Category Archives: Emissions

There is space for carbon storage underground

Capturing it remains a challenge. But there should be no lack of  permanent safe carbon storage underground.

LONDON, 27 May, 2020 – There is plenty of room for more of the main greenhouse gas on this planet – as long as it’s caught and trapped in carbon storage underground. New research confirms that when it comes to storage space, there should be no problem about carbon capture and sequestration, known to climate engineers as simply CCS.

Carbon capture is written into intergovernmental plans to combat climate change: the theory is that in addition to stepping up investment in renewable energy such as solar and wind power, existing power plants that run on coal, oil and gas could trap the waste carbon dioxide and literally take it out of atmospheric circulation.

How and on what scale this could be done is still a matter for global debate. But at least there is no problem about whether there is safe storage for the compressed and liquefied greenhouse gas.

New analysis from two scientists at Imperial College London in the journal Energy & Environmental Science suggests that if capture and storage accelerates now and continues at a growing rate, along with other recommended action, then no more than about 2,700 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be pumped back down abandoned oil shafts and other reservoirs, to keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This is an international target agreed in Paris in 2015.

Differences persist

Since most calculations conclude that there could be available subterranean storage space for around 10,000 billion tonnes of the gas, this suggests that storage itself is not the problem.

CCS sounds like a good idea: the prosecution of that idea has been contentious. Some climate scientists have worried that it is a distraction from the real challenge: to stop burning coal, oil and gas.

Others have been concerned with the lack of public investment; yet others have been troubled by the bigger question of whether a potentially volatile greenhouse gas can be kept in the ground safely for many thousands of years.

So CCS is at most only part of the answer to the problem: nations still have to make the switch to renewable sources, use all energy more efficiently, adjust global dietary demand and take steps to restore the world’s great forests to prevent climate catastrophe: one in which planetary average temperatures surpass 3°C, and sea levels rise by up to a metre before the end of the century.

“Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space”

The first attempts to store industrial carbon dioxide exhaust began in Norway in 1996 and although progress has been faltering, over the past 20 years capacity has grown by 8.6% to about 40 million tonnes a year: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now incorporates CCS as part of the mix of actions needed to contain runaway climate change.

The gap is colossal: right now the world emits 37 billion tonnes, or 37 Gt, of the greenhouse gas every year into the atmosphere to drive ever-faster planetary warning. The technology has a long way to go.

“Nearly all IPCC pathways to limit warming to 2°C require tens of gigatonnes of CO2 stored per year by mid-century. However, until now we didn’t know if these targets were achievable, given historic data, or how these targets related to subsurface storage requirements,” said Christopher Zahasky, who did the study at Imperial College but who has now moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We found that even the most ambitious scenarios are unlikely to need more than 2700 Gt of CO2 storage resource globally, much less than the 10,000 Gt of storage resource that leading reports suggest is possible. Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space.”

Who will pay?

The researchers considered not the space available but the pace of CCS advance: the faster carbon dioxide is safely stowed away, the less the overall need for subterranean hideaway space. But finally, the answer depends on all the other challenges presented by climate change.

“Our analysis shows good news for CCS if we keep up with this trajectory,” said Samuel Krevor of Imperial College, a co-author. “But there are many other factors in mitigating climate change and its catastrophic effects, like using cleaner energy and transport as well as significantly increasing the efficiency of energy use.”

Commenting on the study, Myles Allen, a geoscientist at the University of Oxford, said: “The good news, from this paper, is that there is a solution.

“The bad news is that CO2 capture and disposal is still completely dependent on public money, which will be in short supply over the coming decade. We have to work out other ways of scaling it up.” – Climate News Network

Capturing it remains a challenge. But there should be no lack of  permanent safe carbon storage underground.

LONDON, 27 May, 2020 – There is plenty of room for more of the main greenhouse gas on this planet – as long as it’s caught and trapped in carbon storage underground. New research confirms that when it comes to storage space, there should be no problem about carbon capture and sequestration, known to climate engineers as simply CCS.

Carbon capture is written into intergovernmental plans to combat climate change: the theory is that in addition to stepping up investment in renewable energy such as solar and wind power, existing power plants that run on coal, oil and gas could trap the waste carbon dioxide and literally take it out of atmospheric circulation.

How and on what scale this could be done is still a matter for global debate. But at least there is no problem about whether there is safe storage for the compressed and liquefied greenhouse gas.

New analysis from two scientists at Imperial College London in the journal Energy & Environmental Science suggests that if capture and storage accelerates now and continues at a growing rate, along with other recommended action, then no more than about 2,700 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be pumped back down abandoned oil shafts and other reservoirs, to keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This is an international target agreed in Paris in 2015.

Differences persist

Since most calculations conclude that there could be available subterranean storage space for around 10,000 billion tonnes of the gas, this suggests that storage itself is not the problem.

CCS sounds like a good idea: the prosecution of that idea has been contentious. Some climate scientists have worried that it is a distraction from the real challenge: to stop burning coal, oil and gas.

Others have been concerned with the lack of public investment; yet others have been troubled by the bigger question of whether a potentially volatile greenhouse gas can be kept in the ground safely for many thousands of years.

So CCS is at most only part of the answer to the problem: nations still have to make the switch to renewable sources, use all energy more efficiently, adjust global dietary demand and take steps to restore the world’s great forests to prevent climate catastrophe: one in which planetary average temperatures surpass 3°C, and sea levels rise by up to a metre before the end of the century.

“Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space”

The first attempts to store industrial carbon dioxide exhaust began in Norway in 1996 and although progress has been faltering, over the past 20 years capacity has grown by 8.6% to about 40 million tonnes a year: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now incorporates CCS as part of the mix of actions needed to contain runaway climate change.

The gap is colossal: right now the world emits 37 billion tonnes, or 37 Gt, of the greenhouse gas every year into the atmosphere to drive ever-faster planetary warning. The technology has a long way to go.

“Nearly all IPCC pathways to limit warming to 2°C require tens of gigatonnes of CO2 stored per year by mid-century. However, until now we didn’t know if these targets were achievable, given historic data, or how these targets related to subsurface storage requirements,” said Christopher Zahasky, who did the study at Imperial College but who has now moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We found that even the most ambitious scenarios are unlikely to need more than 2700 Gt of CO2 storage resource globally, much less than the 10,000 Gt of storage resource that leading reports suggest is possible. Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space.”

Who will pay?

The researchers considered not the space available but the pace of CCS advance: the faster carbon dioxide is safely stowed away, the less the overall need for subterranean hideaway space. But finally, the answer depends on all the other challenges presented by climate change.

“Our analysis shows good news for CCS if we keep up with this trajectory,” said Samuel Krevor of Imperial College, a co-author. “But there are many other factors in mitigating climate change and its catastrophic effects, like using cleaner energy and transport as well as significantly increasing the efficiency of energy use.”

Commenting on the study, Myles Allen, a geoscientist at the University of Oxford, said: “The good news, from this paper, is that there is a solution.

“The bad news is that CO2 capture and disposal is still completely dependent on public money, which will be in short supply over the coming decade. We have to work out other ways of scaling it up.” – Climate News Network

Increasingly arid future faces the American West

Climate change will take its toll of the US. The evidence repeatedly points to an ever more arid future for the American West.

LONDON, May 26, 2020 – The great American West is becoming inexorably more parched, with an inescapably arid future ahead. The winter snows will be lighter, and the spring melt much earlier. The river flows will slow, in some cases to a trickle, trees will die, and catastrophic wildfires will become more frequent. Agricultural harvests will be affected, and droughts will become more protracted.

The trend is clear and – without dramatic action by global governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming – is likely to be costly for one of the world’s richest nations.

“The impact of warming on the West’s river flows, soils and forests is now unequivocal,” say Jonathan Overpeck, of the University of Michigan, and Bradley Udall of Colorado State University, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There is a clear longer-term trend toward greater aridification, a trend that only climate action can stop.”

They make a point other researchers have repeatedly made over the last decade: that droughts will become longer and deeper in the US West, that climate change can only harm the US economy, and that the areas of increasing aridity are slowly shifting eastward: once rich soils could soon no longer sustain the crops of American farmers.

“The sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse”

The comments were triggered by a recent study in the same journal by a US Geological Survey team. Scientists used tree ring records and data for the first decade of this century to measure change in flow in the Upper Missouri River basin.

They concluded that recent regional warming, driven by increasing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, aligned with “increasing drought severities that rival or exceed any estimated over the last 12 centuries.”

The US West, and the Southwest, is used to drought, sometimes sustained. In the past the snows have returned, the rivers have swollen again. But Dr Overpeck and Dr Udall think this is now a wrong assumption.

“We now know with high confidence that continued emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere guarantee continued warming, and that this continued warming makes more widespread, prolonged and severe droughts almost a sure bet. Greater aridity is redefining the West in many ways, and the costs to human and natural systems will only increase as we let the warming continue.”

