CO2 fertiliser effect stimulates insect attacks on forests

CO2 fertiliser effect stimulates insect attacks on forests

Study in US forests shows that extra CO2 absorbed as the planet warms will encourage growth of leaves − but also the insects that eat them.

LONDON, 5 March, 2015 − Insects could be about to complicate things for climate scientists who want to model the carbon budget in a warming world.

As more carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere, the trees should respond, put on extra growth and soak up more carbon. But if herbivorous insects start to respond to a warmer world, this classic instance of what engineers call negative feedback could become a little more complicated.

Entomologists John Couture, and Richard Lindroth, and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US, report in the journal Nature Plants on the results of a large-scale, extended outdoor experiment in which aspen and birch trees were subjected to heightened levels of carbon dioxide and ozone.

Although the trees had been planted in natural conditions, a network of pipes supplied the environment around them with levels of greenhouse gases predicted for 2060.

Extracted nutrition

The scientists collected leaf samples from the plantation canopy and detritus from the ground beneath the trees to begin a calculation of the production and loss of biomass every season. The cut leaves provided a clue to insect damage, and the insect excrement separately told a story of extracted nutrition.

They found that although the carbon dioxide did indeed fertilise the forests, the extra growth also stimulated insect attack. The levels of damage by very hungry caterpillars and other herbivores almost doubled. Every year, across ever square metre, insect pests and parasites consumed 70 grams of carbon-sequestering biomass.

“The big question is, will northern forests grow faster under elevated carbon dioxide?”

They found that if accompanying ozone levels were higher – and low-level ozone in some places could increase in a warmer world – then the losses were significantly less. Ozone is also toxic to plants, so this may not be of long-term comfort either.

“This is the first time, at this scale, that insects have been shown to compromise the ability of forests to take up carbon dioxide,” Professor Lindroth says.

The key word here is scale. The study was conducted in the real world, rather than in a laboratory or a computer simulation.

But it was still limited to a selection of sample plots, so the question remains open as to whether, at the global level, plants will take up more carbon, or whether the insects eat up the difference and return it to the atmosphere?

Carbon cycle

Research such as this is a reminder that the world is a complicated place, and the details of the carbon cycle are likely to go on giving climate scientists a headache for years to come.

The extra fertilisation by carbon dioxide didn’t make the trees more nutritious, or more appetising: if anything, the reverse. Think of the difference between processed white bread and a high-density, nourishing loaf from a master baker.

“There’s a lot more protein in the bakery bread than in the white bread,” Dr Couture says. “Insects have a base level of nutrients they need in order to grow, and to reach that they can choose either to eat higher-nutrient food – unfortunately insects don’t always have that choice – or to eat more.”

And Professor Lindroth adds: “The big question is, will northern forests grow faster under elevated carbon dioxide? Carbon dioxide is a substrate for photosynthesis. It gets converted into sugars, which then become plant biomass. Will trees take up more carbon dioxide, and thus help reduce its increase in the atmosphere?” – Climate News Network

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Waste-to-energy revolution boosted by biobattery idea

Waste-to-energy revolution boosted by biobattery idea

New processes to turn waste products into renewable energy that can power cars, planes and turbines are rapidly being developed across the world.

LONDON, 4 March, 2014 − Competition to make bio-fuels out of waste products that would otherwise have to be dumped is creating a fast-growing, worldwide industry.

And a German research organisation now believes it has perfected a system called a “biobattery” for turning a vast range of waste into energy.

The drive for better technology has been spurred on by criticism that the first generation of bio-fuels used productive land that should be used for food crops, rather than to grow plants for ethanol and other fuels.

That inspired scientists and governments to find ways of using everything from human waste to algae to power planes, cars and to make electricity.

So many new companies have sprung up to exploit this new market and try to gain big backers for their projects that there is even a daily internet news site, BiofuelsDigest, just to keep up with developments.

Political decision

Germany has been the leader in Europe because it has made the political decision to phase out nuclear power and replace it with renewables.

Biofuel plants are a key part of this revolution because the gas they produce is used to make electricity to balance out the shortfall when solar farms and wind turbines are not producing enough power.

