Tagged: Environmental studies Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • richardmitnick 5:59 am on March 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Environmental studies   

    From CMU: “Researchers Show Forest Fragmentation from Shale Development Could Be Reduced by Placing Natural Gas Lines Along Roadways” 

    Carnegie Mellon University logo
    Carnegie Mellon university

    March 20, 2015
    Tara Moore / 412-268-9673 / trmoore@andrew.cmu.edu

    1
    Forest fragmentation occurs when the key infrastructure related to Marcellus shale natural gas extraction — specifically the well pads themselves, as well as gathering lines and access roads — cuts through the forest, dividing it into smaller sections.

    A team of researchers in Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering found that forest fragmentation from natural gas development in Pennsylvania is caused by gathering lines, the smaller pipelines that carry extracted natural gas to the main distribution pipes.

    In a paper in the journal Ecological Indicators, the scientists report that redirecting the lines so they follow the routes of existing roadways would greatly reduce fragmentation.

    The research group includes Leslie Abrahams, a doctoral student in engineering and public policy (EPP) and civil and environmental engineering (CEE), and co-authors W. Michael Griffin, an EPP associate research professor, and CEE Professor H. Scott Matthews.

    While it may seem at first glance that the well pads, which can require anywhere from three to nine acres of cleared forest land, would be the biggest culprit of fragmentation, the team discovered the main cause to be the gathering lines. While gathering lines are buried underground, the surfaces above them, called right of ways, are cleared of all trees, causing almost 19 acres of loss per well pad.

    “If something cuts a cleared path through the forest, it could be dividing a species’ habitat in half,” Abrahams explained. “Flying squirrels, for example. The natural gas infrastructure can create openings in the forest that are too wide for them to glide across and suddenly their habitat is greatly decreased.”

    The gathering line right of ways also create pathways that allow invasive species to access inner parts of the forest. Suddenly, indigenous animals are introduced to predators they’ve never learned how to avoid before, making survival much more difficult.

    The research team used computer-modeling software to develop strategies to greatly reduce forest fragmentation.

    The team’s major suggestion for future infrastructure development is to build future gathering lines, the major culprits of fragmentation, so they follow the same routes as existing roads. This way, no additional corridors are built, keeping future fragmentation to a minimum.

    Additionally, requiring natural gas companies to collaborate on infrastructure development would help eliminate unnecessary fragmentation by forcing multiple companies to use the same pipelines.

    “Eliminating the need for multiple pipelines that go to the same place would save developers money, while helping to protect core forest ecosystems,” Griffin said.

    Another strategy is to reduce the number of necessary well pads by simply drilling more wells at each pad.

    “One of the benefits of unconventional natural gas development is that you can develop multiple wells per pad because instead of drilling straight down, you go down and then out horizontally so you can have six or 12 different wells per pad,” Abrahams said.

    “By simply drilling more wells per pad, and drilling those wells farther, you can still drill the same number of wells without clearing as much forested land. However, while it does reduce the level of fragmentation over the business as usual case, this strategy does not stop additional future fragmentation from occurring altogether because it does not address the placement of the gathering lines,” Abrahams said.

    This work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making, and by the Department of Engineering and Public Policy.

    Read the full paper, titled “Assessment of policies to reduce core forest fragmentation from Marcellus shale development in Pennsylvania,” at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1470160X14005664.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Carnegie Mellon Campus

    Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is a global research university with more than 12,000 students, 95,000 alumni, and 5,000 faculty and staff.
    CMU has been a birthplace of innovation since its founding in 1900.
    Today, we are a global leader bringing groundbreaking ideas to market and creating successful startup businesses.
    Our award-winning faculty members are renowned for working closely with students to solve major scientific, technological and societal challenges. We put a strong emphasis on creating things—from art to robots. Our students are recruited by some of the world’s most innovative companies.
    We have campuses in Pittsburgh, Qatar and Silicon Valley, and degree-granting programs around the world, including Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Latin America.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:59 pm on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Environmental studies, ,   

    From LBL: “First Direct Observation of Carbon Dioxide’s Increasing Greenhouse Effect at the Earth’s Surface” 

    Berkeley Logo

    Berkeley Lab

    February 25, 2015
    Dan Krotz

    Scientists have observed an increase in carbon dioxide’s greenhouse effect at the Earth’s surface for the first time. The researchers, led by scientists from the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), measured atmospheric carbon dioxide’s increasing capacity to absorb thermal radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface over an eleven-year period at two locations in North America. They attributed this upward trend to rising CO2 levels from fossil fuel emissions.

    The influence of atmospheric CO2 on the balance between incoming energy from the Sun and outgoing heat from the Earth (also called the planet’s energy balance) is well established. But this effect has not been experimentally confirmed outside the laboratory until now. The research is reported Wednesday, Feb. 25, in the advance online publication of the journal Nature.

    The results agree with theoretical predictions of the greenhouse effect due to human activity. The research also provides further confirmation that the calculations used in today’s climate models are on track when it comes to representing the impact of CO2.


    These graphs show carbon dioxide’s increasing greenhouse effect at two locations on the Earth’s surface. The first graph shows CO2 radiative forcing measurements obtained at a research facility in Oklahoma. As the atmospheric concentration of CO2 (blue) increased from 2000 to the end of 2010, so did surface radiative forcing due to CO2 (orange), and both quantities have upward trends. This means the Earth absorbed more energy from solar radiation than it emitted as heat back to space. The seasonal fluctuations are caused by plant-based photosynthetic activity. The second graph shows similar upward trends at a research facility on the North Slope of Alaska. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

    The scientists measured atmospheric carbon dioxide’s contribution to radiative forcing at two sites, one in Oklahoma and one on the North Slope of Alaska, from 2000 to the end of 2010. Radiative forcing is a measure of how much the planet’s energy balance is perturbed by atmospheric changes. Positive radiative forcing occurs when the Earth absorbs more energy from solar radiation than it emits as thermal radiation back to space. It can be measured at the Earth’s surface or high in the atmosphere. In this research, the scientists focused on the surface.

    They found that CO2 was responsible for a significant uptick in radiative forcing at both locations, about two-tenths of a Watt per square meter per decade. They linked this trend to the 22 parts-per-million increase in atmospheric CO2 between 2000 and 2010. Much of this CO2 is from the burning of fossil fuels, according to a modeling system that tracks CO2 sources around the world.

    “We see, for the first time in the field, the amplification of the greenhouse effect because there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere to absorb what the Earth emits in response to incoming solar radiation,” says Daniel Feldman, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division and lead author of the Nature paper.

    “Numerous studies show rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but our study provides the critical link between those concentrations and the addition of energy to the system, or the greenhouse effect,” Feldman adds.

    1
    The scientists used spectroscopic instruments operated by the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility. This research site is on the North Slope of Alaska near the town of Barrow. They also collected data from a site in Oklahoma. (Credit: Jonathan Gero)

    He conducted the research with fellow Berkeley Lab scientists Bill Collins and Margaret Torn, as well as Jonathan Gero of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Timothy Shippert of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Eli Mlawer of Atmospheric and Environmental Research.

