International Agreements Succeed

World’s Largest Marine Nature Reserve

Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has agreed to a vast marine protection area in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. The joint USA/New Zealand proposal will establish a 1.55 million km2 special protection area (the BBC news article has a map of the area here). The new special protection area status will come into force in December 2017. It will strictly limit or prohibit activities to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, ecosystem monitoring and fisheries management objectives. Some areas of the special protection area will permit some harvesting of fish and krill for scientific research whilst other areas will be strictly controlled as no fishing zones.

Significantly, there has been important international agreement to create the marine protection area. In total twenty four countries have come together and worked towards this goal of marine protection. The Ross Sea is in an area which is relatively untouched by human activity and has many diverse species that include penguins, seals and whales among many others.

This achievement has taken around five years to come to fruition: the CCAMLR Scientific Committee first endorsed the scientific basis for the marine protection area (MPA) proposals in 2011. From 2012 to 2015 the proposals were refined in terms of the scientific data to support the scheme. Specific details, such as exact location of the boundaries, of the MPA were also based upon this research.

Areas closed to fishing, or in which fishing activities are restricted, can be used by scientists to compare with areas that are open to fishing. Scientists can then research the relative impacts of fishing and other changes, such as those arising from climate change. It should help in the understanding of the range of variables affecting the overall status and health of marine ecosystems. For further information see this CCAMLR link.

This huge special protection area is remarkable in terms of the international agreement and could pave the way for many other ocean protection areas that may help to preserve marine species and fish stocks.

Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) Withdrawal Agreement Signed

More than 150 countries have reached an agreement to phase out Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases that are causing more extreme warming of the Earth. The amendment to the Montreal protocol has agreed to a programmed phasing out of Hydrofluorocarbons that are used in fridges, air conditioning and aerosols. HFCs have a global warming effect that is around 15,000 times greater than carbon dioxide. They also represent the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

An amendment to the Montreal Protocol was signed in Rwanda that will start to see richer countries cut back their HFC use from 2019. It is known as the Kigali amendment after where the agreement was signed. 197 parties to the Montreal protocol have now extended it to decommission use of the HFCs which are CFC (ChloroFluoroCarbon: ozone hole damaging gases) replacement gases.

There are three time scale approaches that will be used for different countries. Firstly the richer economies (such as the European Union, the US and others) will begin limiting their HFC use from 2019. They will need to make cuts of at least 10% of HFC usage from then. Next, some developing countries like China, Latin America countries and island states will freeze their use of HFCs from 2024. Thirdly, other developing countries, specifically Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states will not freeze their use until 2028.

China, which is the largest producer of HFCs, will not start to cut their production or use until 2029. India, will start even later, making its first 10% cut in use in 2032. Some estimates suggest that the removal of HFCs may reduce climate change by around 0.5 degrees Celsius, although this is debated.

HFCs are from a group of fluorinated greenhouse gases that are known as F-gases. They are the most important F-gases from a climate perspective and are relatively short lived in the atmosphere. Some other F-gases such as perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Some F-gases are 23,000 times more potent, in terms of their warming potential, than carbon dioxide. This European Commission link highlights the commitment to cut F-gas emissions by two thirds by 2030 in Europe.

The Montreal protocol follows the 2015 Paris (COP21) climate agreement which was signed by over 190 countries last December and will start with effect from early November 2016. The protocol was originally signed in 1987 in order to remove the highly destructive CFCs that were depleting high-level ozone above the Polar regions.

Ban For Internal Combustion Cars By 2030?

In Germany, the Bundestrat (or Upper House) which is the federal council of all 16 German states, has passed a resolution to ban the internal combustion engine (ICE) powered car by 2030. This is an influential resolution that may gain wider acceptance, although it is not binding. Other countries in Europe are also keen on the idea, such as The Netherlands and Sweden for example. The European Union may follow: the resolution calls on the European Commission to “evaluate the recent tax and contribution practices of Member States on their effectiveness in promoting zero-emission mobility”. This could mean taxing internal combustion vehicles more or reducing tax on electric cars.

Given there has been much awareness of worsening air pollution from internal combustion engines and diesel cars specifically, due to particulates that are released into the atmosphere, this could be the start of a shift towards more sustainable vehicles. Paris and other cities such as London are now using measures to attempt to improve their air quality that ban older cars (in the case of Paris as of this July) or charge vehicles with internal combustion engines to enter the city centre (London).

This shift in traction to electric vehicles could be seen as part of the mega trend to move to electrically powered transport and Germany has set out some goals that would mean that there will be little incentive to continue to support internal combustion engines that are powered by fossil fuels.

