Climate threatens Pacific with seesaw sea levels

Climate threatens Pacific with seesaw sea levels

Scientists say coasts and communities in the Pacific region face more extreme weather hazards as climate change magnifies the devastating El Niño effect.

LONDON, 28 September, 2015 − El Niño, that periodic bubble of heat that hits the tropical Pacific every few years, has nothing to do with climate change – but the phenomenon could be made much more devastating by climate change, according to two new studies.

And that is bad news for a region where vulnerable coastlines are already at risk from serious storms, floods and rising sea levels.

One set of researchers reports in Science Advances that, in response to El Niño, Western Pacific sea levels will fall and rise more frequently by 2100. When they fall, they threaten the corals with a foul-smelling tide; when they rise, they threaten to flood the atolls.

And another group reports in Nature Geoscience that the alternating impact of a blistering El Niño and its chillier sister, La Niña, could bring more extreme flooding and more damaging erosion to the entire Pacific region.

Scientists have already warned once this year that a periodic cycle of warming and cooling in the Pacific could increase in frequency.

Bubble of heat

El Niño is a cyclic phenomenon that tends to manifest itself at Christmas time, which is why, long ago, Peruvian fishermen started giving it the name that means “The Child” in Spanish.

A great bubble of ocean heat moves eastward across the Pacific, causing sea levels in one place to rise, in another to fall, bringing floods and storms to the normally dry west coasts of the Americas, and bringing drought and even forest fires to the rainforests of Indonesia.

A notorious El Niño in 1998 helped make that year one of the hottest ever recorded, and since then meteorologists and climate scientists have been puzzling about what will happen to this natural cycle as carbon dioxide levels rise − in response to human combustion of fossil fuels − and in turn raise average global temperatures.

Matthew Widlansky, a climate researcher at the International Pacific Research Centre in Hawai’i, and colleagues report in that global warming will enhance El Niño-linked sea-level extremes.

This, in turn, will mean very low sea levels in the western Pacific, followed six months later by a seesaw in north-south sea levels, in which the seas drop by as much as 30 centimetres, to expose vulnerable coral ecosystems. And these could double in frequency.

“Utilising many years of data enabled us to definitively identify how the major climate drivers affect coastal hazards across the Pacific”

“The possibility of more frequent flooding in some areas and sea level drops in others would have severe consequences for the vulnerable coastlines of Pacific islands,” Dr Widlansky says.

Patrick Barnard, a coastal geologist at the US Geological Survey in Santa Cruz, California, and colleagues report that they took a different line of approach to arrive at a similar conclusion.

Thirteen research institutions looked at data from 48 Pacific beaches in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Hawai’i from 1979 to 2012 to see if patterns in coastal change could be linked to climate cycles such as El Niño and La Niña. They too found that climate change was likely to make such events worse.

“Shoreline behaviour can be controlled by so many different factors, both locally and regionally, that it’s been difficult to isolate the signal until now,” Dr Barnard says.

Predict impacts

“However, utilising the many years of data we were able pull together in this study enabled us to definitively identify how the major climate drivers affect coastal hazards across the Pacific. This will greatly enhance our ability to predict the broader impacts of climate change at the coast.”

C o-author Mitchell Harley, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales, Australia, says: “Coastlines of the Pacific are particularly dynamic as they are exposed to storm waves generated often thousands of miles away.

“This research is of particular importance as it can help Pacific coastal communities prepare for the effects of changing storm regimes driven by climate oscillations like El Niño and La Niña.

“To help us complete the puzzle, for the next step we would like to look at regions of the Pacific like South America and the Pacific Islands, where very limited shoreline data currently exists.” – Climate News Network

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The global warming slowdown is an illusion

The global warming slowdown is an illusion

Researchers say the world is continuing to warm, and evidence shows claims of a slowdown are unequivocally illusory.

LONDON, 19 September, 2015 – Global warming has not slowed. The so-called hiatus remains just that – so-called. The world is warming as predicted and any apparent evidence that it is not doing so is a statistical illusion, according to US scientists.

