First head of state backs campaign to save the planet

First head of state backs campaign to save the planet

Hungary’s president boosts an ambitious plan to collect a billion-signature petition aimed at pressuring politicians to agree on radical measures to tackle global warming.

BUDAPEST, 20 May, 2015 – János Áder, the President of Hungary, has become the first head of state to join the Live Earth: Road to Paris campaign that aims to ensure world leaders agree to a binding deal on tackling climate change.

The specific aim is to get a billion signatures from concerned citizens before the UN climate change conference in Paris in December, but organisers are also keen to get as many politicians and celebrities as possible to back the campaign.

The Road to Paris campaign was launched in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by former US vice-president Al Gore, songwriter and recording artist Pharrell Williams, and the Emmy award-winning producer and new media entrepreneur, Kevin Wall.

Global voices

Williams, winner of 11 Grammy awards, is Live Earth’s creative director, and music concerts will be staged in Paris, New York, Johannesburg, Sydney, São Paulo and Beijing on June 18, seeking to reach two billion people in 190 countries and unite global voices in demanding environmental accountability from world leaders.

Áder, a former member of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, endorsed the campaign at a press briefing in Budapest earlier this month.

Praising Gore’s initiative, Áder talked about the evidence of climate change, available solutions, the positive impacts of green technologies, and the challenges and opportunities of the Paris conference in December.

A spokesperson for Gore told the Climate News Network that the agreement in Paris should involve meaningful emissions reductions commitments at the national level, subject to a system of periodic review, and a long-term goal of net zero-carbon emissions.

Planet-wide shift

A Hungarian website that mirrors the US initiative will seek to encourage widespread local demand for a strong agreement that will dramatically cut emissions and accelerate the planet-wide shift to clean energy, said Zsolt Bauer, of the Hungary-based Regional Environmental Centre (REC).

The REC was instrumental in setting the scene for Áder’s announcement, in partnership with the Climate Reality Project, chaired by  Gore.

Áder has committed to speaking and broadcasting in Hungary to promote the petition, and to raising awareness of the available climate solutions, backed by  the REC nationally and regionally. − Climate News Network

  • Pavel Antonov, a Budapest-based journalist and social researcher, edits Evromegdan.bg, a not-for-profit online magazine for journalism in the public interest, published by BlueLink.net

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Earth wins time as land and seas absorb more carbon

Earth wins time as land and seas absorb more carbon

Climate change has intensified more slowly than scientists had expected because the continents and oceans are absorbing more atmospheric carbon dioxide.

LONDON, 17 May, 2015 − Half of all the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels remain in the atmosphere. The good news is that only half remain in the atmosphere, while the rest have been taken up by the living world and then absorbed into the land, and the ocean. That is, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen, so also has the planet’s capacity to soak up atmospheric carbon.

The implication is that what engineers call “positive feedback” – in which global warming triggers the release of yet more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to accelerate yet further warming – doesn’t seem to be at work yet.

The implication, too, is that the world’s governments still have time to launch determined programmes to sharply reduce fossil fuel use, and switch to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources before climate change disrupts the planet’s food security and exacts what could be a devastating toll on the biosphere.

But most climate scientists know all this anyway: the real significance of a new study in the journal Biogeosciences is that US and British scientists have narrowed some of the uncertainties in what climate scientists like to call the carbon budget: how much gets into the atmosphere, where it goes, and how long it stays.

That is because although the big picture – that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are beginning to rise steeply – has been confirmed repeatedly by systematic measurements since 1956, the potential margin of error has been considerable.

“This increased uptake by land and ocean is not only surprising; it’s good news”

“There is no question that land and oceans have, for at least the last five and half decades, been taking up about half of the carbon emitted each year. The outstanding question is, Why?” said Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, one of the authors.

“Most of the processes responsible for that uptake would be expected to slow down as the Earth warms, but we haven’t seen it yet. Since the emissions today are three times higher than they were in the 1960s, this increased uptake by land and ocean is not only surprising; it’s good news.

“Without it, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would be twice what it is, and climate change would be much farther along. But there’s no guarantee that it will continue.”

The carbon budget is an integral part of the climate puzzle: all simulations of how climate will change with increasing emissions from fossil fuels depend on an understanding of how much carbon dioxide concentrates in the atmosphere and what happens to it after that.

