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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #42A

Posted on 16 October 2014 by John Hartz

15 years from now, our impact on regional sea level will be clear

Human activity is driving sea levels higher. Australia’s seas are likely to rise by around 70 centimetres by 2100 if nothing is done to combat climate change. But 2100 can seem a long way off.

At the moment, regional sea-level rise driven by warming oceans and melting ice is hidden by natural variability such as the El Niño, which causes year-to-year changes in sea level of several centimetres.

So at any particular place, the sea level might go up in one year, and down in the next. On Australia’s northwest coast, for example, the sea level was three centimetres below normal during 1998, but four centimetres above normal the following year.

At the same time, human-caused climate change is driving sea level relentlessly upwards in most regions, eventually pushing it far outside the bounds of historical variation. But when will the difference become clear?

15 years from now, our impact on regional sea level will be clear by John Church and Xuebin Zhang, The Conversation AU, Oct 12, 2014

California heat delivers a costly blow to coastal San Diego

San Diego, known for having one of the most desirable climates in the United States, set a record over the summer that will never be broken: It had zero days that were cooler than normal. None. Four were exactly the climatological norm, and 90 were warmer than average.

For 13 days this year, including three days this month, Lindbergh Field, the city's official weather station near the bay, has hit 90 degrees or hotter. The average number of 90-degree days in an entire year: 1.3.

Those stats are no surprise to Carolyn Ingham, who lives in the city's North Park neighborhood, where few people have—or have ever needed—air conditioning.

"I feel like all I've been doing is overheating and sweating," Ingham said. "It really has just been unbearable."

California Heat Delivers a Costly Blow to Coastal San Diego by Robert Krier, Inside Climate News, Oct 14, 2014

Deep Argo: Probes in ocean abyss explore mysteries of global warming

Nearly a quarter century ago, Greg Johnson was a freshly minted PhD in oceanography puttering north in the South Pacific Ocean. About every 35 miles, the boat he was on stopped and scientists dropped an instrument overboard to measure temperature and salinity at regular intervals all the way to the seafloor.

This process was repeated in a crisscross pattern throughout the world's oceans over the course of the 1990s. "At the end of it, we had kind of a blurred snapshot of the state of the ocean in that decade all the way from the surface to the bottom from coast to coast," he explained to NBC News.

The following decade, scientists re-sampled some transects for the sake of comparison. Taken together, the measurements collected during the World Ocean Circulation Experiment are the best — and for most of the oceans only — data available on temperature and salinity 1.4 miles below the surface.

Today, Johnson is spearheading a project to deploy a global array of robotic floats that will probe to a depth of 3.75 miles, allowing scientists to continuously monitor changing temperature and salinity in the entire ocean except for the deepest trenches.

Deep Argo: Probes in Ocean Abyss Explore Mysteries of Global Warming by John Roach, NBC News, Oct 12, 2014

Expanding Antarctic sea ice is flooding ‘warning bell’

The spreading sheet of sea ice around Antarctica could be viewed as a napkin being draped over a monstrous water pistol. If, that is, the gelid napkin was a self-assembling machine that could reach beneath itself, aim the squirt gun at the planet’s shorelines, and squeeze the trigger.

Research suggests that the expansion of Antarctic sea ice heralds ocean changes that will hasten ice sheet melting, by trapping heat beneath a layer of cold surface water, worsening flooding around the world.

The stunning outward spread of ice floes atop the seas surrounding the South Pole has been caused by cold freshwater flowing out of melting Antarctic glaciers. (Shifting winds may also be playing a role in the breaking of previous Austral sea ice records.) That melting is forming layers of unusually cold and relatively salt-free surface waters in the region, the tops of which are being frosted with layers of blue-white ice.

Expanding Antarctic Sea Ice is Flooding ‘Warning Bell’ by John Upton, Climate Central, Oct 12, 2014

Global climate deal should be legally binding in parts: U.S.

he United States wants to broker a global agreement on climate change that would contain some legal elements but would stop short of being legally binding on an international level, the country's top diplomat on climate change issues said.

Todd Stern, the State Department climate change special envoy, addressed one of the thorniest issues in ongoing talks to secure a global plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions - its legal form.

Stern said a recent proposal by New Zealand for countries to submit a "schedule" for reducing emissions that would be legally binding and subject to mandatory accounting, reporting and review offers an approach that could get the buy-in of countries like the United States that are wary of ratifying an internationally binding treaty.

The content of the schedule itself and the actions each country pledges would not be legally binding at an international level.

Global climate deal should be legally binding in parts: U.S. by Valerie Volcovici, Reuters, Oct 14, 2014

Owen Paterson’s objections to the Climate Change Act: Some context

Former environment minister Owen Paterson has been in the papers over the weekend. In an article on the front page of yesterday's Sunday Telegraph he  says we won't be able to keep the UK's lights on unless we scrap the Climate Change Act. This is a law requiring the government to cut the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, which he himself voted for.

Paterson is due to give a lecture to climate sceptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation on Wednesday, where he will expand on this theme. In advance of his talk we've taken a look at what he has to say.

Owen Paterson’s objections to the Climate Change Act: some context by Simon Evans and Mat Hope, The Carbon Brief, Oct 13, 2014

Pentagon signals security risks of climate change

The Pentagon on Monday released a report asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. It also predicted rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises.

