West Antarctic Glacial Retreat and 30 by 30 Commitment To Nature

West Antarctic Glacial Retreat Increasing

The Getz region in Western Antarctica has seen an increased rate of glacial melt over the last two decades. A detailed study into 1000 kilometres of coastline investigated the rate of ice decline (or retreat) for glaciers that are melting. Since 1994, they have collectively lost 315 gigatonnes of ice. The main reason for the changes are thought to be “ocean forcing” whereby warmer waters are getting under glacial fronts and causing them to melt from below.

This area of Antarctica accounts for around 10% of sea level rise globally, so it is important to monitor the glacial movements. On average, the speed of all 14 glaciers in the region increased by almost a quarter between 1994 and 2018. The velocity of three central glaciers was higher as it was shown to be increasing by more than 40%. The most extreme was a 59% increase in velocity for ice stream.

Satellite observations allow the West Antarctic, and much wider areas around the margins of Antarctica, to be mapped in much more detail than it has been previously possible to do. High-resolution remotely sensed data from satellites, such as European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite which collects a new image every six-days, allows a much more in-depth analysis to be undertaken. The information has allowed monitoring of the changing rates of glaciers and ice flows. The rates of increased glacier speed along with ice thinning highlights that the Getz basin is in a state of ‘dynamic imbalance’. This means that it is losing more ice than it gains through snowfall.

Satellite technology has allowed a more comprehensive understanding of the state of glaciers in the western Antarctic. Data collection and monitoring is now much easier than it had been, due to the satellites. Detailed ground studies, which greatly aid the understanding of why the processes are happening, can be very challenging in remote and inhospitable places such as this. The ground studies often assist in the interpretation of data being collected from satellites. Further details can be reviewed on the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) web site.

30 By 30 Nature Campaign

A campaign to protect nature recognises the wider common good of nature based systems allowing life on Earth to flourish. That includes allowing human lives to flourish as well. It is estimated if nature’s services were expressed as a monetary value then $125 trillion of services are provided to us from nature. This is against a backdrop of having lost around 60% of terrestrial species over the last 50 years, 90% of big ocean fish over the last century and the fact that deforestation continues at a rate of more than 18 million acres each year. The Campaign for Nature highlights these figures and proposes a solution in terms of 30% of all land being protected to provide nature based solutions to our environmental and climate situation by the year 2030.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an independent intergovernmental body established by nation states to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development. They highlight the sustainable use of wild species as being instrumental in sustainable development. Wild species provide half of the world’s seafood, a significant proportion of timber and energy, and provide a major source of protein, fibre and medicines for many communities in both developing and developed countries.

The scientific reasons for the 30% of land use being used for “ecosystem services” by 2030 are presented in this Science Advances paper: A global deal for nature (GDN) by Dinerstein et al from 2019. It notes a solution targeting 30% of Earth to be formally protected for nature with an additional 20% designated as areas that can be used to stabilise the climate, by 2030, to stay below 1.5°C that was set out in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Natural ecosystems are critical in order to maintain human prosperity with the world warming. 65% of those who signed up to the Paris Agreement have committed to restoring or conserving ecosystems. As an example intact forests, especially tropical forests, sequester twice as much carbon as planted monocultures which are associated with agriculture.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature or IUCN has developed a series of categories for protected areas: they range from totally protected strict nature reserves where human activity is not permitted to the least strict category of protected areas that allow sustainable use of natural resources. They have a protected planet web site that lists the worlds protected areas. It highlights just how much protection nature has. The site suggests that the Earth currently has around only 9.8% of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). There is a long way to go to the 30% target. There are many differences between countries with some exceeding this 30% figure and others are being behind it.


These two studies, from CPOM and the Science Advances paper, highlight increasing glacial decline as well as previous damage inflicted on our ecosystems by humankind. It goes to show just how critical the 2020s will be to addressing the environmental and climate crisis faced by humanity. There need to be big changes in how land is managed in order to restore a more natural balance on Earth. The 30 by 30 initiative sets out a clear path to get there.

Posted in Climate Change, Data Quality, Earth Science, Geography, Mapping, Megatrends, Resources, Smart, Sustainable Development | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Going Underground For New Power Solutions

Geothermal energy and ground source heat pump solutions are being used to generate electricity to power and heat homes. These renewable energy technologies provide low carbon solutions for sustainable development.