    The scientists used incredibly precise spectroscopic instruments operated by the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility, a DOE Office of Science User Facility. These instruments, located at ARM research sites in Oklahoma and Alaska, measure thermal infrared energy that travels down through the atmosphere to the surface. They can detect the unique spectral signature of infrared energy from CO2.

    Other instruments at the two locations detect the unique signatures of phenomena that can also emit infrared energy, such as clouds and water vapor. The combination of these measurements enabled the scientists to isolate the signals attributed solely to CO2.

    “We measured radiation in the form of infrared energy. Then we controlled for other factors that would impact our measurements, such as a weather system moving through the area,” says Feldman.

    The result is two time-series from two very different locations. Each series spans from 2000 to the end of 2010, and includes 3300 measurements from Alaska and 8300 measurements from Oklahoma obtained on a near-daily basis.

    Both series showed the same trend: atmospheric CO2 emitted an increasing amount of infrared energy, to the tune of 0.2 Watts per square meter per decade. This increase is about ten percent of the trend from all sources of infrared energy such as clouds and water vapor.

    Based on an analysis of data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s CarbonTracker system, the scientists linked this upswing in CO2-attributed radiative forcing to fossil fuel emissions and fires.

    The measurements also enabled the scientists to detect, for the first time, the influence of photosynthesis on the balance of energy at the surface. They found that CO2-attributed radiative forcing dipped in the spring as flourishing photosynthetic activity pulled more of the greenhouse gas from the air.

    The scientists used the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), a DOE Office of Science User Facility located at Berkeley Lab, to conduct some of the research.

    The research was supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

    University of California Seal

    DOE Seal

     
  • richardmitnick 6:59 am on February 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Environmental studies, , Preserving coral reefs   

    From NSF: “Good news and bad news for coral reefs” 

    nsf
    National Science Foundation

    February 9, 2015
    Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation (703) 292-8310 lwhitema@nsf.gov

    1
    Researcher Paul Sikkel of Arkansas State University discovered a mechanism that may be damaging coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean. Sikkel identified this potential mechanism through his National Science Foundation-funded research on the relationships between parasites and their host fishes in Caribbean reefs. Credit: David Burdick

    Some good news for coral reefs: In 2014, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the central Pacific from about 87,000 square miles to 308,000 square miles. The Monument “is the largest marine protected area in the world and an important part of the most widespread collection of marine life on the planet under a single country’s jurisdiction,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    This area sustains a diversity of species, including some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world, as well as a diversity of fish species, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds, land birds, insects and vegetation not found anywhere else.

    Fishing, energy exploration and other activities are prohibited in the Monument. Among the Monument’s protected corals are expansive shallow coral reefs and deep coral forests, including some corals that are 5,000 years old.

    The expansion of the monument is promising in light of benefits that may be provided by marine protected areas (MPAs). An MPA is a coastal or offshore marine area that is managed to protect natural and/or cultural resources.

    In the accompanying video, Paul Sikkel, of Arkansas State University, discusses some of the possible successes of the MPA system in the Philippines.

    This system was developed back in the early 1970s, when reef fisheries were left virtually unmanaged, and destructive fishing practices, often organized by large commercial fishing companies, ran rampant throughout the Philippines–a cluster of 7,107 islands that harbors more than 1,700 reef species and about 9 percent of global coral reef area.

    To help protect its marine resources, the Philippines established at least 985 MPAs covering almost 5 percent of coastal municipal waters. To a large degree, the Philippine MPAs are now co-managed by local communities and local governments along with the national government. This partial de-centralization of authority helps give responsibility for MPA management to those who depend on their ecological health the most: coastal communities.

    The Philippine MPAs still fall short of the national goal for coverage area, and conservation enforcement problems remain. Nevertheless, some evidence suggests that the Philippine community-based management system may have generated some conservation victories.

    For example, a study published in 2010 showed that species richness of large predatory reef fish increased fourfold over a 14-year period in one Philippine MPA and 11-fold over a 15-year period in another Philippine MPA. The study also showed that as species richness increased in complexity within one of the MPAs, this type of complexity also increased within neighboring fished areas–evidently because of a spillover effect from the MPA.

    But even while MPA status may provide protection from local threats, such as pollution or anchor damage, MPAs may remain vulnerable to global threats, such as climate change, which cannot be controlled at local levels.

    In the accompanying video, Sikkel also discusses a new mechanism that may be damaging coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean. Sikkel identified this potential mechanism through his National Science Foundation-funded research on the relationships between parasites and their host fishes in Caribbean reefs.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

    seal

     
  • richardmitnick 6:30 am on February 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Environmental studies,   

    From BBC: “Mammals on brink of ‘extinction calamity'” in Australia 

    BBC
    BBC

    10 February 2015
    Helen Briggs

    1
    The endangered northern quoll, a mammal species native to Australia

    Australia has lost one in ten of its native mammals over the last 200 years in what conservationists describe as an “extinction calamity”.

    No other nation has had such a high rate of loss of land mammals over this time period, according to scientists at Charles Darwin University, Australia.

    The decline is mainly due to predation by the feral cat and the red fox, which were introduced from Europe, they say.

    Large scale fires to manage land are also having an impact.

    As an affluent nation with a small population, Australia’s wildlife should be relatively secure from threats such as habitat loss.

    But a new survey of Australia’s native mammals, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests the scale of the problem is more serious than anticipated.

    Since 1788, 11% of 273 native mammals living on land have died out, 21% are threatened and 15% are near threatened, the study found. Marine mammals are faring better.

    Shy species

    “No other country has had such a high rate and number of mammal extinctions over this period, and the number we report for Australia is substantially higher than previous estimates,” said conservation biologist John Woinarski, who led the research.

    “A further 56 Australian land mammals are now threatened, indicating that this extremely high rate of biodiversity loss is likely to continue unless substantial changes are made.

    “The extent of the problem has been largely unappreciated until recently because much of the loss involves small, nocturnal, shy species with [little] public profile – few Australians know of these species, let alone have seen them, so their loss has been largely unappreciated by the community.”

    3
    The brush-tailed rabbit-rat, a mammal species native to Australia that is listed as a near-threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature The brush-tailed rabbit-rat, a mammal species native to Australia that is listed as a near-threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature

    In time, iconic species such as the koala will also decline, said the researchers, from Charles Darwin University, Southern Cross University and the Department of Parks and Wildlife in Wanneroo.

    The prospects for Australia’s wildlife can be improved but is “a very formidable challenge”, they added.

    It is estimated there are between 15 and 23 million wild cats living on the continent.

    Practical measures to protect native species include boosting biosecurity on islands off the mainland, which have fewer feral cats and foxes.

    The islands could also act as arks for endangered species, while more careful use of fire and control measures to wipe out foxes and feral cats are also being considered.

