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Archive for the ‘CO2 Emission’ Category

SETH SHULMAN for Grist, part of the Guardian U.K., August 23, 2010

The ocean has been our savior.

Besides generating about two thirds of the oxygen we breathe, oceangoing phytoplankton — those floating microscopic plants that form the base of the aquatic food chain — absorb about a third of all the carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere. In this way, the oceans have managed to slow the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and stave off even more dramatic warming of the planet.

But John Guinotte and colleagues are discovering that the critical role of “carbon sink” comes at a potentially devastating cost for the world’s oceans: acidification.

Guinotte is a coral specialist at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue, Wash. The changes he sees in ocean chemistry spell trouble for the coral that he studies closely. If the acidification process continues on its current trajectory, it poses a dire threat to the whole marine ecosystem.

“What I’m really concerned about with ocean acidification is that we are facing the prospect of a crash in marine food webs.” says Guinotte. “There is no question that many of my colleagues in marine science are scared about what is happening. We know we need a more precise understanding of the changes and biological responses now under way — and we need it as quickly as possible, before it is too late to turn things around.”

Guinotte has dedicated his life to the study of coral, especially the less well understood deep-sea varieties. Growing up in rural Kansas, his only exposure to corals was through the pages of National Geographic. But that changed when he learned to scuba dive at his grandfather’s winter home in the Florida Keys. The experience, plus his interest in biology and geography, led him to Australia, where he earned his Ph.D.

Guinotte still remembers the thrill of exploring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef for the first time. “I was absolutely blown away by the abundance and diversity of coral,” he recalls. At that time, back in the late-1990s, scientists were increasingly concerned about coral bleaching caused by environmental stresses such as warming ocean temperatures. Those threats remain, Guinotte says, but ocean acidification may be an even more serious and intractable problem.

On the macro scale, Guinotte explains, the chemistry of ocean acidification is relatively clear. Based on some 25 years’ worth of measurements scientists know that oceans absorb about 22 million tons of carbon dioxide every day. The oceans are vast. But even so, the absorption of CO2 is now occurring at such an unprecedented rate that ocean chemistry is approaching a state not seen in many millions of years. Guinotte fears that many marine species might be unable to adapt quickly enough to survive these dramatic changes.

As carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater, hydrogen ions are released. This lower the pH, making the water more acidic. Measurements indicate that Earth’s oceans are already about 30 percent more acidic than they were before the industrial revolution. As the number of hydrogen ions has risen, the number of carbonate ions available in seawater has gone down. This carbonate deficit makes life more difficult for the “marine calcifiers,” species such as coral and shellfish that use carbonate to build their skeletons and protective shells.

“Ocean water becomes increasingly corrosive to calcium carbonate,” says Guinotte. “A reduction in carbonate ions not only impedes corals’ ability to build their skeletons, but once the calcium carbonate drops below critical levels, the ocean erodes the framework they have built up previously — the reefs upon which corals live.” Even if select coral species can survive ocean acidification, Guinotte says, when the coral reefs begin to dissolve, the effects on the entire marine ecosystem are likely to be devastating.

Scientists know from the fossil record that reefs which sustained damage from high atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in the geologic past took millions of years to recover. “Given that we need to think in human time scales, it means we’re playing for keeps here,” says Guinotte. “To me, it sometimes seems like a school bus full of children heading for a cliff. Somehow we have to slow it down enough to find some real solutions.”

Because of the very clear potential for ocean acidification to effect everything from the tiniest oxygen-providing phytoplankton to the larger fish that feed in the coral reefs — or, as Guinotte has written, “from the shallowest waters to the darkest depths of the deep sea” — the threat to humankind is immense.

To figure out precisely how much acidification many varieties of coral can tolerate, and what we can do to preserve the health of the marine ecosystem, Guinotte argues for a coordinated research effort that tackles every aspect of the problem. That includes better monitoring of ocean carbon; closer tracking of calcifying organisms and more laboratory and field studies of their physiological responses to increasingly acidicity; and more detailed studies that model the threat to the marine ecosystem as a whole. Some of this work is under way, but too much of it has been conducted in piecemeal fashion. Only a more intensive, coordinated effort, says Guinotte, can provide the detail necessary for policymakers to develop strategies that protect critical species, habitats, and ecosystems.

