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

Share This:

Climate change imperils an entire UK ecosystem

Climate change imperils an entire UK ecosystem

In the upland peat bogs of Britain, global warming is killing insects and jeopardising the rare birds that depend on them.

LONDON, 3 August, 2015 – The UK may still be fairly well sheltered from the impacts of climate change, but British scientists now say the increasingly warm trend is threatening an entire eco-system.

They have found that several rare upland bird species are at risk, together with other ecosystem functions, because of the effects of climate change on the UK’s blanket bogs −  the peat bogs found mainly in the wetter western and northern uplands of Britain.

Following their study of uplands from mid-Wales to northern England, they report in Nature Communications that “climate change could drive substantial declines in abundances of keystone invertebrates and their predators, acting through soil moisture”.

Risk for people

Several bird species − including the dunlin, golden plover and red grouse − depend on these wetlands for nesting and feeding, and there is a risk for people as well, because most drinking water comes from the upland peats.

Ecologists at the University of York and colleagues found that climate change threatens the bogs, not only through rising temperatures from increasing peat decomposition but also because of altered rainfall patterns, with summer droughts drastically affecting the bogs’ hydrology.

The study showed that an insect called the crane fly − often known as the daddy longlegs − is crucial to determining the impact of climate change on peatland bird species.

The birds depend on the protein-rich crane flies as food for chicks, but the scientists found that summer droughts, which are predicted to increase, could cause significant declines in the flies, by 56%-81%, and therefore in the birds that depend on them.

“Everything works together like a jigsaw puzzle − if you change a piece, you will change
others around it”

Based on a peatland model developed at the University of York, and on the latest climate change predictions, they say the decline of crane flies could by 2051-80 mean a 50% fall in dunlin numbers, 30% in golden plovers and 15% in red grouse.

Another concern is the role of blanket bogs as a carbon store – or source. Globally, peatlands are an important carbon store, representing about 60% of the world’s terrestrial carbon, although they cover less than 3% of the Earth’s surface, and even the UK’s bogs play a significant part.

While they are forming, peatlands can absorb carbon, but in degraded peatlands carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases can be released. So peatlands have a massive potential influence on climate change.

Bug-to-bird link

The peatland model was developed by Dr Andreas Heinemeyer, a Stockholm Environment Institute ecologist based at the University of York. He says: “This is one of the first studies to follow this bug-to-bird link, down the food chain, between climate change and something happening to an entire eco-system, with relevance to people.

“There is a very strong relationship between the moisture of the peat and the survival of the larvae of the crane fly during summer. July and August are peak times: if it is too dry, the larvae just desiccate and die, and are then not available for the bird chicks the following year.”

And it isn’t only rare birds that were at risk from climate change. Dr Heinemeyer says “We might be in for big change, not just in connection with our birds, but with our drinking water as well.

“If you end up being very dry as a blanket bog, you store less water and your water quality seems to deteriorate . . . everything works together like a jigsaw puzzle. If you change a piece, you will change others around it.” – Climate News Network

Share This:

Half of climate safety level has gone

Half of climate safety level has gone

Global temperatures have risen by 1°C in the past 150 years, and one scientist says doubling that level could unleash catastrophic sea level rise this century.

LONDON, 2 August, 2015 – The world is now halfway towards the internationally-agreed safety limit of a maximum 2°C rise in global average temperatures, researchers say.

That limit seeks to prevent the global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels exceeding 2°C above the pre-industrial global temperature. The UN’s Paris climate summit later this year aims to ensure that it is not breached.

It appears that the human race has taken roughly 250 years to stoke global warming by 1°C. On present trends, we look likely to add the next 1°C far more quickly – across much of the world, many climate scientists believe, by the middle of this century.

The research is published in the journal New Scientist, which commissioned it. As so often with climate projections, it needs qualifying and teasing apart.

Some scientists, for example, warn that there’s uncertainty about just what the pre-industrial global temperature was. The New Scientist research is careful to be specific: it says global surface temperature is now passing 1°C of warming relative to the second half of the 19th century.

Farewell, hiatus

And one of the four main trackers of temperature thinks that milestone will be passed only if there is a strong El Niño, the cyclic Pacific weather phenomenon that periodically brings widespread chaos in its wake.

