Thursday, May 28, 2015

Global climate on verge of multi-decadal change

A new study, by scientists from the University of Southampton and National Oceanography Centre (NOC), implies that the global climate is on the verge of broad-scale change that could last for a number of decades.

The change to the new set of climatic conditions is associated with a cooling of the Atlantic, and is likely to bring drier summers in Britain and Ireland, accelerated rise along the northeast coast of the United States, and drought in the developing countries of the Sahel region. Since this new climatic phase could be half a degree cooler, it may well offer a brief reprise from the rise of global temperatures, as well as resulting in fewer hurricanes hitting the United States.

The study, published today in Nature, proves that ocean circulation is the link between weather and decadal scale climatic change. It is based on observational evidence of the link between ocean circulation and the decadal variability of temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lead author Dr Gerard McCarthy, from the NOC, said: "Sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic vary between warm and cold over time-scales of many decades. These variations have been shown to influence temperature, rainfall, drought and even the frequency of hurricanes in many regions of the world. This decadal variability, called the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO), is a notable feature of the Atlantic Ocean and the climate of the regions it influences."

These climatic phases, referred to as positive or negative AMO's, are the result of the movement of heat northwards by a system of . This movement of heat changes the temperature of the sea surface, which has a profound impact on climate on timescales of 20-30 years. The strength of these currents is determined by the same atmospheric conditions that control the position of the jet stream. Negative AMO's occur when the currents are weaker and so less heat is carried northwards towards Europe from the tropics.

The strength of ocean currents has been measured by a network of sensors, called the RAPID array, which have been collecting data on the flow rate of the Atlantic meridonal overturning circulation (AMOC) for a decade.

Dr David Smeed, from the NOC and lead scientist of the RAPID project, adds: "The observations of AMOC from the RAPID array, over the past ten years, show that it is declining. As a result, we expect the AMO is moving to a negative phase, which will result in cooler surface waters. This is consistent with observations of temperature in the North Atlantic."

Since the RAPID array has only been collecting data for last ten years, a longer data set was needed to prove the link between ocean circulation and slow climate variations. Therefore this study instead used 100 years of sea level data, maintained by the National Oceanography Centre's permanent service for mean sea level. Models of ocean currents based on this data were used to predict how much heat would be transported around the ocean, and the impact this would have on the sea surface temperature in key locations.

Co-author Dr Ivan Haigh, lecturer in coastal oceanography at the University of Southampton, said: "By reconstructing ocean circulation over the last 100 years from tide gauges that measure sea level at the coast, we have been able to show, for the first time, observational evidence of the link between and the AMO." More

 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Deciphering clues to prehistoric climate changes locked in cave deposits

It turns out that the steady dripping of water deep underground can reveal a surprising amount of information about the constantly changing cycles of heat and cold, precipitation and drought in the turbulent atmosphere above. The analysis of a stalagmite from a cave in north east India can detect the link between El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean and the Indian monsoon, a new study has found.

When the conversation turns to the weather and the climate, most people’s thoughts naturally drift upward toward the clouds, but Jessica Oster’s sink down into the subterranean world of stalactites and stalagmites.

That is because the assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University is a member of a small group of earth scientists who are pioneering in the use of mineral cave deposits, collectively known as speleothems, as proxies for the prehistoric climate.

It turns out that the steady dripping of water deep underground can reveal a surprising amount of information about the constantly changing cycles of heat and cold, precipitation and drought in the turbulent atmosphere above.

As water seeps down through the ground it picks up minerals, most commonly calcium carbonate. When this mineral-rich water drips into caves, it leaves mineral deposits behind that form layers which grow during wet periods and form dusty skins when the water dries up.

Today, scientists can date these layers with extreme precision based on the radioactive decay of uranium into its daughter product thorium. Variations in the thickness of the layers is determined by a combination of the amount of water seeping into the cave and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the cave’s atmosphere so, when conditions are right, they can provide a measure of how the amount of precipitation above the cave varies over time. By analyzing the ratios of heavy to light isotopes of oxygen present in the layers, the researchers can track changes in the temperature at which the water originally condensed into droplets in the atmosphere changes and whether the rainfall’s point of origin was local or if traveled a long way before falling to the ground.