Geothermal Power

Geothermal energy has been exploited for many years around the globe: in1904 geothermal energy was first used as a source of power. On the 4th July 1904 in Larderello, Italy, a business man, prince and Italian politician Piero Ginori Conti, tested the first ever geothermal power generator. The small generator provided enough power to illuminate a few light bulbs. This was the beginning of the modern geothermal industry according to the Clean Energy Ideas web site. Piero continued to develop the technology and went on to build the pioneering geothermal power plant. It became operational in 1911 at the Valle del Diavolo or Devils Valley, also in Larderello. This ‘dry-steam’ geothermal power plant would provide electricity for the Italian railway system and would remain the world’s only geothermal power plant for a further 11 years until 1922. The regional geology of the area makes it conducive to geothermal power production, as there are hot granite rocks that are close to the surface producing steam as hot as 202°C.

Today there is a geothermal museum, the Museo Geothermica, in the town to celebrate the past developments. The geothermal power plant here today generates around 10% of the world’s entire supply of geothermal electricity: 4,800 GWh per year which powers around a million households. From the Italian beginnings, geothermal power is now being used around the world. New Zealand was the next country to develop a major power plant using this source of power in the 1950s. That country has plenty of geothermal potential for power.

Geothermal energy companies now drill wells and harness rising hot water from the well in order to extract heat to generate electricity or to heat nearby homes. Today there are around 600 geothermal power plants globally according to this BBC report. Typically those plants are in active seismic zones where there are tectonic plate boundaries. It is likely that the number of power plants will double and there are many being planned in Europe, Africa and other continents.

Even countries that are not located close to tectonic plate boundaries may have sources of geothermal power. Power generated from these sources utilise much lower water temperatures than those on active tectonic boundaries. In the UK the first geothermal power (binary) plant is situated in Cornwall, south west England, an area associated with granite geology. The company has drilled the deepest well in the UK at over 3 miles (5275 metres) deep in a geological fault: the Porthtowan Fault. The temperature at that depth is around 200°C. This power plant has been developed with a mix of public and private money and will generate power over many years in the future. The initial plant will produce 3MW of geothermal electricity sold through green energy supplier Ecotricity who specialise in selling only renewable sources of energy. This project follows on from the UK’s first lido supplied by geothermal hot waters, in Jubilee Pool, Penzance, also in Cornwall.

This geothermal power supply will be expanded to produce up to 20MW of electricity. The initial supply, from the 3MW plant, will be enough to provide power for 10,000 households. The benefit of geothermal power is that it will offer continuous power that is of a consistent output through the day and night.

The New Power Source To Heat A Historic English Village

In 2017 Swaffham Prior Community Land Trust and Cambridgeshire County Council initiated a project to bring renewable energy to Swaffham Prior, a village in the east of England near Cambridge. Following a series of technical studies, it was decided that a Ground Source Heat Pump would provide thermal energy to be pumped through a network and into village households. There is also an electrode boiler as a backup supply.

The £9 million project will extract underground heat. The village has no mains gas and one resident spends £3,750 each year, on average, to buy fuel oil. The heat network should save £500 each year. 150 homes aim to connect to the UK’s first village zero carbon heating system. Heating Swafham Prior will provide a network of hot water linked to the ground and air source heat pumps. The scheme encourages residents to sign up with no up front costs and they should save around £500 each year based upon current heating costs. Construction is due to start in the spring and the project will begin to deliver new heat in May 2021.

260 boreholes, up to 200 metres deep, will allow water will be circulated underground by pumps with heat exchangers to raise the temperature to 75°C. Each home will have a small heat interface to use the water for heat and hot water. An air source heat pump will supplement the ground source heat pump and a 750W solar array will provide about half the power to run the system. More than 160 out of 300 homes have expressed an interest. This number may increase as the benefits become obvious. Collective community change is important for this project. The £9M project is largely funded through public funds as an evaluation project for the technologies.

Properties with existing radiators do not need to upgrade them to join the heat network. The system has been designed to supply heat to all 300 homes in the village of Swaffham Prior, including the historic (listed) buildings. A heat interface unit will be installed in houses which will receive heat from the central energy centre. Current boilers will be replaced with the heat interface which operates at the same temperature range, of 70 – 75°C, as boilers. This means it can integrate with an existing central heating systems aiming to make the changes hassle free; without making additional changes within the households.


These two schemes highlight long term zero carbon solutions to electric power and heat provision. Both are avoiding pollution and the technologies offer the beginnings of sustainable, localised heat and electrical power provision projects. Model schemes, such as these, could be adopted by other villages or community power projects. They both work well with other renewable power mixes, if needed. The Swaffham Prior village example enables the removal of expensive fossil fuel based heating oil heating systems. Whilst both solutions have a high up-front cost, the overall longer term cost of energy is cheap and reliable.