However, the research looks likely finally to lay to rest the argument that global warming is slowing and stuttering to a virtual halt, the so-called hiatus theory. Kevin Trenberth, of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, told New Scientist: There’s a good chance the hiatus is over.”

The hottest year since records began was by a very small margin – 2014, and this year’s El Niño could mean a temperature rise of 0.1°C this year, an increase which usually takes about a decade to develop. Dr Trenberth thinks 2015 is likely also to be a record-breaker. 

Between 1984 and 1998 the Earth warmed at 0.26°C a decade, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  says the rate then fell back until 2012 to about 0.04°C, for a number of reasons, including a less active Sun, more cooling aerosols from volcanoes and Asian factories, and more heat being absorbed by the oceans. The New Scientist findings suggest that warming may soon revert to the higher rate. 

From a quite different source comes a warning not only that temperatures may soon start a marked rise, but that sea level may also accelerate far faster than most scientists think likely.

It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable”

The prospect it holds out is at odds with most mainstream climate science, and might well be discounted as alarmist and fanciful. But the lead author of the discussion paper in which it appears is the highly respected James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

He and his colleagues say the ice melting around Greenland and Antarctica will cause sea level rises much faster than mainstream predictions suggest, by several metres this century. This will add to a process which they say has already begun, accelerating the melting of the undersides of Antarctic glaciers and ice shelves.

Another consequence, they think, will be the shutting down of ocean currents which carry heat from the tropics to the polar regions, leaving the tropics to warm fast and the high latitudes to cool. This temperature difference, they say, will spawn superstorms unlike any seen so far.

All this, Professor Hansen and his colleagues say, could happen with a 2°C temperature rise, with devastating consequences: It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilisation.”

Professor Hansen may of course be wrong, but it would be short-sighted to assume that he is. He has a strong record of ultimately being proved right. Climate News Network

Share This:

Wildfire threat spreads across warming world

Wildfire threat spreads across warming world

As climate change warms the world vegetation dries, rainfall patterns waver and the threat of wildfire spreads.

LONDON, 1 August, 2015 – Wildfire – nature’s way of turning fallen vegetation into the next season’s nutrients – is a growing hazard. In the last 35 years, the wildfire season has grown longer by a fifth, and wildfire is now a threat to one fourth of all the plant-covered land on the planet.

US researchers report in Nature Communications that since 1970 the number of days without rain has increased by well over one day every decade.

William Jolly of the US Forest Service in Missoula, Montana and colleagues say they examined the fire season worldwide for the study period, taking into consideration all the factors that are used to calculate fire hazard: wind, humidity and temperature, as well as rainfall levels.

They found that the combined changes in the surface weather have meant that the fire season has increased so far by 18.7%

Worldwide, wildfires sear, scorch or incinerate about 350 million hectares of ground cover every year. Changes in the rainfall patterns were a factor, with the number of rain-free days increasing by 1.31 days per decade. The season of smoke and cinders and smouldering stumps had been extended almost everywhere.

Lower humidity

The average temperature on land that could support vegetation – for obvious reasons, the researchers did not include Antarctica or Greenland or the most arid desert zones – had increased by 0.185°C per decade and relative humidity, a measure of moisture in the air, had dropped 0.217% per decade.

Throughout Africa, the season of weather that carried a risk of fire was extended, and in Europe there were longer summers of greater risk in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece and Latvia.

In 2010 Russia had its worst fire season in recorded history, and in eastern Canada in the same year drier seasons and greater temperatures led to huge fires. Between 1979 and 2013, the Mediterranean forest fire season grew 29 days longer.

The largest increase was in South America, where the season was extended by 33 days in 35 years. Peat fires in Indonesia in 1997-98, following a drought induced by that cyclic weather phenomenon El Niño, released carbon dioxide emissions that added up to somewhere between 13% and 40% of global fossil fuel emissions – but from just 1.4% of the planet’s total vegetated land area.

Fires play a role in natural ecosystems, and some landscapes – the maquis (thick evergreen scrub) of southern Europe, the mulga forests of Australia and the chaparral of western North America – are adapted to periodic but not frequent visitations of fire.