They report in the journal Climatic Change that they applied “rigorous, comprehensive, statistical analysis” to the global temperature data and came up with this unequivocal conclusion.

And although normally scientists like to spell out the caveats, the margins of error and the uncertainties in their conclusions, the team get to the point with unprecedented firmness.

“We find compelling evidence that recent claims of a ‘hiatus’ in global warming lack sound scientific basis. Our analysis reveals that there is no hiatus in the increase in the global mean temperature, no statistically significant difference in trends, no stalling of the global mean temperature, and no change in year-to-year temperature increases,” they write.

The very-much discussed and so-called pause, hiatus or slowdown in global warming has puzzled climate scientists for years. During the 1990s, annual global temperatures increased palpably, and at a measurable rate. In the early years of this century, the rate of increase began to slow.

Non-stop warming

It did not, as some have claimed, stop. Thirteen of the hottest 14 years ever have occurred this century, and 2014 was the warmest on record. But the rate of increase, expressed as fractions of a degree Celsius, averaged over the whole planet, certainly seemed to have slowed.

Since the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had continued steadily to increase, as a consequence of the combustion of fossil fuels, the rise in global temperatures should have kept pace, and scientists began to puzzle over the process.

One favourite explanation – and there have been many – was that some long-term natural oceanic or atmospheric cycle had been at play, taking any new atmospheric warmth to the deepest parts of the seas.

Another proposed that an increase in small volcanic eruptions had polluted the atmosphere and imperceptibly blocked incoming sunlight to cool the Earth from above. A third strand of argument proposed that even if there had been a slowdown, there was greater warming to come.

Yet others had begun to wonder about the completeness of the available data. And in June, a team led by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) re-examined the available data, applied corrections they thought necessary,  and reported that there had been no slowdown at all

Now Bala Rajaratnam of Stanford University in California and colleagues have come to the same conclusion. They did some advanced mathematical homework, using both the measurements corrected by the NOAA group and a set of older, uncorrected temperature measurements. They also devised a new statistical framework to apply to them.

“Global temperature has increased in the long term, and the recent period does not stand out as abnormal”

“By using both datasets, nobody can claim that we made up a new statistical technique in order to get a certain result,” said Dr Rajaratnam. “We saw there was a debate in the scientific community about the global warming hiatus, and we realised that the assumptions of classical statistical tools being used were not appropriate and thus could not give reliable answers.”

Collected measurements of any kind, made at different times with different techniques, tell scientists nothing: they must use statistical tools to eliminate possible bias, smooth other distortions and allow for human error. So all debate about climate change has, at bottom, been about how to interpret information.

The Stanford team’s approach involved thinking again about how to make sense of temperature readings collected unevenly from ocean and surface atmospheric temperatures, all of them influenced by chaotic weather systems, seasonal variations and long-term natural cycles.

They applied another approach that could equally be used with climate data or stock market prices, and they report that their statistical confidence in their conclusions is 100 times stronger than what was reported by the NOAA group. Once this approach was applied, the apparent alteration in the rate of warming disappeared.

“Global warming is like other noisy systems that fluctuate wildly but still follow a trend. Think of the US stock market. There have been bull markets and bear markets but overall it has grown a lot over the past century,” said Noah Diffenbaugh of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford.

“What is clear from analysing the long-term data in a rigorous statistical framework is that, even though climate varies from year to year and decade to decade, global temperature has increased in the long term, and the recent period does not stand out as abnormal.” – Climate News Network

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Southern Ocean starts to soak up carbon again

Southern Ocean starts to soak up carbon again

Scientists report that the great oceanic “lung” is again breathing in vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – but can’t say why or whether it will last.

LONDON, 14 September, 2015 – The high seas have begun to respond again to the changes in the atmosphere, with two new studies confirming that the Southern Ocean is absorbing more atmospheric carbon.

Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been steadily increasing as humans burn ever more fossil fuels, but climate scientists will probably hesitate before exhaling sighs of relief over the latest findings.

