Climate change may knock seafood off the menu

Climate change may knock seafood off the menu

Researchers warn of a serious threat to fish, mussels and other marine species as carbon dioxide acidifies the world’s waters and increases temperatures.

LONDON, 7 July, 2015 – Pink salmon – the smallest and most abundant of the Pacific salmon species, and a supper table mainstay in many parts of the world – may be swimming towards trouble.

And they are not the only dish likely to disappear from the menu. Mussels, oysters, clam and scallop could all become scarcer and more expensive as the seas become more acid. And as the world’s waters warm, fish will start to migrate away from their normal grounds at an ever-increasing rate.

New research shows that as the world’s waters acidify because of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) could become smaller and less likely to survive.

Potentially problematic

Previous studies have repeatedly and consistently explored potentially problematic consequences of change in the pH value of the world’s oceans. The higher the carbon dioxide concentrations in the air as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels, the greater the change in oceanic acidity levels.

But researchers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and colleagues looked at the special problems of freshwater fish.

Only about 0.8% of the world’s water is fresh – that is, found in lakes and rivers – but freshwater species represent 40% of all fishes. Salmon spawn and the young are reared in fresh water, before taking to the seas to mature, then returning to repeat the cycle.

The Vancouver scientists report in Nature Climate Change that they tested very young embryos in water at acidity levels expected at the end of this century, and observed them for 10 weeks.

They found that these laboratory-reared salmon were smaller, and their ability to smell was reduced, which could mean problems in returning to their spawning grounds or for scenting danger and responding to it.

“It is not too late for society to benefit greatly from immediate reductions in CO2 emissions”

At the age of seaward migration, they were less able to use oxygen in their muscles, which promised problems finding food, evading predators or making long journeys.

“The increase in carbon dioxide in water is actually quite small from a chemistry perspective, so we didn’t expect to see so many effects,” said Michelle Ou, lead author of the study. “The growth, physiology and behaviour of these developing pink salmon are very much influenced by these small changes.”

Salmon aren’t the only freshwater fish at risk from climate change. Research published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reveals that a rise in water temperatures of 5°C could make common pesticides and industrial contaminants ever more toxic.

Ronald Patra, an environmental scientist at the Department of Planning and Environment in New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues tested rainbow trout, silver perch, rainbowfish and western carp gudgeon at temperatures higher than optimum for the species and in the presence of endosulfan, chlorpyrifos and phenol − all of which wash into waterways from the land.

Results varied according to pollutant, species and temperature, but, overall, all three chemicals became increasingly toxic as water temperatures rose.

Future toxicity

On the coast of Mangalore in southwest India, where mussel farming has become a growing industry, researchers decided to test future toxicity conditions for the green mussel.

The Society of Experimental Biology meeting in Prague learned that the bivalves were raised in high temperature and low salt conditions and exposed to toxic algae and bacteria of the kind that might be expected in a changing climate, which in turn affected the timing of the monsoon in ways that could lower seawater salinity.

“This is likely to increase the chance of outbreaks of toxic plankton blooms and make farming bivalves such as mussels increasingly challenging,” the meeting was told.

But changes to water chemistry – once again, the shift in pH values as yet more carbonic acid builds up in the seas – create problems enough for the commercial shellfisheries.

Wiley Evans, research associate at the Ocean Acidification Research Centre of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and colleagues report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that shellfish farmers off the Alaska coast might, at extra expense, have to start modifying the sea water in their hatcheries because, the researchers reported, they expect “significant effects” from acidification by 2040.

The scientists monitored for 10 months the effects of water chemistry changes on oyster, clam, scallop and other shellfish larvae.

Alaska – with a limited growing season, melting glaciers that affect salinity, and with colder waters that more readily dissolve carbon dioxide – is a special case.

But in general, as researchers have repeatedly found, increasingly corrosive waters would make it more difficult for shellfish to exploit the calcium carbonate minerals needed to make shells.

Shellfish spend their maturity in one spot, whereas fish can and do shift their grounds when the conditions become uncomfortable − with consequences for established commercial catches such as sardines and sea bass.

