Warming Up

Subtropical Storm Alberto

At the end of May there was an unusual event unfolding in the Western Caribbean. It was the formation of the first named storm of the 2018 hurricane season. The hurricane season is typically a period of the annual formation of tropical cyclones (low pressure systems). It runs from early June to late November. There have been four consecutive years where the storms have formed before the official start of the season. An area of low pressure first formed over the south west Caribbean Sea on May 21 but tracked north and west to become stronger. It was classified as Subtropical Storm Alberto on 25 May. The warm water of the Gulf of Mexico was a higher temperature than average which assisted the formation of a strengthening tropical storm. On the 30 May the storm had reached Lake Michigan with more power than in the Gulf. This is the unusual feature of Alberto.

The storm hit land in Florida and continued to track northwards all the way to Lake Huron. It was the first tropical depression to go to Lake Huron before June 1st since records began in 1851. See this Weather Network article. Alberto was a subtropical storm which has elements of warm air and colder air above, unlike tropical storms where the air above and below is warm. Unusually it was reclassified to become a tropical storm inland over Tennessee. It continued to be a tropical storm up to Lake Michigan. After this it was loosing power transitioning to become a post-tropical cyclone.

Normally the storm will typically be a subtropical storm over land as the air mixture changes from fully warm air to a mix of colder and warmer air. It appeared that Alberto was following this pattern with the cyclone weakening to become a subtropical depression shortly after landfall in Florida but later gained momentum and became tropical over Tennessee. The reason for this storm tracking further north could be down to something known as the “Brown Ocean Effect” where the land’s surface are similar to the sea (being a source of warm conditions at the ground level – as the sea would be – and in the air above).

Details of the 2018 Hurricane Season will be provided on this Wikipedia Page. Alberto starts off the 2018 season earlier than usual and in a most strange way.

Melting Antarctic Ice

Ice melt in the antarctic is accelerating. Over the last 25 years three trillion tonnes of ice have melted. Satellites monitoring Antarctica show that around 200 billion tonnes of ice a year are melting with the water going into the ocean. This large scale ice melt is having an impact on sea levels. They are increasing at a historically significant rate of around 0.6 millimetres per annum. Despite the increase sounding tiny, this is a threefold increase from just 6 years ago when a previous survey was undertaken.

A Nature report entitled “Mass Balance of the Antarctica Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017” highlights the driver of sea level change and reviews the state of the ice sheet. The mass balance illustrates whether an ice sheet is growing (gaining ice), shrinking (losing ice) or remaining stable. Satellites have been used to determine the Antarctic Ice Sheet’s changing volume as it changes through ice melt and other processes. The study also reviewed flow and gravitational attraction with modelling of the ice surface mass balance. This highlighted that it had lost 2,720 ± 1,390 billion tonnes of ice over the period 1992 to 2017. This would correspond to an increase in mean sea level of 7.6 ± 3.9 millimetres. Ice loss from the ice sheet has increased from 53 ± 29 billion to 159 ± 26 billion tonnes per year from 1992-2017. Part of the reason for the increased loss of ice is the ice shelf collapse.

Ice sheets in Antarctica hold enough water to raise global sea levels by up to 58 metres. Floating ice sheets that have melted have been responsible for triggering inland ice flows and accelerating the movement of glaciers into the sea. This is an example of a positive feedback event whereby changes lead to further changes. In this case melting ice is accelerating other ice flows and drawdown which then lead to further faster melting of this source of ice.

A number of satellite monitoring techniques have been developed over the years to monitor the changes in the Antarctic Ice Sheet. These have been enhanced over the years and this study is providing an inter-comparison of 12 estimates that are based upon models. Methods combined studies for three geographical extents covering these ice sheets: East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet (APIS). Mass changes where calculated over common time frames. Cumulative changes were calculated to show that ice is being lost at an increased rate. There is a dominance of solid ice discharging into the ocean (see for example an article posted previously: Iceberg!).

Measuring the changes across the Antarctic present several challenges due to the size of the continent. There are now many reliable techniques that are improving that demonstrate the ice melt. This will have consequences for global sea levels and more than likely accelerate rising levels that may have been under estimated in previous studies. Information such as this will eventually feed into InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports which give an idea of the state of the climate. The IPCC will soon be publishing a report on the impact of a 1.5 Celsius increase in temperature (see below).

IPPC Special Report Due In September

The InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due to publish a special report in September 2018 on the impacts of 1.5 Celsius global warming above pre-industrial levels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report will consider what would need to be done to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius. The report has a rather long title “Global Warming of 1.5°C: an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty”.

