Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Global sea level rise dampened by Australian floods?

"Australia is in a major drought".  Then what's that stuff that's been falling from the sky outside my window in Brisbane this August  -- a normally "dry" month?

Someone else will have to do the numbers on this but the whole thing smells to high heaven.  Only a small percentage of the rain fell in the Australian outback.  As it always does, most of the rain fell onto the narrow East coastal plain, where it was promptly returned to the sea via the many big coastal rivers  -- JR

New research led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) shows that when three atmospheric patterns came together over the Indian and Pacific oceans, they drove so much precipitation over Australia in 2010 and 2011 that the world’s ocean levels dropped measurably. Unlike other continents, the soils and topography of Australia prevent almost all of its precipitation from running off into the ocean.

The 2010-11 event temporarily halted a long-term trend of rising sea levels caused by higher temperatures and melting ice sheets.

Now that the atmospheric patterns have snapped back and more rain is falling over tropical oceans, the seas are rising again. In fact, with Australia in a major drought, they are rising faster than before.

“It’s a beautiful illustration of how complicated our climate system is,” says NCAR scientist John Fasullo, the lead author of the study. “The smallest continent in the world can affect sea level worldwide. Its influence is so strong that it can temporarily overcome the background trend of rising sea levels that we see with climate change.”

The study, with co-authors from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Colorado at Boulder, will be published next month in Geophysical Research Letters. It was funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR’s sponsor, and by NASA.

Consistent rising, interrupted

As the climate warms, the world’s oceans have been rising in recent decades by just more than 3 millimeters (0.1 inches) annually. This is partly because the heat causes water to expand, and partly because runoff from retreating glaciers and ice sheets is making its way into the oceans.

But for an 18-month period beginning in 2010, the oceans mysteriously dropped by about 7 millimeters (about 0.3 inches), more than offsetting the annual rise.

Fasullo and his co-authors published research last year demonstrating that the reason had to do with the increased rainfall over tropical continents. They also showed that the drop coincided with the atmospheric oscillation known as La Niña, which cooled tropical surface waters in the eastern Pacific and suppressed rainfall there while enhancing it over other portions of the tropical Pacific, Africa, South America, and Australia.

But an analysis of the historical record showed that past La Niña events only rarely accompanied such a pronounced drop in sea level.

Using a combination of satellite instruments and other tools, the new study finds that the picture in 2010–11 was uniquely complex. A rare combination of two other semi-cyclic climate modes came together to drive such large amounts of rain over Australia that the continent, on average, received almost one foot (300 millimeters) of rain more than average.

The initial effects of La Niña were to cool surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean and push moisture to the west. A climate pattern known as the Southern Annular Mode then coaxed the moisture into Australia’s interior, causing widespread flooding across the continent. Later in the event, high levels of moisture from the Indian Ocean driven by the Indian Ocean Dipole collided with La Niña-borne moisture in the Pacific and pushed even more moisture into the continent’s interior. Together, these influences spurred one of the wettest periods in Australia’s recorded history.

Australia’s vast interior, called the Outback, is ringed by coastal mountains and often quite dry. Because of the low-lying nature of the continent’s eastern interior and the lack of river runoff in its western dry environment, most of the heavy rainfall of 2010–11 remained inland rather than flowing into the oceans. While some of it evaporated in the desert sun, much of it sank into the dry, granular soil of the Western Plateau or filled the Lake Eyre basin in the east.

“No other continent has this combination of atmospheric set-up and topography,” Fasullo says. “Only in Australia could the atmosphere carry such heavy tropical rains to such a large area, only to have those rains fail to make their way to the ocean.”

Measuring the difference

To conduct the research, the scientists turned to three cutting-edge observing instrument systems:

 *   NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, which make detailed measurements of Earth’s gravity field. The satellites enable scientists to monitor changes in the mass of continents.

*    The Argo global array of 3,000 free-drifting floats that measure the temperature and salinity of the upper 6,000 feet of the world’s oceans.

 *   Satellite-based altimeters that are continuously calibrated against a network of tide gauges. Scientists subtract seasonal and other variations to closely estimate global sea level changes.

Using these instruments, the researchers found that the mass in Australia and, to a lesser extent, South America began to increase in 2010 as the continents experienced heavy and persistent rain. At the same time, sea levels began to measurably drop.

Since 2011, when the atmospheric patterns shifted out of their unusual combination, sea levels have been rising at a faster pace of about 10 millimeters (0.4 inches) per year.