But, say the researchers, there has been a recent surge of “extremely destructive fires with corresponding social disruption and substantial economic costs.” The annual bill for fire suppression cost the US $1.7bn over the last decade, and US$1bn in Canada. In just one year, 2005, fire losses in Australia added up to US$9.4bn, or just about 1.3% of the nation’s gross domestic product.

Endangered conifers

Researchers have identified wildfire as an increasing hazard everywhere. But in the US there has been repeated concern about risks in California and other parts of the American west.

But the research team also noted that the danger of fire had spread to the temperate conifer forests of the northern Rockies, while South America’s tropical and subtropical forests and savannahs had all seen “tremendous” fire season changes. And in 2005, a rare drought in the Amazon basin meant that even the rainforests were damaged.

“We have shown that combined surface weather changes over the last three and a half decades have promoted global wildfire weather season lengthening,” the authors conclude.

“If these trends continue, increased wildfire potential may have pronounced global socio-economic, ecological and climate system impacts.” – Climate News Network

Share This:

Good practice makes perfect sense for GHG cuts

Good practice makes perfect sense for GHG cuts

Reducing climate-warming gases enough to prevent global temperatures from exceeding a 2°C rise is simple – if all countries do as well as the best. 

LONDON, 31 July, 2015 – European researchers investigating ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the internationally-agreed safety level have arrived at the good news that we can just about achieve it – provided all nations show the political will to do so.

They conclude that applying globally the climate policies that are already working in some countries could substantially reduce emissions, close to where they need to be to prevent global average temperatures rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial level.

The researchers − from the NewClimate Institute, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis − detail their findings in a report that examines the impact of “good practice” emission reduction policies in nine different areas globally and across six countries: China, Brazil, India, the US, Russia and Japan.

Energy efficiency

The areas examined include: renewable energy; a variety of energy efficiency standards for buildings, car fuel efficiency, appliances and lighting, and industry); hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); emissions from fossil fuel production; electric cars; and forestry.

The researchers looked at the most ambitious “good practice” policies around the world that are being implemented now, and calculated the difference they would make if every country applied them. They say that difference is huge.

In the arcane language of the greenhouse gases, the unit the researchers use is known as the GtCO2e − an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”. It is a simplified way to put emissions of various greenhouse gases on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of CO2 that would have the same global warming effect.

“If everybody were to work towards achieving such high standards in key areas, this would
have a significant impact”

The report says that implementing good practice policies is projected to stabilise GHG emissions at 49-50 GtCO2e by 2020, decreasing to 44-47 GtC02e by 2030 – not too far from the level needed to attain the 2°C emissions range (30-44 GtCO2e) that the world is aiming for by 2030.

Direct replication of good practice policies is expected to halt emissions growth significantly in most regions before 2030. In contrast, current policies are expected to see emissions continue to increase to around 54 GtCO2e by 2020 – and 59-60 GtCO2e by 2030.

“It is clear that governments can learn from each other to find effective policies to reduce emissions,” says Niklas Höhne, a founding partner of NewClimate Institute. “If everybody were to work towards achieving such high standards in key areas, this would have a significant impact.”

The study found that the good practice policy area that could reduce the most emissions was renewable energy (3.7-6.0 GtCO2e), where China, Costa Rica, Germany and Tuvalu’s policies were among the world’s best.

Interesting targets

With F-gases (fluorinated GHGs), where good practice policies could reduce emissions by around 1.1 to 2.2 GtCO2e, the EU, Mexico, China and the US had what the authors call “some interesting policies or targets”

On energy efficiency, the analysis shows that good practice policies can significantly reduce the impact on GHG emissions of economic growth, by decarbonising the energy supply and improving energy efficiency in the demand sectors, which it says is good news for developing countries.

The opportunities were particularly significant for China, whose emissions are projected to increase to approximately 15 GtCO2e by 2030. But under a good practice policy scenario, they would peak around 2020, and in 2030 would be at about 12 GtCO2e or lower.

However, the report says China is already among the leaders in policies in a number of areas.

Hanna Fekete, another founding partner of NewClimate Institute, says climate policy-making in China has picked up speed in recent years, and that  recent developments in reduction of coal consumption, for example, set a promising basis for further action in the future.. – Climate News Network

Share This:

Fossil fuel industry still winning the investment war

Fossil fuel industry still winning the investment war

The campaign to convince investors not to use their money to support the extraction and use of fossil fuels is failing to gain enough converts, experts say.

