11-28-20 Polar scientists wary of impending satellite gap
There is going to be a gap of several years in our ability to measure the thickness of ice at the top and bottom of the world, scientists are warning. The only two satellites dedicated to observing the poles are almost certain to die before replacements are flown. This could leave us blind to some important changes in the Arctic and the Antarctic as the climate warms. The researchers have raised their concerns with the European Commission and the European Space Agency. A letter detailing the problem - and possible solutions - was sent to leading EC and Esa officials this week; and although the US space agency (Nasa) has not formally been addressed, it has been made aware of the correspondence. At issue is the longevity of the European CryoSat-2 and American IceSat-2 missions. These spacecraft carry instruments called altimeters that gauge the shape and elevation of ice surfaces. They've been critical in recording the loss of sea-ice volume and the declining mass of glaciers. What's unique about the satellites is their orbits around the Earth. They fly to 88 degrees North and South from the equator, which means they see the entire Arctic and Antarctic regions, bar a small circle about 430km in diameter at the poles themselves. In contrast, most other satellites don't usually go above 83 degrees. As a consequence, they miss, for example, a great swathe of the central Arctic Ocean and its frozen floes. The worry is that CryoSat-2 and IceSat-2 will have been decommissioned long before any follow-ups get launched. CryoSat-2 is already way beyond its design life. It was put in space in 2010 with the expectation it would work for at least 3.5 years. Engineers think they can keep it operating until perhaps 2024, but battery degradation and a fuel leak suggest not for much longer. IceSat-2 was launched in 2018 with a design life of three years and fuel until 2025. Its altimeter also uses lasers which are a complex technology to maintain in space.
11-28-20 Climate change: The woman watching the ice melt from under her feet
Cassidy Kramer is part of the Inupiaq community, who have relied on Alaska's land for thousands of years. Like her father, she goes hunting and fishing to provide for the people around her. But Cassidy fears that her way of life could be gone before she starts a family of her own. Around her, the landscape is changing as temperatures warm and the ice melts. Now it's up to her, to hold on to her traditions as best she can.
11-27-20 Godzilla Sahara dust storm linked to melting Arctic sea ice
A record-breaking Sahara dust storm that spread hazy skies and harmful levels of air pollution across parts of North America was caused by winds linked to melting Arctic sea ice, researchers say. The event, dubbed the Godzilla dust cloud, peaked from 14 to 19 June 2020 and travelled more than 8000 kilometres across the Atlantic Ocean. The record dust plumes it created were so thick that algorithms initially classified them as clouds rather than dust. “It was exceptionally severe,” says Diana Francis at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Now Francis and her colleagues have found an explanation for why this was such an intense dust storm by combing through satellite and climate data during the event. The key seems to have been a high-pressure system unusually located off the western coast of the Sahara desert. That led to the acceleration of north-easterly winds, which were then injected into one of the jet streams that crosses the Atlantic Ocean. Finally, the high-pressure system lingered and caused the jet to be “blocked” in place, much like similar blocking highs have influenced extreme weather in Europe and the US in recent years, leading to the particularly intense dust clouds seen between 14 and 19 June. As Francis points out, such blocking patterns have been tentatively linked to Arctic sea ice loss, which was at one of the lowest extents on record in June. With the Arctic expected to be ice-free in summer before 2050 as climate change accelerates, that shift at the pole could plausibly lead to more frequent extreme dust events born in the Sahara desert. “After studying this case, I think we should expect the unexpected in terms of the response of the Sahara and the dust activity there, due to the changes occurring globally,” says Francis. The research is due to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on Monday.
11-26-20 Climate change may make autumn leaves fall early and store less carbon
Tree leaves may fall earlier in autumn due to climate change, rather than later as previously thought. The finding suggests forests will store significantly less carbon than expected as temperatures rise, and earlier leaf-fall may have knock-on effects on insects and other species. Constantin Zohner at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and his colleagues looked at autumn leaf-fall data from 1948 to 2015 for six temperate tree species, including common oak (Quercus robur), across nearly 4000 sites in central Europe. They then ran two experiments to see what role CO2 and sunlight play in leaf-fall’s timing. The first compared trees in chambers at close to today’s atmospheric CO2 levels with those at double that amount, while the second tested the impact of shade. Putting the results together, they modelled what would happen by 2100 if humanity’s carbon emissions stay high. Instead of the established expectation that warmer autumns will bring a longer growing season with leaf-fall occurring about 2 to 3 weeks later than today, Zohner’s team found it would probably happen 3 to 6 days earlier than now. “The key finding is this huge difference to when autumn happens compared to previous models,” says Zohner. The team’s experiments and the 67-year tree record suggest higher CO2 levels, temperatures or light levels are driving the leaves to be more productive in spring and summer, hastening their demise in autumn. “What we think is happening is plants seem have this internal limit to how productive they can be,” says Zohner. Though the study looked at European trees, he thinks the results will hold true for temperate trees in North America and Asia too. If proved right, this reversal has big global ramifications beyond when tourists flock to see leaf-fall and for phenologists studying the interactions between trees and animals and other plants. Zohner calculates that the switch from a delay to an advance in leaf-fall amounts to about 1 gigatonne less carbon stored globally each year by temperate forests, roughly a tenth of what humanity emits annually. “It’s a quite huge number,” he says.
11-26-20 Double climate disaster may have ended ancient Harappan civilisation
Even for a civilisation as advanced as the Harappan, a second drought was perhaps one too many. A two-pronged climate catastrophe may be what drove the ancient society to disperse and eventually disappear. The Harappan arose in the Indus valley between north-east Afghanistan and north-west India around 5200 years ago, peaking around 2600 BC. Much about them is unknown, as their written script is still undeciphered. Yet archaeological remains tell the story of a sophisticated people, skilled in metallurgy, trade and urban planning, and particularly adept at controlling water. Their huge cities, complete with intricate sewer systems, reservoirs and public baths, long predated the Roman Empire. But by 1900 BC, their society seemed to be in decline, and by 1300 BC, the Harappan civilisation had collapsed. Several ideas have been put forward to explain the downfall, including invasion and climate change. One recent hypothesis pins it to a major drought in the northern hemisphere around 4200 years ago. This event was recently declared as the start of the Meghalayan period of the Holocene geological epoch. It is thought to have disrupted climate systems around the world, including the summer monsoon rainfall the Harappan depended on. Nick Scroxton at University College Dublin, Ireland, and his colleagues are now challenging this idea after analysing 10 recently reported palaeoclimate records. These come mostly from stalagmites from cave sites around the Indian Ocean, including one from Madagascar and a sediment core from the Arabian Sea. Together, they provide a region-specific view of the evolving climate during the rise and fall of the Harappan. Scroxton and his team found some evidence of a relatively sudden drought starting around 4260 years ago. Rather than affecting summer monsoons though, the analysis suggests the Harappan faced a sharp decrease in winter rain.
11-25-20 Huge reservoir of fresh water found beneath the sea off Hawaii
A huge cache of fresh water found beneath the sea floor off the western coast of Hawaii’s Big Island could lift the threat of drought for people living there. Eric Attias at the University of Hawaii and his colleagues discovered the reservoir, which is contained in porous rock reaching at least 500 metres beneath the sea floor, using an imaging technique similar to an MRI scan. They used a boat towing a 40-metre-long antenna behind it to generate an electromagnetic field, sending an electric current through the sea and below the sea floor. As seawater is a better conductor than fresh water, the team could distinguish between the two. They found that the reservoir extends at least 4 kilometres from the coast and contains 3.5 cubic kilometres of fresh water. Most of Hawaii’s fresh water comes from onshore aquifers, which are layers of rock and soil underground that collect water after rainfall. The team believes that this newfound reservoir is replenished by water flowing out of these aquifers. Climate change has lead to increasing droughts in many places, which could leave some areas without water. In Hawaii, decreased rainfall and the destruction of forests could mean the onshore aquifers eventually dry up. Not only would the offshore reservoir help relieve drought, it may also be easier to pump from than the onshore aquifers, because the water is under high pressure. Accessing it would also have minimal impact on surrounding ecosystems, says Attias. Similar caches of water may be located off other volcanic islands, says the team, which could provide a relief for other places threatened by water scarcity due to climate change. New sources of fresh water are normally discovered by drilling to extract samples, but the new imaging technique used by Attias and his colleagues could make this process easier and cheaper, says Kerry Key at Columbia University in New York.
11-25-20 How sunshine can make the railways greener
A solar farm plugged directly into the rail network is just one way that the railways are using solar energy to power trains.
11-23-20 Climate change: Covid pandemic has little impact on rise in CO2
The global response to the Covid-19 crisis has had little impact on the continued rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2, says the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). This year carbon emissions have fallen dramatically due to lockdowns that have cut transport and industry severely. But this has only marginally slowed the overall rise in concentrations, the scientists say. The details are published in the WMO's annual greenhouse gas bulletin. This highlights the concentrations of warming gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas concentrations are the cumulative result of past and present emissions of a range of substances, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Through the Paris Agreement, countries are trying to reduce emissions of these pollutants which are generated through, for example, the burning of fossil fuels. These greenhouse gases trap heat close to the Earth's surface, driving up temperatures. This planetary warming threatens global food supplies, makes weather events - such as tropical storms and heatwaves - more extreme and increases the risk of flooding caused by sea level rise. CO2 levels are measured in parts per million (ppm) - an indication of their overall atmospheric abundance. According to the WMO, the global average in 2019 was 410.5ppm, an increase of 2.6ppm over 2018. This was larger than the increase from 2017 to 2018 and bigger than the average over the past decade. Thanks to lockdowns in early 2020, carbon emissions fell by 17% at their peak, but the overall effect on concentrations has been very small. Preliminary estimates suggest that CO2 will continue to increase this year but that rise will be reduced by 0.08 to 0.23ppm. This falls within the 1ppm natural variability that occurs from year to year. "We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015, and just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm, such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records," said WMO secretary general, Prof Petteri Taalas. "The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve," he said. While there isn't an overall figure for 2020 concentrations, individual monitoring stations show that the rise has continued this year despite the pandemic.
11-22-20 Sentinel-6: 'Dog kennel' satellite blasts off on ocean mission
A satellite that will be critical to the understanding of climate change has blasted skyward from California. Sentinel-6 "Michael Freilich" is set to become the primary means of measuring the shape of the world's oceans. Its data will track not only sea-level rise but reveal how the great mass of waters is moving around the globe. Looking somewhat like a dog kennel, the sophisticated 1.3-tonne satellite was taken aloft from the Vandenberg base on a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket. The Sentinel is a joint endeavour between Europe and the US, and will continue the measurements that have been made by a succession of spacecraft, called the Jason-Topex/Poseidon series, going back to 1992. These earlier missions have shown unequivocally that sea levels globally are rising, at a rate in excess of 3mm per year over the 28-year period. And their most recent data even suggests there is an acceleration under way, with levels recorded as going up at over 4mm per year. About one-third of the measured global sea-level rise on Earth is from the expansion of warming water, a key driver of which is climate change. The rest is largely from melting ice. Sentinel-6, like all the satellites before it, will use a radar altimeter to assess the height of the oceans. This instrument sends down a microwave pulse to the surface and then counts the time it takes to receive the return signal, converting this into an elevation. Sentinel-6 will, however, fly with a much improved capability, which will allow it to see more clearly what seas are doing right up against coastlines; and also how inland water features - rivers and lakes - are behaving. Elevation is a key parameter for oceanographers. Just as surface air pressure reveals what the atmosphere is doing above, so ocean height will betray details about the behaviour of water down below. The data gives clues to temperature and salinity. When combined with gravity information, it will also indicate current direction and speed. The oceans store vast amounts of heat from the Sun; and how they move that energy around the globe and interact with the atmosphere are what drive our climate system. But having the longest possible record of change is essential. "The longer that time series, the better able we are to separate out the natural climate signals from the forced ones, from the human signal," explained European Space Agency mission scientist Craig Donlon. "It means we can run climate models backwards and then, through a validation process, have confidence that when we run them forwards we have some predictive skill."