References used for this article include: and

Posted in ACD, Air Quality, Climate Change, Earth Science, Electric Cars, Europe, Health, Megatrends, Resources, Sustainable Transport | Leave a comment

Climate Change Targets Likely To Be Exceeded

1.5 Celsius Target Likely To Be Exceeded

The Paris 2015 agreement by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), at their Conference of Parties (COP) meeting, strives to limit global warming (or anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD)). The aim was to limit warming to 2 °C since pre-industrial times, or possibly even 1.5 °C. The ambitious target would require serious emission reductions on a global scale. Now this Huntingford & Mercado research in Scientific Reports suggests that even if the climate is stabilised at current atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, then the warming targets are still likely to be exceeded over land. This is mainly for two reasons: firstly current transient warming lags behind “equilibrium or committed warming” and secondly climate models show warming rates over land are much higher than those for the oceans.

The article by Chris Huntingford & Lina M. Mercado was published in July 2016. It highlights the fact that additional warming will likely impact terrestrial ecosystems and human wellbeing. The COP21 (Conference of Parties twenty-first) meeting at Paris highlighted the challenge of hitting the 1.5°C to 2°C targets. The targets would need a year-on-year emissions reduction of at least 2% per annum or more. This reduction would need to start very soon. Already Nature has highlighted that, collectively as a society, we have used two thirds of our allowance of cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to keep the temperature below the two degrees target. If we could stop all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions now then atmospheric temperatures will subsequently reduce very slowly over very long time frames (more than decades). As a result it will become difficult to return from any warming levels we have already committed to.

When there is an increase in carbon dioxide levels there is an initial increase in warming associated with the additional gas concentrations. This initial increase is known as the transient warming. This is not the complete story though as the warming will continue over a much longer time frame which occurs as the carbon dioxide concentration stabilises in the atmosphere. The longer time period is known as the equilibrium or committed warming. Further details of the differences can be read about on this University of Washington link or this Climate Emergency Institute link. It is important to understand the main difference between the transient warming and the equilibrium warming.

Equilibrium climate sensitivity relating GHG concentrations (to any final stable warming levels) remains highly uncertain in all current climate models. Having studied a number of models though, it appears the majority of models suggest that the equilibrium or committed temperature change will exceed the 1.5°C target. In fact it is 17 out of the 22 models that suggest this temperature increase will be exceeded. Ten models suggest that the 2°C target will be exceeded. 16 models show that the global temperature increase will exceed 1.5°C and 10 (out of the 22) exceed 2°C. The land based temperature increases are projected to be significantly higher than for oceans. 17 out of the 22 models show an increase greater than 2°C for the land based warming. As a result the hotter global mean temperature increase will actually have a larger impact on human societies and terrestrial ecosystems.

This article analysed many global climate models (GCM) and explores some committed warming scenarios from these models. The authors show that there is a “very high probability …[of]… a mean warming over land greater than 1.5 °C relative to pre-industrial times”. The rises are likely to impact different areas in different ways. There are likely to be much higher warming rates in the northern latitudes during the boreal winter for example. Away from coastal areas there are likely to be increased warming too. Recent measurements in East Asia back up this figure. It is still very difficult to predict the precise impacts largely to model output differences. Recent data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and others have highlighted 2016 to be another record breaking hot year. The July global land and ocean surface temperature increases have been recorded at 0.87°C above the twentieth century average temperature range.

It is highly likely that Chris Huntingford & Lina M. Mercado are going to be correct in their predictions. The implications for humans on planet Earth should not be underestimated especially with regard to the impacts on agricultural production especially crop viability. The impacts are likely to vary around the globe and there will be severe impacts on hydrological cycles in some areas.

Posted in ACD, Carbon Dioxide, Climate Change, Earth Science, Geography | Leave a comment

Electric Innovations: High Speed Cars & World’s First Tidal Array

World Acceleration Record: By Electric Car

The Grimsel electric racing car has beaten the world acceleration record for a car travelling from 0 to 100 kilometres per hour. It broke the record with a time of only 1.513 seconds to reach 100kph (62 miles per hour). This timing cut around a quarter of a second off the previous acceleration record time.

The Grimsel car has been designed by Academic Motorsports Club Zurich (AMZ) and the Formula Student team at ETH Zurich and Lucerne University. It has a total weight of only 168kg and combines proven concepts with radical, new technologies. Amazingly the car has been developed and built in less than a year by a team of 30 students. It sets new standards in lightweight construction and electric drive technology including use of use of carbon fibre materials in its construction. Each four wheels drive the car and have specially developed wheel hub motors that are capable of generating 200 horse power and 1700 Newton metre (Nm) of torque. A sophisticated traction control system allows even greater acceleration. Electric traction power has allowed such incredible acceleration; no large-scale production car or car with an internal combustion engine, powered by fossils fuels, has achieved this incredible acceleration level.