In the last few months researchers have reported a dramatic uptake of atmospheric carbon by new forests and the growth of woodland on the world’s savannahs and pinpointed the fjords – those steep, still stretches of sea in mountainous coastlines in the high latitudes – as prime “sinks” for atmospheric carbon.

Uncertainties narrowed

At the same time others have once again confirmed fears that thawing permafrost could release vast quantities of carbon stored for millennia is semi-decayed and now frozen vegetation.

But these have been studies of small pieces of the big puzzle. What the Biogeosciences authors did was to refine two global uncertainties. One is how much fossil fuel is burned each year and the other is how much is stacking up in the atmosphere.

Both sound simple, but the first question is complicated by differences in the ways nations maintain their own energy inventories, and the way they report the details, and the second depends on how the use of land has changed, how the oceans are responding to higher levels of acidification and how carbon dioxide levels vary according to region, and to season.

With greater certainty in the answers to the second question – which began with one single set of measurements at the top of a mountain in Hawaii now replicated worldwide – researchers found they could make more sense of the first question, and narrow the uncertainties to a point where they could write that they were “93% confident that terrestrial C uptake has increased and 97% confident that ocean C uptake has increased in the last five decades.

“Thus it is clear that arguably one of the most vital ecosystem services currently provided by the biosphere is the continued removal of approximately half of atmospheric CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

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Permafrost thaw’s runaway effect on carbon release

Permafrost thaw’s runaway effect on carbon release

Arctic warming is causing organic carbon deep-frozen in the soil for millennia to be released rapidly into the air as CO2, with potentially catastrophic impacts on climate.

LONDON, 14 May, 2015 − An international team of scientists has settled one puzzle of the Arctic permafrost and confirmed one long-standing fear: the vast amounts of carbon now preserved in the frozen soils could one day all get back into the atmosphere.

Since the Arctic is the fastest-warming place on the planet, such a release of greenhouse gas could only accelerate global warming and precipitate catastrophic climate change.

That the circumpolar regions of the northern hemisphere hold vast amounts of deep-frozen carbon is not in question.

The latest estimate is 1,700 billion tonnes, which is twice the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and perhaps 10 times the quantity put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Hazard underlined

In recent weeks, researchers have already underlined the potential hazard. But the big question has been that if some of the trapped carbon must be escaping now, where is it going?

Researchers have checked the mouths of the Arctic rivers for the telltale evidence of ancient dissolved organic carbon – partly-rotted vegetable matter deep-frozen more than 20,000 years ago − and found surprisingly little.

Now Robert Spencer, an oceanographer at Florida State University, and colleagues from the US, UK, Russia, Switzerland and Germany report in Geophysical Research Letters that the answer lies in the soil − and in the headwater streams of the terrestrial Arctic regions.

Instead of flowing down towards the sea, the thawing peat and ancient leaf litter of the warming permafrost is being metabolised by microbes and released swiftly into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

“We found that decomposition converted 60% of the carbon in the thawed permafrost to carbon dioxide in two weeks”

The scientists conclude that the microbes, once they get a chance to work at all, act so fast that half of all the soil carbon they can get at is turned into carbon dioxide within a week. It gets into the atmosphere before it has much chance to flow downstream with the soil meltwater.

The researchers centred their study on Duvanny Yar in Siberia, where the Kolyma River sluices through a bank of permafrost to expose the frozen organic carbon.

They worked at 19 different sites − including places where the permafrost was more than 30 metres deep − and they found tributary streams made entirely of thawed permafrost.

Measurement of the carbon concentration confirmed that it was indeed ancient. The researchers analysed its form in the meltwater, then they bottled it with a selection of local microbes, and waited.

Used by microbes

“We found that decomposition converted 60% of the carbon in the thawed permafrost to carbon dioxide in two weeks,” says Aron Stubbins, assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. “This shows that permafrost carbon is definitely in a form that can be used by the microbes.”

The finding raises a new – and not yet considered – aspect of the carbon cycle jigsaw puzzle, because what happens to atmospheric and soil carbon is a huge element in all climate simulations.

