this blog, Oklahoma’s statewide average temperature was the warmest monthly statewide average temperature ever recorded in the United States during any month. Washington, D.C. had its warmest calendar month on record during July.

In total, more than 9,000 warm-temperature records were either tied or set during the month of July, and more continue to fall in August. Last week, Dallas, Texas, saw this summer’s streak of consecutive 100-degree days end at 40, two short of the city’s all-time record. On Monday, Houston hit 100 degrees for the 15th day in a row, setting a record.

The severity and vast reach of this summer’s extreme heat has led to questions about whether global climate change is already causing the emergence of a new summer temperature regime, with more frequent and intense heat waves, as has been projected by numerous studies.

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Posted on Categories Climate, News

Panel to Endorse Shale Gas Exploration

A key Energy Department advisory panel will issue a qualified endorsement of shale gas exploration Thursday, saying that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” can continue safely as long as companies disclose more about their practices and monitor their environmental impact.

The committee’s report could ease the way for greater domestic gas exploration, even as it calls for new standards to limit harmful air emissions that bring to the surface gas buried deep in shale formations. But the report is largely silent on the most contentious issue surrounding shale gas exploration: who should regulate it, and whether regulators should apply to it laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping massive amounts of fluid — a mixture of water and chemicals — underground, which cracks the shale and drives the gas to the surface. With major deposits in several regions of the country, including the Northeast and the Midwest, firms are tapping into the resource at an unprecedented rate.

Shale gas accounted for less than 2 percent of total U.S. natural-gas production in 2001; it is now close to 30 percent, and the Energy Information Administration projects that it will amount to 45 percent of domestic production by 2035.

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Posted on Categories Energy, News

An Economist for Nature Calculates the Need for More Protection

	 Charles J. Katz, Jr.  A GLOBAL FOCUS Gretchen Daily, a Stanford biology professor, in Palo Alto, Calif.COTO BRUS, Costa Rica — Dawn is breaking over this remote upland region, where neat rows of coffee plants cover many of the hillsides. The rising tropical sun saturates the landscape with color, revealing islandlike remnants of native forest scattered among the coffee plantations.

But across this bucolic countryside, trouble is brewing. An invasive African insect known as the coffee berry borer is threatening the area’s crops. Local farmers call the pest “la broca”: the borer.

Despite the early hour, Gretchen Daily, a Stanford University biology professor, is already at work studying this complex ecosystem. Amid a cacophony of birdsong, Dr. Daily and her team are conducting experiments that demonstrate the vital connection between wildlife and native vegetation. Preliminary data from new studies suggest that consumption of insects like la broca by forest-dwelling birds and bats contribute significantly to coffee yields.

Since 1991, Dr. Daily, 46, has made frequent trips to this Costa Rican site to conduct one of the tropics’ most comprehensive population-level studies to monitor long-term ecological change.

“We are working to very specifically quantify in biophysical and dollar terms the value of conserving the forest and its wildlife,” she said.

In recent years, Dr. Daily has expanded her research to include a global focus. She is one of the pioneers in the growing worldwide effort to protect the environment by quantifying the value of “natural capital” — nature’s goods and services that are fundamental for human life — and factoring these benefits into the calculations of businesses and governments. Dr. Daily’s work has attracted international attention and has earned her some of the world’s most coveted environmental awards.


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Posted on Categories Climate, News

Panel Seeks Stiffer Rules for Drilling of Gas Wells

A federal Department of Energy panel issued recommendations on Thursday for improving the safety and environmental impact of drilling in shale formations for natural gas.

In a report on the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that is used currently in most oil and gas wells, the seven-member Natural Gas Subcommittee called for better tracking and more careful disposal of the waste that comes up from wells, stricter standards on air pollution and greenhouse gases associated with drilling, and the creation of a federal database so the public can better monitor drilling operations.

The report also called for companies to eliminate diesel fuel from their fracking fluid because it includes carcinogenic chemicals, and for companies and regulators to disclose the full list of ingredients used in fracking.

“The public deserves assurance that the full economic, environmental and energy security benefits of shale gas development will be realized without sacrificing public health, environmental protection and safety,” said the report, which was prepared by a subcommittee led by John Deutch, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and a group of energy experts including Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Federal officials should finance the development of more efficient and clean drilling techniques, the report said, adding that fees and taxes on industry were a legitimate way to pay for needed changes in oversight.


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Posted on Categories Energy, News

Arctic ‘Tipping Point’ May Not Be Reached

Scientists say current concerns over a tipping point in the disappearance of Arctic sea ice may be misplaced.

Danish researchers analysed ancient pieces of driftwood in north Greenland which they say is an accurate way to measure the extent of ancient ice loss. Writing in the journal Science, the team found evidence that ice levels were about 50% lower 5,000 years ago. They say changes to wind systems can slow down the rate of melting. They argue, therefore, that a tipping point under current scenarios is unlikely. While modern observations by ship and by satellite give us a very accurate picture of the recent state of the ice, historic information is limited. The ice comes and goes without leaving a permanent record.

But a Danish team believes it has found an indirect method that gives a clear picture of the ice loss dating back 11,000 years. Dr. Svend Funder from the Natural History Museum of Denmark led several expeditions to inhospitable regions of Northern Greenland. On these frozen shores the Danish team noticed several pieces of ancient driftwood. They concluded that it could be an important method of unlocking the secrets of the ancient ice.


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Posted on Categories Climate, News

Is Water Falling Off the Public Agenda?

Companies need to start thinking of ways to reduce their water consumption – and fast, warns Trewin Restorick

Kenya's flower industry provides 23% of its GDP - but it also uses a very high percentage of the nation's water, leaving local people vulnerable to shortages and even drought. Photograph: Getty

It’s a national cliché that the British are obsessed by the weather. The stereotypical view is of a wet, green and lush country where rain habitually spoils barbeques and summer holidays, but in certain parts of the country this perception is far from reality. The Committee on Climate Change recently highlighted that almost half of our water resource areas risk a supply shortfall by 2035 without additional investment.

Despite this, and other increasingly stark warnings, the British public continues to have a largely relaxed view to water use. Most households probably know the importance of waste recycling but the need to conserve water is far down the agenda. The irony is that it will be water shortages that are felt rather more than how we deal with our rubbish.

How can we create a sense of urgency around the importance of water? What needs to be done for people to treat it as the amazing and precious resource that it is, rather than something that can be simply flushed away and forgotten? As with all complex issues, collaborative action by all sectors is required.


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Posted on Categories News, Water

Huge Arctic Fire Hints at New Climate Cue

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.”

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Posted on Categories Climate, News