Tag Archives: USA

Half a degree may make heat impact far worse

Half a degree of warming doesn’t sound like much. But there is fresh evidence that it could make a huge difference to rainfall and drought.

LONDON, 4 April, 2019 − Japanese scientists have found new evidence that a global average temperature rise as small as half a degree could have a drastic effect.

They conclude that the world cannot afford to delay action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 – the “ideal target” enshrined in the promise by 195 nations to limit warming to well below 2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

The evidence is this: a shift of even 0.5°C could make a dramatic difference to the risks of devastating droughts and calamitous floods.

If governments keep to the letter of the Paris Agreement of 2015 but not the spirit, and let warming rise to the maximum of 2°, then there will be more intense rainfall across North America, Europe and Asia, and more intense droughts around the Mediterranean.

And although the average intensity of each flood or drought would increase measurably, the intensity of the most extreme event could be even more intense: 10 times greater. That is: the worst imaginable floods 80 years from now would be ten times worse than the worst today.

“Such drastic changes between flood and drought conditions pose a major challenge . . . risks could be substantially reduced by achieving a 1.5°C target”

At the heart of research like this is a new way of looking at future climate projections devised – by researchers all over the world – on a range of possible outcomes for a planet that has recognised climate change, vowed to respond, but failed to take sufficiently energetic steps.

The planet is already warmer by 1°C on average than it was a century ago. Since the Paris Agreement researchers have warned that on present form, and with the present state of commitment nationally and internationally, global average temperatures will top an increase of at least 3°C by the century’s close.

This would be catastrophic. But since then, a slew of fresh studies has defined fresh shades of potential catastrophe even at 2°C maximum, and delivered evidence that a limit of overall warming to the target of 1.5°C would save not just economic damage but even lost lands.

They have demonstrated that just half a degree more would see sea levels rise by 10cms, to threaten the existence of already vulnerable small island states and low-lying coastal floodplains, to put at risk the survival of the coral reefs, and the Arctic ice.

The latest study simply addressed a phenomenon known in the scientific language as the event-to-event hydrological intensification index. This awkward mouthful of syllables masks the crude consequence of average warming: if the overall temperature rises, then so do the extremes of temperature. That is what is meant by average: the mean of all the extremes.

Harder rain

But if average temperatures rise, so does the capacity of the air to hold moisture, which means that when it does rain, then it will rain harder. And when it doesn’t, the groundwater will evaporate more easily.

So landscapes such as the US south-west, already prone to heat and drought, can expect more heat waves, more forest fires and more intense and prolonged drought, while the northeast could see more flooding.

And the latest study in the journal Scientific Reports, by researchers at the University of Tokyo, looked at the difference of outcomes between 1.5°C and 2°C in an already rapidly-warming world, to find that when it came to rainfall – and the attendant floods, droughts, mudslides, harvest failures and water shortages – even half a degree beyond the ideal could make the very bad 10 times worse.

“The high damage potential of such drastic changes between flood and drought conditions poses a major challenge to adaptation,” the researchers conclude, “and the findings suggest that risks could be substantially reduced by achieving a 1.5°C target.” − Climate News Network

Half a degree of warming doesn’t sound like much. But there is fresh evidence that it could make a huge difference to rainfall and drought.

LONDON, 4 April, 2019 − Japanese scientists have found new evidence that a global average temperature rise as small as half a degree could have a drastic effect.

They conclude that the world cannot afford to delay action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 – the “ideal target” enshrined in the promise by 195 nations to limit warming to well below 2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

The evidence is this: a shift of even 0.5°C could make a dramatic difference to the risks of devastating droughts and calamitous floods.

If governments keep to the letter of the Paris Agreement of 2015 but not the spirit, and let warming rise to the maximum of 2°, then there will be more intense rainfall across North America, Europe and Asia, and more intense droughts around the Mediterranean.

And although the average intensity of each flood or drought would increase measurably, the intensity of the most extreme event could be even more intense: 10 times greater. That is: the worst imaginable floods 80 years from now would be ten times worse than the worst today.

“Such drastic changes between flood and drought conditions pose a major challenge . . . risks could be substantially reduced by achieving a 1.5°C target”

At the heart of research like this is a new way of looking at future climate projections devised – by researchers all over the world – on a range of possible outcomes for a planet that has recognised climate change, vowed to respond, but failed to take sufficiently energetic steps.

The planet is already warmer by 1°C on average than it was a century ago. Since the Paris Agreement researchers have warned that on present form, and with the present state of commitment nationally and internationally, global average temperatures will top an increase of at least 3°C by the century’s close.

This would be catastrophic. But since then, a slew of fresh studies has defined fresh shades of potential catastrophe even at 2°C maximum, and delivered evidence that a limit of overall warming to the target of 1.5°C would save not just economic damage but even lost lands.

They have demonstrated that just half a degree more would see sea levels rise by 10cms, to threaten the existence of already vulnerable small island states and low-lying coastal floodplains, to put at risk the survival of the coral reefs, and the Arctic ice.

The latest study simply addressed a phenomenon known in the scientific language as the event-to-event hydrological intensification index. This awkward mouthful of syllables masks the crude consequence of average warming: if the overall temperature rises, then so do the extremes of temperature. That is what is meant by average: the mean of all the extremes.

Harder rain

But if average temperatures rise, so does the capacity of the air to hold moisture, which means that when it does rain, then it will rain harder. And when it doesn’t, the groundwater will evaporate more easily.

So landscapes such as the US south-west, already prone to heat and drought, can expect more heat waves, more forest fires and more intense and prolonged drought, while the northeast could see more flooding.

And the latest study in the journal Scientific Reports, by researchers at the University of Tokyo, looked at the difference of outcomes between 1.5°C and 2°C in an already rapidly-warming world, to find that when it came to rainfall – and the attendant floods, droughts, mudslides, harvest failures and water shortages – even half a degree beyond the ideal could make the very bad 10 times worse.

“The high damage potential of such drastic changes between flood and drought conditions poses a major challenge to adaptation,” the researchers conclude, “and the findings suggest that risks could be substantially reduced by achieving a 1.5°C target.” − Climate News Network

Rapidly rising heat will cut maize harvests

Soon the corn could roast on the cob long before the maize harvests are due. That could be far sooner than anyone expects.

LONDON, 3 April, 2019 − European scientists have bad news for the world’s farmers: within a decade, maize harvests will suffer as global temperatures will have reached a level that will turn the once-in-a-decade extremes of heat and drought into the new normal.

That will mean that the worst production losses ever felt by the maize farmers will happen with increasing frequency, if global planetary temperatures reach 1.5°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

The world is already 1°C hotter on average than it was before the Industrial Revolution and its increasing dependence on fossil fuels to power the global economies.

And if the temperature reaches 2°C, researchers warn, farmlands where maize once flourished will be hit by heat and drought events never before experienced. The big agribusiness giants will be hurt – and so will the small subsistence farmers who depend on their crop to keep their families alive.

“At the 2°C warning level . . . our projections suggest that global maize production will suffer from unprecedented losses”

Already the warming in the last few decades has begun to hit yields: the scientists reckon that maize yield within the 28 European member states is 290,000 tonnes a year lower than it would have been without global warming.

Significantly, 195 nations met in Paris in 2015 to agree to co-operate to keep average global warming down to if possible “well below” 2°C by 2100. Their target was a rise of no more than 1.5°C.

At the present rate of action – to switch to solar and wind power, to restore the world’s forests – the planet is on course to warm by 3°C by the close of the century.

But a new study by the European Union’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, published in the journal Earth’s Future, is not worried about the average, but about the extremes that, over the course of a year, make up that average, and drive up the loss of one particular crop: maize.

Vulnerabilities

Maize is now the world’s biggest single crop: the US is the most important producer but the EU ranks fourth in the world, producing an average of 65 million tonnes a year for food and cattle fodder. This warm climate crop is at certain points in its growing season vulnerable to heat stress and to drought. And heat stress seems increasingly  certain.

