Climate Change News February 27, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
February 27, 2012


United Nations Encourages Private Sector to Act Against Climate Change

Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is reaching out to companies to express, “a deeper recognition of the fact that the private sector can contribute in a decisive way,” to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change.  Figueres notes that such high-powered companies have the influence to “push” decisions of political leaders worldwide in addition to their own abilities to minimize impacts of production and help communities.  Figueres has met with executives from companies including Coca-Cola, Unilever, and the Virgin Group.

For additional information see: CBS News

ExxonMobil, Others Fined For Failing to Report Emissions

The recently issued Scottish Environmental Protection Agency Enforcement (SEPA) Report 2010-2011 revealed that ExxonMobil Chemical Limited has been fined £2.738 million by SEPA for failing to report 32,966 metric tons of emissions in 2008. ExxonMobil says that it reported discrepancies at three sites as soon as the inaccuracies were identified and has since then improved reporting procedures. According to a Scottish government spokesman, “Ministers accept that there was no intention to mislead and it was a genuine error.” Firms misreporting greenhouse gas emissions under the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme are fined £83 per metric ton of emissions. This is the largest ever fine for an environmental offense in Britain, and Scotland is using the money to fund environmental projects. Dow Chemical Industries, Tennent Caledonian, Pernod Ricard, and FMC Biopolymer also received fines.

For additional information see: Herald Scotland, BBC, BusinessGreen, The Environmentalist

Freight Adopts Greener Future

The global freight transportation system emits upwards of three billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (C02) annually, but shippers are using new methods to attain financial and carbon savings, according to a new report.  The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has found firms are developing new strategies to address environmental and financial efficiencies such as collaborative distribution, using rail instead of trucks and implementing better load management. The report highlights a dairy company saving $7.5 million annually from trip reductions as well as competing confectionary companies working together to reduce costs by 30 percent while increasing carbon efficiency by 25 percent. Jason Mathers, leader of the EDF initiative said, “At any given moment, there are more than 50 million tons of freight moving on America’s road, rail, rivers and airways, and nearly all of it could be moving on less fuel and fewer emissions.” According to the report, almost 90 percent of the environmental footprint of supply chain logistics is from transportation, while the remainder is warehousing and distribution.

For additional information see: BusinessGreen, Environmental Defense Fund

Canadian Insurance Bureau Raises Concern about Climate Change

The President and Chief Executive Officer of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Don Forgeron, warned the public and government to take climate change seriously.  Climate-related events have replaced fire damage as the top source of insurance claims. "Our weather patterns have changed. If we just look back over the last 30 years or so here in Canada we see the trend is unequivocal . . . The number of severe weather events double every 5 to 10 years. We've got to do something about it,” said Forgerson.  Canadian insurers are remapping flood prone areas and will then decide whether to raise insurance premiums.

For additional information see: CBC

Prominent Climate Scientist Admits to Leaking Documents

Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, California, has stepped forward as the source of the recently leaked Heartland documents.  The documents show funding of climate change deniers and development of an educational curriculum that undermines accepted climate science. Gleick said, "in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name." He has since resigned as the chair of the American Geophysical Union’s ethics committee and from the board of the National Center for Science Education. Heartland is one of many groups that wrote about stolen emails from the University of East Anglia in Britain in the so-called Climategate affair of 2009.

For additional information see: Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, National Geographic, The Pacific Institute, New Hampshire News and NPR

Scientists Calculate Global Warming Potential of Oil Shale, Gas, Coal Reserves

Curious about rhetoric surrounding the debate over the Canadian Keystone XL project, climate scientists Andrew Weaver and Neil Swart studied the global warming potential of oil in the Alberta tar sands compared to other fossil fuels.  The research, published in Nature Climate Change, indicates 0.36 °C potential warming from burning all of the oil in the Alberta oil sands, but 0.3 °C for combusting economically viable oil sand reserves. In comparison, combusting global oil supplies would lead to 0.53 °C, global conventional gas supplies would cause 0.32 °C, and global coal supplies would lead to 0.92 °C.  The effect of energy required for extraction and transportation is not included in totals. Regardless of the impact of a single source, the paper states that, “If North American and international policy makers wish to limit global warming to less than 2 °C, they clearly need to put in place measures that ensure a rapid transition of global energy systems to non-greenhouse-gas-emitting sources while avoiding commitments to new infrastructure supporting dependence on fossil fuels.”

For additional information see: Times Colonist, Time, Scientific American, The Globe and Mail, Study

Canadian National Parks Hit Hard by 2011 Extreme Weather

An unprecedented amount of damage caused by severe weather events in 2011, including hurricanes, floods and storms, has cost Canada C$14.8 million, according to Parks Canada’s most recent quarterly financial report.  Damage was restricted to the east coast and Quebec but could signal future climate-related disasters. Daniel Scott, Canada Research Chair in Global Change and Tourism at the University of Waterloo, commented that, “It is certainly consistent with what we expect to see coming, particularly on the east coast. There, they’ve got the combination of sea level rise as well as increased intensity or frequency of severe storms.” Parks Canada is facing budget cuts of up to 10 percent and may be forced to raise fees to cover expenses.