The report will consider the following topics:

  • Summary for Policy Makers
  • Chapter 1: Framing and context
  • Chapter 2: Mitigation pathways compatible with 1.5°C in the context of sustainable development
  • Chapter 3: Impacts of 1.5°C global warming on natural and human systems
  • Chapter 4: Strengthening and implementing the global response to the threat of climate change
  • Chapter 5: Sustainable development, poverty eradication and reducing inequalities
  • FAQs

This report follows on from the Paris Climate Conference in 2015 and will review the likely pathway of a global increase in temperatures of 1.5 degrees which is the likely scenario (although this may well be exceeded). The report will aim to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change and will be in context of sustainable development and eradication of poverty.

Posted in ACD, Cities, Climate Change, Earth Science, Islands, Storm Surge | Leave a comment

Tracking Shipping Emissions From Space

Sentinel-5P Tracks Ship Emissions

The European satellite Sentinel-5P has recently been commissioned as part of the EU Copernicus programme. It has the ability to track shipping from trails of nitrogen dioxide left from exhaust emissions whilst on their journeys. Ships generally leave a trail when they burn marine diesel in their engines. The satellite has an instrument called Tropomi which is capable of measuring nitrogen dioxide emission levels. Single images can record the data which highlights pollution, unlike previous satellite recordings where many images had to be combined to record the pollution. Shipping is important as it is the world’s sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Monitoring shipping across the majority of the planet (71% of the globe is water or ocean) will enable better pollution research to be undertaken. It will enable a better understanding of where pollution hot spot problems are.

Tropomi stands for “TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument”. The troposphere is the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere. It is also where nearly all weather conditions take place and contains around 75% of the atmosphere’s mass and 99% of the total mass of water vapour and aerosols. It ranges in height from around 6 kilometres to 18 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. It varies according to latitude and time of year (the polar extent may be just 6 kilometres during the winter).

The Copernicus Sentinel-5P (P for Precursor) satellite is on a seven year mission. It will record a number of chemical constituents of the troposphere as well as other physical features that include direct sunlight. The satellite instrument is also monitoring sulphur dioxide, formaldehyde, ozone, surface UV-B, aerosols, carbon monoxide and clouds. This is the first of the atmospheric composition Sentinels and will increase our understanding of the composition of the atmosphere and how it is changing or being altered by human activities. Daily global observations will be used for improving air quality forecasts as well as for monitoring the concentrations of atmospheric constituents. The instruments also allow for trend monitoring which will enable effective implementation of policies that are designed to reduce our atmospheric emissions. Monitoring will also be able to view volcanic ash clouds, detect high UV radiation levels (that could affect people’s skin) as well as improve our understanding of atmospheric chemical and dynamic processes. It will allow better monitoring of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and clouds.

Tropomi has an ability to record the atmosphere to molecular levels. A number of high-tech innovations such as immersed grating (where direct sunlight and reflected sunlight maybe measured) and free form optics have been designed by Dutch engineers. This allows a high quality of measurement. The ability to make very detailed daily maps of global air quality to a resolution as small as a couple of city blocks gives an idea of what Tropomi has to offer.

Already maps have been created that illustrate where the nitrogen dioxide levels are high on land. Images have shown the relationship between nitrogen oxide emissions in India and where there are coal power stations (that create the emissions).

This image shows nitrogen dioxide emission concentrations over Europe in November 2017. Red and yellow areas are the higher concentrations. Nitrogen Dioxide Over Europe (November 2017) This picture is copyright of ESA, 2017.

Recent calibration of the instrumentation means that it is possible to measure column concentrations through the troposphere. Typically this would be from Earth’s surface up to about 10 kilometres. This ability to map through such a large height will be invaluable to measure and record emissions. The instruments go through a process to ensure that data being sent back is of the requisite high quality. There are five functionalities that the European Space Agency (ESA) mission performance centre requires:
1. Calibration – update on-board and on-ground configuration data so that product quality requirements are met.
2. Geophysical Validation – to assess, by independent means, the quality of the generated data products. Validation provides feedback to calibration and data processors corrective and perfective maintenance activities.
3. Quality Control – routinely monitor the health of the instrument, the detection of instrument degradation and to check if the derived products meet the quality requirements during the mission lifetime.
4. Data processors and tools corrective and perfective maintenance – to manage the updates of the processors, quality control and calibration tools together with all auxiliary files in order to maintain data quality requirements.
5. Communication – the objective is to provide ESA and other stakeholders with relevant information on the status, data usage and data quality of the Sentinel-5P mission.

Tropomi helps in the understanding of the biggest atmospheric pollutants (nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter (PM)). Already it is showing how beneficial the data can be. Examples of European air quality, the ability to see nitrogen dioxide from shipping and Indian power stations show how valuable this instrumentation will be to science.

