Heatwave and wildfires worsened Colorado flooding

You might have seen the pictures of floods in Colorado, USA. Here is a piece explaining how the once-in-a-1000-year rainfall was made even worse by the huge wildfires, the area has experienced the last years. Again, an example of how things on our Planet are interconnected, and that we need to take care of all sides of it.

18 September 2013 by Alyssa Botelho

A TRULY ferocious and exceptional event. That’s how Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, describes the storm that pummelled his state last week. “This was a once-in-1000-year rainfall.”

The torrential rains and subsequent floods have so far killed eight people, displaced 11,750 and destroyed close to 18,000 homes. The city of Boulder received a year’s rainfall in less than a week, says Daniel Leszcynski at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That huge volume was due in part to a lingering heatwave that for months blocked tropical moisture from the Gulf of Mexico from reaching the Rockies, he says. When that heatwave began to move east last week, weak winds allowed the growing storm system to sit above the Colorado peaks for days.

Once that deluge hit the ground, more trouble awaited. Recurring wildfires near Boulder and Fort Collins in recent years had cleared the land of vegetation that would normally absorb rainwater in these areas.

Though natural disasters are difficult to attribute to climate change, Trenberth says that the 1 °C rise in ocean temperature since the 1970s accounts for 5 per cent more moisture in today’s atmosphere. That’s enough to invigorate already powerful storms such as last week’s, he says.

via Heatwave and wildfires worsened Colorado flooding – 18 September 2013 – New Scientist.

Norway abandons Mongstad carbon capture plans

The fossil fuel industry has for many years said that there is no problem burning coal, oil and gas, and that it is soon possible to capture the carbon dioxide resulting from burning these fossil fuels. As this BBC news shows, this will very unlikely be any solution.

The outgoing government in Norway has buried much-vaunted plans to capture carbon dioxide and store it underground amid mounting costs and delays.

The oil and energy ministry said the development of full-scale carbon dioxide capture at Mongstad oil refinery had been discontinued.

It said it remained committed to research into carbon capture.

When the Labour Party presented the plan in 2007, it was hailed as Norway’s equivalent of a “Moon landing”.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his allies lost a general election to conservatives and centrists this month, and are due to step down shortly.

Mongstad had already run into difficulties.

“At both the national and international level, the development of technologies to capture and store CO2 has taken longer, been more difficult and more costly than expected,” Oil and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe told reporters.

via BBC News – Norway abandons Mongstad carbon capture plans.

Global warming ‘hiatus’ unlikely to last

The climate deniers are repeatedly telling us that Global Warming is not happening, and that the temperatures have not changed during the last decade.

Here you can read, from Reuters, about how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their soon the be leased report write that the slow down in climate change can be explained by natural variations and volcanic ash.

(Reuters) – A “hiatus” in global warming so far this century is partly caused by natural variations in a chaotic climate and is unlikely to last, a draft United Nations report by leading climate scientists says.

The 127-page draft, and a shorter summary for policymakers that is due for release in Stockholm on September 27 after editing, say factors including a haze of volcanic ash and a cyclical dip in energy emitted from the sun may also have contributed to a slower warming trend.

Explaining what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft calls a “hiatus” in warming is vital for governments, which have promised to agree a U.N. deal by 2015 to limit temperature rises, largely by shifting from fossil fuels. France called on Friday for bolder EU cuts in greenhouse gases and said it would halve its own energy consumption by 2050.

The fact that temperatures have risen more slowly in the past 15 years despite rising emissions of greenhouse gases has emboldened skeptics who challenge the evidence for man-made climate change and question the need for urgent action.

But the IPCC draft reports do not project any long-term respite. Instead, they forecast a resumption in the warming trend that is likely to cause ever more heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

“Barring a major volcanic eruption, most 15-year global mean surface temperature trends in the near-term future will be larger than during 1998-2012,” according to the 127-page Technical Summary dated June 7 and obtained by Reuters.

via Global warming ‘hiatus’ unlikely to last: draft U.N. report | Reuters.

Yosemite Rim Fire is taste of things to come – 28 August 2013 – New Scientist

Yosemite Rim Fire is taste of things to come

Here you can read about how huge devastating fires are becoming more common and how Global Warming will lead to more of this kind.

28 August 2013

SAN FRANCISCO is in a state of emergency, its power and water supplies threatened by one of the largest Californian wildfires on record – just 250 kilometres to the east of the city, on the fringes of Yosemite National Park. It is a grim warning of profound changes that may lie ahead. Wildfires have always been a part of life in the US west, but activity is on the rise as climate change takes hold. In Californias Sierra Nevada mountains, the main problem is the earlier onset of spring. “The snow melts earlier, especially at lower elevations,” says Michael Wehner of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. That gives forests longer to dry out, producing tinderbox conditions by late August. As New Scientist went to press, the Rim Fire had torched over 700 square kilometres and was approaching the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which provides San Francisco with most of its water and generates hydroelectric power for the citys General Hospital, transit system and airport. It serves as a warning that wildfires can have effects far beyond the area they burn.

via Yosemite Rim Fire is taste of things to come – 28 August 2013 – New Scientist.

Study revises estimate of methane leaks from US gas fields : Nature News & Comment

The USA and many other nations are repeatedly telling us that gas is a climate friendly fuel, and that we should go for this to reduce Global Warming.

The fact is that the methane gas (natural gas) is a very strong greenhouse gas, so when just a small amount of this leaks to the atmosphere, then it influences the climate much more than the same amount of CO2.

This notice from Nature, reports that much more methane gas is leaking from wells in the USA that are in production than previously thought.

So, besides all the other dangers connected with this “fracking” industry, now it is also shown, that it is not very climate friendly.

Environmental controls designed to prevent leaks of methane from newly drilled natural gas wells are effective, a study has found — but emissions from existing wells in production are much higher than previously believed.

The findings, reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, add to a burgeoning debate over the climate impact of replacing oil- and coal-fired power plants with those fuelled by natural gas. Significant leaks of heat-trapping methane from natural gas production sites would erase any climate advantage the fuel offers.

via Study revises estimate of methane leaks from US gas fields : Nature News & Comment.

Rice gene digs deep to triple yields in drought

With a warmer planet and unpredictable weather patterns, we will need much more research such as the kind mentioned below, developing rice varieties (non GMO) that can survive drought period by having longer roots.

From scidev.net:

Severe drought can cause as much as 40 per cent yield loss

The gene causes the roots to grow further down towards water and nutrients

This produces grains during drought, raising hopes for better rice crops

A gene that gives rice plants deeper roots can triple yields during droughts, according to Japanese researchers writing in Nature Genetics this week (4 August).

Rice is a staple food for nearly half of the world’s population, but is also particularly susceptible to drought owing to its shallow roots, researchers say.

“If rice adapts to or avoids drought conditions using deeper roots, it can get water and nutrients from the deep soil layers.”

Yusaku Uga The new study shows that by pointing roots down instead of sideways, the Deeper Rooting 1 (DRO1) gene results in roots that are nearly twice as deep as those of standard rice varieties.

“If rice adapts to or avoids drought conditions using deeper roots, it can get water and nutrients from the deep soil layers,” says the study’s lead author Yusaku Uga, a researcher with Japan’s National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences.

Uga and his team found that in moderate drought conditions, the yield of rice with DRO1 was double that of the shallow-rooted rice variety. Under severe drought conditions, this increased to 3.6 times greater.

via Rice gene digs deep to triple yields in drought.

 

Russia’s Arctic

From BBC, August 26

Shipping route

The melting sea ice has also opened up new shipping routes. Russia is now advertising the Northern Sea Route, which cuts the journey time from China to Europe by up to two weeks.

“You save time and you save fuel. It is much more economical,” said Alexander Olshevsky, head of the Northern Sea Route Administration. “Though you will need to pay for a nuclear-powered icebreaker, and of course you will need a boat that can deal with these conditions.”

But again, opening up the Northern Sea Route could disrupt the fragile ecosystem. More than 400 ships will make the journey this year – yet in 2010 it was only four.

via BBC News – Russia’s Arctic: Mission to protect wildlife.

And some people are still questioning that our Planet is heating up. 100 times more ships North of Russia in just three years!

Coastal cities to pay high price for climate change

From the website: http://www.scidev.net

Global flood damage could cost cities US$1 trillion per year, say researchers …

The researchers looked at the 136 largest coastal cities in the world and found that cities in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to flood losses as they often lack resources for long term planning. …

The list is topped by cities such as Guangzhou in China, Guayaquil in Ecuador, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, Zhanjiang in China and Mumbai in India.Predictions for the highest losses in 2050, assuming current levels of defences and optimistic sea-level rises, include Jakarta in Indonesia, Alexandria in Egypt, Algiers in Algeria, and Barranquilla in Colombia.

via Coastal cities to pay high price for climate change.

As one can see it is clearly the cities in the developing part of the world that will be affected, and again, it is The Poor living in the low-lying slums that will be hit the most.

Read more about how The Poor will be hit on the page The Double Whammy, copied from the blog Demaskdeniers

Acidifying oceans will heat the planet more – New Scientist

Not only can the scientists measure that the capacity of oceans to absorb the carbon dioxide emitted through human activities is declining.