Researchers have warned, repeatedly, that higher average planetary or regional temperatures will mean increasingly intense, frequent, prolonged and potentially dangerous extremes of heat. And those areas already vulnerable to drought are likely to see much more of it, while other regions will become more at risk of catastrophic flood.

Agricultural scientists have already confirmed that untimely spells of heat and drought have started to slash cereal yields as measured across whole regions, or per field.

Hunger warning

And although the US has increased production, this too will be vulnerable to further warming. The World Meteorological Organisation has just warned of an already warmer, hungrier world.

The European researchers report that their analysis of past and future maize production surveys a range of outcomes: in one of these, the worst could start to happen as early as 2020. They suggest greater efforts to meet the goals set in Paris but even with those, farmers and agriculture ministries will need to find ways to adapt.

Their report ends bluntly. “We found that global warming will substantially increase the risk of maize production losses in most world regions, including the United States. The climatic events affecting historical global maize production once every 10 years will become normal at the 1.5°C global warming level, which is reached in the 2020s in most of the analysed climate model simulations,” they write.

“At the 2°C warning level (approximately late 2030s) our projections suggest that global maize production will suffer from unprecedented losses.” − Climate News Network

Soon the corn could roast on the cob long before the maize harvests are due. That could be far sooner than anyone expects.

LONDON, 3 April, 2019 − European scientists have bad news for the world’s farmers: within a decade, maize harvests will suffer as global temperatures will have reached a level that will turn the once-in-a-decade extremes of heat and drought into the new normal.

That will mean that the worst production losses ever felt by the maize farmers will happen with increasing frequency, if global planetary temperatures reach 1.5°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

The world is already 1°C hotter on average than it was before the Industrial Revolution and its increasing dependence on fossil fuels to power the global economies.

And if the temperature reaches 2°C, researchers warn, farmlands where maize once flourished will be hit by heat and drought events never before experienced. The big agribusiness giants will be hurt – and so will the small subsistence farmers who depend on their crop to keep their families alive.

“At the 2°C warning level . . . our projections suggest that global maize production will suffer from unprecedented losses”

Already the warming in the last few decades has begun to hit yields: the scientists reckon that maize yield within the 28 European member states is 290,000 tonnes a year lower than it would have been without global warming.

Significantly, 195 nations met in Paris in 2015 to agree to co-operate to keep average global warming down to if possible “well below” 2°C by 2100. Their target was a rise of no more than 1.5°C.

At the present rate of action – to switch to solar and wind power, to restore the world’s forests – the planet is on course to warm by 3°C by the close of the century.

But a new study by the European Union’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, published in the journal Earth’s Future, is not worried about the average, but about the extremes that, over the course of a year, make up that average, and drive up the loss of one particular crop: maize.

Vulnerabilities

Maize is now the world’s biggest single crop: the US is the most important producer but the EU ranks fourth in the world, producing an average of 65 million tonnes a year for food and cattle fodder. This warm climate crop is at certain points in its growing season vulnerable to heat stress and to drought. And heat stress seems increasingly  certain.

Researchers have warned, repeatedly, that higher average planetary or regional temperatures will mean increasingly intense, frequent, prolonged and potentially dangerous extremes of heat. And those areas already vulnerable to drought are likely to see much more of it, while other regions will become more at risk of catastrophic flood.

Agricultural scientists have already confirmed that untimely spells of heat and drought have started to slash cereal yields as measured across whole regions, or per field.

Hunger warning

And although the US has increased production, this too will be vulnerable to further warming. The World Meteorological Organisation has just warned of an already warmer, hungrier world.

The European researchers report that their analysis of past and future maize production surveys a range of outcomes: in one of these, the worst could start to happen as early as 2020. They suggest greater efforts to meet the goals set in Paris but even with those, farmers and agriculture ministries will need to find ways to adapt.

Their report ends bluntly. “We found that global warming will substantially increase the risk of maize production losses in most world regions, including the United States. The climatic events affecting historical global maize production once every 10 years will become normal at the 1.5°C global warming level, which is reached in the 2020s in most of the analysed climate model simulations,” they write.

“At the 2°C warning level (approximately late 2030s) our projections suggest that global maize production will suffer from unprecedented losses.” − Climate News Network

Worse tropical winds will kill more trees

More greenhouse gases mean worse tropical winds and fiercer storms. That could mean more forest damage . . . and more greenhouse gas emissions . . .

LONDON, 28 March, 2019 − Worse tropical winds will spell worse danger to forests, in a cycle that feeds on itself. Hurricane Maria, which in 2017 slammed into Puerto Rico, shut down the electricity supply for the entire US island of 3.3 million people, and claimed almost 3,000 lives. And it also killed or damaged at least 20 million trees, or possibly 40 million.

If what happened in the track of Maria is a pointer to the future, then hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones will join drought, wildfire and men with chainsaws as a new threat to the world’s tropical forests, the biggest absorbers of carbon on the terrestrial surface.

Living forests absorb carbon. Dying and decaying trees release greenhouse gases. The damage by Maria has already been estimated to have released 5.75 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. This is about one-fortieth of all the carbon taken up by all the forests in the US.

“The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin”

Hurricanes are linked with rising sea surface temperatures. Researchers have been warning for decades that in a warming world, extremes of heat, drought, flood and windstorm will become more destructive. So Hurricane Maria could be a taste of things to come.

“These hurricanes are going to kill more trees,” said Maria Uriarte, of the Earth Institute of Columbia University. “They’re going to break more trees. The factors that protected many trees in the past will no longer apply. Forests will become shorter and smaller because they won’t have time to regrow, and they will be less diverse.”

Maria blew into Puerto Rico in October 2017, with winds of up to 250 kms an hour. It dropped 500 mm of rain to become the island’s worst storm for 90 years.

To make their estimate of the destruction, Professor Uriarte and colleagues surveyed a 16-hectare plot of the island’s El Yunque national forest near the capital, San Juan: a plot that has been monitored after violent windstorm assault in 1989 by Hurricane Hugo and then in 1998 by Hurricane Georges.

Much fiercer impact

They report in the journal Nature Communications that Hurricane Maria killed twice as many trees outright as previous storms, and snapped more than three times as many trunks. Some species experienced breakage rates of up to 12 times that of previous hurricanes. Among them, and unexpectedly, were some of the slowest-growing, most valuable hardwoods. About half of all trees with broken trunks are expected to die within two or three years.

Some species survived well: among them the sierra palm, a tree able to bend with the wind, and if stripped sprout again from the top. Such species could be the inheritors of future hurricanes and grow quickly to take advantage of cleared forest space. So future forests could be dominated by shorter, and less diverse, foliage.

And the future is unpromising. Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperatures are rising, and climate simulations predict that by 2100 the highest sustained hurricane winds could increase by 15%. Warmer air can hold more moisture, so rainfall near storm centres could increase by 20%. Extreme winds fell trees; rain destabilises soil and makes uprooting easier.

“Maria transformed tropical forests across the island into leafless tangles of damaged and downed trees,” the researchers write. And they warn: “The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin.” − Climate News Network

More greenhouse gases mean worse tropical winds and fiercer storms. That could mean more forest damage . . . and more greenhouse gas emissions . . .

LONDON, 28 March, 2019 − Worse tropical winds will spell worse danger to forests, in a cycle that feeds on itself. Hurricane Maria, which in 2017 slammed into Puerto Rico, shut down the electricity supply for the entire US island of 3.3 million people, and claimed almost 3,000 lives. And it also killed or damaged at least 20 million trees, or possibly 40 million.

If what happened in the track of Maria is a pointer to the future, then hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones will join drought, wildfire and men with chainsaws as a new threat to the world’s tropical forests, the biggest absorbers of carbon on the terrestrial surface.

Living forests absorb carbon. Dying and decaying trees release greenhouse gases. The damage by Maria has already been estimated to have released 5.75 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. This is about one-fortieth of all the carbon taken up by all the forests in the US.