    But the researchers warn that Australians may ultimately need to consider the way they live on the land to stem the loss of natural assets.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 2:35 pm on February 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Environmental studies, ,   

    From Science 2.0: “Methane Seepage Has Been Occurring For Millions Of Years” 

    Science 2.0 bloc

    Science 2.0

    There’ve been some recent environmental claims about methane seepage, flaming tapwater, but what were not staged have been due to nature. It’s a tale almost as old as earth.

    But outside environmental circles, science was always thinking about methane as much as CO2, because it has a 23X greater warming impact than CO2. Fortunately it is short-lived so trace seepage of methane from natural gas is nowhere near as devastating as CO2 from other forms of energy creation. Natural gas is why emissions from energy in America are back at early 1990s levels and emissions from coal, the dirtiest polluter, are back at early 1980s levels. Even though it is modest from natural gas, 60 percent of methane in the atmosphere comes from human activities (such as cow burps and other things) but that is nothing compared to the giga-tons of it trapped under the ocean floor of the Arctic.

    And it’s leaking.

    But fear not, it always has.

    “Our planet is leaking methane gas all the time. If you go snorkeling in the Caribbean you can see bubbles raising from the ocean floor at 25 meters depth. We studied this type of release, only in a much deeper, colder and darker environment. And found out that it has been going on, periodically, for as far back as 2.7 million years,” says Andreia Plaza Faverola, researcher at Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate, and the primary author behind a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters.

    1
    Andreia Plaza Faverola is researcher at Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. Credit: Maja Sojtaric/CAGE

    Faverola is talking about Vestnesa Ridge in Fram Strait, a thousand meters under the Arctic Ocean surface offshore West-Svalbard. Here, 800 meter high gas flares rise from the seabed today. That’s the size of the tallest manmade structure in the world – Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

    “Half of Vestnesa Ridge is showing very active seepage of methane. The other half is not. But there are obvious pockmarks on the inactive half, cavities and dents in the ocean floor, that we recognized as old seepage features. So we were wondering what activates, or deactivates, the seepage in this area,” says Faverola.

    Why 2.7 million years?

    The team of marine geophysicists from CAGE used the P-Cable technology to figure it out. It is a seismic instrument that is towed behind a research vessel. It recorded the sediments beneath these pockmarks. P-Cable renders images that look like layers of a cake. It also enables scientists to visualize deep sediments in 3D.

    2
    The Arctic Ocean floor offshore West-Svalbard. Credit: Andreia Plaza Faverola/CAGE

    “We know from other studies in the region that the sediments we are looking at in our seismic data are at least 2.7 million years old. This is the period of increase of glaciations in the Northern Hemisphere, which influences the sediment. The P-Cable enabled us to see features in this sediment, associated with gas release in the past.

    “These features can be buried pinnacles or cavities that form what we call gas chimneys in the seismic data. Gas chimneys appear like vertical disturbances in the layers of our sedimentary cake. This enables us to reconstruct the evolution of gas expulsion from this area for at least 2,7 million years.”

    The seismic signal penetrated into 400 to 500 meters of sediment to map this timescale.

    How is the methane released?

    By using this method, scientists were able to identify two major events of gas emission throughout this time period: One 1,8 million years ago, the other 200,000 years ago.

    This means that there is something that activated and deactivated the emissions several times. The authors have a plausible explanation: It is the movement of the tectonic plates that influences the gas release.

    Vestnesa is not like California though, riddled with earthquakes because of the moving plates. The ridge is on a so-called passive margin. But as it turns out, it doesn´t take a huge tectonic shift to release the methane stored under the ocean floor.

    “Even though Vestnesa Ridge is on a passive margin, it is between two oceanic ridges that are slowly spreading. These spreading ridges resulted in separation of Svalbard from Greenland and opening of the Fram Strait. The spreading influences the passive margin of West-Svalbard, and even small mechanical collapse in the sediment can trigger seepage,” says Faverola.

    Where does the methane come from?

    The methane is stored as gas hydrates, chunks of frozen gas and water, up to hundreds of meters under the ocean floor. Vestnesa hosts a large gas hydrate system. There is some concern that global warming of the oceans may melt this icy gas and release it into the atmosphere. That is not very likely in this area, according to Faverola.

    “This is a deep water gas hydrate system, which means that it is in permanently cold waters and under a lot of pressure. This pressure keeps the hydrates stable and the whole system is not vulnerable to global temperature changes. But under the stable hydrates there is gas that is not frozen. The amount of this gas may increase if hydrates melt at the base of this stability zone, or if gas from deeper in the sediments arrives into the system. This could increase the pressure in this part of the system, and the free gas may escape the seafloor through chimneys. Hydrates would still remain stable in this scenario.”

    Historical methane peaks coincide with increase in temperature

    Throughout Earth´s history there have been several short periods of significant increase in temperature. And these periods often coincide with peaks of methane in the atmosphere , as recorded by ice cores. Scientists such as Plaza Faverola are still debating about the cause of this methane release in the past.

    “One hypotheses is that massive gas release from geological sources, such as volcanos or ocean sediments may have influenced global climate.. What we know is that there is a lot of methane released at present time from the ocean floor. What we need to find out is if it reaches the atmosphere, or if it ever did.”

    Historical events of methane release, such as the ones in the Vestnesa Ridge, provide crucial information that can be used in future climate modeling. Knowing if these events repeat, and identifying what makes them happen, may help us to better predict the potential influence of methane from the oceans on future climate.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 4:03 pm on January 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Environmental studies,   

    From Scientific American: “Humans Cross Another Danger Line for the Planet” 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    January 15, 2015
    Mark Fischetti

    Five years go an impressive, international group of scientists unveiled nine biological and environmental “boundaries” that humankind should not cross in order to keep the earth a livable place. To its peril, the world had already crossed three of those safe limits: too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, too rapid a rate of species loss and too much pouring of nitrogen into rivers and oceans—primarily in the form of fertilizer runoff.

    Now we have succeeded in transgressing a fourth limit: the amount of forestland being bulldozed or burned out of existence (see map below). Less and less forest reduces the planet’s ability to absorb some of that carbon dioxide and to produce water vapor, crucial to plant life. And the ongoing loss alters how much of the sun’s energy is absorbed or reflected across wide regions, which itself can modify climate.

    Details about the fourth transgression, and updates on how well the planet is faring on all nine boundaries, are being published today online in Science. Another international team, with some of the same members from the original group, decided to reassess the boundaries given five more years of data, and they plan to keep doing so into the future. “Science moves on,” says the paper’s lead author, Will Steffen, a professor at the Australian National University and at the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University. “And so do the best ways to formulate the boundaries and apply them to policy.”

    1
    Disappearing Forests: Green are sustainable for now, yellow and red are past the safe limit.

    Indeed, the group chose two “core boundaries,” each of which could “drive the earth system into a new state” if they are persistently surpassed. Of course the insinuation is that a “new” state is not a state we want to be in. The two core boundaries are “climate change”—primarily the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere—and “biosphere integrity,” which is how much we are killing off species and tearing up natural habitat. “Looking back into geologic history, we see that climate change and mass extinctions have occurred when major changes took place on earth,” Steffen says. Too much CO2 will simply cook the planet, and too much disruption of ecosystems will destroy natural resources (think food) on which people depend.

