Friday, September 04, 2009

Woods Hole embraces the Medieval Warm Period – contradict Mann’s proxy data

A new 2,000 year long reconstruction of sea surface temperatures (SST) from the Indo-Pacific warm pool (IPWP) suggests that temperatures in the region may have been as warm during the Medieval Warm Period as they are today.

The IPWP is the largest body of warm water in the world, and, as a result, it is the largest source of heat and moisture to the global atmosphere, and an important component of the planet’s climate. Climate models suggest that global mean temperatures are particularly sensitive to sea surface temperatures in the IPWP. Understanding the past history of the region is of great importance for placing current warming trends in a global context.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

In a joint project with the Indonesian Ministry of Science and Technology (BPPT), the study’s authors, Delia Oppo, a paleo–oceanographer with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and her colleagues Yair Rosenthal of Rutgers State University and Braddock K. Linsley of the University at Albany-State University of New York, collected sediment cores along the continental margin of the Indonesian Seas and used chemical analyses to estimate water past temperatures and date the sediment. The cruise included 13 US and 14 Indonesian scientists.

“This is the first record from the region that has really modern sediments and a record of the last two millennia, allowing us to place recent trends in a larger framework,” notes Oppo.

Global temperature records are predominantly reconstructed from tree rings and ice cores. Very little ocean data are used to generate temperature reconstructions, and very little data from the tropics. “As palaeoclimatologists, we work to generate information from multiple sources to improve confidence in the global temperature reconstructions, and our study contributes to scientists’ efforts towards that goal,” adds Oppo.

Temperature reconstructions suggest that the Northern Hemisphere may have been slightly cooler (by about 0.5 degrees Celsius) during the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ (~AD 800-1300) than during the late-20th century. However, these temperature reconstructions are based on, in large part, data compiled from high latitude or high altitude terrestrial proxy records, such as tree rings and ice cores, from the Northern Hemisphere (NH). Little pre-historical temperature data from tropical regions like the IPWP has been incorporated into these analyses, and the global extent of warm temperatures during this interval is unclear. As a result, conclusions regarding past global temperatures still have some uncertainties.

More HERE (See the original for links, graphics etc.)

Environmentalists hail Supreme Court ruling on carbon

The new ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on carbon dioxide emissions is a strong rebuke to the Bush administration, which has maintained that it does not have the right to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and that even if it did, it would not use the authority. The ruling does not force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate auto emissions, but the agency would almost certainly face further legal action if it fails to do so.

In one of its most important environmental decisions in years, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 on Monday that the agency has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases in automobile emissions. The court further ruled that the agency could not sidestep its authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change unless it could provide a scientific basis for its refusal. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said the only way the agency could "avoid taking further action" now is "if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change" or provides a good explanation why it cannot or will not find out whether they do.

Beyond the specific context for this case - so-called "tailpipe emissions" from cars and trucks, which account for about one-fourth of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions - the decision is highly likely to have a broader impact on the debate over government efforts to address global warming. The ruling has largely shredded the underpinning of other lawsuits trying to block regulation of the emissions and gives new momentum to congressional efforts to control heat-trapping gases linked to climate change.

Environmental groups and states that have adopted controls on carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle tailpipes responded with jubilation, while the auto industry and some of its backers offered statements of resigned disappointment. "This is fantastic news," said Ian Bowles, the secretary of environmental affairs for Massachusetts, which had petitioned the environmental agency to control emissions from cars and trucks.

Court cases around the country had been placed on hold to await the decision in this case. Among them is a challenge to the agency's refusal to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, now pending in the U.S. federal appeals court here.

Individual states, led by California, are also moving aggressively into what they have seen as a regulatory vacuum.

Stevens, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, said that by providing nothing more than a "laundry list of reasons not to regulate," the Environmental Protection Agency had defied the Clean Air Act's "clear statutory command." He said a refusal to regulate could be based only on science and "reasoned justification," adding that while the statute left the central determination to the "judgment" of the agency's administrator, "the use of the word 'judgment' is not a roving license to ignore the statutory text."