The value of this information is illustrated by the results of a study published May 19 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters by Oster’s group, working with colleagues from the Berkeley Geochronology Center, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History and the University of Cambridge titled “Northeast Indian stalagmite records Pacific decadal climate change: Implications for moisture transport and drought in India.”

In the study, Oster and her team made a detailed record of the last 50 years of growth of a stalagmite that formed in Mawmluh Cave in the East Khasi Hills district in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, an area credited as the rainiest place on Earth.

Studies of historical records in India suggest that reduced monsoon rainfall in central India has occurred when the sea surface temperatures in specific regions of the Pacific Ocean were warmer than normal. These naturally recurring sea surface temperature “anomalies” are known as the El Niño Modoki, which occurs in the central Pacific, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which takes place in the northern Pacific. (By contrast, the historical record indicates that the traditional El Niño, which occurs in the eastern Pacific, has little effect on rainfall levels in the subcontinent.)

When the researchers analyzed the Mawmluh stalagmite record, the results were consistent with the historical record. Specifically, they found that during El Niño Modoki events, when drought was occurring in central India, the mineral chemistry suggested more localized storm events occurred above the cave, while during the non-El Niño periods, the water that seeped into the cave had traveled much farther before it fell, which is the typical monsoon pattern.

“Now that we have shown that the Mawmluh cave record agrees with the instrumental record for the last 50 years, we hope to use it to investigate relationships between the Indian monsoon and El Niño during prehistoric times such as the Holocene,” said Oster.

The Holocene Climate Optimum was a period of global climate warming that occurred between six to nine thousand years ago. At that time, the global average temperatures were somewhere between four to six degrees Celsius higher than they are today. That is the range of warming that climatologists are predicting due to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from human activity. So information about the behavior of the monsoon during the Holocene could provide clues to how it is likely to behave in the future. This knowledge could be very important for the 600 million people living on the Indian subcontinent who rely on the monsoon, which provides the area with 75 percent of its annual rainfall.

“The study actually grew out of an accidental discovery,” said Oster. Vanderbilt graduate student Chris Myers visited the cave, which co-author Sebastian Breitenbach from Cambridge has been studying for several years, to see if it contained enough broken speleothems so they could use them to date major prehistoric earthquakes in the area.

Myers found a number of columns that appear to have broken off in the magnitude 8.6 earthquake that hit Assam, Tibet in 1950. But he also discovered a number of new stalagmites that had begun growing on the broken bases. When he examined these in detail he found that they had very thick layers and high concentrates of uranium, which made them perfect for analysis.

Because of the large amount of water running into the cave, the stalagmite they choose to analyze had grown about 2.5 centimeters in 50 years. (If that seems slow, compare it with growth rates of a few millimeters in a thousand years found in caves in arid regions like the Sierra Nevada.) As a result, the annual layers averaged about 0.4 millimeters thick — wide enough for the researchers to get seven to eight samples per layer, which is slightly better than one measurement every two months. The amount of information about the climate that scientists can extract from the stalagmites and stalactites in a cave is amazing. But the value of this approach increases substantially as the number of caves that can act as climate proxies increases.

It is not a simple task. Because each cave is unique, the scientists have to study it for several years before they understand it well enough to use it as a proxy. For example, they must establish how long it takes water to move from the surface down to the cave, a factor that can vary from days to months.

Efforts to use the mineral deposits in caves as climate proxies began in the 1990’s. Currently, there are only a few dozen scientists who are pursuing this line of research and they have analyzed the mineral deposits from 100 to 200 caves in this fashion.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Vanderbilt University. The original article was written by David Salisbury. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Christopher G. Myers, Jessica L. Oster, Warren D. Sharp, Ralf Bennartz, Neil P. Kelley, Aaron K. Covey, Sebastian F.M. Breitenbach. Northeast Indian stalagmite records Pacific decadal climate change: Implications for moisture transport and drought in India. Geophysical Research Letters, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/2015GL063826

 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Weak climate deal would jeopardise new development goals - experts - TRFN

LONDON, May 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The world's chances of achieving new international development goals will be slim without more ambitious action to curb climate change, researchers said.