“The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin”

Hurricanes are linked with rising sea surface temperatures. Researchers have been warning for decades that in a warming world, extremes of heat, drought, flood and windstorm will become more destructive. So Hurricane Maria could be a taste of things to come.

“These hurricanes are going to kill more trees,” said Maria Uriarte, of the Earth Institute of Columbia University. “They’re going to break more trees. The factors that protected many trees in the past will no longer apply. Forests will become shorter and smaller because they won’t have time to regrow, and they will be less diverse.”

Maria blew into Puerto Rico in October 2017, with winds of up to 250 kms an hour. It dropped 500 mm of rain to become the island’s worst storm for 90 years.

To make their estimate of the destruction, Professor Uriarte and colleagues surveyed a 16-hectare plot of the island’s El Yunque national forest near the capital, San Juan: a plot that has been monitored after violent windstorm assault in 1989 by Hurricane Hugo and then in 1998 by Hurricane Georges.

Much fiercer impact

They report in the journal Nature Communications that Hurricane Maria killed twice as many trees outright as previous storms, and snapped more than three times as many trunks. Some species experienced breakage rates of up to 12 times that of previous hurricanes. Among them, and unexpectedly, were some of the slowest-growing, most valuable hardwoods. About half of all trees with broken trunks are expected to die within two or three years.

Some species survived well: among them the sierra palm, a tree able to bend with the wind, and if stripped sprout again from the top. Such species could be the inheritors of future hurricanes and grow quickly to take advantage of cleared forest space. So future forests could be dominated by shorter, and less diverse, foliage.

And the future is unpromising. Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperatures are rising, and climate simulations predict that by 2100 the highest sustained hurricane winds could increase by 15%. Warmer air can hold more moisture, so rainfall near storm centres could increase by 20%. Extreme winds fell trees; rain destabilises soil and makes uprooting easier.

“Maria transformed tropical forests across the island into leafless tangles of damaged and downed trees,” the researchers write. And they warn: “The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin.” − Climate News Network

Writer’s notes show climate impact on plants

The writer’s notes left by the US thinker and naturalist known as the sage of Walden Pond have yielded more evidence of climate change.

LONDON, 27 March, 2019 − Henry David Thoreau, author of the memoir Walden, or Life in the Woods, in 1854, did more than just observe the oaks, the aspens, the “golden-rods, pinweeds and graceful wild grasses”: he left precise writer’s notes on the natural world he found during his wilful exile in the Massachusetts wilderness.

And thanks to these, US researchers now know that as the world warms, the native ecosystem that Thoreau observed and recorded is out of step.

At the close of winter, the trees now leaf at least two weeks earlier. But the wildflowers that depend on their moment in the sun for a head start now form leaves only one week earlier.

Researchers from Tennessee, Massachusetts, Maine and New York State report in the journal Ecology Letters that they combined observations around Walden in 1852 with a sequence of observations made in 37 separate years up to 2018, and with separate field experiments in a Pennsylvania forest, to conclude that wildflowers could not keep pace

“Combining our work from Pittsburgh with Thoreau’s data revealed an overlooked yet critical implication of how our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people,” said Mason Heberling, a botanist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who led the research.

Novel science

The Oxford English Dictionary cites Thoreau as an authority for words and meanings more than 600 times, but not for a new science. But in effect, and without intending it, Thoreau has become one of the giants of the science of phenology, a word not recorded in use until 1884.

Phenology is the study of when natural events happen; when buds burst, flowers bloom, birds nest, insects pupate, fruit falls and leaves drop.

Thoreau, first to use the imagery of those who march to a different beat (he wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”), has already been cited as a phenological authority.

More than five years ago scientists used his nature notes to confirm that woody plants around Walden Pond were leafing up to 18 days earlier, thanks to climate change driven by human use of fossil fuels that enrich the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warm the world. Temperatures on average around Concord, Massachusetts have risen by around 3°C since Thoreau vacated his cabin at nearby Walden.

“Our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people”

If spring happens earlier for the trees of the canopy than it does for the shrubs of the understorey, then the wildflowers have less time for photosynthesis and are placed at a disadvantage in the competition for growth.

The evidence seems to suggest that climate change could already be limiting wildflower abundance: if fewer blooms ripen, there will be less seed for following years.

The asynchrony of leaf-out that could be changing the nature of Thoreau’s woods is likely to get more pronounced: by 2080, the northeastern US temperatures could have risen another 2.5 to 4.5°C.

It was Thoreau who memorably observed in one of his essays that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It could be even more desperate for his wildflowers. − Climate News Network

The writer’s notes left by the US thinker and naturalist known as the sage of Walden Pond have yielded more evidence of climate change.

LONDON, 27 March, 2019 − Henry David Thoreau, author of the memoir Walden, or Life in the Woods, in 1854, did more than just observe the oaks, the aspens, the “golden-rods, pinweeds and graceful wild grasses”: he left precise writer’s notes on the natural world he found during his wilful exile in the Massachusetts wilderness.

And thanks to these, US researchers now know that as the world warms, the native ecosystem that Thoreau observed and recorded is out of step.

At the close of winter, the trees now leaf at least two weeks earlier. But the wildflowers that depend on their moment in the sun for a head start now form leaves only one week earlier.

Researchers from Tennessee, Massachusetts, Maine and New York State report in the journal Ecology Letters that they combined observations around Walden in 1852 with a sequence of observations made in 37 separate years up to 2018, and with separate field experiments in a Pennsylvania forest, to conclude that wildflowers could not keep pace

“Combining our work from Pittsburgh with Thoreau’s data revealed an overlooked yet critical implication of how our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people,” said Mason Heberling, a botanist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who led the research.

Novel science

The Oxford English Dictionary cites Thoreau as an authority for words and meanings more than 600 times, but not for a new science. But in effect, and without intending it, Thoreau has become one of the giants of the science of phenology, a word not recorded in use until 1884.

Phenology is the study of when natural events happen; when buds burst, flowers bloom, birds nest, insects pupate, fruit falls and leaves drop.

Thoreau, first to use the imagery of those who march to a different beat (he wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”), has already been cited as a phenological authority.

More than five years ago scientists used his nature notes to confirm that woody plants around Walden Pond were leafing up to 18 days earlier, thanks to climate change driven by human use of fossil fuels that enrich the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warm the world. Temperatures on average around Concord, Massachusetts have risen by around 3°C since Thoreau vacated his cabin at nearby Walden.

“Our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people”

If spring happens earlier for the trees of the canopy than it does for the shrubs of the understorey, then the wildflowers have less time for photosynthesis and are placed at a disadvantage in the competition for growth.

The evidence seems to suggest that climate change could already be limiting wildflower abundance: if fewer blooms ripen, there will be less seed for following years.

The asynchrony of leaf-out that could be changing the nature of Thoreau’s woods is likely to get more pronounced: by 2080, the northeastern US temperatures could have risen another 2.5 to 4.5°C.

It was Thoreau who memorably observed in one of his essays that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It could be even more desperate for his wildflowers. − Climate News Network

For offshore wind turbines size matters

As turbines grow in size and costs tumble, offshore wind turbines, both floating and fixed to the seabed, have vast potential.

LONDON, 7 March, 2019 − Offshore wind power is set to become one of the world’s largest electricity producers in the next decade as costs fall and turbines grow in size.

Up till now turbines standing on the seabed near to the coast in Europe have been seen as the most promising technology for offshore wind farms. But the success of floating machines that can be deployed in deeper water has meant many more coastal communities can benefit. Japan and the US are among the countries with the greatest potential.

The speed with which the industry has grown in the last decade has defied all expectations. Large turbines used to have a two to three megawatt output, but now the standard size is 7.5 megawatts and turbines capable of generating up to 10 megawatts are in the pipeline.

As a result the output of one offshore turbine is thirty times greater than with the first ones deployed in 1991 − and the cost has fallen to half that of new nuclear power.

This, coupled with experience showing that the wind blows more steadily out to sea and produces far more consistent power than turbines on land, has led many more countries to see offshore wind as a major potential source of renewable energy. The turbines have shown themselves to be robust even in extreme storm conditions.

“Previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates”

Production has just begun from the world’s largest offshore wind farm in the North Sea, where construction started only in January 2018 and which began feeding power ashore in England 13 months later. The project is enormous, all four phases covering nearly 2,000 square miles, and will produce up to 6 GW of power, the same as five large nuclear power stations.

Apart from the sheer size, the plan is to have the whole development completed by 2025, before the partly-constructed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the West of England will start up, and providing return on capital for the investors years before its nuclear rivals.

While the market for turbines fixed to the seabed is expected to continue to grow very fast, it is floating turbines that will be the next big player. These are again huge machines, taking advantage of the steadier
winds out to sea, and not needing expensive seabed foundations.

It took 15 years for the Norwegian state oil company Statoil, now rebranded as Equinor to emphasise its partial move to renewables, to develop the first offshore wind farm 15 miles of the coast of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Outrunning expectations

There are five turbines with blades 175 metres long and a counterweight extending 78 metres below the surface, which is chained to the seabed. The turbines started feeding into the grid in October 2017 and output was soon exceeding expectations.

The fact that it was Statoil that designed and developed the floating turbines is significant. The offshore wind industry uses many of the skills developed by offshore gas and oil ventures and provides an investment opportunity for oil majors under pressure to diversify and show they have green credentials.

A report, Wind Power to Spare, produced last year by a research and campaigning group, Environment America, showed that there was enough potential wind power just off the US east coast to provide more electricity than was currently used in the region’s maritime states – plus enough for powering electric cars and for providing heating for the entire population of the eastern coastal states in the future.

Since the report was published developers, looking at the success of Europe in exploiting this resource, have shown an escalation of interest. The same is true of Japan, where the nuclear industry remains in deep trouble as a result of the Fukushima accident in 2011, with many of its reactors not expected to restart.

Potential ignored

Back in Europe, where offshore wind was first developed, manufacturers are eyeing up potential new markets both in the North Sea and elsewhere. France for example has no offshore wind farms but could deploy hundreds of floating turbines.

Research suggests that water depths in the North Sea are ideal for floating turbines. If half the area available could be covered in turbines they would make enough electricity to power the whole EU four times over.

That prediction is made by Equinor. It also estimates in the same report that by 2030 Japan could have 3.5 gigawatts of floating wind power, France 2.9 GW and the US 2 GW, with a further 1.9 GW in the UK and Ireland.

This would make a significant contribution to reducing the world’s burning of fossil fuels, particularly since previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates. − Climate News Network

As turbines grow in size and costs tumble, offshore wind turbines, both floating and fixed to the seabed, have vast potential.

LONDON, 7 March, 2019 − Offshore wind power is set to become one of the world’s largest electricity producers in the next decade as costs fall and turbines grow in size.

Up till now turbines standing on the seabed near to the coast in Europe have been seen as the most promising technology for offshore wind farms. But the success of floating machines that can be deployed in deeper water has meant many more coastal communities can benefit. Japan and the US are among the countries with the greatest potential.

The speed with which the industry has grown in the last decade has defied all expectations. Large turbines used to have a two to three megawatt output, but now the standard size is 7.5 megawatts and turbines capable of generating up to 10 megawatts are in the pipeline.

As a result the output of one offshore turbine is thirty times greater than with the first ones deployed in 1991 − and the cost has fallen to half that of new nuclear power.

This, coupled with experience showing that the wind blows more steadily out to sea and produces far more consistent power than turbines on land, has led many more countries to see offshore wind as a major potential source of renewable energy. The turbines have shown themselves to be robust even in extreme storm conditions.

“Previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates”

Production has just begun from the world’s largest offshore wind farm in the North Sea, where construction started only in January 2018 and which began feeding power ashore in England 13 months later. The project is enormous, all four phases covering nearly 2,000 square miles, and will produce up to 6 GW of power, the same as five large nuclear power stations.

Apart from the sheer size, the plan is to have the whole development completed by 2025, before the partly-constructed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the West of England will start up, and providing return on capital for the investors years before its nuclear rivals.

While the market for turbines fixed to the seabed is expected to continue to grow very fast, it is floating turbines that will be the next big player. These are again huge machines, taking advantage of the steadier
winds out to sea, and not needing expensive seabed foundations.

It took 15 years for the Norwegian state oil company Statoil, now rebranded as Equinor to emphasise its partial move to renewables, to develop the first offshore wind farm 15 miles of the coast of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Outrunning expectations

There are five turbines with blades 175 metres long and a counterweight extending 78 metres below the surface, which is chained to the seabed. The turbines started feeding into the grid in October 2017 and output was soon exceeding expectations.

The fact that it was Statoil that designed and developed the floating turbines is significant. The offshore wind industry uses many of the skills developed by offshore gas and oil ventures and provides an investment opportunity for oil majors under pressure to diversify and show they have green credentials.

A report, Wind Power to Spare, produced last year by a research and campaigning group, Environment America, showed that there was enough potential wind power just off the US east coast to provide more electricity than was currently used in the region’s maritime states – plus enough for powering electric cars and for providing heating for the entire population of the eastern coastal states in the future.

Since the report was published developers, looking at the success of Europe in exploiting this resource, have shown an escalation of interest. The same is true of Japan, where the nuclear industry remains in deep trouble as a result of the Fukushima accident in 2011, with many of its reactors not expected to restart.

Potential ignored

Back in Europe, where offshore wind was first developed, manufacturers are eyeing up potential new markets both in the North Sea and elsewhere. France for example has no offshore wind farms but could deploy hundreds of floating turbines.

Research suggests that water depths in the North Sea are ideal for floating turbines. If half the area available could be covered in turbines they would make enough electricity to power the whole EU four times over.

That prediction is made by Equinor. It also estimates in the same report that by 2030 Japan could have 3.5 gigawatts of floating wind power, France 2.9 GW and the US 2 GW, with a further 1.9 GW in the UK and Ireland.

This would make a significant contribution to reducing the world’s burning of fossil fuels, particularly since previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates. − Climate News Network

Off-the-shelf nuclear reactors seek buyers

The nuclear industry’s fierce fight for survival is leading several countries to develop smaller, off-the-shelf nuclear reactors.

LONDON, 5 March, 2019 − As costs escalate, several countries with nuclear ambitions have abandoned plans for large reactors. But the industry is adapting, seeking to reinvent itself by mass-producing small off-the-shelf nuclear reactors instead.

If nuclear enthusiasts are to be believed, the world is on the edge of a building boom for a range of new reactors designed to produce electricity, district heating and desalination.

The idea of small modular reactors (SMRs), as they are known, has been around for years. But an in-depth analysis, a so-called White Paper produced by a UK newsletter, the Nuclear Energy Insider, says the technology is reaching take-off point in Argentina, Canada, China, Russia, the US and the UK.

Unlike their big cousins, which are falling out of favour because they take more than a decade to build and often have massive cost overruns, the concept behind small modular reactors is that the parts can be factory-made in large numbers to be cheaply and rapidly assembled on site. So far this is only theory; currently the industry is at the prototype stage.

The idea of siting nuclear reactors close to residential areas has not been tried in practice, at least not in democracies where voters have the right to object

The idea is to place the SMRs close to where they will provide power so that if necessary they can provide district heating as well as electricity, or − if on the coast − seawater desalination. They can also be deployed on barges and towed to remote locations to provide power for island communities or military installations where ordinary grids cannot reach.

The Russians have already launched one of these, which Greenpeace immediately dubbed “The Floating Chernobyl” and “The Nuclear Titanic”. Opinions are divided about the safety of SMRs. Supporters point out that icebreakers and submarines powered by small reactors have been at sea for decades.

The Russians say the plants will provide electricity for up to 100,000 people in remote Arctic regions but so far, despite being open to offers for some years, Rosatom, the state nuclear company, has not yet had a rush of orders.