11-21-20 Paris agreement gets 'new lease on life' under Biden, climate advocates say
The U.S. is the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. And because the climate crisis knows no borders, who sits in the White House matters everywhere. Climate policy experts around the world have been letting out sighs of relief in the days since the U.S. election. In just two months, a president who once called global warming a hoax will be replaced by one who's pledged to "rally the rest of the world to meet the threat." A video of Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who ran the Paris climate agreement negotiations at the United Nations, neatly summed up the ecstatic reactions of climate delegates and activists around the world. The clip posted on Twitter shortly after the voting results were called last Saturday showed her happily jumping up and down while spinning in a circle and shrieking. "Sorry, no containment today!" she wrote, referring to her expression of positive emotions, and then congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Scientist and climate adviser to the Bangladeshi government Saleemul Huq was only slightly more sedate. "I'm extremely relieved, it's been a complete nail-biter," Huq said. The U.S. is the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world after China. And because the climate crisis knows no borders, who sits in the White House matters everywhere. "It is absolutely difficult to overstate how bad another four years of President Donald Trump would have been for the global climate change world," said Huq, who is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. Over the past four years, Trump reversed a slew of domestic policies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, fossil fuel drilling sites, and cars. He also took the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. But under a new administration, Huq said the U.S. will be welcomed back into the global fold with open arms. "The U.S. has a lot of catching up to do, but we are extremely hopeful that now we have an administration that knows the problem, is willing to solve the problem, and join with the rest of the world in solving the problem," Huq said. In the Paris pact, nearly every country in the world agreed to limit the increase in average global temperature to within 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The world is far off track, and without U.S. participation in the process, the accord's long-term viability would have been in question. Now, the agreement has a "new lease on life," as climate activist and writer Bill McKibben put it. In 2020, climate change was a bigger election issue than ever before. Exit polling from Morning Consult found about three-quarters of Biden voters said addressing climate change was a very important factor in their choice. At the virtual Democratic National Convention this summer, Biden named the "undeniable realities and the accelerating threats of climate change" as one of the four historic crises that Americans now face, along with the coronavirus pandemic, economic recession, and racial injustice. And then he leaned into that message in the closing weeks of the campaign, releasing two new ads focused on climate change shortly before Election Day.
11-21-20 New rules for Arctic shipping 'a missed opportunity'
The International Maritime Organization has passed a series of restrictions on ships which use and transport heavy grade oils. It hopes these will help protect the lands, communities and wildlife of the Arctic. But the new rules include a series of waivers and exemptions for ships from Arctic coastal states. The decision has been condemned by environmentalists as a "massive missed opportunity". Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is widely used to power commercial ships. HFO's have been banned in Antarctic waters since 2011 over fears that oil spills could cause pollution. Dr Sian Prior, from the Clean Arctic Alliance, said the IMO and its member states "must take collective responsibility for failing to put in place true protection of the Arctic, indigenous communities and wildlife from the threat of heavy fuel oil". The IMO's plan "would allow 74% of HFO-fuelled ships to keep using HFO in the Arctic," said Dr Bryan Comer, from the International Council for Clean Transportation. "(It) would result in a reduction of HFO carried of just 30% and a cut in black carbon emissions of only 5%," he added. And John Maggs, senior policy advisor at Seas at Risk said: "A 'ban' that affects just a quarter of ships is not a ban at all." A coalition of green groups had proposed a much tougher set of restrictions but they were rejected by delegates. HFO produces emissions of harmful pollutants, including sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxides, and black carbon. Furthermore, an accident which resulted in an HFO spill from a ship could wreak havoc on the Arctic's fragile ecosystem. Analysts say with the amount of sea ice reducing in the Arctic, more and more ships will use the Northern Sea Route. The new restrictions, which will come into force in July 2024, aim to reduce the number of ships that can use and transport HFO in the Arctic. But included are a whole string of exclusions and waivers for ships that carry the flag of the five central Arctic coastal countries (Russia, Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Canada and the US) until July 2029.
11-21-20 Sentinel-6: 'Dog kennel' satellite to measure sea-level rise
A satellite that will be critical to understanding of climate change will launch on Saturday from California. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will become the primary means of measuring the shape of the world's oceans. Its data will track not only sea-level rise but reveal how the great mass of waters are moving around the globe. Looking somewhat like a dog kennel, the sophisticated 1.3-tonne satellite is due to lift off from the Vandenberg base at 09:17 local time (17:17 GMT). The Sentinel is a joint endeavour between Europe and the US, and will continue the measurements that have been made by a succession of spacecraft, called the Jason-Topex/Poseidon series, going back to 1992. These earlier missions have shown unequivocally that sea levels globally are rising, at a rate in excess of 3mm per year over the 28-year period. And their most recent data even suggests there is an acceleration under way, with levels recorded as going up at over 4mm per year. About one-third of the measured global sea-level rise on Earth is from the expansion of warming water, a key driver of which is climate change. The rest is largely from melting ice. Sentinel-6, like all the satellites before it, will use a radar altimeter to assess the height of the oceans. This instrument sends down a microwave pulse to the surface and then counts the time it takes to receive the return signal, converting this into an elevation. Sentinel-6 will, however, fly with a much improved capability, which will allow it to see more clearly what seas are doing right up against coastlines; and also how inland water features - rivers and lakes - are behaving. Elevation is a key parameter for oceanographers. Just as surface air pressure reveals what the atmosphere is doing above, so ocean height will betray details about the behaviour of water down below. The data gives clues to temperature and salinity. When combined with gravity information, it will also indicate current direction and speed. The oceans store vast amounts of heat from the Sun; and how they move that energy around the globe and interact with the atmosphere are what drive our climate system.
11-21-20 Students create device to capture car tyre microplastic debris
We hear a lot about pollution from single-use plastics like bottles and packaging, but tyre wear from vehicles is another big environmental issue. A study by the UK's Air Quality Expert Group, which advises the government, recently warned about a lack of legislation to limit or reduce tyre microplastics. Now a group of graduate design students may have come up with a solution, and their idea has just won a runners-up prize at the International James Dyson Awards.
11-21-20 Plastics are showing up in the world’s most remote places, including Mount Everest
Tiny bits of plastic have made their way into the deepest sea and onto the highest peaks. Minuscule shreds and threads of plastic are turning up all over, including in the snow on Mount Everest. “We’ve known that plastic is in the deep sea, and now it’s on the tallest mountain on Earth,” says Imogen Napper, a marine scientist at the University of Plymouth in England and a National Geographic Explorer. “It’s ubiquitous through our whole environment.” Plastic plays an increasingly large role in our lifestyles: Globally, the use of plastics has shot up from around 5 million metric tons in the 1950s to more than 330 million metric tons in 2020. As they’re used and cast away, these plastic products shed tiny particles. The broken-down bits of bags, bottles and other consumer plastics, each smaller than 5 millimeters, can harm animals, such as marine crabs that get plastics stuck in their gills (SN: 7/8/14). They may also mess with ecosystems (SN: 1/31/20). Here are some of the most extreme places where microplastics have been found. All of the 11 snow samples that Napper’s team analyzed from Mount Everest contained plastic, the researchers report November 20 in One Earth. “I had no idea what the results were going to look like … so that really took me aback,” says Napper. Plastic pollution in the sea goes far deeper than the floating Pacific garbage patch (SN: 3/22/18). Scientists have fished plastic fibers and fragments from the guts of critters dwelling in ocean trenches around the Pacific Rim. Of 90 crustaceans analyzed in a 2019 study, 65 contained microplastics, with the deepest coming from 10,890 meters down in the Mariana Trench. In another study, a sampling of water in the Monterey Bay suggests that plastic debris is accumulating below the surface and is most prevalent at 200 to 600 meters deep (SN: 6/6/19).
11-20-20 Microplastic pollution discovered near the top of Mount Everest
Microplastics are present at both the highest and deepest points on Earth. The tiny pieces of plastic had previously been discovered in the 11-kilometre-deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean and have now been detected on Mount Everest. DThis is the first time that microplastics, bits of plastic less than 5 millimetres across that can come from the breakdown of larger items, have been detected on Everest. Imogen Napper at the University of Plymouth, UK, and colleagues collected eight 900-millilitre samples of stream water and 11 300-millilitre samples of snow from different points on the mountain. The team found microplastics in all of the snow samples and three of the stream samples. “Even though the research on Mount Everest was really exciting and getting the samples was incredible, you are secretly hoping not to find any because you want the environment to be pristine,” says Napper. The most polluted sample was from the Everest Base Camp in Nepal, where most human activity on the mountain is concentrated. It had 79 particles of microplastics per litre of snow. The highest sample, taken at 8440 metres above sea level, or 408 metres below the peak, had 12 microplastics per litre of snow. Most microplastics found on Mount Everest came from synthetic fibres, including polyester and acrylic, which are used to make the clothes and gear that trekkers rely on. Just walking around for 20 minutes, washing our clothes or opening a plastic bottle can release microplastics into the environment. “What we don’t yet fully know is the potential problems these tiny pieces of plastic could be having to ecosystems, to organisms and even to our own health as well. We can’t afford plastics to be the asbestos of the 21st century,” says Christian Dunn at Bangor University in the UK.
11-20-20 Plastics an 'unfolding disaster' for US marine life
A new decade-long survey of sea animals harmed by plastic rubbish in US waters has revealed data on which animals are being affected by plastic pollution. Oceana, the world's largest ocean conservation group, tracked about 1,800 cases of animals hurt by plastic since 2009 for a new comprehensive report. Of the animals surveyed, around 88% are listed as threatened or endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. Oceana warns that the numbers are sure to be far higher than the data reveals. The survey released on Thursday examines 1,792 examples of marine animals that became entangled in plastic or that had swallowed it. Forty species studied in Oceana's report are listened as threatened or endangered, including Hawaiian monk seals, Florida manatees, Steller sea lions and all six species of sea turtle found in the US. The report calls the crisis of plastic in the oceans an "unfolding disaster" that is one of several human-caused factors endangering the planet. "While there may never be a complete account of the fate of all marine animals impacted by plastic, this report paints a grim picture," said Dr Kimberly Warner, a senior scientist at Oceana who authored the study. "The world is hooked on plastic because the industry continues to find increasingly more ways to force this persistent pollutant into our everyday routines - and it's choking, strangling and drowning marine life." Around 90% of the cases involved animals swallowing plastic, including microscopic micro-plastic particles. Turtles as young as a few days old were found with plastic in their stomachs. In other cases, animals became entangled in plastic, making it impossible for them to move. In Florida, a dead Kemp's ridley sea turtle was found wrapped in a plastic bag. Scientist believe the animal drowned when the bag filled with sand. In Virginia, a sei whale developed gastric ulcer after a DVD case she swallowed cut open her stomach. The report notes that the US produces more single-use plastic than any other nation, and argues that governments must do more to curtail disposable plastic. Bags, balloons, recreational fishing line, plastic sheeting, food wrappers, bottles and bottle caps, and straws were all products frequently found either ingesting or linked to entanglement. An estimated 15 million metric tonnes of plastic enter the oceans each year, the report states, adding that this is equivalent to about two bin lorries per minute.
