Energy and Global Warming News for October 6th: Wind farms extend growing season in certain regions; Japan vows climate bill; River flows rise, as Gleick asks, “How much more evidence do we need before we take action against climate change?

A rise in river flows raises alarm

The volume of fresh water pouring from the world’s rivers has risen rapidly since 1994, in what  researchers say is further evidence of global warming. The study, led by a team at UC Irvine, is the first to estimate global fresh-water flow into the world’s oceans using observations from new satellite technology rather than through computer or hydrological models.

Published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found that annual fresh-water flow increased 18% from 1994 to 2006, suggesting an acceleration in the global water cycle of evaporation and rainfall, which influences the intensity of storms, floods and droughts.

UC Irvine Earth System Science professor Jay Famiglietti, the principal investigator, said that the data have major implications for California, where warmer temperatures are already triggering earlier snow melt. Rising sea levels are expected to significantly alter the state’s long coastline.

Globally, river flows are often a politically-fraught subject. Countries measure the quantity of water locally, and inconsistently, with mechanical or electronic gauges, but they often refuse to share the data, according to hydrologist Peter Gleick, editor of the biannual “World’s Water” survey and director of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute think tank. Pakistan and India are in conflict over flows from the Indus. Israelis, Palestinians and Lebanese all depend on the Jordan River. Ten countries are sharing water along the Nile.

The UC Irvine study “is additional clear evidence that the hydrological cycle is accelerating,” Gleick said. “This is exactly what climate modelers have said would happen from climate change, and now we see it happening. How much more evidence do we need before we take action against climate change?”

Hungary toxic spill ‘could be worse’ than Baia Mare cyanide disaster

A toxic spill of mining waste from an industrial plant in Hungary is the worst of its kind in the country’s history and may end up matching the Baia Mare cyanide spill in Romania in 2000.

An estimated 1 million cubic metres of red-coloured sludge, a mixture of water and mining waste including toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium, arsenic and chromium, spilled from the Ajkai Alumunia refinery about 160KM south-west of Budapest after a dam broke. The sludge, known as red mud, is a byproduct of the refining of bauxite into alumina, the basic material for manufacturing aluminum.

The spill, with a pH level of up to 13, has already spread into rivers with fears that heavy rains will see it reach the Danube River, sparking bad memories of the Baia Mare disaster in Romania when cyanide polluted water was discharged from a gold mine reservoir poisoning water and wildlife through neighbouring Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria.

‘I hope the incident will not have the same degree of far reaching consequences as the Baia Mare spill,’ said WWF regional director Andreas Beckmann. ‘But unfortunately we are in the midst of the rainy season and it has rained especially hard in Hungary. This means that the sludge will spread faster and further and it is likely inevitable that some sludge will escape into the Danube.’

Worldwide ‘climate fund’ could make Cancun negotiations a success

World leaders should approve a massive climate change account that buttresses poor nations against natural catastrophes to boost dwindling expectations around international negotiations on global warming, a major aid group says in a new report.

The creation of a “Global Climate Fund” that distributes billions of dollars to countries facing rising risks of drought, storms and other climate-related hardships would amount to a tangible success when the United Nations convenes in Mexico to discuss ways to prevent climate change and adapt to it, Oxfam America says.

“This money, if well governed — reaching the right people, in the right places, at the right time and in the right way — has the power to make a massive difference,” says the group’s 18-page report, released yesterday. “What is at stake is the extent to which scarce resources will be spent effectively and lives saved; or the extent to which lives and livelihoods are destroyed by the effects of climate change.”

Those assertions come as the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change convenes in Tianjin, China, and prepares to enter landmark negotiations this December in Cancun. A binding agreement to reduce emissions is considered farfetched, but strides could be taken to establish the mechanics around things like distributing the billions of dollars promised by developing nations last year at the climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, Oxfam and others say.

That idea is being supported by members of Congress. In a letter yesterday to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, five subcommittee chairmen of the House Foreign Relations Committee said the account’s creation would strengthen the United States’ image as a climate leader around the world.

A Symbolic Step for Cape Wind

A month after a positive legal ruling allowing the developers of America’s first offshore wind farm to begin construction, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a 28-year lease of federal waters to Cape Wind.

Salazar had already given his approval to the planned 240-MW offshore wind project in April. The signing of the lease makes the deal official. The lease is for 25 square miles in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Massachusetts. Cape Wind will pay around $88,000 each year for access to the federal waters.