Scientists are uncertain how often the three atmospheric events come together to cause such heavy rains over Australia. Fasullo believes there may have been a similar event in 1973-74, which was another time of record flooding in that continent. But modern observing instruments did not exist then, making it impossible to determine what took place in the atmosphere and whether it affected sea level rise.

“Luckily, we’ve got great observations now,” Fasullo says. “We need to maintain these observing platforms to understand what is a complicated climate system.”


IPCC: Last 30-year period warmest of last 800 years

Obvious question:  So why was it so warm 800 years ago?  Coal-fired power stations back then?

The Washington Post reports:

    The latest review of climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), though not finalized, is making the rounds. The prevailing headline is that the panel is more certain than ever that most of the warming observed in recent decades is human-caused. It’s level of certainty has increased from at least 90 percent in 2007 to at least 95 percent in the new report.

    Officials from the IPCC stress that the leaked draft is not its final product. A government review is ongoing, so some of the conclusions may be altered. But here are some of the more interesting preliminary findings…


British government Ministers at war over secret wind farm evidence

An official study of the impact of wind farms and renewable energy on the countryside is being suppressed by the Department of Energy, Coalition sources have disclosed to The Daily Telegraph.
Wind turbine close-up

The newspaper has learnt that a new Government row over wind farms is blocking a report that could provide official confirmation that the controversial turbines can harm rural areas.

Sources have said that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) — run by Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat — wants to stop Owen Paterson, the Conservative Environment Secretary, publishing a major report that he has commissioned on renewable energy and the rural economy.

Mr Paterson, a known opponent of onshore wind farms, is understood to be furious at the attempts to stifle his department and is said to be “determined” to publish the findings. In June, he said that onshore turbines were often regarded as a “complete scam”.

Opponents of wind farms claim that they are unsightly and are an inefficient method of energy generation.

Sources in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) tonight claimed that figures in Mr Davey’s department were more concerned about “ideology” than scientific evidence. “This is our department,” a source said. “We are doing this report. It is part of our remit.”

It is claimed that figures in the DECC are concerned that the report, which has not been completed, could include negative conclusions about how renewable energy affects the rural economy.

“They don’t want information out there that would allow people to challenge the energy solution that they are going after,” the source added.

David Cameron this month signalled his growing opposition to onshore wind farms, saying that there is now “limited potential” for the technology in the UK.

The Prime Minister said he was in favour of offshore wind and shale gas exploration, known as fracking.

Mr Paterson’s report is about the impact of all renewable-energy sources on the countryside and on the rural economy. “There has been a back-and-forth with DECC but we are doing this report,” a source said. “We want some hard and fast evidence about the effect of renewables on rural communities. That is well within our portfolio.”

No DECC officials have seen the report as it is still in its early stages, it is understood. It is claimed that officials in the energy department have expressed concerns about the “principle of [the] report and what they fear may be documented about some renewables”.

The DECC said the departments were working together but appeared to raise doubts about the quality of Defra’s work.

A spokesman said: “We are currently working with Defra to ensure that a final report meets the usual standards and quality assurances that you would expect from any Government publication.”

A Defra spokesman said: “We need to ensure that energy is generated in a way that is sustainable.

“We need to understand the effects that different technologies have on the environment and on communities across the country. The energy report is not yet complete.”

In June, following government moves to make it easier for local communities to block wind farms, Mr Paterson said: “I know there is huge unhappiness with some of these projects.

“There are places where these projects are well prepared, the community wants it. But in inland areas they are very often deeply unpopular.”

According to sources, Mr Paterson is in favour of “appropriate renewables” and is not opposed to some biomass projects and fracking. Defra said the report was being produced by civil servants in the department and that it will be peer-reviewed by experts when it is finished.

The row has echoes of a dispute last year between Mr Davey and John Hayes, the former energy minister. Mr Davey slapped down his Tory colleague after Mr Hayes said that the spread of wind farms across the countryside will be brought to a halt as “enough is enough”.

The Energy Secretary was forced to publicly state that government policy had not changed after Mr Hayes called for an end to wind farms being “peppered” all over the countryside.

In March, Mr Hayes was moved from his role as energy minister and became the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary adviser. He is tasked with improving relations between the Tory leadership and backbenchers.

He was replaced by Michael Fallon, who is also retaining his position as a business minister.

The Government has committed to erecting thousands of new onshore turbines by 2020.

DECC projections published earlier this year said that the Government is aiming to double the amount of onshore wind capacity in the country over the next 10 years.

Currently 6.3 gigawatts of energy comes from onshore wind — equating to 4,074 turbines. The DECC has said that the country could produce between 10 and 12 gigawatts of energy from onshore wind farms by 2020.