While factories for small reactors sound as innocuous as the mass production of cars, the idea of siting nuclear reactors close to residential areas has not been tried in practice, at least not in democracies where voters have the right to object. It seems unlikely that a reactor placed close enough to a city to provide district heating would not raise objections, from some citizens at least.

Cost dilemma

Another consideration is cost. The theory is that once the first prototypes are deployed and have proved they work, the cost of future models will tumble as they are mass-produced. SMRs vary in size from about 30 megawatts (around the same output as four large offshore wind turbines) to 300 megawatts, and they can be deployed in groups like wind turbines to provide as much power output as required.

What has not been tested is whether there would ever be enough orders for any one sort of small modular reactor to justify setting up a factory to produce dozens of them. This is the only way to get the unit cost down sufficiently to compete with renewables, which are continuing to get cheaper and already dominate the market.

None of these doubts seems to assail the industry. According to the White Paper, the International Atomic Energy Agency has information on 50 possible SMR designs, with Argentina, Russia and China all expected to start up their first prototypes this year or next. Both Canada and the US are already going through the licensing and construction of prototypes and expect to have them operational by 2026.

Military links

Although it is not mentioned in the White Paper it is clear that at least in the US, UK, China and Russia there is a close relationship between the development of SMRs and the military need for nuclear-powered submarines − and, in the case of the US and Russia, icebreakers. The technology for both is very similar and the personnel to operate them need similar training and expertise.

Next month in Atlanta in the US the world’s SMR enthusiasts, including governments and the many companies developing and hoping to market SMRs, are gathering to hear the latest developments. The meeting is to be held on 2 and 3 April.

Participants include speakers from the US Department of Energy, the chief strategist for the US Army, and one from  the UK government’s department of business, energy and industrial strategy. Their task is to tell the conference how their governments are planning to deploy SMRs.

The UK is running a workshop so that attendees can “hear directly from the UK government on how they are ensuring that the UK becomes one of the top global destinations for SMRs”, according to the conference brochure. − Climate News Network

The nuclear industry’s fierce fight for survival is leading several countries to develop smaller, off-the-shelf nuclear reactors.

LONDON, 5 March, 2019 − As costs escalate, several countries with nuclear ambitions have abandoned plans for large reactors. But the industry is adapting, seeking to reinvent itself by mass-producing small off-the-shelf nuclear reactors instead.

If nuclear enthusiasts are to be believed, the world is on the edge of a building boom for a range of new reactors designed to produce electricity, district heating and desalination.

The idea of small modular reactors (SMRs), as they are known, has been around for years. But an in-depth analysis, a so-called White Paper produced by a UK newsletter, the Nuclear Energy Insider, says the technology is reaching take-off point in Argentina, Canada, China, Russia, the US and the UK.

Unlike their big cousins, which are falling out of favour because they take more than a decade to build and often have massive cost overruns, the concept behind small modular reactors is that the parts can be factory-made in large numbers to be cheaply and rapidly assembled on site. So far this is only theory; currently the industry is at the prototype stage.

The idea of siting nuclear reactors close to residential areas has not been tried in practice, at least not in democracies where voters have the right to object

The idea is to place the SMRs close to where they will provide power so that if necessary they can provide district heating as well as electricity, or − if on the coast − seawater desalination. They can also be deployed on barges and towed to remote locations to provide power for island communities or military installations where ordinary grids cannot reach.

The Russians have already launched one of these, which Greenpeace immediately dubbed “The Floating Chernobyl” and “The Nuclear Titanic”. Opinions are divided about the safety of SMRs. Supporters point out that icebreakers and submarines powered by small reactors have been at sea for decades.

The Russians say the plants will provide electricity for up to 100,000 people in remote Arctic regions but so far, despite being open to offers for some years, Rosatom, the state nuclear company, has not yet had a rush of orders.

While factories for small reactors sound as innocuous as the mass production of cars, the idea of siting nuclear reactors close to residential areas has not been tried in practice, at least not in democracies where voters have the right to object. It seems unlikely that a reactor placed close enough to a city to provide district heating would not raise objections, from some citizens at least.

Cost dilemma

Another consideration is cost. The theory is that once the first prototypes are deployed and have proved they work, the cost of future models will tumble as they are mass-produced. SMRs vary in size from about 30 megawatts (around the same output as four large offshore wind turbines) to 300 megawatts, and they can be deployed in groups like wind turbines to provide as much power output as required.

What has not been tested is whether there would ever be enough orders for any one sort of small modular reactor to justify setting up a factory to produce dozens of them. This is the only way to get the unit cost down sufficiently to compete with renewables, which are continuing to get cheaper and already dominate the market.

None of these doubts seems to assail the industry. According to the White Paper, the International Atomic Energy Agency has information on 50 possible SMR designs, with Argentina, Russia and China all expected to start up their first prototypes this year or next. Both Canada and the US are already going through the licensing and construction of prototypes and expect to have them operational by 2026.

Military links

Although it is not mentioned in the White Paper it is clear that at least in the US, UK, China and Russia there is a close relationship between the development of SMRs and the military need for nuclear-powered submarines − and, in the case of the US and Russia, icebreakers. The technology for both is very similar and the personnel to operate them need similar training and expertise.

Next month in Atlanta in the US the world’s SMR enthusiasts, including governments and the many companies developing and hoping to market SMRs, are gathering to hear the latest developments. The meeting is to be held on 2 and 3 April.

Participants include speakers from the US Department of Energy, the chief strategist for the US Army, and one from  the UK government’s department of business, energy and industrial strategy. Their task is to tell the conference how their governments are planning to deploy SMRs.

The UK is running a workshop so that attendees can “hear directly from the UK government on how they are ensuring that the UK becomes one of the top global destinations for SMRs”, according to the conference brochure. − Climate News Network

Southward shift faces US climate by 2100

Climate change means a big shift for city dwellers worldwide. Americans can look ahead to very different cities as the US climate heads south.

LONDON, 21 February, 2019 − If the world continues to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels, then life will change predictably for millions of American city dwellers as the US climate heats up. They will find conditions that will make it seem as if they have shifted south by as much as 850 kilometres.

New Yorkers will find themselves experiencing temperature and rainfall conditions appropriate to a small town in Arkansas. People from Los Angeles will discover what it is like to live, right now, on the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula, Mexico. People in Abilene, Texas will find that it is as if they had crossed their own frontier, deep into Salinas, Mexico.

The lawmakers in Washington will have consigned themselves to conditions appropriate to Greenwood, Mississippi. Columbus, Ohio, will enjoy the climate of Jonesboro, Arkansas. Folk of Anchorage, Alaska, will find out what it feels like to live on Vancouver Sound. People of Vancouver, meanwhile, will feel as if they had crossed the border into Seattle, Washington.

This exercise in precision forecasting, published in the journal Nature Communications, has been tested in computer simulations for approximately 250 million US and Canadian citizens in 540 cities.

That is, around three quarters of all the population of the United States, and half of all Canadians, can now check the rainfall and temperature changes they can expect in one human lifetime, somewhere between 2070 and 2099.

“It is my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation”

There are a number of possible climate shifts, depending on whether or not 195 nations fulfil the vow made in Paris in 2015 to work to keep the average rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

In fact, President Trump has announced a US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and many of the nations that stand by the promise have yet to commit to convincing action.

So researchers continue to incorporate the notorious “business-as-usual” scenario in their simulations. So far, these have already predicted a sweltering future for many US cities, with devastating consequences for electrical power supplies and ever more destructive superstorms, megadroughts and floods, with huge economic costs for American government, business and taxpayers.

And, other researchers have found, climate change may already be at work: there is evidence that the division between the more arid American West and the more fertile eastern states has begun to shift significantly.

Long trip south

So the latest research could prove another way of bringing home to US citizens some of the challenges ahead.

“Under current high emissions, the average urban dweller is going to have to drive more than 500 miles (850 kms) to the south to find a climate like that expected in their home city by 2080. Not only is climate changing, but climates that don’t presently exist in North America will be prevalent in a lot of urban areas,” said Matt Fitzpatrick, of the University of Maryland, who led the study.