The rivers of the US Southwest are the only large, sure water supply for 40 million Americans. But since the late 20th century the flows of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande have fallen, and this is in large part due to ever higher temperatures, driven by ever greater consumption of fossil fuels. Higher temperatures mean that the atmosphere can absorb ever greater levels of water vapour, to dry out the soils.

Faltering action

This extra vapour would normally fall as rain or snow – and it certainly has in some parts of the US – but all the evidence suggests that droughts in the Southwest will increase both in frequency and intensity.

All nations have been slow to act decisively on climate change: President Trump has notoriously denounced climate change as a “hoax” and promised to withdraw the US from the only global agreement that promises concerted action.

“Perhaps most troubling is the growing co-occurrence of hot and dry summer conditions, and the likely expansion, absent climate change action, of these hot dry extremes all the way to the East Coast of North America, north deep into Canada, and south into Mexico,” the two scientists write.

Extreme dry spells, flash floods and droughts will become part of the new normal.

“Unfortunately, climate change and this aridification are likely to be irreversible on human time scales, so the sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse.” – Climate News Network

Climate change will take its toll of the US. The evidence repeatedly points to an ever more arid future for the American West.

LONDON, May 26, 2020 – The great American West is becoming inexorably more parched, with an inescapably arid future ahead. The winter snows will be lighter, and the spring melt much earlier. The river flows will slow, in some cases to a trickle, trees will die, and catastrophic wildfires will become more frequent. Agricultural harvests will be affected, and droughts will become more protracted.

The trend is clear and – without dramatic action by global governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming – is likely to be costly for one of the world’s richest nations.

“The impact of warming on the West’s river flows, soils and forests is now unequivocal,” say Jonathan Overpeck, of the University of Michigan, and Bradley Udall of Colorado State University, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There is a clear longer-term trend toward greater aridification, a trend that only climate action can stop.”

They make a point other researchers have repeatedly made over the last decade: that droughts will become longer and deeper in the US West, that climate change can only harm the US economy, and that the areas of increasing aridity are slowly shifting eastward: once rich soils could soon no longer sustain the crops of American farmers.

“The sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse”

The comments were triggered by a recent study in the same journal by a US Geological Survey team. Scientists used tree ring records and data for the first decade of this century to measure change in flow in the Upper Missouri River basin.

They concluded that recent regional warming, driven by increasing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, aligned with “increasing drought severities that rival or exceed any estimated over the last 12 centuries.”

The US West, and the Southwest, is used to drought, sometimes sustained. In the past the snows have returned, the rivers have swollen again. But Dr Overpeck and Dr Udall think this is now a wrong assumption.

“We now know with high confidence that continued emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere guarantee continued warming, and that this continued warming makes more widespread, prolonged and severe droughts almost a sure bet. Greater aridity is redefining the West in many ways, and the costs to human and natural systems will only increase as we let the warming continue.”

The rivers of the US Southwest are the only large, sure water supply for 40 million Americans. But since the late 20th century the flows of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande have fallen, and this is in large part due to ever higher temperatures, driven by ever greater consumption of fossil fuels. Higher temperatures mean that the atmosphere can absorb ever greater levels of water vapour, to dry out the soils.

Faltering action

This extra vapour would normally fall as rain or snow – and it certainly has in some parts of the US – but all the evidence suggests that droughts in the Southwest will increase both in frequency and intensity.

All nations have been slow to act decisively on climate change: President Trump has notoriously denounced climate change as a “hoax” and promised to withdraw the US from the only global agreement that promises concerted action.

“Perhaps most troubling is the growing co-occurrence of hot and dry summer conditions, and the likely expansion, absent climate change action, of these hot dry extremes all the way to the East Coast of North America, north deep into Canada, and south into Mexico,” the two scientists write.

Extreme dry spells, flash floods and droughts will become part of the new normal.

“Unfortunately, climate change and this aridification are likely to be irreversible on human time scales, so the sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide emissions fall – but by accident

The good news is that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen in line with global agreement. But we have chance to thank for that.

LONDON, 25 May, 2020 – Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will not reach record levels. The main greenhouse gas was released into the atmosphere to fuel global warming during April at a rate 17% lower than during the same month in 2019. That means a drop of 17 million tonnes of the gas every day.

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by climate scientists, environmental campaigners and governments interested in reducing the hazard of climate catastrophe. None of the fall in emissions was because of determined policies to reduce the rate of emissions and therefore the speed of climate change.

Emission levels have fallen to a level last observed in 2006. This is explained entirely by a series of simultaneous multinational lockdowns and economic slowdown as a consequence of an unexpected, and unprecedented, pandemic of a novel coronavirus that at the time of writing had worldwide claimed more than 330,000 lives.

The sudden slowdown in car journeys as businesses closed, workers were laid off and schoolchildren stayed at home accounted for almost half the decrease, according to a team of international scientists reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Foreign travel fell, airports stayed silent, to account for a 10% fall. For the extent of a northern hemisphere spring, people had a chance to experience a world in which atmospheric pollution of every kind was reduced, fossil fuel consumption dropped, and people walked or cycled or simply stayed at home.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour”

It is, however, unlikely to be a rehearsal for the sustained social and economic change required to contain climate change: the slowdown is almost certainly temporary. But it does provide breathing space and an opportunity to change direction.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-Covid-19 will influence global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.”

The year began with high confidence that the world’s nations – almost all of which had in Paris in 2015 vowed to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – would go on burning ever more fossil fuel and clearing ever more forest, to take greenhouse gas emissions to ever higher levels.

The researchers analysed government policies for the 69 countries that account for 97% of carbon dioxide emissions. At the height of confinement, territories responsible for 89% of global emissions experienced some level of restriction.

Meagre drop

Armed with economic data that measured the slowdown, the researchers were able to make estimates of the CO2 emissions that never happened: by the end of April, these amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, with the largest drops being in China, the US and Europe.

On present form, however, the annual total is likely to be down by only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. The larger figure is roughly the annual drop required year on year to keep the promises made in Paris.

“The drop in emissions is substantial, but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” said Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in California, another of the authors.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.” – Climate News Network

The good news is that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen in line with global agreement. But we have chance to thank for that.

LONDON, 25 May, 2020 – Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will not reach record levels. The main greenhouse gas was released into the atmosphere to fuel global warming during April at a rate 17% lower than during the same month in 2019. That means a drop of 17 million tonnes of the gas every day.

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by climate scientists, environmental campaigners and governments interested in reducing the hazard of climate catastrophe. None of the fall in emissions was because of determined policies to reduce the rate of emissions and therefore the speed of climate change.

Emission levels have fallen to a level last observed in 2006. This is explained entirely by a series of simultaneous multinational lockdowns and economic slowdown as a consequence of an unexpected, and unprecedented, pandemic of a novel coronavirus that at the time of writing had worldwide claimed more than 330,000 lives.

The sudden slowdown in car journeys as businesses closed, workers were laid off and schoolchildren stayed at home accounted for almost half the decrease, according to a team of international scientists reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Foreign travel fell, airports stayed silent, to account for a 10% fall. For the extent of a northern hemisphere spring, people had a chance to experience a world in which atmospheric pollution of every kind was reduced, fossil fuel consumption dropped, and people walked or cycled or simply stayed at home.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour”

It is, however, unlikely to be a rehearsal for the sustained social and economic change required to contain climate change: the slowdown is almost certainly temporary. But it does provide breathing space and an opportunity to change direction.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-Covid-19 will influence global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.”

The year began with high confidence that the world’s nations – almost all of which had in Paris in 2015 vowed to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – would go on burning ever more fossil fuel and clearing ever more forest, to take greenhouse gas emissions to ever higher levels.

The researchers analysed government policies for the 69 countries that account for 97% of carbon dioxide emissions. At the height of confinement, territories responsible for 89% of global emissions experienced some level of restriction.

Meagre drop

Armed with economic data that measured the slowdown, the researchers were able to make estimates of the CO2 emissions that never happened: by the end of April, these amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, with the largest drops being in China, the US and Europe.

On present form, however, the annual total is likely to be down by only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. The larger figure is roughly the annual drop required year on year to keep the promises made in Paris.

“The drop in emissions is substantial, but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” said Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in California, another of the authors.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.” – Climate News Network

Human action will decide how much sea levels rise

Sea levels will go on rising, because of human action. By how much, though, depends on what humans do next.

LONDON, 21 May 2020 – It’s a racing certainty that sea levels everywhere will go on climbing. Unless the world’s nations act to contain global warming, by 2100 the tides around the world will be one metre higher. And by 2300, they could be five metres higher.

Humans will not be able to blame natural causes: if beaches wash away and coastal towns flood, it will be because of deliberate human inaction.