    The designation of two core boundaries may in part be a response to frustration from policymakers when the nine boundaries were first revealed. They were simply too much for legislators and political leaders to take on. Steffen hopes that a focus on the core boundaries will guide the finalization of U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, happening this year, which are meant to guide nations in crafting policies that help sustain the planet into the future.

    The researchers have put a surprisingly visual point on which nations bear the greatest responsibility for change by including detailed maps, like the forest map above, that show which regions are exceeding the boundaries the most. One set of maps, for example, shows which agricultural regions are sending the most nitrogen and phosphorous into waterways and oceans. When asked if the group might be criticized for pointing fingers, Steffen says, “That’s the reality of what’s happening. We’ve come to a point where we can’t avoid the equity issue any more,” meaning it is time to step up and indicate which countries are hurting the planet the most.

    The realization that it is time to talk tough comes from a second new paper appearing today online in Anthropocene Review, also led by Steffen. It updates a striking set of 24 graphs (below) that show that almost all the damage to earth by humans has occurred since 1950, in lock step with rapid economic growth worldwide. This “great acceleration” of social, economic and environmental drivers basically says that although growing population adds stress to the earth’s systems, greater consumption through rising living standards is responsible for even more of the burden.

    2
    The “Great Acceleration” of social, economic and environmental drivers.

    The knee-jerk reaction—that developing and poor countries cannot attain the income and quality of life levels enjoyed by fully developed nations without harming the earth—is wrong, however, Steffen says. For example, he notes, “We are not denying people food by saying the world must live within certain limits for nitrogen and phosphorous. Agronomists say new practices such as precision farming can allow us to grow enough food to feed 9 billion people and stay within the safe boundaries. We can be clever. We have tools. We just need to agree as a global society that we have to do things smarter.”

    Part of scientists’ role in a smarter future will be to determine how the nine boundaries work together. Until now the limits have been assessed in isolation. Steffen says the next step, perhaps for a new report in another five years, is to unravel “the interactions between the boundaries. They are not independent of one another.” In the meantime, he adds, “we have to work with the policy community starting right now.”

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., has been bringing its readers unique insights about developments in science and technology for more than 160 years.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:12 am on December 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Environmental studies,   

    From NYT: “E.P.A. Wrestles With Role of Nuclear Plants in Carbon Emission Rules” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    DEC. 25, 2014
    MATTHEW L. WALD

    Trying to write a complicated formula to cut carbon emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency thinks it has found a magic number: 5.8.

    The agency is trying to complete a rule governing carbon emissions from power plants, and among the most complicated and contentious issues is how to treat existing nuclear power plants. Many of them are threatened with shutdowns because cheap natural gas has made their reactors uncompetitive.

    p
    A reactor under construction at the Vogtle power plant in Waynesboro, Ga. Cheap natural gas is challenging the nuclear industry. Credit John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The agency’s proposal gave an odd mathematical formula for evaluating nuclear plants’ contribution to carbon emissions. It said that 5.8 percent of existing nuclear capacity was at risk of being shut for financial reasons, and thus for states with nuclear reactors, keeping them running would earn a credit of 5.8 percent toward that state’s carbon reduction goal.

    Since receiving tens of thousands of comments on the proposal, the agency is now reviewing the plan. It must evaluate all comments before it sets a final rule, which it hopes to do by June. That rule, however, is likely to be challenged in court.

    Under the proposed formula, if a state closed a 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant and replaced 5.8 percent of it, or 58 megawatts, with carbon-free electricity, it would be deemed to be “carbon neutral.” The state would reach the benchmark even if the other 942 megawatts of power generated came from a carbon-emitting source like natural gas combustion.

    Conversely, a state that kept all its nuclear plants open until 2030 could claim a credit for 5.8 percent toward its carbon reduction goal.

    The 5.8 percent figure for nuclear power plants puzzled even opponents of such power sources.

    “It’s a pretty arbitrary number, I’ll grant them that,” said Michael Mariotte, the president of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an activist group that is adamantly opposed to anything nuclear. “Replacing 5.8 percent of any power plant is sort of an odd concept,” he said.

    Mr. Mariotte, though, said that some reactors could be retired without driving up carbon emissions. “We’re not convinced that a lot of it needs to be replaced; some of it’s just excess power,” he said.

    The proposal prompted the American Nuclear Society to coordinate a letter-writing campaign to persuade the E.P.A. to help the reactors. States should get credit for any actions they take to hold down carbon emissions, said Craig H. Piercy, the Washington representative of the group.

    “A pound of carbon reduced anywhere ought to be treated the same,” he said.

    Still, he said, in the draft rule, the nuclear industry fared better than hydroelectricity, the second-biggest source of carbon-free electricity, which got zero credit.

    Mr. Mariotte of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and other nuclear opponents appear to be mostly concerned that the reactors, which they regard as unsafe, could get a new lease on life. His group and others sent a letter to the E.P.A. complaining about a related issue: that the draft carbon rule requires that states with reactors under construction continue building them, or face even harder-to-meet carbon targets.

    In fact, the question of where to draw the baseline — that is, the date from which the calculations start — is common to many aspects of the carbon rule.

    Senator Bob Casey Jr., a Pennsylvania Democrat, made a similar point in a letter to the E.P.A., saying that the rule should take into account previous work to promote clean energy sources, and to maintain existing nuclear plants.

    And at Exelon, a Chicago-based company that is considering whether to retire several reactors in the Midwest, Kathleen L. Barron, senior vice president for regulatory affairs, complained at a Washington conference on electricity and carbon, “We’re essentially taken for granted.”

    Assumed in the E.P.A.’s planning is that the five reactors currently under construction in the United States will go online. A twin-reactor Vogtle plant is planned near Augusta, Ga., and another twin-reactor plant is in development in South Carolina. In Tennessee, a reactor that the Tennessee Valley Authority started 40 years ago is almost complete.

    They are each multibillion-dollar projects, and certain to raise electricity prices, but because work began before the rule was proposed, the carbon-cutting goals set by the E.P.A. for those states do not include the reactors.

    A recent blog post at the Brookings Institution, by Philip A. Wallach and Alex Abdun-Nabi, points out that if ground had been broken later on the Vogtle plant, the reactors could have met Georgia’s reduction quota. “If, for some reason, the construction were to end unsuccessfully, Georgia would be in dire straits trying to fulfill the standard E.P.A. has set for it under the assumption of completion.”

    Energy experts inside and outside the nuclear industry said that cutting carbon emissions was worth money, and paying slightly above-market prices to keep a 40-year-old reactor running for 20 more years might cost less, per ton of carbon emission prevented, than building wind or solar plants, or coal plants that capture their carbon dioxide.

    “If you have an actual plant that’s subject to premature retirement, some of the work I’ve done with others says that to keep it running is a very cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions,” said Mark Chupka, an electricity analyst at the Brattle Group, a consulting firm. And he added, “When a nuclear plant retires, you don’t retire 5.8 percent of the plant.”