“Within the lifetime of children living today, the climate of many regions is projected to change from the familiar to conditions unlike those experienced in the same place by their parents, grandparents or perhaps any generation in millennia,” he said.

“It is my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation.” − Climate News Network

Climate change means a big shift for city dwellers worldwide. Americans can look ahead to very different cities as the US climate heads south.

LONDON, 21 February, 2019 − If the world continues to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels, then life will change predictably for millions of American city dwellers as the US climate heats up. They will find conditions that will make it seem as if they have shifted south by as much as 850 kilometres.

New Yorkers will find themselves experiencing temperature and rainfall conditions appropriate to a small town in Arkansas. People from Los Angeles will discover what it is like to live, right now, on the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula, Mexico. People in Abilene, Texas will find that it is as if they had crossed their own frontier, deep into Salinas, Mexico.

The lawmakers in Washington will have consigned themselves to conditions appropriate to Greenwood, Mississippi. Columbus, Ohio, will enjoy the climate of Jonesboro, Arkansas. Folk of Anchorage, Alaska, will find out what it feels like to live on Vancouver Sound. People of Vancouver, meanwhile, will feel as if they had crossed the border into Seattle, Washington.

This exercise in precision forecasting, published in the journal Nature Communications, has been tested in computer simulations for approximately 250 million US and Canadian citizens in 540 cities.

That is, around three quarters of all the population of the United States, and half of all Canadians, can now check the rainfall and temperature changes they can expect in one human lifetime, somewhere between 2070 and 2099.

“It is my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation”

There are a number of possible climate shifts, depending on whether or not 195 nations fulfil the vow made in Paris in 2015 to work to keep the average rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

In fact, President Trump has announced a US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and many of the nations that stand by the promise have yet to commit to convincing action.

So researchers continue to incorporate the notorious “business-as-usual” scenario in their simulations. So far, these have already predicted a sweltering future for many US cities, with devastating consequences for electrical power supplies and ever more destructive superstorms, megadroughts and floods, with huge economic costs for American government, business and taxpayers.

And, other researchers have found, climate change may already be at work: there is evidence that the division between the more arid American West and the more fertile eastern states has begun to shift significantly.

Long trip south

So the latest research could prove another way of bringing home to US citizens some of the challenges ahead.

“Under current high emissions, the average urban dweller is going to have to drive more than 500 miles (850 kms) to the south to find a climate like that expected in their home city by 2080. Not only is climate changing, but climates that don’t presently exist in North America will be prevalent in a lot of urban areas,” said Matt Fitzpatrick, of the University of Maryland, who led the study.

“Within the lifetime of children living today, the climate of many regions is projected to change from the familiar to conditions unlike those experienced in the same place by their parents, grandparents or perhaps any generation in millennia,” he said.

“It is my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation.” − Climate News Network

Growing nuclear waste legacy defies disposal

Supporters say more nuclear power will combat climate change, but the industry is still failing to tackle its nuclear waste legacy.

LONDON, 7 February, 2019 − The nuclear industry, and governments across the world, have yet to find a solution to the nuclear waste legacy, the highly dangerous radioactive remains that are piling up in unsafe stores in many countries.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace France says there is now a serious threat of a major accident or terrorist attack in several of the countries most heavily reliant on nuclear power, including the US, France and the UK.

The report fears for what may be to come: “When the stability of nations is measured in years and perhaps decades into the future, what will be the viability of states over the thousands-of-year timeframes required to manage nuclear waste?”

Hundreds of ageing nuclear power stations now have dry stores or deep ponds full of old used fuel, known as spent fuel, from decades of refuelling reactors.

The old fuel has to be cooled for 30 years or more to prevent it spontaneously catching fire and sending a deadly plume of radioactivity hundreds of miles downwind.

Some idea of the dangerous radiation involved is the fact that standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute, the Greenpeace report says.

Official guesswork

The estimates of costs for dealing with the waste in the future are compiled by government experts but vary widely from country to country, and all figures are just official guesswork. All are measured in billions of dollars.

To give an example of actual annual costs for one waste site in the UK, Sellafield in north-west England, the budget just for keeping it safe is £3 bn (US$3.9 bn) a year.

It is estimated that disposing of the waste at Sellafield would cost £80 bn, but that is at best an informed guess since no way of disposing of it has been found.

The report details the waste from the whole nuclear cycle. This begins with the billions of tons of mildly radioactive uranium mine tailings that are left untended in spoil heaps in more than a dozen countries.

Then there are the stores of thousands of tons of depleted uranium left over after producing nuclear fuel and weapons. Last, there is the highly radioactive fuel removed from the reactors, some of it reprocessed to obtain plutonium, leaving behind extremely dangerous liquid waste.

Although the environmental damage from uranium mining is massive, the major danger comes from fires or explosions in spent fuel stores, which need constant cooling to prevent “catastrophic releases” of radioactivity into urban areas.

“Standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute”

There are now an estimated quarter of a million tons of spent fuel stored at dozens of power stations in 14 nuclear countries.

The report concentrates on Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. What happens in Russia and China is not open to public scrutiny.

All countries have severe problems, but those with the most reactors that have also gone in for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons face the worst.

The report says of France, which has 58 reactors, a number of which are soon to be retired: “There is currently no credible solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste in France; the urgent matter is reducing risks from existing waste, including spent fuel.”

In the 60 years since the nuclear industry began producing highly dangerous waste, some of it has been dumped in the sea or vented into the atmosphere, but most has been stored, waiting for someone to come up with the technology to neutralise it or a safe way of disposing of it.

Sea dumping outlawed

Since the option of dumping it in the sea was closed off in the 1980s because of alarm about the increase in cancers this would cause, governments have concentrated on the idea of building deep depositories in stable rock or clay formations to allow the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

The problem with this solution is that high-level waste stays dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, so future generations may be put in danger.

Only two countries, Finland and Sweden, which both have stable rock formations, are building repositories, but in both cases there are still doubts and controversy over whether these schemes will be robust enough to contain the radioactivity indefinitely.

In democratic countries, in every case where a depository has been or is proposed, there is a public backlash from nearby communities. This is true in all the countries studied, many of which have been forced to abandon plans to bury the waste

As a result of this resistance from the public the report says that the US “lacks a coherent policy” and the American Department of Energy suggests that “extended storage for 300 years” is the current plan. − Climate News Network

Supporters say more nuclear power will combat climate change, but the industry is still failing to tackle its nuclear waste legacy.

LONDON, 7 February, 2019 − The nuclear industry, and governments across the world, have yet to find a solution to the nuclear waste legacy, the highly dangerous radioactive remains that are piling up in unsafe stores in many countries.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace France says there is now a serious threat of a major accident or terrorist attack in several of the countries most heavily reliant on nuclear power, including the US, France and the UK.

The report fears for what may be to come: “When the stability of nations is measured in years and perhaps decades into the future, what will be the viability of states over the thousands-of-year timeframes required to manage nuclear waste?”

Hundreds of ageing nuclear power stations now have dry stores or deep ponds full of old used fuel, known as spent fuel, from decades of refuelling reactors.

The old fuel has to be cooled for 30 years or more to prevent it spontaneously catching fire and sending a deadly plume of radioactivity hundreds of miles downwind.

Some idea of the dangerous radiation involved is the fact that standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute, the Greenpeace report says.

Official guesswork

The estimates of costs for dealing with the waste in the future are compiled by government experts but vary widely from country to country, and all figures are just official guesswork. All are measured in billions of dollars.

To give an example of actual annual costs for one waste site in the UK, Sellafield in north-west England, the budget just for keeping it safe is £3 bn (US$3.9 bn) a year.

It is estimated that disposing of the waste at Sellafield would cost £80 bn, but that is at best an informed guess since no way of disposing of it has been found.