LONDON, 29 July, 2015 – There’s sobering news for campaigners trying to persuade investors to withdraw their funds from the fossil fuel industry: UK experts say their efforts are unlikely to achieve enough quickly enough.

One expert, using the term often applied to the global energy industry, told a meeting in London: “The incumbency is winning the cold war.”

Senior members of asset management firms and carbon risk specialists were invited this week by a prominent British charitable foundation, Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, to discuss the prospects for disinvestment and the attitudes in the City of London to attempts to match investment policies with avoidance of climate change risks.

They say the continued confidence of the industry in the long-term viability of coal, oil and gas − despite the plunging cost of many renewable fuels − means that the UN climate change summit in Paris at the end of the year will fall short of its aims.

More face time

One participant, Mark Campanale, a former fund manager who founded the UK-based Carbon Tracker Initiative, told Climate News Network: “The key question is face time. The fossil fuel CEOs get far more face time with investors than they do with climate scientists, for example.

“There are some signs of hope, but we’re not seeing the City, as a group, changing its attitudes.

“Do the companies have the right people on their boards? Their approach is to say: ‘There’s doubt about the science. We’re ready to grow.’ And so, by default, they go back to business-as-usual, and Paris will not hit a home run.”

There was praise from many speakers at the meeting for the disinvestment campaigners’ commitment and imagination − and especially for Bill McKibben, co-founder of the 350.org campaign, for “brilliantly unleashing the naive energy of a generation of students”.

“You’re better off investing $100 billion in solar photovoltaics than in Canadian tar sands

Others questioned the language of the disinvestment campaign. One said: “The word ‘divest’ is campaigner talk, not a form of language that will advance the argument very far.” Instead, he suggested, it could be better to speak, in unthreatening language, of the need for “portfolio decarbonisation”.

But for many participants it was the basic facts and the simple arithmetic that the campaigners needed to assert.

One said: “The industry argues that the problem is cyclical, and that we’re now at the bottom of the cycle. But we need to know why, with crude oil now at US$55-60 a barrel, Shell is investing in projects that won’t break even until the price has gone back up to about $90 a barrel.”

Cleaner fuels

Another pointed to the rapid decline in the cost of cleaner fuels: “The economics of renewables are already much better than we’re often led to believe. You’re better off investing $100 billion in solar photovoltaics than in Canadian tar sands.”

The foundation that hosted the meeting supports Europeans for DivestInvest, part of a global movement that seeks to encourage charitable foundations and high net worth individuals to divest from fossil fuels and invest 5% or more of their portfolio in climate solutions − including renewable energy, clean technology, and energy efficiency.

In September 2014, more than 360 investors managing over $24 trillion in assets urged world leaders to agree to a strong global climate deal. – Climate News Network

Share This:

‘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

Share This:

Mangroves hold key to Indonesia’s emissions cuts

Mangroves hold key to Indonesia’s emissions cuts

New study says Indonesia could go a quarter of the way to reaching its 2020 target for carbon emissions reduction by ending the destruction of its vital mangrove forests.

LONDON, 27 July, 2015 – Indonesia, one of the world’s largest carbon emitters, would take a major step towards losing that tag by protecting its massive mangrove forests, according to new research.

The mangroves, which store prodigious quantities of carbon, are currently disappearing fast − often destroyed to make room for aquaculture to satisfy the wants of lucrative foreign markets.

But a team from the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that protecting the mangroves could take Indonesia a quarter of the way to achieving the whole of the greenhouse gas emissions cuts it plans for 2020.

Indonesia, with the longest coastline in the tropics, has more mangroves than any other country − more than 2.9 million hectares. But it also has one of the world’s fastest rates of mangrove loss.

The main threats to the forests include conversion to shrimp ponds, logging, conversion of land to agriculture or salt pans, and degradation by oil spills and pollution.

In 2013, Indonesia’s revenue from shrimp exports was close to US$1.5bn, almost 40% of the total revenue from the country’s fishery sector.

Grave threat

The researchers say the Indonesian mangroves, some of which grow to 50 metres in height, store 3.14 billion tonnes of carbon, which amounts to one-third of the carbon stored in Earth’s coastal ecosystems.