Rising CO2 in the atmosphere means global warming, which means climate change, melting ice caps, rising sea levels − and even more global warming and climate change.

So the discovery that one great stretch of hostile ocean is soaking up more of the stuff sounds like very good news. However, the celebrations are likely to be cautious, as there is no guarantee that the process is permanent.

Human activities

Scientists led by Peter Landschützer and Nicolas Gruber, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), report in Science journal that there had been fears that the ocean had become saturated and could absorb no more carbon from the atmosphere. No increase had been measured since the late 1980s.

“The Southern Ocean behaves like a giant lung, breathing in and absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and releasing it later in the year,” says one of the team, Dorothee Bakker, research officer in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, UK.

“The seas around Antarctica absorb significantly more CO2 than they release. And, importantly, they remove a large part of the CO2 that is put into the atmosphere by human activities such as burning fossil fuels.

“They basically help to slow down the growth of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and lessen the rate of climate change.”

“The seas around Antarctica remove a large part of the CO2 that is put into the atmosphere by human activities such as burning fossil fuels”

However, there is no clear reason why the Southern Ocean should have started to gulp down atmospheric carbon once more. A change in wind and circulation patterns is the best explanation. But, if so, the “reinvigoration” may not be permanent.

Permanent or not, it is certainly real. Research proceeds by replication, and a second study reports in Geophysical Research Letters that researchers focused on millions of systematic measurements made over the last 13 years in just one segment of the Southern Ocean − the tempestuous Drake Passage between the tip of South America and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Southern Ocean matters because it is – or was thought to be – a voracious consumer of atmospheric carbon.

Wind patterns

“Although it comprises only 26% of the total ocean area, the Southern Ocean has absorbed nearly 40% of all the anthropogenic carbon dioxide taken up by the global oceans up to the present,” says one of the authors, David Munro, an atmospheric and oceanic sciences researcher at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado-Boulder, in the US.

It remains uncertain why this should be happening, but wind patterns, temperature and ocean upwelling are almost certainly factors.

“It’s likely that winter mixing with deep waters that have not had contact with the atmosphere for several hundred years plays an important role,” Dr Munro says.

There is no guarantee that the ocean will go on gulping down the carbon dioxide pumped out from power stations and car exhausts. The research will continue.

“Our statistical model is not able to predict the future development, so it is critical that we continue measuring the surface ocean CO2 concentrations in the Southern Ocean,” Dr Landschützer says. – Climate News Network

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Sponge offers way to clean up ships’ emissions

Sponge offers way to clean up ships’ emissions

As countries worldwide increasingly ban polluting ships from their ports, a spinning steel sponge may provide a solution for the owners of cargo and cruise vessels.

LONDON, 6 September, 2015 – The cargo vessels that carry 80% of the world’s trade and the cruise ships that take thousands of passengers to pristine tourist attractions use the world’s dirtiest fuel.

With 60% of the world’s ports already voluntarily excluding the worst-polluting ships, owners are in a desperate hunt to find ways to clean up their act – and a giant steel sponge could be the answer.

Technology used in a pilot project developed by Carlos Dorao and Maria Fernandino, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), was originally designed for the gas industry, where gas being pumped out of a well has to be separated from the liquid.

Separators are expensive and bulky, but the two researchers’ invention – a large spinning steel sponge that is half the size of a typical separator – does an effective job.

Left-over sludge

Around 60,000 large ships use bunker fuel, which is the sludge left over from crude oil after it is refined for petrol, diesel and other petroleum products. The fuel is 50 times more polluting than fuel permitted in diesel cars.

These ships’ giant engines also produce nearly 3% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions − more than the total from all of the world’s aircraft.

The International Maritime Organisation has introduced new rules to force the introduction of cleaner engines by 2020. But both the European Union and the US have produced tighter rules that will take effect before then − in effect banning the worst ships from their shores.

The levels of emissions of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and heavy metals will all have to be cut, and engines will need to be more energy-efficient to reduce greenhouse gases.

