Fire and ice: The untapped fossil fuel that could save or ruin our climate

Fire and ice: The untapped fossil fuel that could save or ruin our climate


DATE: May 31, 2018

SNIP: [T]he US Department of Energy recently launched a six-year, $80 million (€65 million) project to drill core samples of methane hydrate from the Gulf of Mexico.

The cost and technical challenges of mining methane hydrate mean it’s a long way from being commercially viable, particularly in North America where gas and oil are relatively cheap.

But [Peter] Flemings, [a geoscientist at the University of Texas and the project’s principal investigator] says that could change as the science improves. “This could be analogous to shale 30 years ago,” he said. “None of us thought we were going to produce oil and gas out of shale back then.”

India and China are also looking into exploiting under-sea reserves, while Russia and Canada focus on extracting it from beneath permafrost.

“Russia and Canada have done a lot because they have vast arctic territories where methane hydrate is known to exist in permafrost,” Steve Holbrook, professor of geosciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, said. “They have done cutting-edge work both in understanding the reservoir and in experimenting with ways to try to produce it.”

Another 100 years of hydrocarbons? “Methane hydrate has the potential to extend the fossil fuel age by a century or more,” Richard Charter, a senior fellow with The Ocean Foundation [said]. “There may be more methane hydrate out there than all of the remaining oil and gas.”

Methane is a natural gas that contains carbon. Burning it releases less CO2 into the atmosphere than coal or oil, but emissions still contribute to climate change.

Worse, methane itself is a greenhouse gas that’s about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If it’s not extracted carefully, leaks pose a real risk to the climate.

“That would accelerate warming of the seas and melting of permafrost, which could, in turn, cause the release of even more methane,” Charter said. “We could end up frying the planet.”

China’s carbon emissions set for fastest growth in 7 years

China’s carbon emissions set for fastest growth in 7 years

SOURCE: Financial Times

DATE: May 29, 2018

SNIP: China’s carbon emissions are on track to rise at their fastest pace in more than seven years during 2018, casting further doubt on the ability of the Paris climate change agreement to curb dangerous greenhouse gas increases, according to a Greenpeace analysis based on Beijing’s own data.

Carbon emissions in the country, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, rose 4 per cent in the first quarter of this year, according to calculations by the environmental group based on Chinese government statistics covering coal, cement, oil and gas. If that pace continues it would be the fastest increase since 2011.

The latest finding comes as climate researchers express concern over rising emissions in China, which accounts for more than a quarter of global carbon dioxide output.

An unexpected and persistent increase in global emissions of ozone-depleting CFC-11

An unexpected and persistent increase in global emissions of ozone-depleting CFC-11

SOURCE: Nature and The Outline

DATE: May 28, 2018

SNIP: The Montreal Protocol was designed to protect the stratospheric ozone layer by enabling reductions in the abundance of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere. The reduction in the atmospheric concentration of trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) has made the second-largest contribution to the decline in the total atmospheric concentration of ozone-depleting chlorine since the 1990s. However, CFC-11 still contributes one-quarter of all chlorine reaching the stratosphere, and a timely recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer depends on a sustained decline in CFC-11 concentrations.

A simple model analysis of our findings suggests an increase in CFC-11 emissions of 13 ± 5 gigagrams per year (25 ± 13 per cent) since 2012, despite reported production being close to zero since 2006. The increase in emission of CFC-11 appears unrelated to past production; this suggests unreported new production, which is inconsistent with the Montreal Protocol agreement to phase out global CFC production by 2010.

“I’ve been making measurements of long-lived gases in the atmosphere for nearly three decades. And this is the most surprising and unexpected thing I’ve seen.” — Stephen Montzaka, a chemist who studies and monitors CFCs for The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA)

A building El Niño in 2018 signals more extreme weather for 2019

A building El Niño in 2018 signals more extreme weather for 2019


DATE: May 22, 2018

SNIP: In case you couldn’t get enough extreme weather, the next 12 months or so could bring even more scorching temps, punishing droughts, and unstoppable wildfires.

It’s still early, but odds are quickly rising that another El Niño — the periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean — could be forming. The latest official outlook from NOAA and Columbia University gives better-than-even odds of El Niño materializing by the end of this year, which could lead to a cascade of dangerous weather around the globe in 2019.