But they are under grave threat. In the last 30 years, 40% of these coastal forests have gone, and the annual rate of loss now is about 52,000 hectares, causing substantial greenhouse gas emissions.

The current rate of destruction means that 190 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) are emitted annually. That is 42% of the world’s annual emissions from the destruction of coastal ecosystem services − marshes, mangroves and sea grasses.

Put more graphically, Indonesia’s destruction of its mangroves emits as much greenhouse gas as if every car in the country was driven around the world twice.

“We hope that these numbers help policymakers see mangroves as a huge opportunity for climate change mitigation,” says Daniel Murdiyarso, principal scientist at CIFOR and lead author of the paper.

“It is time to acknowledge that mangroves must be part of the solution to climate change”

“But to make progress, it is crucial that mangroves are protected and managed sustainably. It is time to acknowledge that mangroves must be part of the solution to climate change.”

Dr Murdiyarso is also co-author of a CIFOR guide on climate change adaptation and mitigation in Indonesia’s wetlands.

In a separate study, published in the Royal Society Proceedings A, further light is shed on the crucial role mangroves play in protecting coastal areas from sea level rise caused by climate change.

The study, by researchers at the University of Southampton, UK, and colleagues from the universities of Auckland and Waikato in New Zealand, used mathematical simulations to discover how mangrove forests respond to elevated sea levels.

Mesh-like roots

When sea levels rise, they found, areas in estuaries and river deltas without mangroves are likely to widen from erosion, and more water will encroach inwards. But mangrove regions prevent this effect, probably because of soil building up around the trees’ mesh-like roots and acting to reduce energy from waves and tidal currents.

Dr Barend van Maanen, a coastal systems researcher in the department of engineering and environment at the University of Southampton, explains: “As a mangrove forest begins to develop, the creation of a network of channels is relatively fast. Tidal currents, sediment transport and mangroves significantly modify the estuarine environment, creating a dense channel network.

“Within the mangrove forest, these channels become shallower through organic matter from the trees . . . and sediment trapping (caused by the mangroves), and the sea bed begins to rise, with bed elevation increasing a few millimetres per year until the area is no longer inundated by the tide.”

In modelling of sea level rise in the study, the ability of mangrove forest to gradually create a buffer between sea and land occurs even when the area is subjected to potential sea level rises of up to 0.5mm per year.

“These findings show that mangrove forests play a central role in estuarine and salt marsh environments,” says Giovanni Coco, associate professor in the school of environment at the University of Auckland.

“As we anticipate changes caused by climate change, it’s important to know the effect sea level rise might have, particularly around our coasts.” − Climate News Network

Share This:

Norway pumps up ‘green battery’ plan for Europe

Norway pumps up ‘green battery’ plan for Europe

Hydraulic engineers in Norway aim to use surplus power from wind and sun to cut the need for fossil fuel plants to boost European electricity supplies.

LONDON, 26 July, 2015 − Norway is hoping to become the “green battery of Europe” by using its hydropower plants to provide instant extra electricity if production from wind and solar power sources in other countries fade.

Without building any new power stations, engineers believe they could use the existing network to instantly boost European supplies and avoid other countries having to switch on fossil fuel plants to make up shortfalls.

Norway has 937 hydropower plants, which provide 96% of its electricity, making it the sixth largest hydropower producer in the world − despite having a population of only five million.

Europe already has 400 million people in 24 countries connected to a single grid, with power surpluses from one country being exported to neighbours or imported as national needs change.

Supply and demand

As more and more renewables are installed across the continent, the problem of balancing supply and demand gets more difficult.

Because supply from wind and sun sources fluctuates, the grid needs back-up plants to keep the power constant. At present, this means that many countries have to keep gas and coal plants on standby to make up any shortage.

However, the Hydraulic Laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim believes it can engineer the country’s vast power plants so that they can themselves be a giant standby battery that can be turned on and off.

When there is surplus wind or solar power in Europe, the electricity it generates can be imported to pump water uphill to keep re-filling the Norwegian reservoirs. This is, in effect, electricity that is stored, because when energy is needed again the generators can be turned back on to produce hydropower.

“Norwegian mountains are full of water tunnels. It’s like an anthill.”