The court decided a second Clean Air Act case on Monday, adopting a broad reading of the agency's authority over factories and power plants that add capacity or make renovations that increase emissions of air pollutants. In doing so, the court reopened a federal enforcement effort against the Duke Energy power company under the act's "new source review" provision. The vote in this case was 9 to 0.

The two decisions left environmental advocates exultant. Many said they still harbored doubts about the federal agency and predicted that the decision would help push the Democratic-controlled Congress to address the issue.



French President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan for a carbon tax on fuel threatened Tuesday to backfire as critics slammed it as unfair and his own camp fretted it will anger voters already hit by the crisis. Sarkozy is due in coming weeks to announce details of a new tax on transport and household fuel, to be in the 2010 budget as part of France's drive to wean consumers off polluting energies and slash global warming emissions. But with France barely out of recession and unemployment still on the rise, consumer groups have warned against piling hardship on ordinary families.

Several dissident voices in Sarkozy's right-wing UMP have raised the alarm, fearing that introducing a new tax, especially one seen as unfair, is political suicide in the current climate.

Spotting a chance to score political points, his former presidential rival Segolene Royal savaged the proposed Climate-Energy Contribution as "unjust" and "inefficient" at the Socialists' annual congress at the weekend. She argues a flat levy on fuel would hit low-income families disproportionately hard -- especially those in out-of-town areas who have no choice but to use cars -- without helping to develop clean alternatives. Royal said the government would do better to "tax oil and energy companies based on the profits they make from fossil fuels" and invest in electric cars.

The toxic turn of the debate has alarmed environmentalists, with the lobby group France Nature Environment saying Royal's attacks risked turning voters against the idea of green taxation. "You cannot get the same results as the carbon tax by taxing Total's profits. It's not possible, and to say it is is populism," FNE's spokesman Arnaud Gossement charged Tuesday.

Under proposals floated so far, all revenue from the carbon tax -- estimated at four to eight billion euros (5.7 to 11.4 billion dollars) -- would be handed back to consumers, in the form of "green cheques" or tax cuts elsewhere. But France's junior environment minister, Chantal Jouanno, says the government faces a "very intricate" balancing act to ensure the tax is fair.

Former Socialist prime minister Michel Rocard, who headed the bipartisan panel that drafted the plans, admitted to AFP on Monday "there is a real risk of social injustice." He said the key question facing the government was "how do we redistribute the money to people in a way that changes their behaviour, but without harming their overall spending power."

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde insists the overall tax burden on French households will not rise, and denies the proceeds will be used to replenish the state's coffers. But she also admits that it will not be a win-win situation -- some families will pay more than others, based on their carbon footprint.

Based on France's commitment to slash global warming emissions by 75 percent by 2050, the draft plans call for a levy of 32 euros (46 dollars) for every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted, rising to 100 euros per tonne in 2030. In practice the carbon tax would add 0.077 euros (0.11 dollars) to the cost of one litre of unleaded fuel. Household heating costs would rise by between 60 and 170 euros per year, depending on the type of building and method used. Half of all homes would see their total bill for transport and heating jump by an estimated 300 euros.

Fearing a consumer backlash, the government has already said the levy would start at no more than 15 or 20 euros per kilo of CO2, described by Lagarde as a politically "acceptable" figure. Sarkozy's government has said it hopes eventually to extend the carbon contribution to all goods and services, to shift part of the overall French tax burden from labour towards polluting goods.

Four European countries -- Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Britain -- have so far adopted tax measures to curb consumption of energy-hungry products. The climate contribution is separate from a proposal floated by Sarkozy in March for a carbon tax on imports from countries which have lower environmental standards than France.



India is digging in against legally binding caps on carbon emissions ahead of December's climate-change talks with the U.S. and Europe in Copenhagen.

On Wednesday, the Indian government released a report that showed the country's per capita greenhouse-gas emissions -- thought to be the cause behind global warming -- will be lower over the next two decades than the global per capita emissions in 2005. These levels will also remain lower than those of Western countries for about the same period, the report said.

