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Posts tagged "climate change"


Molecular chlorine found at high levels in Arctic atmosphere
The chlorine originates in sea salt and may have a role in climate change.

(via kenobi-wan-obi)


New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza joins Fresh Air to discuss “unconventional” oil resources and the Keystone Pipeline project in Northern Alberta Canada and its environmental and political ramifications:

As we sit here in October of 2013, immigration reform seems dead, gun control legislation is dead, and the government is shut down with no grand bargain in sight. So a lot of environmentalists say, “Why not concentrate on the things you can do unilaterally?” And one of those things you can do unilaterally is address climate change

photo of oil spill via the New York Times

Polar Opposites: Why Climate Change Affects Arctic & Antarctic Differently

The sea ice around Antarctica reached a record high in August of 7.2 million square miles (18.6 million square kilometers) — the greatest extent observed since recordkeeping began in 1979.

But as Antarctic sea ice grows, the sea ice of the Arctic is shrinking dramatically. The Northern ice cap reached a record low of 1.32 million square miles (3.42 million square km) in September 2012, due to warming air and waters.

If the Earth is warming, and both ends of the planet are affected by climate change, why, then, are the two poles showing such different trends?

For one thing, the North Pole and South Pole have fundamentally different geography. Antarctica is a huge icy continent surrounded by a ring of sea ice, whereas the Arctic ice cap floats on the ocean. And unlike Arctic ice, Antarctic sea ice is seasonal — it forms in winter and melts almost completely in summer. Strong circumpolar winds may be compacting and thickening the Antarctic ice. But the Arctic ice is much more vulnerable to ocean warming, and summer storms only speed up the thaw.

Recent Global Warming Slowed by Volcanoes

Global average temperatures have been rising in recent years, but not as much as they might have, thanks to a series of small-to-moderate-sized volcanic eruptions that have spewed sunlight-blocking particles high into the atmosphere. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which also finds that microscopic particles derived from industrial smokestacks have done little to cool the globe.

Between 2000 and 2010, the average atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide — a planet-warming greenhouse gas — rose more than 5%, from about 370 parts per million to nearly 390 parts per million. If that uptick were the only factor driving climate change during the period, global average temperature would have risen about 0.2°C, says Ryan Neely III, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. But a surge in the concentration of light-scattering particles in the stratosphere countered as much as 25% of that potential temperature increase, he notes.

According to satellite data, a measure of the light-scattering ability of the stratospheric particles, called aerosols, rose on average between 4% and 7% each year between 2000 and 2010. (The more incoming sunlight is scattered back into space, the stronger the cooling effect.) But researchers have strongly debated the source of those aerosols, Neely says. While many teams have suggested that the aerosols came from small-to-mid-sized volcanic eruptions, a few others have proposed that they originated in Asian smokestacks. Their rationale: Emissions of sulfur dioxide in India and China grew about 60% during the decade, and atmospheric convection associated with the region’s summer monsoon provides a way for watery droplets containing that gas to reach the stratosphere then diffuse around the world.


The commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be allocated based on countries’ historic responsibility for the emissions. This logic was recognized early on in climate negotiations. But the countries are still disputing how it should be interpreted and applied.

When the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992, “historic responsibility” was established – that is, the countries that release the most greenhouse gases also have a greater responsibility to reduce emissions. To some extent this is also reflected in the convention, where the industrialised countries (OECD) have made a greater commitment than the developing countries.

But despite twenty years of negotiations, there is still no prevailing consensus on how the historic responsibility should be interpreted in detail. Rather, the conflict has become sharper. So argues Mathias Friman, who recently defended his doctoral thesis at Water and Environmental Studies (WES) at Linköping University in Sweden. In his study, he brings out two different interpretations of the historic responsibility, which have come out in climate negotiations.

“On one hand there is proportional responsibility, namely responsibility in proportion to impact on the climate. This gives the industrialised countries the greatest responsibility, and has given rise to a number of different models; there are thousands of ways to calculate this.”

“Another interpretation is moral responsibility, where the countries contribute to reductions based on their capacity. This also gives the industrialised countries greater responsibility, but opens up a way for the new developing countries to make a greater commitment.”

While the developing countries argued for proportional responsibility, in accordance with the principle “the polluter pays”, it was countered by the rich countries with two main arguments: One is that it is far too difficult to calculate exactly what proportional responsibility means in the commitment. The other is that we cannot hold previous generations responsible for something they didn’t know was harmful.