The problem at the moment is that even hydropower is not instant. This is because water takes time to flow through the vast network of pipes and the turbines to reach the correct speed to provide stable power to the grid at the correct frequency of alternating current.

Norway currently has more kilometres of pipes carrying water to its hydroelectricity plants than it has miles of road, so controlling the flow is the key.

But Kaspar Vereide, a doctoral student in the department of hydraulic and environmental engineering at NTNU, has designed a model solution, with funding from the Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy.

By creating a sealed surge chamber in rock close to the turbines, engineers can feed electricity, at the right frequency, into the grid immediately. The empty chamber contains air that is compressed as the space is filled with water. So, when the valves are open, the water can instantly turn turbines at the correct speed.

Vereide says: “Norwegian mountains are full of water tunnels. It’s like an anthill.”

The length of the waterway, he says, can be many kilometres, though this will require the engineers to accelerate the water to reach the turbines.

His solution involves blowing out a cavern inside the water tunnel near the turbine where the electricity is to be generated, creating a surge chamber where water at the correct velocity can reach the turbines immediately.

Fluctuations in power

He admits that his design is still at the early stages of development. The surge chambers have to be designed to avoid fluctuations in power needs, which can cause uncontrolled blowouts of air into the power plants, risking damage.

“We have to be able to control these load fluctuations that occur,” he says. “Among other things, it’s important to determine how big surge chambers need to be to function best. My task is to figure out the optimal design for the chambers.”

Vereide says that plants have traditionally been run very smoothly and quietly, with few stops and starts to create these fluctuations. But to become the green battery of Europe, the power plants would need to be started and stopped much more often − and then the problem of load fluctuations would increase significantly.

“We’ll benefit a lot from developing these new technologies, both in order to keep electrical frequency stable and to run power plants more aggressively to serve a large market,” he says. – Climate News Network

Share This:

Economic changes needed to tackle climate challenges

Economic changes needed to tackle climate challenges

A meeting building towards the Paris climate summit hears Ireland’s president call for a new economic order to address the threats of global warming.

LONDON, 25 July, 2015 − The president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, says the world needs a whole new economic framework to tackle the consequences of the warming caused by emissions of greenhouse gases.

Speaking at a meeting in Paris, entitled the Summit of Consciences for the Climate, he said this generation could be the last with the chance of responding to the urgent, uncontested effects of climate change.

The challenge of climate change, he said, provided opportunities to construct a new order for humanity and for the planet.

“Climate change is grounded in forms of development and industrialisation that are based on the exploitation of fossil fuels, with an assumption of infinite growth,”  he  told the meeting.

Climate agreement

The Paris summit, attended by religious groups, Nobel  laureates and artists, as well as prominent politicians, was convened by the President of France, François Hollande, and is one of a series of gatherings to be held in the run-up to the UN climate change conference in Paris in December, at which a new global climate agreement is due to be finalised.

Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, and Mary Robinson, the UN’s special envoy on climate change, were among those speaking at the meeting.

In an interview with the Irish Times, Higgins said that the neo-liberal model of economic development prevalent in western countries advocated the rolling-back of the state.

“The World Bank says we will have to go from billions to trillions to pay for the agendas that will flow from the conferences in 2015”

Massive movements of capital had created what he termed great fissures of inequality, and such freewheeling capitalism had shown itself capable of dislodging the whole fiscal system.

The global challenges of climate change and inequality could not be met if governments were not in control of their economies, Higgins said.

Besides the year-end Paris summit, several other significant  conferences are being held this year, including a UN meeting focusing on a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals.

“The World Bank says we will have to go from billions to trillions to pay for the agendas that will flow from the conferences in 2015,” Higgins said. “The issue is, can you do this with a minimised state?”

Global diversities

François Hollande told the meeting that it was up to every individual to see what he or she could do to save the planet. “There are philosophies, there are convictions, there are global diversities that should at a certain point unite – and unite to make decisions,” he said.

Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, said that leaders of developing countries are trying to find a way of building a more sustainable model of development without increasing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Kofi Annan said the threat posed by climate change is as great as the danger of nuclear war, and he quoted the former Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who said that, in the event of a nuclear conflagration, “the living will envy the dead”. – Climate News Network

Share This: