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New Scientist: Another "hacking The Planet" Article
27 February, 2009 by Kevin

New Scientist posts this article on the need for geoengineering research, which is noteworthy in that it discusses the "social tipping point" where society is coming to grips with the need to study geoengineering now.

IN A room in London late last year, a group of British politicians were grilling a selection of climate scientists on geoengineering - the notion that to save the planet from climate change, we must artificially tweak its thermostat by firing fine dust into the atmosphere to deflect the sun's rays, for instance, or perhaps even by launching clouds of mirrors into space.

Surely the scientists gave such a heretical idea short shrift. After all, messing with the climate is exactly what got us into such trouble in the first place. The politicians on the committee certainly seemed to believe so. "It is not sensible, is it? It is not a serious suggestion?"

Had the question been posed a few years ago, most climate scientists would have agreed. But the mood is changing. In the face of potentially catastrophic climate change, the politicians and scientists all agreed that since cuts to carbon emissions will likely fall short we need to be exploring "Plan B". Climatologists have hit a "social tipping point" says Tim Lenton of the University of East Anglia, UK.

The article also attempts to rank the various geoengineering techniques, but doesn't explain how the rankings are calculated. Considering that ocean iron fertilization has already had 20 years of research, it's probably much closer to readiness than any other technique. Also the cost of OIF is considerably less than other approaches.

Treehugger: Don't Be A Chicken With Regard To Ocean Iron Fertilization
27 February, 2009 by Kevin

Treehugger posts this very amusing article comparing those opposed to geoengineering research with those opposed to global warming mitigation. It's worth reading from the website to get the full effect.

Foreign Affairs: Geoengineering Research Is Needed
26 February, 2009 by Kevin

The journal Foreign Affairs publishes "The Geoengineering Option: A Last Resort Against Global Warming?" by David Victor, et al. This article makes a strong case for the need of geoengineering research because emissions reductions are not enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. 

"Humans have already engaged in a dangerous geophysical experiment by pumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The best and safest strategy for reversing climate change is to halt this buildup of greenhouse gases, but this solution will take time, and it involves myriad practical and political difficulties. Meanwhile, the dangers are mounting. In a few decades, the option of geoengineering could look less ugly for some countries than unchecked changes in the climate. Nor is it impossible that later in the century the planet will experience a climatic disaster that puts ecosystems and human prosperity at risk. It is time to take geoengineering out of the closet -- to better control the risk of unilateral action and also to know the costs and consequences of its use so that the nations of the world can collectively decide whether to raise the shield if they think the planet needs it.

Legal Analysis Of Recent UN Policy Actions On Ocean Fertilization
26 February, 2009 by Kevin

The American Bar Association publishes this policy analysis on ocean fertilization (see page 8 of the report). A lot has happened in the past year, and this report by K. Russel Lamotte summarizes how the London Convention has taken the lead role in developing effective regulations on ocean fertilization that both encourages legitimate scientific research and while protecting the environment.

"The LC/LP resolution provides a workable framework for OIF research activities, and may also serve as a useful point of reference for regulating geoengineering more broadly. Its virtues as a regulatory regime in this regard include:
• establishment of a mechanism to ensure that environmental issues are assessed in advance
of OIF activities;
• establishment of an enabling framework for scientific research on promising technologies that could prove vital in the battle against climate change;
• it subjects research to an appropriate oversight mechanism with international input; and
• it is dynamic, and can evolve relatively easily in response to changing information.

New Weekly Report From LOHAFEX
26 February, 2009 by Kevin

Another weekly science update from the ongoing LOHAFEX iron fertilization experiment.  This is a very interesting window into how the actual science of ocean fertilzation is conducted. It's not easy work with swirling eddies and frequent storms on the Southern Ocean. This report highlights how much there is to be learned about the biological response to iron and CO2.

Polar Regions Melting Faster Than Expected
26 February, 2009 by Kevin

A summary of research conducted under the International Polar Year has concluded that both the Arctic and Antarctic are melting faster than previously expected

 

"it now appears certain that both the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass and thus raising sea level, and that the rate of ice loss from Greenland is growing"

"New data also confirm that warming in the Antarctic is much more widespread than it was thought prior to IPY."

 

Abrupt Climate Change Caused By Changes In Ocean Circulation
25 February, 2009 by Kevin

New research published in Nature shows how changes in ocean circulation can cause rapid changes in global climate and CO2. The research illustrates the mechanism for "deglaciation" which begins with a warming-induced slowdown of North Atlantic ocean circulation, and then quickly induces warming and CO2 release from the Southern Ocean. The resulting warming-circulation-CO2 feedback can literally end an Ice Age in a few thousand years. As Dr. Jeff Severinghuas writes in a commentary article in Nature:

"There are implications of potential relevance to future climate. First, it is difficult to explain the demise of the ice sheets without the added heating from CO2, confirming that this gas has killed ice sheets in the past and may do so again. Second, the predicted slowdown of Atlantic circulation in the coming century may cause an additional release of CO2 from the ocean that adds to the human-made CO2, a biogeochemical feedback that is not considered in current climate projections.