There are already 8,000 plants in operation in Germany, with an electrical output of 3.75 gigawatts in total − the equivalent roughly to three nuclear power plants. Some of these are the first generation that use food plants to make fuel, and so remain controversial.

However, the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental Energy and Safety Technology (UMSICHT) in Germany has developed the  biobattery, which uses sewage sludge, green waste, production residues from the food industry, straw and animal excrement to create electricity, heat, purified gas, engine oil and high quality biochar (a form of charcoal).

“We can utilise a number of raw materials that would otherwise have to be disposed of,
often at great cost”

The scientists at UMSICHT, a research organisation that claims to be the leader in Europe for turning ideas into commercial ventures, believe that they can efficiently produce electricity and even marine and aviation fuel from the process.

They built a pilot plant, which they say is cheap to set up and can be scaled up without the need for large capital resources. The other advantage is it saves the cost of disposing of material that would otherwise be waste.

“We can utilise a number of raw materials that would otherwise have to be disposed of, often at great cost,” says Professor Andreas Hornung, director of UMSICHT at the Institute’s branch in Sulzbach-Rosenberg.

“The plant converts more than 75% of the energy efficiency into high quality energy sources in a robust, continuous process. The efficacy can be improved even more if mobile latent heat accumulators are used.”

To make all this work efficiently, the biobattery is a series of environmental technologies bolted together in one complex. They include biogas plants, thermal storage, carburettors and engines to produce electricity.

At the heart of the system is a process called “thermo-catalytic reforming”, which turns organic material into carbon. This is then processed to make oil, gas or coke.

Biobattery developed by the Fraunhofer Institute.

The biobattery developed by Fraunhofer

The process is continuous, feeding raw material in one end and mixing it up without oxygen with a continuous turning screw. The material is heated up to break it down into charcoal and gases. These vapours are then heated up again and cooled down to create bio-oil and water. The remaining gas is purified and collected.

The liquid, gaseous and solid products can be re-used in various ways. The oil can either be processed into marine and aviation fuel or used in a combined heat and power plant, as can the gas, to produce electricity and heat. The separated process water, which contains numerous short-chain biodegradable carbon compounds, can be fed back into the biogas plant to increase the methane yield. The biochar is ideal as a soil conditioner.

A number of pilot projects have been set up in Germany and elsewhere in Europe to test whether the system is economic in practice. The gas and other fuel produced are already being used commercially.

Tax imposed

The construction of bio-plants using waste that would otherwise have been sent to landfill is being driven across Europe by a landfill tax imposed by the European Union to encourage local authorities to re-use waste, recycle it, or use it as fuel.

It already cost £80 a tonne in the UK to dump waste, and it will rise to £82.60 next month. This has caused many landfill sites to shut.

The amount of waste going to landfill in the UK has dropped from 100 million tonnes in 1997 to the current figure of 30 million tonnes. Landfill companies are now separating elements of the waste so it can be recycled or processed into a variety of fuels.

This bio-revolution has been possible only because the landfill tax makes the alternative of disposing of the waste so costly that it is more economic to turn it into fuel.

The new German bio-battery and a host of other inventions pushing their way onto the market mean that the cost of electricity produced by the technology will continue to fall, as wind and solar energy have already done dramatically in the last 10 years. – Climate News Network

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Warming raises drought’s threat to California

Warming raises drought's threat to California

US researchers say climate change, not random chance, is likely to be causing California’s long drought, one of the worst on record.

LONDON, 3 March, 2015 –  Climate change could be driving the sustained Californian drought. Arid spells have been more frequent in the last two decades than in the preceding century. And warmer global temperatures linked to man-made climate change could be at the heart of it.

Right now, California is in the sustained grip of one of its worst-ever droughts. Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University in California and colleagues looked at the patterns of precipitation, temperature and drought in the historical record and report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the latest conditions were not just a random outcome.

In a sunlit landscape with a long record of intermittent drought, researchers make such predictions only cautiously. But the Stanford team worked through 120 years of rainfall, snowfall and temperature data to identify connections.