Dr. Ulric 'Neville' Trotz

Pakistan, for example, is unlikely to be able to end poverty by 2030 if accelerating climate change brings worse weather disasters, water scarcity and other problems, a new report from the UK-based Climate and Development Knowledge Network said.

But if global warming is held to 2 degrees Celsius - the aim of negotiations toward a new U.N. climate deal at the end of the year in Paris - Pakistan would have only a "low" risk of failing to eradicate poverty, the report said.

Planned new sustainable development goals (SDGs) aimed at ending poverty, improving gender equality, and giving access to water and clean power have a much higher chance of being achieved if action to limit climate change is ambitious, the report's authors said.

But if weaker efforts on climate change put the world on track for a 3 to 5 degree Celsius temperature rise, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa could see poverty rates 80 percent to 140 percent higher, the report found.

If the new sustainable development goals, expected to be agreed in New York in September, have strong targets, they could lift ambition in the year-end climate deal, the report said.

"There's a simple message: Climate action is developmental action," said Ulric "Neville" Trotz, a science advisor at the Caribbean Community Centre for Climate Change in Belize.

Countries need to fully incorporate climate action into national development plans, he added.

The report, by a team of economic policy and development experts, is one of the first attempts to put rough numbers on how the two new global deals due this year on climate change and sustainable development might interact.

States are negotiating over a proposal for 17 new sustainable development goals, backed by 169 targets, focused on everything from reducing inequality, hunger and climate change to managing forests and oceans better and promoting sustainable economic growth.

At the climate negotiations in December, leaders will aim to put in place an agreement, which would take effect in 2020, to curb carbon emissions and help poorer countries adapt to climate change and adopt a cleaner development path.

ZERO POVERTY, ZERO EMISSIONS

There are huge areas of overlap, experts say, not least because climate change impacts - such as water insecurity and more weather-related disasters - can cut harvests and incomes, and lead to children leaving school, as well as forcing governments to divert development funds to disaster relief.

"There's a simple message: Climate action is developmental action," said Ulric "Neville" Trotz, a science advisor at the Caribbean Community Centre for Climate Change in Belize.

Investing in cleaner, cheaper energy could not only cut climate risks but also improve health and provide the power needed to spur economic growth, the researchers said.

Many Caribbean islands, for example, rely on expensive imported fossil fuels, making their economies uncompetitive.

They are also extremely vulnerable to climate-related impacts, such as sea-level rise and stronger storms, said economist Anil Markandya, one of the report's authors.

"Unless we change the architecture of our energy sector, we might as well forget development under the SDGs," Trotz said.

Funding that change would require international support, such as from the new Green Climate Fund (GCF), he added.

Andrea Ledward, head of climate and environment for Britain's Department of International Development and a GCF board member, told a launch event for the report there is a need to "break down the firewall" between funding for climate and development projects because the two areas are so closely tied.

Rich nations have committed to mobilise by 2020 an annual $100 billion in climate finance that is "new and additional" to existing funding.

Jonathan Reeves of the International Institute for Environment and Development said that while climate and development funding streams could be merged, the accounting must be kept separate to ensure the money is "new and additional".

He warned that the least-developed countries have the most to lose if efforts to address climate change fail.

"If your country is going to be submerged within a couple of generations by sea-level rise, you're not even going to be thinking about achieving the SDGs," he said.

Ilmi Granoff, a researcher with the Overseas Development Institute in London, said public support for an ambitious climate deal and strong sustainable development targets could be won by focusing on a new, understandable aim for all countries: "zero poverty and zero emissions within a generation". (Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Megan Rowling) More

 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Superadobe/Earthbag Orphanage Withstands Nepal Earthquake

Cal-Earth Low-cost Sustainable Earthen Housing Solutions Proved Effective and Safe in Earthquakes

Hesperia, Calif., May 5, 2015 -- Cal-Earth Institute today announced they received confirmation that the Superadobe/Earthbag orphanage project built for the Pegasus Children’s Project in the northern Khathmandu valley in Nepal survived the 7.6 magnitude earthquake on 25 April 2015, and the structures are all still standing.