And even if the 195 nations that met in Paris in 2015 and vowed to limit global warming to “well below” a maximum of 2°C by 2100 actually keep their promise, sea levels around the world will almost certainly rise by at least half a metre, as ever warmer oceans expand, and mountain glaciers and polar icecaps continue to melt.

The predicted levels are not new – individual research teams and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have said as much many times – but they represent a second and closer look, by 106 experts, at the forecasts for the future.

The charge of human complicity in sea level rise, too, is not new, but science has a way of continuously re-examining its own conclusions to see if they could be wrong. And the message is: they are not wrong.

“This provides a great deal of hope for the future, as well as strong motivation to act now”

Researchers from Hong Kong, Ireland, the UK, the US and Germany joined scientists from Singapore to consider, once again, what could happen to the world’s oceans under two scenarios: one in which global warming – already at least 1°C higher now than for most of human history – rose by no more than 2°C altogether, and one in which humankind went on burning fossil fuels and destroying tropical rainforests at ever greater rates.

The conclusion? They report in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science that at the 2°C limit, seas will rise by 0.5 metres by 2100 and two metres by 2300.

If temperatures by 2100 reach 4.5°C, then by the century’s end the tides could reach anywhere between 0.6 and 1.3 metres above present levels. Two centuries on, the high tide mark could be anywhere between 1.7 and 5.6 metres above the present.

And these are the judgments of 106 scientists, each of whom has published at least six peer-reviewed scientific studies of future sea level rise in the last six years.

“We know that the planet will see additional sea level rise in the future. But there are stark differences in the amount of sea level rise experts project for low emissions compared to high emissions,” said one of the scientists, Andra Garner of Rowan University in the US.

Lessons from prehistory

“This provides a great deal of hope for the future, as well as strong motivation to act now to avoid the more severe impacts of rising sea levels.”

Quite separately, researchers in the US report in the journal Science Advances that they too, took a closer look at puzzles posed by past sea level change. Long before humans ever started burning coal, oil and natural gas, the ice caps retreated, and the seas rose.

The scientists reconstructed the history of sea levels and glaciation since the end of the Cretaceous era 60 million or so years ago, and matched them to estimated carbon dioxide levels long before the emergence of any human ancestry.

They concluded that all the changes in the past had natural explanations, but not the changes happening now.

Kenneth Miller of Rutgers University who led the study said: “Although carbon dioxide levels had an important influence on ice-free periods, minor variations in the Earth’s orbit were the dominant factor in terms of ice volume and sea level changes – until modern times.” – Climate News Network

Sea levels will go on rising, because of human action. By how much, though, depends on what humans do next.

LONDON, 21 May 2020 – It’s a racing certainty that sea levels everywhere will go on climbing. Unless the world’s nations act to contain global warming, by 2100 the tides around the world will be one metre higher. And by 2300, they could be five metres higher.

Humans will not be able to blame natural causes: if beaches wash away and coastal towns flood, it will be because of deliberate human inaction.

And even if the 195 nations that met in Paris in 2015 and vowed to limit global warming to “well below” a maximum of 2°C by 2100 actually keep their promise, sea levels around the world will almost certainly rise by at least half a metre, as ever warmer oceans expand, and mountain glaciers and polar icecaps continue to melt.

The predicted levels are not new – individual research teams and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have said as much many times – but they represent a second and closer look, by 106 experts, at the forecasts for the future.

The charge of human complicity in sea level rise, too, is not new, but science has a way of continuously re-examining its own conclusions to see if they could be wrong. And the message is: they are not wrong.

“This provides a great deal of hope for the future, as well as strong motivation to act now”

Researchers from Hong Kong, Ireland, the UK, the US and Germany joined scientists from Singapore to consider, once again, what could happen to the world’s oceans under two scenarios: one in which global warming – already at least 1°C higher now than for most of human history – rose by no more than 2°C altogether, and one in which humankind went on burning fossil fuels and destroying tropical rainforests at ever greater rates.

The conclusion? They report in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science that at the 2°C limit, seas will rise by 0.5 metres by 2100 and two metres by 2300.

If temperatures by 2100 reach 4.5°C, then by the century’s end the tides could reach anywhere between 0.6 and 1.3 metres above present levels. Two centuries on, the high tide mark could be anywhere between 1.7 and 5.6 metres above the present.

And these are the judgments of 106 scientists, each of whom has published at least six peer-reviewed scientific studies of future sea level rise in the last six years.

“We know that the planet will see additional sea level rise in the future. But there are stark differences in the amount of sea level rise experts project for low emissions compared to high emissions,” said one of the scientists, Andra Garner of Rowan University in the US.

Lessons from prehistory

“This provides a great deal of hope for the future, as well as strong motivation to act now to avoid the more severe impacts of rising sea levels.”

Quite separately, researchers in the US report in the journal Science Advances that they too, took a closer look at puzzles posed by past sea level change. Long before humans ever started burning coal, oil and natural gas, the ice caps retreated, and the seas rose.

The scientists reconstructed the history of sea levels and glaciation since the end of the Cretaceous era 60 million or so years ago, and matched them to estimated carbon dioxide levels long before the emergence of any human ancestry.

They concluded that all the changes in the past had natural explanations, but not the changes happening now.

Kenneth Miller of Rutgers University who led the study said: “Although carbon dioxide levels had an important influence on ice-free periods, minor variations in the Earth’s orbit were the dominant factor in terms of ice volume and sea level changes – until modern times.” – Climate News Network

Nuclear tests affected the weather 60 years ago

Cold War nuclear tests did change the weather in the 1960s. The Earth did not catch fire, but a hard rain did begin to fall.

LONDON, 19 May, 2020 – Sixty years on, British scientists have confirmed a once-popular belief: that atmospheric nuclear tests of early weapons under development affected the daily weather. A new study of  weather records from 1962 to 1964 reveals the signature of experimental atomic and thermonuclear explosions during the early days of the Cold War.

The scientists measured atmospheric electric charge and cloud data to find that on those days when radioactively-generated electric charge was higher, clouds were thicker and there was up to a quarter more rain than on those days when charge was low.

The climate impact of nuclear detonations may not have been as devastating as many older lay people appeared to think at the time, and some good came of the tests: researchers who studied radiation distribution as it spread around the planet from weapons test sites built up a body of data that delivered a new way to follow atmospheric circulation patterns.

“We have now re-used this data to examine the effect on rainfall,” said Giles Harrison of the University of Reading in the UK. “The politically charged atmosphere of the Cold War led to a nuclear arms race and worldwide anxiety. Decades later, that global cloud has yielded a silver lining, in giving us a unique way to study how electric charge affects rain.”

Between 1945 and 1980 US, Soviet, British and French governments exploded 510 megatons of nuclear weaponry underground, under water and in the lower and upper atmosphere. Of this, 428 megatons – the equivalent of 29,000 bombs of the size dropped onto Hiroshima in Japan at the end of the Second World War – was in the open air, and the greatest concentration of tests was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Weather grumbles

Scientists began to collect strontium-90 isotopes and other radioactive fission products in the rain that fell after such tests. By 1960, people in Europe and the US could be heard grumbling about the supposed impact on the weather of tests carried out 10,000 kilometres away.

British cinemagoers were treated to an improbable vision of climate catastrophe triggered by nuclear tests in the 1961 film The Day the Earth Caught Fire. The US government commissioned the Rand Corporation to deliver an inconclusive report in 1966 on the effect upon weather, but by then an international treaty had banned tests in the atmosphere, in the water and in space.

Very slowly, public concern about radioactive fallout and its consequences for the weather began to fade.

Scientists continued to contemplate the climate effects of nuclear confrontation in other ways: in 1983 US researchers proposed a possible nuclear winter, triggered by radioactive mushroom clouds from burning cities that would reach the stratosphere and dim the sun’s light for a decade.

But long before then, peace and prosperity had created another climatic danger: the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels had begun to raise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to trigger global warming, and climate scientists began to adopt nuclear yardsticks to measure the effect.

“The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons”

One calculation is that by flying in jet planes or driving cars or generating electric power, humankind is now adding the equivalent in heat energy of five Hiroshima explosions every second to the world’s atmosphere, thus inexorably altering the global climate.

That has not stopped other scientists from worrying about the chilling effects upon climate and human civilisation of even a limited nuclear  exchange. But the supposed impact of bursts of nuclear radiation upon the weather has been more or less forgotten.

Now Professor Harrison and colleagues have returned to the puzzle in the journal Physical Review Letters, to find that the answer could be disentangled from weather records collected in Kew, near London, and 1000 kms away in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands north-east of Scotland, a site selected because it would be least affected by soot, sulphur particles and other kinds of industrial pollution.

Nuclear radiation ionises the matter in its path to create electrically-charged atoms and molecules. Electric charge changes the way water droplets in clouds collide and combine – think of dramatic thunderstorms, lightning and torrential rain – and this affects the size of the droplets and the volume of rain: that is, the rain doesn’t fall at all until the droplets get big enough.

