Friday, January 30, 2009

New Highly Energy Efficient Light Bulb Can Burn for 100,000 Hours and Will Only Cost a Few Bucks

Researchers from Cambridge University in England have developed a relatively inexpensive way to manufacture a light bulb that is three times more energy efficient than a compact fluorescent bulb and should last an amazing 60 years according to an article in the Telegraph. Gallium nitride, which is used for special types of lights such as camera flashes, is also used in making these new bulbs. The breakthrough came in the manufacturing process which will permit a bulb to be sold for only a few dollars instead of almost fifty dollars. Another plus for the new bulbs is that they can be dimmed whereas an ordinary compact fluorescent can not. If these bulbs, which supposedly will be available for purchase in two years, are as good as advertised, this raises the issue of whether to continue replacing ordinary incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents or wait for the new bulbs to arrive in the stores. That should give Al Gore something to ponder.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Controversial Ocean Fertilization Experiment Has Begun

According to BBC News, scientists aboard the German research ship the Polarstern have begun dumping iron particles into an area of the Scotia Sea east of Argentina in an ocean fertilization experiment. The expedition had been suspended by the German government because of concerns that it violated the UN’s Convention On Biological Diversity. But with the expedition reauthorized by the German government the experiment is being carried out. The BBC article says that 6 tons of iron sulfate are being dumped into the ocean, although it has been reported that the ship set out with 20 tons.

This ocean fertilization experiment is taking place at a time when a new published research report described in an article posted at Yahoo News provides both good and bad news for the idea of dumping iron into the ocean to stimulate phytoplankton blooms as a way of countering global warming. The good news is that the research team, which was led by Raymond Pollard of the National Oceanography Centre of Southhampton in England, found that plankton were much more abundant in ocean water high in iron content than in ocean water that was iron-poor, suggesting that adding iron will produce plankton blooms. The bad news was that the research team found that only about 10% of the phytoplankton actually wind up on the bottom of the ocean. The remaining 90% don’t sink all way down and eventually, perhaps after decades or even longer, the carbon dioxide that the plankton had taken up from the atmosphere through photosynthesis gets back up to the surface. The smaller the percentage of carbon dioxide that gets permanently stored at the ocean bottom using this scheme the larger area of ocean that would be needed to have a significant affect on global warming, thereby maximizing costs and perhaps most importantly, risks.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Study Finds Some Geoengineering Schemes Would Be Effective

It seems likely that the debate over geoengineering schemes to combat global warming will get kicked up a notch with the publication of a study that assessed the effectiveness of many such proposals. An article posted on ScienceDaily says that the study’s conclusion, which will probably rile many environmentalists, was that some of the schemes can be useful for helping us avoid climate change catastrophe. While a professor of environmental science at the British University of East Anglia where the study was conducted, Tim Lenton, is quoted as saying “We found that some geoengineering options could usefully complement mitigation [reduction in greenhouse gas emissions], and together they could cool the climate, but geoengineering alone cannot solve the climate problem,” this might not be enough to assuage those who see flying mirrors or particles of sulfur purposely dispersed in the atmosphere as future nightmares. Although geoengineering schemes only recently were largely thought of as being wacky it seems likely that if attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue to lead mostly to frustration the seriousness with which geoengineering is regarded will grow. Unless something like a miracle occurs in Denmark at the end of this year when countries from all over the world sit down to decide how to tackle the global warming problem geoengineering’s stock will probably continue to rise in more quarters and the debate over geoengineering will likely grow more fierce.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ocean Fertilization Experiment off Antartica Is Halted

An article in the Telegraph reports that a planned experiment to dump 20 tons of iron sulfate into the Southern Ocean to create a 186-square-mile plankton bloom to soak up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been stopped by the German government because of concerns that the experiment violates the UN’s Convention on Biodiversity. This should bring relief to environmentalists who have been worried that this large experiment could have resulted in an ecological disaster. The Polarstern, the German research ship carrying the iron, left South Africa with scientists on board from Germany, India, and the UK about two weeks ago. About one week later the experiment was placed on hold by the German government so that a group of international scientists could review it. It appears now that this global warming geoengineering experiment has been terminated before the review was completed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bill McKibben Asking People to Join Civil Disobedience Action at Washington, DC Coal Plant

