Archive for March 13, 2009

What’s clear from Copenhagen is that policymakers have fallen behind the scientists: global warming is already catastrophic

global_warming_panicThe more we know, the grimmer it gets.

Presentations by climate scientists at this week’s conference in Copenhagen show that we might have underplayed the impacts of global warming in three important respects:

  • Partly because the estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) took no account of meltwater from Greenland’s glaciers, the rise in sea levels this century could be twice or three times as great as it forecast, with grave implications for coastal cities, farmland and freshwater reserves.
  • Two degrees of warming in the Arctic (which is heating up much more quickly than the rest of the planet) could trigger a massive bacterial response in the soils there. As the permafrost melts, bacteria are able to start breaking down organic material that was previously locked up in ice, producing billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane. This could catalyse one of the world’s most powerful positive feedback loops: warming causing more warming.
  • Four degrees of warming could almost eliminate the Amazon rainforests, with appalling implications for biodiversity and regional weather patterns, and with the result that a massive new pulse of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Trees are basically sticks of wet carbon. As they rot or burn, the carbon oxidises. This is another way in which climate feedbacks appear to have been underestimated in the last IPCC report.

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heatstressParts of China, India and the eastern US could all become too warm in summer for people to lose heat by sweating, expert warns

Severe global warming could make half the world’s inhabited areas literally too hot to live in, a US scientist warned today. Parts of China, India and the eastern US could all become too warm in summer for people to lose heat by sweating – rendering such areas effectively uninhabitable.

Steven Sherwood, a climate expert at Yale University, told a global warming conference in Copenhagen that people will not be able to adapt to a much warmer climate as well as previously thought. The physiological limits of the human body will begin to render places impossible to support human life if the average global temperature rises by 7C on pre-industrial levels, he said. “There will be some places on Earth where it would simply be impossible to lose heat,” Sherwood said. “This is quite imaginable if we continue burning fossil fuels. I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t end up there.”

The 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that average temperatures could rise by 6C this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at current rates. Scientists at the Copenhagen Climate Congress this week said the IPCC may have underestimated the scale of the problem, and that emissions since 2000 have risen much faster than expected. Sherwood told the conference: “Seven degrees would begin to create zones of uninhabitability due to unsurvivable peak heat stresses and 10C would expand such zones far enough to encompass a majority of today’s population.”

He said air temperature measurements were a poor guide to the true impact of global warming on people. A better assessment is “wet bulb” temperature, which combines temperature and humidity. “A warming of only a few degrees will cause large parts of the globe to experience peak wetbulb temperatures that never occur today.”

[David Adam, Guardian]

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wind-farm-spain

By generating 40% of the energy required by wind Spain set a world record last week. When high winds blew through north-west Spain on Thursday, a massive 11,180 MW was generated. Of course the wind energy farms were helped by one of the strongest spells of fierce winds experienced by the region recently.

Spain has been at the forefront of producing clean energy, especially wind energy. By producing 11.5% of its overall energy through wind turbines Spain has become the 3rd largest producer of wind energy after Germany (2nd) and US (1st). Whereas many European countries like the UK are dragging their feet around the figure of 7300 MW, Spain has an ambitious target of achieving 20,000 MW by 2010.

The major companies working in the wind energy generation segment in Spain are Iberdrola, Acciona and Endesa.

At their peak production performance, Spain’s wind turbines were working at 69% of the maximum theoretical potential. Among the top three wind generation producing countries in the world Spain is producing around 16,000 MW, Germany around 24,000 MW and the US around 25,000 MW, consequently, enjoying the first place. Even after being the biggest producer of wind energy, America still produces just 1% of its total energy requirements and that is why Spain was able to set the record.

The figures came as the World Wildlife Fund praised Spain’s rapid move into renewable energies. Spain has also earned praises from WWF for its overall effort in developing renewable energy during the past 12 years. By the next year Spain aims to meet 30% of its annual electricity demand from renewable sources.

[Alternative Energy]

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cod

Photograph by Bill Curtsinger: catching cod

Cod and other commercial ground fish are caught in a net in the Gulf of Maine – just one example for how our appetite for fish is wreaking havoc on aquatic populations worldwide. The conservation group World Wildlife Fund predicts that if cod fisheries continue to be fished at current rates, there will be no cod left by 2022. “Seventy-five percent of fisheries are overfished,” says marine biologist Enric Sala. “If nothing changes, all fisheries will have collapsed by 2050.” The solution, says Sala—a National Geographic Society fellow—is involving all levels of society, from consumers to policy makers. “The solutions exist, we just need the political will to implement them at [a] large scale,” he adds.

The following selected images and information were taken from one of the many well-done National Geographics’ photo galleries; the title of this one aptly is ‘Overfishing‘.

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Rising Seas Eating Away Beach Town“, posted with vodpod

[National Geographics]

These are clear warning signs that the sea levels are rising, but I don’t think that world governments and the major polluters are ready to see them for what they are. I found it interesting to hear one of the locals talking about a beach that once was there on which they played football – now it’s totally gone. When I see our beaches here in Australia I often wonder about the same thing. And in addition here we don’t have struggling fishermen’s houses being endangered but multi-million dollar mansions; not that I care much about them except that their loss will force me to pay higher insurance premiums, which of course I do resent.

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global-dimming-smog

Smog increases global dimming

WASHINGTON – Visibility on clear days has declined in much of the world since the 1970s thanks to a rise in airborne pollutants, scientists said on Thursday.

They described a “global dimming” in particular over south and east Asia, South America, Australia and Africa, while visibility remained relatively stable over North America and improved over Europe, the researchers said.

Aerosols, tiny particles or liquid droplets belched into the air by the burning of fossil fuels and other sources, are responsible for the dimming, the researchers said.

“Aerosols are going up over a lot of the world, especially Asia,” Robert Dickinson of the University of Texas, one of the researchers, said in a telephone interview.

Dickinson and two University of Maryland researchers tracked measurements of visibility — the distance someone can see on clear days — taken from 1973 to 2007 at 3,250 meteorological stations worldwide.

Aerosols like soot, dust and sulfur dioxide particles all harmed visibility, they said in the journal Science.

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phytoplankton

A large floating ice mass is seen in the gateway of the Antarctic Peninsula March 9, 2008.
Photo: Enrique Marcarian

WASHINGTON – You just don’t want to make phytoplankton mad.

These microscopic sea plants are at the bottom of the food chain in the waters that surround the Antarctic peninsula, and when they’re unhappy, everything that depends on them suffers, including fish, penguins and possibly, eventually, people.

A new study published on Thursday in the journal Science indicates that some of these Antarctic phytoplankton have become increasingly grumpy over the last 30 years.

Like most plants, phytoplankton need food and sunlight to survive. For some that live off the west coast of the Antarctic peninsula, getting these essentials has been an increasing challenge, with a 12 percent decrease in phytoplankton populations seen in the last three decades.

U.S. researchers figured this out by looking at satellite data and tracking the amount of chlorophyll — a sign of phytoplankton photosynthesis — in the Southern Ocean off the Antarctic peninsula, a long tail of land that juts out from the main body of the continent and points toward South America.

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