The rich countries prefer to talk about moral responsibility, more based on capacity. This way, rapidly developing countries like Brazil, China, Mexico, South Africa, and India could also have greater commitments imposed as their capacity increases. China, for its part, has argued for historic responsibility calculated on a per capita basis.

Up until 2007 it historic responsibility was fairly silent in the negotiations, Friman states. The concept had been accepted, but the issue had been referred to an advisory body where various calculation models were worked out. Now, there are a range of such models and it is more difficult to blame it on “it can’t be calculated,” he says. The issue of historic responsibility has returned to the negotiations, and the conflict has become sharper.

“It is understandable that the conflict will heat up considerably now that historic responsibility will actually be translated into a range of commitments,” Friman says, citing the United States as an example:

The US says it wants to take the lead in climate work through committing to decreasing its emissions by 3% up through 2020, as compared with 1990. On the other hand, if the responsibility would be calculated proportionately, the US would end up with a reduction requirement closer to 50-60%.

Right now it’s difficult to see a solution, Friman states, who in his thesis also reviewed the rules for dialogues within the climate convention. Rules for decision-making are absent, and the mechanisms for conflict resolution other than through negotiation are very weak. Among other things, this means that all decisions must be taken in consensus and that agreements must be accepted or rejected in their entirety – something that paves the way for sharp contradictions and intense conflicts, he states.


Further reading:


Reducing carbon dioxide emissions may not be enough to curb global warming, say Stanford University scientists. The solution could require carbon-negative technologies that actually remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.


Decaying plants contribute to global warming by releasing carbon dioxide into the air. Now researchers are converting plant wastes into biochar - a charcoal-like substance that can be used as fertilizer to permanently lock the carbon underground. These lettuce plots in Minnesota were amended with 20,000 pounds of macadamia-nutshell biochar per acre to evaluate the effect on crop yield, soil fertility and greenhouse gas production from the field. Image: Amanda Bidwell, USDA/Agricultural Research Service.

In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, President Obama singled out climate change as a top priority for his second administration. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence,” he said. “Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”

Four years ago, the president addressed rising global temperatures by pledging a 17 percent cut in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 2020, and an 80 percent cut by 2050. The administration has taken a number of steps to meet those goals, such as investing billions of dollars in wind, solar and other carbon-neutral energy technologies.

But reducing CO2 emissions may not be enough to curb global warming, according to Stanford scientists. The solution, they say, could also require developing carbon-negative technologies that remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. Their findings are summarized in a report by Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP).

“To achieve the targeted cuts, we would need a scenario where, by the middle of the century, the global economy is transitioning from net positive to net negative CO2 emissions,” said report co-author Chris Field, a professor of biology and of environmental Earth system science at Stanford. “We need to start thinking about how to implement a negative-emissions energy strategy on a global scale.”

In the GCEP report, Field and lead author Jennifer Milne describe a suite of emerging carbon-negative solutions to global warming – from bioenergy technologies to ocean sequestration. Many of the examples cited were initially presented at a negative carbon emissions workshop hosted by GCEP in 2012.

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Former University of Michigan graduate student Katy Keller with a hand on eroded and melting permafrost near Toolik Lake, Alaska. The gully erosion seen here is a type of thermokarst failure, formed when ice-rich, permanently frozen soils are warmed and thawed. Image: George Kling

Ancient carbon trapped in Arctic permafrost is extremely sensitive to sunlight and, if exposed to the surface when long-frozen soils melt and collapse, can release climate-warming carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere much faster than previously thought.

University of Michigan ecologist and aquatic biogeochemist George Kling and his colleagues studied places in Arctic Alaska where permafrost is melting and is causing the overlying land surface to collapse, forming erosional holes and landslides and exposing long-buried soils to sunlight.

They found that sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas by at least 40 percent compared to carbon that remains in the dark. The team, led by Rose Cory of the University of North Carolina, reported its findings in an article to be published online Feb. 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Until now, we didn’t really know how reactive this ancient permafrost carbon would be — whether it would be converted into heat-trapping gases quickly or not,” said Kling, a professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. EEB graduate student Jason Dobkowski is a co-author of the paper.