That’s a troubling development, especially when people worldwide are still suffering from the last El Niño, which ended two years ago.

El Niño has amazingly far-reaching effects, spurring droughts in Africa and typhoons swirling toward China and Japan. It’s a normal, natural ocean phenomenon, but there’s emerging evidence that climate change is spurring more extreme El Niño-related events.

On average though, El Niño boosts global temperatures and redistributes weather patterns worldwide in a pretty predictable way.

Initial estimates show that, if the building El Niño actually arrives, 2019 would stand a good chance at knocking off 2016 as the warmest year on record.

Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals

Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals

SOURCE: The Guardian and National Academy of Sciences

DATE: May 21, 2018

SNIP: Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet.

The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.

The transformation of the planet by human activity has led scientists to the brink of declaring a new geological era – the Anthropocene. One suggested marker for this change are the bones of the domestic chicken, now ubiquitous across the globe.

The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.

[C]omparison of the new estimates with those for the time before humans became farmers and the industrial revolution began reveal the full extent of the huge decline. Just one-sixth of wild mammals, from mice to elephants, remain, surprising even the scientists. In the oceans, three centuries of whaling has left just a fifth of marine mammals in the oceans.

Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop

Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop

SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: May 15, 2018

SNIP: Blooms of harmful algae in the nation’s waters appear to be occurring much more frequently than in the past, increasing suspicions that the warming climate may be exacerbating the problem.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published newly collected data on Tuesday reporting nearly 300 large blooms since 2010. Last year alone, 169 were reported. While NOAA issues forecasts for harmful algal blooms in certain areas, the advocacy group called its report the first attempt to track the blooms on a nationwide scale.

The study comes as scientists have predicted proliferation of these blooms as the climate changes, and amid increasing attention by the news media and local politicians to the worst cases.

Just as troubling, these blooms could not only worsen with climate change, but also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

[R]esearchers have found evidence that algal blooms are not just consequences of climate change, but are also sources of climate-warming emissions.

In a study released in March, researchers affiliated with the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Sea Grant and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that, globally, lakes and manmade “impoundments” like reservoirs emit about one-fifth the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of fossil fuels. The majority of that atmospheric effect comes from methane, an especially potent short-lived climate pollutant.

“We found that, as the lakes go greener, more eutrophic, the atmospheric effect of the lakes skyrockets,” said John Downing, the paper’s lead researcher and director of the Minnesota Sea Grant. “That’s because plants are decomposing and shooting methane and CO2 into the atmosphere.”

In the Arctic, the Old Ice Is Disappearing

In the Arctic, the Old Ice Is Disappearing

SOURCE: New York Times

DATE: May 14, 2018

SNIP: In the Arctic Ocean, some ice stays frozen year-round, lasting for many years before melting. But this winter, the region hit a record low for ice older than five years.

This, along with a near-record low for sea ice over all, supports predictions that by midcentury there will be no more ice in the Arctic Ocean in summer.

As darker, heat-absorbing water replaces reflective ice, it hastens warming in the region. Older ice is generally thicker than newer ice and thus more resilient to heat. But as the old ice disappears, the newer ice left behind is more vulnerable to rising temperatures.

“First-year ice grows through winter and then to up to a maximum, which is usually around in March,” said Mark A. Tschudi, a research associate at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “As summer onsets, the ice starts to melt back.”

Some of the new ice melts each summer, but some of it lingers to grow thicker over the following winter, forming second-year ice. The next summer, some of that second-year ice survives, then grows even thicker and more resilient the next winter, creating what is known as multiyear ice. Some ice used to last more than a decade.

Today, Arctic sea ice is mostly first-year ice. While the oldest ice has always melted when currents pushed it south into warmer waters, now more of the multiyear ice is melting within the Arctic Ocean, leaving more open water in its wake.

I’ve been on record saying that it may be 2030 that we could see a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “Some people have said that that’s too aggressive, that we’re looking at maybe sometime in the 2040s. But we are definitely on track to lose that summer sea ice cover. Honestly, I don’t think there’s any going back at this point.”

