"Energy and Global Warming News for September 17th: Summer set records for nighttime temperatures; California braces for big showdown on emissions; Pipelines and anxiety — What next?"
“Dark Side of Climate Change” Seen in Record Setting Night-time Temperatures
Summer 2010 set temperature records across the country and around the world. NRDC’s analysis of June, July, and August 2010 US temperature data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Historic Climatology Network reveal that this summer set heat records in many parts of the country. In fact, of the 1,218 weather stations in the contiguous United States, with data going back to 1895, 153 locations recorded their hottest summer on record and nearly one in three stations recorded average temperatures among their five hottest on record.
Even more telling is that nighttime lows were the hottest ever recorded at nearly one in four weather stations in NOAA’s Historic Climatology Network. This means that at 278 stations the average nighttime low temperatures for June, July and August 2010 were hotter than at any time since 1895. More than half the stations recorded average nighttime low temperatures among their five hottest on record. Nighttime temperatures are more sensitive to the buildup of heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere than daytime temperatures because increases in atmospheric aerosols and cloud cover have counteracted some of the warming effect of greenhouse gases during the day. Hot, stagnant nights can prove even more harmful than daytime highs as vulnerable populations (particularly the elderly) are unable to cool down and get relief from the stress of the daytime heat.
While it is difficult to know for certain how many people experienced health effects of one kind or another due to record-high temperatures this summer, it is possible to estimate how many people may have been exposed to extreme temperatures by counting the populations in those counties where average and nighttime temperature records were set. The accompanying tables show how many people in each state where records were set live in counties where one or more weather stations recorded record average or nighttime summer temperatures. This examination reveals that nationwide, over 28.5 million people live in counties where this summer’s average temperature set records, and over 36 million people live in counties where the hottest summer nights were recorded this summer. (Record-setting temperatures source: NRDC fact sheet “Hottest Summer Ever”. Population data source: http://www.census.gov/popest/datasets.html.)
- State Population Residing in Counties Where Summer Average Temperature Records Were Set (pdf)
- State Population Residing in Counties Where Summer Nighttime Temperature Records Were Set (pdf)
The record heat experienced in the United States in the summer of 2010 is no isolated event. Global temperature data compiled by NASA show that the first seven months of 2010 was the hottest such period on record. This comes on top of the warmest decade on record (2000-2009), which surpassed the previous record set by the 1990s, which itself supplanted the 1980s as the warmest decade on record at that time.
Leading experts on invasive species are demanding Europe-wide legislation be put in place by next year to tackle the threat to native wildlife.
The researchers want urgent action from the EU to protect Europe’s indigenous species from these “alien invaders”.
Invasive, non-native animals, plants and microorganisms cause at least 12 billion euros of damage in Europe each year.
The scientists are meeting at the Neobiota conference in Copenhagen.
They are demanding Europe-wide legislation to be in place by next year to ensure the threat doesn’t worsen.
Invasive species are defined as those that are introduced accidentally or deliberately into a place where they are not normally found.
A European inventory in 2008 found more than 10,000 alien species in Europe, with 1,300 having some kind of impact. This impact was exerted either on the environment, economy or, on human health.
Despite huge investment in new technologies, China is finding it difficult to make its economy more energy-efficient, a senior official said Thursday.
The acknowledgment of difficulties by Zhang Laiwu, deputy minister for science and technology, comes as China has become the world’s largest auto market and is spending heavily on high-speed rail and other infrastructure projects that require a lot of steel and cement, which are energy-intensive to make.
A top Chinese auto executive predicted Thursday at a conference in Chengdu that annual auto sales in China would reach 40 million vehicles by 2020, more than twice the peak of the American market before the recent economic downturn. That could add to China’s energy-efficiency challenges, as more people drive cars rather than use mass transit.
Mr. Zhang said the country still hoped to reach a self-imposed goal of reducing “energy intensity” by 20 percent over the five-year period ending at the end of 2010. After strong progress from 2007 to 2009, this year saw some slippage, Mr. Zhang said at a news conference.
“We still have a lot of challenges,” he said. “We should not be too optimistic about this.”
LOS ANGELES “” A ballot initiative to suspend a milestone California law curbing greenhouse gas emissions is drawing a wave of contributions from out-of-state oil companies, raising concerns among conservationists as it emerges as a test of public support for potentially costly environmental measures during tough economic times.
