February 2 News: Ocean “Hotspots” Warming 2–3 times Faster Than Global Average Rate

Other stories below: Three states require insurance companies to disclose climate change response; filmmaker sounds the alarm over plastic

Global warming drives dramatic changes in ocean currents

An ever-expanding network of sensitive measuring devices, including ocean buoys is enabling researchers to get a better handle on the magnitude and scale of global climate change, including a patterned emergence of ocean hotspots alongside currents that wash the east coast of the major continents.

The warming in those areas far exceeds the average rate of ocean warming, according to research published the journal Nature Climate Change this week.


“We would expect natural change in the oceans over decades or centuries but change with such elevated sea surface temperatures in a growing number of locations and in a synchronised manner was definitely not expected,” said Dr. Wenju Cai, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation….

“Detecting these changes has been hindered by limited observations but with a combination of multi-national ocean watch systems and computer simulations we have been able to reconstruct an ocean history in which warming over the past century is 2–3 times faster than the global average ocean warming rate,” he added.

The changes are characterised by a combination of currents pushing nearer to the polar regions and intensifying with systematic changes of wind over both hemispheres, attributed to increasing greenhouse gases.

Cai said the increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been the major driver of the surface warming of the Earth over the 20th century.

Three States to Require Insurers to Disclose Climate-Change Response

Insurance commissioners in California, New York and Washington State will require that companies disclose how they intend to respond to the risks their businesses and customers face from increasingly severe storms and wildfires, rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change, California’s commissioner said Wednesday.

Up until this point, those states required about a third of larger insurers to turn over the information in a survey; for all others it was voluntary.

“Our experience and other states’ experience as regulators is you get a far better response rate if you require response to be provided than if you just allow companies to decide when and how they will respond,” said Dave Jones, the California commissioner. “Our goal is to have the most complete, best and accurate information possible for investors, the insurance industry, regulators and the broader public.”

Gamesa and NREL collaborate on next-gen wind turbines

Chief among the goals of the research-and-development project is the design of new products specifically for the US market, with a sharp focus on interior and exterior components as well as the rotors themselves.

Researchers will examine how bigger rotors, as well as blade aerodynamics and some other features, can be altered to maximise annual energy production. Wind turbine tests will measure and validate the outcome of the research, looking at power performance, power quality and acoustics to minimise noise levels.

Gamesa and NREL also will work to design and test new lightning protection and other wind turbine conditioning systems, examining their performances in a range of temperatures at high altitude to ensure that they will function in any US environment.

‘836 mn Indians burn biomass for energy’

As many as 836 million Indians still rely on traditional biomass for energy, a report has said, even as the US claimed that India along with China would account for half of global energy consumption by 2035.

“The largest populations that rely on traditional biomass for energy are in the developing regions of Asia, with 836 million in India alone,” said a new research published by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online publication.

“Altogether, 54 per cent of the population of developing Asia relies on traditional biomass fuels,” said the report, according to which despite massive gains in global access to electricity over the last two decades, governments and development organisations must continue to invest in electrification to achieve critical health, environmental, and livelihood outcomes.

U.S. Clean Technology Venture Funding Declines 4.5% in 2011

U.S. venture capital investment in renewable power and energy-efficiency technology declined 4.5 percent to $4.9 billion last year from 2010, according to an Ernst & Young LLP study.

A total of $940.5 million in 70 funding rounds was provided in the fourth quarter to companies developing renewable sources of electricity, storage and energy-efficiency technologies, New York-based Ernst & Young said today in a statement.

The report, based on data from Dow Jones VentureSource, comes after a year in which the renewable energy was battered by waning government support in Europe and the U.S. and increasing competition that drove down prices for wind turbines and solar panels.

“Most would agree it’s a challenging economic environment,” Jay Spencer, Ernst & Young LLP’s Americas Cleantech Director, said in an interview.

Filmmaker sounds alarm over ocean of plastic

On Midway atoll in the North Pacific, dozens of young albatross lie dead on the sand, their stomachs filled with cigarette lighters, toy soldiers and other small plastic objects their parents have mistaken for food.

That sad and surreal sight, says Hong Kong-based Australian film director Craig Leeson, is one of the many symptoms of a plague afflicting the world’s oceans, food chains and human communities: the onslaught of discarded plastic.

“Every piece of plastic ever made since the fifties exists in some shape or form on the planet,” Leeson told AFP. “We throw plastic into a bin, it’s taken away from us and we never see it again — but it still comes back at us.”

Over the past year, Leeson has been following the menace of plastic from Sardinia to Canada to the Indian Ocean for a film that aims to combine the art of nature documentary with a campaigning quest.

Provisionally called “Away”, the film — backed by David Attenborough and the UK-based Plastic Oceans Foundation — brings together new research on the spread of plastic with missions by “explorers” such as Ben Fogle to show the diverse effects of plastic trash.

Project Roundup: Slew of Wind Projects Go Online

With developers having made their final end-of-year push through the last day of December, the January ritual of announcements concerning new projects entering commercial operation and new PPAs kicking in continued this week.

Federal power agency the Tennessee Valley Authority has started the New Year with the addition of 535 MW of renewable power from four wind farms in Kansas, Illinois and Iowa. New renewable wind power sources that began delivery in January to the TVA power grid include:

  • 201 MW from ENEL Green Power’s Caney River wind farm in Elk County, Kan.,
  • 150 MW from NextEra Energy Resources’ White Oak Energy Center in McLean County, Ill.,
  • 101 MW from EDP Renewables North America’s Lost Lakes wind farm in Dickinson County, Iowa, and
  • An additional 83 MW from EDP Renewables’ Pioneer Prairie site in Howard and Mitchell counties, Iowa, which began producing wind energy for TVA in 2010.

With the newly added wind power sources, TVA now has contracts with five operating wind farms in the Midwest. TVA’s total wind energy now activated is 950 MW.

For GOP, Pipeline is Central to Agenda

Just six months ago, Keystone for many Americans was the state nickname for Pennsylvania. But now Keystone, the Canadian pipeline, has become a centerpiece of the Republican economic and political agenda, and the party’s preferred truncheon against President Obama.

On the airwaves, on the campaign trail and in both chambers of Congress, Republicans are relentlessly pushing for an expansion of the pipeline known as Keystone XL and criticizing Mr. Obama’s decision to reject the project for now, forgoing thousands of pipeline jobs. Democrats, increasingly worried that the pounding on the issue will detract from their own message against income inequality, are looking for ways to defuse it.

Republicans are framing Keystone as an urgent jobs and energy project at a time of high unemployment and creeping gasoline prices, and trying to portray Mr. Obama as giving in to hard-left environmentalists in an election year at the expense of addressing both.