Tag Archives: Geo-engineering

More harm than good with climate geo-engineering

Geo-engineering might be possible – but so far it doesn’t look practical. Yet another study sees dangers in the technofix.

LONDON, 24 November, 2017 – Geo-engineering – the untested technofix that would permit the continued use of fossil fuels – could create more problems than it could solve.

By masking sunlight with injections of sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere, nations could perhaps suppress some of the devastating hurricanes and typhoons that in a rapidly warming world threaten northern hemisphere cities. But they could also scorch the Sahel region of Africa, to threaten millions of lives and livelihoods, according to new research.

Geo-engineering is sometimes played as humanity’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it option: humans have already unthinkingly engineered climate change over the last 200 years by profligate combustion of coal, oil and gas that releases ever-growing concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Since ferocious volcanic eruptions have been known to cool the global climate by pumping soot and sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, some reason that scientists and technologists could play the same card, in a calculated fashion.

“This is not a technique that is ready to use in the near future: reducing CO2 emissions and planning our adaptation must remain top priorities for climate policy”

But shortly after one research team showed that, in theory at least, geo-engineering could be made to work, a second group has demonstrated that there would be a huge price to pay. And they call on policymakers to think carefully before testing any unilateral action.

“Our results confirm that regional solar geo-engineering is a highly risky strategy which could simultaneously benefit one region to the detriment of another,” said Anthony Jones, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter, UK, who led the study. 

“It is vital that policymakers take solar geo-engineering seriously and act swiftly to install effective regulation.”

This is an argument that has continued for more than a decade: in 2006, the Nobel laureate and chemist Paul Crutzen pointed out that, while burning hydrocarbon fuels, humans also released sulphate aerosols that represented a health hazard, linked to half a million deaths a year.

Multiple effects

If a proportion of this pollution reached the upper atmosphere, it would not only save lives, it would change the reflectivity of the planet, dim solar radiation, and contain global warming.

Since then, researchers the world over have repeatedly looked at the geo-engineering option, and repeatedly conceded that the ideal answer would be to stop burning fossil fuels.

And since greenhouse gas emissions have failed to fall, other groups have repeatedly returned to the study, to find that such solutions may not work, or that they could create more problems than they solve.

Dr Jones and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that they tested the sulphate solution in simulation to find what others have suggested: that in addition to damping global temperature rise, a deliberate darkening of the skies would also suppress hurricane activity in the north Atlantic.

Drought risk

But, as others have argued, it would also heighten the likelihood of sustained drought in the Sahel, a region which extends across 14 nations in Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia.

“It is obvious from first principles that stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering deployed in only one hemisphere would lead to huge shifts in tropical climate patterns,” said Peter Irvine, a researcher at Harvard University in the US, commenting on the study.

“Deploying stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering in only one hemisphere is pretty certainly a bad idea, and this work helps reinforce that view.”

And John Shepherd, an earth system scientist at the University of Southampton in the UK, said: “This is not a technique that is ready to use in the near future: reducing CO2 emissions and planning our adaptation must remain top priorities for climate policy.” – Climate News Network

Geo-engineering might be possible – but so far it doesn’t look practical. Yet another study sees dangers in the technofix.

LONDON, 24 November, 2017 – Geo-engineering – the untested technofix that would permit the continued use of fossil fuels – could create more problems than it could solve.

By masking sunlight with injections of sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere, nations could perhaps suppress some of the devastating hurricanes and typhoons that in a rapidly warming world threaten northern hemisphere cities. But they could also scorch the Sahel region of Africa, to threaten millions of lives and livelihoods, according to new research.

Geo-engineering is sometimes played as humanity’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it option: humans have already unthinkingly engineered climate change over the last 200 years by profligate combustion of coal, oil and gas that releases ever-growing concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Since ferocious volcanic eruptions have been known to cool the global climate by pumping soot and sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, some reason that scientists and technologists could play the same card, in a calculated fashion.

“This is not a technique that is ready to use in the near future: reducing CO2 emissions and planning our adaptation must remain top priorities for climate policy”

But shortly after one research team showed that, in theory at least, geo-engineering could be made to work, a second group has demonstrated that there would be a huge price to pay. And they call on policymakers to think carefully before testing any unilateral action.

“Our results confirm that regional solar geo-engineering is a highly risky strategy which could simultaneously benefit one region to the detriment of another,” said Anthony Jones, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter, UK, who led the study. 

“It is vital that policymakers take solar geo-engineering seriously and act swiftly to install effective regulation.”

This is an argument that has continued for more than a decade: in 2006, the Nobel laureate and chemist Paul Crutzen pointed out that, while burning hydrocarbon fuels, humans also released sulphate aerosols that represented a health hazard, linked to half a million deaths a year.

Multiple effects

If a proportion of this pollution reached the upper atmosphere, it would not only save lives, it would change the reflectivity of the planet, dim solar radiation, and contain global warming.

Since then, researchers the world over have repeatedly looked at the geo-engineering option, and repeatedly conceded that the ideal answer would be to stop burning fossil fuels.

And since greenhouse gas emissions have failed to fall, other groups have repeatedly returned to the study, to find that such solutions may not work, or that they could create more problems than they solve.

Dr Jones and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that they tested the sulphate solution in simulation to find what others have suggested: that in addition to damping global temperature rise, a deliberate darkening of the skies would also suppress hurricane activity in the north Atlantic.

Drought risk

But, as others have argued, it would also heighten the likelihood of sustained drought in the Sahel, a region which extends across 14 nations in Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia.

“It is obvious from first principles that stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering deployed in only one hemisphere would lead to huge shifts in tropical climate patterns,” said Peter Irvine, a researcher at Harvard University in the US, commenting on the study.

“Deploying stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering in only one hemisphere is pretty certainly a bad idea, and this work helps reinforce that view.”

And John Shepherd, an earth system scientist at the University of Southampton in the UK, said: “This is not a technique that is ready to use in the near future: reducing CO2 emissions and planning our adaptation must remain top priorities for climate policy.” – Climate News Network

Geo-engineering can work – if the world wants it

Geo-engineering can stop the Earth warming, at least in theory, scientists say, but doubts persist over the possible risks.

LONDON, 10 November, 2017 – Climate scientists now know that geo-engineering – in principle at least – would halt global warming and keep the world at the temperatures it will reach by 2020.

It is simple: inject millions of tons of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere at carefully chosen locations, and keep on doing so for as long as humans continue to burn fossil fuels and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The desired effect: global temperatures will be contained because the pollutants in the upper atmosphere will dim the sun’s light and counteract the greenhouse effect of all the carbon dioxide pumped from power stations, vehicle exhausts, factory chimneys and burning forests.

It won’t be the perfect answer. The oceans will go on becoming more acidic, and the skies will become subtly darker. Rainfall patterns could be affected. Repairs to the ozone layer – an invisible shield against dangerous ultraviolet radiation – would be slowed.

“For decision makers to accurately weigh the pros and cons of geo-engineering against those of human-caused climate change, they need more information. Our goal is to better understand what geo-engineering can do and what it cannot”

The volumes of sulphate aerosols that would need to be flown to stratospheric heights and released each year would continue to grow as humans went on burning ever more fossil fuels.

The technical and energy demands of such an operation would be colossal. There could be serious geopolitical problems about the impacts and responsibility for such decisions. But, at least in principle, researchers now believe geo-engineering could be made to work.

“For decision makers to accurately weigh the pros and cons of geo-engineering against those of human-caused climate change, they need more information,” said Ben Kravitz, of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and one of a consortium which has published a succession of five studies in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres. “Our goal is to better understand what geo-engineering can do and what it cannot.”

Unkept promises

Climate scientists have repeatedly investigated the so-called techno-fix. By burning maybe 50 million years of fossil fuel deposits in just two centuries, humans have raised global temperatures and inadvertently engineered climate change.

So perhaps science and technology could come to the rescue, and deliberately engineer the climate to a new kind of stability. The consensus is that the ideal solution would be to stop burning fossil fuels and to start restoring the planet’s forests, the great absorbers of atmospheric carbon. But despite promises by the world’s nations in Paris in 2015, global temperatures continue to rise.

Geo-engineering is an idea that won’t go away. Research teams have repeatedly examined ideas for countering global warming, instead of reducing the cause, and found them wanting: such action world ultimately fail, or it would make the world’s problems worse, or at best it would take the heat out of the hurricane season.

But scientists from the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, along with other US institutions and international colleagues, chose a different approach: what could geo-engineering achieve?

Natural model

Famously, an eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 cooled the planet by dumping 20 million tons of sulphur dioxide in the stratosphere. The researchers used computer simulations to test the effect of what might be called artificial eruptions: how would stratospheric winds spread these sulphate aerosols, and how would this diffuse global dust cloud cool the planet, and for how long, and to what extent?

They played with the idea of injecting sulphates at 14 different sites at seven latitudes and two altitudes, to find that the idea worked best if injections happened at 30 degrees latitude, north and south. They experimented with varying levels of sulphur dioxide: up to 12 million metric tons at a time.

They found out how to contain overall global temperature rise to the predicted 2020 average: some regions however became – in their computer models – hotter or cooler than the citizens might appreciate.