International Agreement To Reduce Shipping Emissions

Global shipping has, finally, agreed to make cuts to emissions following negotiations at the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) in April 2018. The IMO has adopted an initial strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and “phase them out, as soon as possible in this century” (source IMO). Previously shipping emissions have been exempt from climate agreements. Now emissions are to be reduced by 50% (compared to 2008 levels) by 2050. Shipping, like aviation, is a major emitter of greenhouse gases internationally. Overall there are similar levels of emissions from international shipping as there are from Germany (according to this BBC report).

The Marshall Islands who have the second largest register of shipping in the world will, ironically, be devastated should sea levels rise as a result of continuing further emissions. The islands are, like several other Pacific atolls, low lying with an average altitude of just over two metres. They welcomed the initial agreements are require that they should go further.

Already there are IMO regulatory agreements to use low sulphur fuel from 1 January 2020. This may have an impact on global oil supplies; refining capacity will be need to be found given the huge quantities of fossil fuel being used by this sector. Further details are explained in this oil price article. As a result of this change Middle Eastern suppliers may lose out as they provide higher sulphur content crude oils.

In March 2018 the IMO agreed mandatory data collection and recording for fuel oil consumption of ships. This recording will provide information on what further changes can be adopted in the future and on how successful the policy is. Data collection will begin in January 2019 and ships will have to report on an annual basis to the IMO. Mandatory Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plans (SEEMP) will be required and will provide a methodology to report data to the ship’s flag State. The IMO is responsible for preventing marine and atmospheric pollution from ships.

The IMO agreement should be the start of big emissions cuts from this sector. There is now a need to innovate and create new designs of ships which are more streamlined and with cleaner engines. The engines could be powered by hydrogen, batteries, or the wind or perhaps a hybrid system. This initially agreed strategy is due to be revised by 2023 with the aim of reducing green house gas emissions even further.


Whilst the IMO agreement mandates a reduction in shipping emissions the Sentinel-5P Tropomi instrument enables monitoring of the emissions on a daily basis. Logged data will be comparable with satellite measured pollution information. The satellite data will improve our knowledge of a complex area of science. Each will hopefully compliment each other leading to reduced emissions and pollution from a sector that needs to act.

Posted in ACD, Air Quality, Arctic, Data Quality, Earth Science, Europe, Geography, Hydrogen Fuel, Islands, Mapping, Politics, Pollution, Technology, Weather Forecast | Leave a comment

Venezuela’s Ecological Crisis

Venezuela’s Oil Industry Leaves Polluted Legacy

In Venezuela is Lake Maracaibo, the largest lake in the South America. It covers around 13,210 square kilometres and is not actually a lake as it is connected to the Gulf of Venezuela by the Tablazo Strait. The strait is 5.5 kilometres wide at the narrowest. The lake, which has brackish tidal waters, is one of the oldest lakes on Earth at an estimated age of 20-36 million years. The lake was once isolated and previously did not connect to the sea hence being a historic lake.

The very short term history of the lake has seen it been exploited for its oil wealth. It was in 1914 that the first oil well was sunk to exploit oil here. The region here grew rich and benefited the local population as well as Venezuela. More recently the situation has been reversed though mainly down to political mismanagement. Extraction of oil means the lake is gradually subsiding as the land settles into ground that once contained oil. This can cause localised flooding.

Recently the oil industry that had made Venezuela wealthy has declined with the near bankrupt state oil company PDVSA neglecting to maintain a network of underwater pipes that transport the oil. The result is “multiple spills, everywhere” according to the UK Times newspaper (17 March 2018). The oil spills are polluting Lake Maracaibo and affecting the fish within the bay. This also has an impact on people trying to fish for food as the Venezuelan economic crisis worsens as outlined below.

According to the article in Mongabay the 25,000 kilometres of pipelines have not been maintained since 2009. In July 2010 there was a major oil spill in the lake adding to the pollution (referred to in this Huffington Post article). Another, earlier, spill in 1997 saw 25 thousand barrels of oil released into the water. It took until 2015 to get compensation for that spill. Fish are contaminated and there are air quality issues caused by toxic fumes from the oil seeping from leaking pipelines. The pollution is not a new phenomenon and there have been incidents that have affected the water quality over many years from the 1930s. Since 1914 15,000 oil wells have been drilled in the lagoon. Many wells are abandoned now. Water is polluted with toxic deposits.

Lake Maracaibo once supported a healthy commercial fishing industry but today individuals risk the toxic pollution to get some food, if they are able to catch any fish at all. Commercial catches used to be around a tonne of fish per week. Today the catches rarely exceeds 300 kilograms. Sometimes the daily catch is less than 20 kilograms of fish. Once common commercial fish species such as Bocachico and shrimp have almost entirely disappeared in the lake area.

