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Truthout: Toward Climate Geoengineering?
20 April, 2009 by dan

While I sympathize with the takeaway from the preamble of this truthout opinion piece by Australian paleoclimatologist Dr. Andrew Glikson, I think this frame is unhelpful to the reputable scientists and thoughtful individuals who are seeking funding and freedom to do the research needed to understand if these options are available to us at this advanced stage of warming.

"That global climate change has reached an impasse whereby the "powers-to-be" are entertaining climate geoengineering mitigation, instead of the urgent deep reduction of carbon emissions required by science, represents the ultimate moral bankruptcy of institutions and a failure of democracy"

Guardian UK: World Will Not Meet 2C Target
20 April, 2009 by dan

Link to Article

Almost nine out of 10 climate scientists do not believe political efforts to restrict global
warming to 2C will succeed, a Guardian poll reveals today. An average rise of 4-5C by
the end of this century is more likely, they say, given soaring carbon emissions and
political constraints.

Some of those surveyed who said the 2C target would be met confessed they did so
more out of hope rather than belief. "As a mother of young children I choose to believe
this, and work hard toward it," one said.

"This optimism is not primarily due to scientific facts, but to hope," said another. Some
said they thought geoengineering measures, such as seeding the ocean with iron to
encourage plankton growth, would help meet the target.

Many of the experts stressed that an inability to hit the 2C target did not mean that
efforts to tackle global warming should be abandoned, but that the emphasis is now on
damage limitation.

 

Science: Debate Continues Over LOHAFEX Results
31 March, 2009 by Kevin

Science Blogs covers the debate over the LOHAFEX results, which showed poor carbon sequestration as a result of fertilizing an eddy very poor in silica. Diatoms cannot grow without silica, and are the primary engines of the biological pump.

"But biogeochemist Kenneth Coale, director of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, estimates that the silicon-rich southern part of the Southern Ocean would deliver up to twice as much potential carbon sequestration as the northern area Smetacek fertilized, in large part because of the diatoms and associated ecosystem dynamics. The predators that eat diatoms, it turns out, have large waste pellets that sink rapidly. Coale warns that calling iron fertilization a failed strategy on the basis of an experiment in low-silicon waters is just as unwise as declaring the technique a home run after a successful experiment would have been. "I would be reluctant to extrapolate from any one experiment anything having to do with the efficacy of iron fertilization as a carbon-sequestration strategy," says Coale.

"Another scientist, Margaret Leinen, is the head of a company, Climos, that is hoping to commercialize iron fertilization to gain carbon credits at sea. The former head of geosciences at the National Science Foundation, she says the 1-gigaton-a-year figure for atmospheric CO2 was based on paleoclimate records. Chemical analyses of ocean cores show that the Southern Ocean drew down at least that much CO2 millions of years ago during glacial periods. "In the paleorecord, we find a lockstep correlation between the amount of [phytoplankton growing] and temperature," says Coale.

"Smetacek had actually tried to find an area of ocean that would feature diatoms. Levels of silicon are generally higher south of 50° latitude. But Smetacek says the German government asked him to stay north of that line due to a treaty called CCAMLR designed to protect marine species in the Southern Ocean. Part of that restriction was no doubt connected to the fact that the LOHAFEX mission was controversial from the start, drawing criticism both from environmentalists and from the German environmental ministry. So Smetacek says he had to settle on a patch at 48° south latitude.

New Scientist: Arctic Meltdown Is A Threat To Humanity
26 March, 2009 by Kevin

The New Scientist has an excellent summary of one of the melting Arctic, which is one of the greatest non-linear accelerators of climate change. As the sea ice vanishes, the permafrost melts, which contains over 1000 gigatons of organic carbon. This carbon will be converted to methane by microbes and released to the atmosphere. We need to seriously consider ways to save the Arctic sea ice from completely melting, which may not be possible with emissions reductions alone.

"The danger is that if too much methane is released, the world will get hotter no matter how drastically we slash our greenhouse gas emissions. Recent studies suggest that emissions from melting permafrost could be far greater than once thought. And, although it is too early to be sure, some suspect this scenario is already starting to unfold: after remaining static for the past decade, methane levels have begun to rise again, and the source could be Arctic permafrost.