Telegraph UK: Can Geo-engineering Rebuild The Planet?
17 February, 2009 by Kevin

The Telegraph discusses the growing necessity of geoengineering as way to hold off catastrophic climate change until we can get GHG emissions under control.

The grim conclusion is that while some of these schemes have potential, there is no magic answer. "Geo-engineering is not a solution," says Prof Launder, "but it could give the world a chance to come to its senses. In 50 years we'll have carbon-free energy schemes in place, but we need a solution that can be put into place shortly, and will gain us breathing space."

LOHAFEX Update On Scientific Progess
17 February, 2009 by Kevin

The chief scientists of LOHAFEX have published a weekly report on the ocean iron fertilization experiment. So far, the fertilized patch has resulted in a large bloom of phytoplankton. The report discusses the challenged in conducting science in the Southern Ocean, as well as how the effects of the fertilization will be measured. Very interesting reading...

Southern Ocean CO2 Sink Is Weakening Due To Climate Change
17 February, 2009 by Kevin

New research suggests that the Southern Ocean CO2 sink may be ten times less effective than previously estimated. Increasing winds in the Southern hemisphere have increased ocean mixing, which brings CO2-rich deep waters to the surface. This order of magnitude decrease in the Southern Ocean is quite disturbing, since this is the largest CO2 sink on the planet. The researchers also found that the Northern Atlantic CO2 sink diminished by 50% over the past ten years.

Global Climate Change Accelerating Faster Than IPCC Estimates
15 February, 2009 by kevin

The Washington Post writes that scientists have significantly underestimated the rate and impact of climate change. This has occurred because the recent IPCC Fourth Assessment Report mostly ignored the potential for non-linear "amplifying" feedbacks in the carbon cycle. These feedbacks threaten to be an order of magnitude greater than current human CO2 emissions, and could potentially render irrelevant any future human attempts to reduce CO2 emissions.  Major feedback mechanisms include methane emissions from melting permafrost, catastrophic forest fires from drought-stricken tropical forests, and altered ocean circulation that diminishes the CO2-sink capacity of the ocean. It's good to see this problem hitting the international media.

NSIDC: This Winter Arctic Is "Anomalously Warm".
7 February, 2009 by dan

The National Snow and Ice Data Center issues report on an unusually warm winter in the Arctic, giving rise to concern that the ice reformation which happens may not be as robust this year-- highlighting the potential for further record lows in ice coverage next summer.

Looking further into the future, unless there are several very cold winters and mild summers, Arctic sea ice is unlikely to bounce back in the coming decades.

"The idea of recovery right now seems pretty slim," Stroeve said. "You just don't get very cold temperatures like you used to."

Geoengineering And Geo-ethics
3 February, 2009 by Kevin

Andrew Maynard, of 2020 Science, writes this very interesting blog post on the need of a new field called "Geoethics" to compliment the emerging field of geoengineering. Andrew provides some insightful commentary:

"If we are going to get geoengineering right—and I think in the long-run it is as important as it is inevitable—we are going to need some serious ethical input to its development and application.  And while I generally avoid artificially slicing and dicing ethics, I think it would be no bad thing to further develop the idea of geoethics, as dealing with the appropriateness of decisions that affect societies on a global scale, and possibly over many lifetimes.

"Of course, the concept of geoethics isn’t new—it’s been around in one form or another for decades, usually in the context of general anthropomorphic environmental impacts.  But to my mind the potential impact of geoengineering is such that it is going to need it’s own ethical framework that enables people to agree on a wise course of action.

Google Oceans Greatly Expands Knowledge Of Ocean Science And Environmental Protection
3 February, 2009 by Kevin

Google Earth has released a major update to their software called Google Oceans. It will be interesting to see how oceanographers use this tool to communicate science and environmental issues to the general public. As Dr. Sylvia Earle writes,

“I’ve been struggling my whole life to figure out how to reach people and get them to understand they’re connected to the ocean,” Dr. Earle said.

“But I go to the supermarket and still see the United Nations of fish for sale,” she said. “Marine sanctuaries are still not really protected. Google Earth gets all this information now and puts it in one place for the littlest kid and the stuffiest grownup to see in a way that hasn’t been possible in all precedinghistory.”

Treehugger: Seven Geoengineering Solutions
3 February, 2009 by Kevin

Treehugger writes about seven prominent geoengineering solutions currently proposed. OIF is covered, and TH suggests that OIF still has promise despite a recent spate of negative press, and much more will be known when the LOHAFEX cruise results are released.

Guardian: Ocean Iron Fertilization Is A Viable Way To Sequester CO2
28 January, 2009 by Kevin

The Guardian analyzes the LOHAFEX cruise and recent science article in Nature on a natural iron-stimulated bloom near the Crozet Islands in Antarctic waters.