They found that, puzzlingly, the two sets of measurements were not directly connected: for the first 60 or 70 years of the historical record, it could be wet and warm, or cool and dry. But drought was more likely in those years that by chance were both dry and warm.

Doubled risk

“Of course low precipitation is a prerequisite for drought but less rain and snowfall alone don’t ensure a drought will happen. It really matters if the lack of precipitation happens during a warm or a cool year,” said Dr Diffenbaugh.

“We’ve seen the effects of record heat on snow and soil moisture this year in California and we know from this new research that climate change is increasing the probability of those warm and dry conditions occurring together.”

On the flip-a-coin analogy, the weather could be either wet or dry, and cold or hot. So only one time in four, the weather was both hot and dry. For most of the past two decades, years in California have been either warm, or hot.

“Now the temperature coin is coming up tails most years. So even though the precipitation coin is coming up tails only half the time, it means that over the past two decades we have gotten two tails-warm and dry in half the years, compared with only a quarter of years in the preceding century.”

Most populous

Accordingly, drought frequency has doubled. Model simulations suggest that the risk of any year being both warm and dry will continue. More frequent warm years will also increase the probability of multi-year drought.

The present drought is now in its fourth year, and is one of the longest consecutive periods during which conditions are severely dry and severely warm.

And soon California – home to one in eight Americans, and the country’s most populous state – could enter a climate regime in which the risk that every year will be warmer than the 20th century norm will be almost 100%.

The findings, said Dr Diffenbaugh, provide “very strong evidence that global warming is already making it much more likely that California experiences conditions that are similar to what we have already experienced during the current severe drought.” – Climate News Network

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Climate change is likely factor in Syria’s conflict

Climate change is likely factor in Syria’s conflict

Researchers say climate change probably caused the savage drought that affected Syria nearly a decade ago − and helped to spark the country’s current civil war. 

LONDON, 2 March, 2015 – In a dire chain of cause and effect, the drought that devastated parts of Syria from 2006 to 2010 was probably the result of climate change driven by human activities, a new study says.

And the study’s authors think that the drought may also have contributed to the outbreak of Syria’s uprising in 2011.

The drought, which was the worst ever recorded in the region, ravaged agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to the cities where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created the unrest that exploded four years ago. The conflict has left at least 200,000 people dead, and has displaced millions of others.

The study, by scientists from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, US, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors are quite clear that the climatic changes were human-driven (anthropogenic) and cannot be attributed simply to natural variability, but are careful to stress that their findings are tentative.

“We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” says Richard Seager, one of the co-authors. “We’re saying that, added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict.

“And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”

Link with violence

Their study, although it contains new material, is not the first to suggest a possible link between extreme weather and the likelihood of violence.

Some researchers have investigated whether there may be a link between El Niño and La Niña − the periodic Pacific weather disruptions − and outbreaks of unrest.

Syria was not the only country affected by the drought. It struck the Fertile Crescent, linking Turkey, Syria and Iraq, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started around 12,000 years ago.

Suggestions of a global connection between climate change and political instability is being taken seriously by two influential groups − insurers and military planners.

The Levant has always seen natural weather swings. Other research has suggested that the Akkadian empire, spanning much of the Fertile Crescent about 4,000 years ago, probably collapsed during a long drought.

Drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with pre-existing acute vulnerability

But the authors of the Lamont-Doherty study, using existing studies and their own research, showed that the area has warmed by between 1°C and 1.2°C since 1900, and has undergone a 10% reduction in wet-season precipitation.

They say this trend is a neat match for models of human-influenced global warming, and so cannot be attributed to natural variability.

Global warming has had two effects, they say. First, it appears to have indirectly weakened wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean, reducing precipitation during the usual November-April wet season. And higher temperatures have increased the evaporation of moisture from soils during the hot summers.

The authors say an episode of this severity and length would have been unlikely without the long-term changes.

Other researchers have observed the long-term drying trend across the Mediterranean region, and have attributed at least part of it to anthropogenic warming.

The researchers say Syria was especially vulnerable because of other factors − including a huge increase in population from four million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years.