At he moment, permafrost carbon is not a big factor in projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Dr Spencer says: “When you have a huge frozen store of carbon and it’s thawing, we have some big questions. The primary question is, when it thaws, what happens to it?

“Our research shows that this ancient carbon is rapidly utilised by microbes and transferred to the atmosphere, leading to further warming in the region, and therefore more thawing. So we get into a runaway effect.” – Climate News Network

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Green city offers clean alternative to tar sands boom

Green city offers clean alternative to tar sands boom

Canada has been dubbed an international disgrace for its climate change policies, but now one of its major cities is aiming to be the greenest in the world by 2020.

LONDON, 13 May, 2015 − In a country reckoned to have the worst climate policies in the industrialised world, one big city is setting out to defy central government and become 100% carbon neutral.

Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada, wants to establish itself as “the greenest city in the world by 2020” by demonstrating that economic growth and the welfare of its citizens depends on developing renewables, rapid transit systems, and promoting cycling and walking to curb car use.

It is one of dozens of cities worldwide working towards improving the life of their citizens while reducing fossil fuel use, but it claims to have the most ambitious targets.

Many city administrations in Europe have the support of their governments, but in other countries − particularly Australia and Canada, where governments are actively promoting fossil fuels − cities are having to act alone.

A conference in Vancouver, attended by leaders from 45 countries, opens today to help the local government reach its goals.

Doubling green jobs

Among the “Green Vancouver” targets are doubling the number of green jobs in the city by 2020, from a 2010 baseline of 16,700, and making all new building in the city carbon neutral from 2020, while dramatically cutting emissions from existing buildings.

Progress towards meeting the city’s impressive list of targets includes reductions in air pollution, waste, water use and car journeys. Other aims are to provide a green space within five minutes walk for every citizen, planting thousands of trees, and growing food locally.

The city’s environment credentials go back to the 1970s, when there was a long battle to stop a freeway being built through the city. As a result, it is not possible to drive easily into the centre.

“The people who run Vancouver . . . are
business-savvy people who can see a vibrant green economy being a magnet for new business and forward-looking people”

Between 1996 and 2011, while the population in the city centre increased by 40%, there was a 25% decrease in the number of vehicle journeys, and a rise in the use of public transport, dedicated cycle routes and walkways.

Many other cities in the world that believe the way forward is to rid themselves of fossil fuels are attending to share experience – both of successes and failures.

That Vancouver is to become a centre of excellence is ironic, considering the fact that the federal government is seen as an international disgrace to the environment movement.

In 2011, it repudiated the Kyoto Protocol on emissions reduction targets, and has vigorously promoted the exploitation of oil from tar sands − the most polluting form of oil extraction, with high carbon dioxide emissions.

Power from renewables

In contrast, Vancouver, which has a population of 600,000, believes that all its power can come from renewables – although getting all heating and cooling and transport without using fossil fuels may take until 2040, depending on whether there is any help from central government.

One of the organisers of the conference, Shauna Sylvester, said: “When I first heard that Vancouver wanted to go 100% renewable, I thought it was a dream, but having looked at the possibilities I am a total convert.

“The people who run Vancouver do not have normal political affiliations. They are a bunch of business-savvy people who can see a vibrant green economy being a magnet for new business and forward-looking people. They are neither Labour nor Conservatives, but new progressives.”

Sylvester works at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue’s Renewable Cities Initiative, one of a number of organisations that aim to bring cities together to tackle climate change, because many local leaders believe that governments do not have the political will to do so.

Among those supporting the conference is the United Nations Environment Programme, which has its own campaign to green cities. − Climate News Network

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Major attraction of fjords is as carbon ‘graveyards’

Major attraction of fjords is as carbon ‘graveyards’

The splendour of fjords is widely admired, but scientists say they are also carbon sinks that play an important role in regulating Earth’s climate.

LONDON, 12 May, 2015 − Fjords, those dramatic narrow inlets in mountainous coastlines, are more than just beauty spots. New research shows that they are also major repositories of organic carbon, and therefore a vital part of the planet’s climate system.

Although they cover only 0.1% of the surface area of the oceans, they serve as graveyards for 18 million tonnes of organic carbon annually − 11% of all the marine carbon buried globally each year.