Cape Wind has been in legal limbo for nine years. Since 2001, a small group of opponents called The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has been fighting the project. But after a number of positive legal rulings in favor of Cape Wind, it’s looking increasingly likely that it will be built.

It’s not over yet though. The Department of Public Utilities is deliberating a power purchase agreement between Cape Wind and the local utility National Grid. Both parties say that monthly bills would only be increased by $1.59 per month for the average homeowner. However, a number of politicians and regulators have raised concerns about any increase in rates. The DPU will make a decision on the PPA by mid-November.

Japan vows on climate bill, biodiversity goal

Japan‘s environment minister said on Tuesday he aimed to pass a climate bill soon and forge ahead with plans to launch an emissions trading scheme but gave few clues on how to win help from opposition parties in a divided parliament.

Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto also said a U.N. meeting in Japan this month must agree on a global target to protect the diversity of plants and animals after failure to reach a goal set in 2002 of a “significant reduction” in losses by 2010.

Japan’s climate bill, which backs the creation of an emissions trading scheme, was shelved earlier this year and faces an uncertain fate in a divided parliament, where opposition parties can block legislation in the upper house. “We are aiming to pass the climate bill at an early date,” Matsumoto, who took his post last month in a cabinet reshuffle, told Reuters in an interview.

Japan has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 on condition a global climate deal is signed by all major emitters, including the United States and China.

The climate bill would make the target legally binding and set a one-year deadline for Japan to design a compulsory emissions trading system. Currently, it only has a voluntary market at the national level based on companies’ pledged goals.

Sopogy’s Small-Scale Concentrated Solar Power Proposed For Masdar City

Sopogy, a designer of micro-concentrated solar power, is providing a solar thermal collector system for an air conditioning system at Masdar City, the low-carbon greentech cluster being built on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

Sopogy’s micro-CSP solar collector looks to produce the thermal energy to drive a 50-refrigeration-ton double-effect absorption chiller — a technology widely used in many parts of the world for cooling from waste heat sources.  The firm has a similar but smaller project in the works in its home state of Hawaii.

The question remains as to whether Masdar City is a viable project or the biggest slice of greenwashing the globe has ever witnessed.  Brett Prior covered the slow progress on the massive project back in July.

Concentrated solar power (CSP) might conjure up images of massive solar collector installations in the California Mojave or North African desert with tens of thousands of mirrors or miles of parabolic troughs. But smaller-scale CSP means lower temperatures, and it could mean lower-cost solar AC for Masdar City.

Wind Farms Extend Growing Season in Certain Regions

Led by University of Illinois professor of atmospheric sciences Somnath Baidya Roy, the research team will publish its findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper will appear in the journal’s Online Early Edition this week.

Roy first proposed a model describing the local climate impact of wind farms in a 2004 paper. But that and similar subsequent studies have been based solely on models because of a lack of available data. In fact, no field data on temperature were publicly available for researchers to use, until Roy met Neil Kelley at a 2009 conference. Kelley, a principal scientist at the National Wind Technology Center, part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, had collected temperature data at a wind farm in San Gorgonio, Calif., for more than seven weeks in 1989.

Analysis of Kelley’s data corroborated Roy’s modeling studies and provided the first observation-based evidence of wind farms’ effects on local temperature. The study found that the area immediately surrounding turbines was slightly cooler during the day and slightly warmer at night than the rest of the region.

As a small-scale modeling expert, Roy was most interested in determining the processes that drive the daytime cooling and nocturnal warming effects. He identified an enhanced vertical mixing of warm and cool air in the atmosphere in the wake of the turbine rotors. As the rotors turn, they generate turbulence, like the wake of a speedboat motor. Upper-level air is pulled down toward the surface while surface-level air is pushed up, causing warmer and cooler air to mix.

26 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for October 6th: Wind farms extend growing season in certain regions; Japan vows climate bill; River flows rise, as Gleick asks, “How much more evidence do we need before we take action against climate change?

  1. mike roddy says:

    In response to Gleick’s question “How much more evidence do we need before we take action against climate change?”:

    Clear evidence is not the problem, since warming has long been tracking Hansen’s 1990 predictions, and secondary effects (such as flooding and glacier melt) are far exceeding IPCC reports. Accelerated Arctic melting this summer didn’t move the needle of public opinion either.

    The issue in this country is overcoming corruption of the media and the political process. Due to the volume of misinformation, the American public is confused on the issue, which leads to inaction. Climate Progress has laid out these issues very well.

