Category Archives: greenhouse gases

Prehistoric greenhouse data from ocean floor could predict Earth's future

Prehistoric greenhouse data from ocean floor could predict Earth’s future, study finds.

ScienceDaily (Oct. 27, 2011) — New research from the University of Missouri indicates that Atlantic Ocean temperatures during the greenhouse climate of the Late Cretaceous Epoch were influenced by circulation in the deep ocean. These changes in circulation patterns 70 million years ago could help scientists understand the consequences of modern increases in greenhouse gases.

“We are examining ocean conditions from several past greenhouse climate intervals so that we can understand better the interactions among the atmosphere, the oceans, the biosphere, and climate,” said Kenneth MacLeod, professor of geological sciences in the College of Arts and Science. “The Late Cretaceous Epoch is a textbook example of a greenhouse climate on earth, and we have evidence that a northern water mass expanded southwards while the climate was cooling. At the same time, a warm, salty water mass that had been present throughout the greenhouse interval disappeared from the tropical Atlantic.”

The study found that at the end of the Late Cretaceous greenhouse interval, water sinking around Greenland was replaced by surface water flowing north from the South Atlantic. This change caused the North Atlantic to warm while the rest of the globe cooled. The change started about five million years before the asteroid impact that ended the Cretaceous Period.

To track circulation patterns, the researchers focused on “neodymium,” an element that is taken up by fish teeth and bones when a fish dies and falls to the ocean floor. MacLeod said the ratio of two isotopes of neodymium acts as a natural tracking system for water masses. In the area where a water mass forms, the water takes on a neodymium ratio like that in rocks on nearby land. As the water moves through the ocean, though, that ratio changes little. Because the fish take up the neodymium from water at the seafloor, the ratio in the fish fossils reflects the values in the area where the water sank into the deep ocean. Looking at changes through time and at many sites allowed the scientists to track water mass movements.

While high atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide caused Late Cretaceous warmth, MacLeod notes that ocean circulation influenced how that warmth was distributed around the globe. Further, ocean circulation patterns changed significantly as the climate warmed and cooled.

“Understanding the degree to which climate influences circulation and vice versa is important today because carbon dioxide levels are rapidly approaching levels most recently seen during ancient greenhouse times,” said MacLeod. “In just a few decades, humans are causing changes in the composition of the atmosphere that are as large as the changes that took millions of years to occur during geological climate cycles.”

The paper, “Changes in North Atlantic circulation at the end of the Cretaceous greenhouse interval,” was published in the October online edition of the journal Nature Geoscience. Coauthors include C. Isaza Londoño of the University of Missouri; E.E. Martin and C. Basak of the University of Florida, and A. Jiménez Berrocoso of the Unviersity of Manchester, United Kingdom. The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. K. G. MacLeod, C. Isaza Londoño, E. E. Martin, Á. Jiménez Berrocoso, C. Basak. Changes in North Atlantic circulation at the end of the Cretaceous greenhouse interval. Nature Geoscience, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1284

APA

MLA

University of Missouri-Columbia (2011, October 27). Prehistoric greenhouse data from ocean floor could predict Earth’s future, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2011/10/111027150213.htm

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

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New Scientist special about what we do/don't know about Climate change

Climate change: What we do – and don’t – know – New Scientist.

(Image: Maria Stenzel)

There is much we do not understand about Earth’s climate. That is hardly surprising, given the complex interplay of physical, chemical and biological processes that determines what happens on our planet’s surface and in its atmosphere.

Despite this, we can be certain about some things. For a start, the planet is warming, and human activity is largely responsible. But how much is Earth on course to warm by? What will the global and local effects be? How will it affect our lives?Watch movie online A Cure for Wellness (2017)

In these articles, Michael Le Page sifts through the evidence to provide a brief guide to what we currently do – and don’t – know about the planet’s most burning issue.

KNOW

Greenhouse gases are warming the planet

From melting glaciers and earlier springs to advancing treelines and changing animal ranges, many lines of evidence back up what thermometers tell us
Read more

DON’T KNOW

How high greenhouse gas levels will rise

We can’t say how much Earth will warm over the coming years unless we know how much more greenhouse gas will end up in the atmosphere
Read more

KNOW

Other pollutants are cooling the planet

We pump all kinds of substances into the atmosphere. Some of them reflect the sun’s heat back into space and so cool things down
Read more

DON’T KNOW

How great our cooling effects are

Pollutants that form minute droplets in the atmosphere have horrendously complex effects – so it’s far from certain what they mean for global warming
Read more

KNOW

The planet is going to get a lot hotter

Extra carbon dioxide means a warmer world – and then positive feedback effects from things like water vapour and ice loss will make it warmer still
Read more

DON’T KNOW

Just how much hotter things will get

On current trends the temperature rise could exceed 4 °C as early as the 2060s. But even that could be an underestimate
Read more

DON’T KNOW

How things will change in each region

Which regions are going to turn into tropical paradises? Which into unbearably humid hellholes? It would be useful to know. Unfortunately, we don’t
Read more

KNOW

Sea level is going to rise many metres

Studies of past climate indicate each 1 °C rise in the global mean temperature eventually leads to a 20-metre rise in sea level
Read more

DON’T KNOW

How quickly sea level will rise

Do we have time to get temperatures back down before seas rise by more than a few metres? We have little clue how much room we have for manoeuvre
Read more

DON’T KNOW

How serious the threat to life is

The problem for the plants, animals and people living today is that they and we have adapted to the unusually stable climate of the past few thousand years
Read more

KNOW

There will be more floods and droughts

Warm air holds more moisture. This means more rain or snow overall, and more intense rain or snowfall on average
Read more

DON’T KNOW

Will there be more hurricanes and the like?

A wetter atmosphere will provide more of the fuel that powers extreme events like hurricanes, but it is not clear how often this fuel will be ignited
Read more

DON’T KNOW

If and when tipping points will come

The Amazon could become grassland. Massive amounts of methane could be released from undersea hydrates. And we may not realise in time to do anything about it
Read more

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Engineers can build a low-carbon world if we let them

Engineers can build a low-carbon world if we let them – opinion – 26 September 2011 – New Scientist.

The engineering solutions to combat climate change already exist. Politicians must be brave enough to use them before it’s too late

One word sums up the attitude of engineers towards climate change: frustration. Political inertia following the high-profile failure of 2009’s Copenhagen climate conference has coupled with a chorus of criticism from a vocal minority of climate-change sceptics. Add the current economic challenges and the picture looks bleak. Our planet is warming and we are doing woefully little to prevent it getting worse.

Engineers know there is so much more that we could do. While the world’s politicians have been locked in predominantly fruitless talks, engineers have been developing the technologies we need to bring down emissions and help create a more stable future.

Wind, wave and solar power, zero-emissions transport, low-carbon buildings and energy-efficiency technologies have all been shown feasible. To be rolled out on a global scale, they are just waiting for the political will. Various models, such as the European Climate Foundation’s Roadmap 2050, show that implementing these existing technologies would bring about an 85 per cent drop in carbon emissions by 2050. The idea that we need silver-bullet technologies to be developed before the green technology revolution can happen is a myth. The revolution is waiting to begin.

Climate call

The barriers preventing the creation of a low-carbon society are not technological but political and financial. That’s why at a landmark London conference convened by the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 11 national engineering institutions representing 1.2 million engineers from across the globe, under the banner of the Future Climate project, made a joint call for action at December’s COP17 climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.

The statement calls on governments to move from warm words to solid actions. They need to introduce legislation and financial support to get these technologies out of the workshop and into our homes and businesses and onto our roads. Targeted regulation and taxation will also drive innovation. This will require bold politics, and spending at a time when money is scarce. It is far from unaffordable, however. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change, which advises the British government, continues to support the view of the Stern reportMovie Camera – an assessment of the climate change challenge in the UK – that the move to a low-carbon society will cost no more than 1 per cent of GDP by 2050.

Resistance to wind turbines and the power lines they feed, nuclear power and electric cars, as well as the economic costs, all make public opinion a powerful brake on change. However the alternative seems certain to be worse. It is not only the challenges of a deteriorating climate: with inaction comes a great risk to our economy in the long term. The green technology revolution, just like the industrial revolution before it, will give jobs to those countries which have created the right conditions for it to flourish.

China in front

Which countries these will be is still an open question. India, Germany, Australia and the UK were among the nations signed up to the Future Climate statement, whereas the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters – China and the US – were not. When it comes to investment in clean technology, however, that’s not the whole story.

Although China is continuing to build coal-fired electricity plants at an alarming rate to power its rapid economic growth, the UN Environment Programme confirmed last month that it is now by far the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy. Last year, China’s wind, solar and biomass power industries received $49 billion of new investment, a third of the global total, and it now has the largest installed wind capacity in the world. When predicting who the front runner in this next great technological revolution will be, it is difficult to see past the emerging superpower to the east.

The US is going in the opposite direction. A natural gas rush driven by the development of controversial “fracking” techniques over the past decade has echoes of the oil rush that transformed Texas a century ago. The Financial Times reports that just one company, BHP Billiton, is investing as much as $79 billion in US shale gas fields – over three times the amount invested in all US renewables in a year. This will secure cheap energy in the short term, but it is a finite resource and ultimately a dead end. In due course we could face the interesting prospect of the US turning to China to acquire its wind turbine technology.