Likely to migrate

But a 5°C average warming in global atmospheric temperatures – and climate scientists have repeatedly warned that this is possible before 2100 – means that fish are likely to migrate away from their existing habitats considerably faster than they are doing now.

Jean-Pierre Gattuso, of the Oceanological Observatory in Villefranche, France, and colleagues looked at the evidence on a global scale and report in Science journal that, without attempts to mitigate global warming, the oceans and the creatures in them will be seriously affected by temperature changes and acidification.

This is very bad news for the millions of people in the communities that depend on the seas for a living.

“On a positive note, we still have options to substantially reduce these impacts now, but the longer we wait the fewer and fewer options we have,” warns co-author William Cheung, of the fisheries centre at Canada’s University of British Columbia.

Commenting on the research, Jason Hall-Spencer, a professor of marine biology at Plymouth University in the UK, said: “This review screams at me that the evidence is in, and it is not too late for society to benefit greatly from immediate reductions in CO2 emissions.” – Climate News Network

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Deaths mount as Pakistan heatwave is linked to climate

Deaths mount as Pakistan heatwave is linked to climate

More than 1,200 people have died as the result of an intense heatwave in southern Pakistan, and experts warn of more hot weather to come.

ISLAMABAD, 6 July, 2015 − Pakistan’s lack of preparedness in the face of increasingly intense weather events is being blamed for a growing death toll following what has been one of the most sustained heatwaves in the country since records began.

And weather experts say that the extreme heat – which lasted for much of the second half of June, and was felt most in the southern province of Sindh – is linked to climate change.

Ghulam Rasul, director general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), told Climate News Network that the intense heat was caused by an unusually persistent area of low pressure over the Arabian Sea off Pakistan’s coast.

“Usually, in summer, cool winds blow from the sea to land, and in winter the situation is the opposite,” he said. “This moderates temperatures in the port city of Karachi, but this summer, this didn’t happen.”

Climate taskforce

Pervaiz Amir, formerly a member of a special taskforce on climate change set up by Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, said: “The mortality from heatstroke could have been avoided had the Sindh provincial government responded to a heatwave forecast issued by the Pakistan Meteorological Department.”

Karachi, a city of nearly 20 million, was worst hit, with bodies piling up in the city’s morgues, and hospitals crammed with people suffering from severe heatstroke as daytime temperatures climbed to well over 40°C for extended periods.

About 65,000 heatstroke patients were treated at the city’s hospitals, and the death toll in southern Pakistan climbed above 1,200.

“This is leading to more extreme weather events, with floods and heatwaves becoming more intense and frequent in recent years”

Chronic energy shortages – a common occurrence in Pakistan – added to the problem, and the heatwave came during Ramadan, the Muslim fasting period when people do not eat or drink during daylight hours.

Experts say Karachi has also suffered from what’s known as the urban heat island effect, with poor urban planning and a lack of green spaces making conditions even hotter.

Social workers say the majority of those who have died have been the poor and homeless. At one stage, Karachi’s cemeteries ran out of space for burying the dead.

Mohsin Iqbal, a climate scientist at the state-owned Global Change Impact Study Centre in Islamabad, says temperature increases in Pakistan are above the rise in average global temperatures.

Extreme events

“This is leading to more extreme weather events, with floods and heatwaves becoming more intense and frequent in recent years,” he says.

Climate experts say weather patterns throughout the Asian sub-continent are changing, with more intense periods of heat, delays in the monsoon season and a greater incidence of drought conditions.

In April and May this year, many parts of India were hit by an intense heatwave, causing the death of more than 2,000 people.

AccuWeather, a global forecasting service, says delays in the arrival of monsoon rains and further hot periods are likely to exacerbate drought conditions in Pakistan and northwest India in July and August, threatening crop production across a wide swathe of land. – Climate News Network

  • Saleem Shaikh is a freelance climate change and science journalist, based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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Coal investment is the most urgent climate threat

Coal investment is the most urgent climate threat

Head of the OECD says wealthy countries should help poorer nations that cannot afford to replace coal with low-carbon alternatives.

LONDON, 5 July, 2015 − The future of coal has come under scrutiny from a perhaps unlikely source – the head of the organisation representing wealthy nations that relied on coal for 32% of electricity generation last year.

Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said the scale of new investments in “unabated” coal-fired electricity generation − where greenhouse gases are emitted directly to the atmosphere − posed the most urgent threat to the Earth’s climate.

Speaking in London, he said governments should be sceptical about the benefits of coal for their citizens. They should rethink the role of coal in energy supply, and conduct a more rigorous evaluation of its true costs.

Environmental costs

With prices failing to fully account for the environmental, health and financial costs of coal, many of the coal plants being built today might have to be shut down before the end of their economic lifetimes.

The OECD, founded to stimulate economic progress and world trade, has 34 members drawn from the richest and most powerful industrialised countries.

But Gurría, in a passage that will hearten many developing countries in the approach to the UN climate change negotiations in Paris in November/December this year, said that if poorer nations could not afford low-carbon alternatives, then richer countries should find the money to close the cost gap.

“We have been in a process for over 20 years and, so far, the commitments simply don’t add up

Without new mitigation measures, coal generation is projected to emit more than 500 billion tonnes of CO2 between now and 2050 − eating up around half the remaining carbon budget that scientists say is consistent with keeping a global temperature rise below 2°C.

In any case, Dr Gurría said, countries’ contributions to emissions reductions after 2020 are not consistent with a 2°C pathway. He said the carbon clock was ticking and the Paris COP21 climate conference must give a clear and credible signal that governments are determined to go for a higher level of ambition.

“Calling something a process doesn’t guarantee an outcome,” he said. “We have been in a process for over 20 years and, so far, the commitments simply don’t add up.”

Continued investment in coal is one of many “misalignments” between climate goals and countries’ policies in other domains, Dr Gurría said.

Action undermined

A report by the OECD, its specialised Nuclear Energy Agency, the International Energy Agency and the International Transport Forum says policy misalignments undermine climate action in areas from tax to trade, electricity market regulation and land use.

The report says two-thirds of global energy investments still go into fossil fuels, 50% of agricultural subsidies in OECD countries harm the climate, and various tax provisions encourage fossil fuel production and use.

This “policy incoherence”, as the report describes it, limits the effectiveness of countries’ climate change efforts, and increases the cost of the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Dr Gurría urged governments to consider what needed to be done to resolve such misalignments, starting with a demand that each ministry should regularly report on which of its policies run counter to desirable climate results. − Climate News Network

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Transport sharing boosts health, wealth and climate

Transport sharing boosts health, wealth and climate

Growing public involvement in schemes to share cars and bicycles is clearly good for the environment, but it also saves money and improves people’s health.

LONDON, 4 July, 2015 − New research into how people’s habits change shows that everyone benefits from car-sharing schemes − apart from car manufacturers who suffer a loss of sales.

Car sharing is a growing social trend across Europe and North America and is expected to increase by 36% annually to 2020, especially in compact cities where people do not need a car every day but want to use one for family trips and holidays.

In the European Union, 72% of people live in cities and account for 70% of energy consumption, so car sharing could make a big contribution to reducing emissions as well as cutting air pollution. The increasing use of phone apps to locate the nearest vehicle or bicycle in a sharing scheme means organisation has become cheaper and simpler.

Sprawling cities

Even in North America, where cities are more sprawling, research shows there were 23 car-share operators in the US in 2014. They had 1.3 million members, sharing 19,115 cars.

In a survey conducted for the Transportation Sustainability Research Centre at the University of California Berkeley, investigations into the habits of 9,500 car-sharers showed that a quarter of the participants had sold their cars, and another quarter had postponed purchase of a new one.

The researchers concluded that one shared car replaced between nine and 13 privately-owned cars. For each family, this meant a 34%-41% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’ll be living closer together in the future,
and sharing vehicles will be even more
efficient in a compact city”

Another positive finding was that car-sharers made more use of public transport, bicycles and walking. They saved money because of not having to pay out on car insurance, repairs and other costs.

Lars Böcker, a researcher in the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at Oslo University, Norway, says: “Sharing of bicycles and cars is an innovative means of transport. We’ll be living closer together in the future, and sharing vehicles will be even more efficient in a compact city.