The report lays out a road map to show how the military will adapt to rising sea levels, more violent storms and widespread droughts. The Defense Department will begin by integrating plans for climate change risks across all of its operations, from war games and strategic military planning situations to a rethinking of the movement of supplies.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking Monday at a meeting of defense ministers in Peru, highlighted the report’s findings and the global security threats of climate change. 

Pentagon Signals Security Risks of Climate Change by Coral Davenport, New York Times, Oct 13, 2014

Plants absorb more CO2 than we thought, but …

Through burning fossil fuels, humans are rapidly driving up levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn is raising global temperatures.

But not all the CO2 released from burning coal, oil and gas stays in the air. Currently, about 25% of the carbon emissions produced by human activity are absorbed by plants, and another similar amount ends up in the ocean.

To know how much more fossils fuels we can burn while avoiding dangerous levels of climate change, we need to know how these “carbon sinks” might change in the future. A new study led by Dr. Sun and colleagues published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows the land could take up slightly more carbon than we thought.

But it doesn’t change in any significant way how quickly we must decrease carbon emissions to avoid dangerous climate change.

Plants absorb more CO2 than we thought, but … by Pep Canadell, The Conversation AU, Oct 15, 2014

Recent sea level rise 'unusual'

Sea level rises seen in the past 100 years are not within the natural fluctuations seen over past millennia, a new study suggests.

The findings, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that during the past 6000 years, sea levels are unlikely to have fluctuated by more than 20 centimetres over 200 years.

"Compared against this 'background' signal the recent rise of about 20 centimetres in 100 years recorded by tide gauges is anomalous," says co-author Professor Kurt Lambeck, of the Research School of Earth Sciences and the Australian National University.

"We see no evidence in the geological record from about 6000 years ago to 100-150 years that resembles the rise that we see in the last 100 years."

Recent sea level rise 'unusual' by Anna Salleh, ABC Science, Oct 14, 2014

Scientists: EPA underestimating renewables potential

Generating electricity in the U.S. can be a lot greener and more climate-friendly than the Obama administration expects it to be through 2030, researchers at the Union of Concerned Scientists said in an analysis released Tuesday.  

The report says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set each state’s renewable energy production targets far too low in the proposed Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration’s effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. The plan’s goal is to reduce CO2 emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a science advocacy organization, says states can reduce emissions even more, by an average of 40 percent by 2030, mainly through the expansion of renewable power production far beyond what the Obama administration may expect from each state. 

Scientists: EPA Underestimating Renewables Potential by Bobby Magill, Climate Central, Oct 14, 2014

The planet just had its warmest Sep on record, continuing hot streak

This past September was the warmest since records began in 1880, according to new data released by NASA this weekend. The announcement continues a trend of record or near-record breaking months, including May and August of this year.

The newly released data could make it very likely that 2014 will become the warmest year on record.

The Planet Just Had Its Warmest September On Record, Continuing Hot Streak by Nick Visser, The Huffington Post, Oct 13, 2014

Warming endangers a crucial Yellowstone tree

If you've hiked in the Northern Rockies above 9,000 feet, you've hiked among a whitebark pine forest.

And if you've hiked in the Rockies since 2009, you've likely hiked through a dead and dying forest, felled by a widespread outbreak of the mountain pine beetle.

At a scientific conference Tuesday at Mammoth Hot Springs, near Yellowstone's northern boundary, biologists cited climate change as a major driver. From the 1980s to today, temperatures have only gone one direction: Up.

The death is a major concern for conservationists, biologists and public land managers, for the whitebark pine supports the entire ecosystem. Bears, jays and other forest creatures depend heavily on pine seeds for their diet. 

Without the seeds, biologists fear what's called a "trophic cascade," where the entire food chain shifts as a primary producer drops out.

Warming Endangers a Crucial Yellowstone Tree by Douglas Fischer, The Daily Climate/Climate Central, Oct 12, 2014

Will climate change denial become a political liability?

Climate change denial will switch from being a litmus test for major Republican politicians to a liability in the near future.

At least that's the hypothesis that Todd Stern, the United States envoy on climate change, shared with a packed auditorium at Yale Law School in New Haven on Tuesday.

"We have all seen in recent years the abruptness with which hot-button issues can suddenly become the stuff of consensus," Stern told students, faculty and members of the public. "I doubt, even a year from now, whether major political candidates will consider it viable to deny the existence of climate change."

Will Climate Change Denial Become a Political Liability? U.S. Treaty Envoy Thinks So by Katherine Bagley and John H. Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News, Oct 15, 2014

Wind power is cheapest energy, EU analysis finds

Onshore wind is cheaper than coal, gas or nuclear energy when the costs of ‘external’ factors like air quality, human toxicity and climate change are taken into account, according to an EU analysis.

The report  says that for every megawatt hour (MW/h) of electricity generated, onshore wind costs roughly €105 (£83) per MW/h, compared to gas and coal which can cost up to around €164 and €233 per MW/h, respectively.

Nuclear power, offshore wind and solar energy are all comparably inexpensive generators, at roughly €125 per MW/h. 

Wind power is cheapest energy, EU analysis finds by Arthur Neslen, The Guardian, Oct 13, 2014

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