11-19-20 Climate change: Warmer winters linked to increased drowning risk
Winter activities on ice are becoming increasingly dangerous as the world warms, scientists say. When researchers looked at data on drowning accidents in largely frozen lakes or rivers, they saw a "strong correlation" to rising temperatures. They found that deaths from drowning were five times higher when warmer weather made the ice thinner and weaker. Children aged under nine years and younger adults were most at risk. For indigenous peoples in many northern regions of the world, livelihoods often depend on access to frozen lakes in winter for hunting, fishing and travel. In countries like the US, Canada and Russia, winter leisure activities such as skating or tobogganing on ice are also hugely popular. But as the world warms, winter ice is becoming less stable and scientists believe it poses a greater threat of accidental drowning. Canadian researchers looked at data on 4,000 drowning events in 10 countries over three decades since the 1990s. They found that higher temperatures were a good predictor of the number of deaths by drowning. "We can confidently say that there is a quite a strong correlation between warmer winter air temperatures and more winter drownings," said study leader Sapna Sharma, from York University in Toronto, Canada. "Almost half of the winter drownings were associated with warmer temperatures." The researchers collated data from official sources including coroner's offices. They were able to compare these figures to longstanding records from lakes showing when ice formed and melted each winter. Canada and the US had the highest number of drownings related to ice, an issue that was particularly acute among indigenous communities further north. The use of snowmobiles on lakes was associated with many of the lake fatalities. One of the saddest aspects of the study was the fact that many of the victims were very young. "We found that almost half of those drowned in Minnesota where there was no vehicle involved were children under nine years old," said Sapna Sharma. "They were playing on the ice, tobogganing or ice skating and they just weren't able to recognise when the ice was unsafe. They may not have recognised that slushy ice or a little open patch of water could be so fatal."
11-18-20 Ban on new petrol and diesel cars in UK from 2030 under PM's green plan
New cars and vans powered wholly by petrol and diesel will not be sold in the UK from 2030, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said. But some hybrids would still be allowed, he confirmed. It is part of what Mr Johnson calls a "green industrial revolution" to tackle climate change and create jobs in industries such as nuclear energy. Critics say the £4bn allocated to implement the 10-point plan is far too small for the scale of the challenge. The total amount of new money announced in the package is a 25th of the projected £100bn cost of high-speed rail, HS2. Business Secretary Alok Sharma told BBC Breakfast the £4bn was part of a broader £12bn package of public investment, which "will help to bring in three times as much in terms of private sector money". Mr Sharma, who is president of the COP26 international climate summit that the UK will host next year, said the money would also support the creation of 250,000 jobs in parts of the UK "where we want to see levelling up". The government hopes that many of those jobs will be in northern England and in Wales, and that 60,000 will be in offshore wind. The plan includes provision for a large nuclear plant - likely to be at Sizewell in Suffolk - and for advanced small nuclear reactors, which it is hoped, will create an estimated 10,000 jobs at Rolls-Royce and other firms. The plans will also affect some people's homes. The government will bring forward, to 2023, the date by which new homes will need to be warmed without using gas heating. It will aim to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 - these are low-energy electrical devices for warming homes. And it has extended the Green Homes Grant for home insulation for a year after the first tranche was massively over-subscribed. Clean hydrogen will be blended into the natural gas supply to reduce overall emissions from gas, and the government wants a town to volunteer for a trial of 100% hydrogen for heat, industry and cooking. The hydrogen - attracting a subsidy of up to £500m - will be produced in places such as the North East of England, partly by energy from offshore wind.
- Offshore wind: Produce enough offshore wind to power every home in the UK, quadrupling how much it produces to 40 gigawatts by 2030, and supporting up to 60,000 jobs.
- Hydrogen: Have five gigawatts of "low carbon" hydrogen production capacity by 2030 - for industry, transport, power and homes - and develop the first town heated by the gas by the end of the decade.
- Nuclear: Pushing nuclear power as a clean energy source and including provision for a large nuclear plant, as well as for advanced small nuclear reactors, which could support 10,000 jobs.
- Electric vehicles: Phasing out sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and investing in grants to help buy cars and charge point infrastructure.
- Public transport, cycling and walking: Making cycling and walking more attractive ways to travel and investing in zero-emission public transport for the future.
- Jet zero and greener maritime: Supporting research projects for zero-emission planes and ships.
- Homes and public buildings: Making homes, schools and hospitals greener, warmer and more energy efficient, including a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.
- Carbon capture: Developing world-leading technology to capture and store harmful emissions away from the atmosphere, with a target to remove 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030 - equivalent to all emissions of the industrial Humber.
- Nature: Protecting and restoring the natural environment, with plans to include planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year.
- Innovation and finance: Developing cutting-edge technologies and making the City of London the global centre of green finance.
11-18-20 UK climate plan: What do the terms mean?
The UK prime minister is set to publish his long-awaited "net zero" plan to tackle climate change. He has already backed technologies like carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and small reactors. Here, we break down some of the terms we're likely to hear about in the plan. What is net zero? The world is over-heating fast, thanks to emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases from burning fossil fuels. Another important human-produced heating gas is methane – mostly from farming and landfill. Scientists warn it simply won’t be possible to get emissions of these to zero by the UK's chosen date of 2050. So instead, the government is aiming for a target known as net zero. That means the emissions that can’t be avoided by clean technology in 2050 will either be buried using the technology of carbon capture and storage, or soaked up by plants and soils. This does what it says on the tin – a technology that employs a chemical process to capture CO2 emissions from industrial chimneys. The gas is then compressed and forced into porous underground rocks. Two decades ago, it was touted as a climate saviour. But it's very expensive and has never really taken off. New technologies can also take waste CO2 and turn it into useful chemicals – but demand is vastly outstripped by the supply of unwanted CO2. Let's take net zero first. It refers to balancing out any greenhouse gas emissions produced by industry, transport or other sources by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. This usually occurs through, for example, planting trees, which sequester carbon in their wood. The terms net zero and carbon neutral are often seen as interchangeable. But while net zero usually refers to all greenhouse gases, Chris Stark, chief executive of the UK government's advisory body the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), said his organisation mostly uses carbon neutral when referring to carbon dioxide emissions only. Jim Watson, professor of energy policy at University College London (UCL), concurred with the CCC's definition but he added that it was "unfortunate" there was no universally agreed definition for the terms.
11-18-20 PM's climate vision: 10 steps forward, 10 steps back?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's long-awaited climate plan includes hastening the end of petrol and diesel cars, new nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture. But as our Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin reports, other policies are leaving emissions untouched, or even driving them up. The prime minister's ambitious 10-point plan has been broadly welcomed by businesses and environmentalists. But while Mr Johnson creates jobs and cuts carbon dioxide with one hand, he's either increasing emissions - or leaving them uncut - in at least 10 other areas. These are road-building, SUVs, high-speed rail, aviation, overseas finance, oil and gas, coal mining, farming, meat-eating and peat. The £27bn roads programme will actually increase emissions. Increased road capacity not only encourages driving but also leads to car-dependent developments such as retail and business parks. It will be decades before electric vehicles rule the tarmac. The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says people should be driving less, and even the AA's president Edmund King concedes: "Arguably in future, we should invest more in broadband [so people can] work from home." There's secrecy and confusion over the calculations for CO2 emissions from the roads programme, and the government is facing court action by greens complaining that road-building doesn't fit with a zero emissions economy. Building highways doesn't create many jobs either because most work is mechanised. Large sports utility vehicles (SUVs) emit a quarter more CO2 than medium-sized cars, yet the PM's doing nothing to deter people from buying them. The motoring industry says electric SUVs will eventually be the answer. But some academics argue that the most polluting SUVs should be removed from the roads immediately. They say electric SUVs won't solve all problems, because they gobble far more energy and resources than smaller cars.
11-18-20 How electric cars are charged and how far they go: your questions answered
The announcement that the UK is to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, a full decade earlier than planned, has prompted hundreds of questions from anxious drivers. I’m going to try to answer some of the main ones we’ve had sent in to the BBC.
How do you charge an electric car at home? The obvious answer is that you plug it into the mains but, unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple. If you have a driveway and can park your car beside your house, then you can just plug it straight into your domestic mains electricity supply. The problem is this is slow. It will take many hours to fully charge an empty battery, depending of course on how big the battery is. Expect it to take a minimum of eight to 14 hours, but if you’ve got a big car you could be waiting more than 24 hours. A faster option is to get a home fast-charging point installed. The government will pay up to 75% of the cost of installation (to a maximum of £500), though installation often costs around £1,000. A fast charger should typically take between four and 12 hours to fully charge a battery, again depending how big it is.
How much will it cost to charge my car at home? This is where electric vehicles really show cost advantages over petrol and diesel. It is significantly cheaper to charge an electric car than fill up a fuel tank. The cost will depend on what car you’ve got. Those with small batteries – and therefore short ranges – will be much cheaper than those with big batteries that can travel for hundreds of kilometres without recharging. How much it will cost will also depend on what electricity tariff you are on. Most manufacturers recommend you switch to an Economy 7 tariff, which means you pay much less for electricity during the night – when most of us would want to charge our cars. The consumer organisation Which estimates the average driver will use between £450 and £750 a year of additional electricity charging an electric car.
11-18-20 Small steps taken to make shipping greener
Delegates at a high-level meeting have agreed new guidelines intended to make shipping compatible with UN climate change goals. The London talks, organised by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), settled on a plan to align the industry with the Paris climate treaty. Scientists say ships are a key source of pollution, producing a billion tonnes in CO2 emissions each year. Shipping was left out of the original Paris negotiations in 2015. But three years later, the IMO agreed it had to act to make the sector comply with the landmark climate deal, which aims to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in order to limit global temperature rise. Emissions of carbon dioxide from shipping represent about 3% of the global total. The new rules set guidelines to make ships more efficient in how they operate and in so doing reduce their emissions, in line with Paris targets. Tuesday's proposals were overwhelmingly backed by the majority of the delegates to the meeting. But with little enthusiasm. Delegate after delegate complained about the lack of ambition of the plans and that, at best, today's outcome was "a small step". Britain's representative at the talks, Katy Ware, summed up the mood of many who supported the new rules. She said: "The UK must join others in stressing its disappointment in the lack of ambition in the draft regulations. Going forward, we call on all member states to work in unison to tackle the climate crisis." Only three countries rejected the new guidelines: the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. The climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner said: "This proposal is not faithful to the promises we made two years ago in the initial strategy. It fails to reduce emissions before 2023, it will not peak emissions as soon as possible, and it will not set ship emissions on a pathway consistent with the Paris Agreement goals. Colleagues, we must be doing more."
