Monthly Archives: December 2014

Extreme Heat Events in Europe in the Offing? MET Scientists Say it will Happen

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Talk of climate change is very much about the potential for extreme weather events, and according to scientists at the recent American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, hurricanes may be the least of our worries as time goes on. In fact, some scientists at that meeting predicted that global warming may not increase hurricane intensity much at all, but others warned that Europeans, at least, should get ready for future heat waves. UK scientists are predicting that virtually unprecedented heat events like that the one that occurred in 2003 will become commonplace in Europe within 20 to 30 years. Peter Stott of the UK’s Met Office Hadley Center for Climate Change reported on the findings of a paper that he and his MET colleagues published in the journal Nature Science Change on December 8. According to that paper, heat waves like the 2003 event that killed tens of thousands of people in Europe may soon become commonplace. The 2003 heat crisis was a one in five hundred year event, with no precedent going back at least to the year 1500. However, European summer temperature increases since 2003, as well as scientists’ climate models, indicate that such events are now occurring on average about twice per decade, a trend borne out by a heat event in Europe in 2012 that equaled the temperatures seen in 2003. Overall, summer temperature increases in Europe during the last 13 years have significantly exceeded natural variability and are following projections that show that such “500 year events” will occur every other year or so by the year 2040. The European heating trend now confirmed by observation was predicted by Stott, Stone, and Allen in a paper published in the journal Nature in 2004. That earlier paper attributed the 2003 heat wave to global warming, an eyebrow raising early instance of attributing a single extreme weather event to climate change by climat scientists. The 2004 Nature article also modeled an expected increase in such heat events. According to Stott et. al.’s recent paper, temperature trends have proven that models to be accurate, and the trend to more extreme events can be expected, says Stott.

The dramatic increase in European summer heat has occurred in the 21st century even while global mean temperatures are widely said to have experienced a “hiatus” during the same period. However, even the pause claimed by many observers and superficially indicated by atmospheric temperatures is far from the whole story. The atmosphere retains only one percent of the increased heat the earth is experiencing. Most of the heat is retained in the vast oceans, with the remainder stored in terrestrial features. Scientists also believe that natural and anthropogenic factors have partly masked atmospheric warming during the past decade, even while rapid arctic ice loss and extreme weather events demonstrate that climate change is indeed happening.

With MET Office scientists are predicting extreme heat waves in Europe to be commonplace by 2040, Stott warns that forestalling or preventing this worrisome trend demands heroic efforts to cut green house gases dramatically.

15 Dec: Petaluma, CA City Council to Decide on Joining Sonoma Clean Power, Putting Exclamation Point on New and Vital Political Vehicle for Advancing Renewable Energy

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Sonoma Clean Power (SCP), a Sonoma County CA government agency set up to help reduce GHG emissions, promote renewable energy development, and save ratepayers money has proven itself more successful than anyone could imagine when it began operations barely seven months ago. Beginning in May 2014 with a start-up debt of about $7 million, the agency quickly paid off its loans and moved to a $5 million positive cash position in its first six months of operation. SCP achieved this startling success while providing its customers with lower electricity rates and a greener energy mix than the local Investor Owned Utility (IOU) Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility company that serves much of Northern California. Established under California’s “Community Choice Aggregation” legislation, Sonoma Clean Power now serves all incorporated communities and county rural areas in the California Wine Country’s Sonoma County except the City of Petaluma (one other city, Healdsburg, has its own independent municipal utility). Petaluma’s City Council will deliberate joining the Sonoma Clean Power at its regular meeting on December 15, potentially capping a remarkable bright spot in the political quest for local, renewable energy.

Sonoma Clean Power’s publicly debated and continuously updated “Resource Plan” specifies a list of four “consolidated goals and objectives” for the agency. They are:

1) Reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions;
2) Increase renewable energy;
3) Competitive pricing;
4) Increase local resources and benefits;

The Center for Climate Protection (formerly called the Climate Protection Campaign) of Santa Rosa, CA helped shepherd Sonoma Clean Power into existence. That citizen’s group now evangelizes for CCA adoption throughout California. While most interest exists in counties close to Marin and Sonoma Counties (Napa County also recently joined Marin Clean Energy), interest in Southern California has picked up, with San Diego and other areas expressing strong interest. The much publicized community of Lancaster, CA, where a Republican mayor has advanced a full solar power agenda, is trying to move forward to create a CCA. Lancaster was one of many communities participating in a symposium entitled “The Business of Local Energy” held by the Center for Climate Protection in October.