But the challenge of keeping the world cool became more and more demanding. By the end of the century, if humans went on burning fossil fuels in the notorious business-as-usual scenario, their model demanded the equivalent of almost five Mt Pinatubo eruptions a year.  The research goes on.

Deployment delay

The Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative aims to encourage the development of governance for research on climate geo-engineering that is balanced between enabling and regulatory aspects.

One of its priorities is to put solar geo-engineering deployment on hold until the risks and potential benefits are better known and governance frameworks are agreed.

”We are still a long way from understanding all the interactions in the climate system that could be triggered by geo-engineering, which means we don’t yet understand the full range of possible side effects,” said scientist Simone Tilmes, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research.

“But climate change also poses risks. Continuing research into geo-engineering is critical to assess benefits and side effects and to inform decision makers and society.” – Climate News Network

Geo-engineering can stop the Earth warming, at least in theory, scientists say, but doubts persist over the possible risks.

LONDON, 10 November, 2017 – Climate scientists now know that geo-engineering – in principle at least – would halt global warming and keep the world at the temperatures it will reach by 2020.

It is simple: inject millions of tons of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere at carefully chosen locations, and keep on doing so for as long as humans continue to burn fossil fuels and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The desired effect: global temperatures will be contained because the pollutants in the upper atmosphere will dim the sun’s light and counteract the greenhouse effect of all the carbon dioxide pumped from power stations, vehicle exhausts, factory chimneys and burning forests.

It won’t be the perfect answer. The oceans will go on becoming more acidic, and the skies will become subtly darker. Rainfall patterns could be affected. Repairs to the ozone layer – an invisible shield against dangerous ultraviolet radiation – would be slowed.

“For decision makers to accurately weigh the pros and cons of geo-engineering against those of human-caused climate change, they need more information. Our goal is to better understand what geo-engineering can do and what it cannot”

The volumes of sulphate aerosols that would need to be flown to stratospheric heights and released each year would continue to grow as humans went on burning ever more fossil fuels.

The technical and energy demands of such an operation would be colossal. There could be serious geopolitical problems about the impacts and responsibility for such decisions. But, at least in principle, researchers now believe geo-engineering could be made to work.

“For decision makers to accurately weigh the pros and cons of geo-engineering against those of human-caused climate change, they need more information,” said Ben Kravitz, of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and one of a consortium which has published a succession of five studies in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres. “Our goal is to better understand what geo-engineering can do and what it cannot.”

Unkept promises

Climate scientists have repeatedly investigated the so-called techno-fix. By burning maybe 50 million years of fossil fuel deposits in just two centuries, humans have raised global temperatures and inadvertently engineered climate change.

So perhaps science and technology could come to the rescue, and deliberately engineer the climate to a new kind of stability. The consensus is that the ideal solution would be to stop burning fossil fuels and to start restoring the planet’s forests, the great absorbers of atmospheric carbon. But despite promises by the world’s nations in Paris in 2015, global temperatures continue to rise.

Geo-engineering is an idea that won’t go away. Research teams have repeatedly examined ideas for countering global warming, instead of reducing the cause, and found them wanting: such action world ultimately fail, or it would make the world’s problems worse, or at best it would take the heat out of the hurricane season.

But scientists from the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, along with other US institutions and international colleagues, chose a different approach: what could geo-engineering achieve?

Natural model

Famously, an eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 cooled the planet by dumping 20 million tons of sulphur dioxide in the stratosphere. The researchers used computer simulations to test the effect of what might be called artificial eruptions: how would stratospheric winds spread these sulphate aerosols, and how would this diffuse global dust cloud cool the planet, and for how long, and to what extent?

They played with the idea of injecting sulphates at 14 different sites at seven latitudes and two altitudes, to find that the idea worked best if injections happened at 30 degrees latitude, north and south. They experimented with varying levels of sulphur dioxide: up to 12 million metric tons at a time.

They found out how to contain overall global temperature rise to the predicted 2020 average: some regions however became – in their computer models – hotter or cooler than the citizens might appreciate.

But the challenge of keeping the world cool became more and more demanding. By the end of the century, if humans went on burning fossil fuels in the notorious business-as-usual scenario, their model demanded the equivalent of almost five Mt Pinatubo eruptions a year.  The research goes on.

Deployment delay

The Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative aims to encourage the development of governance for research on climate geo-engineering that is balanced between enabling and regulatory aspects.

One of its priorities is to put solar geo-engineering deployment on hold until the risks and potential benefits are better known and governance frameworks are agreed.

”We are still a long way from understanding all the interactions in the climate system that could be triggered by geo-engineering, which means we don’t yet understand the full range of possible side effects,” said scientist Simone Tilmes, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research.

“But climate change also poses risks. Continuing research into geo-engineering is critical to assess benefits and side effects and to inform decision makers and society.” – Climate News Network

Geo-engineers propose climate compromise

Humans have unintentionally changed the world and turned up the temperature. A climate compromise might turn down the heat.

LONDON, 27 July, 2017 – Geo-engineering, the deliberate alteration of the planet to undo its inadvertent alteration by humans over the past 200 years, is back on the scientific agenda, with a climate compromise suggested as a possible solution.

One group wants to turn down the global thermostat and reverse the global warming trend set in train by greenhouse gases released by fossil fuel combustion, by thinning the almost invisible cirrus clouds that trap radiation and keep the planet warm.

Another group proposes to inject sulphur particles into the stratosphere, and keep on doing so for 160 years, to block enough sunlight and lower the planetary temperature.

And a third group wants to see a cocktail of both approaches: thin the high cirrus clouds that stop heat from escaping, and at the same pump particles into the stratosphere to scatter the incoming sunlight and limit the disadvantages of each approach by mixing them.

The verb “wants” in all three studies is neither fair nor appropriate: all three groups concede that the healthy answer is for humans to fulfil the pledge made in 2015, and start to reduce fossil fuel emissions so drastically that global average temperatures stay well below the 2°C maximum rise agreed by 197 nations at the Paris climate conference.

Change inevitable

But while most nations have yet to deliver on the plans they have made, and some nations have yet to even devise a plan, and one nation – the US – has announced its withdrawal from the agreement, scientists have been looking for ways to reverse the potentially catastrophic warming and climate change that is now inevitable if the world continues with its “business as usual scenario.”

And so, tentatively, and with unpromising conclusions, researchers have looked at ways to alter the planet to protect it from rising temperatures.

They have played with the idea of pumping sea water onto the Antarctic mainland ice
to increase the mass of ice and slow sea level rise.

They have looked at the northern icepack and wondered if making it whiter would increase solar reflection and slow global warming.

They have repeatedly investigated ways of reducing the incoming sunlight, usually by pumping sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere, and they have even investigated the possibility of making the ocean more thirsty for carbon dioxide, the most problematic greenhouse gas, by pumping iron into the sea to nourish the photosynthesising algae.

Bad answer

And other groups – and sometimes the same groups – have stressed the hazards: while darker skies might reduce hurricane ferocity, such approaches could drastically interfere with rainfall patterns, make life worse for some of the poorest people on Earth and anyway, in the long run, make things hotter.

All in all, the technofix has been pronounced a bad answer to a good question.

But by the end of the century, as sea levels rise by a metre and global average temperatures by 4°C or more, even a bad answer could be the only one on offer. So Ulrike Lohmann and Blaz Gasparini, two scientists from the Swiss Technical Institute known as ETH Zurich, write in the journal Science that the answer might lie in the clouds.

Cirrus clouds in particular don’t reflect much sunlight back into space, but because of the altitude and the temperature they do emit less long-wave radiation: they behave, in effect, rather like greenhouse gases.

So if cirrus clouds were carefully created by artificial means at lower altitudes, then perhaps they would trap less heat.

“More complicated geo-engineering solutions would likely do a bit better, but the best solution is simply to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere”

Such an experiment, the scientists concede, could go badly wrong, would not solve problems linked to rainfall patterns and might even make the world warmer. For the moment, they say: “cirrus cloud thinning should be viewed as a thought experiment.”

And in the same journal two scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, look once again at the stratosphere solution: what sulphur particles could do to cool the planet.

This is an idea already tested naturally. Volcanic eruptions have been linked to planetary cooling, and other groups have even warned that a modest nuclear war could darken the skies and lower global temperatures to potentially lethal levels.

So Ulrike Niemeier and her colleague Simone Tilmes consider what would be necessary if humans wait until 2040 to reduce fossil fuel use and look for effective ways to suck impossible volumes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

To limit the temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, humans would have to pump sulphur into the stratosphere at a cost of $20bn a year for 160 years, to darken the skies and reduce incoming sunlight.

Side effects

Such a step, which could slow the water cycle and suppress the Asian monsoons, would not reduce the acidification of the oceans, and could trigger other unwelcome side effects that could lead to global conflicts. So, the scientists say, any such plan would need international agreement and supervision.

And, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Chinese, Indian and US researchers arrive at the compromise solution. The dark skies approach could reduce rain too much, thinner cirrus could reduce rain too little.