    I met yesterday with a distinguished oceanographer and climate investigator from the University of Washington, who has published several popular books. We shared our concerns about the tendency of scientists and all academic researchers to focus on developing data (often in language indecipherable to the public) at the expense of public outreach. James Hansen needs a lot more company, and we need a cadre of scientifically trained speakers who can communicate with the passion of the late Stephen Schneider. And we need them now, especially in view of the constant attacks on them from oil company funded demagogues.

  2. catman306 says:

    Every other week now we witness another man made ecological disaster. Sludge retention ponds should be illegal world wide. Part of the refining process should include properly processing or disposing of any waste. The cost of that processing or disposal would be reflected in the cost of the commodity. We can’t expect some other generation to do it and these ponds have a habit of leaking or worse.

  3. Esop says:

    Joe: you should make a post on the record smashing UAH temp anomaly for September. Roy Spencer can’t explain the heat (no wonder when he feverishly denies the cause of it).

    [JR: Thinking about it.]

  4. Esop says:

    Huge rainstorms are now causing major flooding in the southern part of Norway, a small country responsible for a large portion of the global CO2 emissions. Global warming denial and other anti science activities have spread like wildfire over the past few years, so it shall be interesting to see how the press (denialist friendly) will spin these extreme weather events.

  5. paulm says:

    Hansen is just a hero….can we have all climate scientist stepping up to the plate.

  6. Adrian says:

    Mike Roddy:

    I agree with you about the need for scientifically-trained speakers with excellent communication skills–but that might mean (shudder) people trained in the much-maligned liberal arts. You are really talking about translators and interpreters: people who understand the concepts and can communicate in understandable, values-oriented, non-alienating language. You are talking about framing the message, as Joe so often mentions.

    It’s time for the scientific community to understand that we “softies” of the liberal-arts/humanities persuasion have much to offer. Many of us do get the concepts and would love to help. Many of us are already working on this. In addition, advertising professionals would be very useful.

    Yes, Hansen needs help. So where is the organization, institution or business offering opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration, with deep enough pockets to mount serious multi-media communications campaigns? Possibly with paid jobs for those who participate in formulating and mounting said campaigns?

    How do you make climate change mitigation and a low-carbon future sexy?

    Signed, your friend the liberal arts major.

  7. Ric Merritt says:

    Curse you lefty conspirators! Trying to convince us that sea level rise has something to do with global warming. Obviously, it’s a natural consequence of the greater river flow filling up the oceans.

    Also, pi = 3, exactly.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    Sun’s role in warming the planet may be overestimated, study finds

    The discovery could help explain why Europe can have cold winters while the world as a whole is heating up

  9. Peter M says:

    Liberal Arts

    what I am trained in- still have to use the scientific method-
    observe, gather data & information, test0

    Seems I have met those with hard science backgrounds in engineering, biology, etc that have no knowledge of AGW- and are deniers.

    Knowledge is the key here- a solid basis for understanding science, and the concept of ‘Garbage In, Garbage out’.

    I still have my 1976 college textbook ‘An introduction to Climate’ by Glenn T. Trewartha

  10. mike roddy says:


    Thanks for your thoughts, and let’s kick this around a bit. You’re correct, that scientists tend to speak in guarded and sometimes opaque language, and more forceful speakers are needed. Schneider had that gift, and there may be others, but there’s a place for liberal arts people, too.

    BTW, I took a lot of hard science courses at Berkeley, but must confess that my degree is also in liberal arts. I keep up on history etc, but am much more interested in science these days.

    Peter M, lots of engineers are deniers, but I’m not sure about biologists. The professor I mentioned in my earlier post told of asking his freshman biology students to respond anonymously to a query about whether they believed in evolution. 10% answered “no”. So the creationist/denier faction is pretty small in that field compared to engineers, and have little influence.

  11. catman306 says:

    Is river water more acidic than the ocean? Will this fresh water effect the acidity of the world’s oceans? Is it in the models?

  12. Michael T says:

    Weather and feedbacks lead to third-lowest extent

    “An eventful summer sea ice melt season has ended in the Arctic. Ice extent reached its low for the year, the third lowest in the satellite record, on 19 September. Both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route were open for a period during September.”

  13. riverat says:

    catman, Since nearly all of the fresh water was originally evaporated from the sea surface I’m not sure it changes ocean chemistry that much. I suppose it expands the fresh water zone at the mouths of rivers a bit. Of course rivers continue to wash in the natural stuff they always have from the land and in the past few centuries increasing pollution from human activities.