The report details the waste from the whole nuclear cycle. This begins with the billions of tons of mildly radioactive uranium mine tailings that are left untended in spoil heaps in more than a dozen countries.

Then there are the stores of thousands of tons of depleted uranium left over after producing nuclear fuel and weapons. Last, there is the highly radioactive fuel removed from the reactors, some of it reprocessed to obtain plutonium, leaving behind extremely dangerous liquid waste.

Although the environmental damage from uranium mining is massive, the major danger comes from fires or explosions in spent fuel stores, which need constant cooling to prevent “catastrophic releases” of radioactivity into urban areas.

“Standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute”

There are now an estimated quarter of a million tons of spent fuel stored at dozens of power stations in 14 nuclear countries.

The report concentrates on Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. What happens in Russia and China is not open to public scrutiny.

All countries have severe problems, but those with the most reactors that have also gone in for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons face the worst.

The report says of France, which has 58 reactors, a number of which are soon to be retired: “There is currently no credible solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste in France; the urgent matter is reducing risks from existing waste, including spent fuel.”

In the 60 years since the nuclear industry began producing highly dangerous waste, some of it has been dumped in the sea or vented into the atmosphere, but most has been stored, waiting for someone to come up with the technology to neutralise it or a safe way of disposing of it.

Sea dumping outlawed

Since the option of dumping it in the sea was closed off in the 1980s because of alarm about the increase in cancers this would cause, governments have concentrated on the idea of building deep depositories in stable rock or clay formations to allow the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

The problem with this solution is that high-level waste stays dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, so future generations may be put in danger.

Only two countries, Finland and Sweden, which both have stable rock formations, are building repositories, but in both cases there are still doubts and controversy over whether these schemes will be robust enough to contain the radioactivity indefinitely.

In democratic countries, in every case where a depository has been or is proposed, there is a public backlash from nearby communities. This is true in all the countries studied, many of which have been forced to abandon plans to bury the waste

As a result of this resistance from the public the report says that the US “lacks a coherent policy” and the American Department of Energy suggests that “extended storage for 300 years” is the current plan. − Climate News Network

Nine vital signs found for forest health

Forests help to moderate climate change, which can itself affect forest health. Researchers still puzzle over how the canopy affects the global carbon exchange.

LONDON, 3 January, 2019 – It is a given of climate science that forest health, the consequence of protected and biodiverse forests, will play a vital role in containing global warming. Now a new study for the first time offers foresters, botanists and conservationists the tools to test the health of a vast woodland.

And a second, separate study confirms an ominous discovery: trees can be counted upon to greedily consume ever more atmospheric carbon dioxide – but only while the natural supply of nitrogen holds out.

Trees use photosynthesis to build tissue from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and store the carbon in the form of leaves, fruits and timber while respiring oxygen. In doing so, they reduce levels of global warming.

Humans – by clearing forests, ploughing fields, grazing cattle and burning fossil fuels – tip about 34 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and the world’s trees take up an estimated 11 bn tonnes of it. But quite how, and how reliably, forests store carbon is still a puzzle.

“The limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests”

US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they decided to find out. They analysed data from 421 plots of forest around the world, and took direct samples in 66 of them. They measured temperature, rainfall, vapour pressure, sunlight and wind speed.

Their search spanned 100 degrees of latitude and more than 3,300 metres in altitude. Altogether the scientists gathered information on 55,983 individual trees greater than 2 cms in diameter and divided into 2,701 tree species.

By the time they had finished they had identified nine vital signs that might help with a diagnosis of a forest’s health. These are two different measures of leaf area, as well as wood density, tree height, the counts of leaf carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus and the important ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus.

Armed with these measures, they began to look at precisely how climate might affect a tree population. Two climatic factors in particular had a disproportionate impact.

New pointers

One was temperature variability – that is, the swing from the lowest to the highest mercury levels – and the other was vapour pressure. And they confirmed that, overall, the measured traits are responding to overall global warming.

Such research offers a new set of signposts for understanding how atmosphere, climate and forests interact. The response of the woodlands has become one of the big unresolved questions.

Researchers have found, a little to their surprise, the “urban forests” – the limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks – could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests.

They have measured unexpected ways in which trees have responded to the rise of 1°C in global average temperatures in the last century, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm.

Concern over nitrogen

But they have also taken serious stock of the planet’s cover of trees, to find that humans are destroying trees at the rate of 15 billion a year and that climate change and human intrusion pose the threat of extinction to many of the world’s 40,000 tropical tree species.

A second team of the US researchers is now sure of one of the mechanisms that might affect the overall health of forests in a warming world. They report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on an intensive examination of the response of 15,000 trees in the wilds of West Virginia to a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Yes, the extra greenhouse gas is fertilising forest growth. But climate change is extending the growing season, as spring arrives earlier and autumn leaf fall happens ever later. A study of the nitrogen isotopes in the leaves suggests that the supply of that other, all-important nutrient, could be on the way down.

If so, the growth of the forests could soon peak, and with that the capacity of forests to moderate climate change could diminish. – Climate News Network

Forests help to moderate climate change, which can itself affect forest health. Researchers still puzzle over how the canopy affects the global carbon exchange.

LONDON, 3 January, 2019 – It is a given of climate science that forest health, the consequence of protected and biodiverse forests, will play a vital role in containing global warming. Now a new study for the first time offers foresters, botanists and conservationists the tools to test the health of a vast woodland.

And a second, separate study confirms an ominous discovery: trees can be counted upon to greedily consume ever more atmospheric carbon dioxide – but only while the natural supply of nitrogen holds out.

Trees use photosynthesis to build tissue from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and store the carbon in the form of leaves, fruits and timber while respiring oxygen. In doing so, they reduce levels of global warming.

Humans – by clearing forests, ploughing fields, grazing cattle and burning fossil fuels – tip about 34 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and the world’s trees take up an estimated 11 bn tonnes of it. But quite how, and how reliably, forests store carbon is still a puzzle.

“The limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests”

US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they decided to find out. They analysed data from 421 plots of forest around the world, and took direct samples in 66 of them. They measured temperature, rainfall, vapour pressure, sunlight and wind speed.

Their search spanned 100 degrees of latitude and more than 3,300 metres in altitude. Altogether the scientists gathered information on 55,983 individual trees greater than 2 cms in diameter and divided into 2,701 tree species.

By the time they had finished they had identified nine vital signs that might help with a diagnosis of a forest’s health. These are two different measures of leaf area, as well as wood density, tree height, the counts of leaf carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus and the important ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus.

Armed with these measures, they began to look at precisely how climate might affect a tree population. Two climatic factors in particular had a disproportionate impact.

New pointers

One was temperature variability – that is, the swing from the lowest to the highest mercury levels – and the other was vapour pressure. And they confirmed that, overall, the measured traits are responding to overall global warming.

Such research offers a new set of signposts for understanding how atmosphere, climate and forests interact. The response of the woodlands has become one of the big unresolved questions.

Researchers have found, a little to their surprise, the “urban forests” – the limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks – could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests.

They have measured unexpected ways in which trees have responded to the rise of 1°C in global average temperatures in the last century, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm.

Concern over nitrogen

But they have also taken serious stock of the planet’s cover of trees, to find that humans are destroying trees at the rate of 15 billion a year and that climate change and human intrusion pose the threat of extinction to many of the world’s 40,000 tropical tree species.

A second team of the US researchers is now sure of one of the mechanisms that might affect the overall health of forests in a warming world. They report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on an intensive examination of the response of 15,000 trees in the wilds of West Virginia to a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Yes, the extra greenhouse gas is fertilising forest growth. But climate change is extending the growing season, as spring arrives earlier and autumn leaf fall happens ever later. A study of the nitrogen isotopes in the leaves suggests that the supply of that other, all-important nutrient, could be on the way down.

If so, the growth of the forests could soon peak, and with that the capacity of forests to moderate climate change could diminish. – Climate News Network

Global water supply shrinks in rainier world

The global water supply is dwindling, even though rainfall is heavier. Once again, climate change is to blame.