But computer models suggest that if both methods were deployed carefully and in concert, geo-engineers could cool the world but keep the rainfall steady overall.

“The same amount of rain fell around the globe in our models, but it fell in different places, which could create a big mismatch between what our economic infrastructure expects and what it will get,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in the US, and one of the authors.

“More complicated geo-engineering solutions would likely do a bit better, but the best solution is simply to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Humans have unintentionally changed the world and turned up the temperature. A climate compromise might turn down the heat.

LONDON, 27 July, 2017 – Geo-engineering, the deliberate alteration of the planet to undo its inadvertent alteration by humans over the past 200 years, is back on the scientific agenda, with a climate compromise suggested as a possible solution.

One group wants to turn down the global thermostat and reverse the global warming trend set in train by greenhouse gases released by fossil fuel combustion, by thinning the almost invisible cirrus clouds that trap radiation and keep the planet warm.

Another group proposes to inject sulphur particles into the stratosphere, and keep on doing so for 160 years, to block enough sunlight and lower the planetary temperature.

And a third group wants to see a cocktail of both approaches: thin the high cirrus clouds that stop heat from escaping, and at the same pump particles into the stratosphere to scatter the incoming sunlight and limit the disadvantages of each approach by mixing them.

The verb “wants” in all three studies is neither fair nor appropriate: all three groups concede that the healthy answer is for humans to fulfil the pledge made in 2015, and start to reduce fossil fuel emissions so drastically that global average temperatures stay well below the 2°C maximum rise agreed by 197 nations at the Paris climate conference.

Change inevitable

But while most nations have yet to deliver on the plans they have made, and some nations have yet to even devise a plan, and one nation – the US – has announced its withdrawal from the agreement, scientists have been looking for ways to reverse the potentially catastrophic warming and climate change that is now inevitable if the world continues with its “business as usual scenario.”

And so, tentatively, and with unpromising conclusions, researchers have looked at ways to alter the planet to protect it from rising temperatures.

They have played with the idea of pumping sea water onto the Antarctic mainland ice
to increase the mass of ice and slow sea level rise.

They have looked at the northern icepack and wondered if making it whiter would increase solar reflection and slow global warming.

They have repeatedly investigated ways of reducing the incoming sunlight, usually by pumping sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere, and they have even investigated the possibility of making the ocean more thirsty for carbon dioxide, the most problematic greenhouse gas, by pumping iron into the sea to nourish the photosynthesising algae.

Bad answer

And other groups – and sometimes the same groups – have stressed the hazards: while darker skies might reduce hurricane ferocity, such approaches could drastically interfere with rainfall patterns, make life worse for some of the poorest people on Earth and anyway, in the long run, make things hotter.

All in all, the technofix has been pronounced a bad answer to a good question.

But by the end of the century, as sea levels rise by a metre and global average temperatures by 4°C or more, even a bad answer could be the only one on offer. So Ulrike Lohmann and Blaz Gasparini, two scientists from the Swiss Technical Institute known as ETH Zurich, write in the journal Science that the answer might lie in the clouds.

Cirrus clouds in particular don’t reflect much sunlight back into space, but because of the altitude and the temperature they do emit less long-wave radiation: they behave, in effect, rather like greenhouse gases.

So if cirrus clouds were carefully created by artificial means at lower altitudes, then perhaps they would trap less heat.

“More complicated geo-engineering solutions would likely do a bit better, but the best solution is simply to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere”

Such an experiment, the scientists concede, could go badly wrong, would not solve problems linked to rainfall patterns and might even make the world warmer. For the moment, they say: “cirrus cloud thinning should be viewed as a thought experiment.”

And in the same journal two scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, look once again at the stratosphere solution: what sulphur particles could do to cool the planet.

This is an idea already tested naturally. Volcanic eruptions have been linked to planetary cooling, and other groups have even warned that a modest nuclear war could darken the skies and lower global temperatures to potentially lethal levels.

So Ulrike Niemeier and her colleague Simone Tilmes consider what would be necessary if humans wait until 2040 to reduce fossil fuel use and look for effective ways to suck impossible volumes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

To limit the temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, humans would have to pump sulphur into the stratosphere at a cost of $20bn a year for 160 years, to darken the skies and reduce incoming sunlight.

Side effects

Such a step, which could slow the water cycle and suppress the Asian monsoons, would not reduce the acidification of the oceans, and could trigger other unwelcome side effects that could lead to global conflicts. So, the scientists say, any such plan would need international agreement and supervision.

And, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Chinese, Indian and US researchers arrive at the compromise solution. The dark skies approach could reduce rain too much, thinner cirrus could reduce rain too little.

But computer models suggest that if both methods were deployed carefully and in concert, geo-engineers could cool the world but keep the rainfall steady overall.

“The same amount of rain fell around the globe in our models, but it fell in different places, which could create a big mismatch between what our economic infrastructure expects and what it will get,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in the US, and one of the authors.

“More complicated geo-engineering solutions would likely do a bit better, but the best solution is simply to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

World’s young face $535 trillion bill for climate

The next generation will have to pay a $535 trillion bill to tackle climate change, relying on unproven and speculative technology.

LONDON, 19 July, 2017 – One of the world’s most famous climate scientists has just calculated the financial burden that tomorrow’s young citizens will face to keep the globe at a habitable temperature and contain global warming and climate change – a $535 trillion bill.

And much of that will go on expensive technologies engineered to suck 1,000 billion metric tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air by the year 2100.

Of course, if humans started to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% a year right now, the end of the century challenge would be to take 150 billion tonnes from the atmosphere, and most of this could be achieved simply by better forest and agricultural management, according to a new study in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

The study, authored by researchers from the US, France, China, the United Kingdom and Australia, rests on two arguments.

Slow start

One is that although the world’s nations vowed in Paris in 2015 to contain global warming by 2100 to “well below” 2°C relative to the average global temperatures for most of the planet’s history since the last Ice Age, concerted international action has been slow to start. One nation – the US – has already announced that it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The other argument is that, even if humans do in the decades to come rise to the challenge, it could be too late: by then greenhouse gas concentrations could have reached a level in the atmosphere that would in the long run condemn the world to sea level rises of several metres, and a succession of economic and humanitarian disasters.

“Continued high fossil fuel emissions would saddle young people with a massive, expensive cleanup problem and growing deleterious climate impacts, which should provide incentive and obligation for governments to alter energy policies without further delay,” says James Hansen, of the Columbia University Earth Institute in the US, who led the study.

Professor Hansen, as director of the US space agency Nasa’s Institute for Space Studies, made global headlines in 1988, during a severe drought and heatwave on the North American continent, when he told a Washington senate committee: “It’s time to stop waffling so much and say the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”

Legal testimony

With that one sentence, he made climate science an enduring item on the political agenda. But the latest study is also part of a legal argument. It is in effect testimony in a lawsuit called Juliana et al vs the United States.

This case began under the last US administration. However, the US president, Donald Trump, who has dismissed the evidence of climate change as a “hoax”, has now been named in the case.

Professor Hansen has argued that even the ambitions of the historic Paris Accord will not be enough to avert disaster and displacement for millions. The benchmark for geologically recent warming levels was set 115,000 years ago, during a period between two Ice Ages, known to geologists as the Eemian

“We show that a target of limiting global warming to no more than +2°C relative to pre-industrial levels is not sufficient, as +2°C would be warmer than the Eemian period, when sea level reached plus 6-9 metres relative to today,” Professor Hansen said.

Lower CO2

At the heart of such arguments are calculations about imponderables that climatologists like to call the carbon budget and climate sensitivityThe first of these concerns the terrestrial and oceanic processes that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and then absorb them, and the second is a calculation about what a change in carbon dioxide levels really means for average global temperatures.

For most of human history, CO2 levels were around 280 parts per million. In the last two years they have reached 400 ppm, as a response to two centuries of fossil fuel combustion, and average global temperatures have risen by almost 1°C, with a record reading in 2016 of 1.3°C.

Professor Hansen and his colleagues want to see these atmospheric CO2 levels lowered to 350 ppm, to bring global temperature rise down to no more than a rise of 1°C later this century.

If the world’s nations can co-operate to do that, then most of the hard work to remove the carbon dioxide surplus from the air could be left to the world’s great forests.

“It is apparent that governments are leaving this problem on the shoulders of young people. This will not be easy or inexpensive” 

However, if carbon emissions go on growing at 2% a year (and during this century, they have grown faster), then those who are children now would have to commit to a costly technological answer based on the belief that carbon dioxide can be captured, compressed and stored deep underground.

Nobody knows how to do this on any significant scale. And if it could be done, it would be expensive: an estimated €500 trillion, or US$535 trillion.

“It is apparent that governments are leaving this problem on the shoulders of young people. This will not be easy or inexpensive,” says Hansen.

“We wanted to quantify the burden that is being left for young people, to support not only the legal case against the US government, but also many other cases that can be brought against other governments.” – Climate News Network

The next generation will have to pay a $535 trillion bill to tackle climate change, relying on unproven and speculative technology.

LONDON, 19 July, 2017 – One of the world’s most famous climate scientists has just calculated the financial burden that tomorrow’s young citizens will face to keep the globe at a habitable temperature and contain global warming and climate change – a $535 trillion bill.