 

"No one knows for sure how much carbon is locked away in permafrost, but it seems there is much more than we thought. An international study headed by Edward Schuur of the University of Florida last year doubled previous estimates of the carbon content of permafrost to about 1600 billion tonnes - roughly a third of all the carbon in the world's soils and twice as much as is in the atmosphere.

"Schuur estimates that 100 billion tonnes of this carbon could be released by thawing this century, based on standard scenarios. If that all emerged in the form of methane, it would have a warming effect equivalent to 270 years of carbon dioxide emissions at current levels. "It's a kind of slow-motion time bomb," he says.

LOHAFEX Coverage Misses The Point
26 March, 2009 by Kevin

Early results from the LOHAFEX experiment suggest that very little carbon was sequestered because the phytoplankton bloom did consist of diatoms. Diatoms have silica shells that both resist predation by copepods and cause the diatoms to sink rapidly upon their death. Unfortunately, LOHAFEX fertilized a patch of ocean very low in silica content. Prior ocean fertilization experiments, including the 2004 EiFEX experiment led by the same Dr. Victor Smetacek of LOHAFEX, had more silicic acid and observed much higher rates of carbon sequestration.

Coverage can be found at

New Scientist article

and the BBC article

Dr. Ken Coale comments in the BBC article:

But Kenneth Coale, director of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, who has led several iron fertilisation experiments, said the initial burst of phytoplankton growth was consistent with previous findings.

"To date we've conducted experiments in what amounts to 0.04% of the ocean's surface," he told BBC News.

"All have indicated that iron is the key factor controlling phytoplankton growth, and most have indicated that there is carbon flux (towards the sea floor) - this is one that didn't."

A key aim for the future, he said, was to understand better the various ecosystems contained in the ocean in order that fertilisation could be conducted in areas containing the "right" kinds of organism.

World Faces 'perfect Storm' With Population Growth And Climate Change
19 March, 2009 by Kevin

Professor John Beddington, Chief Science Advisor for the UK, says that climate change and a growing world population will cause a "perfect storm" of food, energy and water shortages by 2030.

"We head into a perfect storm in 2030, because all of these things are operating on the same time frame," Beddington told the Guardian.

"If we don't address this, we can expect major destabilisation, an increase in rioting and potentially significant problems with international migration, as people move out to avoid food and water shortages," he added.

Also, the BBC has video interview with Dr. Beddington.

Final Updates From LOHAFEX
18 March, 2009 by Kevin

The LOHAFEX experiment on ocean iron fertilization is over. Key early results are that a phytoplankton bloom was stimulated, and that this caused significant increases in zooplankton abundance. Congratulations to the science team on board Polar Stern. We are looking forward to the research being published.

The final two reports from LOHAFEX are published here:

Weekly Report #7

Weekly Report #8

 

Tyndall Center: UK Gov't Carbon Targets Too Weak
18 March, 2009 by Kevin

The Tyndall Center says that the UK gov't plan to reduce CO2 emissions is too weak to prevent dangerous climate change.

"Ministers are poised to introduce strict limits on UK carbon pollution when they announce Britain's first carbon budget next month. But experts from the Tyndall Centre for Climate ChangeResearch warn today that official advice used to set the budget is "naïvely optimistic" and will not stop dangerous climate change.

"It comes after scientists at a global warming conference in Copenhagen last week warned that emissions are rising faster than expected, and that climate change could strike harder and faster than predicted.

"If we are to play our part in avoiding dangerous climate change, the government must commit the UK to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 42 per cent by 2020 without buying pollution 'offsets' from abroad.

Phytoplankton Declining Near Antarctica, Food Chain Is Being Affected
18 March, 2009 by Kevin

A 30 year time series shows that phytoplankton stocks near Antarctica are declining significantly. This may be causing cascading declines throughout the food web, with both Adelie penguins and krill declining.

"We're showing for the first time that there is an ongoing change on phytoplankton concentration and composition along the western shelf of the Antarctic Peninsula that is associated with a long-term climate modification," Montes-Hugo said. "These phytoplankton changes may explain in part the observed decline of some penguin populations."