Posted in Community Interests, Earth Science, Energy, Italy, PV, Renewable Energy, Solar, Sustainable Development, Technology, Zero | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Futurology: Two Future Cities

Two Middle Eastern countries have ambitious plans to reinvent the city. Plans include making living sustainable and incorporating a technological future as well. Both cities, Neom in Saudi Arabia and Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are proposing re-invented cities as places to live and work for the twenty first century and beyond. Each city aims to remove traffic from streets, mainly by having roads and deliveries below ground, and rely upon renewable energy to power them.

Each of these cities offer some new ideas as to what a city should be for the future. Both are international projects being promoted by their country. They are both seen as examples of the future and perhaps a new model for living. As with everything, the visions presented may be hard to achieve and there are issues with relocating indigenous tribal people in the case of Neom.

Neom City

Neom City is a brand new planned development in Saudi Arabia. The city is located in a desert next to the Red Sea in the north west Saudi province of Tabuk. It is an ambitious $500 billion plan for a zero-carbon city that will be built in a 170 kilometre straight line. The city is to be without roads and cars and will populate a global population of a million people. It is part of the country’s Vision 2030 strategy that will diversify its economy away from its reliance on oil and make the country a technology hub.

The first stage of the project is The Line which is a new linear 170 kilometre city. There is a vision for “zero cars, zero streets and zero carbon emissions” and its inhabitants could fulfil all their daily requirements, including education and leisure, within a five-minute walk of home. Pedestrians will be separated from a distribution system on another, subterranean, level and a further “spine” level that has high speed transport. Proposals for the re-imagined city will see construction begin soon, in early 2021. The city is expected to contribute $48 billion to the kingdom’s economy and create 380,000 jobs. The project itself will cost between $100 billion and $200 billion.

Neom aims to have an energy system based upon 100% renewable energy. It will have smart transmission and distribution networks with the latest and most advanced technologies. It will aim to pioneer other renewable sources of fuel such as green hydrogen. New technology and re-imagining of a city are at the core of the project including sustainable food production systems.

The city has already caused some controversy: it has displaced members of the Howeitat tribe from some of their traditional homelands to build the megacity. This tribe comes from this part of Saudi Arabia, and across borders into Egypt and Jordan. A new international airport will challenge the zero carbon ambitions. Will the expected international investment flow into a country that does not have a good record of human rights? Further details can be found on this article on the Middle East Eye website and the Business Insider.

Masdar City

Masdar city is another pioneering middle eastern sustainable city. Located in the United Arab Emirates, 17 kilometres south-east of the city of Abu Dhabi, it was began in 2008 and has been described as a ‘greenprint for sustainable urban development’. The city is pioneering sustainability and is a hub for research and development, spearheading innovations to achieve greener, more sustainable urban living. Plans have encouraged minimal water usage and re-use including rainwater harvesting systems. Buildings are designed to use 40% less water and energy than similar buildings based upon international baselines. Low carbon cement is used for their construction. Masdar city has one of the largest clusters of low carbon buildings in the world and they are designed to high sustainability standards.

The city relies on renewable energy systems. A 10-megawatt solar field within the master plan site generates electricity which can be fed back to the Abu Dhabi grid if there is insufficient demand. It is home to the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The city is looking forward to sustainable futures. It has been designed looking back in time to traditional middle eastern cities that have narrow streets that provide shade and cool the urban area.

Masdar Institute has energy efficient buildings oriented to shade both the adjacent buildings and the pedestrian streets below. The facades are also designed to be self-shading. Extensive roof-mounted photovoltaic installations provide power and further protection from the direct sun. Cooling air currents are directed through the public spaces using a contemporary interpretation of the region’s traditional wind towers, and green landscaping and water provide evaporative cooling.

Like the plans for Neom, transport is removed to beneath the city to allow the focus on pedestrian streets that don’t have traffic. Electric autonomous vehicles are used to provide personal transport on a low level beneath the streets.


Both these cities have a strong vision to create new places that will have more sustainable, long-term designs than current cities. They both focus on innovations for making better places to live and work. Each could be used as blue prints (or ‘greenprints’ as Masdar has suggested) for new cities around the world. Both cities offer bold new plans which could be used in existing settlements that need to re-imagine what they are for in this century and beyond. Each city needs to show that its ambitions can be achieved to improve living conditions for their residents as well as offering the sustainable futures that they are aiming to deliver.

Posted in Airport, Cities, Climate Solutions, Energy, Energy efficiency, Geography, Middle East, Net Zero, PV, Renewable Energy, Smart, Smart Cities, Solar, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Technology, Zero | Tagged | Leave a comment