The findings aim to rebut concerns that India's quest to become a global economic power will transform it into a leading emitter of greenhouse gases. Still largely agrarian and poor, India has bristled at suggestions from industrialized countries, such as the U.S., that it should do more to cap emissions even if it means curbing growth.

Still, the release of the study also demonstrates India's eagerness to justify its pro-growth stance before it heads into climate-change talks. Indian officials have said the government remains focused on eliminating poverty through aggressive economic growth and industrialization.

In December, countries meeting in Copenhagen will try to forge a pact on carbon emission-reduction targets beyond 2012, when the existing international accord expires. India has pledged that it won't allow per capita emissions to surpass the average per capita emissions of developed countries.



Top British climate boffins have said that the only practical hope for arresting global warming is the use of "geoengineering" - techniques intended to reduce the effects of CO2 emissions, as opposed to reducing the CO2 emissions themselves. The scientists add that not only are large emissions cuts politically and diplomatically unfeasible, but that geoengineering would actually be cheaper and easier.

The new arguments come from Professor Peter Cox, Met Office Chair in climate system dynamics at Exeter Uni, and Hazel Jeffery, a major bigwig at the UK Natural Environment Research Council. The pair presented the case for geoengineering in an article for Physics World yesterday. Following on from a recent review of geoengineering techniques carried out for the Royal Society, Cox and Jeffery outline the various strategies which have been put forward - generally efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere or to reflect sunlight back into space.

According to the two scientists, so-called "conventional mitigation" - that is, the curbing of CO2 emissions - is highly unlikely to be implemented effectively by the whole human race, and even if it is it won't work. "Even if global CO2 emissions are cut by 50% by 2050, this now seems unlikely to be enough to keep global warming below 2°C this century ... global CO2 emissions have continued to climb despite growing concerns over climate change. Given that conventional mitigation now appears insufficient to avoid dangerous climate change, do we have a plan B? This is the motivation for geoengineering."

Cox and Jeffery say that most climate scientists have until lately refused to discuss geoengineering as it might seem to allow continued or even increased carbon emissions - generally seen as totally unacceptable among specialists in the field. "Discussion of geoengineering proposals remained taboo among mainstream climate scientists until 2006... The primary reason there has been so little debate about geoengineering amongst climate scientists is concern that such a debate would imply an alternative to reducing the human carbon footprint."

Bitchslap for white roofs and artificial trees

The pair seem to back up the worst fears of conventional climate scientists, by saying - more or less - that it would be cheaper for the human race to carry on emitting carbon as much as we like and save the planet using geoengineering, as compared to cutting CO2 emissions. A renewables or nuclear powered world using electric or hydrogen transport would be much more expensive to implement than a coal and oil burning civilisation with global warming controlled by an upper-atmosphere particulate sunscreen, for instance. "While some approaches, such as ocean fertilization or white-roof techniques, can be ruled out because they are unlikely to have a significant global climate benefit, most of the geoengineering proposals appear cheap compared with conventional mitigation. More importantly, many have a higher climate benefit to annual cost ratio than conventional mitigation...

The estimated costs of maintaining a sulphate aerosol shield, most likely through a small number of dedicated high-flying aircraft, are remarkably cheap compared with the costs of conventional mitigation by factors of hundreds or even thousands."

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers will be cross, as they have recently suggested that white roofs would be a good notion. In the same document, the IMechE also said that extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere for sequestration underground would be a brilliant plan.

Cox and Jeffery disagree, however, saying that artificial trees and sequestration would be even more expensive than cutting emissions. The only advantage of the scheme would be that it probably couldn't have unforeseen negative side-effects as with the upper-atmos particulate planes notion. But one could say the same of cutting emissions, which would be cheaper than artificial trees - and yet still so expensive as to mean that it can't happen. "The safest alternative to conventional mitigation is CO2 air capture, which removes the primary cause of global warming and therefore avoids the risks associated with termination, regional climate change and ocean acidification. Currently, however, air capture appears expensive relative to conventional mitigation and very expensive relative to large-scale techniques for solar-radiation management."