The Superadobe (sandbags/barbed wire) building system developed at Cal-Earth (U.S. Patent #5,934,027) integrates traditional earth architecture with contemporary global safety requirements, and passes severe earthquake code tests in California. The technology has been published by NASA, endorsed by the United Nations, featured in countless world media outlets, and awarded the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004.

A UK organization, Small Earth, built over 40 domes in 2006 for the Pegasus Children’s Project in Nepal, which is home to over 90 children and their caretakers, all of who are confirmed safe after the earthquake. Trained by a Cal-Earth alumni in 2005, Small Earth’s founder, Julian Faulkner, shared the news: "The domes have come through relatively unscathed with just surface cracking to the plasterwork… in the village below the site 15 houses have collapsed and many others are badly damaged with all the villagers now sleeping under tarpaulins in the fields."

Faulkner stated the superficial damage to the buildings is a "testament to the quality of training we received that has enabled us to further develop the technology for use in climates as diverse as the temperate UK, the monsoon-drenched Himalayas and the African savannah." Pegasus is raising funds to rebuild a brick structure that was destroyed during the quake, but feel validated in their choice to build earthbag domes to withstand the extreme conditions.

The Cal-Earth organization is dedicated to addressing the pressing needs of all the Earth’s homeless population and displaced people. The global housing shortage currently includes some 20-40 million refugees and displaced persons, and hundreds of millions more who live in substandard or slum housing. With compounding environmental challenges and the acceleration of natural and man-made disasters, this shortage will only become more severe in the coming decades. Cal-Earth believes the time to act is now, in order to ensure that everyone has a safe and sustainable place to live.

Cal-Earth is responding to the growing need to educate people in the face of compounding environmental challenges and the acceleration of natural and man-made disasters. On May 11, 2015, Cal-Earth will launch its first online class for download and streaming: Introduction to Superadobe. Cal-Earth is working toward raising addition funding to create more online content so that anyone, from anywhere, will be able to learn sustainable earth architecture in person or online. More

About Cal-Earth

Cal-Earth, the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture, is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to providing solutions to the human need for shelter through research, development, and education in earth architecture. Cal-Earth envisions a world in which every person is empowered to build a safe and sustainable home with their own hands, using the earth under their feet. Currently, Cal-Earth reaches over 1.5 million through worldwide outreach and social media, in addition to more than 1,500 visitors who come to the Hesperia site annually for workshops and tours.

http://calearth.org

http://www.small-earth.com

http://www.pegasuschildren.btck.co.uk

http://tinyurl.com/CalEarthKCET

Media Contact:

Sheefteh Khalili

sheefteh@calearth.org

+1.760.440.8344

 

 

 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Global carbon dioxide levels break 400ppm milestone

Record carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere were reported worldwide in March, in what scientists said marked a significant milestone for global warming.

Figures released by the US science agency Noaa on Wednesday show that for the first time since records began, the parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere were over 400 globally for a month.

The measure is the key indicator of the amount of planet-warming gases man is putting into the atmosphere at record rates, and the current concentrations are unprecedented in millions of years.

The new global record follows the breaking of the 400ppm CO2 threshold in some local areas in 2012 and 2013, and comes nearly three decades after what is considered the ‘safe’ level of 350ppm was passed.

“Reaching 400ppm as a global average is a significant milestone,” said Pieter Tans, lead scientist on Noaa’s greenhouse gas network.

“This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120ppm since pre-industrial times,” added Tans. “Half of that rise has occurred since 1980.”

World leaders are due to meet in Paris for a UN climate summit later this year in an attempt to reach agreement on cutting countries’ carbon emissions to avoid dangerous global warming.

Dr Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading told the Guardian: “This event is a milestone on a road to unprecedented climate change for the human race. The last time the Earth had this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was more than a million years ago, when modern humans hadn’t even evolved yet.

“Reaching 400ppm doesn’t mean much in itself, but the steady increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases should serve as a stark reminder of the task facing politicians as they sit down in Paris later this year.”

Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants stalled for the first time last year without the influence of a strict economic recession, according to the International Energy Agency, an influential thinktank.

Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which oversees the international climate negotiations, said: “These numbers underline the urgency of nations delivering a decisive new universal agreement in Paris in December – one that marks a serious and significant departure from the past.