And much of that will go on expensive technologies engineered to suck 1,000 billion metric tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air by the year 2100.

Of course, if humans started to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% a year right now, the end of the century challenge would be to take 150 billion tonnes from the atmosphere, and most of this could be achieved simply by better forest and agricultural management, according to a new study in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

The study, authored by researchers from the US, France, China, the United Kingdom and Australia, rests on two arguments.

Slow start

One is that although the world’s nations vowed in Paris in 2015 to contain global warming by 2100 to “well below” 2°C relative to the average global temperatures for most of the planet’s history since the last Ice Age, concerted international action has been slow to start. One nation – the US – has already announced that it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The other argument is that, even if humans do in the decades to come rise to the challenge, it could be too late: by then greenhouse gas concentrations could have reached a level in the atmosphere that would in the long run condemn the world to sea level rises of several metres, and a succession of economic and humanitarian disasters.

“Continued high fossil fuel emissions would saddle young people with a massive, expensive cleanup problem and growing deleterious climate impacts, which should provide incentive and obligation for governments to alter energy policies without further delay,” says James Hansen, of the Columbia University Earth Institute in the US, who led the study.

Professor Hansen, as director of the US space agency Nasa’s Institute for Space Studies, made global headlines in 1988, during a severe drought and heatwave on the North American continent, when he told a Washington senate committee: “It’s time to stop waffling so much and say the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”

Legal testimony

With that one sentence, he made climate science an enduring item on the political agenda. But the latest study is also part of a legal argument. It is in effect testimony in a lawsuit called Juliana et al vs the United States.

This case began under the last US administration. However, the US president, Donald Trump, who has dismissed the evidence of climate change as a “hoax”, has now been named in the case.

Professor Hansen has argued that even the ambitions of the historic Paris Accord will not be enough to avert disaster and displacement for millions. The benchmark for geologically recent warming levels was set 115,000 years ago, during a period between two Ice Ages, known to geologists as the Eemian

“We show that a target of limiting global warming to no more than +2°C relative to pre-industrial levels is not sufficient, as +2°C would be warmer than the Eemian period, when sea level reached plus 6-9 metres relative to today,” Professor Hansen said.

Lower CO2

At the heart of such arguments are calculations about imponderables that climatologists like to call the carbon budget and climate sensitivityThe first of these concerns the terrestrial and oceanic processes that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and then absorb them, and the second is a calculation about what a change in carbon dioxide levels really means for average global temperatures.

For most of human history, CO2 levels were around 280 parts per million. In the last two years they have reached 400 ppm, as a response to two centuries of fossil fuel combustion, and average global temperatures have risen by almost 1°C, with a record reading in 2016 of 1.3°C.

Professor Hansen and his colleagues want to see these atmospheric CO2 levels lowered to 350 ppm, to bring global temperature rise down to no more than a rise of 1°C later this century.

If the world’s nations can co-operate to do that, then most of the hard work to remove the carbon dioxide surplus from the air could be left to the world’s great forests.

“It is apparent that governments are leaving this problem on the shoulders of young people. This will not be easy or inexpensive” 

However, if carbon emissions go on growing at 2% a year (and during this century, they have grown faster), then those who are children now would have to commit to a costly technological answer based on the belief that carbon dioxide can be captured, compressed and stored deep underground.

Nobody knows how to do this on any significant scale. And if it could be done, it would be expensive: an estimated €500 trillion, or US$535 trillion.

“It is apparent that governments are leaving this problem on the shoulders of young people. This will not be easy or inexpensive,” says Hansen.

“We wanted to quantify the burden that is being left for young people, to support not only the legal case against the US government, but also many other cases that can be brought against other governments.” – Climate News Network

Natural gas can’t help to curb climate change

Too much reliance on natural gas to generate electricity means the Paris climate target will be missed and money wasted on underused pipelines.

LONDON, 22 June, 2017 – Natural gas will have to be phased out along with coal if the world is to be kept safe from dangerous climate change. And that seems likely to have to happen far sooner than most official forecasts, according to a new report.

If countries want to reach their Paris Agreement goals of limiting the long-term world temperature rise to 1.5°C, then many of the proposals to increase gas production and distribution will be unnecessary. New terminals and pipelines will never be fully used and will become stranded assets.

The authors also warn that unless countries realise quickly that further investment in gas production is both unnecessary and damaging to the climate, they may lock themselves into emissions that they cannot afford to make.

The report, Foot off the Gas, is published by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent science-based assessment which tracks countries’ emission commitments and actions.

CAT’s members are Climate Analytics, Ecofys and NewClimate Institute, with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research as a collaborator.

Double overestimate

The report says part of the problem is that governments guided by projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA) are overestimating the need for natural gas, both to replace coal and to act as emergency back-up when supplies from intermittent renewables falter.

IEA annual reports have consistently underestimated the speed of growth of renewables, but have also failed to grasp the increasing role of other technologies like bio-gas, battery storage and hydrogen to even out any intermittency in supplies of electricity from solar and wind, it says.

“One example is China, where in 2016 the IEA projected renewables would rise to 7.2% of the power supply by 2020 – but by the end of 2016 they had already reached 8%. Additionally, India and the Middle East are also seeing renewables rising much faster than mainstream projections,” said Niklas Höhne from NewClimate Institute

Changes in the way grids are organised are already happening in Europe, together with the building of long-distance connectors between countries that exchange renewable energy  when one has a surplus. These developments cut the need for generation from gas.

Two-way exchange

The best-known example is hydro-electricity from Norway being used to boost wind energy supply in Denmark, and the reverse happening when there is a surplus of wind energy in Denmark and Germany.

Already many of the very expensive pipelines for transporting gas are under-utilised, and expensive ports and facilities to export liquid petroleum gas will never be used at full capacity, the report claims.

For example, utilisation rates of US natural gas infrastructure are at 54%, and are even lower in Europe, at 25%. 

“This over-investment in natural gas infrastructure is likely to lead to either emissions overshooting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C and 2°C goals – or a large number of stranded assets as the shift to cheaper renewables takes place, “ said Andrzej Ancygier of Climate Analytics.

“Natural gas is often perceived as a ‘clean’ source of energy that complements variable renewable technologies … gas is not as ‘clean’ as often thought”

The report sees a dwindling role for natural gas towards the middle of the century because of increasing competition from renewables that continue to get cheaper.

This is contrary to the official line that gas consumption will continue to rise and is an important “bridging fuel” towards a carbon-free world.

“Natural gas is often perceived as a ‘clean’ source of energy that complements variable renewable technologies. However, there are persistent issues with fugitive emissions during gas extraction and transport that show that gas is not as ‘clean’ as often thought,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics

“Natural gas will disappear from the power sector in a Paris Agreement-compatible world, where emissions need to be around zero by mid-century.” 

Doubt is also cast on the possibility that gas can be used along with carbon capture and storage. Although the report says that some gains can be made, it is an expensive technology  – and even more costly if it is going to be a reliable way of reducing emissions to near 100%. Currently too many greenhouse gases still escape into the atmosphere at various stages of the process. – Climate News Network

Too much reliance on natural gas to generate electricity means the Paris climate target will be missed and money wasted on underused pipelines.

LONDON, 22 June, 2017 – Natural gas will have to be phased out along with coal if the world is to be kept safe from dangerous climate change. And that seems likely to have to happen far sooner than most official forecasts, according to a new report.

If countries want to reach their Paris Agreement goals of limiting the long-term world temperature rise to 1.5°C, then many of the proposals to increase gas production and distribution will be unnecessary. New terminals and pipelines will never be fully used and will become stranded assets.

The authors also warn that unless countries realise quickly that further investment in gas production is both unnecessary and damaging to the climate, they may lock themselves into emissions that they cannot afford to make.

The report, Foot off the Gas, is published by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent science-based assessment which tracks countries’ emission commitments and actions.

CAT’s members are Climate Analytics, Ecofys and NewClimate Institute, with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research as a collaborator.

Double overestimate

The report says part of the problem is that governments guided by projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA) are overestimating the need for natural gas, both to replace coal and to act as emergency back-up when supplies from intermittent renewables falter.

IEA annual reports have consistently underestimated the speed of growth of renewables, but have also failed to grasp the increasing role of other technologies like bio-gas, battery storage and hydrogen to even out any intermittency in supplies of electricity from solar and wind, it says.

“One example is China, where in 2016 the IEA projected renewables would rise to 7.2% of the power supply by 2020 – but by the end of 2016 they had already reached 8%. Additionally, India and the Middle East are also seeing renewables rising much faster than mainstream projections,” said Niklas Höhne from NewClimate Institute

Changes in the way grids are organised are already happening in Europe, together with the building of long-distance connectors between countries that exchange renewable energy  when one has a surplus. These developments cut the need for generation from gas.

Two-way exchange

The best-known example is hydro-electricity from Norway being used to boost wind energy supply in Denmark, and the reverse happening when there is a surplus of wind energy in Denmark and Germany.

Already many of the very expensive pipelines for transporting gas are under-utilised, and expensive ports and facilities to export liquid petroleum gas will never be used at full capacity, the report claims.