The next step is to take the pilot project results
to the shipping industry and work out
the fastest and cheapest ways to integrate the technology into ships’ engines

The new clean-up technology was originally designed for the gas industry, where the gas being pumped out of a well has to be separated from the liquid.

Separators are expensive and bulky, but the two researchers’ invention – a large spinning steel sponge that is half the size of a typical separator – does an effective job.

The NTNU’s sponge catches the water as it flows through the gas well, and the spinning effect throws the water out sideways and downwards, while allowing the gas to flow upwards through the sponge.

Statoil, the Norway-based energy multinational, has now taken on the technology and is developing it to replace traditional separators in the natural gas industry.

This novel solution is the Lynx Separator, and  a company called InnSep was created in 2011 to develop and market the idea.

Removing pollutants

Now the Research Council of Norway’s Innovation Programme for Maritime Activities and Offshore Operations (MAROFF) is funding a pilot project that examined the possibility of applying the technology to cleaning the exhaust emissions from ships.

The project mixed seawater with exhaust fumes to see whether the spinning sponge had the same effect on removing pollutants, including sulphur particles. It worked.

The next step is for InnSep to take the pilot project results to the shipping industry and work out the fastest and cheapest ways to integrate the technology into ships’ engines.

Sondre Jacobsen, InnSep’s chief executive, says that with the shipbuilding industry now facing such stringent emission standards, this field appears a very promising business opportunity for the new separation technique. – Climate News Network

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Emissions are putting species in lethal danger

Emissions are putting species in lethal danger

Scientists warn that lizards, coral reefs and forests are all seriously under threat unless agreement is reached to reduce drastically fossil fuel emissions.

LONDON, 27 August, 2015 – Global warming is going to be very bad for the boreal forests of Siberia and Canada, calamitous for the coral reefs of the tropics and the cold deep waters – and lethal for the lizards of North America.

New research warns that the double assault of warmer and increasingly acidic oceans will affect coral reefs everywhere, growing conditions will move north faster than trees can migrate, and increasing extremes of heat will roast vulnerable reptile embryos to death.

As humankind pours more and more carbon dioxide into the planetary atmosphere as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion, these are among the impacts scientists say we should prepare for by 2100 and perhaps even earlier.

About one-third of the planet’s woodlands are strewn across Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska and Canada. These forests are a “sink” for atmospheric carbon, and at the same time they provide shelter for rich ecosystems and a source of income for tens of millions of people around the world.

Climate zone shifting

But the climate is changing. The region of the northern forests is warming at 0.5°C per decade, and by 2100 it could be on average between 6°C and 11°C higher that it is now. The climate zone is shifting at least 10 times faster than trees can migrate, according to a new study in Science journal.

The likelihood is that the species to the south will be at greater risk of wildfire, drought, infection and insect assault, but the species at the northern fringe will not be able to colonise new ground to keep up. The loss of forest could accelerate global warming even further, although researchers cannot yet be sure.

“These forests evolved under cold conditions, and we do not know enough about the impacts of warming on their resilience and buffering capacity,” says one of the report’s co-authors, Anatoly Shvidenko, a senior researcher in the forestry programme at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

The consequences for the coral reefs of the world have been well reported, but geochemists at a global conference in Prague thought it worthwhile spelling out the dangers yet again.

“I find it very unlikely that coral reefs as I knew them in the mid-1960s will still be found
anywhere on this planet by mid-century”

Peter Sale, a marine biologist at the University of Windsor, Canada, used the hazard to the coral ecosystems to underscore the urgency of an international agreement at the UN’s forthcoming Paris conference on climate change to take steps to control emissions and limit average temperature increase to 2°C this century. But that may not be enough.

“Even if Paris is wildly successful, and a treaty is struck, ocean warming and ocean acidification are going to continue beyond the end of this century,” Sale says.

“This is now serious. I find it very unlikely that coral reefs as I knew them in the mid-1960s will still be found anywhere on this planet by mid-century. Instead, we will have algal-dominated, rubble-strewn, slowly eroding limestone benches.

“I see little hope for reefs unless we embark on a more aggressive emissions reduction plan.”