The impact of the oil prices declining was mentioned in this previous post which considered the economic turmoil within the country. It highlighted the crippling inflation rate (which has worsened due to printing more money). Inflation has hit 6000% and could hit 13000% by the end of 2018. Since 2016 the situation has not improved as can be seen in this Business Week article. Maintenance of oil facilities has recently stopped. Maintenance workers are no longer employed having been made redundant due to the political and economic situation in Venezuela. Those remaining oil workers can no longer afford to live or even buy basic food provisions. There are reports of “children dying of malnutrition and adults sifting garbage for table scraps” as people try to survive. Oil production has declined mainly due to corruption within the oil industry. The population is suffering from the economic consequences with 64 percent of the country’s residents losing weight during 2017. Oil workers have become malnourished. The Maduro Government regime has purged the industry, although the Times notes that this may have been due to errors made by his predecessor President Hugo Chavez. Hyperinflation within the country has made wages worthless. Oil output from 2001-2017 has declined by around 33%. It is set to decline further this year.

Lake Maracaibo and its people are suffering from prolonged oil pollution. The pollution has been exacerbated by political, economic and geographical factors. Geography of the basin restricts polluted water being exchanged with the sea. Linked to these factors are decisions to reduce maintenance which has led to human and environmental tragedies around the heartland of one of Venezuela’s main oil production areas. People and the environment share a similar fate in the Lake Maracaibo area: both are experiencing extreme stresses that should not continue.

Posted in Earth Science, Economic Crisis, Energy, Geography, Politics, Pollution, Resources | Leave a comment

Time For “Talanoa Dialogue”

Three Questions

The United Nations Climate Change has a 2018 Talanoa Dialogue Platform. Talanoa dialogue is based upon the traditional word, talanoa, from across the Pacific and Fiji that means to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. The purpose is to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions for the collective good. The process of Talanoa involves the sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling.

Launched at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP (conference of parties) 23, in Bonn, Germany during November 2017 the Talanoa Dialogue is a mandated process. It was requested by parties to take stock of the collective efforts towards the long-term goal of the Paris climate change agreement. It helps to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) which are the post-2020 climate actions countries intend to take. Before the NDCs actions have been developed as intended nationally determined contributions or INDCs. It was introduced by Fiji at the COP 23 meeting in Bonn.

The dialogue is based around three questions:

1. Where are we?
2. Where do we want to go?
3. How do we get there?

Inputs are provided in a form that is clear, concise, and actionable. The process of dialogue aims to build trust and advance knowledge through empathy and understanding. There is no room for critical observations or blaming others. It aims to work towards the greater good.

The decision to engage in Talanoa Dialogue was taken at various conference of parties (COP) meetings beginning with COP21 (the 21st meeting held in Paris 2015) which decided to facilitate dialogue among the parties during 2018. It was to take stock of the collective efforts of parties in relation to progress towards long-term climate goals. It was also to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the goals. During COP22 (held in Marrakech 2016) it was mandated to undertake inclusive and transparent consultations within parties on the organisation. In COP23 the facilitative dialogue was launched and was to begin in January 2018. Source: UNFCC

The output of the dialogue will be discussed at the COP24 meeting in 2018. This is to be held in Katowice, Poland. Output will be from the parties (as of the parties in the COP meetings) and the “non-party stakeholders”. The non-party stakeholders include development and environmental institutes including The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) for example.

The non-party stakeholders have already made some submissions (see this UNFCC link). Examples include restricting the supply of fossil fuels through supply side policies. These should aid a managed transition away from the use of fossil fuels. This will aim to meet the goals of the Paris COP21 meeting where there needs to be a swift and dramatic reduction in fossil fuel usage. This suggested course of action has been put forward by the Stockholm Environment Institute. Other ideas include going well beyond the targets (IDDRI) and accelerating the transition to low carbon societies, as proposed by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES). These institutes have created some impressive dialogues that offer practical solutions to the pressing issue of rising global temperatures.

The three questions of the Talanoa Dialogue could be used for personal carbon reduction plans and contributing towards reducing global greenhouse gases. The institutes have given some good ideas which could be used at an individual level. Ultimately the global NDCs (the nationally determined contributions) will need to translated to regional and local levels. Individuals are able to help with these aims much better if they are in a local context than at an international level. Individuals can do much to make a difference and to encourage others in order to keep the international temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels or less. There should be deeper and accelerated emissions reductions before 2030.

Examples include switching to a more sustainable transport system especially in urban environments. Assisting in the shift towards more sustainable technology investment and finance. Considering ways to obtain clean energy that does not produce carbon dioxide emissions. Our relationship to water usage may have to change as water resources could become more scarce. Contributions to the common good and reducing debt may help support others to develop effectively within the context of the United Nations sustainable development goals.

The talanoa dialogue platform with its three questions can be powerful for anyone who wants a sustainable future with a climate that is not going to dangerously change. Ask yourself: “where are you?” and then “where do you want to go?” or consider the future you want. After these questions have been answered, it may become more apparent on how to get there.

