Running the numbers on an insane scheme to save Antarctic ice

Running the numbers on an insane scheme to save Antarctic ice

Enlarge / Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier sheds some icebergs. Could we… sort of… put them back? (credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

Imagine, if you will, the engineers of the king’s court after Humpty Dumpty’s disastrous fall. As panicked men apparently competed with horses for access to the site of the accident, perhaps the engineers were scoping out scenarios, looking for a better method of reassembling the poor fellow. But presumably none of those plans worked out, given the dark ending to that fairy tale.

A recent study published in Science Advances might be relatable for those fairy tale engineers. Published by Johannes Feldmann, Anders Levermann, and Matthias Mengel at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the study tackles a remarkable question: could we save vulnerable Antarctic glaciers with artificial snow?

Keeping our cool

Antarctica’s ice is divided into two separate ice sheets by a mountain range, with the smaller

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Warming climate likely leading to larger California fires

Warming climate likely leading to larger California fires

Enlarge / The 2018 Camp Fire burned more buildings and claimed more lives than any other fire in California’s history. (credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

The last couple years have seen devastating and record-setting wildfires in California, leaving many in the region to wonder what to expect in the future. Elsewhere in the US West, research has found that fires were increasing due to a combination of climate change and other human activities, which exacerbate both the fires and the damage they cause. But California is a different beast from much of the West and requires its own analysis.

A new study from a team led by Park Williams and John Abatzoglou—also the scientists behind a recent study of western US fires—uses government records of California wildfire areas going back to 1972, along with weather data and climate model simulations. The work breaks California into four different regions based

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How much carbon does our lumber sequester?

How much carbon does our lumber sequester?

Enlarge (credit: US BLM)

Carbon sequestration is generally thought of as locking carbon out of the atmosphere semi-permanently by incorporating it into rocks or forests that are then preserved. But there’s a large cache of carbon in a form that’s not especially permanent: the wood we use in our buildings and other structures. Some of that lumber has been in place for hundreds of years, while other bits of wood are used temporarily and then burnt or left to decay, which rapidly releases their sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that figuring out how much carbon ends up sequestered through our use of wood products is not a simple task. Undaunted, Craig Johnston and Volker Radeloff of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have decided to tackle it. By viewing that carbon as a pool that’s being drained and filled at the same time,

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Analysis says we need to stop building fossil fuel plants now

Analysis says we need to stop building fossil fuel plants now

Enlarge / Wind turbines spin as steam rises from the cooling towers of the Jäenschwalde coal-fired power plant in the distance. (credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Most of the world’s nations have agreed to limit warming to 2°C, with a stretch goal of keeping things below 1.5°C. Since we have a good sense of how carbon dioxide drives that warming, it’s possible to estimate how much more CO2 we can add to the atmosphere before those goals are exceeded. People have referred to that limit as a “carbon budget.” The budget is useful, because it allows us to evaluate different ways of keeping below it. If cars are electrified by 2030, for example, it might give us more time to figure out how to handle air travel.

Now, a group of researchers has compared that carbon budget to the existing sources of emissions from fossil fuels, including power plants,

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Creative thinking: Researchers propose solar methanol island using ocean CO₂

Creative thinking: Researchers propose solar methanol island using ocean CO₂

Enlarge / Artist’s rendering of solar methanol islands. (credit: Novaton)

Imagine an open ocean, Sun beating down overhead, with 70 islands of solar panels, each 100 meters (328 feet) in diameter, bobbing silently out toward the horizon.

The cluster of islands is churning out electricity and sending it to a hard-hulled ship that acts as an oceanic factory. This factory uses desalinization and electrolysis equipment to extract hydrogen gas (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the surrounding ocean water. It then uses these products to create methanol, a liquid fuel that can be added into, or substituted for, transportation fuels. Every so often, a ship comes to offload the methanol and take it to a supply center on land.

This plan was outlined in a PNAS paper published this week, which suggests it’s an option for addressing the global economy’s over-reliance on liquid fossil fuels. 