For example, utilisation rates of US natural gas infrastructure are at 54%, and are even lower in Europe, at 25%. 

“This over-investment in natural gas infrastructure is likely to lead to either emissions overshooting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C and 2°C goals – or a large number of stranded assets as the shift to cheaper renewables takes place, “ said Andrzej Ancygier of Climate Analytics.

“Natural gas is often perceived as a ‘clean’ source of energy that complements variable renewable technologies … gas is not as ‘clean’ as often thought”

The report sees a dwindling role for natural gas towards the middle of the century because of increasing competition from renewables that continue to get cheaper.

This is contrary to the official line that gas consumption will continue to rise and is an important “bridging fuel” towards a carbon-free world.

“Natural gas is often perceived as a ‘clean’ source of energy that complements variable renewable technologies. However, there are persistent issues with fugitive emissions during gas extraction and transport that show that gas is not as ‘clean’ as often thought,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics

“Natural gas will disappear from the power sector in a Paris Agreement-compatible world, where emissions need to be around zero by mid-century.” 

Doubt is also cast on the possibility that gas can be used along with carbon capture and storage. Although the report says that some gains can be made, it is an expensive technology  – and even more costly if it is going to be a reliable way of reducing emissions to near 100%. Currently too many greenhouse gases still escape into the atmosphere at various stages of the process. – Climate News Network

Geo-engineering unlikely to ease climate fears

Attempts to limit climate change by using the novel technologies known as geo-engineering are very unlikely to work, leading biologists say.

LONDON, 1 November, 2016 – The global watchdog responsible for protecting the worlds wealth of species, the UNs  Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), has looked at the hopes for reining in climate change through geo-engineering. Its bleak conclusion, echoing that reached by many independent scientists, is that the chances are “highly uncertain”.

“Novel means”, in this context, describes trying to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by removing them from the atmosphere, and altering the amount of heat from the Sun that reaches the Earth.  

Some scientists and policymakers say geo-engineering, as these strategies are collectively known, is essential if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is because current attempts to reduce emissions cannot make big enough cuts fast enough to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, the Agreement’s basic goal.

But the CBD says in a report that geo-engineering, while it could possibly help to prevent the world overheating, might endanger global biodiversity and have other unpredictable effects.

Many independent analysts have raised similar concerns.Attempts to increase the amount of carbon in the oceans, in order to remove GHGs, have so far shown disappointing results. One report doubted that geo-engineering could slow sea-level rise. Another said it could not arrest the melting of Arctic ice. A third study found that geo-engineering would make things little better and might even make global warming worse.  

Transboundary impacts

The lead author of the CBD geo-engineering report is a British scientist, Dr Phillip Williamson, of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council. He is an associate fellow in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, UK.

The CBD originally became involved in climate geo-engineering in 2008, because member governments were concerned that experiments to fertilise the oceans could pose unknown risks to the environment (they were then unregulated when carried out in international waters).

The CBD’s concern expanded to include other geo-engineering techniques, especially atmospheric methods which could have uncertain transboundary impacts. Some scientists argue that “geo-engineering” is a hazily-defined term and prefer to speak instead simply of “greenhouse gas removal”.

Dr Williamson and his colleagues say assessment of the impacts of geo-engineering on biodiversity “is not straightforward and is subject to many uncertainties”.

On greenhouse gas removal they warn that removing a given quantity of a greenhouse gas would not fully compensate for an earlier ‘overshoot’ of emissions.

New risks

In some cases, they say, the cure may be worse than the disease: “The large-scale deployment of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) seems likely to have significant negative impacts on biodiversity through land use change.”

When it comes to attempts to reflect sunlight back out into space or to manage solar radiation, a familiar theme recurs: “There are high levels of uncertainty about the impacts of SRM [solar radiation management] techniques, which could present significant new risks to biodiversity.”

Time and again, it seems, a potential advance is liable to be cancelled by an equally likely reverse: if SRM benefits coral reefs by decreasing temperature-induced bleaching (as it may), in certain conditions “it may also increase, indirectly, the impacts of ocean acidification.” There could even be a risk in some circumstances of loss to the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

Dr Williamson and his colleagues believe that geo-engineering is essential – if it can be made to work – because of the diminishing chances that anything else will.

“I’m sceptical. That’s not to say bio-energy with carbon capture and storage is impossible, but it seems extremely unlikely to be feasible”

They write: “It may still be possible that deep and very rapid decarbonisation by all countries might allow climate change to be kept within a 2°C limit by emission reduction alone. However, any such window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”

Repeatedly, those two words recur: a suggested technique or development will be “highly uncertain”. Most of the report amounts to a very cautious call for more research, coupled with an implicit acceptance that in the end geo-engineering is unlikely to prove capable of contributing much to climate mitigation.

Dr Williamson told the Climate News Network: “I’m sceptical. That’s not to say bio-energy with carbon capture and storage is impossible, but it seems extremely unlikely to be feasible (for all sorts of reasons)” at the scale needed.

When the CBD member governments meet in December they are expected to call for more research: a safe option in most circumstances, but far from a ringing endorsement of a technology once seen as very promising. – Climate News Network

Attempts to limit climate change by using the novel technologies known as geo-engineering are very unlikely to work, leading biologists say.

LONDON, 1 November, 2016 – The global watchdog responsible for protecting the worlds wealth of species, the UNs  Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), has looked at the hopes for reining in climate change through geo-engineering. Its bleak conclusion, echoing that reached by many independent scientists, is that the chances are “highly uncertain”.

“Novel means”, in this context, describes trying to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by removing them from the atmosphere, and altering the amount of heat from the Sun that reaches the Earth.  

Some scientists and policymakers say geo-engineering, as these strategies are collectively known, is essential if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is because current attempts to reduce emissions cannot make big enough cuts fast enough to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, the Agreement’s basic goal.

But the CBD says in a report that geo-engineering, while it could possibly help to prevent the world overheating, might endanger global biodiversity and have other unpredictable effects.

Many independent analysts have raised similar concerns.Attempts to increase the amount of carbon in the oceans, in order to remove GHGs, have so far shown disappointing results. One report doubted that geo-engineering could slow sea-level rise. Another said it could not arrest the melting of Arctic ice. A third study found that geo-engineering would make things little better and might even make global warming worse.  

Transboundary impacts

The lead author of the CBD geo-engineering report is a British scientist, Dr Phillip Williamson, of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council. He is an associate fellow in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, UK.

The CBD originally became involved in climate geo-engineering in 2008, because member governments were concerned that experiments to fertilise the oceans could pose unknown risks to the environment (they were then unregulated when carried out in international waters).

The CBD’s concern expanded to include other geo-engineering techniques, especially atmospheric methods which could have uncertain transboundary impacts. Some scientists argue that “geo-engineering” is a hazily-defined term and prefer to speak instead simply of “greenhouse gas removal”.

Dr Williamson and his colleagues say assessment of the impacts of geo-engineering on biodiversity “is not straightforward and is subject to many uncertainties”.

On greenhouse gas removal they warn that removing a given quantity of a greenhouse gas would not fully compensate for an earlier ‘overshoot’ of emissions.

New risks

In some cases, they say, the cure may be worse than the disease: “The large-scale deployment of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) seems likely to have significant negative impacts on biodiversity through land use change.”

When it comes to attempts to reflect sunlight back out into space or to manage solar radiation, a familiar theme recurs: “There are high levels of uncertainty about the impacts of SRM [solar radiation management] techniques, which could present significant new risks to biodiversity.”

Time and again, it seems, a potential advance is liable to be cancelled by an equally likely reverse: if SRM benefits coral reefs by decreasing temperature-induced bleaching (as it may), in certain conditions “it may also increase, indirectly, the impacts of ocean acidification.” There could even be a risk in some circumstances of loss to the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

Dr Williamson and his colleagues believe that geo-engineering is essential – if it can be made to work – because of the diminishing chances that anything else will.

“I’m sceptical. That’s not to say bio-energy with carbon capture and storage is impossible, but it seems extremely unlikely to be feasible”

They write: “It may still be possible that deep and very rapid decarbonisation by all countries might allow climate change to be kept within a 2°C limit by emission reduction alone. However, any such window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”

Repeatedly, those two words recur: a suggested technique or development will be “highly uncertain”. Most of the report amounts to a very cautious call for more research, coupled with an implicit acceptance that in the end geo-engineering is unlikely to prove capable of contributing much to climate mitigation.

Dr Williamson told the Climate News Network: “I’m sceptical. That’s not to say bio-energy with carbon capture and storage is impossible, but it seems extremely unlikely to be feasible (for all sorts of reasons)” at the scale needed.

When the CBD member governments meet in December they are expected to call for more research: a safe option in most circumstances, but far from a ringing endorsement of a technology once seen as very promising. – Climate News Network

Rock-solid carbon storage hopes rise

Study of natural carbon dioxide reservoirs shows that the greenhouse gas could be safely stored deep underground for tens of thousands of years.

LONDON, 20 August, 2016 – Geologists have resolved one great problem about the capture of carbon dioxide from coal-fired or gas-fired power stations and its sequestration deep in the Earth, with what appears to be the prospect of rock-solid carbon storage.