    Of using a 5.8 percent figure, he said, “Everybody thinks it’s pretty odd, I think including the E.P.A.”

    Jon B. Wellinghoff, a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said in an interview that maintaining the old plants would hold down carbon emissions, and that “if we want to keep them, we’ll probably have to support them.”

    Federal subsidies for wind energy, he said, are “knocking reactors off the system” by driving down energy costs, he said.

    Some traditional environmental groups, though, are reluctant to embrace more credit for existing plants. Daniel A. Lashof, the chief operating officer at NextGen Climate, the environmental advocacy group started by the climate advocate Tom Steyer, argued that the bigger issue was not what should keep running, but what should be built.

    “The problem is a lot of the complaints that existing nuclear plants aren’t getting enough credit from E.P.A.’s proposal basically amount to a request to weaken the rule,” said Mr. Lashof, also a longtime climate expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, “so it’s nothing more than business as usual.”

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 3:15 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Environmental studies,   

    From Nautilus: “The Men Who Planted Trees” 

    Nautilus

    Nautilus

    December 4, 2014
    By Anna Badkhen ILLUSTRATIONS BY SAM GREEN

    In West Africa, a model for worldwide conservation takes root.

    An hour before sunup the Bani River uncoils through the dark Sahel in bright silver curves, a reflection of a day not yet dawned, hardships not yet known, hopes not yet broken. Onto such a magical surface the Bozo fishermen of Sindaga shove off with bamboo poles and float downstream in redwood pirogues, one silent man per boat. The fishermen work standing up: solitary Paleolithic silhouettes keeping perfect balance against the river’s luminescence, each man one with his boat like some pelagic centaur, performing one of mankind’s oldest rites. They cast their diaphanous seines into the night. Handmade sinkers kiss the surface, pucker it lightly, drag the nets under.

    By the time daybreak trims burgundy the sparse savannah, the fishermen row their day’s first catch back to the village. In squat banco houses that crowd the river, the men take breakfast of rice and fish sauce. They patch up the nets while their wives and mothers sort the morning haul into giant wicker baskets and lug it to the nearest market town. After midday prayer, the men cast off again.

    Such has been their fishing schedule for centuries, aligned with the orderly procession across the West African sky of 26 sequential constellations. Each new star signifies the advent of a windy season, of weeks of life-giving drizzle or days of downpour, of merciless heat or relentless malarial mosquitoes dancing in humid nights. Each star announces the arrival of the blue-tinged Nile perch, of the short-striped daggers of clown killi, of the lunar disks of the Niger stingray, of the toothless garras that like to nibble the bare ankles of laundresses, and that, in the West, are used for pedicures in foot spas.

    Or so it used to be. Mali has been growing drier and hotter since the 1960s. For the past three decades, the weather has been chaotic, out of whack with the stars. The rainy season has been starting early or late or not arriving at all. Droughts throttle the land and wring dry the river. Flash floods wash away harvests and entire homesteads hand-slapped of rice straw and clay. Acres of deforested riverbank dry out and blow away, or collapse into the water. The fish run off schedule. “The river is becoming broken,” said Lasina Kayantau, a Sindaga elder.

    Their approach to saving the environment stems from the limbic understanding that they are an indivisible part of it.

    Kayantau received me on a late afternoon last November. I was researching a book and spent much of the year herding cattle with a family of Fulani cowboys, nomads forever chasing rain in the oceanic spaces of Africa’s margin lands. For a time, my hosts pastured their cows near Sindaga. Kayantau and I sat on a blue and yellow plastic mat under a mango tree outside his low adobe house. He was a heavyset man in his 60s, and he wore a soiled maroon boubou with yellow polka dots and, around his neck, a cell phone on a lanyard. One of his four wives, Kadija, sat on a low bamboo stool, propping up a toddler with her feet. Fishnets dangled from tree limbs and eaves. Ducks sidestepped discarded tackle. Kayantau turned to blink at the Bani. The river rippled in the slanted sun, blinked back.

    “The trees that kept mud from sliding into the river are gone,” Kayantau explained. “Now when it rains, mud slides into the river. The mud adds up, and one year, one day, there will be no river. But we are fishermen. This river is our life. It’s what we will leave our sons and grandsons. If the river is gone, how will they live? We had to do something.”

    So one morning last summer, Kayantau asked the hard, sunjerked men of Sindaga to leave their pirogues moored and stay ashore. He gathered the children and womenfolk. For five days, armed with hoes, sandaled, their soiled boubous flapping like giant wings in the thirsty wind, the 4,800 villagers—any man, woman, and child strong enough to work in the humid summer sun— bedded out 13,560 slim, two-foot-tall saplings of Acacia nilotica along the east bank of the Bani, downstream from the village. The idea, Kayantau told them, was simple: As the saplings grew into twisted, fissured trunks under dense thorny crowns, their roots would cinch the abrading topsoil of the desiccated seasonal swamplands and keep alluvial cut-banks from slumping into the river, preserving the watercourse for their descendants.

    The villagers worked for free. They became volunteer conservationists, planting back the bush.

    After a year of walking in the Sahel and speaking to ecologists in Africa and the West, I have come to see the villagers’ effort to persevere and preserve their ecosystem as a future model for conservation worldwide. People did not “arrive” in Africa the way we did on other continents: We were born here, and we evolved together with its ecosystems. Today, 70 percent of Malians live rurally. The Sindagans’ approach to saving their environment stems from necessity, from immemorial African traditions of husbanding nature, and from the limbic understanding that they are an indivisible part of it.

    r
    Morning on the Bani River: Mali’s Bozo fisher- men trace their ancestry to capricious man-eating water spirits and amphibians and may have been fishing the Bani River since the Neolithic.Anna Badkhen

    If you were to look at the Bani River from space, you would see that it sashays through a meandering band of a continental scale: a 1.1 million square-mile belt of pointillist ochre-green savannah that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, dividing the Sahara from the African tropics roughly along the 13th parallel. The Sahel.

    The most common tree in the Sahel is the acacia. First classified in 1773 by Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy and ecology, Acacia nilotica— known as thorn mimosa, scented thorn, Vachellia nilotica, or prickly acacia—splotches across the semiarid land. The lives of the tree and the people who are born, rest, plant, and die in its shade are deeply intertwined.

    Prickly acacia is a super plant. It can grow up to 65 feet tall, with a crown as wide. It thrives in poor, dry, and saline soils, adding three-quarters of an inch in diameter each year. It needs little rain. It is resistant to fire. By its fifth year it can produce up to 175,000 seeds annually, and although most of its seeds do not sprout when the pods drop, they still can germinate 15 years later. The seeds are rich in protein. Of all the acacias, the nilotica has one of the deepest rooting systems, up to nine feet, which means it can tap into relatively deep ground water. The horizontal spread of its lateral roots is 1.6 times greater than the umbrella span of its crown. Prickly acacias may stand two dozen feet apart but underground they clasp the soil together in a tight, resilient web. Along a river they create an indigenous natural revetment.