Al Gore said last fall that "If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration," and now author and climate activist Bill McKibben has issued a statement asking for volunteers to join a massive civil disobedience action at the Capitol Power Plant in the District of Columbia on Monday, March 2. According to Wikipedia this coal-burning plant supplies steam and cooled water to the Capitol Building and its surrounding complex. The last time is supplied electricity to the Capitol Building was in 1952. In 2006 the plant put out 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Although the plant is only about 1/100 the size a typical coal-fired power plant it has the reputation of putting out a large amount of nasty particulate matter, the size of which is especially harmful to humans. The civil disobedience action is being timed to coincide with a large meeting in DC of the youth climate movement PowerShift ’09. In an e-mail McKibben writes the following:
There are moments in a nation's--and a planet's--history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we hope some of you will join us in Washington D.C. on Monday March 2 in order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill.
Coal-fired power is driving climate change. Our foremost climatologist, NASA's James Hansen, has demonstrated that our only hope of getting our atmosphere back to a safe level--below 350 parts per million CO2--lies in stopping the use of coal to generate electricity.
The industry claim that there is something called "clean coal" is, put simply, a lie. But it's a lie told with tens of millions of dollars, which we do not have. We have our bodies, and we are willing to use them to make our point. We don't come to such a step lightly. We have written and testified and organized politically to make this point for many years, and while in recent months there has been real progress against new coal-fired power plants, the daily business of providing half our electricity from coal continues unabated. It's time to make clear that we can't safely run this planet on coal at all. So we feel the time has come to do more--we hear President Barack Obama's call for a movement for change that continues past election day, and we hear Nobel Laureate Al Gore's call for creative non-violence outside coal plants.
Our goal is not to shut the plant down for the day--it is but one of many, and anyway its operation for a day is not the point. The worldwide daily reliance on coal is the danger; this is one small step to raise awareness of that ruinous habit and hence help to break it.
With about half of the electricity in the US coming from burning coal and projections that electricity demand will be soaring breaking the coal habit is going to be difficult.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Global Warming About to Claim Another Antarctic Ice Shelf

According to an article in Reuters, scientists have found that the Connecticut-sized Wilkins Ice Shelf is now attached to the Antarctic Penninsula by a strip of ice that is only slightly more than 500 yards at its narrowest point. About 60 years ago the strip measured about 60 miles in width. Glaciologist David Vaughn says that the demise of the ice shelf is imminent. This will be the tenth Antarctic ice shelf lost to global warming that scientists have recorded. If an ice shelf is preventing ice sheets on land from speeding up and sliding into the ocean then the loss of an ice sheet can have serious consequeces as ice sheets enter the ocean and raise sea levels. Because the Wilkins Ice Shelf is not holding back ice sheets this current situation does not raise this concern. If all the ice from Antarctica melted sea level would be raised by nearly 200 feet. That may seem improbable within the next millineum but according to Purdue University climate scientist Matthew Huber in an article on the nzherald website if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed the levels of carbon dioxide would be high enough to melt the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets within 100 to 200 years. At the lower end of that range some babies alive today would be expected to witness this total melting of ice in their lifetime.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Iron-Dumping Ocean Fertilization Experiment Placed on Hold

Although the German ice breaker Polarstern continues to steam toward the Southern Ocean to carry out an ocean fertilization experiment by dumping 20 tons of ferrous sulfate into the waters of the Scotia Sea near the Antarctic Penninsula, whether the experiment is actually performed is now in doubt. According to a report in the Mercury, the pleas of several international environmental NGOs to stop the experiment has resulted in the German government organizing an independent review of the experiment by international scientists. The results of this review will determine whether or not the iron gets dumped. The purpose of dumping the iron is to produce plankton blooms which will pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to combat the carbon dioxide emissions problem which is a main driver of global warming. One of the NGOs which is opposed to the experiment is the ETC Group. Jim Thomas of this organization says that carrying out this experiment “will be a clear defiance of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.” This agreement, which placed a global moratorium on ocean fertilization activities because of ecological risks, was signed in May 2008 by 191 countries. Whether this experiment is actually stopped should be known soon. The head of public relations for the German research institute that owns the Polarstern told the Mercury that they hoped that an answer would come from the scientific review within one week.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Scheme to Cool the Earth with Sunlight Reflecting Crops