“There are a number of advantages to joining a car-share co-operative where members share cars as needed, or a subscription scheme where you locate the closest car available when you want to go somewhere.

“Users don’t have to think about fixed expenses, parking problems, insurance, battery charging or fuelling. The idea is that you have access to a vehicle only when you need it.”

Positively inclined

Böcker has studied attitudes to the sharing of products and services in Amsterdam. He found that women were more positively inclined to sharing than men, and that older people were less willing to share services and products than younger people. People with a non-Western cultural background shared more than the average.

The survey also inquired about the motivation for sharing. In the case of car sharing and ride sharing, it was a mix of environmental considerations and the desire to save money, according to the research.

It also showed a broad swathe of the population is positively inclined to the sharing economy.

Böcker says: “This means that these schemes have a potential for considerable up-scaling; they do not represent a niche phenomenon. Only a few people need a car daily in the city, but many need access to a vehicle now and then . . .

“Sharing can give more people access to a vehicle in just this sort of situation, without there being an increase in the total amount of vehicle transport.” – Climate News Network

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Global warming threatens colder climate for Europe

Global warming threatens colder climate for Europe

New evidence that increased melting of sea ice as the Earth warms could weaken the Gulf Stream and reduce temperatures in western Europe.

LONDON, 3 July, 2015 – Scientists have yet again warned that weakening ocean circulation in the North Atlantic could deliver a climate paradox − a colder Europe as a consequence of global warming.

A study published in Nature Climate Change found that as sea ice off Iceland and Greenland retreats, the flow of cold, dense water to the bottom of the North Atlantic ocean could be reduced, and therefore weaken the warming effects of the Gulf Stream.

The great submarine current − sometimes called the Atlantic Conveyor − flows south to surface in the tropics as the Gulf Stream, which then flows north again to deliver tropic warmth to European coasts.

However, a slowdown in the natural overturning of the ocean could weaken the Gulf Stream, which in turn could cool the atmosphere over the British Isles and western Europe.

“A warm western Europe requires a cold North Atlantic, and the warming that the North Atlantic is now experiencing has the potential to result in a cooling over Western Europe,” says Kent Moore, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada.

Calamitous change

Such a possible collapse of a natural oceanic system is predicated as one of the irreversible tipping points that could result in calamitous climate change.

Scientists have twice warned in the past six months that such change could be irreversible, unless governments jointly decide to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels by switching to renewable sources of energy.

Another research group reported in March this year on how the changing salinity of the northern ocean waters − because of the increasing flow of meltwater from land-borne glaciers − threatened a weakening of the Atlantic Conveyor.

“The heat exchange is weaker – it’s like turning down the stove 20%”

In the latest study, Professor Moore and colleagues from Norway, the US and the UK looked not at changes in ocean salinity, but at the exchange of heat between sea and air.

Climate is driven by contrasts, and the flow of heat between water and wind in winter has weakened by around 20% since 1979. The Arctic is the fastest-warming region of the planet, and changes in the polar climate can have dramatic consequences for the temperate zones.

Prof Moore and his colleagues looked at wintertime data from the Iceland and Greenland Seas between 1958 and 2014, then used computer simulations to model potential changes to the Conveyor − more formally known to oceanographers and climate scientists as the Atlantic Meridional Ocean Circulation.

Cold and salty

The warm current loses its heat to the atmosphere as it moves north, and water that is both cold and salty is denser and more likely to descend.

The most effective place for such a process to happen is at the edge of the sea ice. If the sea ice retreats, then so does the region of maximum heat exchange. For the past 10,000 years or so, this heat exchange has happened at the ideal spot for surface waters to sink. Any change might not be for the better.

The Gulf Stream is the agency that makes Britain, for example, about 5°C warmer than Labrador in Canada, on the same latitude. A British government chief scientific adviser once calculated that the Gulf Stream delivered the warmth of 27,000 power stations. So if it weakens, Europe could start to feel the chill.

“The heat exchange is weaker – it’s like turning down the stove 20%,” Prof Moore says. “We believe the weakening will continue and eventually cause changes in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and the Gulf Stream, which can impact the climate of Europe.” – Climate News Network

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Carbon capture goes down the tubes

Carbon capture goes down the tubes

One of the much-heralded solutions to climate change which its supporters believe could enable the world to continue to burn fossil fuels looks likely to be a failure.