Posted in ACD, Carbon Dioxide, Cities, Climate Change, Energy, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Transition Movement | Leave a comment

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam & Other Stories

Ethiopia’s Nile Dam

Last month the 2020 Visions blog post considered sustainability in Africa along with other areas. It considered the UNA Climate 2020 report which noted that Ethiopia is experiencing much economic growth which is largely sustainable. Part of that growth is from large sustainable infrastructure projects around the country. This month’s blog post considers the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance dam but, like all so called sustainable projects, there can be unforeseen consequences on the environment and elsewhere. In the case of the dam it may be environmental change, sediment build up, reduced water flow downstream of the dam and several other impacts including political consequences. Egypt is concerned at the scale of the dam and the impact it may have on the water supply of that country. Ethiopia hopes to reduce flood risk downstream of the new dam. Locally around 5,000 to 20,000 people are likely to be relocated as a huge lake forms behind the dam.

The Ethiopian Grand Renaissance dam, which will generate 6000 megawatts of electricity, is under construction. Construction began on this major infrastructure project in 2011. The plan to generate clean renewable hydro-electricity is causing a political stir in the region. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd) is being constructed near the Blue Nile River, Ethiopia. Egypt, whose people rely upon the water from the Nile, has objected to the involvement of a visiting delegation from Saudi Arabia. Egyptian journalists, professors and media personalities all condemned the visit and urged Saudi Arabia not to get involved in the massive construction project. The $5 billion project which is being financed by Ethiopian government bonds and private donations has the power to transform Ethiopia into an African power house. Relations between Egypt and Ethiopia have not been good since 2013 and the reason is mainly over the disputed water resources from the Nile.

Water resources in the region are likely to be contested given that so many countries rely on the water from the Nile river. Egypt uses the water for irrigation and for the water supply in Cairo – its capital city. Water resources have always been an issue in this arid part of the world. Historically there was a 1929 water agreement to allow countries to have a share of water from the Nile. In the late 1950s the agreement was renegotiated. Water will always be critical in this region and that importance will increase with a changing climate. For further information on the project and some of the potential political ramifications see this International Business Times article

CrossRail: The New Cross London Railway

At the end of 2018 the new CrossRail service is to begin. The new electric railway crosses under the centre of London and will open up many new passenger journey opportunities. The £14.8 billion Crossrail project is currently Europe’s largest infrastructure project and creates 42 kilometres of new railway tunnels under London. The project has been built by an international team who have come from many different countries.

In December 2018 the CrossRail line, also known as the Elizabeth line, opens between Paddington station and Abbey Wood in South East London. It will extend beyond Paddington station to Heathrow Airport Terminal 4 to the west of the city. There will be three routes that initiate the CrossRail network services as follows:

  • Paddington (Elizabeth line station) to Abbey Wood via central London
  • Paddington (mainline station) to Heathrow (Terminals 2, 3 and 4)
  • Liverpool Street (mainline station) to Shenfield

During May 2019 direct services operate from Paddington to Shenfield and Paddington to Abbey Wood. There will initially be fifteen trains per hour travelling in new tunnels under the centre of London. This number will increase to 24 trains per hour providing a very high frequency service later on.

The line will change the famous Underground map for good and will form a new purple colour line that crosses the centre of London. The Underground map has continued to evolve over the years since Harry Beck introduced the first iconic map back in 1933 (this transport for London link reviews the history of the map). This image shows the proposed new map:
New CrossRail map

Source: TFL

The CrossRail tunnels are going to be used to trial the generation of electricity by means of grids of lamellae-covered plastic sheets that generate power from the winds that follow trains in the tunnels. Piezo-electric textiles will generate power from the winds. There are installations of the lamellae-covered plastic sheets within tunnels on the new Crossrail routes. The draft in the tunnels causes the protrusions to flutter which then generates electricity. Whilst the energy generated is in smaller quantities when compared to traditional wind power solutions or solar there is some benefit from this new “free” energy generation system. Further details can be reviewed in this Wired article.

When services do start later in the year they will be operated by a consortium of companies with a stake held by the Chinese government. The New York Times proclaims “Beijing will also operate the new Crossrail Line, which will start its central London services in December”. See the article that reflects upon the national ownership of the UK’s railway since privatisation in the 1990s.

CrossRail will increase London’s rail capacity by around 10% and will offer many new journey opportunities for people travelling to and across the UK capital city. Estimates suggest that the project may bring an estimated £42bn to the economy of the UK. It will certainly improve journey times upon slow Underground journey times which are due to old infrastructure originally built in the nineteenth century. The Underground network has stops at many closely located stations. With CrossRail people making east – west journeys will be able to travel across London quicker than they would have previously without having to change from rail to Underground at the London terminals.

Both CrossRail and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are examples of sustainable infrastructure projects that involve many nationalities and have had or will have impacts much beyond their sites.