However, while speaking to factory workers in Lancashire earlier this month, the Prime Minister said that people should not “expect to see a lot more wind power onshore in the UK”. “There’s a limited potential for onshore wind,” Mr Cameron said.

“Frankly, we’ve got some in the UK — I don’t think we’re going to have a huge amount more.

“We’ve just changed the rules, we’ve cut the subsidies and we’ve said that any schemes that go ahead have to give more benefit to local communities. So I wouldn’t expect to see a lot more wind power onshore in the UK.”


Drilling set to resume at British fracking site as protesters quit site: Three more arrested but numbers dwindle

Drilling is expected to resume within days at a potential fracking site after police gained the upper-hand over a dwindling numbers of protesters.

Engineers were carrying out maintenance yesterday in preparation for exploratory drilling for shale gas on the outskirts of Balcombe, West Sussex.

Police made a series of targeted arrests around the camps after reviewing CCTV evidence of Monday’s violent protests. More than eight riot-trained policeman jumped out of a minibus before surrounding one female suspect and quickly driving her away for allegedly earlier assaulting an officer.

Altogether, three people were arrested yesterday, two for offences that happened during Monday’s protests and one for a public disorder offence while a lorry was entering the site.

Many of the activists had already decided to leave – with some saying they would focus on other sites that currently have applications for drilling being considered.

Hundreds of environmental campaigners had been buoyed by Sussex Police’s advice to energy company Cuadrilla last week that it could not secure the area from incursions.

As a result, the company decided to temporarily ‘scale down’ work to see how much potential energy was buried deep under the ground. This led to accusations the police had given into mob rule and were not enforcing the rule of law.

But after a day of action where the protesters were cleared away from the main gate, lorries and workers were yesterday escorted safely by police onto the site.

Following the arrest of 29 people – including Green MP Caroline Lucas – campaigner numbers have fallen to a third of the 1,200 present during the weekend. The ‘Reclaim the Power’ camp that was set up two miles away in a farmer’s field was also being dismantled yesterday and due to be completely cleared by tonight.

Sources say Cuadrilla executives now believe they can contain the site with the current police presence and private security patrolling the perimeter. Drilling, which was suspended last week, is provisionally planned to resume by the end of the week.

Sussex Police have been joined by more than 10 forces helping to provide a combined force of 400 officers to patrol the site around the clock.

Dave Packham, 37, who is unemployed and from London, was trying to hitch-hike back to the capital. He said: ‘I think it’s all over now. I came down last week but numbers have really dropped.

‘It was fun while it lasted and there was a great atmosphere. This has been like a music festival and people have really pulled together. I think the police are now not going to let us carry on so it’s time to move on.’

A statement on the ‘No Dash For Gas’ campaign website said its activists were considering more direct action techniques in Balcombe and other UK sites following the police clamp-down.
Back up and running: Drilling at the Cuadrilla site is expected to resume by the end of the week

Back up and running: Drilling at the Cuadrilla site is expected to resume by the end of the week

Cuadrilla had hoped to carry out exploratory drilling to assess if it is worth applying for a licence to extract shale gas that might involve fracking. The overall police operation against the protesters is expected to cost taxpayers more than £2million as it goes into its third week.

Fracking pumps liquid at high pressure deep underground to split shale rock and release gas to be used as fuel. Campaigners say this might pollute local water supplies and cause earthquakes.

Cuadrilla said in a statement: ‘Cuadrilla is rightly held accountable for complying with multiple planning and environmental permits and conditions, which we have met and will continue to meet.

‘Clearly we are held to one set of legally enforceable standards while some protesters believe that they can set out and follow their own.’

Under pressure, David Cameron broke his silence over whether he would support fracking in his Witney constituency, saying he would welcome it.

Last week, his spokesman declined ten times to give a definitive answer on the controversial practice.

But the same spokesman said on Monday: ‘If locally led planning processes were followed then yes, the Prime Minister would be happy [for fracking to go ahead].’ Mr Cameron has said the whole country should accept fracking as it might potentially cut rising energy bills.

Brighton MP Miss Lucas yesterday said she took direct action during a sit-in because ‘the Government isn’t listening’ to campaigner’s concerns.

Sussex Police said nine people who took part in protests on Monday had been charged with mainly public disorder offences, five cautioned and 14 bailed until a later date.

Last night, Sussex Police said fireworks and drugs had been seized from an area of woodland close to the Cuadrilla site where protesters have been accused of threatening a local landowner who asked them to leave.


Shale gas and Ayn Rand

by James Delingpole

For my summer holidays I have been mostly reading Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand has her faults but, boy, was she prescient.