LONDON, 2 July, 2015 – Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is backed by governments and the International Energy Agency (IEA) as one of the best methods of reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and saving the planet from overheating.

The problem is that despite this enthusiasm and the fact that CCS (also called carbon sequestration) is technically possible, it is not happening. It is cheaper and easier to build wind and solar farms to produce electricity than it is to collect and store the carbon from coal-powered plants’ emissions.

For years CO2 has been used by injecting it into old oil wells to extract more fuel, but the cost of building new plants just to store the gas is proving prohibitive.

Hundreds of plants were expected to be up and running by 2030, but so far none has been built. Despite this, the IEA and governments across the world are relying on CCS to save the planet from climate change.

For example, official policy in the UK still envisages up to fifty industrial plants and power stations using CCS being linked to CO2 pipelines which would inject the gas into old oil and gas wells, removing it from the atmosphere for ever.

But research by Mads Dahl Gjefsen, a scientist at the TIK Centre of Technology, Innovation and Culture at the University of Oslo, Norway, says pessimism prevails within the industry about the future of carbon capture and storage in both the US and the European Union.

Cost too high

Collecting liquid carbon dioxide by pipeline from large plants powered by coal is designed to allow steel, cement and chemical industries to continue to operate without making climate change worse.

But the cost is proving so high that plants are not being built. This is partly because the penalties imposed by governments in the form of a carbon tax or charges for pollution permits are so low that there is no incentive for carbon capture.

Another problem is that the technology for removing carbon from fossil fuels, either before or after combustion, uses 40% more fuel to achieve the same amount of power.

In conferences designed to promote the technology enthusiasts wonder how long they can continue, despite the “fine promises” that it was this technology that would save the oil and gas industry, Gjefsen says.

He gives the example of Norway, which has invested billions of kroner in the research and development of CCS. In 2007 the former prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, said that CCS would be “Norway’s moon landing.”

However, a full-scale treatment plant at the industrial site at Mongstad never came to fruition. The technology proved too energy-intensive and costly for large-scale use.

No takers

Four years of study and talking to industry insiders and environmental organisations, some of which have backed CCS, show the arguments for carbon capture differ from country to country, but in none of them is the technology taking off, he reports.

Gjefsen says that in America the major political restrictions on emissions never materialised. The only way that sufficient incentives could be provided to hasten the development of CCS is if emission cuts were imposed and the polluter made to pay.

In the EU, emission quotas were so generous that it was difficult to finance CCS because the price of carbon was so low.

Despite the fact that the technology is not being developed, the official position of governments remains that it is part of the solution to climate change.

They all accept the IEA estimate that to achieve a 50% cut in global CO2 emissions by 2050 (widely believed to be equivalent to limiting the increase in global temperature to 2°C), CCS will need to contribute nearly one-fifth of emissions reductions, across both power and industrial sectors.

The IEA has also estimated that by 2050 the cost of tackling climate change without CCS could be 70% higher than with it. The message from EU estimates is similar: 40% higher without CCS by 2030. – Climate News Network

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Alaska’s glaciers melt faster as climate change speeds up

Alaska's glaciers melt faster as climate change speeds up

Climate change rather than natural causes is the main cause of Alaska’s glacier loss, which is set to speed up, US scientists say.

LONDON, 30 June, 2015 – The glaciers of Alaska are melting and retreating: the chief cause is climate change and the loss of ice is unlikely to slow, according to a new study by US scientists.

They calculate that the frozen rivers of the Pacific coast of America’s northernmost state are melting fast enough to cover the whole of Alaska with 30 cms of water every seven years.

Since Alaska is enormous – it covers 1.5 million square kilometres and is the size of California, Texas and Montana put together – this adds up to a significant contribution to sea level rise.

“The Alaska region has long been considered a primary player in the global sea level budget, but the exact details of the drivers and mechanisms of Alaska glacier change have been stubbornly elusive,” said Chris Larsen, a geophysicist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and lead author of a study in Geophysical Research Letters.