“From the standpoint of the oceans,” Guinotte says, “there is no escaping the fact that we are going to need major reductions in our CO2 emissions — something like 80 to 90 percent. When we see governments arguing about reductions of 10 to 15 percent, I think all of us in the marine science community need to say that CO2 reductions of this scale are simply not going to be sufficient. We have to get off fossil fuels.”

The fossil record shows that high CO2 concentrations have likely played a big role in mass extinctions of marine life in the past. “If marine systems start to crash, it may well be too late to stop the train,” says Guinotte. “Governments are likely to panic and make irrational decisions; international tensions could certainly heat up. These are the kinds of things that keep me awake at night. I continue to hope we can get it turned around. But it will take political will, and so far, that has been in short supply.”

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JULIETTE JOWIT, Guardian UK, July 28, 2010

Phytoplankton might be too small to see with the naked eye, but they are the foundations of the ocean food chain, ultimately capturing the energy that sustains the seas’ great beasts such as whales.

A new study though has raised the alarm about fundamental changes to life underwater. It warns that populations of these microscopic organisms have plummeted in the last century, and the rate of loss has increased in recent years.

The reduction – averaging about 1% per year – is related to increasing sea surface temperatures, says the paper, published tomorrow in the journal Nature.

The decline of these tiny plankton will have impacted nearly all sea creatures and will also have affected fish stocks.

Phytoplankton provide food – by capturing energy from the sun – and recycle nutrients, and because they account for approximately half of all organic matter on earth they are hugely important as a means of absorbing carbon.

“This decline will need to be considered in future studies of marine ecosystems, geochemical cycling, ocean circulation and fisheries,” add the paper’s authors, from Dalhousie university in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The researchers looked at measurements of ocean transparency and tested for concentrations of chlorophyll, which gives large numbers of phytoplankton a distinctive green sheen. They said that although there were variations in some areas due to regional climate and coastal run-off, the long-term global decline was “unequivocal”.

The Nature article comes as climate scientists published what they said today was the “best ever” collection of evidence for global warming, including temperature over land, at sea and in the higher atmosphere, along with records of humidity, sea-level rise, and melting ice.

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ScienceDaily, June 19, 2010

The first comprehensive synthesis on the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans has found they are now changing at a rate not seen for several million years.

In an article published June 18 in Science magazine, scientists reveal the growing atmospheric concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases are driving irreversible and dramatic changes to the way the ocean functions, with potentially dire impacts for hundreds of millions of people across the planet.

The findings of the report emerged from a synthesis of recent research on the world’s oceans, carried out by two of the world’s leading marine scientists, one from The University of Queensland in Australia, and one from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in the USA.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, lead author of the report and Director of The University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, says the findings have enormous implications for mankind, particularly if the trend continues.

He said that the Earth’s ocean, which produces half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs 30% of human-generated CO2, is equivalent to its heart and lungs. “Quite plainly, the Earth cannot do without its ocean. This study, however, shows worrying signs of ill health.

“It’s as if the Earth has been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day!”

He went on to say, “We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail,” says Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg. “Further degradation will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide.”

He warned that we may soon see “sudden, unexpected changes that have serious ramifications for the overall well-being of humans,” including the capacity of the planet to support people. “This is further evidence that we are well on the way to the next great extinction event.”

The “fundamental and comprehensive” changes to marine life identified in the report include rapidly warming and acidifying oceans, changes in water circulation and expansion of dead zones within the ocean depths.

These are driving major changes in marine ecosystems: less abundant coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves (important fish nurseries); fewer, smaller fish; a breakdown in food chains; changes in the distribution of marine life; and more frequent diseases and pests among marine organisms.

Report co-author, Dr John F. Bruno, an Associate Professor at The University of North Carolina, says greenhouse gas emissions are modifying many physical and geochemical aspects of the planet’s oceans, in ways “unprecedented in nearly a million years.” “This is causing fundamental and comprehensive changes to the way marine ecosystems function,” Dr Bruno said.

“We are becoming increasingly certain that the world’s marine ecosystems are approaching tipping points. These tipping points are where change accelerates and causes unrelated impacts on other systems, the results of which we really have no power or model to foresee.”

The authors conclude: “These challenges underscore the urgency with which world leaders must act to limit further growth of greenhouse gases and thereby reduce the risk of these events occurring. Ignoring the science is not an option.”

In their study, the researchers sought to address a gap in previous studies that have often overlooked the affects of climate change on marine ecosystems, due to the fact that they are complex and can be logistically difficult to study.