Usually, the sun does most of the work, but in comparing the weather records from two stations, the researchers were for the first time able to factor in the contribution from Cold War test explosions in the Nevada desert, or the Siberian Arctic, or the faraway south Pacific, on Scottish rainfall between 1962 and 1964.

Difference disappeared

They found 150 days in which atmospheric electricity was high or low, while cloudy in Lerwick: they also found a difference in precipitation which, they say, disappeared once the build-up of nuclear radioactive fallout had vanished.

Their statistical analyses suggest no serious or lasting change, but the connection was there: where radioactivity was high, rainfall increased from 2.1mm per day to 2.6mm – a 24% increase in daily rain. Clouds, too, were thicker.

The study remains as one more piece of the climate jigsaw, as a test of measuring technique, and one more reminder of the lessons still to be learned from the Cold War.

It confirms a deepening understanding of the intricate machinery that delivers the first drops of rain, and ideally scientists won’t get many chances to test their understanding in the same way again.

The authors conclude, in the clipped tones favoured by research publications: “The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons.” – Climate News Network

Cold War nuclear tests did change the weather in the 1960s. The Earth did not catch fire, but a hard rain did begin to fall.

LONDON, 19 May, 2020 – Sixty years on, British scientists have confirmed a once-popular belief: that atmospheric nuclear tests of early weapons under development affected the daily weather. A new study of  weather records from 1962 to 1964 reveals the signature of experimental atomic and thermonuclear explosions during the early days of the Cold War.

The scientists measured atmospheric electric charge and cloud data to find that on those days when radioactively-generated electric charge was higher, clouds were thicker and there was up to a quarter more rain than on those days when charge was low.

The climate impact of nuclear detonations may not have been as devastating as many older lay people appeared to think at the time, and some good came of the tests: researchers who studied radiation distribution as it spread around the planet from weapons test sites built up a body of data that delivered a new way to follow atmospheric circulation patterns.

“We have now re-used this data to examine the effect on rainfall,” said Giles Harrison of the University of Reading in the UK. “The politically charged atmosphere of the Cold War led to a nuclear arms race and worldwide anxiety. Decades later, that global cloud has yielded a silver lining, in giving us a unique way to study how electric charge affects rain.”

Between 1945 and 1980 US, Soviet, British and French governments exploded 510 megatons of nuclear weaponry underground, under water and in the lower and upper atmosphere. Of this, 428 megatons – the equivalent of 29,000 bombs of the size dropped onto Hiroshima in Japan at the end of the Second World War – was in the open air, and the greatest concentration of tests was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Weather grumbles

Scientists began to collect strontium-90 isotopes and other radioactive fission products in the rain that fell after such tests. By 1960, people in Europe and the US could be heard grumbling about the supposed impact on the weather of tests carried out 10,000 kilometres away.

British cinemagoers were treated to an improbable vision of climate catastrophe triggered by nuclear tests in the 1961 film The Day the Earth Caught Fire. The US government commissioned the Rand Corporation to deliver an inconclusive report in 1966 on the effect upon weather, but by then an international treaty had banned tests in the atmosphere, in the water and in space.

Very slowly, public concern about radioactive fallout and its consequences for the weather began to fade.

Scientists continued to contemplate the climate effects of nuclear confrontation in other ways: in 1983 US researchers proposed a possible nuclear winter, triggered by radioactive mushroom clouds from burning cities that would reach the stratosphere and dim the sun’s light for a decade.

But long before then, peace and prosperity had created another climatic danger: the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels had begun to raise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to trigger global warming, and climate scientists began to adopt nuclear yardsticks to measure the effect.

“The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons”

One calculation is that by flying in jet planes or driving cars or generating electric power, humankind is now adding the equivalent in heat energy of five Hiroshima explosions every second to the world’s atmosphere, thus inexorably altering the global climate.

That has not stopped other scientists from worrying about the chilling effects upon climate and human civilisation of even a limited nuclear  exchange. But the supposed impact of bursts of nuclear radiation upon the weather has been more or less forgotten.

Now Professor Harrison and colleagues have returned to the puzzle in the journal Physical Review Letters, to find that the answer could be disentangled from weather records collected in Kew, near London, and 1000 kms away in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands north-east of Scotland, a site selected because it would be least affected by soot, sulphur particles and other kinds of industrial pollution.

Nuclear radiation ionises the matter in its path to create electrically-charged atoms and molecules. Electric charge changes the way water droplets in clouds collide and combine – think of dramatic thunderstorms, lightning and torrential rain – and this affects the size of the droplets and the volume of rain: that is, the rain doesn’t fall at all until the droplets get big enough.

Usually, the sun does most of the work, but in comparing the weather records from two stations, the researchers were for the first time able to factor in the contribution from Cold War test explosions in the Nevada desert, or the Siberian Arctic, or the faraway south Pacific, on Scottish rainfall between 1962 and 1964.

Difference disappeared

They found 150 days in which atmospheric electricity was high or low, while cloudy in Lerwick: they also found a difference in precipitation which, they say, disappeared once the build-up of nuclear radioactive fallout had vanished.

Their statistical analyses suggest no serious or lasting change, but the connection was there: where radioactivity was high, rainfall increased from 2.1mm per day to 2.6mm – a 24% increase in daily rain. Clouds, too, were thicker.

The study remains as one more piece of the climate jigsaw, as a test of measuring technique, and one more reminder of the lessons still to be learned from the Cold War.

It confirms a deepening understanding of the intricate machinery that delivers the first drops of rain, and ideally scientists won’t get many chances to test their understanding in the same way again.

The authors conclude, in the clipped tones favoured by research publications: “The atmospheric conditions of 1962-64 were exceptional and it is unlikely they will be repeated, for many reasons.” – Climate News Network

Global heating means a wetter and warmer world

A wetter and even warmer world will result from faster global warming. The evidence is in the sands of time.

LONDON, 14 May, 2020 – A warmer world may not be just a wetter one. It may get even warmer as well. New studies suggest the heavier rain that will accompany ever-higher global average atmospheric temperatures is in itself likely to trigger ever more carbon dioxide release from tropical soils.

This is what engineers call positive feedback. The very symptoms of a warming world become part of the fuel for accelerating global temperature change.

And the warning is derived not just from models of climate change, but once again from evidence from the past.

Scientists from the US, Canada and Switzerland report in the journal Nature that for the past 18,000 years, the “time of residence” of carbon in the soils of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river basin has been controlled by India’s summer monsoon rainfall.

The lower the rainfall, the higher the length of stored carbon. But as levels of downpour go up, so does the activity of the microbes that turn vegetable matter back into carbon dioxide, and the levels of stored soil carbon go down.

“Climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere”

Right now, global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 285 parts per million – the average for most of human history – to 416 ppm as humans clear ever more forest and burn ever more fossil fuels. This 416ppm adds up to about 750 billion tonnes of carbon. The planet’s soils are home to an estimated 3,500 bn tonnes: more than four times as much.

“Our results suggest that future hydroclimate changes in tropical regions are likely to accelerate soil carbon destabilisation, further increasing carbon dioxide concentrations,” the scientists warn.

As temperatures rise, the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb moisture also increases. As temperatures rise, so does direct evaporation from oceans, lakes, rivers and soils. This water vapour will eventually fall as rain, but unevenly: those regions already rainy will become rainier, while drylands are likely to become increasingly arid.

The Ganges and Brahmaputra carry more than a billion tonnes of sediment – most of it eroded from the Himalayan mountain chain – into the Bay of Bengal each year, and cores of sediment taken from the sea floor provide a good record of climate conditions for the last 18,000 years, as the Ice Age began to wane, and the glaciers retreated to permit a hunter-gatherer species to cultivate cereals, domesticate animals, build permanent settlements and found human civilisation.

Radiocarbon readings mean that researchers can date the sediments, and preserved organic molecules from land plants provide an indicator of conditions at those dates.

Methane adds speed

Scientists have repeatedly warned that climate change in the Arctic – the fastest-warming zone of all – is likely to be matched by the release of soil carbon in the form of the greenhouse gas methane from the thawing permafrost, to accelerate yet more warming.

As the once-frozen ground warms up, and vegetation moves further and further north, an estimated 600 million tonnes of carbon is released into the atmosphere every year.

Now, and for different reasons, the same could be true of the tropics, and the evidence is in the sands of time, deposited by one of the world’s great river systems. As the Ice Age ended, monsoon rains began to increase and in 2,600 years soil respiration – and therefore carbon release – doubled. Since then, monsoon rainfall has increased threefold.

“We found that shifts toward a warmer and wetter climate in the drainage basin of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers over the last 18,000 years enhanced rates of soil respiration and decreased stocks of soil carbon,” said Christopher Hein, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who led the study.

“This has direct implications for the Earth’s future, as climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere than that directly added by humans.” – Climate News Network

A wetter and even warmer world will result from faster global warming. The evidence is in the sands of time.