Taxonomy of change

Scientists from the University of Alaska and the US Geological Survey analysed studies of 116 glaciers in the Alaska region over a 19-year-period to estimate the rate at which ice melted and icebergs calved.

They used airborne lidar remote sensing technology and other techniques, historical data and a global glacier inventory to establish a kind of taxonomy of glacier change.

The Columbia Glacier in Prince William Sound had retreated more than 19 kilometres because of iceberg calving and had thinned by 450 meters in height since 1980. But, unexpectedly, tidewater glaciers – those that end in the ocean – seemed to make comparatively little contribution to sea level rise.

“Instead we show that glaciers ending on land are losing mass exceptionally fast, overshadowing mass changes due to iceberg calving, and making climate-related melting the primary control on mountain glacier mass loss,” Dr Larsen said.

Big contributor

He and his colleagues calculated that Alaska is losing ice at the rate of 75 billion metric tons a year. Such research is just one more piece of careful cross-checking in the great mosaic of climate research: another systematic confirmation that overall, glaciers are not losing ice in response to some natural cycle of change of the kind that occasionally confuses the picture for climate science.

The agency at work is largely global warming as a response to the steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels.

Mountain glaciers represent only 1% of the total ice on the planet: the other 99% is found in Greenland – which is melting fast – and in the great frozen continent of Antarctica, where ice mass is being lost at an increasing rate.

But although the mountains of the temperate and tropic zones bear only a tiny percentage of the planet’s ice, their melting accounts for almost a third of the sea level rise currently measured by oceanographers, and this melting will go on to become a big contributor to the sea levels later this century.

“Alaska will continue to be a major driver of sea level change in the upcoming decades”

Across the border in Canada, glaciologists have warned that the country will lose a huge volume of flowing ice, and while one team has confirmed that air pollution rather than global warming long ago began to strip Europe’s Alps of their glaciers, in general mountain peaks are warming faster than the valleys and plains below them.

Geophysicists and glaciologists have established that the glaciers of the tropical Andes are at risk, and in the Himalayan mountain chain glaciers seem to be in inexorable retreat with consequences that could be devastating for the many millions in the Indian subcontinent and in China who rely on seasonal meltwater for agriculture.

Glaciers are by definition hard to study – they are high, cold and in dangerous terrain – and such research is inevitably incomplete: the scientists for instance excluded glaciers smaller than three square kilometres. But together these small patches of flowing ice account for 16% of Alaska’s glaciated landscape. The 116 glaciers in the survey together added up to only 41% of the state’s glaciated area.

But the pattern established by the Fairbanks team suggests that melting will accelerate with climate change. “Rates of loss from Alaska are unlikely to decline, since surface melt is the predominant driver, and summer temperatures are expected to increase,” said Dr Larsen.

“There is a lot of momentum in the system, and Alaska will continue to be a major driver of sea level change in the upcoming decades.” – Climate News Network

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Scientists detect mysterious warming in US coastal waters

Scientists detect mysterious warming in US coastal waters

Unprecedented ocean temperature rises off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the US may be linked to sea level rise or the recent pattern of “weird” weather.

LONDON, 28 June, 2015 − Oceanographers are puzzled by an accelerated burst of warming sea that threatens the fisheries of the American Atlantic coast.

Meanwhile, off the US West coast, scientists report that they have been baffled by a mysterious “blob” of water up to 4°C warmer than the surrounding Pacific, linked to weird weather across the entire country.

Jacob Forsyth and research colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts report in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans that the ocean off the US north-east continental shelf has been warming at unprecedented levels for 13 years.

Their findings came after analysis of data from sensors − called bathythermographs − dropped 14 times a year from the container ship Oleander, which for 37 years has travelled between New Jersey and Bermuda. Each detector takes the temperature of the water column as it sinks up to 700 metres.

Startling discovery

What they were startled to discover was an unexplained, and unprecedented, rise in the water temperatures that may be linked with an equally mysterious sea level anomaly: sea levels are going up, but they are going up faster off the north-east coast of the US than almost anywhere else.