2017 Was One of the Hottest Years on Record

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed 2017 to be among the three hottest years ever recorded. It was the hottest El Niño year. The global average temperature of the year was 1.1 Celsius above the pre-industrial temperature record. The cause is “continuing long-term climate change [from] increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases”.

The year 2016 is still the warmest year on record (it was 1.2 Celsius above pre-industrial era). The Paris climate agreement is aiming to limit global temperatures to below 2 Celsius or, ideally, to an increase of up to no more than 1.5 Celsius above the pre-industrial average temperature. Given this data from the World Meteorological Organization, it appears that the 1.5 Celsius target could soon be exceeded. The report highlights 17 out of the 18 hottest years on record have been since 2000. It also notes the degree of warming over the last 3 years has been “exceptional”. Linked to the increased warmth has been more severe weather around the world which has included some extremes such as hurricanes. The New York Times suggests that 2017 natural disaster losses was in the region of $330 billion according to the reinsurer Munich Re. 2017 was second only to 2011 which included the Japanese tsunami damage. The insurer noted volatile conditions are likely to become more common.

The WMO combines global data from many countries and uses reanalysis techniques to combine data from across the world. The data uses millions of meteorological and marine observations with models to produce a complete reanalysis of the atmospheric conditions. Data from satellites is also used and the method allows predictions even in regions that are “data-sparse” such as the Polar Regions. Further details of the WMO report can be read on the WMO web site press release.

The WMO data confirms what we already know – there is now an even greater need to take action to avoid more warming.

Posted in ACD, Carbon Dioxide, Climate Change, Data Quality, flood, Geography, Mapping, railways, Smart Cities, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Transport, tsunami | Leave a comment

2020 Visions: The Power of Setting Goals

2020 Visions

Two projects have strong visions for the year 2020: one is an OpenStreetMap Canada initiative to map all Canadian buildings by 2020 and the other is the United Nations Association United Kingdom (UNA-UK). UNA-UK produced a major report entitled Climate 2020: Facing the Future in 2015. Both these initiatives will be considered in terms of their visions for 2020, which is now just two years away. Each project has set a challenging goal to be achieved or worked on towards 2020.

Canada: All Buildings Mapped By 2020

OpenStreetMap is an international open source map. It is often described as the Wikipedia of maps. One OpenStreetMap community, in Canada, has a strong vision to map the entire country’s buildings. The Building Canada 2020 initiative or “BC2020i” is an OpenStreetMap community project. The vision has emerged from a number of factors and through collaborative discussions. It also intends to explore new ways to produce open data for the benefit of many communities. Open data is information that is freely available without restrictions imposed upon it and use thereof. The aim is to create a data infrastructure that can be utilised in many projects from both private and public sectors.

The following diagram illustrates the concept of the plan showing a number of interested parties all overlapping on the open building data.
Building Canada 2020

The project aims to create benefits for multiple stakeholders and to create “civic data” i.e. open, accurate and complete building information that will have a grid reference and address as a minimum. There are also opportunities to continue with dialogue and collaboration between different sectors to the benefit of all. As there is currently no open buildings database within Canada the project will create a valuable set of buildings information for the future for many stakeholders.

Building information, it is envisaged, will come from three main sources into OpenStreetMap. The three sources of data include:

  • Imports from open data sources
  • Creation from satellite aerial images in OpenStreetMap
  • Local surveys or local knowledge

Open data imports may be from open Government open data sources for example but are imported under strict conditions and follow procedures laid down for this action. Creation of buildings from satellite imagery is often a largely manual task of tracing building outlines and then adding further building information when known. An example maybe the attribution of the number of stories in a building and an address. The final type of collection of building data is one sourced from local surveys. This is a strength of OpenStreetMap as local people carry out a survey and capture information on the ground. OpenStreetMap was founded on this approach to mapping and the approach continues to be a significant valuable contribution to the project.

A slightly updated approach to creating data from satellite imagery or local surveys is to use machine learning algorithms. These techniques make the laborious task of digitising many buildings much easier and clever technology can considerably reduce the time taken to capture many buildings. Other techniques and events being discussed include mapping parties and mapathons. The mapping party is where a group of people get to survey and area with an element of fun or perhaps competition too. The mapathon is more of a coordinated mapping event perhaps with many people mapping a given area for an evening or over a series of sessions. These sessions typically are held indoors allow learning of the open source tools and techniques that can be used for mapping buildings. The event is focused on a single mapping outcome.

The OpenStreetMap Wiki page has full details of the ambitious project to map all Canadian buildings. It suggests a further 10 million or so buildings need to be added to complete the goal. It is certainly an ambitious target but one that would yield benefits and bring interested stakeholders together.