“What we can say now is that regardless of how fast the thawing of the Arctic permafrost occurs, the conversion of this soil carbon to carbon dioxide and its release into the atmosphere will be faster than we previously thought,” Kling said. “That means permafrost carbon is potentially a huge factor that will help determine how fast the Earth warms.”

Tremendous stores of organic carbon have been frozen in Arctic permafrost soils for thousands of years. If thawed and released as carbon dioxide gas, this vast carbon repository has the potential to double the amount of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas in the atmosphere on a timescale similar to humanity’s inputs of carbon dioxide due to the burning of fossil fuels.

That creates the potential for a positive feedback: As the Earth warms due to the human-caused release of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, frozen Arctic soils also warm, thaw and release more carbon dioxide. The added carbon dioxide accelerates Earth’s warming, which further accelerates the thawing of Arctic soils and the release of even more carbon dioxide.

Recent climate change has increased soil temperatures in the Arctic and has thawed large areas of permafrost. Just how much permafrost will thaw in the future and how fast the carbon dioxide will be released is a topic of heated debate among climate scientists.

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Emissions from coal power stations could be drastically reduced by a new, energy-efficient material that adsorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide, then releases it when exposed to sunlight.

In a study published today in Angewandte Chemie, Monash University and CSIRO scientists for the first time discovered a photosensitive metal organic framework (MOF) – a class of materials known for their exceptional capacity to store gases. This has created a powerful and cost-effective new tool to capture and store, or potentially recycle, carbon dioxide.

By utilising sunlight to release the stored carbon, the new material overcomes the problems of expense and inefficiency associated with current, energy-intensive methods of carbon capture. Current technologies use liquid capture materials that are then heated in a prolonged process to release the carbon dioxide for storage.

Associate Professor Bradley Ladewig of the Monash Department of Chemical Engineering said the MOF was an exciting development in emissions reduction technology. 

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Image: Chang’r/Flickr

Toronto – and other cities around the world – can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by implementing aggressive but practical policy changes, says a new study by Professor Chris Kennedy and World Bank climate change specialist Lorraine Sugar .

Professor Kennedy and Sugar make the claim in ‘A low carbon infrastructure plan for Toronto, Canada,’ published in the latest issue of The Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering. The paper aims to show how cities can make a positive difference using realistic, achievable steps. Their research shows that it is technically possible for cities, even in Canada, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent or more in the long-term. 

“This is the sort of reduction the international community is calling for, so we can avoid the potentially serious consequences of climate change,” said Professor Kennedy.

Professor Kennedy and Sugar note that more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and over 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to cities.

“Cities are where people live, where economic activity flourishes,” said Sugar. “Cities are where local actions can have global impact.”

The study focuses on buildings, energy supply and transportation. Best practices as well as options and opportunities are detailed.

“It is possible for a Canadian city, in this case Toronto, to reduce its GHG emissions by the sort of magnitudes that the international scientific community have indicated are necessary globally to keep global temperature rise below 2 C,” Professor Kennedy and Sugar write.

“With current policies, especially cleaning of the electricity grid, Toronto’s per-capita GHG emissions could be reduced by 30 per cent over the next 20 years. To go further, however, reducing emissions in the order of 70 per cent, would require significant retrofitting of the building stock, utilization of renewable heating and cooling systems, and the complete proliferation of electric, or other low carbon, automobiles.”

The biggest obstacle is the city’s building stock, according to Professor Kennedy. Buildings have a lifespan measured in decades, so it takes time to replace older buildings with more energy-efficient ones.

The study arose out of a handbook Professor Kennedy and his students produced for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority in 2010, Getting to Carbon Neutral: A Guide for Canadian Municipalities. In the current paper, he and Sugar wanted to demonstrate how cities could achieve measurable results by adopting the policies outlined in the guide.

Professor Kennedy, author of The Evolution of Great World Cities: Urban Wealth and Economic Growth (2011), teaches a course on the design of infrastructure for sustainable cities. He has consulted for the World Bank, the United Nations and the OECD on urban environment issues.


Further Reading:

Predators as Climate Helpers

In lakes and streams, fish and insects can help protect aquatic plants that gobble up greenhouse gas

Climate scientists note that Earth will suffer excessive warming if levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere get much higher. That’s why scientists have been looking for ways to encourage living organisms to act like a sponge, mopping up and storing much of that carbon dioxide. These carbon-storing species include trees, grasses and algae.