Water-intensive crops

The government has also encouraged water-intensive export crops such as cotton, while illegal drilling of irrigation wells depleted groundwater, says co-author Shahrzad Mohtadi, an international affairs consultant at the US Department of State.

The drought’s effects were immediate and overwhelming. Agricultural production − typically, a quarter of Syria‘s gross domestic product − fell by a third. In the northeast, livestock was practically wiped out, cereal prices doubled, and nutrition-related diseases among children increased steeply.

As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to cities already strained by waves of refugees from the war in neighbouring Iraq.

“Rapid demographic change encourages instability,” the authors say. “Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with pre-existing acute vulnerability.”

Solomon Hsiang, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, says the study is “the first scientific paper to make the case that human-caused climate change is already altering the risk of large-scale social unrest and violence”. – Climate News Network

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Seeing is believing: scientists trace greenhouse effect

Seeing is believing as scientists trace greenhouse effect

High-precision field instruments in the US have provided the first real-time “action shots” of the increasing impact of CO2 on global warming.

LONDON, 28 February, 2015 − Government scientists in the US say they have directly observed for the first time the greenhouse effect in action, while monitoring the way carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere absorbed increasing amounts of thermal radiation from the surface.

Their measurements, taken over a period of 11 years in Alaska and Oklahoma, confirm predictions made more than 100 years ago, and repeatedly examined: there is a greenhouse effect, and the greenhouse gas that most helps the world warm is carbon dioxide.

The phenomenon is known in climate science shorthand as radiative forcing, which happens when the Earth absorbs more energy from solar radiation than it emits as thermal radiation back into space.

The sun shines through the greenhouse gases as if they were glass, and warms the rocks. The rocks emit infra-red waves, but the transparent gases now keep the heat in, as if they formed the glass roof of a greenhouse.

Radiative forcing

Although this radiative forcing has been assessed, quantified, modelled, predicted and worried about, the scientists say this is the first time it has been formally tested outside, in the open air.

Daniel Feldman, geological project scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, and colleagues report in Nature that the increase in temperatures over the period adds up to two-tenths of one Watt per square metre per decade.

And this small notch in the thermometer record is linked to an increase of 22 parts per million in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere in the decade. Much of this extra CO2 comes from the burning of fossil fuels.

The finding is no surprise. For 30 years, climate scientists have recorded a steady average annual rise in planetary temperatures.

“We see, for the first time in the field, the amplification of the greenhouse effect because there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere . . .”

They expected it, and they predict that unless the world makes a switch from coal, oil and natural gas to solar, wind, water and wave energy, or biofuels, or nuclear or geothermal power sources, global average temperatures will go on rising inexorably. The glaciers and icecaps will melt, sea levels will rise, and climate extremes – especially heat waves, and probably floods – will also increase.

So the Nature study is just a piece of tidying up. But it is an illustration that the calculations can be confirmed by direct measurement − by catching carbon dioxide in the act, so to speak. Laboratory measurements said it would happen, computer simulations said it would happen, and now direct measurement completes the picture.

Solar radiation

“We see, for the first time in the field, the amplification of the greenhouse effect because there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere to absorb what the earth emits in response to incoming solar radiation,” Dr Feldman says.

“Numerous studies show rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but our study provides the critical link between those concentrations and the addition of energy to the system, or the greenhouse effect.”

The study is built on 3,300 measurements in Alaska and 8,300 in Oklahoma, under clear skies and using high-precision instruments.

Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas: water vapour also plays a role, along with oxides of nitrogen and methane or natural gas.

But the study was powerful enough to isolate carbon dioxide’s contribution, and even register a dip in this radiative forcing early every year as the green shoots of spring begin to take up the greenhouse gas to build the new leaves and stems that nourish a hemisphere.

The authors conclude that the results confirm theoretical predictions, and provide empirical evidence of just what rising CO2 levels can do. – Climate News Network

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Satellite link puts sharper focus on ocean acidity rise

Satellite link puts sharper focus on ocean acidity rise

Global data network could provide scientists with an easy and cheaper way of finding answers to crucial questions on the oceans’ changing chemistry.