    Michael T, One way to look at it is the extent has started back down (as expected) after rebounding for a couple of years after the extreme low of 2007.

  14. Michael T says:

    riverat, that’s correct. Even the actual extent of 4.90 million km^2, is so close to the 4.78 million km^2 that Joe had predicted last month.

  15. paulm says:

    Its raining all over the world – by amazing amounts….

    Over 40 Inches of Rain Inundates Hainan Island, China
    …more than 27 inches fell within one 24-hour stretch

    So now if global temps increase by 0.2C, will it stop or will it become unbearable?
    This global extreme precipitation has had a similar profile in 1998, 2005 and now 2010. We are definitely dealing with some sort of threshold temperature here. When we move through this threshold, food supply will peak and prices will soar.

    That according to Hansen will be 2012.

  16. paulm says:

    errr… maybe theres a climate link also!

    Hungary Toxic Sludge Spill May Have Weather Link

  17. Lewis C says:

    Can anyone explain how the observation of an 18% rise in global river outflows since ’96 integrates with the reported figure a rise of just 4% in water vapour held in the atmosphere ? Or is one or other figure mistaken ?

    With regard to scientists reporting their findings effectively to the public, while I’m all for every student taking a module on the coherent presentation of their work and every field encouraging senior scientists to act as ‘public rapporteurs’, I suspect we may be barking up the wrong tree in requiring scientists to see off the deniers.

    Scientists essential training, role and capacity is to debate observations and interpretations with other scientists, not with corrupt and politically motivated propagandists. As highly intellectual painstaking characters, who may spend a month or a year developing a paper of a few thousand words, the snappy cut & thrust of media interactions devoid of the definition of terms is just a foreign country to most of them.

    While we may hope for others of Sagan and Schneider’s calibre as communicators to appear, such talent has been more than rare in the last few decades and we plainly need their impact 100-fold, this year.

    Thus I’d point out that the real shortfall is in politicians doing their job of responding to politically motivated attacks on scientists. They have the platform, the training and the talent for this task, and like so much else on the climate issue, apart from the few exceptions proving the rule, they’ve utterly failed to nail the deniers as grossly ignorant deceivers of the public.

    Thus for every bit of effort going into encouraging scientists’ communications skills, I’d suggest nine times that effort should go into encouraging politicians to get on and earn their salaries as a matter of extreme urgency.



  18. _Flin_ says:

    What? “would strengthen the United States’ image as a climate leader around the world”? Are they really believing that anyone sees the US as a climate leader? As opposed to “worlds greatest polluter who doesnt gives a shit about anybody else”?

    What have they been smoking?

  19. Laphroaig says:

    Ric Merritt says:
    October 6, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Also, pi = 3, exactly.

    Obviously, Bernhard Riemann shamelessly stole non-Euclidean Geometry from King Solomon :P

  20. _Flin_ says:

    Germany creates more green jobs than expected, more than doubling the number of jobs to 340.000 from 2004 – End of 2009.

  21. Ric Merritt says:

    Lewis C, #18, wants to know what’s up with 18% rise in river outflows versus 4% rise in water vapor.

    Yes, it would be nice to know all the details about the water cycle, but your clear implication that these figures somehow conflict is naive and unthinking. One is about a reservoir, and one is about a flow.

    Get a piece of paper and sketch a cycle suitable for explaining to a class of 12-year-olds, and you’ll be further along in your thinking.

  22. Lewis C says:

    Ric at 27 –

    I note you have mis-stated my question.

    As it happens I first came across the concept of reservoir and flow back in the ’70s, so your condecension is both misplaced and uncalled for.

    My question is about the integration of the two figures – can a mere 4% rise in water vapour have generated as much as a 16% rise in terrestrial outflow since ’96, (having received but a fraction of global precipitation),
    or to what extent do other factors, such as glacier melt, acquifer mining, deforestation, etc, mean that there is not a direct correlation.

    My interest in this is in trying to get an idea of likely outflows under potential rises in global temperature in the coming decades.



  23. David Ferrell says:

    Lewis C (#18) asks:

    “Can anyone explain how the observation of an 18% rise in global river outflows since ‘96 integrates with the reported figure a rise of just 4% in water vapour held in the atmosphere? Or is one or other figure mistaken?”