Lizards lay their eggs in the ground in spring and summer and leave them to gestate for up to two months. They are cold-blooded creatures that respond to the heat to become more active, and seek shade when it becomes too hot. − but infant lizards have no such freedom.

A team of scientists from Arizona State University (ASU) report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that, in experiments, they found that while adult animals might benefit from a warmer world, their embryos could be seriously at risk.

Pessimistic forecasts

They found that the lizard embryos die when subjected to temperatures greater than 43°C (110°F). Right now, only about 3% of the US gets to this temperature in the shade. By 2100, under the more pessimistic climate forecasts, this could have grown to 48%.

This could be bleak news for whole ecosystems, because lizards consume insects, and are in turn prey for snakes and birds and mammals.

“Lizards put all of their eggs in one basket, so a single heat wave can kill an entire group of eggs,” says Ofir Levy, postdoctoral fellow at the ASU School of Life Sciences, who led the study.

“If mothers don’t dig deeper nests to lay their eggs, we expect this species to decline throughout the United States.” – Climate News Network

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Hi-tech analysis pinpoints Antarctic ice sheet dangers

Hi-tech analysis pinpoints Antarctic ice sheet dangers

Precision mapping of West Antarctica’s melting glaciers could help climate scientists to predict potentially calamitous effects on sea levels.

LONDON, 25 August, 2015 – Scientists have used high-resolution computing techniques to calculate the future of the West Antarctic ice sheet over the next two or three centuries.

The West Antarctic peninsula right now is about the fastest-warming place on Earth. And, in the worst case scenario, glaciers will retreat by hundreds of kilometres, and seas will rise everywhere.

An estimated 80,000 cubic kilometres of ice could flow into the sea by 2100, and by 2200 this could rise to 200,000 cubic kilometres. By the end of this century, sea levels could have risen by 20cms, and 50cms by 2200.

This is an extreme case, but the forecasts for West Antarctica’s glaciers have been consistently alarming. In the last two years, scientists have confirmed that the rates of melt and retreat have accelerated, and that, under the combined effects of warmer air and sea, this melting may be irreversible.

Vulnerable mass

Stephen Cornford, a researcher at the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol in the UK, and colleagues report in the European Geosciences Union journal The Cryosphere that their chief concern was to help climate science by fixing with greater precision the things that might happen to the most vulnerable mass of ice on the frozen continent.

The new study tests a range of climate predictions in greater detail than before, over a greater area, and a longer period of time. But the uncertainties remain. Will human-induced greenhouse gas levels continue to rise? How will the oceans respond? What will be the consequences for snowfall south of the Antarctic Circle?

“Other regions of West Antarctica could thin to a similar extent if the ocean warms sufficiently”

So the study looks at all the possibilities in more detail, and the pay-off could be more confident predictions of climate change as the circumstances begin to change.

Dr Cornford says: “We expect future change in the West Antarctic ice sheet to be dominated by thinning in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, just as it is today, until at least the 22nd century. But other regions of West Antarctica could thin to a similar extent if the ocean warms sufficiently.”

A computer-generated map of the projected glacial retreat in the Amundsen Sea Embayment by 2154. Image: S.Cornford et al/The Cryosphere

A computer-generated map of the projected glacial retreat in the Amundsen Sea Embayment by 2154.
Image: S.Cornford et al/The Cryosphere

Serious consequences

The worst-case predictions are disconcerting, and could have serious consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who live in cities and on productive land at or near sea level – for instance on the Nile Delta or in Bangladesh – or even below sea level, protected by sea walls, such as in the Netherlands.

But they remain just that: worst case predictions. The scientists were not concerned with establishing probabilities for any scenario, just with employing complex mathematical techniques to extend climate models.

The chief aim of the study has been to find ways of making sense of all possibilities − from no change to calamitous change − in the factors that govern glacier loss.