“The agreement and the decisions surrounding it needs to be a long term development plan providing the policies, pathways and finance for triggering a peaking of global emissions in 10 years’ time followed by a deep, decarbonisation of the global economy by the second half of the century.”

But even if manmade emissions were dramatically cut much deeper than most countries are planning, the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere would only stabilise, not fall, scientists said.

James Butler, director of Noaa’s global monitoring division, said: “Elimination of about 80% of fossil fuel emissions would essentially stop the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but concentrations of carbon dioxide would not start decreasing until even further reductions are made and then it would only do so slowly.”

Concentrations of CO2 were at 400.83ppm in March compared to 398.10ppm in March 2014, the preliminary Noaa data showed. They are are expected to stay above 400pm during May, when levels peak because of CO2 being taken up by plants growing in the northern hemisphere.

Noaa used air samples taken from 40 sites worldwide, and analysed them at its centre in Boulder, Colorado. The agency added that the average growth rate in concentrations was 2.25ppm per year from 2012-2014, the highest ever recorded for three consecutive years. More

 

World headed for irreversible climate change in five years, IEA warns

The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be “lost for ever”, according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure.

Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this “lock-in” effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world’s foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous.

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”

If the world is to stay below 2C of warming, which scientists regard as the limit of safety, then emissions must be held to no more than 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the level is currently around 390ppm. But the world’s existing infrastructure is already producing 80% of that “carbon budget”, according to the IEA’s analysis, published on Wednesday. This gives an ever-narrowing gap in which to reform the global economy on to a low-carbon footing.

If current trends continue, and we go on building high-carbon energy generation, then by 2015 at least 90% of the available “carbon budget” will be swallowed up by our energy and industrial infrastructure. By 2017, there will be no room for manoeuvre at all – the whole of the carbon budget will be spoken for, according to the IEA’s calculations. More

 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Terrifying NASA Video Shows How Carbon Emissions Are Engulfing the World

Carbon dioxide emissions are invisible, but NASA has just made them all too real.

The space agency has released a video of high-resolution imagery documenting carbon emissions released over an entire year. The result is what looks like the world’s biggest storm stretching the length of the northern hemisphere. The video is the first time scientists have been able to see in fine detail how carbon dioxide moves through the atmosphere, showing the source of greenhouse emissions and their destination.

It’s mesmerizing and scary. The large, swirling, cloud-like plumes grow and spread across the globe over an entire seasonal cycle, showing just how far C02 emissions can spread. As the time-lapsed animation rolls through the year, the differences between spring, summer, fall, and winter are obvious—especially in the northern hemisphere. As the plant-growing season peaks in late spring and summer, the dark red plumes that signify the worst concentrations of carbon dioxide dissipate.

But as plant growth levels off in fall and winter, the dark plumes creep back up as humans spew carbon into the atmosphere from power plants, factories, and cars. Bill Putman, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, narrates the three-minute video and explains what the terrifying dark reds really mean."As summer transitions to fall and plant photosynthesis decreases, carbon dioxide begins to accumulate in the atmosphere," Putman says. "Although this change is expected, we’re seeing higher concentrations of carbon dioxide accumulate in the atmosphere each year." That, in turn, is contributing to the long-term trend of rising global temperatures.

So what else does the map show? For starters, the world’s top three emitters—China, the U.S., and Europe—are easy to spot. Large red-tinged tails swirling above the areas indicate the highest concentrations of carbon. The video also shows how wind plays a key role in pushing carbon around the world, and how emissions levels can change rapidly because of weather patterns.

"The dispersion of carbon dioxide is controlled by the large-scale weather patterns within the global circulation," Putman says. The released video portrays carbon emissions in 2006. Given that emissions have only increased since then, the current situation is even more dire.

In the future, the computer modeling data can help scientists better determine the location of carbon sources and sinks. http://bit.ly/1ORziW9

In the 2015 COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

France will play a leading international role in hosting this seminal conference, and COP21 will be one of the largest international conferences ever held in the country. The conference is expected to attract close to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society.

To visit the official COP21 website for more information, click here.