Richard Smith, an organic geochemist at Global Aquatic Research in New York, and colleagues report in Nature Geoscience that they analysed 573 surface samples and 124 sediment cores from nearly every fjord system in the world. These include Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Scotland, Svalbard, Western Canada, Alaska, Chile, New Zealand and Antarctica.

Sediment accumulation

Organic carbon is – or once was – plant tissue fashioned by photosynthesis from atmospheric carbon dioxide. And fjords, which are narrow, deep estuaries formed at high latitudes during glacial periods, are sites of sediment accumulation, serving as traps for all the organic carbon that flows into them.

Great rivers with magnificent deltas and estuaries also bear huge quantities of organic carbon, but much of this gets back into carbon dioxide form and is released into the atmosphere before it gets to the open sea.

But fjords, protected from ocean disturbance, become repositories for vast quantities of eroded material and landslips washed down the steep mountain sides. Because the fjords are so deep, the organic carbon is buried in a way that prevents most of it from being recycled.

The calculation is that fjords may play an important role in moderating atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during the advance and retreat of glaciers.

When the glaciers advance, much of the buried carbon would be pushed out onto the continental shelf and start turning back into greenhouse gas, eventually to warm the planet and slow the glaciation process.

During a glacial retreat, such as the present, the inlets become stores of organic carbon, preventing temperatures from rising too fast.

Piece of the puzzle

To understand climate, scientists must first account for all the elements that drive the climate machine. The carbon cycle – the traffic of carbon between air and living things and rocks and water – is a vital part of this machine, and the scientists now have yet another piece of the puzzle in place.

“In essence, fjords appear to act as a major temporary storage site for organic carbon in between glacial periods,” says one of the report’s authors, Candida Savage, a marine ecologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

“This finding has important applications for improving our understanding of global carbon cycling and climate change.” – Climate News Network

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Plant growth may speed up Arctic warming

Plant growth may speed up Arctic warming

Arctic plants may absorb more greenhouse gases as the region warms – but scientists say this could intensify the warming rather than moderate it.

LONDON, 10 May, 2015 – Green may not automatically mean innocent or planet-friendly after all. Korean and German scientists have identified a mechanism that could encourage plants to take up more carbon dioxide – and at the same time amplify Arctic warming by 20%. This counter-intuitive finding is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Jong-Yeon Park of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and colleagues have been looking at the role of phytoplankton, those tiny marine plants that flourish around land masses, exploit the nutrients that flow from rivers and turn the blue ocean sea-green. Like any grass or shrub or tree, they exploit sunlight and employ photosynthesis to soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide.

So as the Arctic Ocean warms, because of increasing emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, the ice melts, the blue sea water absorbs more sunlight, and the green things get a chance to grow and soak up some of that greenhouse gas as organic carbon in plant tissues. This is what engineers call negative feedback.

But it may not work like that. The scientists matched up a model of the climate system with a model of the ecosystem and did all the sums again. And they found that instead of reducing warming, an explosion of phytoplankton growth could actually amplify it.

More warming

If the seas warmed and the ice melted, then the overall albedo – the reflectivity of the Arctic – would be changed. More high energy solar radiation would get into the sea, and the phytoplankton harvest would be greater and go on for longer.

But more phytoplankton would mean more biological activity, which would directly warm the surface layer of the ocean, “triggering additional positive feedbacks in the Arctic, and consequently warming the Arctic further,” the authors warn.

“We believe that, given the inseparable connection of the Arctic and global climate, the positive feedback in Arctic warming triggered by phytoplankton and their biological heating is a crucial factor that must be taken into consideration when projecting future climate changes,” said Jong-Seong Kug, a professor at Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea.

Science like this is a reminder that the climate system is a subtle and complex machine driven by sunlight, atmosphere, water – and carbon. A British team has warned that rainforests could in fact be emitting much more carbon than climate modellers have accounted for. That’s because they haven’t allowed for all of the dead wood.

“A large proportion of forests worldwide are less of a sink and more of a source”

Marion Pfeifer of Imperial College and colleagues report in Environmental Research Letters  that they surveyed a large area of forest in Malaysian Borneo to make their calculations.