Co-author Dan Martin, a computational scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, says: “Much like a higher-resolution digital camera transforms a blur into a flock of birds, higher resolution in a computer model often helps to capture details of the physics involved, which may be crucial to the broad picture.” – Climate News Network

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Too warm, too few fish: Health warning for world’s oceans

Too warm, too few fish: Health warning for world’s oceans

Rampant overfishing combined with the impact of climate change is seriously endangering the wellbeing of the oceans, environmental analysts say.

LONDON, 23 August, 2015 – The world’s oceans – covering nearly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, and on which much of human life depends – are under severe pressure, a report says.

Over-fishing has dramatically reduced fish stocks. The thousands of tonnes of rubbish dumped in the oceans wreak havoc on marine life, while climate change is warming and acidifying them, putting them under further stress.

These are the sobering conclusions of a wide-ranging study of the Earth’s ecosystems by the Worldwatch Institute, a US-based organisation widely rated as one of the world’s foremost environmental think-tanks.

“Our sense of the ocean’s power and omnipotence – combined with scientific ignorance – contributed to an assumption that nothing we did could ever possibly impact it”, says Katie Auth, a researcher at Worldwatch and one of the authors of the report.

“Over the years, scientists and environmental leaders have worked tirelessly to demonstrate and communicate the fallacy of such arrogance.”

Decadal doubling

More than 50% of commercial fish stocks are now fully exploited with another 20% classified as over-exploited, the report says, while the number of dead zones – areas of the ocean depleted of oxygen and incapable of supporting marine life – has doubled in each decade since the 1960s.

The oceans play a key role in absorbing vast amounts of greenhouse gases and slowing the warming of the atmosphere.

The report says: “…Evidence suggests that as the ocean becomes saturated with CO2, its rate of uptake will slow, a process that has already begun.”

Sea surface temperatures are rising, putting marine systems under pressure and causing fish and sea bird populations to migrate to colder areas.

Worldwatch says there must be big cutbacks in fossil fuel emissions: “If emissions continue at current levels, ocean acidity in surface waters could increase by almost 150% by 2100, creating a marine environment unlike anything that has existed in the past 20 million years.”

It is time for homo sapiens sapiens to live up to its somewhat presumptuous Latin name, and grow up”

The Worldwatch report, State of the World 2015, examines a range of sustainability issues. It says the goal of continued economic growth – an economic doctrine which has prevailed only since the 1950s – is a threat to the sustainability of multiple ecosystems.

The world’s resources – whether its fossil fuels or water resources – cannot go on being plundered. Changes in climate – in particular the prevalence of drought in some of the world’s main food-producing regions – is threatening the planet’s ability to feed itself.

The report concludes: “There is no question that scholars and scientists who study the human economy, the earth and the interactions between them are drawing profoundly troubling conclusions…

It is time for homo sapiens sapiens to live up to its somewhat presumptuous Latin name, and grow up.” – Climate News Network

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Revolutionary fence is set to trap the sea’s power

Revolutionary fence is set to trap the sea’s power

Innovative turbines designed in the UK aim to harness tidal energy to produce cheaper electricity − without endangering marine life.

LONDON, 7 August, 2015 – A British company has announced plans for an array of unique marine turbines that can operate in shallower and slower-moving water than current designs.

Kepler Energy, whose technology is being developed by Oxford University’s department of engineering science, says the turbines will in time produce electricity more cheaply than off-shore wind farms.

It hopes to install its new design in what is called a tidal energy fence, one kilometre long, in the Bristol Channel − an estuary dividing South Wales from the west of England − at a cost of £143m (US$222m).

The fence is a string of linked turbines, each of which will start generating electricity as it is completed, until the whole array is producing power. The fence’s total output is 30 megawatts (MW), and 1MW can supply around 1,000 homes in the UK.

Power outputs

Peter Dixon, Kepler’s chairman, told Reuters news agency: “If we can build up to, say, 10 kilometres’ worth, which is a very extended fence, you’re looking at power outputs of five or six hundred megawatts. And just to visualise that, it’s like one small nuclear reactor’s worth of electricity being generated from the tides in the Bristol Channel.”