11-17-20 UK 10-point climate plan bans new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030
UK 10-point climate plan bans new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030. The move was lauded as a “landmark” by Greenpeace and “undoubtedly challenging” by the CBI business group. The step is combined with £1.3 billion for new car charging infrastructure and £582 million in grants for buying electric cars. “Bold action on electric transport, easily the biggest pro-climate action from a UK government since hastening the end of coal power, will make huge ripples overseas,” said Jonathan Marshall at the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, a UK-based non-profit, in a statement. However, in a concession to car makers, the government won’t ban the sale of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles – which can typically travel for tens of kilometres on battery power before switching to a conventional engine – until 2035. Such cars have been found to emit two-and-a-half times more carbon dioxide in real life than in lab tests. Johnson also gave his backing to nuclear power, but stopped short of confirming funding for a new nuclear plant at Sizewell in Suffolk proposed by French state-owned firm EDF Energy. The plan did allocate £525 million for nuclear reactors, chiefly those much smaller than today’s, which a consortium led by Rolls-Royce has been lobbying for support to build. In a statement, the UK government said the 10-point climate plan would create 250,000 jobs and tied the measures to Johnson’s election promise to “level up” neglected regions of the UK. The new policies come just weeks ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement on 12 December. Three days earlier, on 9 December, the government’s climate advisers will issue a new carbon emissions target for the mid-2030s. Other highlights of Johnson’s plan include moves to dramatically increase production of low-carbon hydrogen, which is seen as a key way to decarbonise heavy industry and other sectors. He set a goal of having 5 gigawatts of electrolyser capacity for making hydrogen by 2030, which compares with an EU-wide target of 40GW by the same date. There are also suggestions of a UK “hydrogen town” for 2025, supplying tens of thousands of homes with the fuel for heating and cooking.
11-17-20 UK 10-point climate plan bans new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030
The UK will ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, 10 years earlier than planned, under prime minister Boris Johnson’s push for more ambitious action on climate change. The move was lauded as a “landmark” by Greenpeace and “undoubtedly challenging” by the CBI business group. The step is combined with £1.3 billion for new car charging infrastructure and £582 million in grants for buying electric cars. “Bold action on electric transport, easily the biggest pro-climate action from a UK government since hastening the end of coal power, will make huge ripples overseas,” said Jonathan Marshall at the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, a UK-based non-profit, in a statement. However, in a concession to car makers, the government won’t ban the sale of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles – which can typically travel for tens of kilometres on battery power before switching to a conventional engine – until 2035. Such cars have been found to emit two-and-a-half times more carbon dioxide in real life than in lab tests. Johnson also gave his backing to nuclear power, but stopped short of confirming funding for a new nuclear plant at Sizewell in Suffolk proposed by French state-owned firm EDF Energy. The plan did allocate £525 million for nuclear reactors, chiefly those much smaller than today’s, which a consortium led by Rolls-Royce has been lobbying for support to build. In a statement, the UK government said the 10-point climate plan would create 250,000 jobs and tied the measures to Johnson’s election promise to “level up” neglected regions of the UK. The new policies come just weeks ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement on 12 December. Three days earlier, on 9 December, the government’s climate advisers will issue a new carbon emissions target for the mid-2030s.
11-17-20 Hurricane Iota: Category four storm hits Nicaragua
A powerful hurricane has brought torrential rains and strong winds to Nicaragua's Caribbean coast, two weeks after another devastating storm hit. Iota made landfall as a category four storm near the town of Puerto Cabezas, where patients had to be evacuated from a makeshift hospital after its roof was ripped off. Residents are in shelters, and there are fears of food shortages. The storm has weakened and Honduras is expected to be hit later on Tuesday. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Iota was now a category two storm, but warned it could bring life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic winds, flash flooding and landslides. Iota struck Nicaragua on Monday evening with sustained winds of nearly 155mph (250km/h), the NHC said. It strengthened at sea to a category five storm but it weakened as it made landfall. In Puerto Cabezas, also known as Bilwi, the storm damaged wooden homes, flooded streets and cut off electricity. Residents said the wind ripped away the roofs of houses "like they were made of cardboard". "I haven't eaten. I don't know where I'm going to sleep here," 80-year-old Prinsila Glaso told AFP news agency. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Nicaraguan officials said around 40,000 people had been evacuated from areas in the storm's path. "[Iota] is the strongest hurricane that has touched Nicaraguan soil since records began," said Marcio Baca, director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Earth Studies. The hurricane is forecast to move inland across the country before hitting southern Honduras. The effect of the rains could be particularly devastating in areas already drenched by Hurricane Eta. Iota made landfall just 15 miles (24km) south of where Eta hit on 3 November. In Honduras, officials said at least 50,000 people had been removed from high-risk areas. Speaking at a news conference on Monday, President Juan Orlando Hernández warned: "What's drawing closer is a bomb."
11-16-20 Launching the search for the Gretas of the future
Wanted: creative, innovative young minds who want to tackle the big problems facing the planet. Whether a science genius, a chess prodigy or an advocate for a global cause, you must have the desire to serve others, and be aged 15 to 17. A new global talent search for exceptional young leaders, inspired by teenage movers and shakers, such as Greta Thunberg, has been launched. It is backed by the philanthropists Wendy and Eric Schmidt. They hope to engage tomorrow's leaders, by providing education and opportunities for them to identify problems, solutions, and ways they can work together, "for a lifetime in the service of humanity", said Wendy Schmidt. Young people are desperate to find ways to change the world and to create a new one that may look different, but they don't always know how, added Eric Braverman, chief executive of Schmidt Futures. "We have challenges relating to climate, to the benefits of economic development, to healthcare, as we can all see, all around the world, and we think to get the best solutions for the planet, you have to bet on exceptional people, you have to bet on human ingenuity and you have to do it early, and globally, and over and over again for a long time," he explained. Statistics suggest that civic engagement among young people is very high, particularly on subjects such as climate change, said head of strategy, Cassie Crockett. She said inspiration came from a very long list of young people, including the chess player Tani Adewumi, and teenage activists, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai. "From young people today we see an immense amount of care and concern for the world around them and what's more exciting is we see that manifest as concrete action," she said. Qualities such as persistence, compassion and care for others, a demonstrated commitment to service, personal integrity and intellectual performance or achievement. As well as traditional mathematical, scientific or musical talents, they are also looking for "quirky geniuses who want to serve others", said Eric Braverman. "We want people that are different not just for its own sake but because we think that it will help us have better teams to solve problems, more creative solutions, more new opportunities we haven't imagined, more communities to serve," he explained.
11-16-20 Hurricane Iota threatens 'catastrophic winds'
Hurricane Iota is strengthening as it roars towards Central America, with meteorologists warning of "potentially catastrophic winds" and "life-threatening storm surge". It is now a category four hurricane with winds of 155mph (245km/h), the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) says. Iota is predicted to make landfall in north-eastern Nicaragua and eastern Honduras later on Monday. Parts of Central America remain water logged by the passing of Hurricane Eta. The NHC says that before it makes landfall, Iota could turn into a category five hurricane, the highest on the Saffir-Simpson wind strength scale. Before reaching Central America the storm is forecast to pass over Providencia, a Colombian island in the Caribbean. The NHC has warned that heavy rainfall from Iota could lead to "life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding across portions of Central America". Iota already caused flooding in Cartagena, a popular tourist destination on Colombia's Caribbean coast. The effect of the rains could be particularly devastating in areas already drenched by Hurricane Eta two weeks ago. Eta left at least 200 people dead. The worst-hit area was Guatemala's central Alta Verapaz region, where mudslides buried dozens of homes in the village of Quejá, with some 100 people feared dead. At least 50 deaths were reported elsewhere in Guatemala. Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua have evacuated residents living in low-lying areas and near rivers in the Atlantic coastal region which Iota is expected to hit. A resident of Bilwi, a coastal town in Nicaragua, said some locals were refusing to leave their homes for fear of catching coronavirus in shared shelters. "Some of us prefer to stay and die in our homes. There has never been a repeat hurricane in such a short time, but what can we do against the force of God and nature," Silvania Zamora told AFP news agency. "We are worried, nervous. Psychologically we are not doing well, because losing our things and starting over is not easy. Some of us have old little houses and we risk losing everything," she added. In Honduras, the country's second city and its industrial hub, San Pedro Sula, is bracing for major flooding.
11-16-20 Summit aims for clean-up of shipping industry
Governments from around the world will try to reach agreement on a deal to clean up international shipping this week. Scientists say ships are a key source of pollution, producing a billion tonnes in CO2 emissions each year. That's more than Germany produces and about 3% of the global total. In 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN body which regulates the industry, agreed that international shipping had to act. It promised to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050, to make cuts before 2030 to curb pollution, and to get emissions to peak as soon as possible. Since then, activists have accused the IMO and the industry of watering down hard won promises and ignoring the commitment they made. They say the current proposals simply do not meet the required Paris targets. A joint statement from a group of six non-governmental organisations warns: "This proposal will not cap, let alone reduce, the shipping sector's one billion tonnes and rising of annual emissions this decade - the very decade in which the world's climate scientists say we must almost halve global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to stay within a relatively safe 1.5C of global warming, as committed to under the Paris Agreement." In his opening remarks to the meeting, Kitack Lim, secretary-general of the IMO, said: "We have been focusing on the development of short-term measures. But now, I think we have to be more proactive to foster the development of future alternative fuels and embark on discussing potential mid-and long-term measures as soon as possible. "In this regard, IMO has to ensure that no country is left behind in the transition to decarbonisation of international shipping." Much hope is being placed on technological developments, with the emphasis on using greener fuels like ammonia, ethanol, hydrogen or even wind power. But shipping industry figures say all of these options have drawbacks and they point to the "massive" costs involved in changing from fossil fuel use.
11-15-20 Extra £40m for green spaces in England, Boris Johnson pledges
A further £40m is to be ploughed into green spaces in England as part of a plan to restore species and combat climate change. The government says the cash will fund thousands of jobs in conservation. The prime minister also promised new national parks and greater protections for England’s iconic landscapes. Environmentalists welcomed the investment but said it was a fraction of what is needed to restore Britain’s depleted wildlife. Boris Johnson said the scheme was part of his 10-point plan for combating climate change, which Downing Street said would be unveiled this week. The plan has been widely leaked and it is thought to include a commitment to: 1. energy efficiency and heat for homes and business, 2. offshore wind, 3. the power system, 4. nuclear – including small modular reactors, 5. carbon capture/storage, 6. hydrogen, 7. innovation funding for net-zero, 8. transport, 9. green financing, 10. natural environment investment. The natural environment funding will go to environmental charities creating or restoring important habitats like peatland and wetland; preventing or cleaning up pollution; creating woodland; and helping people connect with nature. Mr Johnson said this will in turn create and retain skilled and unskilled jobs, such as ecologists, project managers, tree planters and teams to carry out nature restoration. The projects could give a home to species that flourished in similar initiatives across the country, including the curlew, nightingale, horseshoe bat, pine marten, red squirrel and wild orchids. Mr Johnson said: “Britain’s iconic landscapes are part of the fabric of our national identity - sustaining our communities, driving local economies and inspiring people across the ages. “That’s why, with the natural world under threat, it’s more important than ever that we act now to enhance our natural environment and protect our precious wildlife and biodiversity.”