Pristine, untouched forest is rare. Most forests provide an income for someone, and increasingly parts of the great forests are exploited by loggers and planters. In untouched forests, dead wood makes up less than 20% of the biomass. Dr Pfeifer and her colleagues found that in partially-logged forests, the dead wood could account for 64% of the biomass.

Details such as this could send climate modellers back to the drawing board. That is because the great riddle of climate science is: where does all the carbon go? The assumption has been that forests are “sinks” that collect atmospheric carbon. But that depends on the forest.

“I was surprised by how much of the biomass dead wood accounted for in badly-logged forests. That such logged forests are not properly accounted for in carbon calculations is a significant factor. It means that a large proportion of forests worldwide are less of a sink and more of a source, especially immediately following logging, as carbon dioxide is released from dead wood during decomposition,” Dr Pfeifer said.

“Selectively-logged tropical forests now make up about 30% of rainforests worldwide. That means such global calculations are wrong at least 30% of the time.” – Climate News Network

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Scientists weigh up new evidence on Antarctic ice melt

Scientists weigh up new evidence on Antarctic ice melt

Southern continent’s mysteries start to unfold as satellite data is used to measure the extent and pattern of increased ice loss that threatens to be a “runaway problem”.

LONDON, 7 May, 2015 − Antarctica has been losing its ice cover at an average rate of 92 billion tons a year since at least 2003, according to new research.

And while the scientists can’t yet say for certain that human-made climate change is the main cause, they warn that the ice loss has the potential to have serious impacts on sea level rise.

The southern continent is the Earth’s largest store of fresh water, but is also its least studied area, having had no known human visitors until the late 18th century. So while scientists have a clear idea of processes at work in the Arctic, the big picture at the other end of the planet has been uncertain.

Heavier snowfalls

West Antarctica has been losing vast chunks of ice, but greater average warmth has meant there have been heavier snowfalls, and the icepack in east Antarctica has been on the increase.

Now Christopher Harig and Frederik Simons, geoscientists at Princeton University in the US, report in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters that gravitational satellite data has delivered a method of “weighing” the ice sheet, and identifying a pattern of change.

Most of the loss has been from the West Antarctic region, where the glaciers are increasingly unstable. In 2008, the region was shedding ice at the rate of 121 billion tons a year. By 2014, this rate of loss had doubled.

At the same time, the ice sheet in East Antarctica had thickened – but  the gain made up for only about half the ice lost from the west.

Most scientists would be hard-pressed to find mechanisms that do not include human-made climate change”

In the period since 2003, ice loss over the whole continent increased at the rate of six billion tons a year. West Antarctica’s melting rate, however, accelerated by 18 billion tons a year during the same timespan.

So the researchers did the sums and arrived at an annual average loss of 92 billion tons a year. This could be envisaged as an iceberg the size of Manhattan Island in New York, and more than 1,600 metres high.

What the researchers cannot be sure of is the cause: is a natural cycle of climate at play, or is it a consequence of global warming because  of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels?

“We have a solution that is very solid, very detailed and unambiguous,” Dr Simons says. “A decade of gravity analysis alone cannot force you to take a position on this ice loss being due to anthropogenic global warming. All we have done is take the balance of the ice on Antarctica and found that it is melting – there is no doubt.

Rapidly accelerating

“But with the rapidly accelerating rates at which the ice is melting, and in the light of other, well-publicised lines of evidence, most scientists would be hard-pressed to find mechanisms that do not include human-made climate change.”

The two scientists used data from a US-German research satellite called GRACE − short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment.

The agency linked to the ice loss is a measured warming of the southern ocean that is reducing the sea ice, which in turn holds back the flow of ice on land. So glaciers are melting, and flowing towards the sea at a faster rate.

“The fact that West Antarctic ice melt is still accelerating is a big deal because it’s increasing its contribution to sea level rise,” Dr Harig says. “It really has the potential to be a runaway problem.

“It has come to the point that if we continue losing mass in those areas, the loss can generate a self-reinforcing feedback, whereby we will be losing more and more ice, ultimately raising sea levels.” – Climate News Network

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Pope aims to win hearts and minds on climate change

Pope aims to win hearts and minds on climate change

The leader of more than one billion Catholics around the world is calling on religions to take a moral stance on the threat posed by global warming.