LONDON, 25 February, 2015 − Climate scientists are looking for a new perspective on the increasingly acidic oceans through a suite of satellites 700 km out in space, watching over parts of the seas that research ships cannot reach.

They report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that thermal cameras could measure ocean temperatures, while microwave sensors could measure ocean salinity. Together, the two sets of data could help answer, cheaply and easily, questions about the chemistry of the oceans – and in particular changes in pH, the index of acidity.

Until now, researchers have depended on specialist instruments or shipboard samples to provide answers to huge questions about the oceans’ increasing uptake of carbon dioxide. Such research is costly and limited.

But ocean science has become ever more important. Each year, 36 billion tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, and about a quarter of this gets into the oceans.

Greenhouse gas

That’s a good thing: if it did not, global warming would accelerate at an even greater rate. But the same global transfer of greenhouse gas also delivers a stronger solution of carbonic acid to the oceans, and ocean acidity levels have risen by 26% over the last 200 years.

The consequences for all those sea creatures that evolved to exploit ocean chemistry to build shells or skeletons are uncertain, but the evidence so far is that changes can affect fish behaviour, shellfish reproduction, and coral growth.

The changes could almost certainly affect fisheries in the short term, and in the long term could possibly alter the continuous and vital exchanges between atmosphere and ocean that controls the climates of continents.

So marine scientists launched a Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network to assemble worldwide expertise and find new ways to monitor change.

“We are pioneering these techniques so that we can monitor large areas of the Earth’s oceans”

“Satellites are likely to become increasingly important for the monitoring of ocean acidification especially in remote and dangerous waters like the Arctic,” says one of the report’s authors, Jamie Shutler, an oceanographer at the University of Exeter. UK.

“It can be difficult and expensive to take year-round direct measurements in such inaccessible locations. We are pioneering these techniques so that we can monitor large areas of the Earth’s oceans, allowing us to quickly and easily identify those areas most at risk from the increasing acidification.”

The European Space Agency’s SMOS satellite in orbit. Image: ESA

The European Space Agency’s SMOS satellite in orbit.
Image: ESA

The new approach will exploit a number of existing satellites, along with the European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity sensor (SMOS), launched in 2009, and the US space agency NASA’s Aquarius satellite, launched in 2011.

The satellites cannot, of course, directly measure ocean pH values, but the capacity of CO2 to dissolve in water is controlled by ocean temperatures.

Salinity levels

On the other hand, salinity levels play into the capacity to form carbonates. Chlorophyll levels in the oceans also indicate the rates at which biology can exploit any of the dissolved carbon dioxide.

If the scientists have temperature and air pressure data as well, they have enough to begin to calculate the rates at which any stretch of sea might be acidifying.

Although such measurements are indirect, and involve complex mathematical calculation, the results can be checked in some places against real-time data from a network of autonomous instruments called Argo, and by shipboard laboratory studies.

But satellites are about the only way of making consistent measurements of the desolate and hostile Arctic and Indian Oceans. They could also help researchers understand the changes taking place in complex stretches of sea such as the Bay of Bengal and the Greater Caribbean.

The research is in its infancy. But the authors say that satellite studies − supported by good measurements taken directly at sea − could become a key element in understanding and assessing the acidification of the oceans. – Climate News Network

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Energy giant’s bleak outlook is 25% rise in CO2

Energy giant’s bleak outlook is 25% rise in CO2

The British-based oil and gas supermajor BP says it expects global emissions of carbon dioxide to rise by a quarter in the next 20 years.

LONDON, 24 February, 2015 − It may come as a shock, as governments ponder how to tackle climate change, to learn that the world is moving rapidly in the wrong direction.

But BP, one of the world’s six biggest oil and gas companies, says it thinks that, on present trends, emissions of CO2 will be 25% greater within two decades than they are today.

The prediction is published in BP’s Energy Outlook 2035, which it says is its best effort “to describe a ‘most likely’ trajectory of the global energy system”.

Global consumption

Some of the company’s other projections are hardly less startling. It thinks, for instance, that global energy consumption will be 37% greater by 2035 than it is today, with more than half the growth coming from India and China, and virtually all of it from countries that are not members of the OECD − the 34-member group of highly developed countries.

