"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?"
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?”
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.’
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 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‘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, 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.
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.