Shawn Marshall, Executive Director of the LEAN, a non-profit working to advance CCAs in California and other states, points out that “Compared to CCAs elsewhere, Sonoma Clean Power and its predecessor Marin Clean Energy are more focused on GGH reduction as a central mission.” Listing GGH reduction as a primary goal sets a new course for the CCA model. Ms. Marshall points out that about ten California counties, encompassing perhaps 100 cities, are watching Sonoma Clean Power’s success closely and are in various stages of exploring their own CCA development. She says that, “CCAs are certainly facilitating the development of renewable energy in California.”

If Petaluma joins Sonoma Clean Power, the city’s residents will automatically be enrolled as SCP customers and enjoy its lower rates. However, all infrastructure and electricity grid hardware will continue under PG&E’s ownership and responsibility. Payment to SCP and PG&E for their respective services will automatically appear on PG&E’s monthly billing statement for all customers. Customers who elect to stay with PG&E can “opt out” of SCP’s customer base and continue to buy power from PG&E instead. Transfering from one service to another in the future may subject the customer to some small service charges. PG&E specifies that customers who join that service must commit to one year’s continuous service before transferring out again.

SCP’s rooftop solar customers will continue to enjoy net metering (NEM) services. A wide range of other methods of for facilitating local renewable energy development and conservation are currently under public discussion due to SCP’s success. Moreover, SCP has moved quickly to leverage their new resources to meet their “increase local resources and benefits” objective, signing a contract with an independent solar power provider in the county. Topics under active discussion for the future include increasing incentives for energy efficiency, as well as adoption of new energy saving technologies.

Dec 15-19 American Geophysical Union Fall Conference in SF – World’s Scientists Meet to Discuss Latest Climate Research

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Climate Science World Event: Want to understand more about the effect of black carbon emissions on ice and snow reflectivity in Asia? Or about the atmospheric waves linked to warming that can heat some earth areas while plunging other areas into frigid cold? These and myriad other current topics related to climate change are on the agenda during the 15-19 December American Geophysical Union fall meeting at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. Nearly 24,000 participants will attend more than 1700 scientific sessions dealing with a wide range of earth and space science research. The latest atmospheric and oceanic scientific findings that frequent the daily headlines will draw special attention, as scientists from around the globe drill down into the latest evidence that the world we live in is changing due to human activities. And if participants don’t want to focus too much on individual report minutia, they can participate in “SWIRL” sessions, where topics of broad inter-disciplinary interest are addressed. This year, some SWIRL sessions include developments in carbon sequestration, the rapid loss of glacial and polar ice, and the science of soil maintenance and fertility. The official program conveys the AGU meeting’s scope and importance: “The meeting offers a unique mix of more than 23,000 oral and poster presentations, a broad range of general sessions, more than 50 formal and informal networking and career advancement opportunities, and an exhibit hall packed with approximately 250 exhibitors showcasing new and relevant research tools and services that could help scientists and researchers streamline their work.

In the coming weeks this column will report on general and specific topics of scientific research on display at the AGU meeting. While the influences of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide on global warming are well understood from both a theoretical and observational perspective, other factors in climate change, its prevention, and its mitigation, deserve more public attention and will be included in these columns.

Aerosols (mostly dust and chemical particle pollutants) are one of the trickier contributors to climate change that demand attention, and many AGU sessions deal with this subject. While they are short-lived in the atmosphere (rain returns them to earth rather quickly), aerosols presence on snow and ice affect planetary albedo (reflection of light energy back to space) and this is an area of ongoing research. Another area of focus includes how aerosols effectively shade many (especially urban) areas, masking temperature changes due to greenhouse gases.

Oceanic research remains an area of particular focus, with acidification and warming both topics of critical interest. The field of paleooceanography, the exploration of the biochemistry, temperature, and other conditions of ancient seas, offers historical templates by which scientists can qualify and quantify changes in our oceans today. Ocean acidification, an area of great public interest, threatens the formation of a range of planktons and other small shelled creatures, and thus the entire ocean food chain.

Researchers from around the world attend the conference, allowing cross disciplinary contacts, networking events, and new ideas for research. Young scientists meet and learn from leading researchers in their fields of study, with particular attention on how scientists and the press can better convey scientific research and its conclusions to the public at large.