Charles and David Koch, the billionaires from Kansas who have played a prominent role in financing the Tea Party movement, donated $1 million to the campaign to suspend the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was passed four years ago, and signaled that they were prepared to invest more in the cause. With their contribution, proponents of the proposition have raised $8.2 million, with $7.9 million coming from energy companies, most of them out of state.
This latest embrace by the Koch brothers of a conservative cause jolted environmental leaders who are worried that a vote against the law in this state “” with its long history of environmental activism “” would amount to a powerful setback for emission control efforts in Washington and statehouses across the country.
“It would have big implications,” said George P. Shultz, the former secretary of state, who is a chairman of a campaign to defeat the ballot initiative. “That is one reason why these outside companies are pouring money in to try to derail the same thing. At the same time, the reverse is true: they put this fat in the fire and if we win, that also sends a message.”
In the quest for alternatives to soybeans, palm, and other edible oilseed plants as sources for biodiesel production, enter an unlikely new candidate: A fungus, or mold, that produces and socks away large amounts of oils that are suitable for low-cost, eco-friendly biodiesel.
That’s the topic of a study in ACS’ journal Energy & Fuels.
Victoriano Garre and colleagues point out that manufacturers usually produce biodiesel fuel from plant oils — such as rapeseed, palm, and soy. However, expanded production from those sources could foster shortages that mean rising food prices. In addition, oilseeds require scare farmland, and costly fertilizers and pesticides. To meet growing demand for biodiesel fuel, scientists are looking for oil sources other than plants. Microorganisms such as fungi, which take little space to grow, are ideal candidates. But scientists first must find fungi that produce larger amounts of oil.
In the study, scientists describe a process for converting oil from an abundant producer called Mucor circinelloides into biodiesel without even extracting oil from the growth cultures. The resulting fungus-based biodiesel meets commercial specifications in the United States and Europe and production could be scaled to commercial levels, they note.
Data from the Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) instrument on NASA’s Terra spacecraft have been used in a groundbreaking new university study that examines the concentration, distribution and composition of aerosol pollution over the Indian subcontinent. The study documents the region’s very high levels of natural and human-produced pollutants, and uncovered surprising seasonal shifts in the source of the pollution.
Larry Di Girolamo and postdoctoral scientist Sagnik Dey of the University of Illinois, Champaign, used a decade’s worth of MISR data to comprehensively analyze aerosol pollution over the Indian subcontinent. This densely populated region has poor air quality and lacks on-the-ground pollution monitoring sites. The study was published recently in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Aerosols — tiny particles suspended in the air — are produced both by natural sources, such as dust and pollen carried on the wind, and by human activities, such as soot and other hydrocarbons released from the burning of fossil fuels. They can affect the environment and human health, causing a range of respiratory problems. Aerosol pollution levels can be measured on the ground, but only the most developed countries have widespread sensor data.
As anyone living in the Midwest can tell you, gasoline prices have been mighty high in recent days. Since a pipeline operated by the Canadian company Enbridge ruptured last week outside of Chicago, the second such incident concerning an Enbridge pipeline in the Midwest this summer, prices at the pump have spurted up as much as 30 cents a gallon around much of the region.
In all likelihood, the pain at the gas pump will not be long-lasting. Line 6A has been patched up, the price spike is easing, and the company hopes it can be back servicing several refineries in the next couple of weeks if not sooner. But there may be a lasting political impact, especially these days, when memories of the BP spill accident in the gulf are still fresh.
And then there was last week’s natural gas pipeline explosion outside San Francisco, which destroyed much of a community. That was a utility line, and thus completely different from the ruptured Enbridge pipelines connecting oil fields with refineries. But in the public’s mind, they all fit into an uneasy realization that perhaps the pipes we depend on for our energy are not safe.
As Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, told me on Wednesday, “Suddenly things that never received much notice before have become issues.”
Those issues are boiling in both Canada and the United States, countries that share energy and much else. Enbridge is seeking approval in Canada to build a massive pipeline project across British Columbia that could serve as a path for more than 500,000 barrels a day of oil refined from the Alberta oil sands to the coast for shipping to Asian markets.
Brian McNoldy, a meteorologist tracking Atlantic Ocean hurricanes at Colorado State University, just distributed this note from Phil Klotzbach, a colleague, about the unusual storminess in the Atlantic and Caribbean at the moment:
With Karl becoming a hurricane, we have three hurricanes at the same time. This is a pretty rare occurrence. The only other years that this has occurred are 1893, 1926, 1950, 1961, 1967, 1980, 1995, and 1998. 1998 even had four hurricanes at the same time!