"In the latest research, published tomorrow in Nature, the Southampton scientists studied a natural source of iron into the sea near the Crozet Islands at the northern boundary of the Southern Ocean, 1,400 miles south-east of South Africa. Their work showed that iron – which is added by the volcanic rocks to the north but not to the south of the island – successfully tripled the growth of phytoplankton and also the amount that sank to the bottom of the sea.

The Guardian writes that question still remain on how OIF would best be implemented to ensure safety and efficacy, and present a quote by Dr. Andy Watson on recent LOHAFEX controversy:

"It's interesting that [the Polarstern] has been at the centre of a lot of controversy because they wanted to do an artificial experiment with 10 or 15 tonnes of iron. As this [Southampton] paper shows, much larger amounts of iron are being added daily by natural processes around the Crozet Island, and it doesn't seem to have done the Antarctic ecosystem any harm."

Political Controversy Over LOHAFEX Decision
27 January, 2009 by Kevin

The German approval of LOHAFEX has sparked quite a controversy in Germany, where the Science and Environmental Ministries are at odds. Meanwhile, the process of stimulating the phytoplankton bloom with iron has been initiated, as detailed in the Times of India by Co-Chief Scientist Dr. Wajih Naqvi:

"The last few days were full of anxiety. But we were confident that this would pass, and did not allow ourselves to be distracted from the task at hand. As a result, the suspension has not affected our work schedule at all. Right now, of course, everyone is excited and greatly pleased," Prof Naqwi, who teaches at National Institute of Oceanography, said.

 

NY Times: Emission Reductions Are Not Enough
27 January, 2009 by Kevin

The NY Times has a great article on the recent National Academies' study suggesting that CO2 emissions are not reversible without some form of atmospheric CO2 removal.

Dr. Solomon said it would be wrong to view the report as evidence that it was already too late to do much good by reducing carbon emissions. “You have to think of this stuff as being more like nuclear waste than acid rain,” she said.

Acid rain began to abate when pollution contributing to it was limited. But just as nuclear waste remains radioactive for a long time, the effects of carbon dioxide persist.

“So if we slow it down,” she said, “we have more time to find solutions.”

For example, engineers may one day discover ways to remove the gas from the atmosphere. But “those solutions are not now in hand,” Dr. Solomon said. “They are quite speculative.”

Interview With Catherine Brahic: OIF Is The "most Doable"
27 January, 2009 by Kevin

Catherine Brahic is interviewed on geoengineering by New Hampshire Public Radio. The seven-minute podcast covers topics such OIF being the "most doable" of all of the geoengineering schemes, the need for careful research of geoengineering, the importance of developing regulations in parallel with research, and that no serious proponents of geoengineering believe that it can replace the need for GHG emission reductions. Catherine has recently covered OIF and LOHAFEX.

LOHAFEX Given Green Light To Proceed
26 January, 2009 by dan

The German-Indian LOHAFEX experiment has finally gotten the necessary environmental and legal clearances from the German government to proceed.  The full press release is here

The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association can conduct the ongoing Polarstern expedition „LOHAFEX”. Independent scientific and legal reviews sought by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety concluded that the iron fertilisation experiment LOHAFEX is neither against environmental standards nor the international law in force. There are thus no ecological and legal reasons to further suspend the iron fertilisation experiment LOHAFEX.

Reacting to the positive news from the Federal Ministry of Research Dr. Karin Lochte, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute, said: “We are glad that the experts have fully confirmed our own ecological risk assessment. Now an independent party has also made it clear that the environmental impacts in the study area will be negligibly small.” LOHAFEX will provide valuable data for climate and earth system research if the experiment is conducted as planned.

Lochte further stated: “The controversy on LOHAFEX has been basically reduced to a political conflict that we as a research institute cannot solve. This situation is unusual for the Alfred Wegener Institute. Nevertheless, I am absolutely convinced myself that only independent scientific studies like LOHAFEX will help in arriving at a substantiated and fact-based political decision on whether or not iron fertilisation in the ocean is a useful technique that could contribute to climate protection.”

“We are relieved, of course, by the decision of the Federal Ministry of Research to proceed with the experiment,” Lochte commented. This decision will send out an important signal to the international scientific community that Germany remains a reliable partner even in difficult political situations. The decision is also of great importance for our Indian partner, the National Institute of Oceanography, which is bearing half the personnel and financial costs of this experiment and for whom this is the main contribution to the Indo-German cooperation.

“I wish to strongly emphasise that our experiment was developed on the basis of purely scientific issues in order to better understand the role of iron in the global climate system. A large number of reports are circulating on the Internet and in the international press claiming that the Alfred Wegener Institute is conducting the experiment to test the geo-engineering option of ocean fertilisation as a means to sequester large quantities of carbon oxide from the atmosphere. This is definitely not the case,” Lochte defends herself against these insinuations. “We are upset that such a controversial discussion was ignited on the basis of wrong, internationally propagated information. We hope that through this experiment we will be able to contribute to a better understanding of ocean biogeochemistry and pelagic ecosystem functioning.”

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