Greenhouse Gases Rise
Two recent reports by first the World Meteorological Organisation and then the United Nations Environment Program are illustrating that global society needs to change rapidly to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases.
The World Meteorological Organisation Report
The global concentration of greenhouse gases has reached a new record high in 2011. Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases. The World Meteorological Organisation estimate that the quantity of carbon dioxide gas released to our atmosphere since around 1750, the start of the industrial revolution, has been around 375 billion tonnes. Around half of this carbon has gone to the atmosphere and the rest has been absorbed by carbon sinks such as the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports on atmospheric concentrations – and not emissions – of greenhouse gases. Full details to be found here along with some graphs that illustrate the growth of the atmospheric concentrations since 1984. This is an upward trend from around 345 mole fractions to around 390 mole fractions in 2011. A mole fraction can be considered like any other fraction but relates to the number of molecules of, in this case, carbon dioxide against the total number of molecules. The report also focuses on the atmospheric methane levels which reached a new high of about 1813 parts per billion (ppb) in 2011: this is 259% of the pre-industrial level which has been attributed to anthropogenic (man-made) sources.
The United Nations Environment Program Report
Just after this report the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has announced that there is an increasing emissions gap that is unlikely to prevent serious global warming issues. Greenhouse gases are 14% above where they need to be in 2020 for temperature rises this century to remain below 2 degree Celsius. Two degrees of warming has serious implications for ecosystems being lost which could greatly increase the risk of temperature rises accelerating in the future. The UNEP Emissions Gap report states that without action greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will be the equivalent 58 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2020. This figure is around 14 gigatonnes higher than the estimated limit to keep the temperature rise below the 2 degree increase. As a result of the findings there is an urgent need for international co-operation to reduce global emissions.
Christiana Figueres, who will lead climate change talks on behalf of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change argues that the report should help governments to raise their ambitions and lead to beneficial changes that will ultimately benefit everyone. She is quoted as saying “It is a reminder that time is running out but that the technical means and the policy tools to allow the world to stay below a maximum 2C are still available to governments and societies” on the BBC report.
Full details of the report may be viewed on this website: http://www.unep.org/publications/ebooks/emissionsgap2012/.
Hurricane Sandy Aftermath
Hurricane Sandy, described as a super storm, has caused chaos across the Caribbean and the east coast of North America is, perhaps, a sign of the increased entropy (disorder) in our atmosphere and very unfortunate circumstances in the weather patterns. The figures around this storm are astounding in the USA and elsewhere. This is a truly international disaster that has affected several countries as well as the USA where there was considerable damage and media coverage. The storm passed through Jamaica, Cuba, past Haiti as well as the Bahamas before heading to the USA and eventually to Canada.
A city such as New York is generally considered to be at the leading edge of technology and development but even this metropolis was brought to a standstill due to the storm causing failures of infrastructure. This is evident in buildings being destroyed in the surrounding states, storm surges (which coincided with very high tides caused by a Full Moon), very low pressure and man-made issues such as water affecting electricity supplies. The storm surge reached 4.46 metres in Bergen Point, New Jersey and there was record low air pressure (The Times (UK) 3/11/2012 page 103) associated with the storm. It could be argued that mankind occupying low land has increased their risk to these so called natural disasters. When the water got into New York’s tunnel systems this was going to be very disruptive for anyone trying to get around.
The storm affected the world’s economic system by forcing the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to close for the first time since 1888 (other than on the 9th September 2001). Early estimates suggest that there may be $50 billion of damage caused by the storm.
This has been another very active season for hurricanes.
The European Space Agency is mapping small variations in the Earth’s gravity. The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) has been mapping gravity over the last three years. Data sent back from the GOCE satellite has created a new geoid (Earth shaped sphere) of the earth, the GOCE geoid which is more precise than other models of the Earth. The data has created more detailed knowledge of the shape of the earth than before. Shortly there will be even more detailed data that will improve the knowledge and resolution of the data. This information on the precise shape of our planet will allow the derivation of accurate measurements of ocean circulation, sea-level change and terrestrial ice dynamics for example. It will give us a better understanding of the variations of the gravity field that may help to explain the physics and dynamics associated with earthquake and volcanic activity. Information from this technology has provided a high definition map between the boundary between the rocks of the Earth’s crust and its mantle, the Mohorovicic (or “Moho”) discontinuity, which lies tens of kilometres under the Earth’s surface.
The information and research from this satellite has provided useful insights to our physical world and will help also to understand the upper atmosphere interactions as well as sea-level changes by defining a sea-surface base model.
For more details of the research that is being undertaken see the ESA web site.
Corporations Pull Out of Solar Desert Proposals
The proposals to harness the solar power from the Sahara Desert (Desertec) have been put in doubt following the withdrawal of some large corporations. There were some ambitious plans to collect solar power in North Africa and export the power to Europe. This opportunity has been missed but there is perhaps still the possibility that some Chinese companies will undertake a similar project to gain access to technology for transferring high-voltage direct current power via cables.
Details taken from this BBC article