Global energy intensity − which measures the energy efficiency of a country’s economy − in 2035 is expected to be only half of what it was in 1995, and 36% lower than in 2013.

The lower the energy intensity is, the less it costs to convert energy into wealth. Even so, global energy use per person is projected to increase by 12%, as growing numbers of people demand higher living standards.

Renewables are expected to grow faster than any other energy source, by 6.3% annually. Nuclear power, at 1.8% a year, and hydro-electric power (1.7%) will grow faster than total energy use.

Among fossil fuels, natural gas is expected to grow fastest, with oil marginally ahead of coal. By 2035, China and India will together account for 60% of global demand for coal.

The most likely path for carbon emissions, despite current government policies and intentions, does not appear sustainable

In a guide to its Energy Outlook, BP (formerly British Petroleum) says it thinks fossil fuels will provide most of the world’s energy needs by 2035, meeting two-thirds of the expected increase in demand by then.

But it is renewables − “unconventional fossil fuels”, and gas, which is the least polluting fossil fuel − that will provide the largest share, while coal grows more slowly than any other fuel.

This, the Outlook says, will be the consequence of slowing industrialisation in emerging Asian economies and of more stringent global environmental policies.

To that it might have added the growing pressure for investors to steer clear of putting their money into fossil fuels, for fear that they could be at risk from a robust and rigorously-enforced global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, writes: “The most likely path for carbon emissions, despite current government policies and intentions, does not appear sustainable.

Scale of challenge

“The projections highlight the scale of the challenge facing policy-makers at this year’s UN-led discussions in Paris. No single change or policy is likely to be sufficient on its own.

“And identifying in advance which changes are likely to be most effective is fraught with difficulty. This underpins the importance of policy-makers taking steps that lead to a global price for carbon, which provides the right incentives for everyone to play their part.”

There are already signs that senior officials involved in the UN negotiations recognise the need to dampen expectations surrounding December’s talks in Paris.

The executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, said on 3 February that changing the world’s model of economic development would “not happen overnight and it will not happen at a single conference on climate change. . . It just does not occur like that. It is a process, because of the depth of the transformation.”

If BP’s Outlook proves correct, that process may be even longer and tougher than many expect. − Climate News Network

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New ideas give energy boost to wave power

New ideas give energy boost to wave power

Scientists and engineers in Scandinavia reveal new plans to harness the huge potential of waves to produce commercially viable renewable energy.

LONDON, 22 February, 2015 − All along the coasts of Europe where the Atlantic waves crash onto the shore there are experimental wave power stations producing electricity.

Now engineers in Norway and Sweden − two of the countries trying hardest to develop this technology − have announced “breakthroughs” in their methods, which the inventors believe will make wave power competitive.

At present, most wave power stations are small-scale. All of them work, but making them commercially viable to compete economically with other renewables and fossil fuels has so far eluded their inventors.

The latest Norwegian experiment has been installed in a redundant fishing vessel in the Stadthavet area of West Norway, an area designated for renewable energy testing.

Bicycle pump principle

Like all the best ideas, it is simple. “In principle, it works almost like a bicycle pump,” explains engineer and project manager Edgar Kvernevik, of Kvernevik Engineering AS.

The makers have installed four large chambers in the vessel’s bow. As the waves strike the vessel, the water level in the chambers rises. This creates an increase in air pressure, which in turn drives four turbines – one for each chamber.

The pitch of the vessel also contributes by generating additional air pressure in the chambers when the wave height is large. The design of the chambers is such that they work in response to different wave heights, which means that the energy is exploited very effectively.

“The plant thus produces electricity with the help of what is called a fluctuating water column,” says Kvernevik, who has spent much of his working life designing and building vessels.

Our aim is to . . . produce hydrogen at a competitive price – based on an infinite resource and involving no harmful emissions”

“All we have to do is to let the vessel swing at anchor in a part of the ocean with sufficient wave energy. Everything is designed to be remotely-controlled from onshore.

“This floating power plant has also been equipped with a special anchoring system, which means that it is always facing into the incoming waves. This ensures that the plant is in the optimal position at all times.”