To read about details of the record see this ETH Zurich and Lucerne University news report. The Academic Motorsports Club Zurich (AMZ) was founded in 2006 by students at ETH Zurich and develops prototype cars for the Formula Student European competitions every year. Details of their cars can be reviewed on their AMZ web site. These innovative vehicles are showing the way for future clean technologies. Switzerland seems to be a pioneer of clean technologies as highlighted by the Solar Impulse project that has previously been reported on.

New Tidal Power: World First

Off the Shetland Islands, in Scotland, there is a change of power that has seen the world’s first fully operational tidal generation array system linked into the national grid electricity system. The second 100kW turbine, out of a series of three 100 kW turbines, has been deployed alongside the first turbine in August 2016. The first turbine was installed in Bluemull Sound, Shetland during March 2016. It had been generating up to full power and across a range of tidal conditions. Nova Innovation, the company behind the project, has undertaken this work as part of a pan-European partnership. This partnership enabled the delivery of a successful project that showcases European co-operation. Details can be found on their web site.

The turbines are driven by a dual rotating blade that is very similar to a wind turbine with the exception that this one is driven by the tidal forces rather than the wind. The project has delivered a fully operational offshore tidal array which is a world first. Technologies such as this offer some important developments for sustainable future energy generation that is needed to generate innovative, clean, zero emission power that is consistently reliable. Scotland also has the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC).

The European Marine Energy Centre was founded in 2003 and is pioneering. It is the only centre of its kind in the world to provide developers of both wave and tidal energy converters accredited open-sea testing facilities. The facilities are used to test technologies that generate electricity by harnessing the power of waves and tidal streams. The centre is an innovative way to ensure that sustainable technologies get developed. It is based on the Orkney Islands and aims to commercialise the new technologies.

Posted in Electric Car, Energy, Islands, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Development | Leave a comment

British & European Changes And Solar Impulse

Referendum Results

On the 23rd June 2016 the UK people voted to leave the European Union (EU). The result of the vote was narrowly in favour of leaving the EU by 51.9% to 48.1%. The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, resigned on the morning of the result as he was in backing the remain in the EU campaign. This decision has been nicknamed BREXIT (Great Britain Exit from the EU).

The result of the vote, which saw around a high 70% turnout for the referendum, has caused many questions to be addressed for both Europe and the UK. It will take a while for a clear plan of what is going to happen to emerge: this may take many months although the rapid replacement of the Prime Minister with Theresa May and a change of Government to deal with the outcome may mean it will be progressed more rapidly than had been thought. A new ministry has been set up to oversee the leaving process which is likely to take at least two years. This will require a formal request under the Treaty of Lisbon.

Initial Reactions to the result were varied: the impact was felt globally with adverse reactions to stock markets and with the value of the UK pound falling against other currencies including the US dollar and the euro. The pound fell to very low levels against the dollar, levels not seen since the 1980s. The economic fallout was caused by uncertainty of the political futures of the UK and Europe.

Across Europe there were several political responses to the result. Some right wing political parties called for their countries to leave the EU (notably in France and the Netherlands for example). Additional comments called for European Union reforms to prevent others following the UK.

Within the United Kingdom there are political calls for a break up of the Union (Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England) and the Scottish vote outcome highlighted the desire to stay in Europe. The picture of the referendum results shows some interesting paradoxes geographically. As an example many areas voting to leave are area that have benefited from European Structural and Regional Development funding as they are generally poorer areas. The results had a marked geography of areas that voted for remain and leave. There is a map on this BBC web site link. Scotland, for example had an overall vote to remain in the EU.

The impact of the UK leaving the European Union will be reviewed over time. The European Union has been expanding across Europe for several decades and the political impact of this change will see an initial end to that continual growth, perhaps before it resumes or perhaps it may have the consequence of influencing other countries to reassess their place within the EU. With mounting economic issues in Portugal there may be more challenges for the EU to overcome very shortly.

Solar Impulse’s Circumnavigation

The innovative solar plane, Solar Impulse 2 has completed its pioneering around the world journey having made it back to Abu Dhabi. The plane proved it was possible to use solar energy to propel an aircraft. The Solar Impulse 2 plane has 7,000 solar cells that fuel electric motors. The wingspan is larger than a large commercial airliner and it is very light weight. Energy from the solar cells are stored in batteries for night time flying.