11-15-20 Would UK be ready for a new petrol car ban in 2030?
Boris Johnson is poised to announce that the government is bringing forward by a decade a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030 from 2040, the BBC understands. It's understood that new hybrid cars – those with electric motors as well as engines – will get a stay of execution: they will be banned from 2035. But would the UK be ready for these changes?
11-14-20 Storm Iota: Preparations under way in Honduras and Nicaragua
Evacuations of coastal areas of Honduras are under way as a second hurricane in as many weeks is forecast to hit Central America. Forecasters say Tropical Storm Iota is expected to strengthen to a "major hurricane" when it hits Honduras and Nicaragua on Sunday. They warn of 120mph (193km/h) winds, torrential rain and rising sea levels. The region is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Eta which killed at least 200 people earlier this month. The worst-hit area was Guatemala's central Alta Verapaz region, where mudslides buried dozens of homes in the village of Quejá, with some 100 people feared dead. At least 50 deaths were reported elsewhere in the country. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that "flooding and mudslides in Nicaragua and Honduras could be exacerbated by Hurricane Eta's recent effects there". Parts of Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, El Salvador and Colombia have been warned to prepare for "life-threatening flash-flooding and river flooding" while coastal areas of Hispaniola and Jamaica may also see "life-threatening surf and rip current conditions". The Honduran authorities ordered the evacuation of people in the area of San Pedro Sula, the country's second city and industrial capital, on Friday. "Our red alert [in Honduras] orders mandatory evacuations," Julissa Mercado of Honduras' Emergency Response Agency told AFP. Meanwhile, Guatemala's disaster officials have urged residents in parts of the north to voluntarily evacuate to shelters. "Our ground is already saturated, so it's to be expected that we have more farming and infrastructure damage," President Alejandro Giammattei said. Iota will be the 30th storm this year to wreak havoc across the Central American, Caribbean and south-eastern US - a record for the region's hurricane season. President Giammattei blamed the increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes on climate change and accused industrialised nations of being responsible.
11-13-20 Technology and natural hazards clash to create ‘natech’ disasters
The term’s definition is expanding as climate change ramps up hurricanes and wildfires. In August, a dry lightning storm over California sparked an intense wildfire that raged through communities in the Santa Cruz mountains. After the CZU Lightning Complex Fire was contained, local officials advised some residents returning to their homes to not use the drinking water. Benzene, a known carcinogen, had been detected in the water supply. The chemical probably was released by plastic pipes that melted during the fire. Scientists call events like this “natech,” or natural hazard-induced technological disasters. Coined in 1994, the term originally applied to industrial incidents such as chemical or fuel spills that occur after hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural hazards. But natech’s definition has recently expanded, says resilience scientist David Yu of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. It now covers any disaster arising from damage caused by a natural hazard to infrastructure that relies on technology, he says. That includes disasters involving electricity and water supply. Finding benzene in drinking water after wildfires is a perfect example, Yu says. Natech now also encompasses disasters that have the potential to cause humanitarian crises, like the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan, which was caused by a magnitude 9 earthquake and ensuing tsunami (SN: 3/14/11). The frequency of natech is increasing worldwide, according to a study in the 2018 Handbook of Disaster Research. More people are moving to coasts and the edges of wilderness areas, places vulnerable to natural hazards, especially hurricanes and wildfires (SN: 11/15/18). It takes power plants, water supply facilities and networks of fiber-optic internet cables to support these growing population centers. With climate change predicted to fuel more frequent and intense hazards, these natural events will collide with
11-13-20 Black Friday emissions boom predicted
The Black Friday shopping event will create a surge in vehicle emissions, according to a report from price comparison website Money.co.uk. Lockdown brought an online retail bonanza, and this year’s Black Friday is expected to be the biggest ever. But each delivery generates carbon dioxide so emissions will spike. It’s made worse because the concentration of demand to a short space of time overloads the capacity of firms to deliver in the normal way. Many people expect next day deliveries, so companies have to hire in extra drivers using their own vehicles, which are often much less efficient. Experts say a little patience from consumers would be a big help. The report says same-day delivery is also a problem as it gives firms less time to consolidate orders on their routes. The website’s survey suggested that 21% of people shopping online expect delivery to be cheaper on Black Friday, 55% expect the same, and 3% expect an increase. The remaining 21% of people didn't think about delivery fees when ordering online. While 85% of UK consumers plan to shop for Black Friday deals, just one in 10 said they considered the impact of their deliveries on the environment. The website has ranked delivery firms on their attitude to carbon emissions. It crowns Royal Mail the most carbon-conscious because of its ‘feet on the street’ network of 90,000 postal workers. Each year, the Royal Mail delivers around 1.8 billion parcels, and it has trialled e-trikes. Amazon is praised for the number of click-and-collect parcels, which prevent home deliveries while driving footfall to local businesses. UPS is said to be doing best when it comes to the number of electric or hybrid vehicles. Professor Greg Marsden from Leeds University transport confirmed expectations of a Black Friday carbon dioxide surge. But he said actual numbers were hard to calculate because some deliveries replace shopping trips into town.
11-12-20 Once hurricanes make landfall, they’re lingering longer and staying stronger
As climate warms, hurricanes could maintain their fury and wreak devastation farther inland. Atlantic hurricanes are taking longer to weaken after making landfall than they did 50 years ago, thanks to climate change. Over the past 50 years, increasingly warm ocean waters have juiced up the storms, giving them more staying power after they roar ashore, scientists report in the Nov. 12 Nature. That could potentially extend storms’ destructive power farther inland, the researchers say. As ocean waters warm, tropical cyclones — called hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean — are likely to gain in intensity, studies show (SN: 9/28/18). They can also hold more moisture, leading to seemingly unremitting rainfall (SN: 9/13/18). And they may move more slowly, allowing more time to dump that rain on coastal communities. All of this increases the potential hazard on land (SN: 6/6/18). Once a storm hits land, its energy begins to dissipate. But that relief is coming later than it once did, report physicists Lin Li and Pinaki Chakraborty, both of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. Li and Chakraborty analyzed the intensity of historical Atlantic hurricanes over the first 24 hours after landfall. In 1967, a typical storm’s intensity decayed by 76 percent within the first day after landfall. But by 2018, storms were only 52 percent less intense after 24 hours. That trend, the researchers say, aligns with increasing sea-surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean Sea. That’s because the intense winds of cyclones feed on moisture and heat picked up from the warm waters, and warmer air can also hold more moisture. So as the oceans heat up, they not only add more moisture, making hurricanes rainier, but also add more heat — like a portable engine the storm uses to fuel its fury for just a bit longer.
11-12-20 Here’s why it is so hellishly hard to give up your car to go green
I got rid of my car months ago in an effort to be kinder to the environment, but it has been much harder than I expected and I’m reluctantly driving again, writes Graham Lawton. IN FEBRUARY, before the coronavirus epidemic became a pandemic, I took the plunge and got rid of my car. I figured it would be no great sacrifice: I live in London within walking distance of three tube stations and countless bus stops. I own a bike. There are taxis and Ubers; supermarkets deliver. I joined a car-share scheme and earmarked the not inconsiderable sum of money I was spending on keeping my car on the road to fund my green transport future. Then the lockdown happened and being car-free suddenly felt like a sacrifice. I couldn’t get a supermarket delivery slot. I couldn’t take my broken garden chairs to the recycling centre. A few days into lockdown, somebody stole my bike from a supposedly secure lock-up. When lockdown eased, it just got worse. We yearned to escape to the countryside or beach, but taking public transport or a taxi felt like too much of a risk. The car-share scheme turned out to be mind-bogglingly complicated – every London borough has its own rules about where you can and can’t park, and taking a car-share vehicle beyond the city is practically impossible. I still couldn’t get a supermarket delivery slot or a new bike. Hiring a car is phenomenally expensive and time-consuming. A 24-hour hire to drop my son off at university consumed more than two months of my mobility fund. So last month I did a U-turn and bought a car. I felt guilt and failure, but also a sense of justification: I had tried, but the pandemic defeated me. Most of all I felt liberated. I’ve already put a few hundred miles on the clock. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t converted to petrolhedonism (it is a petrol car, though a very efficient one. I looked into electric cars and hybrids, but they cost too much). I still aspire to be able to travel without spewing greenhouse gases and pollution and without having to possess a big contraption comprising metal, glass, plastic, rubber, fabric and oil that will one day end up on a scrapheap – or possibly become a wheezy rust bucket that is exported to lower-income countries.
11-11-20 Climate change: Hurricanes get stronger on land as world warms
North Atlantic hurricanes are retaining far more of their strength when they hit land because of global warming, say scientists. Previously, experts believed these storms died down quickly once they made landfall. But over the past 50 years, the time it takes for hurricanes to dissipate on the coast has almost doubled. Researchers says that climate change gives the storms more energy, which continues to power them over land. The scientists involved say that this will likely make hurricanes more damaging further inland in years to come. This year, the North Atlantic has already broken the record for the number of named storms, with Hurricane Theta becoming the 29th storm of the season - beating the 28 that formed in 2005. Experts have noted that in recent years, tropical storms that make land are persisting far longer and doing more damage than in the past. In 2017, Houston, Texas, was inundated when Hurricane Harvey settled over the city for several days, dumping 127 billion tonnes of water on the US' fourth largest city. It was one of the heaviest precipitation events in the recorded history of hurricanes. Now, researchers have shown that climate change is preventing these storms from decaying quickly when they move onto dry land. Hurricanes are powered by moisture from warm, tropical oceans - this is the fuel that drives the intense winds that are typical of this type of storm. Climate change means the air over the oceans can hold more of this moisture, intensifying the storms at sea. But when these storms hit land, the fuel from the seas is cut off and the hurricanes should decay, or dissipate, very quickly. However, this new study indicates that is no longer the case. "We show that hurricanes decay at a slower rate in a warmer climate," said Prof Pinaki Chakraborty, from the Okinawa Institute for Science and Technology in Japan, who led the study. "For North Atlantic land-falling hurricanes, the timescale of decay has almost doubled over the past 50 years."