LONDON, 14 May, 2020 – A warmer world may not be just a wetter one. It may get even warmer as well. New studies suggest the heavier rain that will accompany ever-higher global average atmospheric temperatures is in itself likely to trigger ever more carbon dioxide release from tropical soils.

This is what engineers call positive feedback. The very symptoms of a warming world become part of the fuel for accelerating global temperature change.

And the warning is derived not just from models of climate change, but once again from evidence from the past.

Scientists from the US, Canada and Switzerland report in the journal Nature that for the past 18,000 years, the “time of residence” of carbon in the soils of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river basin has been controlled by India’s summer monsoon rainfall.

The lower the rainfall, the higher the length of stored carbon. But as levels of downpour go up, so does the activity of the microbes that turn vegetable matter back into carbon dioxide, and the levels of stored soil carbon go down.

“Climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere”

Right now, global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 285 parts per million – the average for most of human history – to 416 ppm as humans clear ever more forest and burn ever more fossil fuels. This 416ppm adds up to about 750 billion tonnes of carbon. The planet’s soils are home to an estimated 3,500 bn tonnes: more than four times as much.

“Our results suggest that future hydroclimate changes in tropical regions are likely to accelerate soil carbon destabilisation, further increasing carbon dioxide concentrations,” the scientists warn.

As temperatures rise, the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb moisture also increases. As temperatures rise, so does direct evaporation from oceans, lakes, rivers and soils. This water vapour will eventually fall as rain, but unevenly: those regions already rainy will become rainier, while drylands are likely to become increasingly arid.

The Ganges and Brahmaputra carry more than a billion tonnes of sediment – most of it eroded from the Himalayan mountain chain – into the Bay of Bengal each year, and cores of sediment taken from the sea floor provide a good record of climate conditions for the last 18,000 years, as the Ice Age began to wane, and the glaciers retreated to permit a hunter-gatherer species to cultivate cereals, domesticate animals, build permanent settlements and found human civilisation.

Radiocarbon readings mean that researchers can date the sediments, and preserved organic molecules from land plants provide an indicator of conditions at those dates.

Methane adds speed

Scientists have repeatedly warned that climate change in the Arctic – the fastest-warming zone of all – is likely to be matched by the release of soil carbon in the form of the greenhouse gas methane from the thawing permafrost, to accelerate yet more warming.

As the once-frozen ground warms up, and vegetation moves further and further north, an estimated 600 million tonnes of carbon is released into the atmosphere every year.

Now, and for different reasons, the same could be true of the tropics, and the evidence is in the sands of time, deposited by one of the world’s great river systems. As the Ice Age ended, monsoon rains began to increase and in 2,600 years soil respiration – and therefore carbon release – doubled. Since then, monsoon rainfall has increased threefold.

“We found that shifts toward a warmer and wetter climate in the drainage basin of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers over the last 18,000 years enhanced rates of soil respiration and decreased stocks of soil carbon,” said Christopher Hein, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who led the study.

“This has direct implications for the Earth’s future, as climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere than that directly added by humans.” – Climate News Network

How to save economy and climate together

There’s growing agreement by economists and scientists: Covid-19 needs the world to rescue both economy and climate together.

LONDON, 7 May, 2020 − The warnings are stark. With the Covid-19 crisis wreaking global havoc and the overheating atmosphere threatening far worse in the long term, especially if governments rely on the same old carbon-intensive ways, both economy and climate will sink or swim together.

“There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate fire”, says a new report, Will Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on Climate Change? Published by the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, UK, it says now is the time for governments to restructure their economies and act decisively to tackle climate change.

“The climate emergency is like the Covid-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver”, says the study, written by a team of economic and climate change heavyweights including Joseph Stiglitz, Cameron Hepburn and Nicholas Stern.

Economic recovery packages emerging in the coming months will have a significant impact on whether globally agreed climate goals are met, says the report.

“The recovery packages can either kill two birds with one stone – setting the global economy on a pathway to net-zero emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be nearly impossible to escape.”

“In the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments”

The study’s authors talked to economists, finance officials and central banks around the world.

They say that putting policies aimed at tackling climate change at the centre of recovery plans makes economic as well as environmental sense.

“… Green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long term-term cost saving, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus”, says the report.

“Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar.

“As previous research has shown, in the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments.”

Fundamental change coming

Covid-19 is causing great suffering and considerable economic hardship around the world. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and waterways, a quieter environment and far less commuting to and from work, with people in the developed countries doing more work from home.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent survey that Covid-19 and other factors were bringing about a fundamental change in the global energy market, with the use of climate-changing fossil fuels falling sharply and prices of oil, coal and gas plummeting. The IEA also projected that global emissions of greenhouses gases would fall by 8% in 2020, more than any other year on record.

The Oxford report says that with the implementation of the right policies, these positive changes can be sustained: by tackling climate change, many economic and other problems will be solved.

Sceptics have often said that public resistance to changes in lifestyle will prevent governments from taking any substantial action on the climate issue. The study begs to differ: “The (Covid-19) crisis has also demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present.”

Economists and finance experts are calling for the UK to play a decisive role in ensuring that economies around the world do not return to the old, high-carbon ways but instead implement green recovery packages.

Climate conference

The UK is president and co-host of COP-26, the round of UN climate talks originally due to take place in November this year but now, due to Covid, postponed to early 2021.

The round is seen as a vital part of efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, now a finance adviser to the British prime minister for COP-26, says the UK has the opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in order to combat a warming world.

“The UK’s global leadership in financial services provides a unique opportunity to address climate change by transforming the financial system”, he says.

“To seize it, all financial decisions need to take into account the risks from climate change and the opportunities from the transition to a net zero economy.” − Climate News Network

There’s growing agreement by economists and scientists: Covid-19 needs the world to rescue both economy and climate together.

LONDON, 7 May, 2020 − The warnings are stark. With the Covid-19 crisis wreaking global havoc and the overheating atmosphere threatening far worse in the long term, especially if governments rely on the same old carbon-intensive ways, both economy and climate will sink or swim together.

“There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate fire”, says a new report, Will Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on Climate Change? Published by the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, UK, it says now is the time for governments to restructure their economies and act decisively to tackle climate change.

“The climate emergency is like the Covid-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver”, says the study, written by a team of economic and climate change heavyweights including Joseph Stiglitz, Cameron Hepburn and Nicholas Stern.

Economic recovery packages emerging in the coming months will have a significant impact on whether globally agreed climate goals are met, says the report.

“The recovery packages can either kill two birds with one stone – setting the global economy on a pathway to net-zero emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be nearly impossible to escape.”

“In the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments”

The study’s authors talked to economists, finance officials and central banks around the world.

They say that putting policies aimed at tackling climate change at the centre of recovery plans makes economic as well as environmental sense.

“… Green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long term-term cost saving, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus”, says the report.

“Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar.

“As previous research has shown, in the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments.”

Fundamental change coming

Covid-19 is causing great suffering and considerable economic hardship around the world. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and waterways, a quieter environment and far less commuting to and from work, with people in the developed countries doing more work from home.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent survey that Covid-19 and other factors were bringing about a fundamental change in the global energy market, with the use of climate-changing fossil fuels falling sharply and prices of oil, coal and gas plummeting. The IEA also projected that global emissions of greenhouses gases would fall by 8% in 2020, more than any other year on record.

The Oxford report says that with the implementation of the right policies, these positive changes can be sustained: by tackling climate change, many economic and other problems will be solved.

Sceptics have often said that public resistance to changes in lifestyle will prevent governments from taking any substantial action on the climate issue. The study begs to differ: “The (Covid-19) crisis has also demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present.”

Economists and finance experts are calling for the UK to play a decisive role in ensuring that economies around the world do not return to the old, high-carbon ways but instead implement green recovery packages.

Climate conference

The UK is president and co-host of COP-26, the round of UN climate talks originally due to take place in November this year but now, due to Covid, postponed to early 2021.

The round is seen as a vital part of efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, now a finance adviser to the British prime minister for COP-26, says the UK has the opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in order to combat a warming world.

“The UK’s global leadership in financial services provides a unique opportunity to address climate change by transforming the financial system”, he says.

“To seize it, all financial decisions need to take into account the risks from climate change and the opportunities from the transition to a net zero economy.” − Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide pollution dulls the brain

Carbon dioxide pollution slows our thinking. It could get bad enough to stop some of us thinking our way out of danger.

LONDON, 27 April, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then tomorrow’s children in badly-ventilated classrooms or workers in crowded offices could find their wits dulled: the predicted concentrations of carbon dioxide pollution by 2100 could reduce the ability to make decisions by 25%, and cut the capacity for complex strategic thinking by as much as half.

That is, global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t just be bad for the planet and its oceans: it would also make Homo sapiens measurably less sapient.