The journey took from 9 March 2015 until 26th July 2016. The journey was formed of a 17-stage journey covering around 42,000km. It crossed four continents, three seas and two oceans. The longest section of the journey was a flight of 8,924km (5,545-mile) from Nagoya in Japan to Hawaii, US. The stretch lasted almost 118 hours and broke the world record for longest time for an uninterrupted solo flight. The Pacific flight (originally around June/July 2015) saw the planes batteries being damaged which saw the journey temporarily stopped for ten months.

This innovative and inspiring journey, which used no conventional fossil fuel, has led to some new technological developments, great practical knowledge of those technologies and has developed an International Committee of Clean Technology (ICCT) and solar powered drones. Full details of the journey and highlights of some future benefits that may come from the project are on the Solar Impulse website. The project has advocated clean technology and aims to provide options for a sustainable future and to solve some of the challenges that face society today.

Posted in Europe, Politics, Renewable Energy, Solar, Sustainable Transport | Leave a comment

Crisis In Venezuela

Venezuela: Political or Environmental Crisis?

Venezuela has been suffering recently. Is it a political, economic or environmental crisis though?

Venezuela has the world’s highest inflation rate at 180% and there are shortages of basic goods as well as power shortages. The country is resource rich with the highest proven reserves of oil. The export of oil accounts for 95% of the country’s export revenues. During the period 2014 to 2015 the price of oil has halved deeply affecting the country.

The crises also can trace its roots back over several years: President Hugo Chavez (1999 to 2013) introduced price controls on some basic goods in 2003. The essential goods prices (e.g. sugar, coffee, rice, flour) were capped and then producers could not afford to remain in production: sometimes they made a loss whilst others gave up selling the goods altogether. This resulted in further goods being imported.

Power outages have been caused by the lack of rain across the country with hydro generated electricity “drying up”. As a result of the severe shortage of energy the country has had to take drastic action. Measures have included moving clocks forward by 30 minutes to ease the peak load on the electricity system in the evening: the effect of changing the time means more daylight at the time of peak demand. In May the government, led by President Maduro, made government employees work a two day week and prevented school children going to school on Fridays. See this Independent news article for further details.

President Maduro has been under much political pressure to leave office. His current term runs until 2019, but the opposition have suggested a change of government through a referendum. See this BBC report. In June the referendum was beginning to look more likely according to this report.

At the country’s main hydro plant, the Guri Dam, there has been a severe drought affecting electricity production. The plant produces two-thirds of the country’s power and had fallen to near its minimum operating level. The country has no real reserve power generation capacity. This Independent report highlights some of the measures that were being taken to prevent even more power blackouts in the country than had been common over a number of years. The main blame for the lack of power and water supplies has be attributed to the El Nino weather phenomenon. It has caused long drought periods and much lower than average rainfall. Others blame the lack of investment over the years.

Ultimately the El Nino weather, with the drought, has hit Venezuela hard and highlighted a number of the issues that were perhaps caused by political and economic factors such as the drop in global oil prices. It could be argued that the underlying resilience of Venezuela has been impacted by political and economic factors along with under investment in core infrastructure over the years. Either way the cost of food for a population is rising and triggering unrest and much upheaval. The weather event currently affecting the country is certainly not helping matters and the country’s over reliance on oil exports has not helped.

Posted in Economic Crisis, Energy, Geography, Politics | Leave a comment


The Beast: Canada’s Wildfire

The early May major “wildfire” in Alberta’s northern region which spread into Fort McMurray has been nicknamed “The Beast” (see this Guardian news article). The fire grew rapidly within a few days and, due to the weather conditions which were unusually warm and dry, spread rapidly. It quickly spread over an area from 1,200 hectares to more than 220,000 hectares in a few days. It remains active and has covered over 2,000 square miles (3,218 square kilometres). In fact there are several fires, 17 or so, but the Fort McMurray one remains out of control. Several communities such as Fort McMurray, Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray First Nation and Fort McKay First Nation are under a mandatory evacuation order. It is not yet understood how the fire started and if it is indeed a wildfire or not.

The city of Fort McMurray took much of the brunt of the fire which led to the evacuation of thousands of residents: many homes were destroyed by the fire and approximately 88,000 residents had to evacuate at short notice. Residents had to travel for a couple of hours to escape the blaze. It was estimated that around 2,400 homes and buildings were lost to the flames. The majority of the city, fortunately, remained untouched. The impact of the fire is unusual in that some adjacent properties have been either burnt to the ground or left relatively untouched according the aerial imagery that has been put on the Alberta Government web site. Some properties have just their basements left whilst others next door seem to be intact complete with roof surviving. It is a very unequal spatial impact, even along the same road. Some houses are destroyed yet outbuildings or garages remain unaffected by flames. Many houses were in wooded suburbs that contributed to the houses burning but this is not a common factor: many local geographical and possibly meteorological factors may have had an influence on buildings that were either destroyed or survived the inferno. Some houses backing on to the same woodland remain whilst others have been totally burnt to the basement destroying people’s homes and possessions. Typical scenes can be viewed on this Fort McMurray Today Twitter photograph and this one.