Once there in the right rock formations, there’s no reason why it should escape. That is, it won’t react with groundwater, corrode the rocks around it and dissolve its way back to the surface in 10,000 years − or even 100,000 years.

And scientists report in Nature Communications journal that they can say this with confidence because they have identified natural reservoirs of CO2 at least 100,000 years old, deep under the rocks near the town of Green River in Utah in the US, and they have drilled into the formation to check the water chemistry

The implication is that the rock that caps the reservoir can resist corrosion for at least 100,000 years. In the timetables of climate change, this is long enough to be considered safe.

Costly and risky

The research resolves just one concern about the challenge of carbon capture and storage. An experiment in Iceland confirmed that it could work in the short term, but the latest study suggests it could go on working in the long term.

The bigger problem is whether it can be made to work at all. Independent studies have decided that the technology is both costly and risky, and in any case the response by the energy industry suggests that the approach is not being prosecuted with any enthusiasm.

But since carbon dioxide emissions from the cities and power station chimneys of the planet are driving global warming, sea level rise and potentially catastrophic climate change, humans must either drastically reduce fossil fuel use or find ways of capturing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

And since international action so far − despite firm promises and declared intentions – looks like falling short of the reductions required, scientists keep checking the other possible options.

“With careful evaluation, burying carbon dioxide underground will prove very much safer than emitting it directly into the atmosphere”

“Carbon capture and storage [CCS] is seen as essential technology if the UK is to meet its climate change targets,” says Mike Bickle, director of the Cambridge Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“A major obstacle to the implementation of CCS is the uncertainty over the long-term fate of the CO2,which impacts on regulation, insurance, and who assumes the responsibility for maintaining CO2 storage sites. Our study demonstrates that geological carbon storage can be safe and predictable over many hundreds of thousands of years.”

Carbon dioxide would have to be injected into rocks in liquid form, to replace the natural brines already in the rock pores and crevices. This raises the spectre of a carbon dioxide and water reaction, with potentially corrosive chemistry, and some computer simulations suggested that this could happen.

Chemical changes

So, with the support of Shell, the petroleum company, and money from Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council and the UK government, the Cambridge scientists took a close look at the evidence deep under the sedimentary rocks of Utah.

Instead of the predicted layer of corrosion many metres deep, they found a band of rotten or decayed stone measuring seven centimetres. The researchers looked at the mineralogy and the geochemistry, and they even bombarded samples of the rock with neutrons to try to understand the chemical changes to the stone.

They also turned to computer simulations to see how long it took the geological structure to form, and to work out how long it must have trapped CO2. The answer was: at least 100,000 years.

The thinking is that although CO2 would be a dense liquid, it would still be less dense than any brine in the porous rocks, so it would rise, sit above the ground water, and do little damage to the cap rock that contains it – literally, rock-solid carbon storage.

“With careful evaluation, burying carbon dioxide underground will prove very much safer than emitting it directly into the atmosphere,” Professor Bickle says. – Climate News Network

Study of natural carbon dioxide reservoirs shows that the greenhouse gas could be safely stored deep underground for tens of thousands of years.

LONDON, 20 August, 2016 – Geologists have resolved one great problem about the capture of carbon dioxide from coal-fired or gas-fired power stations and its sequestration deep in the Earth, with what appears to be the prospect of rock-solid carbon storage.

Once there in the right rock formations, there’s no reason why it should escape. That is, it won’t react with groundwater, corrode the rocks around it and dissolve its way back to the surface in 10,000 years − or even 100,000 years.

And scientists report in Nature Communications journal that they can say this with confidence because they have identified natural reservoirs of CO2 at least 100,000 years old, deep under the rocks near the town of Green River in Utah in the US, and they have drilled into the formation to check the water chemistry

The implication is that the rock that caps the reservoir can resist corrosion for at least 100,000 years. In the timetables of climate change, this is long enough to be considered safe.

Costly and risky

The research resolves just one concern about the challenge of carbon capture and storage. An experiment in Iceland confirmed that it could work in the short term, but the latest study suggests it could go on working in the long term.

The bigger problem is whether it can be made to work at all. Independent studies have decided that the technology is both costly and risky, and in any case the response by the energy industry suggests that the approach is not being prosecuted with any enthusiasm.

But since carbon dioxide emissions from the cities and power station chimneys of the planet are driving global warming, sea level rise and potentially catastrophic climate change, humans must either drastically reduce fossil fuel use or find ways of capturing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

And since international action so far − despite firm promises and declared intentions – looks like falling short of the reductions required, scientists keep checking the other possible options.

“With careful evaluation, burying carbon dioxide underground will prove very much safer than emitting it directly into the atmosphere”

“Carbon capture and storage [CCS] is seen as essential technology if the UK is to meet its climate change targets,” says Mike Bickle, director of the Cambridge Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“A major obstacle to the implementation of CCS is the uncertainty over the long-term fate of the CO2,which impacts on regulation, insurance, and who assumes the responsibility for maintaining CO2 storage sites. Our study demonstrates that geological carbon storage can be safe and predictable over many hundreds of thousands of years.”

Carbon dioxide would have to be injected into rocks in liquid form, to replace the natural brines already in the rock pores and crevices. This raises the spectre of a carbon dioxide and water reaction, with potentially corrosive chemistry, and some computer simulations suggested that this could happen.

Chemical changes

So, with the support of Shell, the petroleum company, and money from Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council and the UK government, the Cambridge scientists took a close look at the evidence deep under the sedimentary rocks of Utah.

Instead of the predicted layer of corrosion many metres deep, they found a band of rotten or decayed stone measuring seven centimetres. The researchers looked at the mineralogy and the geochemistry, and they even bombarded samples of the rock with neutrons to try to understand the chemical changes to the stone.

They also turned to computer simulations to see how long it took the geological structure to form, and to work out how long it must have trapped CO2. The answer was: at least 100,000 years.

The thinking is that although CO2 would be a dense liquid, it would still be less dense than any brine in the porous rocks, so it would rise, sit above the ground water, and do little damage to the cap rock that contains it – literally, rock-solid carbon storage.

“With careful evaluation, burying carbon dioxide underground will prove very much safer than emitting it directly into the atmosphere,” Professor Bickle says. – Climate News Network

Antarctic techno-fix cannot slow rising seas

Pumping seawater onto the Antarctic landmass to form ice and stop sea levels rising stands little chance of success, scientists say. 

LONDON, 10 March, 2016 Sea level rise is likely to be a problem too big to handle. Geoengineers will not be able to magic away the rising tides, according to new research.

In particular, they will not be able to pump water from the sea and store it as ice on the continent of Antarctica. That is because, unless they pump it enormous distances, that will only accelerate the flow of the glaciers and it will all end up back in the sea again, a study in the journal Earth System Dynamics says. 

Geoengineering is sometimes produced as the high-technology solution to the environmental problems of climate change: if humans don’t change their ways and start reducing greenhouse gas emissions, say the proponents of technofix, human ingenuity will no doubt devise a different answer.

But, repeatedly, closer examination has made such solutions ever less plausible. Scientists have dismissed the idea that the melting of the Arctic can be reversed, have only tentatively conceded that technology could dampen the force of a hurricane, and have found that instead of cooling the Earth – attempts to control climate change could either make things worse or seriously disrupt rainfall patterns.   On balance, scientists believe that most of the big geo-engineering ideas won’t work

Deep freeze

And now a team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has poured cold water on the idea of pouring cold water onto the ice cap.

The idea is a simple one. Are sea levels rising 3mm a year because the world is warming? Then pump the sea high onto the Antarctic landmass where it will freeze and stay frozen for a millennium.

But to be sure of that, say the Potsdam team, at least 80% of the water would have to be pumped 700 km inland. That would take more than 7% of the annual global primary energy supply just to balance the current rate of sea level rise.

But even in a world recently committed to a warming of less than 2°C, the seas are going to go on rising. Sea levels could rise at least 40cms by the end of the century – or possibly 130cms, with devastating consequences for low-lying coastlines: rich megacities might be able to build defences, but the poorest communities would be swept away.

Coastlines redrawn

“We wanted to check whether sacrificing the uninhabited Antarctic region might theoretically enable us to save populated shores around the world. Rising oceans are already increasing storm surge risks, threatening millions of people worldwide, and in the long run can redraw the planet’s coastlines,” said Katja Frieler, the Potsdam scientist who led the study.

The Antarctic ice sheet rises to 4,000 metres above sea level. In theory wind power could deliver energy to take the water far enough inland that it would not simply precipitate glacial discharge back into the sea.

But that would mean engineers would have to build 850,000 wind energy plants on Antarctica, which could hardly be good for the ecosystem of the only landmass and coastline on Earth still more or less in the condition nature intended.

Nor is it technically or economically plausible. The implicit message from such studies is: start preparing to adapt to higher sea levels, and take steps to stop them getting any higher.