11-11-20 Rivers of air in the sky are melting huge patches of Antarctic sea ice
Rivers of warm air transported across the atmosphere have been found to play a major role in the creation of vast openings in Antarctic sea ice. Storms are known to help trigger the openings, known as polynyas, which in the past have expanded to tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. But despite the world’s most powerful storms being a regular fixture in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, they don’t on their own explain why the polynyas form at some times and not at others. Now, Diana Francis at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and her colleagues think they have the answer. Combing satellite records and climate data, they looked at major polynya events in the Weddell Sea on the Antarctic coast in 1973 and 2017. They found that flows of heat and water vapour in the sky, known as atmospheric rivers, travelled huge distances, in one case moving from the south-eastern coast of South America down to the Weddell Sea in 2017. During September that year, one river increased air temperatures in the Weddell Sea by 10°C. It isn’t just that the rivers of heat start melting the ice pack, making it fragile and easily broken up by cyclones. “The atmospheric rivers also make the storms more intense because they provide more water vapour. They are linked, not independent,” says Francis. The polynyas can bring benefits, such as providing nutrients to marine life. However, like melting Arctic sea ice, they matter globally because they can speed up climate change when dark open water reflects less of the sun’s energy back to space than white ice. In turn, climate change will influence future polynyas. Global warming is expected to increase the frequency of atmospheric river events by around 50 per cent if carbon emissions stay high.
11-11-20 With Theta, 2020 sets the record for most named Atlantic storms
The subtropical storm southwest of the Azores is the 29th named storm, surpassing 2005’s record. It’s official: 2020 now has the most named storms ever recorded in the Atlantic in a single year. On November 9, a tropical disturbance brewing in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean gained enough strength to become a subtropical storm. With that, Theta became the year’s 29th named storm, topping the 28 that formed in 2005. With maximum sustained winds near 110 kilometers per hour as of November 10, Theta is expected to churn over the open ocean for several days. It’s too early to predict Theta’s ultimate strength and trajectory, but forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say they expect the storm to weaken later in the week. If so, like most of the storms this year, Theta likely won’t become a major hurricane. That track record might be the most surprising thing about this season — there’s been a record-breaking number of storms, but overall they’ve been relatively weak. Only five — Laura, Teddy, Delta, Epsilon and Eta — have become major hurricanes with winds topping 178 kilometers per hour, although only Laura and Eta made landfall near the peak of their strength as Category 4 storms. Even so, the 2020 hurricane season started fast, with the first nine storms arriving earlier than ever before (SN: 9/7/20). And the season has turned out to be the most active since naming began in 1953, thanks to warmer-than-usual water in the Atlantic and the arrival of La Niña, a regularly-occurring period of cooling in the Pacific, which affects winds in the Atlantic and helps hurricanes form (SN: 9/21/19). If a swirling storm reaches wind speeds of 63 kilometers per hour, it gets a name from a list of 21 predetermined names. When that list runs out, the storm gets a Greek letter.
11-11-20 Climate change: Protecting the rainforest through your shopping basket
New laws should help prevent consumers from buying food grown on rainforest land that has been illegally logged. UK firms will be banned from selling commodities if their production breaches local laws protecting forests and other natural areas. The change will be included in a new Environment Bill that MPswill discuss. The aim is to stop British consumers playing an inadvertent role in an environmental crime through the goods in their supermarket basket. The key commodities most grown on land that is illegally cleared are: cocoa, soya, palm oil, beef and leather, rubber, timber, pulp and paper. It is estimated that around half of tropical deforestation is illegal - and linked to the expansion of commercial forestry and agriculture, with land being cleared to make way for grazing animals and growing crops. That matters to humanity because rainforests are vital for absorbing climate-heating emissions, their diverse species, their capacity to store water and their potential for new medicines. The government has agreed the UK must stop metaphorically "importing" the problem of deforestation. Its move has been welcomed by environmentalists, but they raise questions whether it will be possible to trace all products. They also ask what level the fines will be, and how the law will be enforced. Ruth Chambers, from the umbrella group Greener UK, said “This is really a great step to protect rainforests – but we don’t know the full details yet. “The other issue is that this ban only refers to illegally deforested land… in some countries forest protection is so weak that rainforests are being felled legally. What will the government do about that?” Other green groups said much more was needed to halt rainforest loss. The government’s decision follows recommendations from the independent Global Resource Initiative Taskforce, which consulted more than 200 businesses and organisations.
11-10-20 Hurricane season: Record number of named Atlantic storms
This year's Atlantic hurricane season has broken the record for the number of named storms, the US National Hurricane Center says. Subtropical storm Theta in the north-east Atlantic is the 29th, breaking the previous record of 28 set in 2005. Forecasters say another system is forming in the Caribbean which could be named in the near future. Meteorologists say several factors are behind the increasing number of tropical storms. Particularly dangerous storms are given names to raise public awareness before they strike. The hurricane season, which runs from 1 July to 30 November, has produced storms like Eta, which struck Florida at the weekend after causing destruction and killing dozens in parts of Central America. Zeta hit Louisiana at the end of October, becoming the fifth named storm to make landfall in the state this season. Theta, not currently a hurricane, is moving north-eastwards towards southern Europe. Forecasters are watching the formation of another possible storm moving westwards over the central Caribbean Sea. There are a number of factors which have contributed to a very active hurricane season, says BBC meteorologist Nikki Berry. The most influential are very warm sea surface temperatures, low wind shear, increased instability over West Africa and La Nina, she adds. Sea surface temperatures were consistently 1-2C above normal through the summer months and these anomalies increased to 2-3C during September, especially around the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Africa, where many storms start to develop. Wind shear was extremely low through the summer months and this allows tropical storms to intensify and maintain tropical circulations, rather than being torn apart by opposing winds in the different layers of the atmosphere. A pulse of enhanced rainfall, known as the Madden-Julian Oscillation, moves eastwards round the equator - when it is located over West Africa, it causes more rainfall and thunderstorms which can give birth to tropical storms over the east Atlantic. La Niña, a change in Pacific Ocean temperatures with cooler water being pushed eastwards across the equatorial Pacific, has also been more influential. It can affect global weather patterns and one of the effects is an increased number and strength of Atlantic tropical cyclones, especially late in the season.
11-10-20 Joe Biden: How the president-elect plans to tackle climate change
Joe Biden's plan to tackle climate change has been described as the most ambitious of any mainstream US presidential candidate yet. Our environment correspondent Matt McGrath considers what he wants to do, and how he might get it done. Much will be made about Joe Biden's pledge to re-join the Paris climate agreement, the international pact designed to avoid dangerous warming of the Earth. President Trump pulled out of the deal after the Obama administration had signed up in 2016, and during the drawn-out election count, Mr Biden confirmed that reversing the decision would be one of his first acts as president. But key to his credibility on the international stage will be his domestic policies on cutting carbon emissions. More radical Democrats such as congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have put forward a proposal called the Green New Deal, which would eliminate carbon emissions from most sources over a decade. The Biden climate plan is more moderate. However, if enacted, it would still be the most progressive climate strategy the US has ever attempted. Mr Biden is proposing to make US energy production carbon-free by 2035 and to have the country achieve net zero emissions by the middle of the century. Reaching net zero requires that any carbon emissions are balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere by, for example, planting trees. Once in office, Joe Biden wants to spend $2 trillion over four years to drive down emissions by upgrading four million buildings to make them more energy efficient. He wants to spend heavily on public transport, to invest in electric vehicle manufacturing and charging points and give consumers financial incentives to trade up to cleaner cars. All of these options have one additional component apart from cutting carbon: they put people back to work. Andrew Light, a former senior climate official in the Obama administration, says Mr Biden is focused on what lowers emissions and increases jobs at the same time.
11-9-20 Most whales and sea turtles seem to have plastic in their bodies
Most sea turtles, whales and fish may have plastic in their bodies. To determine the prevalence of various forms and colours of this material in marine animals, Marga Rivas at the University of Almería in Spain and her team analysed data from 112 studies published in the past decade. These looked for microplastics, fragments less than 5 millimetres in size, and larger bits of plastic in marine specimens globally. Of the studies, 80 examined the gastrointestinal tracts of animals to see what they had ingested. The others also looked at wider animal tissues to identify plastics that end up in other parts of the body. After examining all of the data, Rivas and her team concluded that 66 per cent of sea turtles have white-coloured macro- and microplastics in their systems, while 55 per cent have a distinct class of plastic called microfibres, which are shed by some fabrics. The high prevalence of white plastic in turtles was unsurprising, says Rivas, given that plastic of this colour – particularly ones larger than 5mm may resemble jellyfish, a large part of the animals’ diets. Microfibres were also present in 80 per cent of cetaceans – a group of aquatic mammals that includes whales and dolphins – and white macro- and microplastics in 38 per cent of them. The researchers also concluded that clear fibre microplastics are probably the most common form of this waste that is ingested by large marine animals globally. Rivas and her colleagues also discovered that the animals with the highest rates of plastic ingestion were those in the Mediterranean and the north-east Indian Ocean. “The Mediterranean is the most contaminated sea in the world, so we expected to find these results,” says Rivas. Marine plastic pollution has increased roughly 10-fold since 1980, and Rivas says the problem is exacerbated by inadequate water treatment systems.
11-9-20 What a Biden presidency means for covid-19, climate change and tech
US president-elect Joe Biden has said he will “listen to science”, promising to take new stances on tackling covid-19, climate change and other key issues. The transition team for Biden and Kamala Harris, the US’s first black, Indian-American and female vice president-elect, has pledged to double the number of drive-through coronavirus testing sites, address shortages of personal protective equipment and work with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to “dial up or down” social distancing. The incoming administration will also establish a new covid-19 task force, allocate $25 billion for vaccine development and distribution and cancel plans for the US to leave the World Health Organization. This approach contrasts with that of the Trump administration, which sent mixed messages on mask-wearing and undermined key science agencies fighting to limit the spread of the virus. However, as Biden won’t be inaugurated until 20 January next year, he is likely to inherit a far worse crisis than today’s. As the US election dominated attention, the country’s covid-19 cases and deaths surged to their highest levels yet. More than 100,000 daily cases were reported for three consecutive days between 4 and 6 November – the first time this threshold has been exceeded – taking the US near the milestone of 10 million cases cumulatively. Daily deaths have yet to reach the heights that they hit in April, but have started to increase. The new administration’s efforts on covid-19 will overlap with one of its other top priorities, tackling racism, through the creation of a task force on ethnic disparities around the illness. So far, black Americans have accounted for 108.4 deaths per 100,000 people, almost twice the rate of white Americans. Biden’s presidency will also mark a break with Trump’s approach to climate change. The president-elect has said that when he takes office, he will immediately reverse Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement that came into effect on 4 November and call on other countries to increase their ambition. His transition team said the administration would put the US on “an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050”. The move would decrease global warming by 0.1°C, according to estimates by analysts Climate Action Tracker. The group said that, combined with net-zero targets from China, Japan, South Korea and other countries, a “tipping point” is being approached that brings the Paris accord’s 1.5°C target within reach.