Now New Scientist reports that they have also found that life in the oceans will be affected by the more acid oceans and this in turn will reduce the amounts of clouds, thereby contributing to global warming:

WHAT goes around comes around. Our greenhouse gas emissions don’t just warm the planet, they also acidify the oceans. Now it turns out that the change in ocean chemistry they cause will feed back into the climate, further driving up temperatures.

Ocean acidification poses a threat to many marine organisms such as corals – the shells of some marine snails are already dissolving. Until now it seemed like this was strictly a problem for marine organisms and the people who depend on them: ‘climate scientists consider the carbon dioxide that is absorbed by the ocean to be stored and unable to affect the climate.

But research now suggests that the acidification it causes will rebound on the entire planet, by acting on tiny marine plants called phytoplankton. These produce a chemical called dimethyl sulphide (DMS) that drifts up into the air and reflects sunlight back into space, cooling the planet. DMS also makes clouds brighter, with the same effect.

via Acidifying oceans will heat the planet more – environment – 25 August 2013 – New Scientist.

Read here more about how oceans are linked to greenhouse gasses:

About half of the carbon our human societies emit to the atmosphere are taken up by the oceans. A scary thing is that scientists have found that a quite tiny sea (on a planetary scale) is responsible for a large part of this absorption. The North Sea between England and Scandinavia accounts for nearly one fourth of all the carbon emitted by human activities since industrialization. The North Sea functions like our kidneys and are especially well suited for taking up carbon, which then enters the North Atlantic Ocean where it is stored or circulated to the other oceans.

The scary thing is that we do not know for how long this will continue. Scientists can measure that the rate of absorption is decreasing, and no one can say how the coming changes in global currents will affect the absorption. This might be another example of a tipping point. The higher temperatures influence the global ocean currents. This then reduces the amount of carbon that our oceans can absorb, and the temperature increases as a result.

Another factor is that carbon has other roles than being part of a greenhouse gas. When more carbon is absorbed in the oceans, they turn more acidic. The more acidic the oceans become the less CO2 they are able to absorb. But this is not all. When oceans become more acidic, living conditions for many organisms will deteriorate. This is for example the case for corals and many smaller free swimming organisms that make shells of limestone. Limestone dissolves in acids. This not only means less living organisms but also less carbon absorbed, since huge amounts of carbon are found in the limestone deposits of corals and shells.

So, many reasons for researchers to get to understand more about how our oceans function and for us all to decide how we must ensure healthy and functioning oceans.

BBC News – European forests near ‘carbon saturation point’

Here is a recent finding reported by BBC:

European forests are showing signs of reaching a saturation point as carbon sinks, a study has suggested.

Since 2005, the amount of atmospheric CO2 absorbed by the continent’s trees has been slowing, researchers reported.

Writing in Nature Climate Change, they said this was a result of a declining volume of trees, deforestation and the impact of natural disturbances.

Carbon sinks play a key role in the global carbon cycle and are promoted as a way to offset rising emissions.

via BBC News – European forests near ‘carbon saturation point’.

Read more here about why such reduction of nature’s ability to store the extra carbon emitted through human activities will have serious consequences.

One of the reasons for the current building up of carbon in the atmosphere is that the natural systems, which can normally handle and stow away such extra carbon are being destroyed. Carbon levels in nature have always fluctuated. Massive volcano outbursts have often added carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, but over the next years land vegetation, oceans and soils would accumulate the extra carbon and levels would soon be back to the normal level again.

This is possible when the natural systems are healthy and as long as the extra carbon is not overwhelming.

Conditions nowadays are neither of the two. The amounts of extra carbon pumped into the atmosphere are staggering. Humans have over the last one and a half century burned maybe one third of the easily accessible fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil. This corresponds to releasing to the atmosphere an amount of carbon which it took nature maybe 100 million years to accumulate (fossil fuels formed when organic matter was compressed at high temperatures over long periods in the Earth’s crust).

The part about sound natural systems is just as bad. The healthy vegetation that should be able to absorb extra carbon is in a serious crisis itself. Most of our planet’s forests have over the centuries been cleared for agricultural areas, and most of our agricultural systems are of a kind that deplete the soil more and more. Amounts of humus, which is the long-term carbon storage compound in the soil, are decreasing in the huge monoculture fields of agribusiness, so less and less carbon is stored there. In no way can such systems take up the extra carbon our consumer society is spitting out.

Oceans could then do the job. At least they are much more difficult for humans to destroy because they are so huge. But in spite of this, scientists can measure that they take up less and less atmospheric carbon, even though the amount to take from increases.

So, there is no way out. We will need to find carbon neutral energy production  methods and agricultural systems that build up a carbon rich soil.