Essentially, according to the two boffins, the only planet-saving plans the human race is likely to actually carry out are those which are significantly cheaper and more convenient than conventional emissions cuts. Such plans would appear to offer the only realistic way that a very serious temperature rise can be avoided: so in fact, they should be the main stream of climate science - rather than on the fringe as they are now. "For scientists who want to save the planet, there should be no more attractive research field than geoengineering," the pair write.


NOTE: See also: Engineering the climate, Peter Cox and Hazel Jeffery, Physics World, September 2009


BP has reopened the debate on when the "peak oil" supply will be reached by announcing a big new discovery in the Gulf of Mexico which some believe could be as large as the Forties, the biggest field ever found in the North Sea. The strike comes days after Iran unveiled an even larger find of 8.8bn barrels of crude oil, and the moves have encouraged sceptics of theories which say that peak production has been reached, or soon will be, to hail a new golden age of exploration and supply. BP, already the largest producer of hydrocarbons in the US, said its "giant" Tiber discovery in 4,100ft (1,250m) of water was particularly exciting because it promised to open up a whole new area.

Shares in BP were up 4% to 539p in afternoon trading, making it the biggest riser in the FTSE 100 despite the company saying much more drilling appraisal work was needed before Tiber's commerciality could be guaranteed. "Tiber represents BP's second material discovery in the emerging lower tertiary play in the Gulf of Mexico, following our earlier Kaskida discovery," said Andy Inglis, chief executive of exploration and production. "These material discoveries, together with our industry-leading acreage position, support the continuing growth of our deepwater Gulf of Mexico business into the second half of the next decade."

Analysts agreed that the find appeared to be very significant. "Any time an oil major uses the word 'giant' you have to sit up and take note. Kaskida confirmed the western limits of the lower tertiary play and this extends the limits even further," said Matt Snyder, a Gulf of Mexico specialist at oil consultancy Wood Mackenzie. Fadel Gheit, an equity analyst who follows the oil sector for the Oppenheimer brokerage in New York, said the discovery was a "big feather in BP's cap and reaffirms their leading position in the deep water Gulf of Mexico".

BP itself believes that Tiber is bigger than the prospect on the nearby Kaskida field found in 2006, which has around 3bn barrels of oil reserves in place, while industry experts said Tiber might be as large as Forties, which has 4bn barrels.

Excitement around Tiber comes amid a welter of new finds both in established oil producing areas such as Iran and in new areas such as Uganda and western Greenland. There has recently been an oil rush in the deep waters off Brazil and talk of large onshore volumes of new gas in Holland, although the UK's North Sea fields have seen a slump in drilling levels. "Its an amazing turnaround from the gloom of the last 10 years. All these finds will take a long time to bring on stream, but it shows the industry is capable of finding more oil than it uses and shows we have not come to any peak," said Peter Odell, professor emeritus of international energy studies at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

However, exponents of peak oil theories said the BP find would not fundamentally change the longer-term supply-and-demand picture. "The International Energy Agency said in its 2008 report that the world needed to find six new Saudi Arabias to meet the growing demand for oil in the future," said Jeremy Leggett, chairman of the renewable power company Solarcentury, and a key peak energy specialist.


NOTE FROM BENNY PEISER: The recent discoveries and the prospects of increasing deep sea oil recovery appears to confirm what the late Julian Simon underlined many years ago: As oil demand and prices rise, so do the economic incentives to invest in new technologies that allow deeper drilling, leading to more discoveries and increased recovery:"The history of energy economics shows that, in spite of troubling fears in each era of running out of whichever source of energy was important at that time, energy has grown progressively less scarce, as shown by long-run falling energy prices. The cause of the increasing plenty in the supply of energy has been the development of improved extraction processes and the discovery of new sources and new types of energy. These new developments have not been fortuitous, but rather have been induced by increased demand caused in part by rising population. A sure way to err in forecasting future supplies is to look at current "known reserves" of oil, coal, and other fossil fuels." (The Ultimate Resource II, 1996,


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