Climate News Roundup 3/18/2016

One thing that makes preparing the Weekly Roundup interesting is that you never know what you’re going to find.  Who would have known that when I clicked on a link to an article about Mennonites building climate resilient bridges in West Virginia I would learn that the bridge in the article was designed by Harrisonburg’s own JZ Engineering?  Way to go Johann and team!  You can find a wonderful video about the project on Johann’s website.

Because there are farmers in the Valley using many of the techniques in the cover story of the March 7 issue of Chemical and Engineering News, I thought you might find it of interest.  There is also an article about biochar in the same issue.

It is now official: February 2016 was the hottest February on record, not just in the U.S., but globally, according to both NASA and NOAA.  Not only that, according to NASA the average global surface temperature in February was 1.35 C warmer than the average temperature for the month between 1951-1980, a far bigger margin than ever seen before.

Sulfates and other aerosols can block solar radiation from reaching Earth, thereby exerting a cooling effect.  Because such aerosols are part of the air pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants, many have suspected that as those plants are cleaned up and fewer aerosols are emitted, their cooling effects will be lost, allowing CO2’s warming effect to be even more evident.  Now, two new research papers provide evidence that more severe warming is occurring, particularly in the Arctic, which is heavily influenced by emissions from Europe.

One impact of a warming world is warmer oceans because they store most of the extra heat.  That, in combination with El Nino, has put the world in the grips of the third global coral bleaching event, with the northern region of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef being hit especially hard.

Scientists have known for a couple of years that water beneath Antarctic glaciers is causing them to melt from below.  Now, a new study published in Nature Geoscience provides evidence that the warm ocean water that’s undermining the glaciers may also be weakening their ice shelves by carving 50 to 250 meter deep channels into them.  The concern is that if the ice shelves fracture, the glaciers behind them will flow outward faster and raise sea level more rapidly.

Writing in The Guardian, John Abraham provides a summary of three articles that appeared recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about current and future sea level rise.  In addition, a new study by University of Georgia scientists, published in Nature Climate Change, projects future populations of coastal counties in the U.S. and couples the data with projections of sea level rise to estimate the number of people who will be at risk of flooding.  Under the worst-case scenario, with 1.8 m of sea level rise, 13.1 million people could be impacted.  This study prompted noted shoreline geologist Orrin H. Pilkey and his children to write an opinion piece in The Guardian about the failure of developers to grasp the implications of climate change.

I missed an article that appeared a couple of weeks ago, perhaps because of its title, but upon finding it I thought it was important enough to call to your attention now.  It concerns a paper that appeared recently in the journal Nature Climate Change dealing with the carbon budget.  Apparently, the carbon budget given by the IPCC in the Fifth Assessment Report published in 2013 was too optimistic, suggesting that we will exhaust it more quickly than we originally thought.  This too suggests that it will be difficult to limit warming to 2 C.

On a more positive note, the International Energy Agency announced on Wednesday that for the second year in a row CO2 emissions from the electric power sector did not rise, even though global economic output increased.  This was attributed to surging deployment of renewable power, especially wind, with renewables accounting for 90% of new electricity generation in 2015.  Another contributing factor is that the demand for electricity in the U.S. has been relatively flat over the past decade, while GDP has gone up by about 15%.  Joe Romm has an analysis of how this occurred.  In spite of the optimism in those two reports, two recent papers suggest that it may not be possible to meet the international goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C and meet future energy demand.

Record rainfall recently occurred in Louisiana, causing extensive damage to thousands of homes.  Further west, while El Nino associated rain has bypassed southern California so far, it has been filling reservoirs in northern California.  El Nino is having the opposite effect in southern and eastern Africa, where it is causing severe drought.  Coupled with record high temperatures, the drought puts more than 36 million people at risk of severe hunger.

Steven Mufson had an interesting article in The Washington Post about Marvin Odum, the outgoing president of Shell Oil.  Odum’s tenure was cut short by Shell’s $7 billion abortive venture drilling in the Arctic.  Meanwhile, oil and gas drilling rigs operating in the U.S. has fallen to the lowest number since the 1040’s.  In addition, the Obama administration announced Tuesday that it is dropping its year-old plan to allow companies to search and drill for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean off of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, catching Virginia’s three top Democrats off-guard.

FERC has rejected the application of Veresen Inc. to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Oregon.  FERC also denied Veresen’s plan to build a pipeline with Williams Partners LP to supply gas to the terminal.

Climate scientists have been extremely cautious when attributing any particular severe weather event to climate change.  That may now change, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that has found that with appropriate studies it is indeed possible to state that a heat wave or prolonged drought has been influenced by climate change.  Chris Mooney has a summary of the report’s findings at The Washington Post while Roz Pidcock takes a deeper dive at Carbon Brief, with interviews with a number of scientists.

Solar energy in Virginia was in the news this week.  A 20 MW solar power facility near Eastville will be the latest renewable energy project on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  Front Royal is partnering with American Municipal Power and Nextera to build a 2.5-3 MW solar array within the town limits.  A new Solarize program has been initiated in Vienna that will run from March 15 – May 15.  The State of Virginia, Dominion Virginia Power, and Microsoft Corp. will partner to bring a 20-megawatt solar farm to Fauquier County.  However, Ivy Main isn’t sure this is such a good deal for the state.  In spite of the Front Royal project, something we have little of in Virginia is community-scale solar, primarily because of restrictive regulations.  RMI has released a report that enumerates the benefits associated with community-scale solar and argues that they are compelling for investors.

According to Gallup: “Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say they are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming, up from 55% at this time last year and the highest reading since 2008.”

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

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