Although outdoor CO2 levels could more than triple – and at 930 parts per million (ppm), this would be far higher than humans have ever experienced – concentrations in enclosed spaces could rise much higher.

Research on seamen aboard submarines and in astronaut tests have confirmed that CO2 builds up in confined spaces, to limit the supply of oxygen to the brain. As this happens, people in such conditions have problems responding to any stimulus or even recognising a threat.

City atmospheres normally have higher carbon dioxide concentrations than in the countryside. And in poorly-ventilated city buildings, higher carbon dioxide levels could begin to limit human potential.

Direct effect

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces,” said Kris Karnauskas, of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the author of a new study in the journal Geohealth.

“It affects everybody – from little kids packed into classrooms to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments.”

Other researchers have repeatedly warned that any steps to reduce emissions would more than pay off in terms of advancing human health and wealth, and that conversely expanding fossil fuel emissions could only increase damaging atmospheric pollution, along with potentially life-threatening extremes of summer heat.

But these are indirect effects of carbon dioxide concentration: Dr Karnauskas and his colleagues were more interested in a direct effect.

They report that they looked simply at climate scenarios, including the notorious business-as-usual prediction in which humans go on destroying forests, burning coal and oil, and making cement to build ever-expanding cities.

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces. It affects everybody – from little kids to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments”

In this scenario, carbon dioxide concentrations – at around 280 ppm for most of human history, but already past the 400ppm mark – will rise to 930ppm by the end of the century.

If that happens, then indoor concentrations could quickly reach 1400ppm. And this could, on some research findings, begin to compromise what psychologists call high-level cognitive domains. So basic decision-making ability could falter by a quarter, and concentration on complex problems by 50%.

Quite literally, carbon dioxide build-up could reduce the capacity to think clearly. Such an outcome is far from certain, and the Geohealth researchers recognise this.

“This is a complex problem, and our study is at the beginning,” said Dr Karnauskas. “It’s not just a matter of predicting global outdoor CO2 levels. It’s going from global background emissions, to concentrations in the urban environment, to the indoor concentrations and finally the resulting human impact.

“We need even broader, interdisciplinary teams of researchers to explore this.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide pollution slows our thinking. It could get bad enough to stop some of us thinking our way out of danger.

LONDON, 27 April, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then tomorrow’s children in badly-ventilated classrooms or workers in crowded offices could find their wits dulled: the predicted concentrations of carbon dioxide pollution by 2100 could reduce the ability to make decisions by 25%, and cut the capacity for complex strategic thinking by as much as half.

That is, global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t just be bad for the planet and its oceans: it would also make Homo sapiens measurably less sapient.

Although outdoor CO2 levels could more than triple – and at 930 parts per million (ppm), this would be far higher than humans have ever experienced – concentrations in enclosed spaces could rise much higher.

Research on seamen aboard submarines and in astronaut tests have confirmed that CO2 builds up in confined spaces, to limit the supply of oxygen to the brain. As this happens, people in such conditions have problems responding to any stimulus or even recognising a threat.

City atmospheres normally have higher carbon dioxide concentrations than in the countryside. And in poorly-ventilated city buildings, higher carbon dioxide levels could begin to limit human potential.

Direct effect

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces,” said Kris Karnauskas, of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the author of a new study in the journal Geohealth.

“It affects everybody – from little kids packed into classrooms to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments.”

Other researchers have repeatedly warned that any steps to reduce emissions would more than pay off in terms of advancing human health and wealth, and that conversely expanding fossil fuel emissions could only increase damaging atmospheric pollution, along with potentially life-threatening extremes of summer heat.

But these are indirect effects of carbon dioxide concentration: Dr Karnauskas and his colleagues were more interested in a direct effect.

They report that they looked simply at climate scenarios, including the notorious business-as-usual prediction in which humans go on destroying forests, burning coal and oil, and making cement to build ever-expanding cities.

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces. It affects everybody – from little kids to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments”

In this scenario, carbon dioxide concentrations – at around 280 ppm for most of human history, but already past the 400ppm mark – will rise to 930ppm by the end of the century.

If that happens, then indoor concentrations could quickly reach 1400ppm. And this could, on some research findings, begin to compromise what psychologists call high-level cognitive domains. So basic decision-making ability could falter by a quarter, and concentration on complex problems by 50%.

Quite literally, carbon dioxide build-up could reduce the capacity to think clearly. Such an outcome is far from certain, and the Geohealth researchers recognise this.

“This is a complex problem, and our study is at the beginning,” said Dr Karnauskas. “It’s not just a matter of predicting global outdoor CO2 levels. It’s going from global background emissions, to concentrations in the urban environment, to the indoor concentrations and finally the resulting human impact.

“We need even broader, interdisciplinary teams of researchers to explore this.” – Climate News Network

It’s a galloping goodbye to Europe’s coal

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

Europe’s coal has powered it for centuries. But with gathering speed it is now turning its back on the fuel.

LONDON, 26 April, 2020 – The energy that has powered a continent for several hundred years, driving its industry, fighting its wars and keeping its people warm, is on the way out, fast: Europe’s coal is in rapid decline.

Coal is far and away the most polluting of fossil fuels and is a major factor in the build-up of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But, according to a recent report by two of Europe’s leading energy analyst groups, the use of coal for power generation among the 27 countries of the European Union fell by a record 24% last year.

The report, by the Germany-based Agora Energiewende group and Ember, an independent London climate think-tank focused on speeding up the global electricity transition, will make stark reading for Europe’s coal lobbyists.

Renewables are on the rise across most of Europe, while coal use is in sharp decline. In 2019 wind and solar power together accounted for 18% of the EU’s power generation, while coal produced 15%. That’s the first time renewables have trumped coal in Europe’s energy generation mix.

“Europe is leading the world on rapidly replacing coal generation with wind and solar and, as a result, power sector CO2 emissions have never fallen so quickly”, says Dave Jones, an electricity specialist at Ember.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too.”

Total phase-out soon

The report says that greenhouse gas emissions from the EU’s power sector have fallen by more than 30% since 2012, with a year-on-year drop of 12% in 2019.

A number of European countries have already said goodbye to coal. In 2016 Belgium closed its last coal-fired energy plant. In April this year both Austria and Sweden followed suit.

The report highlights the way in which many EU countries have sharply reduced coal use in recent years: most plan to totally eliminate it as an energy source in the near future.

Eight years ago more than 30% of the power generated in the UK came from coal-fired power plants. Last year only 2% of power was derived from coal. The UK plans to stop using it for energy generation in four years’ time.

Germany has traditionally been one of the EU’s biggest coal users. In 2013 coal fuelled 45% of the country’s power generation: last year that figure fell to 28%.

Germany says it will eliminate coal from its power mix by 2038, though government critics say this is not nearly fast enough to meet EU-wide emission reduction targets.

A number of factors are behind coal’s decline. Economics has played a big role.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too”

In the wake of the 2008 financial crash industrial activity slowed and Europe’s coal use dropped.

The power sector became more efficient: although in recent years – before the Covid-19 pandemic – industrial activity picked up, the EU’s total electricity consumption was 4% lower in 2019 than a decade earlier.

Falling installation and operating costs for solar and wind power plants have resulted in renewable energy becoming ever more competitive: the price of natural gas – a less polluting fossil fuel than coal – has also been declining, while reforms in the European carbon trading scheme resulting in higher charges being levied on polluters have driven up the cost of coal.

All is not clean air and clear blue skies in Europe, however. Coal is still a significant source of power in Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. And while Germany has reduced its reliance on coal, it still burns large amounts of lignite or brown coal, the dirtiest form of the fuel.

Pollution and climate change do not recognise borders. Many states surrounding the EU are still reliant on coal and have plans for expanding coal-fired power plants.

China is helping Serbia to expand its coal-fired power capacity. Kosovo, which has some of the biggest reserves of lignite in the world, is also building more coal-fired power plants.

The World Bank says Kosovo has some of the worst air pollution in Europe, with emissions from its lignite-fuelled power stations causing many premature deaths each year. – Climate News Network

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

Europe’s coal has powered it for centuries. But with gathering speed it is now turning its back on the fuel.

LONDON, 26 April, 2020 – The energy that has powered a continent for several hundred years, driving its industry, fighting its wars and keeping its people warm, is on the way out, fast: Europe’s coal is in rapid decline.

Coal is far and away the most polluting of fossil fuels and is a major factor in the build-up of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But, according to a recent report by two of Europe’s leading energy analyst groups, the use of coal for power generation among the 27 countries of the European Union fell by a record 24% last year.

The report, by the Germany-based Agora Energiewende group and Ember, an independent London climate think-tank focused on speeding up the global electricity transition, will make stark reading for Europe’s coal lobbyists.

Renewables are on the rise across most of Europe, while coal use is in sharp decline. In 2019 wind and solar power together accounted for 18% of the EU’s power generation, while coal produced 15%. That’s the first time renewables have trumped coal in Europe’s energy generation mix.