A former fishing vessel converted to a wave power plant. Image: Sintef

A former fishing vessel that has been converted to a wave power plant.
Image: Sintef

The turbines on the deck of the vessel continue to work regardless of whether the chambers are inhaling or exhaling air as the wave runs past the vessel.

In the same area, which has a high average wind velocity, researchers have been studying the idea of floating wind turbines.

The project is now looking at combining wind turbines and wave power plants on the same vessel and using the electricity to create hydrogen gas – a way of storing the energy.

“We see this project as a three-stage rocket,” Kvernevik says. “The first stage is to test the model we have just built to make sure that electricity generation can be carried out as planned.

Production plant

“Next, a hydrogen production plant will be installed on board the vessel so that the electricity generated can be stored in the form of hydrogen gas.

“We have high hopes that hydrogen will be the car fuel of the future. Our aim is to work with others to produce hydrogen at a competitive price – based on an infinite resource and involving no harmful emissions.

“The plan is then to construct a plant with a nominal capacity of 1000kW (1MW). We will do this by installing five production modules similar to the current plant, either on a larger vessel or a custom-built barge. Finally, we will build a semi-submersible platform designed to carry a 4MW wave power plant with a 6MW wind turbine installed on top.”

The Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute (MARINTEK) is one of the project partners that have contributed towards the development of the wave power plant.

Reliable source

Meanwhile, a Swedish company claims to have cracked the problem of scaling-up wave energy with a gearbox that generates five times as much power per tonne of device at one third of the cost.

One of the obvious problems with wave power is the height and timing of the waves, making it difficult to convert the power into a reliable energy source. But CorPower Ocean’s new wave energy system claims to produce three to four times more power than traditional systems.

The new system that helps to solve this problem is based in a buoy that absorbs energy from the waves − a scaled-up version of a heart surgeon’s research into heart pumping and control functions.

Patrik Möller, CorPower’s chief executive, says the wave energy converter – in contrast to competing systems − can manage the entire spectrum of waves.

He says: “We can ensure that it always works in time with the waves, which greatly enhances the buoy’s movement and uses it all the way between the wave crest and wave trough and back in an optimal way, no matter how long or high the waves are.”

The buoys are compact and lightweight and can be manufactured at a relatively low cost. A buoy 8 metres in diameter can produce 250-300 kilowatts in a typical Atlantic swell. A wave energy park with 100 buoys can generate 25 to 30 megawatts. – Climate News Network

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Temperature rise leaves dogs racing on thin ice

Temperature rise leaves dogs racing on thin ice

Alaska proudly boasts of hosting the “greatest dog sled race on Earth”, but climate change has forced a switch in the historic event’s course.

LONDON, 18 February, 2015 − The Iditarod sled race in Alaska is a 1,000-mile endurance test in which competing teams of dogs and their drivers race at dizzying speeds across the frozen tundra.

But this year’s race, due to be held in early March, has had to be re-routed due to a lack of snow. And Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with the National Climatic Data Center, says rising temperatures are to blame.

“This is a pretty big deal,” Crouch told the New York Times. “One of the things we’re seeing with climate change is that the high latitudes are experiencing the brunt of it. They’re very vulnerable.”

Seasonal increase

According to the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), temperatures in Alaska have increased by an average of 3.4˚F over the last 50 years, with winter temperatures showing the biggest seasonal increase, rising by an average of 6.3˚F over the same period.

The EPA says the rate of warming in Alaska is double the national average. Estimates are that average temperatures in the state will increase a further 3.5˚F to 7˚F by mid-century.

Deep snow – vital for what is described by Iditarod’s organisers as the greatest dog sled race on Earth – has been in particularly short supply this year, with only 19 inches falling since August on the race start near Alaska’s capital, Anchorage, compared with 50 inches normally.

“This year, you can’t go through a rock,” one of the sled drivers – who are locally known as a “mushers” – told Alaska’s Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

“There’s boulders and rocks that we’ve never seen there in 20 some years that are littering all the gorge, places that you’d never even see a rock because you’re going over feet of snow through there. This year, you’re looking at bare ground.”