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The oceans absorbed extra CO₂ in the 2000s

The oceans absorbed extra CO₂ in the 2000s

Enlarge / Plankton swirls in the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Somalia. (credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

Tracking climate change means (among other things) tracking annual changes in global greenhouse gas emissions and the corresponding increases in the atmospheric CO2 concentration. This can get confusing, though, because there isn’t a perfect year-to-year correlation between the two.

Our CO2 emissions are released into the atmosphere, but the atmosphere interacts with other parts of Earth’s carbon cycle, which pull some CO2 out. In the short term, the two sinks that matter most are the oceans and the ecosystems on land. CO2 dissolves into seawater to maintain an equilibrium with the air, and photosynthetic organisms on land and in the oceans take in CO2. Shifting ocean currents or weather on land that affects plant growth will alter the amount of CO2 being taken out of

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IEA: Nuke retirements could lead to 4 billion metric tons of extra CO2 emissions

IEA: Nuke retirements could lead to 4 billion metric tons of extra CO2 emissions

Enlarge / A view of the decommissioned Duke Energy Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant. (credit: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

A report released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA) warns world leaders that—without support for new nuclear power or lifetime extensions for existing nuclear power plants—the world’s climate goals are at risk.

“The lack of further lifetime extensions of existing nuclear plants and new projects could result in an additional four billion tonnes of CO2 emissions,” a press release from the IEA noted.

The report is the IEA’s first report on nuclear power in two decades, and it paints a picture of low-carbon power being lost through attrition (due to the retirement of aging plants) or due to economics (extremely cheap natural gas as well as wind and solar undercutting more expensive nuclear power for years in some regions).

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Natural cycles had little to do with 20th-century temperature trends

Natural cycles had little to do with 20th-century temperature trends

Enlarge (credit: UpNorthMemories)

Reconstructing crime scenes is more or less what most geoscientists do for a living. Sometimes the “whodunnit” revolves around a mass extinction event 66 million years ago, and sometimes it’s about an extreme weather pattern just last week. But as with a homicide investigation, geologists also have to consider natural causes.

A new study led by the University of Oxford’s Karsten Haustein takes a look at the influence of natural causes on the temperatures of the last century. While natural variability inherent to the climate system was thought to play a role in some features of our temperature record, the new results suggest that the record is dominated by external forces—though some of those are natural, too.

Explaining wiggles

It’s well-established that human activities are the dominant cause of recent climate change. But looking at the instrumental temperature record, which goes back to the late 1800s,

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People drop support for a carbon tax when getting less effective “nudges”

People drop support for a carbon tax when getting less effective “nudges”

Enlarge / A carbon tax would address carbon emissions across sectors, from industry to transport and residential use. (credit: Shiyang Huang / Flickr)

“Nudge” policies have come in for a lot of positive attention. Small tweaks like changing the default on organ donation to opt in (still allowing people to opt out if they choose) seem to be effective at boosting pro-social behaviors. Nudges also work for things like saving for retirement or using less energy while still allowing people freedom of choice.

But nudges like these are “being used as a political expedient,” wrote economists George Loewenstein and Peter Ubel in The New York Times in 2010. Nudges, they wrote, allow “policymakers to avoid painful but more effective solutions rooted in traditional economics.” Now, Loewenstein has teamed up with colleagues David Hagmann and Emily Ho on a series of studies showing how this operates. Their results, published today

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Human influence on drought started a century ago

Human influence on drought started a century ago

Enlarge / The expected pattern of human influence on drought (brown is more drought, green is less drought) for regions with long-term records. (credit: Marvel et al./Nature)

Droughts are weather extremes that are hostile enough that plenty of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic stories use near-permanent droughts for apocalyptic backdrops (Waterworld notwithstanding). And for good reason—drought is part of the reality-based picture of modern climate change, as combined trends in rainfall and evaporation are bringing drier conditions to some regions. But understanding trends is a challenge: more rain is being delivered to other regions, drought conditions are naturally variable, and historical rainfall data is limited.

Researchers have typically turned to tree rings for archives of past droughts. By compiling records from many trees, historical maps called “drought atlases” have been built for a number of regions and can cover nearly a millennium. These can provide incredible historical information, including events

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