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Sea Ice in Arctic Reaches Record Lows

The bad news about Arctic ice levels continues this year with some reports suggesting that rising temperatures are creating a record low.  March is usually about he time when Arctic sea ice levels should peak but looking at current projections it’s not looking good.  Of course it’s best to wait for the real results to be confirmed but overall it’s a pretty bleak picture.

This is not a seasonal problem, the record lows are not a particular point in time which can be  explained away from individual weather events.   The real events and the worrying trend can be seen in this short time lapse video which demonstrates how Arctic sea ice has been receding over the last two decades or two.  Witness the acceleration over the last few years –

In the video, the seasonal ice is dark blue, the old ice (classified as 9 years or more) is in white. The patterns of melting are fairly well established however you can see the startling changes in this video. It was produced by the climate.gov team using data supplied by Mark Tschudi from the University of Colorado.

Seasonal ice is of course expected to some extent to change, the oldest ice only erodes due to serious climate changes. The older the ice the stronger and more resilient it is, it is simply much less likely to melt than the less established seasonal ice formations. Over the last few years the proportion of arctic ice which can be classed as ‘old’ has dropped significantly. In 1984 it was estimated that 20% of arctic ice was over 4 years old, now that figure has fallen to something of the order or 3% – a worrying statistic.

There are numerous other studies, reports and research which confirm these results and the overall trend. If the temperatures continue to rise, then these figures will continue to follow the same trend. There is unlikely to be much persistent ice left in the arctic in a few years, plus continual falls in seasonal ice.

There are more reports on the BBC climate page, with links to reliable sources of information. For those unable to access these sources because of current location – this works for me – BBC iPlayer Ireland.

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Battle Lines are Drawn for Arctic

With the news that the Russians are stepping up their military presence in the Arctic circle, it’s worth watching this excellent documentary from Fault Lines at Aljazeera.

Following the initial deadline imposed by the UN of 2013 for scientific claims to the seabed of the Arctic (and hence much of the mineral resources it holds) – two sides expect contrasting concerns of global economic bonanzas and the ecological damage it’s likely to cause.

The main players are of course those with geographic boundaries to the Arctic like Canada, Russia, Norway and Greenland. They are all keen to establish their territories so that their respective economies can profit from the region’s resources. The unfortunate irony is that the damage being caused to the planet by burning such fossil fuels is actually causing the ice to melt and making those hidden in the Arctic seabed more accessible.

The ice caps melting is also opening up production and supply routes with lots of new shipping routes being established where there was once only ice.

It’s an interesting watch and of course a very worrying one, for anybody concerned with the huge ecological risks of mining in this priceless area.  It’s a few years old now but is worth watching and certainly adds to the more current news and reporting conducted by both Al Jazeera and also on the BBC News online.

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Shell Admits Defeat on Artic Drillling

The statement from the Shell official, was simple yet it masked a complex and difficult situation for the oil giant.  “We had hoped for more,” he stated as it was announcing the company was pulling out of it’s multi billion dollar Artic drilling project.

Environmental groups across the world, were jubilant and rightly so as this represents a huge victory for the hundreds of protesters and lobbyists who have campaigned against the ill-advised exploration.  There is no doubt that this pressure was a huge influence in the decision irrespective of the prospect of oil and gas within the region.

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The last results came from a test drill of the coast of Alaska, and it represents the end of the company’s interest in the area for the immediate future. Of course this was still primary a commercial decision, the idea that the oil company is interested in the massive ecological risks that were involved is unlikely.

The main reasons are that not enough oil was found combined with the huge ‘operating costs of drilling in such an area.  This of course could easily change,  the oil price is currently at a decade long low, drilling technology will change and of course our reliance on fossil fuels is likely to increase as they dwindle.

We are still addicted to burning fossil fuels and as such the Artic Ice is still at risk, let’s still remember that up to 13% of the world’s reserves of oil still lie in this region.  When profit is concerned, the environmental arguments are likely to be brushed aside.  The “Shell NO” campaign has undoubtedly  has had an impact, it would have been a huge risk for the company’s reputation to push forward.

We should thank all those who protested – from the Kayakers who risked their safety in the port of Seattle to the thousands of other protesters who have campaigned in a myriad away to stop the huge risks to this extremely environmentally sensitive region.

Who knows what finally made Shell pull the plug on the billion dollar exploration projects.   You can see some of the announcement and reactions from various campaign groups on the UK media – the BBC is a good start and you can use this UK TV application- here to access the programmes irrespective of your location.

Further Information on Watching British TV Online

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Albedo

The energy that warms Earth’s lower atmosphere comes from the Sun, but the lower atmosphere will not warm directly. This area of the atmosphere heats from underneath. As the Earth warms, it emits some longwave radiation back outside, heating up the lower atmosphere above it. This energy radiates from the atmosphere back into space.

The Earth will not consume the electromagnetic energy that hits it all. This really is significant for the World’s energy balance, because just energy that is absorbed leads to the temperature of the Earth/atmosphere system. The percentage of the overall energy reflected by the Earth (or some item) is known as the Albedo.

A totally absorptive surface has an albedo of 0, an item using an albedo of 0.5 consumes as much energy as it reflects back, and a totally reflective surface has an albedo of 1. In case the World had an albedo of 1, no energy would be absorbed by it in the Sun as well as the planet will not be a lot hotter.