According to leading US marine scientist, the University of Maine’s School of Marine Services Professor Robert S. Steneck, the study provides a valuable indicator of the ecological risk posed by climate change, particularly to coastal regions.

“While past studies have largely focused on single global threats such as ‘global warming’, Hoegh-Guldberg and Bruno make a compelling case for the cumulative impacts of multiple planet-scale threats,” Prof. Steneck said.

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DAVID TOW, Future Planet, January 16, 2010

By 2015 India and China will both have outstripped the US in energy consumption by a large margin. Cap and Trade carbon markets will have been established by major developed economies, including India and China, as the most effective way to limit carbon emissions and encourage investment in renewable energy, reforestation projects etc.

There will have been a significant shift by consumers and industry to renewable energy technologies- around 25%, powered primarily by the new generation adaptive wind and solar energy mega-plants, combined with the rapid depletion of the most easily accessible oil fields. Coal and gas will continue to play a major role at around 60% useage, with clean coal and gas technologies still very expensive. Nuclear technology will remain static at 10% and hydro at 5%.

Most new vehicles and local transport systems will utilise advanced battery or hydrogen electric power technology, which will continue to improve energy density outputs.

Efficiency and recycling savings of the order of 30% on today’s levels will be available from the application of smart adaptive technologies in power grids, communication, distribution and transport networks, manufacturing plants and consumer households. This will be particularly critical for the sustainability of cities across the planet. Cities will also play a critical role in not only supporting the energy needs of at least 60% of the planet’s population through solar, wind, water and waste energy capture but will feed excess capacity to the major power grids, providing a constant re-balancing of energy supply across the world.

By 2025 a global Cap and Trade regime will be mandatory and operational worldwide. Current oil sources will be largely exhausted but the remaining new fields will be exploited in the Arctic, Antarctic and deep ocean locations.  Renewable energy will account for 40% of useage, including baseload power generation. Solar and wind power will dominate in the form of huge desert solar and coastal and inland wind farms; but all alternate forms- wave, geothermal, secondary biomass, algael etc will begin to play a significant role.

Safer helium-cooled and fast breeder fourth generation modular nuclear power reactors will replace many of the older water-cooled and risk-prone plants, eventually  accounting for around 15% of energy production; with significant advances in the storage of existing waste in stable ceramic materials.

By 2035 global warming will reach a critical threshold with energy useage tripling from levels in 2015, despite conservation and efficiency advances. Renewables will account for 60% of the world’s power supply, nuclear 15% and fossils 25%. Technologies to convert CO2 to hydocarbon fuel together with more efficient recycling and sequestration, will allow coal and gas to continue to play a significant role.

By 2045-50 renewables will be at 75-80% levels, nuclear 12% and clean fossil fuels 10-15%. The first Hydrogen and Helium3 pilot fusion energy plants will be commissioned, with large-scale generators expected to come on stream in the latter part of the century, eventually reducing carbon emissions to close to zero.

However the above advances will still be insufficient to prevent the runaway effects of global warming. These long-term impacts will raise temperatures well beyond the additional two-three degrees centigrade critical limit.

Despite reduction in emissions by up to 85%, irreversible and chaotic feedback impacts on the global biosphere will be apparent. These will be triggered by massive releases of methane from permafrost and ocean deposits, fresh water flows from melting ice causing disruptions to ocean currents and weather patterns.

These will affect populations beyond the levels of ferocity of the recent Arctic freeze, causing chaos in the northern hemisphere and reaching into India and China and the droughts and heat waves of Africa, the Middle East and Australia.

The cycle of extreme weather events and rising oceans that threaten to destroy many major coastal cities will continue to increase, compounded by major loss of ecosystems, biodiversity and food capacity. This will force a major rethink of the management of energy and climate change as global catastrophe threatens.

Increasingly desperate measures will be canvassed and tested, including the design of major geo-engineering projects aimed at reducing the amount of sunlight reaching earth and reversal of the acidity of the oceans. These massive infrastructure projects would have potentially enormous ripple-on effects on all social, industrial and economic systems. They are eventually assessed to be largely ineffective, unpredictable and unsustainable.

As forecasts confirm that carbon levels in the atmosphere will remain high for the next 1,000 years, regardless of mitigating measures, priorities shift urgently to the need to minimise risk to life on a global scale, while protecting civilisation’s core infrastructure, social, knowledge and cultural assets.

Preserving the surviving natural ecosystem environment and the critical infrastructure of the built environment, particularly the Internet and Web, will now be vital. The sustainability of human life on planet Earth, in the face of overwhelming catastrophe, will be dependent to a critical degree on the power of the intelligent Web 4.0, combining human and artificial intelligence to manage food, water, energy and human resources.

Only the enormous problem-solving capacity of this human-engineered entity, will be capable of ensuring the continuing survival of civilisation as we know it.

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BBC News, November 24, 2009

Three UK groups studying climate change have issued a strong statement about the dangers of failing to cut emissions of greenhouse gases across the world.

The Royal Society, Met Office, and Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) say the science of climate change is more alarming than ever.

They say the 2007 UK floods, 2003 heatwave in Europe and recent droughts were consistent with emerging patterns.

Their comments came ahead of crunch UN climate talks in Copenhagen next month.

‘Loss of wildlife’

In a statement calling for action to cut carbon emissions, institutions said evidence for “dangerous, long-term and potentially irreversible climate change” was growing.

Global carbon dioxide levels have continued to rise, Arctic summer ice cover was lower in 2007 and 2008 than in the previous few decades, and the last decade has been the warmest on average for 150 years.

The best thing we could do is to prepare for the worst. Build better flood defences in vulnerable areas Lee, Bracknell

Persistent drought in Australia and rising sea levels in the Maldives were further indicators of possible future patterns, they said.

They argue that without action there will be much larger changes in the coming decades, with the UK seeing higher food prices, ill health, more flooding and rising sea levels.

Known or probable damage across the world includes ocean acidification, loss of rainforests, degradation of ecosystems and desertification, they said.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the world faced more droughts, floods, loss of wildlife, rising seas and refugees.

But Professor Julia Slingo, chief scientist of the Met Office, Professor Alan Thorpe, Nerc’s chief executive, and Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, said cutting emissions could substantially limit the severity of climate change.

Copenhagen summit

Prof Slingo told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the importance of the statement was that “it emphasises that whilst global mean temperature changes may not sound very large, the regional consequences of those are very great indeed”.

She said: “As the inter-governmental panel on climate change stated very clearly in 2007, without substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions we can likely, very likely, expect a world of increasing droughts, floods, species loss, rising seas [and] displaced human populations.

“What this statement says very clearly is that some of those things, whilst we can’t directly attribute them at the moment to global warming, are beginning to happen.”

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RICHARD BLACK with MendoCoastCurrent edits, BBC News, November 24, 2009

US President Barack Obama will announce a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions before next month’s UN climate summit, according to a White House official.

The target is expected to be in line with figures contained in legislation before the Senate – a reduction of about 17-20% from 2005 levels by 2020.

The absence of a US target has widely been seen as the single biggest obstacle to agreement at the summit.

At the weekend, the hosts of the Copenhagen conference announced that more than 60 heads of state and government had pledged to take part in the two-week negotiating session.

Mr. Obama will join them as it appears that his presence would increase chances of the 192 parties reaching agreement, the official indicated.

“There’s been recognition that if we want to keep momentum going, numbers have to be put on the table,” said Peter Bahouth, executive director of the US Climate Action Network, a network of organisations lobbying for action on the issue.

“There’s been pressure for the US to come (to Copenhagen) with its hands full rather than empty, and I think what we’re seeing are the results of that.”

In the last week, Mr. Obama has discussed climate change with a number of other world leaders including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Hu Jintao of China and Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Domestic delays

Although Mr. Obama campaigned on a promise to cut emissions, and pledged global leadership on climate change on assuming office, the US position has been constrained by delays in putting legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions through Congress.

The House of Representatives passed a bill in June that would cap emissions and establish a national carbon trading scheme.

But progress of a similar bill through the Senate is not likely before March at the earliest.

Administration officials have indicated that the targets are being discussed with senior senators in an attempt to ensure that the Senate will back whatever target Mr. Obama takes to Copenhagen.

It is not clear when the target will emerge, but there are now less than two weeks before the summit opens on December 7, 2009.

There will also be pressure internationally for the US to say how much money it is prepared to transfer to poorer countries to help them fight climate change, as it is bound to do under the UN climate convention.

Cutting edge

In the UN climate process, targets are conventionally given in comparison with 1990 levels of emissions.

On that basis, the likely US figure amounts to a cut of just a few percent, as emissions have risen by about 15% since 1990.

This is much less than the EU’s pledge of a 20% cut over the same period, or a 30% cut if there is a global deal; and much less than the 25-40% figure that developing countries are demanding.

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