    Africans use prickly acacia’s seeds as food flavoring and dye, its glabrous bark for tea, its leaves as fodder and antibiotic, its sap to bind pigment to colored fabric, its twigs as toothbrushes, its thorns as awls, its inner bark and pods to tan leather. It is a nitrogen fixer, so grain yields are richer in its shade.

    But Sahel’s very texture is changing. Acacia scrublands are turning to infertile dustbowl. Red dunes grow where the 14th-century traveler Ibn Battuta described lush orchards and fecund fields. Winter harmattan winds fill Bamako, the capital of Mali, with dust from the Sahara hundreds of miles away. Most people in Mali have never heard about climate change, but they can describe with scientific precision its symptoms: the hotter, stronger wind; the fickle rainfall; the disappearing forests. Last summer the rainy season arrived six weeks late. Around Sindaga, the fens that usually become rice paddies in June still lay bone-dry in early August. My Fulani hosts herded skeletal Zebu cattle through grassless pastures. The Bani at Sindaga was a tepid slow stream you could wade across, and there were no fish. In fact, in the last 40 years Mali has become 12 percent drier and about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.

    The political unraveling echoes the steady and inexorable deterioration of the land itself, as if under Mali’s pustulating skin her very skeleton is creaking apart.

    A perfect storm of global and local factors is responsible for Mali’s environmental crisis: changing weather patterns; disastrous land management by French colonists; post-colonial explosion in population growth; overgrazing by expanding cattle herds; commercial farming and fishing. The people’s supreme dependency on the land does not mean that the 58 million people in the Sahel live in complete harmony with the environment. Like most men, they want the land to work for them, not vice versa. The deforestation speaks for itself.

    Between 1990 and 2005, droughts and human misuse killed 10 percent of Mali’s forests. Some trees were eaten during the famines, when crops failed and people survived on leaves and bark. Some quit on the waterless soil. Most were chopped down: Malians rely primarily on firewood for cooking, and a 2010 report from Mali’s agriculture ministry said that more than 500,000 hectares of forest are cleared for firewood and charcoal each year—and we are talking grown trees, not two-foot saplings. Today, only one-tenth of the country—about 12 million hectares—is forest.

    The fallout of this altered landscape extends beyond droughts and famines. In 2012, Mali weathered three successive coups and counter-coups and a simultaneous Tuareg uprising in the northern desert. Last year, it became 
the newest frontline of the global war on terror
 after Islamist
 fundamentalists
 linked to al Qaeda hijacked that
 rebellion; now
they are fighting 
against French-led United Nation
s troops backed by
the United States. Many analysts,
including Caitlin E.
Werrell at The Center
for Climate and Security, and the University of Michigan Islamic
 Studies historian Juan Cole,
consider the turmoil a facet of
desertification and link the jihad to the depletion of natural resources in one of the poorest countries on the world’s poorest continent. The political unraveling echoes the steady and inexorable deterioration of the land itself, as if under Mali’s pustulating skin her very skeleton is creaking apart.

    f

    Yet even after two centuries of centralized urban control of rural resources abraded the people’s relationship with the Earth, and even after the introduction of modern tools, weapons, and livestock vaccinations have enabled a voracious draining of the land, there still exists in Mali a level of conservation ethic that for millennia had prevented the people from destroying their environment. The central premise of that ethic stems from a myth.

    Most Malian traditions, explains Dr. Doulaye Konaté, president of the Association of African Historians, hold that natural resources are on lease to humans from gods, and that humans use the land according to their contract with the gods. Long after most Malians converted to Islam in the 19th century, spiritual leaders here continued to serve as interlocutors with the old divinities and doled out the permission to use the resources and the punishment for violating the restrictions, determining who could cut down a specific tree, hunt a particular animal, fish during a certain season. Many remain such guardians of the land to this day. And most Malians still populate waterways, the bush, the desert with powerful jinns that control these resources and penalize trespassers. Such beliefs imply an intimacy with the land, an attitude toward it not of ownership but of companionship.

    Over months of ambulations with the nomads, I camped alongside the Bani River, laundered my clothes in it, broke Ramadan fast with its tepid water, forded it, swam its anastomosing currents. I’d thought I knew it well. The Bozo at Sindaga wear it like skin. They have no school, no electricity, no sanitation, no source of income but what the river yields. They have an innate memory of their connectedness. They cannot afford to unweave what we call nature from their identities.

    Last summer, when Kayantau approached environmentalists in Djenné, the nearest big town about 10 miles upstream from Sindaga, he did not ask them to step in and save the river. He asked them to help the villagers remember, relearn, how to keep the river safe.

    He saw my raised eyebrows, smiled, and added, “Do not look at an old question with eyes of today.”

    The elder spoke to Hamma Ba, who oversees the directorate of fisheries at the district branch of Mali’s ministry of the environment. Ba also heads a tiny environmental nonprofit he founded a year ago with a $440,000 grant from the Global Climate Change Alliance, an agency the European Union established in 2007 to assist developing countries most affected by climate change. Ba’s nonprofit, which has a staff of five and goes by the French acronym AVDR, focuses on reforestation and education about climate change. Ba offered to donate to Sindaga some tree saplings to secure the crumbling shore if Kayantau rallied the villagers to do the planting. Thoughtful reintroduction of native species is being used to restore riparian ecology worldwide. Scientists credit the planting of sea-buckthorns along the banks of the Onggi River, which was dredged and diverted during the Mongolian gold rush of the 1990s, with that river’s improved flow through the Gobi Desert into Lake Ulaan. And in the U.S., the ongoing reforestation of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley by the Wetlands Reserve Program is creating a buffer around the wetlands that helps prevent soil degradation, provide habitat for wildlife, and reduce agricultural runoff into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Malian conservationists obsess about reforestation. It is the cornerstone of Mali’s national climate change policy: “We have a five-year program to reforest, starting in 2014. Millions of trees! All this made by people!” Ousmane Ag Rhissa, the minister of environment, told me.

    Planting trees, counting trees, and agroforestry are the focus of dozens of Malian non-governmental organizations, big and small, most of them funded by the European Union. Then there is the Great Green Wall, an 11-nation African project to erect a barrier of trees that, when or if completed, would measure more than 25 million acres from Dakar to Djibouti and prevent degradation of the soil, halt desertification. (An acre of trees may absorb between two and three tons of carbon dioxide per year—so the Great Green Wall may reduce global emissions by between 50 and 80 million tons.)

    Pan out from the flat adobes of Sindaga. Imagine: the fishermen and their families, contributors to the largest horticultural endeavor in human history.

    Ba acknowledges that a handful of villagers planting 13,560 acacias on 370 Sahelian acres cannot undo deforestation. His goals are much humbler—though, in a way, also much loftier: He hopes that conservation projects such as the one in Sindaga will remind rural Malians to be more responsible toward the erratic landscape of a changing planet.

    “You cannot protect nature if there is a separation between you and it,” says Ba. Something as simple as planting trees along a riverbank, he says, encourages the planters to thoughtfully reconnect with their environment. It allows them to re-imagine the potential of the Sahel, to see the possibility for a different, healthier landscape and a different relationship with it, and to see that they have the power to create both.