11-8-20 Climate change: A tale of frequent fliers and weird electricity
A 10-point plan aimed at putting the UK on track for a zero emissions economy is due to be unveiled by the prime minister in the coming weeks. Boris Johnson's previous speeches on climate change have given the impression the problem can largely be solved by technology - a flash of nuclear, a gust of hydrogen, a blast of offshore wind, a dollop of carbon capture and storage. But a government spokesperson told BBC News we'll all need to "work together and play our part". And experts warn the issue's phenomenally complicated - presenting challenges never seen before. Tackling climate change, they say, will need action right across society and the economy - with a host of new incentives, laws, rules, bans, appliance standards, taxes and institutional innovations. Let's examine a few of the issues... Few of the UK's challenges are as complex or weirdly wonderful as the future electricity system, in which millions of generators and users of power will trade with each other via the internet. Already hundreds of thousands of sites are generating energy - from householders with a single rooftop solar panel to mighty Drax power station, in North Yorkshire, with its controversial wood-burners, to giant wind farms floating at sea. It's a far cry from the 1990s when power was delivered on a simple grid dominated by a few dozen coal-fired plants. In the coming years, millions of people will want to sell the power they're generating on their roofs. We'll need extra electricity because cars will run on batteries, and homes will be heated by heat pumps (which run like fridges in reverse to suck out warmth from the soil or the air). They don't pollute, unlike gas boilers. But that's not the end of the story. Yes, electric cars will increase demand - but they'll also increase energy storage. Smart car batteries will be programmed to charge themselves when electricity's cheapest, in the middle of the night. The cars can then store the power and sell it back to the grid at a profit when it's needed, at tea time. In other words, owning a car might actually make you money. And here's another chunk of weirdness. Smart washing machines can already turn themselves on to take advantage of cheap, off-peak electricity. You'll save even more money by allowing an invisible hand to briefly switch off your well-insulated smart freezer to save power at a time of peak demand.
11-7-20 Mossmorran: Carbon emissions from flaring revealed
Up to 13,800 tonnes of CO2 could have been emitted from a Fife chemical plant during October flaring, according to figures from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa). The Scottish Greens say that is equivalent to 9,140 people taking a return flight from Glasgow to New York. The Mossmorran flaring lasted three days from 4 to 6 October. Fife Ethylene Plant operator ExxonMobil said it was committed to minimising carbon dioxide emissions. It was the fourth period of elevated flaring at the Exxonmobil plant in 2020. Green MSP Mark Ruskell said it would take up to 13,800 trees 100 years to offset the same amount of carbon. He said the climate impact of the flaring was "catastrophic" and renewed calls for a transition plan for the plant. "Flaring is distressing and highly disruptive for local residents every time this fossil fuel relic suffers a breakdown, but these figures also now show the catastrophic long-term impacts this is having on our environment," he said. "Scotland has a legally binding target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045, so it's baffling to find out this much carbon is regularly being burned off into out atmosphere with very little consequence for the operators. "Work is planned to reduce the impacts of flaring, but it's already been delayed, and as far as I understand it won't have a significant impact on reducing carbon emissions. The operations of this plant fundamentally rely on the burning of huge quantities of fossil fuels, and we urgently need a plan to decarbonise it, or transition away from fossil fuel industries altogether in Scotland." Chris Dailly, Sepa's head of environmental performance, said: "As one of the organisations regulating Mossmorran, we're clear that compliance with Scotland's environmental laws is non-negotiable. "Whilst we know limited, controlled flaring is an authorised safety feature of industrial sites and our network of air quality monitors continue to demonstrate no breaches of UK air quality standards, we know only too well the broader impacts on local communities.
11-7-20 UK energy plant to use liquid air
Work is beginning on what is thought to be the world's first major plant to store energy in the form of liquid air. It will use surplus electricity from wind farms at night to compress air so hard that it becomes a liquid at -196 Celsius. Then when there is a peak in demand in a day or a month, the liquid air will be warmed so it expands. The resulting rush of air will drive a turbine to make electricity, which can be sold back to the grid. The 50MW facility near Manchester will store enough power for roughly 50,000 homes. The system was devised by Peter Dearman, a self-taught backyard inventor from Hertfordshire, and it has been taken to commercial scale with a £10m grant from the UK government. "It's very exciting," he told BBC News. "We need many different forms of energy storage - and I'm confident liquid air will be one of them." Mr Dearman said his invention was 60-70% efficient, depending how it is used. That is less efficient than batteries, but he said the advantage of liquid air is the low cost of the storage tanks - so it can easily be scaled up. Also, unlike batteries, liquid air storage does not create a demand for minerals which may become increasingly scarce as the world moves towards power systems based on variable renewable electricity. "Batteries are really great for short-term storage," Mr Dearman said. "But they are too expensive to do long-term energy storage. That's where liquid air comes in." Mr Dearman had been developing a car run on similar principles with liquid hydrogen when he saw the potential for applying the technology to electricity storage.
11-6-20 The foul-smelling fuel that could power big ships
An enormous engine, the height of three floors, growls loudly at a test centre in Copenhagen. Nearby a team of engineers supervise it from a control room resembling a ship's bridge. Usually such an engine would be propelling a large ship across the sea, but this one is being prepared to take part in a ground-breaking project. Engineers want to see if they can make it run on liquid ammonia. Ammonia has long been a key component in fertiliser, cleaning products and refrigerators. But in the search for new cleaner fuels, the foul-smelling substance has emerged as a frontrunner to power ocean-going ships. Around 90% of all goods traded globally are transported by sea. But ships are gas guzzlers. Marine transport produces around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) wants to halve emissions by 2050, from 2008 levels. That requires a substantial shift to green technology. Brian Soerensen, a research and development chief at Man Energy Solutions, says several fuels are being explored: "One of the options we believe will be ammonia. Methanol could be another one, biofuel could be a third." Ammonia has an advantage as it contains no carbon, so can burn in an engine without emitting carbon dioxide. By early 2024, Man Energy Solutions plans to install an ammonia-ready engine on a ship. The first models will be dual-fuel, able to run on traditional marine gas oil as well. While it is less energy-rich than today's marine fuels, liquid ammonia is more energy-dense than hydrogen, another zero-emission fuel. Hydrogen has already powered cars, planes and trains. It's cheaper to produce than ammonia, but harder to handle as it has to be stored at minus 253C. Ammonia becomes liquid below minus 34C and at higher temperatures if under pressure. "Ammonia sits very nicely in the middle," says Dr Tristan Smith, an expert in low carbon shipping from University College London. "It's not too expensive to store and not too expensive to produce." There are challenges. Burning ammonia can create polluting nitrous oxides, therefore the exhaust needs cleaning up. It is also toxic, so requires careful handling and storage.
11-6-20 The spread of rice farms threatens key wetlands in South-East Asia
Intensifying rice farming is threatening the ecosystem and fishing community of one of South-East Asia’s most important wetland areas. “The floodplain is undergoing a fairly rapid shift away from natural habitats that supports bird populations when they’re flooded to rice cultivation,” says Simon Mahood at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Cambodia. Cambodia’s largest lake, Tonlé Sap, gathers a massive volume of water from various tributaries whose changing ebb and flow means a huge shift in water level over the course of a year. It is known for the floating villages of the people who live on the lake and mostly depend on fishing for subsistence – some houses sit on posts high enough to keep them above seasonal high waters while others float on the surface. These vast wetlands support many threatened species, while fishing has supported people in the region for millennia. But farmers have been converting flooded forests and grasslands around the lake and in upstream areas to rice farms for years. Mahood and his colleagues wanted to see if they could track the rate of change and the impacts of these ecosystem shifts. They chose 1000 random points on the landscape around Tonlé Sap spread over about 14,000 square kilometres and used a combination of satellite images and ground surveys to determine if they were rice farms or more natural ecosystems. They found that agricultural intensification in the area has reduced grassland and scrubland by about a third over the past 15 years based on satellite images going back to 2003. This in turn has caused carbon stored in the landscape to decline by 12 per cent based on standard assessments which give values for rice versus scrub, the researchers say.
11-5-20 Food production alone is set to push Earth past 1.5°C of warming
Greenhouse gas emissions from global food production will be enough to push Earth beyond an internationally agreed goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, even if we halted all other emissions. “If we don’t change what we do with food, we would miss the 1.5°C target within 30 to 45 years,” says Michael Clark at the University of Oxford. “Assuming all other emissions sources are magically reduced.” Clark and his colleagues used data on food consumption, production and population growth to predict how emissions might change over the coming decades. They found that if we do nothing to reform global food production, the sector will contribute the equivalent of 1300 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. That is enough on its own to miss the goal, set by the Paris climate agreement, of limiting global warming this century to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The team also found that introducing various green strategies such as increasing crop yields, consuming a healthier diet and reducing food waste would give humanity a 67 per cent chance of meeting the 1.5°C goal. “The most effective one seems to be transitioning to a plant-based diet,” says Clark. That scenario assumes that non-food emissions immediately reach net zero – meaning any remaining sources of carbon are offset to zero – in 2020, which is extremely unrealistic. However, if non-food emissions gradually reach net zero by 2050, reaching the Paris target is still possible if all of the green food production strategies are in place. We should have already taken action on food, says Clark. “The longer we wait, the harder and bigger the changes need to be to meet the targets,” he says. “We need to actually back our words with actions and policies rather than just talking about things.”
11-5-20 Iceberg the size of Cyprus on collision course with Atlantic island
An iceberg the size of Cyprus is on a collision course with South Georgia, posing a major threat to the remote Atlantic island’s globally important penguin and seal colonies. Icebergs breaking off from Antarctica often fragment in the South Atlantic, earning the region the nickname of the iceberg graveyard. But the sheer scale of this 158 kilometre-long and 48 kilometre-wide chunk of ice, named A68a, is unusual, say researchers following it by satellite. The iceberg is tracking a route that historically ends at South Georgia. Travelling at around a kilometre a day, it could arrive at the island within a month. A close grounding threatens to block access to offshore feeding grounds for the island’s macaroni, gentoo, king and chinstrap penguins, as well as fur, leopard and elephant seals. This would make it difficult for the animals to feed their young. “Potentially it could be very bad if it grounds and stays at the entrance to one of a number of important bays,” says Peter Fretwell at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). South Georgia, a British overseas territory, is a global biodiversity hotspot, and is home to huge seabird colonies, including those of albatross. But it is the seals and penguins that are most at risk, says Geraint Tarling at BAS. “A major decrease through a catastrophe of this sort will impact worldwide population size of these species by some margin,” he says. Organisms on the seabed near the island would also be pulverised by the ice, potentially releasing their large stores of carbon to the atmosphere, he adds. And the addition of so much cold freshwater could harm marine algae, with knock-on effects up the food chain that would affect birds, seals and whales. Fortunately, it is still “touch and go” whether A68a will arrive at South Georgia, says Fretwell. Currently, it is on the northern edge of historical trajectories reaching the island. In addition, even though the iceberg is estimated to have a relatively shallow “keel” below the water – about 200 metres thick – some rocky submarine shelves around the island are shallower than that, so may stop it getting too close.