“Europe is leading the world on rapidly replacing coal generation with wind and solar and, as a result, power sector CO2 emissions have never fallen so quickly”, says Dave Jones, an electricity specialist at Ember.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too.”

Total phase-out soon

The report says that greenhouse gas emissions from the EU’s power sector have fallen by more than 30% since 2012, with a year-on-year drop of 12% in 2019.

A number of European countries have already said goodbye to coal. In 2016 Belgium closed its last coal-fired energy plant. In April this year both Austria and Sweden followed suit.

The report highlights the way in which many EU countries have sharply reduced coal use in recent years: most plan to totally eliminate it as an energy source in the near future.

Eight years ago more than 30% of the power generated in the UK came from coal-fired power plants. Last year only 2% of power was derived from coal. The UK plans to stop using it for energy generation in four years’ time.

Germany has traditionally been one of the EU’s biggest coal users. In 2013 coal fuelled 45% of the country’s power generation: last year that figure fell to 28%.

Germany says it will eliminate coal from its power mix by 2038, though government critics say this is not nearly fast enough to meet EU-wide emission reduction targets.

A number of factors are behind coal’s decline. Economics has played a big role.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too”

In the wake of the 2008 financial crash industrial activity slowed and Europe’s coal use dropped.

The power sector became more efficient: although in recent years – before the Covid-19 pandemic – industrial activity picked up, the EU’s total electricity consumption was 4% lower in 2019 than a decade earlier.

Falling installation and operating costs for solar and wind power plants have resulted in renewable energy becoming ever more competitive: the price of natural gas – a less polluting fossil fuel than coal – has also been declining, while reforms in the European carbon trading scheme resulting in higher charges being levied on polluters have driven up the cost of coal.

All is not clean air and clear blue skies in Europe, however. Coal is still a significant source of power in Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. And while Germany has reduced its reliance on coal, it still burns large amounts of lignite or brown coal, the dirtiest form of the fuel.

Pollution and climate change do not recognise borders. Many states surrounding the EU are still reliant on coal and have plans for expanding coal-fired power plants.

China is helping Serbia to expand its coal-fired power capacity. Kosovo, which has some of the biggest reserves of lignite in the world, is also building more coal-fired power plants.

The World Bank says Kosovo has some of the worst air pollution in Europe, with emissions from its lignite-fuelled power stations causing many premature deaths each year. – Climate News Network

Some leaked US methane ‘is double official figure’

This story originally appeared in InsideClimate News, and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

The leaked methane is a byproduct of fracking for oil, often burned off or simply emitted instead of captured for use as fuel.

NEW YORK, 25 April, 2020 − Methane emissions from the Permian basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world, are more than twice as high as US federal estimates, a new study suggests.

The findings, published recently in the journal Science Advances, reaffirm the results of a recently released assessment and further call into question the climate benefits of natural gas.

Using hydraulic fracturing, energy companies have increased oil production to unprecedented levels in the Permian basin in recent years.
Methane, or natural gas, has historically been viewed as an unwanted byproduct to be flared, a practice in which methane is burned instead of emitted into the atmosphere, or vented by oil producers in the region.

While new natural gas pipelines are being built to bring the gas to market, pipeline capacity and the low price of natural gas has created little incentive to reduce methane emissions.

Daniel Jacob, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard University and a co-author of the study, said methane emissions in the Permian are “the largest source ever observed in an oil and gas field.”

He added, “There has been a big ramp up in oil production in that region and when you don’t care too much about recovering the natural gas, it makes for a large emission.”

As a global oil glut threatens to curtail oil production in the region, it remains unclear if methane emissions from the Permian will diminish, or if emissions will continue to climb, as operators scale back monitoring and maintenance operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m afraid there is all manner of mayhem happening out there”

“There is going to be a lot less wells being drilled, probably less gas being flared, even wells [that] will [probably] be shut in,” said David Lyon, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund and a co-author of the study.

“If that is done properly, then I think you will have less emissions. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of operators cut back on their environmental staff and they do less leak inspections and other activities that would reduce emissions. They may have less ability to respond to malfunctions and things that cause emissions.”

The current study estimates 3.7% of all the methane produced from wells in the Permian basin is emitted, unburned, into the atmosphere. That is more than twice the official EPA estimate for the region.

While the percentage may seem small, methane is a super-pollutant that is approximately 84 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It is often called a “short-lived climate pollutant” because it lasts only 12 years in the atmosphere when carbon dioxide can last for centuries.

Methane’s relatively short life in the atmosphere means that any reduction in methane emissions will have a near-term benefit in helping to slow climate change.

Climate scientists estimate that if just 3.2% of all the gas brought above ground at the well leaks into the atmosphere, rather than being burned to generate electricity, natural gas becomes, as a result, worse for the climate than burning coal.

The gas leaked and vented from the Permian makes nearly the same contribution to global warming as carbon dioxide emissions from all U.S. residences, according to the study. If that same volume of methane were to be used instead for residential purposes, it would meet the gas needs of seven million households in Texas, according to the study.

“That … adds further confirmation that the high methane concentrations observed in the Permian stem from emissions from oil and gas production”

The study was based on 11 months of data from the European Space Agency’s Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) collected during 2018 and 2019. TROPOMI is a space-based spectrometer that uses infrared imaging to detect the average concentration of methane in columns of the atmosphere averaged across approximately 4 mile by 4 mile sections of the Earth’s surface.

Launched aboard a European Space Agency satellite in 2017, the device has significantly enhanced researchers’ ability to quantify methane emissions across regions like the Permian basin.

The study also draws on data from a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite that detects heat from gas flaring and thereby pinpoints the location of oil and gas wells. When the data from the two different satellites are combined, they show that areas with a high number of wells correspond to areas with high methane concentrations.

“That is important because it adds further confirmation that the high methane concentrations observed in the Permian stem from emissions from oil and gas production,” said Riley Duren, a research scientist at the University of Arizona and an engineering fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was not involved in the new study.

The findings confirm data released by the Environmental Defense Fund on April 7 as part of its ongoing PermianMAP project. Drawing on airplane monitoring data, the group concluded that 3.5% of methane produced in the Permian was leaking or being intentionally vented into the atmosphere.

The recent report and current study come as EDF and others allege that changes in how the EPA estimates methane releases from oil and gas field facilities has decreased the agency’s official emissions estimates, as they appear in its recently released 2020 inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

“America’s natural gas and oil companies have initiated multiple initiatives across the U.S. to build upon the progress we’ve made to reduce emissions”

“EPA makes updates to methods and data sources periodically when new information is available to improve our emissions calculations,” EPA spokesperson Enesta Jones said in a written statement.

American Petroleum Institute senior counselor Howard Feldman, who was also asked to comment on the new study, said, “As with any report, we will review the methods that Harvard used to validate the data and their conclusions.”

Feldman said that methane emissions are declining. “America’s natural gas and oil companies,” he said, “have initiated multiple initiatives across the U.S., like The Environmental Partnership and the Texas Methane and Flaring Coalition, to build upon the progress we’ve made to reduce emissions in producing basins like the Permian, during a period of significant oil and natural gas production growth.”

Feldman added, “These initiatives underscore the industry’s commitment to leveraging new technologies and innovative practices that reduce emissions and establish clear pathways for continuous environmental improvement.”

Exxon Mobil Corp. announced earlier this month that it is conducting field trials of various methane detection technologies, including satellite and aerial surveillance monitoring of nearly 1,000 sites across the Permian basin, to further reduce methane emissions.

In 2018, Exxon, as part of a coalition of oil and gas producers known as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, pledged to reduce methane emissions from a 2017 baseline of 0.32% to 0.25% by 2025. The current study’s basin-wide estimate of a 3.7% rate of emissions suggests that, at least in the Permian, Exxon and other producers are well off of their emission reduction targets.

An April 6 report by the Norwegian energy research firm Rystad Energy noted that flaring in the Permian has decreased from a high of nearly 900 million cubic feet per day in the third quarter of 2019 to approximately 700 million cubic feet per day in the first quarter of 2020. The firm projects that flaring will continue to decline by an additional 40% this year as an oil production downturn caused by Covid-19 and the ongoing oil price war continues.

Flaring significantly reduces methane’s greenhouse gas impact. When methane is burned, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere instead of methane. Reductions in flaring are typically an indicator that less methane is being wasted and that more of it is being shipped to market via pipelines.

Flaring, however, isn’t entirely effective. Flares that aren’t operating properly result in incomplete combustion, and the portion of methane that isn’t burned by the flare is released into the atmosphere. In other cases, unlit flares allow all the methane that passes through them to vent, unburned, into the air.