European Commission: Geoengineering May Help, But It's Not The Cure For Global Warming
18 March, 2009 by Kevin

The European Commission has a helpful article on the benefits of geoengineering. It can help buy time for society to reduce CO2 emissions, but it's not a panacea. This article is based on the Lenton and Vaughn paper, which ranks geoengineering techniques -- however it's important to note that the paper is an open-access article that is still undergoing peer review. The rankings may change, and they also don't take into account all of the factors needed to decide between techniques (such as cost and environmental efffects).

Severe Global Warming Will Render Half The World Uninhabitable
18 March, 2009 by Kevin

Here's a new potential threat of climate change: the human body will not be able to adapt to higher temperatures, and half the Earth's land surface will become uninhabitable.

Parts of China, India and the eastern US could all become too warm in summer for people to lose heat by sweating - rendering such areas effectively uninhabitable.

Steven Sherwood, a climate expert at Yale University, told a global warming conference in Copenhagen that people will not be able to adapt to a much warmer climate as well as previously thought.

The physiological limits of the human body will begin to render places impossible to support human life if the average global temperature rises by 7C on pre-industrial levels, he said.

DARPA To Explore Geoengineering
18 March, 2009 by Kevin

An official advisory group to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is convening an unclassified meeting next week to discuss geoengineering. Whether this will be helpful or hurtful for the prospects of geoengineering research remains unclear. Geoengineering is polarizing enough as it is without the military involvement. A key issue is whether DARPA is interested in pure research, or deployment.

Jamais Cascio has some insightful comments on this issue in his blog, Open the Future.

Sea Level Rise To Exceed Recent Projections By The IPCC
18 March, 2009 by Kevin

It's no surprise that yet another impact of climate change, sea level rise, is accelerating.

"Scientists at a climate change summit in Copenhagen said earlier UN estimates were too low and that sea levels could rise by a metre or more by 2100.

"The projections did not include the potential impact of polar melting and ice breaking off, they added.

"The implications for millions of people would be "severe", they warned. Ten per cent of the world's population - about 600 million people - live in low-lying areas.

"The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, had said that the maximum rise in sea level would be in the region of 59cm.


Amazon Jungle May Be Ruined By Drought
18 March, 2009 by Kevin

HUGE swathes of the Amazon jungle could be destroyed by drought this century, even if nations make a massive effort to slow down global warming, according to a paper presented at the Copenhagen Climate Congress.

 

"The Amazon report used computer models to calculate the effects of rising temperatures on the rainforest and found that if temperatures rose by 2 degrees by the middle of the century - considered a conservative prediction - between 20 and 40 per cent of the rainforest would die. If temperatures rose by 3 degrees, three-quarters of the forest would die and transform into grassland.

"On any kind of pragmatic time-scale, I think we should see the loss of the Amazon forest as irreversible," Dr Chris Jones, a lead researcher at the meteorological office's Hadley Centre, told the conference.

"The study, due for publication in the journal Nature Geoscience, was the first to measure the expected loss of trees in the Amazon as a result of climate change. The forest contains about 10 per cent of the world's land-based carbon sinks, and earlier studies have shown changes there would affect the earth's climate.

 

Geoengineering Research Program Established At The Tyndall Center
10 March, 2009 by Kevin

A new geoengineering research program has been established at the Tyndall Center at the University of East Anglia. This will surely go down as a milestone.  The institute is named after the scientist that identified the greenhouse effect is now forming a geoengineering institute,  and the Tyndal Center has been viewed as amongst the more conservative (cautious) thinkers in this area.

"The GeoEngineering Assessment and Research initiative (Gear) has now been set up at UEA to assess the projects that have been suggested. Among the geoengineering solutions that have been proposed are putting mirrors into orbit to reflect sunlight away from Earth, and encouraging the growth of plankton by pouring nutrients into the oceans.

“An increasing number of scientists are talking about Plan B now, the big, global geoengineering things,” Professor Davies said. “That's one of the reasons we've set up this centre - not that we think many of the aspects are sensible but because we think it's necessary to assess them.”