LONDON, 6 May, 2015 − A declaration at the end of a meeting in Rome hosted by the Vatican made a plea to the world’s religions to engage and mobilise on the issue of climate change.

“Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity,” the declaration said. “In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role.”

Vatican watchers and climate experts say the meeting, “The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development”, shows that Pope Francis is − in marked contrast to his predecessors − keen for the Catholic church to be more involved in the climate change issue, and is also urging other religions to become more actively engaged.

The meeting was organised by various religious and non-religious organisations, including the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the UN-affiliated body, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, also spoke at the one-day conference.

Fundamental principles

In a few weeks’ time, the Pope is due to release an encyclical on climate change – within the Catholic church, a statement of fundamental principles. He has also made several impassioned speeches on the issue.

“If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us,” the Pope told a gathering of thousands in St Peter’s Square, Rome, last month. “Never forget this.”

Groups that insist that climate change is not a threat, and that seek to oppose the findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific bodies, have been quick to criticise the Pope’s stand.

“Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity”

Members of the Heartland Institute, a US-based organisation funded by billionaire industrialists and others who deny climate change is caused by human activity, travelled to Rome to speak against the meeting.

“The Pope has great moral authority, but he’s not an authority on climate science,” a Heartland employee told the UK newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.

“The Pope would make a grave mistake if he put his moral authority behind scientists saying that climate change is a threat to the world.”

Selling investments

Separately, the Church of England announced that it is selling various investments in fossil fuel industries. The Church said £12 million worth of investments in companies making 10% or more of their revenues from the production of coal or oil from tar sands would be sold.

The Church of England is not selling all its investments in fossil fuel operations, but says it wants to influence companies that contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. The Church recently called on two major oil companies, BP and Shell, to be more transparent about their policies on climate change.

“The Church has a moral responsibility to speak and act on both environmental stewardship and justice for the world’s poor, who are most vulnerable to climate change” says Professor Richard Burridge, of the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group. Climate News Network

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No green light for whitening Arctic’s melting ice

No green light for whitening Arctic’s melting ice

Scientists pour cold water on the idea of preventing ice melt by using geo-technology to keep it white so that it reflects sunlight and stays frozen.

LONDON, 4 May, 2015 – Yet another geo-engineering solution to climate change has been proven potentially useless: even if you could paint the Arctic white, the world would still get warmer.

For the second time in months, scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science in the US have shown that some technological solutions won’t work even in principle, let alone in practice.

Geo-engineering is, for some, the simple technological answer to climate change: if humans have inadvertently warmed the planet’s climate through technological change, then surely they can cool it again intentionally through technological ingenuity.

But Carnegie global ecologist Ken Caldeira and research colleagues − having already demonstrated that piping cold deep waters to the ocean surface would accelerate global warming, rather than reduce it − now report in Environmental Research Letters that changing the reflectivity of the northern hemisphere won’t have the intended consequences either.

Climate machinery

Caldeira, Ivana Cvijanovic, now at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Douglas MacMartin, of the California Institute of Technology, decided to consider an aspect of the climate machinery known as albedo. This is a measure of the planet’s reflectivity.

It works like this: dark colours, such as blue oceans and green rainforests, absorb more sunlight, while white and pale surfaces – snow caps and ice sheets, for instance  – reflect most sunlight.

So the Arctic and Antarctic keep cold simply by staying frozen. But any consistent thawing pattern will make an icy region warmer, at an increasing rate.

This is happening at measurable speed, in the northern hemisphere. “By the middle of the century, the Arctic Ocean is predicted to be ice-free during part of the year,” Dr Cvijanovic says. “This could create substantial ecological problems in the Arctic, including habitat range and loss of biodiversity.

“However, the problem is not only local. A number of studies have indicated that Arctic sea ice loss can affect weather patterns across the northern mid-latitudes, including Europe, most of North America and much of Asia.”

“Even if you could do it, the direct negative consequences of reducing the amount of sunlight available to marine ecosystems could be huge”

So it would make sense to keep the Arctic cold and white − perhaps by filling the ocean with floating reflective grains, or the air above it with tiny bubbles to bounce back the incoming sunlight.