The new Transverse Horizontal Axis Water Turbine (THAWT) − whose design is compared to that of a water mill − will use the latest carbon composite technology, and should be suitable for the waters around Britain, as well as overseas.

How the rotor blades look installed in a tidal fence configuration. Image: Kepler Energy

How the rotor blades look installed in a tidal fence configuration. Image: Kepler Energy

Because the turbines sit horizontally beneath the surface of the sea, they can be sited in water shallower than the 30-metre depth typically required by current designs. And because the water is slow-moving, the company says, fish can safely avoid the turbines’ blades.

Although the technology is regarded as environmentally benign, Kepler says it will still undergo a rigorous environmental impact assessment during the planning process to ensure that it poses no significant risk to marine life and to other users of the sea.

“Its like one small nuclear reactors worth
of electricity being generated from the tides
in the Bristol Channel

There is more good news for proponents of renewable energy after the UK government − which is no longer encouraging onshore wind and solar energy − gave the go-ahead for a large offshore wind farm that could provide power for up to two million homes.

The new wind farm is to be built near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea and will have 400 turbines.

Its developers say it could create almost 5,000 jobs during construction. And, earlier this year, they obtained planning consent for another installation nearby which, with the new development, will form one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world.

North Seas assets

But the fossil fuel industry is far from abandoning its own interest in British waters as the energy giant BP has announced that it is to invest about £670m (US$1,040m) to extend the life of its North Sea assets.

It said it would be drilling new wells, replacing undersea infrastructure, and introducing new technologies to help it to produce as much as possible from the area, whose future would be secured “until 2030 and beyond”

In November, delegates to the UN Climate Change Convention annual negotiations will gather in Paris to try to conclude an ambitious and effective agreement on preventing the global average temperature rise caused by greenhouse gas emissions exceeding 2˚C above its pre-industrial level.

Last year, the Convention’s executive secretary, Christiana Figueres, said the world’s long-term goal was to reduce greenhouse gases to zero by 2100 − a target she said would require leaving three-quarters of fossil fuels in the ground. “We just can’t afford to burn them”, she said. – Climate News Network

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Arctic’s melting ice shrinks shipping routes

Arctic’s melting ice shrinks shipping routes

The opening up of waters north of Siberia as Arctic ice melts will change world trade patterns by cutting a third off distances between north-west Europe and the Far East.

LONDON, 4 August, 2015 – The disappearing Arctic ice cap will boost trade between north-west Europe and countries such as China, Japan and South Korea by making the sea routes far shorter, according to economic analysts.

The new sea route will alter world trade, making northern countries richer, but causing serious problems for Egypt, which will lose a large chunk of revenue currently gained from ships coming through the Suez Canal.

One advantage to the environment − according to a discussion paper from the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis − is that ships will burn far less fossil fuel to reach their destination.

However, this gain will be offset when the volume of trade increases because of the shorter sea route, making climate change slightly worse.

Open all year

The northern sea route is already open in the summer months, but the paper predicts that it will be available all year round by 2030, or possibly sooner. It says that Arctic ice is melting faster than predicted by scientists.

To police the new route, the Russian government has already formed a federal state institution and is building 10 “relief ports” along the Siberian coastline for ships that might need repairs or supplies. China has signed a free trade agreement with Iceland in anticipation of regularly using the route.

The paper estimates that trade between north-west Europe and China, Japan and Korea will increase by 10% as a result of the opening of the route, but that this will happen gradually.

The northern route will become one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, increasing the economic and political importance of the Arctic

Since 90% of world trade by volume is carried by ship, the distance between ports is a vital consideration. The northern route reduces the distance from Japan to north European countries by 37%, from South Korea by 31%, China 23%, and Taiwan 17%.

The advantage of shorter distances applies only to countries in northern East Asia. For countries south of the equator, such as Singapore and Indonesia, the southern route via Suez is still shorter.

Similarly, southern European countries do not gain because they remain roughly the same distance away from their trading partners whichever route they use.

The countries in Europe that will gain most from the new sea route are those with access to ports on the North Sea and the Baltic. These include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, the UK and Norway.