The Earth’s average albedo is determined by the composition and physical state of its own surface. Procedures and multiple variables can alter the albedo of a surface with time. For instance, as soot and grime settle on fresh ice or snow, and as water turns to ice the albedo increases, the albedo decreases. Likewise, vegetation cover affects the albedo of the landscape: deserts have albedos of 20- savannas, 35% are around 15%, and rainforests are around 5%.

Seasonally, winter snow and ice cover increases the albedo of Earth’s temperate and polar areas. Exactly the same occurs with all the coming and going of ice ages, on geological timescales. The Earth’s albedo is influenced by particles. Soot particles consume energy directly, and from combustion have low albedos, leading to heating. Aerosols including sulfates that are airborne powerfully reflect shortwave radiation, so the Earth’s overall albedo raises. Clouds, which are made from condensed water vapor, additionally raise the Earth’s albedo.

Human activity effects vegetation cover, land use, as well as the concentration of soot particles, aerosols and water vapor . This makes the result of human activity on the Earth’s albedo evaluate that is hard.

Further Reading –

Accessing BBC iPlayer Environmental News from USA – http://iplayerusa.org/

Access to US and UK Documentaries on Netflix – http://www.anonymous-proxies.org/2016/07/what-are-residential-vpn-services.html 

Alternative Sources via Residential VPNs

To access the latest environmental news sourced from one of the oldest broadcasters in the world you cab visit this site to access the BBC from outside the UK – BBC iPlayer Abroad

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albedos

What’s the Albedo effect?
Albedo is the portion of incoming radiation which is reflected back off any given surface.

Exactly why is the Albedo effect significant?
You’ve got probably heard how solar radiation is reflected by the ice caps and thus why their melt is this kind of huge problem. Fresh snow has an albedo of about 0.9.

References

BBC Climate Change – http://www.iplayerabroad.com

IP Cloaker – http://identityvoucher.co.uk/

Best VPN for Netflix – http://www.theninjaproxy.org/uncategorized/vpn-wars-whats-the-best-vpn-for-netflix/

 

 

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Looking Back to the Kyoto Protocol Extension

Possibly the most important climate talks in a generation have just finished in Doha, Qatar.  The climate talks were hosted by the UN and have seen an unparalleled shift in principle from some of the richest and polluting countries on the planet.  This will be remembered as the summit were for the first time, richer countries agreed that compensation should be paid to poorer countries for lost growth and productivity linked to climate change.

This is no small, fringe deal but includes over 200 countries and the Kyoto agreement is extended to 2020.  It could be easy to criticise this protocol, and many do citing the lack of genuine cuts as opposed to the high ideals.  But the reality is that Kyoto is the only game in town, it is the only vaguely legally binding agreement for reducing emissions and combating global warming.

The latest deal covers both Europe and Australia, although these areas only cause 15% of the world’s emissions. There is an urgent undertaking to update the protocol with a new treaty which bound all nations rich and poor and the expectation that will be implemented by 2015.

There were no strict financial resources allocated through this meeting, there is a suggested figure of 10 billion dollars to be spent every year in order to combat global warming.  There are still rifts within the organisations in the agreement though, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus nearly derailed the agreement by insisting on credits for their previous emissions cuts.  Fortunately the chairman restarted the meeting and swiftly bypassed all the objections by Russia, Poland and the linked states.

The key passage is referred to in the protocol as the Loss and Damage mechanism, it holds the key to bringing all countries on board.  Many envrionmentalists see this as a key watershed and a vital point in the talks.  There is more information on the meeting on the BBC website and the Iplayer application – if  you have trouble viewing the site because of your location then check this out, if you enabled a proxy server based in the UK then you should have full access.  There is also still a clip of the applause when the chair stifled the Russian led revolt – his name is Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah – ironically a former head of the OPEC oil cartel.

 

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New and Surprising Results from Cryosat

The European Cryosat mission has been focussing on analysing the sea-ice cover in the Arctic recently.  New data has been produced from the spacecraft which uses it’s radar to estimate the thickness of the ices has noticed some alarming results.  The data points at a very substantial reduction in the volume of the ice particularly during the months of Autumn.

In fact the amount has fallen nearly a third compared with the last known data on this, which was produced covering 2003-2008. The fall in levels for the winter months is not quite as dramatic however. Much of the loss seems to have occured in specific regions though, mainly on the Canada Archipelago and also some areas to the North of Greenland.   We obviously have much more data about these levels since we had the technology of satellites to measure them,   But the Cryosat report has only covered the last two years.  At the moment it would be difficult to tell if  these fluctuations are significant until there is enough data to look at the long term trends.

Cryosat was established by the European Space Agency in 2010. The satellite sends down a radar pulse towards the ice floes and then measure the results with a built in altimeter.  If you are interested in seeing a paper discussing the findings in depth you can find them on this site –http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/grl.50193/abstract, the report was compiled by Professor Lazon who unfortunately died in an accident at the beginning of the year.

The polar scientist is a big loss to the Cryosat mission as he has developed a lot of techniques to help the project work effectively.  We still don’t know exactly how the change in the ice cover might have an effect on the atmosphere and the Arctic ocean, but the Cryosat data will definitely play an important role in understanding this.

If you want to read more and keep up to date with this research there are lots of resources on the BBC website in the environmental section.  Also many of the documentaries and reports are viewable on the BBC Iplayer application.  Unfortunately you won’t be able to access these if you’re based outside the UK, although I found this useful method to allow me to watch Iplayer on my IPad.  It uses a VPN server to hide your IP address so even when I’m based in the US, it looks like my IP address is originating from the UK.

John Tallgrass