But the Carnegie team decided to work out, with help from computer models, what a whiter Arctic would achieve in a world in which humans went on burning fossil fuels in ever-increasing quantities, in which the atmosphere eventually held four times the carbon dioxide levels recorded at the start of the Industrial Revolution, and in which average planetary temperatures went up by a devastating 10°C.

Cooling effect

The whitening of the Arctic would restore a percentage of the ice – about three-quarters of a square kilometre for every whitened square kilometre. But the cooling effect would be much more modest.

And the return of the ice would not preserve the permafrost – home to colossal quantities of organic carbon that could, if released, become carbon dioxide – or prevent escapes of another potent greenhouse gas, methane.

While it might work to keep a bay or inlet frozen, it would not, in principle, save a frozen ocean, or save the world from catastrophic climate change.

“Simply put, our results indicate that whitening the surface of the Arctic Ocean would not be an effective tool for offsetting the effects of climate change caused by atmospheric greenhouse gases,” Professor Caldeira says.

“Furthermore, it is not clear to me that there is a technologically feasible way of actually doing this. And even if you could do it, the direct negative consequences of reducing the amount of sunlight available to marine ecosystems could be huge.” – Climate News Network

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Global warming slowdown offers only fleeting relief

Global warming slowdown offers only fleeting relief

Scientists show that long-term temperature rise is the inevitable consequence of increasing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

LONDON, 30 April, 2015 − The so-called hiatus in global warming will probably make no difference to the world in the long run, according to Australian scientists.

Using computer models to take the planetary temperature in 2100, they found that one set of models incorporated the slowdown, but others did not. In the end, the difference was barely significant: less than 0.1°C.

The hiatus is a measurable slowdown in the rate of increase in average global temperatures since the turn of the century.

But since, under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, average planetary temperatures in 2100 will be a predicted 5°C higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution around 200 years ago, the conclusion is that the slowdown is fleeting.

Drastic steps

In the end, and unless the planet’s governments take concerted and drastic steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, the outcome will be the same.

The study, the authors say in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that the slowdown merely reflects short-term variability.

“Our research shows that while there may be short-term fluctuations in global average temperatures, long-term warming of the planet is an inevitable consequence of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations,” says Matthew England, chief investigator at the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales. “This much-hyped global warming slowdown is just a distraction from the matter in hand.”

It may be a distraction, but Professor England is one of an increasingly large set of researchers puzzling over the mechanisms that may be at work.

“This much-hyped global warming slowdown is just a distraction from the matter in hand”

There is – and climate scientists have confirmed this repeatedly over the last 100 years – a direct link between the planet’s temperature and the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In the last 30 years of the last century, planetary average temperatures rose steadily by the decade.

In the first 15 years of this century, the rise has been much smaller, even though the emissions have been greater.

Thirteen of the 14 hottest years ever recorded have fallen in this century, and 2014 was the hottest of them all, but that hasn’t stopped climate scientists from trying to account for the apparent slowdown − perhaps with an aspect of the climate machinery they have so far overlooked.

One group recently suggested that a natural cycle of cooling  in the Antarctic – a cycle much longer and slower than the sketchy data from the southern continent can confirm – has simply masked a continued rise in global temperatures.

Another has pointed to a relatively recent increase in volcanic eruptions that might have delivered enough sulphur aerosols into the atmosphere to block sunlight and to imperceptibly counter the warming trend.

Temporary storage

Braddock Linsley, research professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, New York, and colleagues proposed that the “missing” heat might be in temporary storage in the deep oceans.

And Professor England and colleagues proposed a link between the Pacific trade winds and a natural pattern of ocean circulation − a slow movement sometimes called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) − that might be at work, overturning the ocean waters, cooling the surface and burying the warmth.

Now Dr Linsley and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters that the trade winds theory might provide at least part of the explanation.

They have been looking  at sea surface temperatures in the southern Pacific back to 1791, as witnessed by the growth of the coral reefs, and have identified a pattern of cyclic change with a period of perhaps about 25 years.

When the PDO goes into reverse, the so-called warming hiatus could end. If the present cycle began around 1999, then it could end quite soon − as early as 2020.

Dr Linsley told the Climate News Network: “There is already some evidence that the PDO may have started reversing late last year.” – Climate News Network

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