LONDON, 20 December, 2018 – Even in a world with more intense rain, communities could begin to run short of water. New research has confirmed that, in a warming world, extremes of drought have begun to diminish the world’s groundwater – and ever more intense rainstorms will do little to make up the loss in the global water supply.

And a second, separate study delivers support for this seeming paradox: worldwide, there is evidence that rainfall patterns are, increasingly, being disturbed. The number of record-dry months has increased overall. And so has the number of record-breaking rainy months.

Both studies match predictions in a world of climate change driven by ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels. But, unlike many climate studies, neither of these is based on computer simulation of predicted change.

Each is instead based on the meticulous analysis of huge quantities of on-the-ground data. Together they provide substance to a 40-year-old prediction of climate change research: that in a warming world, those regions already wet will get ever more rain, while the drylands will tend to become increasingly more arid.

As global temperatures creep up – and they have already risen by 1°C in the past century, and could be set to reach 3°C by 2100 – so does the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb more moisture. It follows that more rain must fall. But at the same time more groundwater evaporates, and the risk of damaging drought increases.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out”

Australian scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they studied readings from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries. And they confirm that even in a world of more intense rain, drought could become the new normal in those regions already at risk.

“This is something that has been missed. We expected rainfall to increase, since warmer air stores more moisture – and that is what climate models predicted too,” said Ashish Sharma, an environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out. We believe the cause is the drying of soils in our catchments. Where once these were moist before a storm event – allowing excess rainfall to run off into rivers – they are now drier and soak up more rain, so less water makes it as flow.”

The study matches predictions. Just in the last few months, climate scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change could be on the way, and that the double hazard of heat waves and sustained drought could devastate harvests in more than one climatic zone in the same season; and that those landlocked rainfall catchment areas that are already dry are becoming increasingly more parched.

But over the same few months, researchers have established repeatedly that tomorrow’s storms will be worse and that more devastating flash floods can be expected even in one of the world’s driest continents, Australia itself.

Less water available

Of all rainfall, only 36% gets into aquifers, streams and lakes. The remaining two thirds seeps into the soils, grasslands and woodlands. But more soil evaporation means less water is available from river supplies for cities and farms.

US researchers have already confirmed that if soils are moist before a storm, 62% of rainfall leads to floods that fill catchments. If soils are dry, only 13% of the rain leads to flooding.

“It’s a double whammy. Less water is ending up where we can’t store it for later use. At the same time, more rain is overwhelming drainage infrastructure in towns and cities, leading to more urban flooding,” said Professor Sharma.

“Small floods are very important for water supply, because they refill dams and form the basis of our water supply. But they’re happening less often, because the soils are sucking up extra rain. Even when a major storm dumps a lot of rain, the soils are so dry they absorb more water than before, and less reaches the rivers and reservoirs”, he said. “We need to adapt to this emerging reality.”

In the second close look at change so far, researchers based in Germany report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters  that they analysed data from 50,000 weather stations worldwide to measure rainfall on a monthly basis.

Climate drives aridity

The US has seen a more than 25% increase of record wet months in the eastern and central regions between 1980 and 2013. Argentina has seen a 32% increase. In central and northern Europe the increase is between 19% and 37%; in Asian Russia, it has been about 20%.

But in Africa south of the Sahara the incidence of very dry months has increased by 50%. “This implies that approximately one out of three record dry months in this region would not have occurred without long-term climate change,” said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Generally, land regions in the tropics and sub-tropics have seen more dry records, and the northern mid- to high-latitudes more wet records. This largely fits the patterns that scientists expect from human-caused climate change.”

His colleague and lead author Jascha Lehmann said: “Normally, record weather events occur by chance and we know how many would happen in a climate without warning. It’s like throwing a dice: on average one out of six times you get a six.

“But by injecting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humankind has loaded the dice. In many regions, we throw sixes much more often, with severe impacts for society and the environment.

“It is worrying that we see significant increases of such extremes with just one degree of global warming.” – Climate News Network

The global water supply is dwindling, even though rainfall is heavier. Once again, climate change is to blame.

LONDON, 20 December, 2018 – Even in a world with more intense rain, communities could begin to run short of water. New research has confirmed that, in a warming world, extremes of drought have begun to diminish the world’s groundwater – and ever more intense rainstorms will do little to make up the loss in the global water supply.

And a second, separate study delivers support for this seeming paradox: worldwide, there is evidence that rainfall patterns are, increasingly, being disturbed. The number of record-dry months has increased overall. And so has the number of record-breaking rainy months.

Both studies match predictions in a world of climate change driven by ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels. But, unlike many climate studies, neither of these is based on computer simulation of predicted change.

Each is instead based on the meticulous analysis of huge quantities of on-the-ground data. Together they provide substance to a 40-year-old prediction of climate change research: that in a warming world, those regions already wet will get ever more rain, while the drylands will tend to become increasingly more arid.

As global temperatures creep up – and they have already risen by 1°C in the past century, and could be set to reach 3°C by 2100 – so does the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb more moisture. It follows that more rain must fall. But at the same time more groundwater evaporates, and the risk of damaging drought increases.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out”

Australian scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they studied readings from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries. And they confirm that even in a world of more intense rain, drought could become the new normal in those regions already at risk.

“This is something that has been missed. We expected rainfall to increase, since warmer air stores more moisture – and that is what climate models predicted too,” said Ashish Sharma, an environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out. We believe the cause is the drying of soils in our catchments. Where once these were moist before a storm event – allowing excess rainfall to run off into rivers – they are now drier and soak up more rain, so less water makes it as flow.”

The study matches predictions. Just in the last few months, climate scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change could be on the way, and that the double hazard of heat waves and sustained drought could devastate harvests in more than one climatic zone in the same season; and that those landlocked rainfall catchment areas that are already dry are becoming increasingly more parched.

But over the same few months, researchers have established repeatedly that tomorrow’s storms will be worse and that more devastating flash floods can be expected even in one of the world’s driest continents, Australia itself.

Less water available

Of all rainfall, only 36% gets into aquifers, streams and lakes. The remaining two thirds seeps into the soils, grasslands and woodlands. But more soil evaporation means less water is available from river supplies for cities and farms.

US researchers have already confirmed that if soils are moist before a storm, 62% of rainfall leads to floods that fill catchments. If soils are dry, only 13% of the rain leads to flooding.

“It’s a double whammy. Less water is ending up where we can’t store it for later use. At the same time, more rain is overwhelming drainage infrastructure in towns and cities, leading to more urban flooding,” said Professor Sharma.

“Small floods are very important for water supply, because they refill dams and form the basis of our water supply. But they’re happening less often, because the soils are sucking up extra rain. Even when a major storm dumps a lot of rain, the soils are so dry they absorb more water than before, and less reaches the rivers and reservoirs”, he said. “We need to adapt to this emerging reality.”

In the second close look at change so far, researchers based in Germany report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters  that they analysed data from 50,000 weather stations worldwide to measure rainfall on a monthly basis.

Climate drives aridity

The US has seen a more than 25% increase of record wet months in the eastern and central regions between 1980 and 2013. Argentina has seen a 32% increase. In central and northern Europe the increase is between 19% and 37%; in Asian Russia, it has been about 20%.

But in Africa south of the Sahara the incidence of very dry months has increased by 50%. “This implies that approximately one out of three record dry months in this region would not have occurred without long-term climate change,” said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Generally, land regions in the tropics and sub-tropics have seen more dry records, and the northern mid- to high-latitudes more wet records. This largely fits the patterns that scientists expect from human-caused climate change.”

His colleague and lead author Jascha Lehmann said: “Normally, record weather events occur by chance and we know how many would happen in a climate without warning. It’s like throwing a dice: on average one out of six times you get a six.

“But by injecting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humankind has loaded the dice. In many regions, we throw sixes much more often, with severe impacts for society and the environment.

“It is worrying that we see significant increases of such extremes with just one degree of global warming.” – Climate News Network