The scale and ferocity of the fire makes it unusual. The fire was powerful enough to cross a one kilometre wide river. It has also generated lightning which then generated new fire starts, as an example of a positive feedback loop. It has had a global impact in terms of the smoke trail from Canada reaching as far as Spain and the UK in Europe according to NASA. The smoke and aerosols also travelled as far south as Florida in the USA. The local Alberta Health Services issued health warnings for the entire area with Health Quality Index of 10+. This scale means that there is a very high risk of triggering health issues. See this link for an overview.

NASA has provided information from its Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Rapid Response Team which is known as the MODIS Rapid Response Team. Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) is from two satellites: Aqua and Terra satellites. Areas that are actively burning are detected by MODIS’s thermal bands and can highlight areas of fire. This illustrates how remotely sensed data can be used to assist in times of crisis: here being able to assess remote areas where the fires may still be present. The vast scale of the fire has made it easy to detect from satellites: it has a very strong “thermal signature” and has also burnt such a large area of territory that it is easy to detect from space (512 kilometres above the earth surface).

The Canadian fires have been quite exceptional on a number of levels: their rapid growth, the vast extent and the global aerosol impacts. They come at a time of a very strong El Niño & the Southern Oscillation event and are very early in the season. There is some irony that the fires are hitting an area of oil sands extraction where production is of oil is typically quite inefficient (compared with conventional crude oil supplies) and generates much carbon dioxide perhaps having a large impact on the changing climate. The people of Fort McMurray and other places will have to undertake a major rebuild when the fire eventually dies out.

Posted in Air Quality, Data Quality, Earth Science | Leave a comment

OpenStreetMap Volunteers: Professional Mappers?

Volunteered Geographical Information

OpenStreetMap is a crowd sourced map of the world. It can be seen as a project that has excelled on many levels: for example opening up geographical information, providing copyright free maps that can be shared, providing detailed up-to-date mapping and providing a major source of volunteered geographical information. The community of OpenStreetMap has been seen as a broad set of contributors although research has suggested that contributions are largely from a more limited set of volunteers and this set is not as amateur as may be perceived.

An article by Yang, Fan, and Jing in the International Journal of Geo-Information reviews the contributions of volunteers in terms of the quality of their work. It is entitled “Amateur or Professional: Assessing the Expertise of Major Contributors in OpenStreetMap Based on Contributing Behaviors” (sic), 2016. Contributing behaviours are reviewed to assess the professionalism of mappers to OpenStreetMap.

Several past studies have shown that the quality of OpenStreetMap information is often very good. Results from several countries that have proved this empirically. As a contrast to volunteered geographical information (VGI), professional geographical information (PGI) quality is traditionally regarded as excellent and production uses well trained and highly disciplined experts to achieve excellent and “definitive” results.

Like Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap relies on a small minority of contributors who actually account for the vast majority of the information. This study has considered a number of behaviours of OpenStreetMap’s core users who add geographical data and edit the map. They have also proposed a conceptual model to assess if contributors are professional or not. Professionals are classed as skilled and highly disciplined whilst amateurs tend to lack in skills and lack the deeper understanding of their subject area. Using probability theories and Bayes’ theorem the authors considered the likelihood of being either a professional or amateur contributor to OpenStreetMap. The approach is essentially statistical inference. Key themes for professional contributions include those of practice, skill and motivation.

The paper concludes: “Most of the contributors represent several behaviors [sic] that amateurs rarely have. The major contributors in the three countries [UK, France and Germany] should be confidently regarded as professionals instead of amateurs.” The research has largely inferred this result although it is highly probable that professional contributors have provided OpenStreetMap with much data on a regular basis. The research considered eight main behaviours for contributors and used OpenStreetMap metadata to link the behaviours to large geographical data additions.

This research, like others, has suggested that OpenStreetMap is much more than a map created by amateurs or novices. Several core users exhibit highly professional traits to their contributions. OpenStreetMap allows almost daily changes to be mapped rapidly and is a framework that enables much map detail to be captured.

Posted in Data Quality, Geography, Mapping, OpenStreetMap | Leave a comment