11-4-20 Air pollution linked to greater risk of dying from covid-19 in the US
Living in a part of the United States with dirty air has been linked to a significantly greater risk of dying from covid-19, raising the prospect of air pollution data being used to forecast which areas may need the most help treating people with the illness. As long-term exposure to air pollution weakens the lungs, and covid-19 attacks them, researchers worldwide have been racing to establish whether poor air quality makes the disease more severe. Links have been drawn, but many studies fail to account for other possible reasons for the associations, such as population density. Francesca Dominici at Harvard University and her colleagues have now found that each extra microgram of tiny particulate matter – PM2.5 – per cubic metre of air over the long term increases the covid-19 mortality rate by 11 per cent. That puts the link between covid-19 and air pollution roughly on a par with the link between the disease and smoking. “This is the first study that provides some consistent evidence that, if you’re living in a [US] county with a higher level of fine particulate matter, it increases the risk of covid mortality,” says Dominici. Her team examined covid-19 death data up to 18 June for 3089 US counties, and modelled PM2.5 levels for 2000 to 2016 down to county level. Importantly, the link between air pollution and higher death rates was clear even after adjusting results for 20 other possible explanations, including smoking, wealth, age and race. However, Dominici says a big limitation of the analysis is that the data on deaths, pollution and the other potential reasons is at an area level, rather than the level of individuals, hindering its accuracy. Still, she says it remains the best way to measure links until individual-level data, which is being captured, becomes available to researchers in a year or so.
11-4-20 Climate change: US formally withdraws from Paris agreement
After a three-year delay, the US has become the first nation in the world to formally withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. President Trump announced the move in June 2017, but UN regulations meant that his decision only takes effect today, the day after the US election. The US could re-join it in future, should a president choose to do so. The Paris deal was drafted in 2015 to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change. It aims to keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C. The delay is down to the complex rules that were built into the Paris agreement to cope with the possibility that a future US president might decide to withdraw the country from the deal. Previous attempts to put together a global pact on climate change had foundered because of internal US politics. The Clinton administration was unable to secure Senate backing for the Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997. So in the run up to the Paris climate talks, President Obama's negotiators wanted to ensure that it would take time for the US to get out if there was a change in leadership. Even though the agreement was signed in December 2015, the treaty only came into force on 4 November 2016, 30 days after at least 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions had ratified it. No country could give notice to leave the agreement until three years had passed from the date of ratification. Even then, a member state still had to serve a 12-month notice period on the UN. So, despite President Trump's White House announcement in June 2017, the US was only able to formally give notice to the UN in November last year. The time has elapsed and the US is now out.
11-4-20 US election 2020: What the results will mean for climate change
Who occupies the White House for the next four years could play a critical role in the fight against dangerous climate change, experts say. Matt McGrath weighs the likely environmental consequences of the US election. Scientists studying climate change say that the re-election of Donald Trump could make it "impossible" to keep global temperatures in check. They're worried another four years of Trump would "lock in" the use of fossil fuels for decades to come - securing and enhancing the infrastructure for oil and gas production rather than phasing them out as environmentalists want. Joe Biden's climate plan, the scientists argue, would give the world a fighting chance. In addition to withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement - the international pact designed to avoid dangerous warming of the Earth - President Trump's team has worked hard to remove what they see as obstacles to efficient energy production. Over the past three years, researchers at Columbia University in New York have tracked more than 160 significant rollbacks of environmental regulations. These cover everything from car fuel standards, to methane emissions, to light bulbs. This bonfire of red tape has occurred at the same time that the US is reeling from several years' worth of severe wildfires in western states. Many scientists have linked these fires to climate change. So where are we after four years of Donald Trump - and where are things likely to go after the election on 3 November? "Trump believes that regulations are all cost and no benefit," says Prof Michael Gerrard from Columbia University in New York. "He denies that there really is such a thing as anthropogenic climate change, or at least that it is bad. He believes that if you cut back on regulations of all kinds, not just environmental, but also occupational and labour and everything else, it'll create more jobs."
11-4-20 A68 iceberg on collision path with South Georgia
The world's biggest iceberg, known as A68a, is bearing down on the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia. The Antarctic ice giant is a similar size to the South Atlantic island, and there's a strong possibility the berg could now ground and anchor itself offshore of the wildlife haven. If that happens, it poses a grave threat to local penguins and seals. The animals' normal foraging routes could be blocked, preventing them from feeding their young properly. And it goes without saying that all creatures living on the seafloor would be crushed where A68a touched down - a disturbance that would take a very long time to reverse. "Ecosystems can and will bounce back of course, but there's a danger here that if this iceberg gets stuck, it could be there for 10 years," said Prof Geraint Tarling from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). "And that would make a very big difference, not just to the ecosystem of South Georgia but its economy as well," he told BBC News. The British Overseas Territory is something of a graveyard for Antarctica's greatest icebergs. These tabular behemoths get drawn up from the White Continent on strong currents, only for their keels to then catch in the shallows of the continental shelf that surrounds the remote island. Time and time again, it happens. Huge ice sculptures slowly withering in sight of the land. A68a - which has the look of a hand with a pointing finger - has been riding this "iceberg alley" since breaking free from Antarctica in mid-2017. It's now just a few hundred km to the southwest of the BOT. Roughly the size of the English county of Somerset (4,200 sq km), the berg weighs hundreds of billions of tonnes. But its relative thinness (a submerged depth of perhaps 200m or less) means it has the potential to drift right up to South Georgia's coast before anchoring.
11-2-20 Wealthy US cities struggle to provide running water for all residents
Widening wealth gaps in some of the richest cities in the US have produced a rise in the number of households without running water. Public information suggests that about half a million households in the US – about 1.1 million people – live without piped water, which places them in “plumbing poverty”. Surveys also show that 73 per cent of these households are found in metropolitan areas. To investigate further, Katie Meehan at King’s College London – previously at the University of Oregon – and her colleagues analysed US census data, and information relating to the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas collected during the government’s American Community Survey between 2013 and 2017. This showed that San Francisco in California, Portland in Oregon and Austin in Texas are among the cities with the highest rates of plumbing poverty. New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco – among the wealthiest US cities – recorded the most overall residents without complete plumbing. Meehan and her colleagues say there is a strong connection between this plumbing poverty and growing income inequality in cities. They found that for every 10 per cent increase in income inequality in the 50 largest metropolitan areas, measured using a standard statistical metric called the Gini coefficient, households were 1.5 times more likely to lack “complete plumbing” – defined as a house supplied by both hot and cold piped water with a bath or shower used only by the occupants. “In areas that are characterised by income inequality, we see some of the highest rates of plumbing poverty,” says Meehan. What’s more, people without access to piped water were significantly more likely to be living in rented accommodation and to be using more than of a third of their income to pay rent.
11-2-20 Amazon fires: Year-on-year numbers doubled in October
The number of fires blazing in Brazil's Amazon region in October 2020 was more than double those in the same month last year, satellite data suggests. The Institute of Space Research said there were 17,326 fires in the Amazon, compared to 7,855 in October 2019. Satellite data also suggests that there was a record number of fires in the Pantanal wetlands last month. Campaigners say the government is failing to stop the rise in fires, but the government denies it is to blame. In July, the government imposed a 120-day ban on setting fires and deployed the army to badly hit areas, but the latest figures from Brazil's National Institute of Space Research (Inpe) suggest the measures have not curbed the blazes. Data released by Inpe on Sunday suggests there were 2,856 fires in the Pantanal region in October, the biggest monthly figure since records began over 30 years ago. President Jair Bolsonaro has not commented on the latest figures, but has previously dismissed data from Inpe as flawed. He has also said the criticism levelled against his government over the fires was "disproportionate". While the figures for October - traditionally a month when rains bring some relief - are particularly alarming, those for the year so far are also worrying environmentalists. According to Inpe, 93,485 fires have been recorded in the Amazon so far this year - 25% more than in the same period in 2019, when President Bolsonaro's handling of the forest fires drew international condemnation. Brazil's Amazon region has been the hardest hit, with 46% of all blazes occurring there. But environmentalists are also alarmed by the steep rise in fires in the Pantanal, one of the world's most biodiverse areas and home to animals such as the jaguar and the capuchin monkey. Mariana Napolitano, the head of the science programme at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Brazil, told the AFP news agency that despite the four-month government-imposed ban on lighting fires, some of the blazes appeared to be man-made. "After deforesting the jungle, the offenders set fires to clean up the accumulated organic material... At the end of the month, with the arrival of the rains, the pace of the fires seems to be slowing down, but we can hardly depend on climate factors," she warned. "What happened in the dry season in the Amazon and Pantanal cannot be repeated," she added.
11-2-20 Could Scotland ever be 'the Saudi Arabia of renewables'?
"As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind" - that's how Boris Johnson described the country's potential to capitalise on renewable energy recently. For Scotland, it's not the first time comparisons have been drawn with Saudi Arabia. Back when he was first minister, Alex Salmond said Scotland had the potential to be the "Saudi Arabia of renewables". With a year to go until Glasgow hosts COP26, a UN climate change conference, BBC Scotland considers how renewable energy has developed. The PM said: "As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind - a place of almost limitless resource, but in the case of wind without the carbon emissions and without the damage to the environment. "We've got huge, huge gusts of wind going around the north of our country - Scotland. Quite extraordinary potential we have for wind." So the comparison is a reference to the scale of resources available - Saudi Arabia has a lot of oil reserves and was once the biggest oil producer in the world. It has since been eclipsed in production by the US but remains the largest exporter. Well, Scotland is one of the windiest countries in Europe. So in terms of resource for wind power, there is a comparison to be drawn. And the UK also has plenty space to build offshore wind farms. But there are challenges to be overcome. The energy generated by renewable means can't be moved about as easily as oil which can be shipped around the world in tanks. The development of wind power requires networks to be built to deliver that electricity to where it's needed. The wind doesn't blow to order, so sometimes storage systems are required as well so energy is available when the need is greatest. Another approach is to use renewable energy to produce transportable fuels, such as hydrogen, but that technology is still at a relatively early stage of development.
11-1-20 Typhoon Goni: Philippines hit by year's most powerful storm
Typhoon Goni is barrelling across the Philippines, bringing with it "catastrophic" winds and rain. At least seven people have died amid reports of storm surges, flash floods, power outages and blown-off roofs. Goni made landfall as a super typhoon at Catanduanes island on Sunday at 04:50 local time (19:50 GMT Saturday) packing winds of 225km/h (140mph). It has since weakened, but is still wreaking damage across the main Luzon island, home to the capital Manila. Mark Timbal of the Philippines' national disaster agency said that 19 million people may have been affected by the path of Goni. "This 19 million already includes the populations in danger zones for landslides, flooding, storm surges and even a lava flow," he told the BBC. Goni - known as Rolly in the Philippines - is the most powerful storm to hit the country since Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people in 2013. The BBC's Howard Johnson in Manila says there is concern for the small town of Virac on Catanduanes island, home to some 70,000, where contact has been lost since Goni made landfall. Video footage showed storm surges through coastal towns, and local governors spoke of power supply outages, roofs torn off evacuation centres, damage to infrastructure, flash flooding and blocked roads. Seven people, including a five-year-old child in Albay province, are reported to have died; two drowned, another was swept away by volcanic mud and another killed by a falling tree. "The winds are fierce. We can hear the trees being pummelled. It's very strong," Francia Mae Borras, 21, told AFP from her home in Albay's coastal city of Legazpi. Forecasters on Sunday morning had warned of "catastrophic violent winds and intense to torrential rainfall" as Goni made landfall in eastern Luzon. By Sunday evening, Goni was moving westward at 25km/h, with maximum sustained winds of 125km/h, forecasters said.