I’ve sent a query to some hurricane researchers to get a bit more on what, besides warm sea temperatures, makes conditions this ripe for powerful tropical storms. McNoldy said the conditions are ripe because we’re precisely in the middle of hurricane season and there’s little wind shear, a condition in which layers of air at different altitudes move at different speeds and which tends to break up hurricanes. More reactions will be added as they come in. In the meantime, keep a weather eye on the Web site of the National Hurricane Center and Kerry Emanuel’s page at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which collects a variety of forecasts of storm strengths and tracks.
The chances of substantive political progress at the Cancun climate talks this year are slim, but at the more mundane level of trying better to understand the problem there are two interesting climate-related events closer to home. The Science Museum in London is finishing a new gallery called Atmosphere, which aims to explain climate science in a straightforward way to a confused public. It will be well worth a visit if only to see how complex this branch of science really is and to gauge the limits of our knowledge.
Meanwhile, at the Newton Institute in Cambridge, a group of the world’s leading climate modellers are trying to push out the limits of knowledge by analyzing and reducing the uncertainties in climate models. The truth is that while we know a lot about the behavior of some of the main components of the climate system and we have a sense of how the whole fits together there is still a lot of scope for surprises””especially when we try to figure out what will actually happen as we stress the climate system with increased greenhouse gases.
Replace climate system by financial system in the last sentence and read mortgage-backed securities for greenhouse gases and you have something that might have been written by a central banker any time up to summer 2007. The results of that particular financial experiment are now in. The one on the climate system is very much running. What might we read across from one to the other?
Firstly, the Citigroup principle””if the music is playing, then carry on dancing””holds good. While there is plenty of money to be made from activities that create greenhouse gases it is hard to see this activity slowing meaningfully any time soon. Secondly, there will probably be a Northern Rock moment””some unmistakable public signal that, while not a disaster in itself, lets us know that trouble is surely on its way. An ice-free summer Arctic Ocean might serve this purpose. While fighting shy of exact predictions, the researchers in the field would not be greatly surprised if this happened in the next decade or so.
The protective ozone layer in the earth’s upper atmosphere has stopped thinning and should largely be restored by mid century thanks to a ban on harmful chemicals, UN scientists said on Thursday.
The “Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion 2010″ report said a 1987 international treaty that phased out chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) — substances used in refrigerators, aerosol sprays and some packing foams — had been successful.
Ozone provides a natural protective filter against harmful ultra-violet rays from the sun, which can cause sunburn, cataracts and skin cancer as well as damage vegetation.
First observations of a seasonal ozone hole appearing over the Antarctic occurred in the 1970s and the alarm was raised in the 1980s after it was found to be worsening under the onslaught of CFCs, prompting 196 countries to join the Montreal Protocol.
The toll lead takes on Mt Isa’s infants
AN international expert has found some children in Mount Isa are suffering from brain damage and retardation caused by their prolonged exposure to lead.
His reports – commissioned by five families suing mining giant Xstrata, the Queensland government and the local council – are the first scientific evidence of the effect on children of lead pollution from the hardrock mine and smelters in the central Queensland town. Queensland Health testing found in 2008 that 11 per cent of Mount Isa’s children – aged between one and four years – had dangerously high levels of lead. The testing was ordered after The Australian revealed evidence of metal contamination of soils and water. A follow-up study, to be released this year, has so far determined that about 5 per cent of children still have blood lead levels above the international and Australian safety limits. This is despite a crackdown on the mine’s emissions and an education campaign on how to limit exposure.
Queensland Health chief medical officer Jeannette Young yesterday contradicted previous claims by Anglo-Swiss mining giant Xstrata, which took over the mine in 2003, that much of the poisoning was due to a naturally occurring presence of lead in the town. “I do know the cause; it is emissions being released from the mine,” Dr Young said. “If you think where it is coming from, it is coming from emissions from the smelter that are going up in the air and they are depositing across the town fairly evenly.”
The new medical reports have focused on two children – Sidney Body, 5, and Bethany Sanders, 4, – who recorded the worst lead poisoning. Sidney had a blood lead level of 31.5 micrograms per decilitre – three times the international safety limit – while Bethany posted 27.4mcg/dL.