“Even if this was feasible, it would only buy time – when we stop the pumping one day, additional discharge from Antarctica will increase the rate of sea-level rise even beyond the warming-induced rate”

“The magnitude of sea-level rise is so enormous, it turns out it is unlikely that any engineering approach imaginable can mitigate it,” said co-author Anders Levermann, who heads Global Adaptation Strategies at Potsdam and is a scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“Even if this was feasible, it would only buy time – when we stop the pumping one day, additional discharge from Antarctica will increase the rate of sea-level rise even beyond the warming-induced rate. This would mean putting another sea-level debt onto future generations.”

As so often after such studies, the scientists do have an answer: reduce the hazard by reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that fuel global warming. That means a drastic cut in the use of fossil fuels and a massive switch to wind and solar power worldwide.

“If we’d continue to do business as usual and churn out emissions, not even such an immense macro-adaptation project as storing water on Antarctica would suffice to limit long-term sea-level rise – more than 50 metres in the very long term without climate change mitigation,”  said Professor Levermann. “So either way, rapid greenhouse gas emission reductions are indispensable if sea-level rise is to be kept manageable.” – Climate News Network

Pumping seawater onto the Antarctic landmass to form ice and stop sea levels rising stands little chance of success, scientists say. 

LONDON, 10 March, 2016 Sea level rise is likely to be a problem too big to handle. Geoengineers will not be able to magic away the rising tides, according to new research.

In particular, they will not be able to pump water from the sea and store it as ice on the continent of Antarctica. That is because, unless they pump it enormous distances, that will only accelerate the flow of the glaciers and it will all end up back in the sea again, a study in the journal Earth System Dynamics says. 

Geoengineering is sometimes produced as the high-technology solution to the environmental problems of climate change: if humans don’t change their ways and start reducing greenhouse gas emissions, say the proponents of technofix, human ingenuity will no doubt devise a different answer.

But, repeatedly, closer examination has made such solutions ever less plausible. Scientists have dismissed the idea that the melting of the Arctic can be reversed, have only tentatively conceded that technology could dampen the force of a hurricane, and have found that instead of cooling the Earth – attempts to control climate change could either make things worse or seriously disrupt rainfall patterns.   On balance, scientists believe that most of the big geo-engineering ideas won’t work

Deep freeze

And now a team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has poured cold water on the idea of pouring cold water onto the ice cap.

The idea is a simple one. Are sea levels rising 3mm a year because the world is warming? Then pump the sea high onto the Antarctic landmass where it will freeze and stay frozen for a millennium.

But to be sure of that, say the Potsdam team, at least 80% of the water would have to be pumped 700 km inland. That would take more than 7% of the annual global primary energy supply just to balance the current rate of sea level rise.

But even in a world recently committed to a warming of less than 2°C, the seas are going to go on rising. Sea levels could rise at least 40cms by the end of the century – or possibly 130cms, with devastating consequences for low-lying coastlines: rich megacities might be able to build defences, but the poorest communities would be swept away.

Coastlines redrawn

“We wanted to check whether sacrificing the uninhabited Antarctic region might theoretically enable us to save populated shores around the world. Rising oceans are already increasing storm surge risks, threatening millions of people worldwide, and in the long run can redraw the planet’s coastlines,” said Katja Frieler, the Potsdam scientist who led the study.

The Antarctic ice sheet rises to 4,000 metres above sea level. In theory wind power could deliver energy to take the water far enough inland that it would not simply precipitate glacial discharge back into the sea.

But that would mean engineers would have to build 850,000 wind energy plants on Antarctica, which could hardly be good for the ecosystem of the only landmass and coastline on Earth still more or less in the condition nature intended.

Nor is it technically or economically plausible. The implicit message from such studies is: start preparing to adapt to higher sea levels, and take steps to stop them getting any higher.

“Even if this was feasible, it would only buy time – when we stop the pumping one day, additional discharge from Antarctica will increase the rate of sea-level rise even beyond the warming-induced rate”

“The magnitude of sea-level rise is so enormous, it turns out it is unlikely that any engineering approach imaginable can mitigate it,” said co-author Anders Levermann, who heads Global Adaptation Strategies at Potsdam and is a scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“Even if this was feasible, it would only buy time – when we stop the pumping one day, additional discharge from Antarctica will increase the rate of sea-level rise even beyond the warming-induced rate. This would mean putting another sea-level debt onto future generations.”

As so often after such studies, the scientists do have an answer: reduce the hazard by reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that fuel global warming. That means a drastic cut in the use of fossil fuels and a massive switch to wind and solar power worldwide.

“If we’d continue to do business as usual and churn out emissions, not even such an immense macro-adaptation project as storing water on Antarctica would suffice to limit long-term sea-level rise – more than 50 metres in the very long term without climate change mitigation,”  said Professor Levermann. “So either way, rapid greenhouse gas emission reductions are indispensable if sea-level rise is to be kept manageable.” – Climate News Network

Carbon storage hopes rise again

Carbon capture and storage, if it proved possible, would help to make the main greenhouse gas harmless. American scientists say they are making progress. LONDON, 20 April, 2015 – Two groups of US scientists are exploring new ways of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One technology mimics the tree by using artificial photosynthesis. The other exploits a membrane that is a thousand times more efficient than any tree. Although the nations of the world agreed in 2009 to attempt to limit the global warming temperature rise this century to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, colossal quantities of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are still being emitted into the atmosphere. So some researchers have been exploring the technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS): ways of trapping CO2 as it leaves the power station chimney or machinery exhaust and storing it for burial or reuse. Others have proposed “artificial trees” that could remove the gas from the atmosphere. Now a team from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of California at Berkeley report in the journal Nano Letters that their “potentially game-changing” technology could capture CO2 emissions before they get into the atmosphere and then use solar energy and water to turn the captured gas into the chemical substance acetate. Once in acetate form, the substance could be the basis of pharmaceutical drug manufacture, biodegradable plastic feedstock, or even liquid fuel.

Renewable resources

Nanotechnology – engineering at precisions of a millionth of a millimetre – exploits a “forest” of light-capturing “nanowire arrays” dosed with selected populations of a bacterium called Sporomusa ovala to filter the flue gases for carbon dioxide. This inventive double act of silicon and a carbon-based life form then performs a conjuring trick called photo-electrochemistry: from the captured gas it delivers acetic acid, and it can go on doing so for about 200 hours. A second bacterium – genetically engineered Escherichia coli – can then get to work on the product and turn it into acetyl coenzyme A as the starting point for a range of valuable chemical products. These could range from a precursor to the anti-malarial drug artemisinin to the fuel butanol. “We believe our system is a revolutionary leap forward in the field of artificial photosynthesis,” said one of the authors, Peidong Yang of the Berkeley Lab. “Our system has the potential to fundamentally change the chemical and oil industry in that we can produce chemicals and fuels in a totally renewable way, rather than extracting from deep below the ground.” The research continues. Right now, this sample of solar-powered green chemistry is about as efficient as nature’s original chemical plant: the leaf. But another team, according to Physics World, have a prototype that is a thousand times better than a tree as a “sink” for the carbon in carbon dioxide.

Storage problem

Klaus Lackner of Arizona State University’s Centre for Negative Carbon Emissions and colleagues are testing a synthetic membrane that can capture carbon dioxide from the air that passes through it. The technology is based on a resin that works in dry atmospheres (in humid environments it actually releases the carbon dioxide, so it wouldn’t work everywhere). Prototype collectors trap between 10% and 50% of all the carbon dioxide that blows through the membrane. The trapped CO2 could then be stored in a container, and either shipped off for deep, long-term burial or exploited in some way, perhaps as the raw material for liquid fuel. How the technology could be exploited demands a little further investigation. There are plans to test the membranes on the laboratory’s roof in Arizona. But it is one thing to efficiently collect carbon dioxide: another to deal with it. Dr Lackner estimates that it would demand about 100 million receptacles the size of shipping containers to hold the carbon dioxide now emitted from the planet’s factories, vehicles and power stations. “I believe we have reached a point where it is really paramount for substantive public research and development of direct air capture,” he told the American Physical Society meeting in Maryland. “The Centre for Negative Carbon Emissions cannot do it alone.” – Climate News Network

Carbon capture and storage, if it proved possible, would help to make the main greenhouse gas harmless. American scientists say they are making progress. LONDON, 20 April, 2015 – Two groups of US scientists are exploring new ways of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One technology mimics the tree by using artificial photosynthesis. The other exploits a membrane that is a thousand times more efficient than any tree. Although the nations of the world agreed in 2009 to attempt to limit the global warming temperature rise this century to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, colossal quantities of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are still being emitted into the atmosphere. So some researchers have been exploring the technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS): ways of trapping CO2 as it leaves the power station chimney or machinery exhaust and storing it for burial or reuse. Others have proposed “artificial trees” that could remove the gas from the atmosphere. Now a team from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of California at Berkeley report in the journal Nano Letters that their “potentially game-changing” technology could capture CO2 emissions before they get into the atmosphere and then use solar energy and water to turn the captured gas into the chemical substance acetate. Once in acetate form, the substance could be the basis of pharmaceutical drug manufacture, biodegradable plastic feedstock, or even liquid fuel.

