Climate News Roundup 4/1/2016

Antarctica and sea level rise are in the news again because of another new paper, this one in the journal Nature.  This modeling study provides additional evidence that the IPCC sea level projections are too conservative and that sea level rise by 2100 may be twice as high as they predicted, if we continue emitting CO2 as usual.  According to glaciologist Eric Rignot, as quoted by The Washington Post, “People should not look at this as a futuristic scenario of things that may or may not happen. They should look at it as the tragic story we are following right now.”  A main take-home from the paper – a lot depends on what we do about our CO2 emissions.  Also in The Washington Post, Chris Mooney has done an excellent job of drawing together the findings from several recent studies on Greenland and Antarctica.  And Elizabeth Kolbert adds a bit of history in The New Yorker.

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center said on Monday that the Arctic sea ice cover attained an average maximum extent of 5.607 million sq miles on 24 March, the lowest winter maximum since records began in 1979.

A new documentary, “Ice and the Sky”, illuminates the work of French scientist Claude Lorius, 84, who was instrumental in obtaining the first ice cores from Antarctica, as well as many other activities that have led to what we know today about the climate.  Another scientist who made early discoveries important to our understanding of climate change is the late Charles David Keeling, father of the iconic Keeling curve showing the rising saw-shaped curve of atmospheric CO2 over time.  Eric Roston remembers his accomplishments.

Last week I linked to an article about coral health around remote uninhabited islands, which indicated that it was better than that around inhabited islands.  Unfortunately, not all scientists agree with that conclusion, as indicated in this post on Storify by John F. Bruno, a marine ecologist and professor at UNC Chapel Hill.  (Note, the article I linked to was also by Joshua Emerson Smith, but was in The San Diego Union-Tribune rather than the LA Times.)  So maybe the news was not so good after all.  On a similar note, on Tuesday Australian scientists announced that the most pristine section of the Great Barrier Reef was experiencing the worst, mass bleaching event in its history.

Also last week I provided a link to an article about Missouri denying approval of the Grain Belt Express high voltage power transmission line proposed by Clean Line Energy Partners to carry electricity from wind farms in Kansas to users in Illinois and Indiana.  Now, in a similar case, the Department of Energy has invoked a 10 year old law to prevent Arkansas from blocking approval of the Plains and Eastern Clean Line proposed by the same company to carry clean energy from Oklahoma to Tennessee.  The decision has created considerable controversy.

Much of China’s renewable energy is generated in the northern and western inland, far from the eastern coastal regions where most power is used.  Because China’s grid is inadequate to carry all of the renewable energy, large amounts go to waste.  China is responding to this situation in two ways.  First, the country’s energy regulator has ordered power transmission companies to provide grid connectivity for all renewable power generation sources and end the bottleneck that has left some clean power idle.  Second, it has halted construction of new wind power facilities until the grid can be upgraded.

According to a new earthquake map issued by the U.S. Geological Survey that includes both natural and man-made (mostly due to pumping fracking wastewater into deep wells) earthquakes, areas of Oklahoma have as high a chance of an earthquake as areas around San Francisco Bay in California.  In addition, a new Canadian study has shown that fracking itself, not just wastewater injection, can cause earthquakes.  Interestingly, a new Gallup poll finds that 51% of Americans oppose fracking, up 11% in the last year.

Lawyers for the Obama administration defended the Clean Power Plan for power plants in court Monday, writing “The rule reflects the eminently reasonable exercise of EPA’s recognized statutory authority.”  In addition, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and a coalition of 54 local governments filed arguments in federal court Friday morning in support of the Clean Power Plan.  One option that many are counting on for meeting their obligations under the Clean Power Plan is carbon capture and storage (CCS).  Unfortunately, the only large-scale power plant employing CCS has run into many problems during its first year of operation.  The question now is whether they can be solved in a timely manner.

Writing in Grist, Ben Adler analyzes Bernie Sanders proposal to phase out nuclear power.  Lightbridge, a company in Reston, Virginia, has unveiled a metallic fuel for nuclear reactors that it says will make reactors’ fuel rods safer and more efficient.  Others, however, are less enthusiastic.

Wasted food is an issue that is receiving a lot of attention now, primarily because of the need to feed more and more people on the planet.  Another reason for concern, however, is the carbon footprint associated with that food.  In a 2011 report, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that in 2007, the global carbon footprint of all of this wasted food was about 3.3 billion tons of CO2 equivalents — that’s 7% of all global emissions.

You may recall that 10 years ago, on April 3, Time magazine published its special report on global warming, with its admonition to “Be worried.  Be very worried.”  I certainly do, and I did.  On Tuesday Joe Romm looked back at what has transpired over the last 10 years to prevent us from being any better prepared than we are to solve the problem.

A study published Thursday in the journal Science has found that birds that were expected to do well in the face of climate change have outperformed other species in the past 30 years in both Europe and the U.S.

On Thursday Tesla Motors introduced its long awaited $35,000 Model 3 electric car.  By Friday morning 180,000 people had preordered the car.  Still, Tesla faces some significant hurdles in making the car a reality.

Technology need not be complex to help in the fight against global warming.  For example, in Africa simple biogas reactors coupled with plastic storage bags for the methane generated are providing cooking gas for households while providing income for those operating the reactors and preventing methane from escaping to the atmosphere.  In the U.S., on the other hand, where we have a complex infrastructure, leakage of methane to the atmosphere from aging infrastructure is a problem in need of innovative solution.

A set of four duplex apartment buildings in Blacksburg achieved the first net-zero energy certification in Virginia.

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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