Jamais Cascio also has some very insightful commentary on this.

Climos Poster At Copenhagen Climate Congress
10 March, 2009 by Kevin

Climos CEO, Dan Whaley, is presenting a poster at the Copenhagen Climate Congress. It is titled:

“Ocean iron fertilization: recent results, estimates of potential, and economic considerations”
March 10, 15:20, Hall C


Link to poster.

Rainforest Carbon Sinks Significantly Threatened By Global Warming
5 March, 2009 by Kevin

Business Green writes that tropical rainforest carbon sinks are  under substantial threat from climate change.

The impact of global warming on tropical rainforests will be so severe that even increases in temperature that are widely regarded as "safe" could raise tree mortality rates to such a level that almost 50 billion tons of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

That is the sobering warning contained in new research from a team of Australian scientists, which suggests that even a two degree increase in average global temperatures will see the "carbon sink" effect currently provided by the world's rainforests cut in half.

It also calculates that should temperatures reach four degrees above pre-industrial levels, the rate of forest die-off will reach a level where rainforests become a net contributor to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, potentially triggering runaway climate change.

 

Arctic Summer Sea Ice Could Vanish By 2013
5 March, 2009 by Kevin

Reuters posts this article that the Arctic summer sea ice could vanish within five years! Prior estimates recently suggested 10-20 years, but like most warming and ice melting feedback loops, it's happening faster than expected.

"Some of this is unstoppable. We're in a train of events at the moment where there are changes taking place that we are unable to reverse, the loss of these ice shelves, for example," he said.

"But what we can do is slow down this process and we have to slow down this process because we need to buy more time. We simply don't have the technologies as a civilization to deal with this level of instability that is ahead of us."

 

Disappearance of the Arctic summer sea ice will greatly accelerate melting of Arctic permafrost, and bodes ill for the 1000 gigatons of carbon frozen as organic material. Upon warming, this organic carbon will escape as methane and further accelerate warming.

 

 

 

 

Dr. Margaret Leinen To Present At The Copenhagen Climate Congress, March 10-12
4 March, 2009 by Kevin

Next week, a "who's who" of climate change scientists will gather in Copenhagen to synthesize climate change science for the pivotal 2009 COP 15 meeting in December. The findings of the congress will be supplementary to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and will be compiled in a book on climate change to be delivered to the global climate policy makers at COP15. At this meeting, Dr. Margaret Leinen has three presentations scheduled on ocean iron fertilization.

Margaret will present two talks:

“Ocean iron fertilization: an examination of sequestration potential, environmental impacts and feedbacks”
March 10, 17:15, Hall B, Room N

“The London Convention/London Protocol: an ocean institution addresses sub-seafloor CO2 injection and ocean iron fertilization”
March 11, 13:45, Hall B, Room U

Margaret will also present a poster:

“Ocean iron fertilization: recent results, estimates of potential, and economic considerations”
March 10, 15:20, Hall C

Conference website:
http://climatecongress.ku.dk/

Oral session program: http://climatecongress.ku.dk/programme/detailed_programmes/finaldetailedoralprogramme_27.2.pdf

Poster session program: http://climatecongress.ku.dk/programme/detailed_programmes/detailedposterprogrammewithtimeframe_27_3.pdf

 

Nature Geoscience: Editorial On Ocean Law And Ocean Fertilization
27 February, 2009 by Kevin

Nature Geoscience published this very interesting editorial on the recent political controversy surrounding LOHAFEX.

The full text of the editorial is below:

The Law of the Sea


In 2008 ocean iron fertilization was regulated under two sets of international legislation. However, unclear definitions have led to the suspension of legitimate research.


The Law of the Sea

RICHARD CRAWFORD, ALFRED-WEGENER-INSTITUT

Base of the food chain: Antarctic phytoplankton.

When a marine research project is put on hold by the lead country's science ministry, after the research vessel has already set sail, it is clear that communication between scientists, the public and politicians has gone seriously wrong. The suspension of the Indo–German iron fertilization experiment LOHAFEX in January this year is a case in point.