“The warming rate since 2002 is 15 times faster than from the previous 100 years,” says Glen Gawarkiewicz, a WHOI senior scientist and one of the authors of the report.

“There’s just been this incredible acceleration to the warming, and we don’t know if it’s decadal variability or if this trend will continue.”

“It’s producing conditions that we think are going to be more common with global warming”

To make sure of their perspective, the authors compared their analysis with surface data from the Nantucket lightship and other such installations along the coast, from 1880 to 2004. The new study shows that the warming is not just confined to surface waters.

Although there must be some link with the steady rise in atmospheric temperatures because of global warming as a result of human-made carbon dioxide emissions, the oceanographers suspect there may also be another explanation, so far undiscovered.

Off the Pacific coast, meteorologists have been scratching their heads over the appearance in 2014 of a “remarkably” warm patch −  1,500 kilometres across in every direction and 100 metres deep − that could be linked to “weird” weather across the continental US that has seen heat and drought in the west and blizzards and chills in the East.

High pressure ridge

Nicholas Bond,  a research meteorologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters that what they have called “the blob” was linked to a persistent high pressure ridge, linked in turn to a calmer ocean during the last two northern hemisphere winters.

The blob plays a sure role in the West Coast weather. Air sweeping across it picks up heat, and this results in warmer temperatures and lower snowpack in coastal mountains − which certainly stoke up the conditions for drought.

A second study in Geophysical Research Letters links the warm Pacific puzzle to the big freeze in the eastern states in 2013 and 2014.

Once again, there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection with climate change, but it raises the spectre of changes to come.

“This is a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades,” Dr Bond says. “It wasn’t caused by global warming, but it’s producing conditions that we think are going to be more common with global warming.” − Climate News Network

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Renewable energy redoubles its global reach

Renewable energy redoubles its global reach

As the world economy and energy use both grew in 2014, renewables continued their rapid rise but carbon emissions did not. 

LONDON, 27 June, 2015 − A significant threshold has been crossed by renewable energy as analysts report that the sectorʼs size last year reached double the level it was at just 10 years earlier.

This expansion happened in a year when the global economy and energy use both grew, but without a matching rise in emissions of carbon dioxide − the main greenhouse gas targeted in efforts to restrain global warming.

The report by REN21, a global renewable energy policy network, says the result is an example of sustainable development. Despite the worldʼs annual 1.5% increase in energy consumption in recent years and 3% GDP growth last year, 2014ʼs CO emissions were unchanged from 2013ʼs total of 32.3 billion tonnes.

The reportʼs authors say this decoupling of economic and CO growth is due to Chinaʼs increased use of renewables and to efforts by OECD countries to promote more sustainable growth, including by increased energy efficiency and use of renewable energy.

“Renewable energy and improved energy efficiency are key to limiting global warming to 2°C and avoiding dangerous climate change,” says Arthouros Zervos, who chairs REN21.

Distorting subsidies

Solar, wind and other technologies, including large hydro-electric schemesused in 164 countries added another 135 Gigawatts last year to bring the worldʼs total installed renewable energy power capacity to 1,712 GW. This was 8.5% up on 2013, and more than double the 800 GW of capacity recorded in 2004. One GW can power between 750,000 and one million typical US homes.

The authors say the sectorʼs growth could be even greater were it not for more than US$550 bn paid out in annual subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear energy. They say the subsidies keep the prices for energy from these fuels artificially low, encouraging wasteful use and hindering competition.

Infographic: REN21

Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21, says: “Creating a level playing field would strengthen the development and use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Removing fossil fuel and hidden nuclear subsidies globally would make it evident that renewables are the cheapest energy option.”

By the end of 2014, renewables comprised an estimated 27.7% of the worldʼs power generating capacity − enough to supply an estimated 22.8% of global electricity demand.

The amount of electricity available from renewables worldwide is now greater than that produced by all coal-burning plants in the US. Coal supplied about 38% of US electricity in 2013, compared with around 50% in the early 2000s.

Solar photovoltaic capacity has had a rapid 68-fold growth, from 2.6 GW in 2004 to 177 GW in 2014, while wind power capacity has increased eightfold, from 48 GW in 2004 to 370 GW in 2014. Employment in the sector is also growing fast, with an estimated 7.7m people worldwide working directly or indirectly on renewable energy last year.