Climate 2020: Facing the Future

The United Nations Association (UNA) is a UK charity that aims to build support for an effective United Nations. It calls for strong action on climate change as well as joined up thinking on peace, development and human rights. The Climate 2020 Facing the Future report continues the work from the post 2015 Global Development Goals. The report, which was published in 2015, includes the potential for interaction between the climate agreement and the sustainable Development Goals. Fifty expert contributors have produced a number of articles that provide practical actions, case studies and ideas that are equitable and achievable.

This report is a mix of science, cross cutting themes, impacts, remedies and considers ways to create a low carbon world. The report is varied in its content and there are plenty of good suggestions that will help the world to develop in a sustainable manner. The report also campaigns for a safer, fairer world in addition to one that is more sustainable. The fact that no nation is or will be safe from climate change is highlighted in the report is mainly a result of a globalised world and trade system. The Global Carbon Project has noted that there are many tonnes of carbon emissions that are effectively being transferred around the world (mainly from Asia to the USA and Europe for example). There is the differentiation between production emissions, i.e. where the emissions are produced, against the consumption emissions or where the products are being consumed. When plotted out it shows that Europe and the USA have higher consumption emissions than production emissions whilst China’s situation is the reverse with lower consumption emissions. There is detail in the Global Carbon Project’s Global Carbon Budget 2017 Report.

Within the UNA Climate 2020 report Ethiopia is highlighted where economic growth and sustainability are seen as a viable option through zero-carbon growth where there is no increase in the net carbon emissions from today’s levels. A green growth path as been proposed for Ethiopia becoming a middle-income country by 2025. There is a customised plan that involves private companies and the Government and there is not just a single top down or bottom up approach to development: it has to be a combination. The aim is to have a climate-resilient green economy (CRGE). This sort of economy should be able to minimise economic shocks caused by a changing climate. Ethiopia is particularly likely to be affected by climate change, or anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). This is a sensible approach to development based upon a twenty first century model that takes account of the reality of the world’s predicament with an increasing rate of warming. It moves away from previous development models hopefully for the better.

With 2017 seeing an increase in the carbon dioxide levels after four years of stabilising levels there is a high risk that we will not be able to contain a global temperature rise of the stated 1 and a half degrees Celsius. As emissions from human activities continue to grow, which were estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius let alone the desired and necessary 1.5 Celsius. It was estimated that global carbon emissions grew by 2% in 2017. Details were noted in this BBC report. In addition The World Meteorological Organisation has confirmed 2017 as one of the three warmest years on record. 2017 was the warmest year without an El Niño event, which can temporarily boost global annual temperatures. The UNA 2020 climate and sustainable development goals are even more urgent now and may have some wisdom to impart for the benefit of all.

The strength of the report is the fact that there are solutions and examples of what mankind can achieve along with what could be done and is being done. It also pushes for the policy agenda to be supported by science. This is once again important given evidence presented by the likes of the Global Carbon Budget and the World Meteorological Organisation. Climate 2020: Facing the future has more of a holistic approach by considering many ways we can work together and learn from the best examples and practices from all around the globe. The 50 experts bring a cross disciplinary approach which should be encouraged.

Posted in ACD, America, China, Data Quality, Europe, Mapping, OpenStreetMap, Sustainable Development, Zero | Leave a comment

Megatrends, Solar Trains and World’s Largest Battery


An interesting article from the Guardian newspaper highlights seven megatrends that could benefit global society in the future as well as leading to reduced carbon emissions across the planet. The trends are mostly positive examples of how global society is beginning to make the transition towards technologies that have a lower impact on the climate system.

The megatrends have been spurned by trillion dollar investments and are rising exponentially which would be a concern if some were rising in a linear trajectory. Many forms of low carbon technology are growing at an exponential rate. Much new investment is going into new technologies and there is an active move towards lower carbon technologies from those such as coal which is declining. A Mission 2020 initiative notes that we need to alter the global greenhouse gases curve towards a downward trend as opposed to the upward curve by 2020. This action will help to limit the global temperature increases and this is where the megatrends apply. 2020 is seen as a climate turning point in order to restrict global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5 Celsius.

The seven megatrends identified in the report include the following:

  • Avoiding Methane – cutting out the meat and embracing vegetable alternatives such as “plant based meat”.
  • Renewable energy – prices falling leading to strong growth.
  • Coal power – declining more rapidly than envisaged.
  • Electric cars – growth helping to improve the air quality as well as reduce emissions.
  • Battery technologies growing – due to prices which have fallen significantly.
  • Negawatts – reducing and stopping energy consumption is saving energy which is becoming more common.
  • Forestry – forests areas globally remain in decline and is the megatrend that we need to reverse.