For only the second time in its 43 year history, the start of the Iditarod has had to be moved away from close to Anchorage to near the city of Fairbanks, 360 miles further north.

“The Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly. It is time for the rest of the world to take notice, and also to take action . . .”

Although there was more snow for last year’s race, several competitors were forced out through injuries sustained after encountering bare rocks and gravel on the course.

Alaska has been feeling the multiple impacts of climate change for some time. Coastal erosion is increasing as protective sea ice along the shoreline is being lost, and roads built across the state’s permafrost have fractured or collapsed due to ice melt. Other infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines, is under threat.

Cracks in permafrost

Homes have collapsed due to cracks opening in the permafrost beneath them. And people are being forced to abandon traditional hunting practices due to changes in wildlife distribution brought about by changes in temperature.

At the end of last year, more than 35,000 walruses were found crowded together on a beach in northeast Alaska.

“Due to loss of ice in offshore areas, walruses are foraging in more coastal areas and using beaches for resting,” said a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the Artic,” Margaret Williams, the head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic programme, told the Associated Press news agency. “And that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly.

“It is time for the rest of the world to take notice, and also to take action to address the root cause of climate change.” – Climate News Network

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Stalagmite links rain reduction to industrial revolution

Stalagmite links rain reduction to industrial revolution

Research shows the explosion of fossil fuel use to power the 19th-century industrial boom began the pattern of lower rainfall affecting the northern tropics. 

LONDON, 17 February, 2015 − Scientists have identified a human-induced cause of climate change. But this time it’s not carbon dioxide that’s the problem − it’s the factory and power station chimney pollutants that began to darken the skies during the industrial revolution.

Analysis of stalagmite samples taken from a cave in Belize, Central America, has revealed that aerosol emissions have led to a reduction of rainfall in the northern tropics during the 20th century.

In effect, the report in Nature Geoscience by lead author Harriet Ridley, of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Durham, UK, and international research colleagues invokes the first atmospheric crisis.

Acid rain

Before global warming because of greenhouse gases, and before ozone destruction caused by uncontrolled releases of chlorofluorocarbons, governments and environmentalists alike were concerned about a phenomenon known as acid rain.

So much sulphur and other industrial pollutants entered the atmosphere that raindrops became deliveries of very dilute sulphuric and nitric acid.

The damage to limestone buildings was visible everywhere, and there were concerns – much more difficult to establish – that acid rain was harming the northern European forests.

But even if the massive sulphate discharges of an industrialising world did not seriously damage vegetation, they certainly took a toll on urban human life in terms of respiratory diseases.

Clean-air legislation has reduced the hazard in Europe and North America, but it seems that sulphate aerosols have left their mark.

Researchers in a cave in Belize. Credit: Dr James Baldini/Durham University

Researchers in a cave in Belize.
Image: Dr James Baldini/Durham University

The Durham scientists reconstructed tropic rainfall patterns for the last 450 years from the analysis of stalagmite samples taken from a cave in Belize.

The pattern of precipitation revealed a substantial drying trend from 1850 onwards, and this coincided with a steady rise in sulphate aerosol pollution following the explosion of fossil fuel use that powered the Industrial Revolution.

They also identified nine short-lived drying spells in the northern tropics that followed a series of violent volcanic eruptions in the northern hemisphere. Volcanoes are a natural source of atmospheric sulphur.

Atmospheric pollution

The research confirms earlier suggestions that human atmospheric pollution sufficient to mask the sunlight and cool the upper atmosphere had begun to affect the summer monsoons of Asia, and at the same time stepped up river flow in northern Europe.

The change in radiation strength shifted the tropical rainfall belt, known as the intertropical convergence zone, towards the warmer southern hemisphere, which meant lower levels of precipitation in the northern tropics.

“The research presents strong evidence that industrial sulphate emissions have shifted this important rainfall belt, particularly over the last 100 years,” Dr Ridley says.

“Although warming due to man-made carbon dioxide emissions has been of global importance, the shifting of rain belts due to aerosol emissions is locally critical, as many regions of the world depend on this seasonal rainfall for agriculture.” – Climate News Network

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