    First, disregard Ric Merritt’s latest comment (#23). He’s the man who thinks pi = 3, exactly (comment #7). I initially thought that particular comment was intended to satirize the phenomenon of denial. But since his humor in comment #23 is not good, one has to wonder whether he is not just a troll.

    But getting back to the adults. Lewis C’s question is certainly legitimate. One way to look at it is that a 4% rise in water vapor is a whopping amount, since we’re talking about the whole global atmosphere. But it is the increased rate of evaporation from the ocean surface—necessarily balanced by an increase in the global rate of precipitation—that is the proximate cause of the increased river flows, not the associated rise in atmospheric water vapor as such. Both the increased evaporation/ precipitation rate and the rise in atmospheric water vapor have a more fundamental cause, which is heat trapped by man-made greenhouse gases and transferred to the well-mixed top layer of the World Ocean by downgoing longwave radiation. For additional discussion of the global-warming energy and how the ocean-atmosphere system is affected by it, see my earlier ClimateProgress commentary post at

    The Greenspace article linked to at the top of this page (“Global warming: a rise in river flows raises alarm”) observes that the large rise (of 18%) in the annual fresh-water flow rate confirms that, as scientists had predicted, the hydrological cycle is accelerating, providing additional confirmation of the reality of man-made global warming and indicating that the effects are now quite dramatic. However, not all of the increase is due to hydrological-cycle intensification. Specifically, the article noted:

    “The study found that the 13-year increase in fresh-water discharge of 540 cubic kilometers was mostly due to rapid evaporation from the oceans, which led to more rainfall on land. Only 10% of the increase in discharge could be attributed to melting ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic, although those sources are expected to be a growing proportion as earth’s temperatures rise….

    “Other causes for the rise in river flows include melting glaciers and permafrost on land, and practices such as groundwater pumping for irrigation.”

    Clearly, a significant portion of the increased annual fresh-water flow is due to (1) the meltwater flux from ice sheets, glaciers, and permafrost together with (2) the contribution from groundwater pumping and undoubtedly (as Lewis implies in comment #24) increased runoff from deforestation and other land use changes that denude the landscape and impair the capacity of soils to store groundwater, as around tree roots. In other words, a currently unknown but significant fraction of the increased river flows can be attributed to land use changes. After the fluxes listed under (1) and (2) are subtracted from the total, we have the portion of the flux which is due to the long-predicted intensification (“acceleration”) of the planetary hydrological cycle under GHG-driven global warming.

    The increase of ~4% in atmospheric water vapor since about 1980 (reportedly 7% since the late 1800s) is substantial and has very powerful effects, yet the relatively rapid rate at which water is now moved from ocean surface to atmosphere and back to the oceans is independent of this. Thus, there is no direct correlation or relationship of causation between the increase in atmospheric water vapor and the increased river flows, nor—as Lewis anticipated—is all of the increased fresh-water flux to be attributed to hydrological-cycle intensification.

  24. David Ferrell says:

    Catman306 (comment #11) asks, “Is river water more acidic than the ocean? Will this fresh water effect the acidity of the world’s oceans? Is it in the models?” Riverat (comment #13) replies: “catman, Since nearly all of the fresh water was originally evaporated from the sea surface I’m not sure it changes ocean chemistry that much.”

    Briefly, here’s what happens. As the planetary hydrological cycle intensifies under global warming, total rainfall increases globally despite some areas suffering worse drought than before. Atmospheric CO2, higher now than in the pre-industrial past, dissolves in rainwater to make carbonic acid, i.e. CO2 + H2O => H2CO3, which weakly dissociates to make H+ and HCO3-. This reacts with silicate minerals in the earth’s crust to make bicarbonate ions which are carried in rivers to the oceans, ultimately to be deposited as calcium carbonate on the ocean floor.

    This process, which is part of the geochemical carbon cycle and whose net effect is to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, raises the pH of river water relative to what would be the case if the reaction of carbonic acid with silicate minerals didn’t happen, making it less acidic than the oceans—assuming that pollutants such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides (responsible for acid rain) or other factors don’t interfere. Over very long geologic time spans this CO2-removal process is roughly balanced by CO2 outgassed from volcanoes. Since the process of CO2 removal via rainwater is very slow relative to the rate at which excess CO2 is taken up by the oceans through direct contact with the atmosphere, its impact is rather small. If it didn’t happen, though, ocean acidification due to CO2 uptake would be just a little bit worse than it is.