Drop in trade

Some countries in eastern and southern Europe would experience a drop in trade because of the comparatively longer distances their exports and imports would need to travel, according to the report. These include Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Slovenia.

The report says that roughly 8% of world trade goes through the Suez Canal, and that two-thirds of this volume will go via the shorter Arctic route. The northern route will become one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, increasing the economic and political importance of the Arctic.

At the same time, it will put huge economic pressure on Egypt and Singapore, who rely heavily on shipping using the southern route.

Over time, the opening of the Arctic route will have knock-on effects on jobs and prosperity in all the countries concerned, but it is predicted that this will be a gradual rather than sudden process. – Climate News Network

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‘Hidden’ warming points to more record temperatures

‘Hidden’ warming points to more record temperatures

As scientists seek to explain the apparent slowing in global warming this century, the future seems clear: without a huge cut in emissions, there’s hotter times ahead.

LONDON, 28 July, 2015 − Global warming has seemingly slowed because the top 100 metres of the Pacific Ocean has cooled −  or it could be because natural climate cycles keep the atmosphere relatively cool for three decades and then warming accelerates for the next 30 years or so.

But while climate scientists are still trying to understand precisely why the rate of global warming this century has apparently slowed, they predict that the record-breaking temperatures in 2014 will be surpassed this year.

Potential explanations for this so-called pause are like London buses: you wait for a while, and then two come along at once.

Researchers from the US report in the journal Science that the planet has absorbed more heat than it has radiated back into space, but the extra warming is trapped, for the moment, somewhere between the 100 metre and 300 metre layers of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. That is, the warming is there, but you just can’t feel it yet.

Robust evidence

“In the long term, there is robust evidence of unabated global warming,” says Veronica Nieves, a research physicist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Meanwhile, an essay in The Geoscientist argues that natural decadal climate cycles and the continuous rise in greenhouse gases from human combustion of fossil fuels are interacting in ways that mean that the rate of change is not a smooth upward curve, but a series of steps − some steep, some flat.

Average global temperatures have risen 0.9°C since the start of the 20th century. But research scientist Andy Chadwick, of the British Geological Survey, writes: “Anthropogenic emissions are not the only game in town, and that is why the observed temperature variation is more complex.”

Neither argument excludes the other. Both could be true, and each could be only part of the explanation. So could some of the other published analyses.

Scientists have recently argued that the missing heat may be deep in the Atlantic, or driven to depths by the Pacific trade winds,  or affected by natural cycles in both oceans.

“It is clear that, in coming decades, temperatures will continue to rise − albeit not at a uniform rate”

One group has reasoned that a recent burst of low-level volcanic activity could be screening the sunlight and lowering temperatures, while others say they never expected global warming to be consistent.

Yet others have proposed that warming continues and that the anomalies may lie in the way the data has been collected, or that even if the average temperature rises seem to have slowed, the increase in extremes of heat around the world suggests otherwise.

Computer simulation

But much of such argument has been supported by computer simulation and “what-if” logic.

Dr Nieves and her colleagues looked at direct ocean temperature measurements collected over the last 20 years − some of them from a network of 3,500 floats known as the Argo array − to build up a picture of heat driven below the ocean surface, piling up in the Western Pacific, and even “leaking” into the Indian Ocean.

This is while the water surfaces remained unexpectedly cool, during a 30-year phase known to oceanographers and climate scientists as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

Dr Chadwick went back to records dating from the close of the 19th century to show a clear warming of more than 100 years, but divided into 30-year “ramps” when temperatures rose steeply, and “steps” when temperatures were roughly constant or fell very slightly, in ways consistent with natural oscillations in ocean and atmosphere.

Temperatures fell between 1880 and 1910, and between 1945 and 1975, and had “flattened off” in the 21st century. The long-term trend correlated closely with the rise in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And simulations of the future suggested more rapid warming to come.

“It is clear that, in coming decades, temperatures will continue to rise,” Dr Chadwick predicts, “albeit not at a uniform rate.” – Climate News Network

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