Forget about increasing the reflection of sunlight to slow global warming by launching mirrors into space or dispersing sulfur particles into the atmosphere, all that is required is to replace standard crops such as wheat and barley with varieties that are more light reflective. At least that is what Andy Ridgewell from the University of Bristol claims. The Guardian reports that Ridgewell and a team of researchers used climate modeling to determine the effects of planting different crop varieties on global temperature. The scientists found that simply by planting the most reflective variety a cooling of 0.1C would be obtained. Projections of greater cooling in the future would be based on developing even more reflective varieties. Ridgewell points out that there would not have to be any change in the type of crops or amounts of crops, the only change would be that crops would reflect more light. It seems hard to believe that the solution to the global warming problem could be as simple as planting different varieties of wheat, barley, and corn. Perhaps it is too simple but at least if this scheme fails people will be well fed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

2008 Ties 2001 for 8th Place on Warmest Year List

Analysis of preliminary global temperature data by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that 2008 was the eighth warmest year since 1880, tying 2001 for the honor. According to NOAA, over the last three decades the global temperature has been increasing by 0.29 degree F (or 0.16 degree C) per decade. Using a different method of analysis but the same data NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found that 2008 was the ninth warmest year. In any event, the data show that compared to a few decades ago the planet is rapidly heating up and projections are that we “haven’t seen nothin’ yet.” In fact, Purdue University climate scientist Matthew Huber, who applies climate models to past climates says that these models may be underestimating future warming. The NZHerald, a New Zealand website, reports that Huber used one of the same models used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) but to make predictions of warming during a warming period 55 million years ago when there was a similar rapid increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and found the temperatures predicted by the model were lower than what actually occurred. The NZHerald site reported that Huber thinks his finding shows that the model is probably predicting temperatures on the low side during the current period of global warming. Yet more evidence that the IPCC has been underestimating the global predicament that we have created.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Iron-Dumping Ship Leaves Harbor for Ocean Geoengineering Experiment

Carrying 20 tons of ferrous sulfate, a ship has left South Africa to dump the iron into the Southern Ocean with the hope it will spur a plankton bloom in order to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. According to a New Scientist article, this is not a commercial venture but a scientific expedition and it has the scientific backing of the German, Indian, and UK governments. With regard to concerns that this experiment could have undesirable consequences, Ken Caldeira from Stanford University says in the article that such a small amount of iron “is unlikely to have a lasting effect” but “The rational concern is that experiments will lead down some slippery slope - that small experiments could be scaled up without any regulation.” It may be prudent not to begin such experiments but it seems they are going ahead. We could screw up the ocean more than we already have. Perhaps we should heed the words of Dr. Glen Barry who writes in his Climate Change Blog that “Geoengineering is indicative of both humanity's ignorance and laziness when confronted with tremendous challenges of their own making such as climate change.” It appears unlikely that such sentiments will prevail.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Reducing Soot Emissions Could Quickly Slow Global Warming

With all the attention on reducing carbon dioxide emissions as the primary means of fighting global warming relatively little attention has been paid to another major cause of warming, soot. The Independent reports that a published study by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found that simply reducing the emissions of soot would quickly produce a cooling effect. Unlike carbon dioxide which can remain in the atmosphere for more than one hundred years soot rapidly falls back to earth to so the time between reducing emissions and cooling is short. According to the study the two most effective ways to reduce soot emissions would be by “reducing emissions from domestic fuel burning” in developing countries and “reduction in surface transport emissions in North America.” Since the technologies to reduce these emissions is readily available it would seem that the main question is whether governments will act. The wealthier countries would have to help the developing countries pay for technologies that eliminate soot emissions, e.g., solar stoves, and strict regulations would have to be imposed on the trucking industry in North America. Compared to what it will take to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions this seems like a relatively easy goal to achieve. If effective action is taken, not only might global warming be reduced but numerous lives would be saved from a reduction in toxic air pollutants.