Alien Waters: Neighboring Seas Are Flowing into a Warming Arctic Ocean

Alien Waters: Neighboring Seas Are Flowing into a Warming Arctic Ocean

SOURCE: Yale e360

DATE: May 10, 2018

SNIP: As the Arctic heats up faster than any other region on the planet, once-distinct boundaries between the frigid polar ocean and its warmer, neighboring oceans are beginning to blur, opening the gates to southern waters bearing foreign species, from phytoplankton to whales. The “Atlantification” and “Pacification” of the Arctic Ocean are now rapidly advancing. A new paper by University of Washington oceanographer Rebecca Woodgate, for example, finds that the volume of Pacific Ocean water flowing north into the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait surged up to 70 percent over the past decade and now equals 50 times the annual flow of the Mississippi River. And over on the Atlantic flank of the Arctic, another recent report concludes that the Arctic Ocean’s cold layering system that blocks Atlantic inflows is breaking down, allowing a deluge of warmer, denser water to flood into the Arctic Basin.

“You have all this warm Pacific water coming into the Arctic and what is that going to mean?” says Robert Pickart, a physical oceanographer with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts who studies Pacific Arctic circulation. “Not only is there more water going through, but there’s an increase in the amount of heat going through.” Adding more heat, he says, is “going to change the composition of the water and its likelihood to melt sea ice.”

In addition, waters from the Atlantic that have long entered the Arctic Ocean and circled down deep are being driven higher onto shallow sea shelves north of Alaska by increasingly intense storms. (The Arctic’s extensive sea ice cover used to tamp down storms.) “What we see at the Chukchi slope in the last few years are these pulses of Atlantic water, which is dreadfully warm, above zero degrees (Celsius), and salty,” says Phyllis Stabeno, a physical oceanographer at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and a co-director of the Synthesis of Arctic Research.

All signs are that the Atlantification and Pacification of the Arctic Ocean will only intensify in the coming decades as the world continues to warm and the Arctic becomes increasingly ice-free. Arctic temperatures this past February soared to more than 45 degrees Fahrenheit above normal and hovered well above average all season. Winter sea ice was the second-lowest on record across the Arctic Ocean as a whole. And summer ice cover in the Arctic Ocean has declined by about 40 percent since satellite monitoring began.

We knew vacationing had a big carbon footprint, but we didn’t know it was this big

We knew vacationing had a big carbon footprint, but we didn’t know it was this big

SOURCE: Mashable and Nature Climate Change

DATE: May 7, 2018

SNIP: A new study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that vacationing actually releases far more climate change-inducing greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere than previously expected.

When taking into account not only the direct emissions from jet and automobile engines, but also the millions of supply chains needed to feed and support vacationers, researchers found that global tourism today generates 8 percent of the carbon we send into Earth’s atmosphere each year.

Previous studies put estimates at around 3 percent, Arunima Malik, lead author of the study, said in an interview.

These emissions are expected to balloon as travel surges globally.

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. topped the list of the globe’s carbon tourism producers. Germany joins America in the top four, along with China and India, two nations with burgeoning middle classes, whose ability to afford travel is anticipated to grow.

‘We’ve fallen off a cliff’: Scientists have never seen so little ice in the Bering Sea in spring

‘We’ve fallen off a cliff’: Scientists have never seen so little ice in the Bering Sea in spring

SOURCE: Seattle Times

DATE: May 3, 2018

SNIP: In the middle of February, one-third of the ice covering the Bering Sea off Alaska’s West Coast vanished within a week when an enormous pulse of heat swept over the Arctic. Scientists were stunned.

This rapid meltdown precipitated a record-shattering decline in Bering Sea ice through the winter and into spring, which has threatened the very way of life in Alaska’s coastal villages — reliant on the ice cover for navigation and hunting.

February and March ice levels were as low as far back as scientists can reconstruct, dating back more than 160 years.

Now, the ice is almost entirely gone — just 10 percent of normal levels as of the end of April.

We’ve fallen off a cliff: very little sea ice remains in the Bering Sea,” tweeted Rick Thoman, an Alaska-based climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, on April 29.

The ice extent over the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Sea abutting Alaska’s northwest coast, is also abnormally depleted. It recently began its melt season earlier than ever before measured.