“Reductions in flaring are typically an indicator that less methane is being wasted and that more of it is being shipped to market via pipelines”

Earthworks, an environmental advocacy group, argues that a steady increase in unlit gas flares  may offset any benefits from the decreasing volume of flared gas. Field measurements of approximately 100 flares in the Permian basin by the group show that the phenomenon of unlit flares increased from 14% of all flares monitored in 2017 to 34% in 2020, according to an April 6 report by the group.

Sharon Wilson, a gas imaging specialist for Earthworks, said she anticipates unlit flaring to increase as financial pressure, work restrictions imposed by Covid-19 and the inability of environmental watchdogs to continue field observations, results in decreased maintenance of existing flares. “At the moment I’m afraid there is all manner of mayhem happening out there,” Wilson said.

EDF is now conducting a larger study of unlit wells or wells with incomplete combustion and plans to release its findings in the coming weeks. State regulators in Texas are also considering whether to mandate a reduction or “proration” in the state’s oil production, as supply outstrips demand.

EDF is urging the state’s Railroad Commission, which regulates oil production, to include mandatory reductions in flaring as part of any requirement to reduce oil production.

“The goal of having flaring as part of proration would be to reduce the volume of gas being flared in the basin,” Colin Leyden, a senior manager for regulatory and legislative affairs at EDF said. “Obviously with less flares you’d have less chance of things going wrong.” − InsideClimate News

This story originally appeared in InsideClimate News, and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

The leaked methane is a byproduct of fracking for oil, often burned off or simply emitted instead of captured for use as fuel.

NEW YORK, 25 April, 2020 − Methane emissions from the Permian basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world, are more than twice as high as US federal estimates, a new study suggests.

The findings, published recently in the journal Science Advances, reaffirm the results of a recently released assessment and further call into question the climate benefits of natural gas.

Using hydraulic fracturing, energy companies have increased oil production to unprecedented levels in the Permian basin in recent years.
Methane, or natural gas, has historically been viewed as an unwanted byproduct to be flared, a practice in which methane is burned instead of emitted into the atmosphere, or vented by oil producers in the region.

While new natural gas pipelines are being built to bring the gas to market, pipeline capacity and the low price of natural gas has created little incentive to reduce methane emissions.

Daniel Jacob, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard University and a co-author of the study, said methane emissions in the Permian are “the largest source ever observed in an oil and gas field.”

He added, “There has been a big ramp up in oil production in that region and when you don’t care too much about recovering the natural gas, it makes for a large emission.”

As a global oil glut threatens to curtail oil production in the region, it remains unclear if methane emissions from the Permian will diminish, or if emissions will continue to climb, as operators scale back monitoring and maintenance operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m afraid there is all manner of mayhem happening out there”

“There is going to be a lot less wells being drilled, probably less gas being flared, even wells [that] will [probably] be shut in,” said David Lyon, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund and a co-author of the study.

“If that is done properly, then I think you will have less emissions. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of operators cut back on their environmental staff and they do less leak inspections and other activities that would reduce emissions. They may have less ability to respond to malfunctions and things that cause emissions.”

The current study estimates 3.7% of all the methane produced from wells in the Permian basin is emitted, unburned, into the atmosphere. That is more than twice the official EPA estimate for the region.

While the percentage may seem small, methane is a super-pollutant that is approximately 84 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It is often called a “short-lived climate pollutant” because it lasts only 12 years in the atmosphere when carbon dioxide can last for centuries.

Methane’s relatively short life in the atmosphere means that any reduction in methane emissions will have a near-term benefit in helping to slow climate change.

Climate scientists estimate that if just 3.2% of all the gas brought above ground at the well leaks into the atmosphere, rather than being burned to generate electricity, natural gas becomes, as a result, worse for the climate than burning coal.

The gas leaked and vented from the Permian makes nearly the same contribution to global warming as carbon dioxide emissions from all U.S. residences, according to the study. If that same volume of methane were to be used instead for residential purposes, it would meet the gas needs of seven million households in Texas, according to the study.

“That … adds further confirmation that the high methane concentrations observed in the Permian stem from emissions from oil and gas production”

The study was based on 11 months of data from the European Space Agency’s Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) collected during 2018 and 2019. TROPOMI is a space-based spectrometer that uses infrared imaging to detect the average concentration of methane in columns of the atmosphere averaged across approximately 4 mile by 4 mile sections of the Earth’s surface.

Launched aboard a European Space Agency satellite in 2017, the device has significantly enhanced researchers’ ability to quantify methane emissions across regions like the Permian basin.

The study also draws on data from a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite that detects heat from gas flaring and thereby pinpoints the location of oil and gas wells. When the data from the two different satellites are combined, they show that areas with a high number of wells correspond to areas with high methane concentrations.

“That is important because it adds further confirmation that the high methane concentrations observed in the Permian stem from emissions from oil and gas production,” said Riley Duren, a research scientist at the University of Arizona and an engineering fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was not involved in the new study.

The findings confirm data released by the Environmental Defense Fund on April 7 as part of its ongoing PermianMAP project. Drawing on airplane monitoring data, the group concluded that 3.5% of methane produced in the Permian was leaking or being intentionally vented into the atmosphere.

The recent report and current study come as EDF and others allege that changes in how the EPA estimates methane releases from oil and gas field facilities has decreased the agency’s official emissions estimates, as they appear in its recently released 2020 inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

“America’s natural gas and oil companies have initiated multiple initiatives across the U.S. to build upon the progress we’ve made to reduce emissions”

“EPA makes updates to methods and data sources periodically when new information is available to improve our emissions calculations,” EPA spokesperson Enesta Jones said in a written statement.

American Petroleum Institute senior counselor Howard Feldman, who was also asked to comment on the new study, said, “As with any report, we will review the methods that Harvard used to validate the data and their conclusions.”

Feldman said that methane emissions are declining. “America’s natural gas and oil companies,” he said, “have initiated multiple initiatives across the U.S., like The Environmental Partnership and the Texas Methane and Flaring Coalition, to build upon the progress we’ve made to reduce emissions in producing basins like the Permian, during a period of significant oil and natural gas production growth.”

Feldman added, “These initiatives underscore the industry’s commitment to leveraging new technologies and innovative practices that reduce emissions and establish clear pathways for continuous environmental improvement.”

Exxon Mobil Corp. announced earlier this month that it is conducting field trials of various methane detection technologies, including satellite and aerial surveillance monitoring of nearly 1,000 sites across the Permian basin, to further reduce methane emissions.

In 2018, Exxon, as part of a coalition of oil and gas producers known as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, pledged to reduce methane emissions from a 2017 baseline of 0.32% to 0.25% by 2025. The current study’s basin-wide estimate of a 3.7% rate of emissions suggests that, at least in the Permian, Exxon and other producers are well off of their emission reduction targets.

An April 6 report by the Norwegian energy research firm Rystad Energy noted that flaring in the Permian has decreased from a high of nearly 900 million cubic feet per day in the third quarter of 2019 to approximately 700 million cubic feet per day in the first quarter of 2020. The firm projects that flaring will continue to decline by an additional 40% this year as an oil production downturn caused by Covid-19 and the ongoing oil price war continues.

Flaring significantly reduces methane’s greenhouse gas impact. When methane is burned, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere instead of methane. Reductions in flaring are typically an indicator that less methane is being wasted and that more of it is being shipped to market via pipelines.

Flaring, however, isn’t entirely effective. Flares that aren’t operating properly result in incomplete combustion, and the portion of methane that isn’t burned by the flare is released into the atmosphere. In other cases, unlit flares allow all the methane that passes through them to vent, unburned, into the air.

“Reductions in flaring are typically an indicator that less methane is being wasted and that more of it is being shipped to market via pipelines”

Earthworks, an environmental advocacy group, argues that a steady increase in unlit gas flares  may offset any benefits from the decreasing volume of flared gas. Field measurements of approximately 100 flares in the Permian basin by the group show that the phenomenon of unlit flares increased from 14% of all flares monitored in 2017 to 34% in 2020, according to an April 6 report by the group.

Sharon Wilson, a gas imaging specialist for Earthworks, said she anticipates unlit flaring to increase as financial pressure, work restrictions imposed by Covid-19 and the inability of environmental watchdogs to continue field observations, results in decreased maintenance of existing flares. “At the moment I’m afraid there is all manner of mayhem happening out there,” Wilson said.

EDF is now conducting a larger study of unlit wells or wells with incomplete combustion and plans to release its findings in the coming weeks. State regulators in Texas are also considering whether to mandate a reduction or “proration” in the state’s oil production, as supply outstrips demand.

EDF is urging the state’s Railroad Commission, which regulates oil production, to include mandatory reductions in flaring as part of any requirement to reduce oil production.

“The goal of having flaring as part of proration would be to reduce the volume of gas being flared in the basin,” Colin Leyden, a senior manager for regulatory and legislative affairs at EDF said. “Obviously with less flares you’d have less chance of things going wrong.” − InsideClimate News