For additional information see: Global News, Our Amazing Planet

Climate Change Increased Likelihood of 2010 Russian Heatwave

The record-breaking 2010 heat wave in Russia was about 10 °C above expected seasonal temperatures, caused $15 billion in damages and contributed to 50,000 deaths. Two different 2011 studies disagreed about the cause: one concluded the heatwave was a rare, naturally occurring event, and the other argued that climate change effects increased the odds of the heatwave to 80 percent. A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters used a climate model that included data from the 1960s and the 2000s to observe the frequency of extreme weather events over time.  According to author Miles Allen from Oxford University, climate change made the heatwave three times likelier to occur, while “the size of the human contribution to the event was perhaps only a degree or so.”

For additional information see: The Guardian

Friction of Raindrops Takes Energy Away From Wind

Energy lost by falling raindrops to friction with air is dissipated as diffuse heat in the atmosphere, taking energy away from winds. In a report published in Science, researchers quantified the average energy loss due to rainfall as 1.8 watts per square meter of the atmosphere. Energy loss depends on total global rainfall, and the distance a raindrop falls. Under current predictions that warming will increase rainfall and raindrop fall distance, raindrop energy loss will likely decrease wind energy by a few percent per degree. Scientist Douglas Frierson says, “We do expect large-scale tropical circulations like the Hadley Circulation and the Walker Circulation to decrease in strength with global warming . . . A weaker Hadley Circulation would mean weather systems move around slightly less.” Hurricane strength, primarily affected by sea surface temperatures, and the operation of wind turbines is unlikely to be affected by this phenomenon.

For additional information see: New Scientist

Climate Change Expected to Impact Marine Ecosystems, Fisheries

Studies presented at the February 19 American Society for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting held in Vancouver, British Columbia, discuss expected consequences of climate change on marine organisms. Increased temperatures deoxygenate the water while ocean absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) causes acidification, particularly affecting shelled animals and some fish larvae. A study by researchers from the University of British Columbia predicts that fish will migrate deeper or to higher latitudes as oceans warm, and that, by 2050, deoxygenation and acidification will reduce maximum catch potential by 20 to 35 percent in some regions, compared to 2005 levels. William Cheung, an author, says that rebuilding global fisheries “will require efforts on various fronts, including curbing overfishing and reducing carbon dioxide levels.” Scientists at the University of Plymouth, England, report species diversity decreased 30 percent in areas with lower pH caused by natural CO2 steeps when compared to normal pH sites nearby. Organisms are particularly sensitive during peak temperatures. A University of Miami study found that coral larvae raised at pH values expected for the South Pacific in 50 and 100 years, compared to today’s pH values, suffered up to a 65 percent decrease in metabolism, while 60 percent fewer larva settled a reef surface.

For additional information see: News1130, University of British Columbia, Science News

Foreign Farmed Shrimp Have Huge Carbon Footprint

University of Oregon researcher J. Boone Kauffman reports a 3.5 oz serving of shrimp produced at a typical Asian farm “has an ecosystem carbon footprint of an astounding 198 kilograms (436 pounds) of CO2,” ten times that of beef raised in former tropical rain forests. Asian shrimp account for 50 to 60 percent of world shrimp production, and are mostly located in cleared tidal mangrove forests. Mangroves are carbon caches and sources of biodiversity and protection against storms. Each farm is used for about five years before pollutants from fish farming, such as acid sulfates, make the ponds unfit for shrimp. Clearing mangroves releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, and the soil takes 35 to 40 years to recover after farming. Kauffman calculated that compensating farmers for not growing shrimp would cost about $4.50 per potential ton of carbon left intact.

For additional information see: Science, Mother Jones,

Certain Species Thrive Under Climate Change

Shorter winters and warmer temperatures are helping some animals flourish, according to several recent studies. Stronger air currents in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean are helping the wandering albatross fly faster to find food and are increasing chick survival by allowing the birds to spend more time with their chicks. Trumpeter swans have expanded into territories previously too cold, a study from the journal Wildlife Biology reports. Shorter winters allow the swans to eat more before migration, increasing survival rates. Killer whales have an easier time hunting seals, belugas and narwhals as warmer Arctic sea temperatures make it harder for prey to escape onto or below sea ice. Jellyfish seem to be thriving in warmer waters and higher ocean acidity. White tailed deer, ticks, beetles, mosquitoes, snakes, tapeworms, and marmots are also benefiting from climate change. However, the same changes that are currently benefiting many species may become harmful to them in the longer term.