    When I visited the historian Konaté in Bamako, he told me, “There are many ways of protecting the environment, spiritual ways,” He saw my raised eyebrows, smiled, and added, “Do not look at an old question with eyes of today.”

    I remembered then a similar notion the writer Barry Lopez expressed in The Rediscovery of North America. To bridge the chasm between the ransacked landscape of the New World and the descendants of the Europeans who for centuries have exploited it, Lopez proposes inquiring of the land and its original inhabitants how best to coexist with it. “We are curious,” he writes in his short, forceful manifesto, “about indigenous systems of natural philosophy, how our own Western proposals might be answered by some bit of this local wisdom, an insight into how to conduct our life here so that it might be richer.”

    It is such gentle relearning, I think, that makes the men of Sindaga role models for modern Western environmentalists. Their effort to protect their ancestral fishing grounds comes at a time when scholars in the West are reassessing their own approach to conservation. The classic, divested strategy—most eloquently manifested in vast, unpopulated national parks—has outlived itself because it further demolishes the bonds that once existed between humans and the rest of the natural world. The Canadian writer J.B. MacKinnon writes that conservation’s “most fatal flaw, perhaps, has been to encourage the separation of people from nature: parks here, humans there, and there, and there.”

    What is necessary today, some conservationists propose, is a type of ecological restoration in which humans are everyday participants, immediately invested in nature because they understand themselves to be a part of it. We all should be planting back the bush—in our homes, communities, cities, parks. To do so, we can set our bearings by the fishers of Sindaga, who are remembering, faithfully and without fanfare, the ancient practice of nurturing their home ground. Our livelihood, too, depends on a intimate relationship with our environment.

    In November, scores of Fulani nomads en route from wet-season grazing grounds to the lush dry-season pastures around Djenné passed through Sindaga driving thousands of lyre-horned Zebus, sheep, and goats. My hosts and I were among them. The Fulani stayed on the Bani River for about a week, but that was all it took for their animals to strip the spindly twigs of prickly acacia of most of their sensitive bipinnate leaves. But after we moved on, the saplings—some with chewed-off tips, some with only one or two flecks of glaucous green surviving on the reddish stems— were still there, marking a sheer, hopeful grid along the Bani’s eastern bank just north of the village. Every few days Lasina Kayantau rode his scooter to check on the trees. One afternoon, I left the campground where my Fulani companions had stopped in a copse of thorn trees, and tagged along.

    It was odd to watch Kayantau’s sandaled, thick frame move through this imaginary future forest. His hands were flat, massive, shingly with callus, dry-cracked into grooves. Miniature maps of the Sahel. I tried to take pictures but couldn’t: Kayantau was simply too large, the shoots too small—too small for his figure; too small, it seemed, for that unforgiving, cauterized land.

    Kayantau showed me two of the five saplings he had planted himself. Scraggy, anemic twigs stuck out of trampled alluvium a few steps away from a dry gulch that, when it rains, dumps clayey mud into the river. Several other saplings were there, too. I don’t know how he could tell them apart.

    Kayantau stood over the seedlings, but when he spoke, he turned to the Bani, choppy and blindingly white in the 5 o’clock autumn sun.

    “I want to leave a mark,” he told the river. “After I die, I want the people in the village who elected me their elder to remember me. To say, Lasina, he did something. Lasina kept the river alive for our children.”

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Welcome to Nautilus. We are delighted you joined us. We are here to tell you about science and its endless connections to our lives. Each month we choose a single topic. And each Thursday we publish a new chapter on that topic online. Each issue combines the sciences, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers and writers. We follow the story wherever it leads us. Read our essays, investigative reports, and blogs. Fiction, too. Take in our games, videos, and graphic stories. Stop in for a minute, or an hour. Nautilus lets science spill over its usual borders. We are science, connected.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:46 am on December 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Environmental studies,   

    From NYT: “With Compromises, a Global Accord to Fight Climate Change Is in Sight” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    DEC. 9, 2014
    CORAL DAVENPORT

    LIMA, Peru — Diplomats from 196 countries are closing in on the framework of a potentially historic deal that would for the first time commit every nation in the world to cutting its planet-warming fossil fuel emissions — but would still not be enough to stop the early impacts of global warming.

    The draft, now circulating among negotiators at a global climate summit meeting here, represents a fundamental breakthrough in the impasse that has plagued the United Nations for two decades as it has tried to forge a new treaty to counter global warming.

    But the key to the political success of the draft — and its main shortcoming, negotiators concede — is that it does not bind nations to a single, global benchmark for emissions reductions.

    p
    A coal-burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Officials meeting in Peru are working on a pact to curb global warming. Credit Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Instead, the draft puts forward lower, more achievable, policy goals. Under the terms of the draft, every country will publicly commit to enacting its own plans to reduce emissions — with governments choosing their own targets, guided by their domestic politics, rather than by the amounts that scientists say are necessary.

    The idea is to reach a global deal to be signed by world leaders in Paris next year, incorporating 196 separate emissions pledges.

    “It’s a breakthrough, because it gives meaning to the idea that every country will make cuts,” said Yvo de Boer, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change.

    “But the great hopes for the process are also gone,” he added. “Many people are resigned,” he said, to the likelihood that even a historic new deal would not reduce greenhouse gas levels enough to keep the planet’s atmospheric temperature from rising 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

    That is the point at which, scientists say, it will become impossible to avoid the dangerous and costly early effects of climate change — such as melting glaciers, rising sea levels, extreme drought, food shortages and more violent storms.

    The Lima draft represents the input of all the negotiating countries, though there are still several major hurdles to work out. But even then, experts say, at best the new deal might be enough only to curb global warming by about half as much as scientists say is necessary.

    Until recently, the United States and China, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas polluters, have been at the center of the impasse over a climate deal.

    Until this year, the United States had never arrived at the United Nations’ annual climate negotiations with a domestic policy to cut its own carbon emissions. Instead, it merely demanded that other nations cut their use of coal and gasoline, while promising that it would do so in the future.

    China, meanwhile, was the lead voice among nations demanding that developing economies should not be required to commit to any cuts.

    But in November, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced plans to reduce emissions, helping inject new life into the global climate talks.

    Negotiators here call the joint announcement between China and the United States the catalyst for the new draft, which, if approved at the climate summit meeting this week, would set the stage for a final deal to be signed by world leaders next year in Paris.

    In the United Nations’ first effort to enact a climate change treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the legally binding language of the agreement prescribed that the world’s largest economies make ambitious, specific emissions cuts — but it exempted developing nations. The United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty, effectively leaving it a failure.

    The Lima draft does not include Kyoto-style, top-down mandates that countries cut emissions by specific levels. Instead, it includes provisions requiring that all nations, rich and poor, commit to policies to mitigate their emissions. Countries that sign on to the deal will commit to announcing, by March, detailed, hard-numbers plans laying out how they will cut emissions after 2020.

    The draft that emerges this week “will look like a game of Mad Libs,” said one negotiator who was not authorized to speak publicly. Over the coming months, as countries put forth their emissions reduction pledges, the details of the final deal will be filled in.