LOHAFEX (taken from loha, the Hindi word for iron, and FEX, which stands for fertilization experiment) aims to study the biogeochemical effects of iron fertilization in the South Atlantic Ocean. Just when the research vessel was about to leave the port, environmental groups protested against the experiment, arguing that the experiment breached a May 2008 decision agreed on by the parties of the United Nations convention on biodiversity. The decision restricts iron fertilization to small-scale, scientific research studies within coastal waters. The protests resulted in a two-week suspension of the experiment, and left 48 scientists onboard the research vessel Polarstern wondering if they were sailing across the South Atlantic in vain.

By early February, the research was back on track. The scientists had made good use of the delay — identifying a suitable target eddy in the region. The team required a stable eddy that contained plenty of nutrients, but was low in productivity. This would allow the iron addition to have a significant effect and provide a fairly closed experimental system. So, when approval of the experiment came through the iron was injected promptly, and has since stimulated the expected plankton bloom. The fate of carbon in this system is now being monitored as planned.

However, the controversy leaves the scientists bruised, the environmental groups wondering whether the UN's moratorium on iron fertilization will prevent premature geoengineering, and the German Federal Environment Ministry — whose support of the environmental protesters was instrumental in achieving the experiment's suspension — unsatisfied.

The rationale of the UN moratorium on ocean iron fertilization was to stop the commercial companies who were getting ready to make money by adding large amounts of iron to suitable regions of the ocean and selling carbon credits in return (Science 318, 1368–1370; 2007). The UN convention on biodiversity decided that the world is not yet ready for widespread fertilization efforts, certainly not on an industrial-type scale: neither the capacity for carbon capture nor the potential adverse effects are sufficiently understood (see Nature Geosci. 1, 722–724; 2008) — an assessment most scientists would agree with.

The January controversy has raged over the definitions of the terms of exemption for scientific studies — 'small-scale' and 'coastal waters' — which were not clarified in the text of the decision. Whether fertilization of an ocean eddy with a surface area of around 300 km2, as planned in the LOHAFEX experiment, can be classified as small-scale is not straightforward, and a location hundreds of kilometres from the nearest land mass is not obviously within coastal waters.

These definitions must be seen in context. If the Southern Ocean were a garden, the fertilized eddy would be the size of a daisy, as pointed out by Karin Lochte — director of the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar Research under whose flag the Polarstern is sailing — in an online newspaper report (http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/0,1518,602984,00.html). The project scientists argue that the water in their study region is considerably influenced from land, by atmospheric deposits as well as some constituents from the water, and can therefore be considered coastal.

Whatever the answer, the row over definitions is missing the point. At least the restriction to coastal waters in the UN moratorium seems arbitrary. The London Convention and Protocol, a legal body within the framework of the international Law of the Sea, which regulates dumping and marine pollution, does not refer to the terms 'small-scale' and 'coastal waters' in its October 2008 resolution on ocean fertilization. Instead, it distinguishes between "legitimate scientific research", which is permitted, and "other activities". As a result of both the chronology and the fact that the international Law of the Sea takes legal priority over the UN convention on biodiversity, this emphasis on legitimate science seems more relevant.

The term 'legitimate', too, will need further definition. Indeed, a working group of the London Convention met in February with the aim of drafting more detailed regulations that will make it easier to assess whether expeditions are scientifically legitimate. However, there is little doubt that LOHAFEX passes this criterion.

Given this situation, the question arises as to why the research was held up in the first place. A press release issued by the German Federal Environmental Ministry to express its regret when the experiment was approved gives a clue. It states that in its own view "attempting to halt climate change by interfering with our marine ecosystems is a disastrous approach. This scientifically unsound thinking has been a direct cause of the climate crisis and is in no way suited to solving the problem." If this is the reason for condemning LOHAFEX, then the statement seems to imply that ocean fertilization (and, by extrapolation, other options of geoengineering) must not be investigated at all.

But closing our eyes will not make global warming go away. In case climate change continues we should at least rule out scientifically, as early as we can, geoengineering proposals that do not work — so that future generations do not go down disastrous routes because there is no more time for detailed studies.

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