Renewable resources

Nanotechnology – engineering at precisions of a millionth of a millimetre – exploits a “forest” of light-capturing “nanowire arrays” dosed with selected populations of a bacterium called Sporomusa ovala to filter the flue gases for carbon dioxide. This inventive double act of silicon and a carbon-based life form then performs a conjuring trick called photo-electrochemistry: from the captured gas it delivers acetic acid, and it can go on doing so for about 200 hours. A second bacterium – genetically engineered Escherichia coli – can then get to work on the product and turn it into acetyl coenzyme A as the starting point for a range of valuable chemical products. These could range from a precursor to the anti-malarial drug artemisinin to the fuel butanol. “We believe our system is a revolutionary leap forward in the field of artificial photosynthesis,” said one of the authors, Peidong Yang of the Berkeley Lab. “Our system has the potential to fundamentally change the chemical and oil industry in that we can produce chemicals and fuels in a totally renewable way, rather than extracting from deep below the ground.” The research continues. Right now, this sample of solar-powered green chemistry is about as efficient as nature’s original chemical plant: the leaf. But another team, according to Physics World, have a prototype that is a thousand times better than a tree as a “sink” for the carbon in carbon dioxide.

Storage problem

Klaus Lackner of Arizona State University’s Centre for Negative Carbon Emissions and colleagues are testing a synthetic membrane that can capture carbon dioxide from the air that passes through it. The technology is based on a resin that works in dry atmospheres (in humid environments it actually releases the carbon dioxide, so it wouldn’t work everywhere). Prototype collectors trap between 10% and 50% of all the carbon dioxide that blows through the membrane. The trapped CO2 could then be stored in a container, and either shipped off for deep, long-term burial or exploited in some way, perhaps as the raw material for liquid fuel. How the technology could be exploited demands a little further investigation. There are plans to test the membranes on the laboratory’s roof in Arizona. But it is one thing to efficiently collect carbon dioxide: another to deal with it. Dr Lackner estimates that it would demand about 100 million receptacles the size of shipping containers to hold the carbon dioxide now emitted from the planet’s factories, vehicles and power stations. “I believe we have reached a point where it is really paramount for substantive public research and development of direct air capture,” he told the American Physical Society meeting in Maryland. “The Centre for Negative Carbon Emissions cannot do it alone.” – Climate News Network

New ocean energy plan could worsen global warming

An apparently promising way of producing energy from the world’s oceans in fact risks causing catastrophic harm by warming the Earth far more than it can bear, US scientists say. LONDON, 4 April, 2015 − One of renewable energy’s more outspoken enthusiasts has delivered bad news for the prospects of developing ocean thermal energy. His prediction is that although the technology could work for a while, after about 50 years it could actually exacerbate long-term global warning. Of all the renewable energy technologies, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) sounded like the perfect choice. This is a plan to exploit the difference between the warm surface and the cold deeps of the seas, and turn that difference into energy. The agency that did the work would be a network of vertical pipes floating below the surface: it would not spoil the view from the coast, and it would deliver power day or night, whatever the weather. But there was more. Enthusiasts pointed out that as a bonus, the pipes used in the energy conversion would bring a flow of nutrients from the cold, deep waters to the less-fertile but sunlit surface of the ocean, thus encouraging the growth of marine algae that would soak up more carbon from the atmosphere. And, as a bonus, the same process would accelerate the downward flow of carbon, where it could be sequestered on the sea bed. Now one of renewable energy’s more vocal supporters has taken a closer look at the long-term consequences of the ocean pipes and come up with some discouraging news: an engineering programme intended to cool the planet would end up making it warmer. It would work for a while, he says, but after about half a century it would reduce the cloud cover and at the same time reduce the sea ice, to accelerate climate change once more.

Warming exacerbated

Ken Caldeira, senior scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution, California, is one of the more energetic voices in climate research: he and his Carnegie colleagues have already warned that the world is feeling the heat from carbon dioxide released from car exhausts and factory chimneys and he has spoken up loudly for nuclear power, and indeed any “clean” energy sources. He and Stanford colleagues Lester Kwiatkowski and Katharine Ricke report in Environmental Research Letters that when they began to simulate an ocean dotted with vertical pipes that exchanged deeper and shallower waters, they expected to confirm the value of such an approach. They could not. “Our simulations indicate the likely sign and character of unintended atmospheric consequences of such ocean technologies,” they conclude, in formal science-speak. “Prolonged application of ocean pipe technologies, rather than avoiding global warming, could exacerbate long-term warming of the climate system.” Research exercises such as this one cost nothing more than laboratory computing power and research time: their value once again is in reminding governments, campaigners and energy investors that the climate is an intricate piece of global machinery, and that there are no easy answers to the problems presented by renewable energy.

Radical change

They are also a reminder that geo-engineering of any kind to damp climate change could have unintended consequences. In this case – in an ideal, global simulation – it would change the thermal structure of the ocean altogether. The Carnegie calculations work like this: cold air is denser than warm air. Water funnelled up the pipes on a very large scale from the depths would cool the air above the seas, and increase atmospheric pressure, which would reduce cloud formation over the seas. Since most of the planet is ocean, that means fewer clouds overall, which means more sunlight absorbed by the Earth rather than reflected back into space by the clouds. And the same mixing of sea waters would bring sea ice into contact with warmer waters, which would mean less sea ice to reflect radiation, with the same result: accelerated global warming. After 60 years, the simulated network of ocean pipes would cause an increase of global temperature by up to 1.2°C. After a few centuries, the same technology would take temperatures up by a catastrophic 8°5C. “I cannot envisage any scenario in which a large scale global implementation of ocean pipes would be advisable,” said the report’s lead author, Dr Kwiatkowski. “In fact, our study shows it could exacerbate long-term warning and is therefore highly inadvisable at global scales.” – Climate News Network

An apparently promising way of producing energy from the world’s oceans in fact risks causing catastrophic harm by warming the Earth far more than it can bear, US scientists say. LONDON, 4 April, 2015 − One of renewable energy’s more outspoken enthusiasts has delivered bad news for the prospects of developing ocean thermal energy. His prediction is that although the technology could work for a while, after about 50 years it could actually exacerbate long-term global warning. Of all the renewable energy technologies, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) sounded like the perfect choice. This is a plan to exploit the difference between the warm surface and the cold deeps of the seas, and turn that difference into energy. The agency that did the work would be a network of vertical pipes floating below the surface: it would not spoil the view from the coast, and it would deliver power day or night, whatever the weather. But there was more. Enthusiasts pointed out that as a bonus, the pipes used in the energy conversion would bring a flow of nutrients from the cold, deep waters to the less-fertile but sunlit surface of the ocean, thus encouraging the growth of marine algae that would soak up more carbon from the atmosphere. And, as a bonus, the same process would accelerate the downward flow of carbon, where it could be sequestered on the sea bed. Now one of renewable energy’s more vocal supporters has taken a closer look at the long-term consequences of the ocean pipes and come up with some discouraging news: an engineering programme intended to cool the planet would end up making it warmer. It would work for a while, he says, but after about half a century it would reduce the cloud cover and at the same time reduce the sea ice, to accelerate climate change once more.

Warming exacerbated

Ken Caldeira, senior scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution, California, is one of the more energetic voices in climate research: he and his Carnegie colleagues have already warned that the world is feeling the heat from carbon dioxide released from car exhausts and factory chimneys and he has spoken up loudly for nuclear power, and indeed any “clean” energy sources. He and Stanford colleagues Lester Kwiatkowski and Katharine Ricke report in Environmental Research Letters that when they began to simulate an ocean dotted with vertical pipes that exchanged deeper and shallower waters, they expected to confirm the value of such an approach. They could not. “Our simulations indicate the likely sign and character of unintended atmospheric consequences of such ocean technologies,” they conclude, in formal science-speak. “Prolonged application of ocean pipe technologies, rather than avoiding global warming, could exacerbate long-term warming of the climate system.” Research exercises such as this one cost nothing more than laboratory computing power and research time: their value once again is in reminding governments, campaigners and energy investors that the climate is an intricate piece of global machinery, and that there are no easy answers to the problems presented by renewable energy.

Radical change

They are also a reminder that geo-engineering of any kind to damp climate change could have unintended consequences. In this case – in an ideal, global simulation – it would change the thermal structure of the ocean altogether. The Carnegie calculations work like this: cold air is denser than warm air. Water funnelled up the pipes on a very large scale from the depths would cool the air above the seas, and increase atmospheric pressure, which would reduce cloud formation over the seas. Since most of the planet is ocean, that means fewer clouds overall, which means more sunlight absorbed by the Earth rather than reflected back into space by the clouds. And the same mixing of sea waters would bring sea ice into contact with warmer waters, which would mean less sea ice to reflect radiation, with the same result: accelerated global warming. After 60 years, the simulated network of ocean pipes would cause an increase of global temperature by up to 1.2°C. After a few centuries, the same technology would take temperatures up by a catastrophic 8°5C. “I cannot envisage any scenario in which a large scale global implementation of ocean pipes would be advisable,” said the report’s lead author, Dr Kwiatkowski. “In fact, our study shows it could exacerbate long-term warning and is therefore highly inadvisable at global scales.” – Climate News Network