Each of these trends with the exception of the decline in global forestry is assisting with the battle to avert extreme climate changes. The trend towards plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products is growing rapidly across a number of areas including yoghurt and cheese, meals, mayo and eggs, meat and milk. The greatest benefit of the shift to plant based food would be to reduce the methane emissions from animals.

Renewable energy has benefitted from rapidly falling prices: both solar panels and wind turbines have experienced plunging prices. The solar cost has fallen by 90% over the past decade. In 2016 around 66% of all new power was from renewable sources. Linked to the growth of renewable power is the decline of coal – this dirty fossil fuel is no longer expanding as much as was anticipated even a few years ago. If renewable price reductions continue then the cost of coal will be increasingly be unable to compete on price.

Electric car sales are growing rapidly: China is dominating the growth and is selling as many electric cars every month as the combined total of Europe and the USA. Growth in Europe and the USA is continuing and more and more manufacturers are building electric models. Some companies such as Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover have announced ceasing production of pure fossil-fuelled cars within three years. There are also proposed shifts in the power from fossil-fuel driven boats and planes to ones driven by wind power or electric technologies respectively. Battery technologies are benefitting from price reductions in lithium-ion batteries which have fallen by 75% over the last six years. Battery storage and smart grids are changing the way that power is supplied: this will enable renewable power to be stored. Power reduction through insulation and more efficient electrical items continues but there is a role of not using power too. In order to reduce European energy consumption by about 40% in 10-15 years there could be a step change by making the most efficient appliances available as the new standard rated appliances.

Forestry destruction is continuing globally. The areas where forests once stood are used for ranching and farming but also for timber. This generates about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. Annual tree losses have approximately doubled since the year 2000. There is a lack of investment in wood production and alternative land uses have poured more money into destroying the woodland environment to grow crops such as palm oil or soy and to graze cattle. In some countries such as China, India and South Korea there has been much tree planting. These combined have removed more than 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The 2015 Global Forest Resource Assessment does show that the rate of deforestation is declining and that certain areas of the world are gaining more forests. Those areas that are losing most forestry include the tropics: South America (mainly Brazil), South East Asia and Africa.

The United Nations Food And Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have produced a map of the change in forest resources. They have produced the following infographic that illustrates a declining net loss of the forest areas of the world:

Global Forest Resource Assessment
Source: United Nations FAO, 2015.

Full details of the seven megatrends can be reviewed at Guardian newspaper’s Seven Megatrends article. Two examples of the megatrends in renewable energy systems and battery technologies are illustrated below.

Solar Trains?

In an interesting proposal whereby solar panels, generating photo voltaic (PV) electricity, would be installed alongside railway lines to power trains has been proposed. This Guardian article considers how it may work: solar powered trains.

The proposal could be rolled out to transport infrastructure around the world where trains or trams are electric. The estimates suggest that putting solar infrastructure next to railway lines could feed directly into the energy systems that power transport. Estimates in the UK suggest networks could be powered by around 15%-20% renewable energy from the solar panels. In reality it may be more like 10% of the energy required. Some of the railways rely on third rail DC (direct current power) and not AC. This would mean that the DC power from solar panels could feed directly into the railway’s electric sub station infrastructure without needing to convert the energy to AC and back again.

The 10:10 web site details how the scheme could work and points to the role of community energy companies being able to take a lead role in this area.

World’s Largest Battery

One of the criticisms of renewable energy is that if the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine then there will not be any power generated. Changes are needed to balance the supply and demand of power. In South Australia there is a new example of energy storage that is doing just that.

South Australia now has the world’s largest lithium-ion battery and it is now producing clean power as of early December 2017. Described as a “landmark moment for renewable energy”, the 100MW/129MWh battery farm has enough storage capacity to power the equivalent of 30,000 homes. The Hornsdale wind farm, near Jamestown, is situated several hours north of Adelaide and takes up less than 10,000 square meters of land. Installation was very rapid – the battery was delivered in just 63 days, ahead of the State Government’s deadline of the beginning of the Australian summer.

The battery ensures that there is clean and affordable wind energy going into the grid 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The battery will store the excess power and provide a backup when there is no wind blowing. Tesla has partnered with the French energy utility company Neoen to deliver the battery which should assist in the South Australia’s power shortages. The Tesla Powerpack fast ramping capability means that it can dispatch large amounts of power quickly and reliably.

Further details of the scheme can be reviewed on the Hornsdale Power Reserve web site. This is an example of how renewable power can be used to store power, in this case from the Hornsdale wind farm, when demand is low and dispatch it when demand is high thus balancing the electrical load from the wind turbines which can produce up to 309MW of power.

This technology is demonstrating that the shift towards renewable energy systems should be even more reliable in the future and batteries allow for peaks and troughs in the supply and demand for electricity.

Posted in Air Quality, America, China, Electric Cars, Energy, Europe, Geography, Megatrends, PV, railways, Renewable Energy, Zero | Leave a comment