Outpacing fossil fuels

New investment globally in renewable power capacity was more than twice that of investment in net fossil fuel power capacity, continuing the trend of renewables outpacing fossil fuels in net investment for the fifth year running.

Investment in developing countries was up 36% from the previous year, to $131.3 bn. It came closer than ever to overtaking the investment total for developed economies, which reached $138.9 bn in 2014 − up only 3% from 2013.

China accounted for 63% of developing country investment, with Chile, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey each investing more than $1bn. By dollars spent, the leading countries for investment were China, the US, Japan, the UK and Germany. Leading countries for investments relative to per capita GDP were Burundi, Kenya, Honduras, Jordan and Uruguay.

But REN21 points out that more than a billion people − 15% of humanity − still lack access to electricity, and the entire African continent has less power generation capacity than Germany.

The report says that off-grid solar PV has “a significant and growing market presence”, and other distributed renewable energy technologies are improving life in remote off-grid areas.

However, it stresses that this growth rate is still not enough to achieve the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) goals of doubling renewable energy and energy efficiency, and providing universal access for all by 2030. − Climate News Network

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Prospect of warmer winters doesn’t mean fewer deaths

Prospect of warmer winters doesn’t mean fewer deaths

New scientific study pours cold water on the theory that mortality rates will drop in winter months as the climate warms.

LONDON, 26 June, 2015 − Global warming is unlikely to mean that fewer people in northern latitudes will die from cold during the winter, according to a study by scientists in the US.

Despite arguments that an increase in death rates caused by global warming and increased summertime temperatures will be offset by a matching drop in mortality as winter temperatures also rise, the study cautions against assuming any such link as research suggests otherwise.

The study, carried out over several years, looked at temperature-related seasonal mortality rates, particularly among elder people, in a total of 39 cities – the majority in the US, and three in France.

It concludes: “Our findings suggest that reductions in cold-related mortality rates under a warming climate may be much smaller than some have assumed.”

The research, carried out by a team led by Professor Patrick Kinney, a specialist in public health at the Columbia University Earth Institute in the US, is published in the Environmental Research Letters journal.

Temperature range

“We found that excess winter mortality did not depend on seasonal temperature range and was no lower in warmer vs colder cities, suggesting that temperature is not a key driver of winter excess mortality,” the study says.

Although the researchers acknowledge that seasonal temperature patterns can have an effect on health, many other factors influence mortality rates in winter among elderly people.

Diseases such as influenza – often transmitted when younger generations of families meet up with their elders at family celebrations – play a far greater role in mortality than the cold.

“Most older people who die over the winter don’t die from cold – they die from complications related to ’flu and other respiratory diseases,”  Kinney says.

Most previous studies investigating the links between temperature rises and death rates have focused on the impact of summer heat.

“Most older people who die over the winter don’t die from cold – they die from complications
related to respiratory diseases”

A prolonged heatwave across Europe in 2003 – which many scientists say can be attributed to climate change – is believed to have caused between 30,000 and 50,000 deaths. Elderly people in urban areas – often left stranded in their baking apartment blocks – were particularly badly hit.

A lot of media attention has also been given recently to the high rates of death among migrant workers from Nepal working in high temperatures in Qatar and other countries in the Gulf region.

The Columbia study looked at winter death rates among elderly people in cities in different climate zones and with differing demographics – from Paris and New York to Miami and Marseilles.

Opposite effect

It found that most of the elderly people living in the cities from which data was gathered were not exposed to the winter cold for long periods as the majority had access to a warm indoor environment.

Kinney says that rather than decreasing mortality, warmer winters could have the opposite effect.

“We see mosquito-borne diseases emerging in new territories because warmer winter temperatures enable the insects to over-winter in more northerly regions,” he says.

“Warmer temperatures can also enable an insect-borne virus to replicate inside the insect vector to be transmitted and cause disease in a human or animal.

“Sadly, this research tells us that an increase in summer deaths due to climate change is unlikely to be counteracted by a reduction in winter deaths.” – Climate News Network

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