Nuclear elephant

Investment in renewable energy is vital for a prosperous, low-carbon society. However, decision-makers cannot ignore the elephant in the room – nuclear power. The enormous cost of implementing 100 per cent renewable power is not realistic for most nations, so nuclear offers our best chance of making a low-carbon society achievable and affordable. Yet the incident at Fukushima earlier this year has reinforced some long-standing concerns.

Unlike road use or smoking, nuclear power stirs anxieties in many of us that are out of proportion with its true risks. This is not to be complacent about the potential danger of a nuclear plant, but it is striking that nuclear power has killed fewer than 5000 people in its entire history. Compare that with coal mining, which in just one year and in one country – China in 2006 – killed 4700.

Germany’s decision to phase out all nuclear power as a result of Fukushima will most likely have unintended consequences. The Association of German Engineers has estimated that it will cost €53 billion every year in Germany to close down its nuclear generation and switch to 100 per cent renewable energy. It will be interesting to see how public opinion, now so clearly against nuclear power, responds as the economic costs become apparent.

Any technological revolution requires two crucial ingredients – engineers to design, develop and manufacture the technology, and politicians to help create the legislative, behavioural and societal environment that allows change to happen. Today’s engineers have fulfilled their side of the bargain. It is time for our politicians to show their mettle.

Colin Brown is director of engineering at the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers

Construction drives China's 'carbonizing dragon'

A ‘carbonizing dragon’: Construction drives China’s growing CO2 emissions.

ScienceDaily (Oct. 4, 2011) — Constructing buildings, power-plants and roads has driven a substantial increase in China’s carbon dioxide emission growth, according to a new study involving the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Fast growing capital investments in infrastructure projects led to the expansion of the construction industry and its energy and CO2 intensive supply chain, such as steel and cement production. As a result of this transformation of China’s economy, more and more CO2 was released per unit of gross domestic product — a reversion of a long-term trend.

Recently China became the world’s largest consumer of energy and emitter of CO2, overtaking the US. Previously the country’s greenhouse gas emissions growth was driven by rising consumption and exports. Today this growth is offset by emission savings from efficiency increases, but these savings are being hindered by the building of infrastructure — which is important as it dictates tomorrow’s emissions, the international team of researchers concludes.

The study, entitled “A ‘Carbonizing Dragon’: China’s fast growing CO2 emissions revisited”, is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. It emphasizes that putting a low carbon infrastructure in place in China as well as other emerging and developing economies from the beginning is a key global challenge to avoid ‘carbon lock-in’ — where a country could be stuck on a path of high emissions — which would have a significant and persistent impact on future emissions.

“The carbon intensive nature of capital investment in heavy industry, large infrastructure building projects, and energy production, might be hard to avoid as China tries to instigate a virtuous cycle of high rates of investment and economic growth,” explained Giovanni Baiocchi, from Norwich Business School at UEA and the lead UK author of the study.

“The high levels of CO2 emissions from capital investment might only be temporary as, with economic development, investment moves into more high-tech and greener technologies,” added Dr Baiocchi, a senior lecturer in business and climate change. “However, it is crucial that China now invests in the right kind of infrastructure to limit the growth of CO2 emissions that causes global warming. The type of infrastructure put in place today will also largely determine future mitigation costs.”

The study’s lead author Jan Minx, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Technical University of Berlin, said: “Up to 2002 there has been a race between consumption growth and efficiency gains. However, the recent rise in emissions is completely due to the massive structural change of China’s economy. Emissions grow faster and faster, because CO2 intensive sectors linked to the building of infrastructure have become more and more dominant. China has developed into a ‘carbonizing dragon’.”

The researchers conducted a ‘structural decomposition’ analysis of input-output data for 1992 to 2007 — the most recent official data available — which allowed them to assign changes in emission over time to a set of drivers such as consumption growth, efficiency gains or structural change.

They found that emissions almost tripled between 1992 and 2007, growing by about four billion tonnes, with 70% of this growth happening between 2002 and 2007. The average annual CO2 emission growth alone in this period was similar in size to the total CO2 emissions in the UK. While exports showed the fastest CO2 emission growth at one point, capital investments and the construction industry then overtook.

According to the study another important driver of emissions is urbanization — emissions from household consumption are more significant than the sheer growth of population or even the decreasing household size. When people move from the countryside to the city lifestyle changes take place. Urban dwellers, for example, tend to seek gas heating and electricity and also depend more upon a transport infrastructure to get to work, all of which implies a higher per capita carbon footprint.

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Poorer Nations Are Leaders Toward Low Carbon Energy

Poorer Nations Lead Global Movement Toward Low Carbon Energy: Scientific American.

Poor countries have spent just as much as rich ones — and in the case of China, more — to develop low-carbon energy, according to a study coming out this week. Its conclusions could turn the conventional wisdom about the differences among nations over mitigation efforts on its head.

The report by former World Bank economist David Wheeler, who now leads the climate change division at the think tank Center for Global Development, finds that China spent 94 cents of every $10,000 of average income on clean energy between 1990 and 2008. The United States, by contrast, spent 44 cents of every $10,000.

Meanwhile, all other industrialized countries combined spent only a penny more per year than their less developed counterparts.

“We all had this idea that [climate change] was a rich country problem and that poor countries shouldn’t have to do anything until they get to a certain stage of development, and that rich countries need to make it worth their while. But what I had seen suggested [was] that poor countries were already doing a lot,” Wheeler said.

The data bore that out. Wheeler examined International Energy Agency data for 174 countries on investments in six low-carbon power sources (hydro, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, wind and solar) to find the incremental costs of clean power compared to a cheaper, carbon-intensive option like a conventional coal-fired power plant. He then computed the average income share in countries to compare how much people in poor countries are paying for carbon mitigation compared to those in rich nations.

“Lo and behold, you get a world in which the shares that poor countries have been devoting to low-carbon technologies over the past 18 years is really comparable to the rich countries,” Wheeler said.

The study comes as countries continue to debate whether to develop a new international climate change treaty. Developing countries, which currently are not obligated to curb emissions, have long argued that they should not be required to help solve a problem caused by industrialized nations.

Many maintain that they also have “atmospheric rights” — that is, the right to pollute — in order to develop. Wealthy countries, meanwhile, argue that fast-growing developing countries like China and India are not doing enough to mitigate emissions. U.S. lawmakers in particular have argued that cutting carbon would put America at a competitive disadvantage to China.

Developing nations attracted to hydropower
But the fact is, countries are working steadily to develop clean energy. And, Wheeler’s study argues, they’ve been doing so for a long time.

Since 1990, developing countries have accounted for 55 percent of the global increase in low-carbon energy generation, he found. China accounted for 15 percent of it alone.

In fact, because of the growth of hydroelectric generation in particular, developing nations like the Kyrgyz Republic, Bhutan, Mozambique, Paraguay and Zimbabwe crowd out the few top-spending developed countries like Iceland, Germany and Finland.

Tajikistan actually tops the list, spending $12.27 for the incremental costs of clean energy for every $10,000. But Wheeler noted that might be an anomaly because the country underwent a civil war. A push in hydro development in 1992-1993 might have been a restart of war-idled energy capacity rather than new development, he noted.

Iceland is the only high-income country in the top 10 list. With a gross domestic product per capita of $29,752, the country spends $11.56 per person annually — mostly on geothermal power. But the Kyrgyz Republic, with a per capita GDP of just $1,634, has spent only slightly less — $11.22 per person.

Wheeler said he purposely included the controversial energy sources hydro and nuclear. While environmental groups fighting for action on climate change don’t like to include those options, Wheeler said he felt it was important to look simply at what sources produce low or zero emissions. At the same time, he argued, despite the safety risks and environmental hazards posed by nuclear and large hydro, respectively, the climate would be in far worse condition had countries not developed those sources.

 

“They’re a huge part of this story,” Wheeler said. “If poor countries hadn’t gone down that road, our carbon emissions would be now far higher than they are, and it would be growing every day much worse than it is.” He also didn’t try to tease out a country’s motive for developing low-carbon energy, since in virtually every case, it had little or nothing to do with climate change.

Flying under the accounting radar
Derek Scissors, a research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, questioned whether looking at the past decades is a useful comparison, particularly for hydro development, since industrialized countries like the United States built their dams decades ago.

But he also objected to thinking about the climate debate, or the spending necessary to reduce emissions, in terms of developed versus developing countries. Rather, he said, the discussion should be among major emitters of the past, present and future.

“Why would we think that one country should spend as much on clean energy as another country? Why should a country with low emissions do as much?” he said. “It starts from a false premise that the discussion is developing versus developed, which is just another way of saying rich versus poor. But that’s not how to address the problem. That just immediately starts this as a redistribution effort.”

Wheeler said he also thinks the equity argument needs to be put to rest, but that countries like the United States need to realize that long-held arguments that China is not doing enough to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions don’t hold water. He noted that the 94 cents per $10,000 average income that China spent compared to America’s 44 cents looks like an even wider gap when the income is factored in. China’s average GDP per capita for that time period was $2,860, while the United States’ was $37,640.

“What I see is, I have a really rich country that seems to be spending less than 20 percent per unit of income that what China is spending. There’s no possible way I can judge that as reasonable,” Wheeler said.

Developing countries as whole, he said, “have been doing a lot all along. We just haven’t been doing the accounting right.”

* Countries’ spending on low or zero-carbon energy (hydro, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, wind and solar) from 1996 to 2008, calculated as a share of their average income.

Source: Center for Global Development.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500