    It is expected that many countries will miss that March deadline. Officials from India and other countries have said that they are unlikely to present a plan before June.

    In order to ensure that all countries are included in the deal, late announcers will get a pass. The point, United Nations officials say, is to ensure that the information exists to finalize a Paris deal by December 2015.

    Negotiators concede that the “each according to their abilities” approach is less than perfect — but that it represents what is achievable.

    “The reality of it is that nobody was able to come up with a different way of going about it that would actually get countries to participate and be in the agreement,” said Todd D. Stern, the lead American climate change negotiator. “You could write a paper, in theory, assigning a certain amount of emissions cuts to every country. That would get the reduction you need. But you wouldn’t get an agreement. We live in the real world. It’s not going to be perfect.”

    And there are still many hurdles ahead.

    While many major developing economies are now expected to follow China’s lead in preparing emissions plans, some countries remain wild cards. This year, the government of Australia repealed a landmark climate change law that taxed carbon pollution. Since then, its emissions have soared.

    “Australia is left without any viable policy to cut emissions,” said Senator Christine Milne, the leader of the Australian opposition Green Party. “It’s going to drag its heels.”

    Money, as always, is a sticking point.

    The increasing likelihood that the planet’s atmosphere will warm past the 3.6 degree threshold, with or without a deal in Paris, is driving demands by vulnerable nations — particularly island states and African countries — that the industrialized world open up its wallet to pay for the damage incurred by its fossil fuel consumption. Under the terms of a 2009 climate change accord reached in Copenhagen, rich countries have agreed to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to the ravages of climate change. But a report this month by the United Nations Environmental Program estimates that the cost to poor countries of adapting to climate change could rise to as high as $300 billion annually — and vulnerable countries are stepping up their demands that more money be included in any final deal. Many vulnerable and developing countries insist that each country’s national pledge include not just a plan to cut emissions, but also money for adaptation.

    “The financing question will be one of the deepest divides,” said Jennifer Morgan, an expert in climate change negotiations with the World Resources Institute, a research organization.

    Another element to be hashed out by negotiators will be devising an international number-crunching system to monitor, verify and compare countries’ pledged emissions cuts.

    China has always balked at any outside monitoring of its major economic sectors, and is pushing back on proposals for rigorous outside scrutiny.

    Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that his country “always supports increasing transparency” but that the new reporting system should reflect “the reality that developing countries’ basic capacities in areas like national statistics and assessment are still insufficient.” He added that “developed countries should provide appropriate support to developing countries.”

    The United States has urged that a final deal not take the form of a legally binding treaty requiring Senate ratification, hoping to avoid a repeat of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol experience.

    But many countries continue to press for a legally binding deal.

    French officials have already given the yet-to-be-signed deal a working title: the “Paris Alliance.”

    The name, they say, is meant to signify that many different economies are working together, rather than complying with a single, top-down mandate.

    Edward Wong contributed reporting from Beijing.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 7:31 pm on December 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Environmental studies   

    From astrobio.net: ” The emergence of modern sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, 2.6 million years ago” 

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Dec 1, 2014
    No Writer Credit
    Source Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment

    Four or five million years ago, the extent of sea ice cover in Arctic was much smaller than it is today. The maximum winter extent did not reach its current location until around 2.6 million years ago. This new knowledge can now be used to improve future climate models.

    ice
    Investigating Arctic sea ice. Photo: Thomas A. Brown and Simon T. Belt

    “We have not seen an ice free period in the Arctic Ocean for 2,6 million years. However, we may see it in our lifetime. The new IPCC report shows that the expanse of the Arctic ice cover has been quickly shrinking since the 70-ies, with 2012 being the year of the sea ice minimum”, says marine geologist Jochen Knies.

    In an international collaborative project, Jochen Knies has studied the trend in the sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean from 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago. That was the last time the Earth experienced a long period with a climate that, on average, was warm before cold ice ages began to alternate with mild interglacials.

    “When we studied molecules from certain plant fossils preserved in sediments at the bottom of the ocean, we found that large expanses of the Arctic Ocean were free of sea ice until four million years ago,” Knies tells us.

    “Later, the sea ice gradually expanded from the very high Arctic before reaching, for the first time, what we now see as the boundary of the winter ice around 2.6 million years ago,” says Jochen Knies.

    s
    Satellite data reveal how the new record low Arctic sea ice extent, from Sept. 16, 2012, compares to the average minimum extent over the past 30 years (in yellow). Image: NASA

    The research is of great interest because present-day global warming is strongly tied to a shrinking ice cover in the Arctic Ocean. By the end of the present century, the Arctic Ocean seems likely to be completely free of sea ice, especially in summer.

    This may be of major significance for the entire planet ‘s climate system. Polar oceans, their temperature and salinity, are important drivers for world ocean circulation that distributes heat in the oceans. It also affects the heat distribution in the atmosphere. Trying to anticipate future changes in this finely tuned system, is a priority for climate researchers. For that they use climate modeling , which relies on good data.

    “Our results can be used as a tool in climate modelling to show us what kind of climate we can expect at the turn of the next century. There is no doubt that this will be one of many tools the UN Climate Panel will make use of, too. The extent of the ice in the Arctic has always been very uncertain but, through this work, we show how the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean developed before all the land-based ice masses in the Northern Hemisphere were established,” Jochen Knies explains.

    A deep well into the ocean floor northwest of Spitsbergen was the basis for this research. It was drilled as part of the International Ocean Drilling Programme, (IODP), to determine the age of the ocean-floor sediments in the area. Then, by analysing the sediments for chemical fossils made by certain microscopic plants that live in sea ice and the surrounding oceans, Knies and his co-workers were able to fingerprint the environmental conditions as they changed through time.

    m
    A microphotograph of sea-ice diatoms (Pleurosigma stuxbergii), which scientists study to describe the extent of sea ice in the Arctic. Photo: Thomas A. Brown and Simon T. Belt

    “One thing these layers of sediment enable us to do is to “read” when the sea ice reached that precise point,” Jochen Knies tells us.

    The scientists believe that the growth of sea ice until 2.6 million years ago was partly due to the considerable exhumation of the land masses in the circum-Arctic that occurred during this period. “Significant changes in altitudes above sea level in several parts of the Arctic, including Svalbard and Greenland, with build-up of ice on land, stimulated the distribution of the sea ice,” Jochen Knies says.

    “In addition, the opening of the Bering Strait between America and Russia and the closure of the Panama Canal in central America at the same time resulted in a huge supply of fresh water to the Arctic, which also led to the formation of more sea ice in the Arctic Ocean,” Jochen Knies adds.

    All the large ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere were formed around 2.6 million years ago.

    The results of this new study are published in Nature Communications.

    • See the full article here.

    .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA

     
c
Compose new post
j
Next post/Next comment
k
Previous post/Previous comment
r
Reply
e
Edit
o
Show/Hide comments
t
Go to top
l
Go to login
h
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
Cancel
%d bloggers like this: