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Posts Tagged ‘Greenhouse Gas Emissions’

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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HELON ALTONN, Honolulu Star Bulletin, December 27, 2009

The ocean is becoming a noisier place due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, California and Hawaii scientists report.

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans not only has increased seawater acidity but has affected its acoustics—making it more transparent to low-frequency sound, the scientists said in a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Scientists said seawater sound absorption will drop by up to 70% this century.

“It was surprising to us,” said Richard Zeebe, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans increases acidity, or hydrogen ion concentration, and as the acidity rises, it lowers the seawater pH (a measure of acidity), researchers said.

“Certain chemical compounds in the ocean absorb sound and affect sound propagation,” Zeebe said. “Frequencies can get louder and more intense, depending on the chemistry.”

Not all frequencies will be affected, he said, explaining pH changes mostly affect sounds in the lower frequency range.

SOEST researcher Tatiana Ilyina said the pH of surface seawater will drop by 0.6 units by the year 2100 at the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions, with a one-unit drop of pH representing a tenfold increase of acidity.

“As a result, the absorption of 200 Hz sound would decrease by up to 70%,” she said, noting the middle C of the piano is tuned to 261.6 Hz. Sound around that frequency is produced by natural phenomena such as rain, wind and waves, and marine mammals and manmade activities, she said.

Naval, commercial and scientific activities use low-frequency sound and marine mammals rely on low-frequency sound to find food and mates, the scientists said.

“As a result, ocean acidification may not only affect organisms at the bottom of the food chain by reducing calcification in plankton and corals, but also higher tropic-level species, such as marine mammals, by lowering sound absorption in the ocean,” they said.

Zeebe said: “The consequences of these changes on marine mammals is not well known at the moment. There is a lot of background noise in the ocean generated by humans—ship noise, construction, seismic surveys and sonar—and this noise will essentially increase in volume in the ocean in the future.

“If the noise level increases, it can distract species,” he said. “If they’re trying to identify certain sounds in the ocean important for them for reproduction, feeding or something, and if the background noise is increasing, it could essentially cover certain sounds they depend on. This is a possibility.”

Another possibility is that marine mammals may be able to communicate over larger distances in the lower frequency range if sound absorption is decreased because underwater sounds can travel farther than at the surface, he said.

“Also, there are commercial and scientific applications, seismic surveys, that probably will have to take into account that future sound propagation in the ocean will slowly change,” Zeebe said, adding that more study is needed to determine the effects of the ocean acoustics changes.

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RenewableEnergyFocus.com, November 25, 2009

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will fund $18 million to support small business innovation research, development and deployment of clean and renewable energy technologies, including projects to advance wave and current energy technologies, ocean thermal energy conversion systems, and concentrating solar power (CSP) for distributed applications.

The funding will come from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and, in this first phase of funding, 125 grants of $150,000 each will be awarded to 107 small advanced technology firms across the United States for clean and renewable energy. The companies were selected from a pool of 950 applicants through a special fast-track process with an emphasis on near-term commercialization and job creation.

Companies which demonstrate successful results with their new clean and renewable technologies and show potential to meet market needs, will be eligible for $60m in a second round of grants in the summer of 2010.

“Small businesses are drivers of innovation and are crucial to the development of a competitive clean energy US economy,” says Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “These investments will help ensure small businesses are able to compete in the clean energy economy, creating jobs and developing new technologies to help decrease carbon pollution and increase energy efficiency.”

Grants were awarded in 10 clean and renewable energy topic areas, including $2.8m for 12 projects in Advanced Solar Technologies where projects will focus on achieving significant cost and performance improvements over current technologies, solar-powered systems that produce fuels, and concentrated solar power systems for distributed applications.

Another $1.7m will go to 12 clean and renewable energy projects in Advanced Water Power Technology Development where projects will focus on new approaches to wave and current energy technologies and ocean thermal energy conversion systems.

Other key areas are:

  • Water Usage in Electric Power Production (decreasing the water used in thermoelectric power generation and developing innovative approaches to desalination using Combined Heat and Power projects);
  • Advanced Building Air Conditioning and Cool Roofs (improve efficiency of air conditioning and refrigeration while reducing GHG emissions);
  • Power Plant Cooling (advanced heat exchange technology for power plant cooling);
    Smart Controllers for Smart Grid Applications (develop technologies to support electric vehicles and support of distributed energy generation systems);
  • Advanced Industrial Technologies Development (improve efficiency and environmental performance in the cement industry);
  • Advanced Manufacturing Processes (improving heat and energy losses in energy intensive manufacturing processes);
  • Advanced Gas Turbines and Materials (high performance materials for nuclear applications and novel designs for high-efficiency and low-cost distributed power systems); and
  • Sensors, Controls, and Wireless Networks (building applications to minimise power use and power line sensor systems for the smart grid).

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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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DANIEL B. WOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2009

Less than a month into his administration, President Obama is making good on campaign promises to move toward a comprehensive approach to US energy and to broaden environmental protections. The administration has moved over the past few weeks to undo many of Bush’s last-minute drilling and environmental decisions, including putting the brakes Tuesday on a plan to open up vast new areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling.

In swift succession, the Obama administration has:

  • Ordered the Environmental Protection Authority to reconsider its decision to deny California permission to set standards controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles – if permitted, this would allow 13 more states to follow suit.
  • Abandoned a Bush administration legal appeal in a major air pollution case – signaling it will allow tougher rules to cut mercury emissions from power plants.
  • Canceled 77 Bush-era oil and gas leases over 100,000 acres of public land near national parks in Utah.
  • Announced an intent to develop an offshore energy plan that includes renewable resources, giving states and the federal government more time to study and assess the future of offshore energy planning.

“There’s clearly a new kid in town. The Obama administration is moving quicker on the environment than anything else,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “They are concerned that untoward things are going to happen before they can get new policies in place, so they are trying to reverse old ones.”

In the most recent move to stall Bush policy, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the time period for public comment on a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing would be extended for another 180 days. He also ordered the US Geological Survey and the Minerals Management Service to develop an extensive profile of the nation’s resources offshore.

The plan, which was proposed by the Bush administration on its last day in office and published the day after President Obama took office, originally allowed 45 days for scoping and comment.

Describing the plan as “a headlong rush of the worst kind,” Mr. Salazar said that “Bush’s “midnight action” accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the outer continental shelf.

“It opened up the possibility for oil and gas leasing along the entire Eastern Seaboard, portions of offshore California, and the far eastern Gulf of Mexico, with almost no consideration of state, industry, and community input and … with very limited information about the nature of offshore resources,” he said.

The new administration will look at offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan, he said. The changes are to “fulfill President Obama’s commitment to a government that is open and inclusive and makes decisions based on sound science and the public interest.”

“I intend to do what the Bush administration refused to do; build a framework for offshore renewable-energy development so that we incorporate the great potential for wind, wave, and ocean current energy into our offshore energy strategy.”

In a similar move last week, the Interior secretary announced that the Bureau of Land Management would withdraw drilling leases that were offered on 77 parcels of US public land near national parks in Utah. The leases, on land totaling 103, 225 acres, are under litigation in district court.

Development of oil and gas supplies was needed to help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but it must be done in a “thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and culture resources,” said Salazar, adding that the BLM would return $6 million in bids from an auction last December.

Also last week, the Justice Department said it is withdrawing a US Supreme Court appeal filed by the Bush administration against a court ruling governing mercury emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

The Obama administration has also told the EPA to reconsider denying California the power to regulate vehicular pollution. The Bush administration’s EPA in 2007 had denied California the waiver needed to authorize its special status under the Clean Air Act. That law gives California the authority to regulate vehicular pollution because the state began doing so before the federal government did.

Leading environmental groups, which were often at odds with Bush, are breathing a palpable sigh of relief. “We are encouraged by Obama’s announcement that he is going to restore order to a broken system and that is what this is,” says Kristina Johnson, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club.

“This five-year offshore drilling program that Bush tried to push through wasn’t based on sound science, and there was no public input,” she said. “It’s part of a new way of doing business. [The Obama administration understands] that the answer to America’s energy problems isn’t more drilling and that we need to be investing in clean energy.”

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SIOBHAN HUGHES, Dow Jones News, January 26, 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to consider allowing California to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles, a policy that could spur the development of new vehicles.

“The federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” Obama said at a press conference filled with environmental activists and members of his cabinet. He ordered the EPA to “immediately review” a 2007 decision to deny California the waiver it needs to go forward.

The action marks a sharp reversal from the administration of President George W. Bush, which concluded that California wasn’t entitled to its own standards as global warming wasn’t unique to the state. In putting the U.S. on a different course, Obama was signaling a broader commitment to reshaping U.S. energy habits.

“America’s dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced,” Obama said. “It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation, and sets back our ability to compete.”

It isn’t clear how quickly the EPA will make its decision — or how quickly the Obama administration can move the U.S. away from fossil fuels. The new administration already faces a severe economic recession, something that could make it harder for car companies to finance innovation. On Monday, General Motors Corp. (GM) said in a statement that while it was “ready to engage” with the Obama administration, any talks should take into account “economic factors” and the pace at which new technologies can development.

“We hold no illusion about the task that lies ahead,” Obama said. “I cannot promise a quick fix. No single technology or set of regulations will get the job done. But we will commit ourselves to steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit of an America that is freed from our energy dependence and empowered by a new energy economy.”

Obama acted with the backing of the environmental wing of his base, which rushed out press releases to praise his action. Environment America, an environmental group, estimated that applying the California standard in just 13 other states would save 50 billion gallons of gasoline by 2020, for a total savings of $93 billion, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 450 million metric tons in total by 2020.

Obama separately ordered the U.S. Department of Transportation to finalize new automobile fuel-efficiency standards so that they will be in place for the 2011 model year. The Bush administration was supposed to implement the rules, mandated by a 2007 law, but left the issue to Obama.

EPA staff has already told Congress that allowing California to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles could spur technological innovation not just in California, but across the country. That is because states are free to stick with federal standards or adopt the California standard. Fourteen other states have already adopted the California standard and four more are considering doing so.

The California rules apply to greenhouse-gas emissions, and aren’t fuel- efficiency standards. But California regulators have said that their standard would result in vehicles that average 44 miles per gallon. That compares with a 35 mile-per-gallon standard established by Congress for 2020.

Among the possible new technologies to be developed: electric cars. As part of a broad rule-making on greenhouse-gas emissions last year, the EPA staff said that between 2020 and 2025, vehicle fuel-efficiency standards could be well above the 35-mile-per gallon mandated by Congress, based on technologies such as plug-in hybrid vehicles, which run partly on rechargeable batteries. As if to underscore the point, acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said Monday that regulators and the automobile industry must integrate electric vehicles into the national power grid.

“If you’re an automobile company, you’d better get on the bandwagon, because if you don’t, you’re going to be left out of the band because there is definitely going to be a move toward electrification worldwide,” Wellinghoff said.

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LAURA MANDARO, MarketWatch, June 26, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO – California released a draft plan on Thursday to reduce the state’s projected greenhouse gas emissions by nearly one-third, in part by creating a cap and trade program that could serve as a blueprint for a national carbon emissions market.

The 77-page “climate change draft scoping plan” lays out the framework for California to meet the goals of a 2006 law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that requires the state to slash its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

This target means electric utilities, industrial users, fuel refiners such as Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips and builders will have to lower their combined output of carbon dioxide by one-tenth from today’s levels and 30% from projected 2020 emissions of the gas thought to contribute to global warming.

The success of California’s efforts to scale back greenhouse gas emissions using a mix of regulations and market mechanisms could provide a roadmap for a national standard, largely thanks to the state’s size and the aggressive goals it has set.

“It certainly paves the way,” said Milo Sjardin, head of the North American division of New Carbon Finance, a carbon emissions research and analysis firm. “Any federal program may take some of California’s experience on board,” he said.

The California plan also seeks to expand the amount of electricity utilities such as PG&E Corp. and Edison International generate from renewable resources to 33% by 2020. Today, just 12% of the state’s electricity comes from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources.

Cap and trade to launch in 2012

The nation’s most populous state says it will achieve these ambitious goals by putting in place strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions, caps that give users of fossil fuel a financial incentive to put in place heavier pollution controls.

A key part of this plan is the establishment of a market to allow companies to trade their carbon allowances with companies from neighboring Western states and Canadian provinces that are producing less than their allowed emissions — or that engage in an activity, such as planting trees, that lowers emissions.

The head of the panel charged with implementing the state’s global warming law said board members are using as a model the cap-and-trade program established by the U.S. government to restrict emissions that cause acid rain, which was part of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

“When industry knew they had to come under a cap, they came up with measures that were much cheaper than anyone thought,” said Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board. “Having a cap out there spurs the innovation,” she said in a conference call with reporters.

California’s cap and trade program, set for launch in 2012, will also present national companies with a second set of standards with which to comply. A group of Northeastern states is planning to launch a smaller cap and trade program next year.

The addition of another set of regulations “puts increasing pressure on the federal government to put something in place to level the playing field,” said New Carbon Finance’s Sjardin.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and John Warner, a Republican from Virginia, last year introduced a national climate bill – which the Senate tabled in June — designed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 70% by 2050.

Both major-party presumptive presidential candidates, Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama have said they support a national standard for carbon emissions.

Development of a U.S. carbon-trading market is following the rapid growth of the now $50 billion carbon-trading market in Europe, where corporations have been trading emissions-reductions credits as part of meeting the Kyoto Protocol. California’s market will likely start at a much smaller level. New Carbon Finance’s Sjardin estimates it could reach $10 billion by 2015.

If the entire country were to incorporate such a program, the size of the market could hit $1 trillion by 2020, he says.

Bringing to fruition California’s plan, let alone a national version, faces stumbling blocks.

In the state’s Senate, the Republican caucus is pushing for a delay of certain parts of the 2006 bill it says make it too expensive for businesses in a time of economic duress.

Nonetheless, the state’s largest utilities are preparing for the state to push through the caps, which will cover 85% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.

San Francisco-based utility PG&E says 13% of its power comes from renewable energy sources. By 2012, that level should reach about 22%, said Keely Wachs, a spokesman for the utility, which serves 15 million customers in Northern and Central California.

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