For additional information see: E&E News

Los Angeles Water Supply Threatened by Climate Change

The water supply in Los Angeles is threatened by rising sea levels and reduced snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Sea level rise is expected to increase the risk of coastal flooding and the number of at-risk critical areas such as toxic waste sites and power plants. Los Angeles, which imports 90 percent of its water, also faces decreased water supply. Many aquifers already exhibit “saltwater intrusion,” and the Sierra Nevada snow pack, which supplies one third of the city’s drinking water, is expected to diminish by up to 90 percent by 2100. Jim McDaniel from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power says, “We want to cut our water imports in half by 2035 and make a major shift to more reliable local supplies.” Strategies to use more local water include cleaning up pollution in the San Fernando Basin, recycling stormwater and sewage, and recharging aquifers.

For additional information see: The Atlantic Cities

Climate Change Threatening Sacred Sites in Himalayas

Natural sites that are sacred to local communities in the Eastern Himalayas are facing increasing threats from climate change.  Warming global temperatures are melting Himalayan glaciers at an alarming rate, and less snow and rain are falling on the surrounding areas.  A recent report by the World Wide Fund (WWF) found that “one result of warmer temperatures and changes in glaciers is an increase in the rate of glacier lake outburst floods, one example of which has damaged the Punakha Dzong temple in Bhutan.”  Pristine landmarks provide a place of worship for the communities, and the area surrounding natural sites provide habitats for endangered species of flora and fauna.  WWF International Director General Jim Leape said in a press release, "Of all the threats to the region's nature and culture, perhaps the most pervasive and difficult to tackle is that of climate change.”

For additional information see: Hindustan Times, Nepal News, Report

Warming Sea Temperatures Starving Ocean of Oxygen

Researchers have found growing areas of the open ocean are suffering from depleted levels of oxygen.  By measuring water temperatures in the Arctic and in the Southern Ocean near the Antarctic, researchers have found temperature increases of between 0.03°C and 0.5°C, and as much as 1°C, and warmer sea water hold less oxygen than cold water.  Professor Lisa Levin, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, stated that, “off southern California over the past 22 years we’ve lost about 30 per cent of the oxygen at depths of around 200 to 300 meters.”  Many marine species cannot thrive in areas with low oxygen and low pH levels and are migrating to new habitats.  “The appropriate habitat for many ocean animals is being compressed causing many animals to live in a smaller area at higher densities in waters that may be shallower than normal.  This changes their interactions with other species, with predators and competitors and it also makes them much easier targets for fishermen,” said Professor Levin.

For additional information see: The Independent

Blackbird Populations Declining as a Result of Climate Change

A recent decline in a once common, populous species of blackbird has been shown to be a result of climate change. A study in the journal Ecology and Evolution by Auburn University researchers has found that changing temperatures and precipitation are to blame for the dwindling number of rusty blackbirds. The effect of the changing temperatures appears not to be directly on the birds themselves; rather changing temperatures are affecting the birds’ ecosystems. "Changing climate is affecting everything," said Chris McClure, a graduate student from Auburn University. "These birds used to be everywhere and usually when people are talking about climate change, you look at the effects on an isolated species . . . These birds literally span an entire continent, living in different climates, and yet they are affected just as much as anything else."

For additional information see:

Warming Affects Chipmunk Genetic Diversity, Species Success

The temperature-sensitive alpine chipmunk of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains has restricted its range 1640 feet upslope since the early 1900’s, according to work by University of California Berkeley scientists. Lead researcher Emily Rubidge says, “Climate change is implicated as the cause of geologic shifts observed among birds, small mammals and plants, but this work shows that, particularly for species like the alpine chipmunk, such shifts can result in increasingly fragmented and genetically impoverished populations.” The report, in Nature Climate Change, cites decreased “allele richness” and increased site-specific genetic differentiation in modern arctic chipmunks, increasing their susceptibility to diseases and effects of inbreeding.

For additional information see: Science Daily, UPI

Study:  Cloud Height is Declining

Global average cloud height declined approximately one percent between 2000 and 2010, according to a study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.  Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand analyzed the first 10 years of global cloud-top height measurements from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft.  The study found global average cloud height decreased by 30 to 40 meters, mostly due to fewer high altitude clouds.  Reduced cloud height may slow the effects of global warming because the Earth would cool to space more efficiently, lowering surface temperatures.  According to lead researcher Roger Davis, "We don't know exactly what causes the cloud heights to lower . . . but it must be due to a change in the circulation patterns that give rise to cloud formation at high altitude." Davis emphasized the short time-period analyzed is not definitive and long-term monitoring is required to determine the significance on global warming.

For additional information see: Science Daily, University of Auckland, Study

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Writers: Alison Alford, Justin Jones, Erin Tulley, Samantha Shiffman and Zuzana Culakova

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