One of the things she foresaw was the current nonsensical, dishonest, canting campaign against shale gas. In Atlas Shrugged it takes the form of Rearden Metal, the miracle technology which is going to transform the US economy if only the progressives will let it. But of course, Rand’s fictional progressives don’t want Reardon Metal to succeed any more than their modern, real-life equivalents want shale gas to succeed.

Why not? For the same rag-bag of made-up, disingenuous reasons which progressives have used to justify their war on progress since time immemorial: it’s unfair, it uses up scarce resources, it might be dangerous. Rand doesn’t actually use the phrase “the precautionary principle.” But this is exactly what she is describing in the book when various vested interests – the corporatists in bed with big government, the politicised junk-scientists at the Institute of Science (aka, in our world, the National Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society), the unions – try to close down the nascent technology using the flimsiest of excuses.

Here's an excerpt from the book. (The story so far: in an ailing economy brought low by the sclerotic regulation of the bloated state, a dwindling band of entrepreneurs try to stick up for free enterprise. One of them is Hank Rearden who forges a new kind of metal, stronger and lighter than steel. But his rivals don't like it, and unlike Rearden, they have friends in DC. Soon an unhelpful report is produced by a special committee of the National Council of Metal Industries…)

    "They said Rearden Metal is a threat to public safety. They said its chemical composition is unsound, it's brittle, it's decomposing molecularly, and it will crack suddenly without warning [.....] They're experts, though, the men on that committee. Top experts. Chief metallurgists for the biggest corporations, with a string of degrees from universities all over the country."

You may have noticed something similar going on with the anti-shale gas campaign. All those "experts" – many from the oil or renewables industries, no doubt with a string of degrees from universities all over the country – who've worked so effectively to delay shale gas exploitation in Britain with their ingenious excuses: our shale plays aren't the same as America's [true: the Bowland shale, for example, is significantly deeper]; our denser population makes it harder to extract without disruption or environmental damage [what? And wind turbines aren't guilty of doing the same, only with far less obvious benefit?]; that the cost of gas won't significantly drop [yeah, that's really persuasive that one. We've got trillions of cubic feet of gas on our doorstep but when we drill for it and vastly increase available supply it won't have any effect on price??].

Then, of course, there are those five big lies about shale gas so brilliantly nailed by Matt Ridley. The one about polluted aquifers, the one about methane, the one about excess water use, the one about the "hundreds of chemicals" the BBC tells us are pumped into the ground, the one about "earthquakes": none of them is credible – yet you hear them being spouted by "experts" and green campaigners and concerned citizens all the time. Well, no wonder those citizens are concerned. When they hear some "authority" given airtime on the BBC and coming up with the usual spiel about earthquakes and water contamination, they not unreasonably expect that that person has been chosen because they know what they're talking about. It never occurs to them that these people might either be liars or green zealots beyond all reason or paid advocates for the massively well-funded and well-advanced anti-fracking campaign (which has, I'd estimate, a good hundred times more to spend on its propaganda than the pro-fracking campaign does).

And so the poisonous meme spreads from corporate liar to greenie activist to useful idiot to gullible prat to Home Counties Tory voter. Suddenly, everyone thinks they know fracking is a bad thing. Even the Church of England now feels able to chip in its tuppenny ha'penny's worth, though on God knows what evidence. Faith in Gaia, presumably.

Again, Ayn Rand foresaw all this. Swelling the ranks of the anti-Rearden-Metal protesters are all sorts of unlikely pressure groups – especially after Rearden Metal is used to make the sleepers on the new, fast, efficient Rio Norte railway line.

    "I don't like the resolution passed by the convention of grade school teachers of New Mexico" said Taggart.

    "What resolution?"

    "They resolved that it was their opinion that children should not be permitted to ride on the new Rio Norte Line of Taggart Transcontinental when it's completed because it is unsafe."

Ah yes. The convention of grade school teachers of New Mexico: of course they'd know. Just like Prince Charles knows. And Natalie Bennet and Caroline Lucas of the Green party knows. And those bright, clued-up sparks in the Diocese of Blackburn know.

Perhaps they gained their expertise from that experty expert Josh Fox the maker of Gasland. Because he's reliable; he'd never just make stuff up, would he?


Australia: 'Green bank' faces the axe after election

The corporation - effectively a green investment bank - was set up as part of the deal between Labor, the Greens and independents over carbon pricing, revenue from which funds the institution.

Since its creation the $10 billion bank has invested close to $800 million in renewables and energy-efficiency projects across the country. Projects include $60 million for a solar farm in Moree and $75 million for plants capturing waste coal mine and landfill gas and turning it into power. But its existence is seriously contested.

Tony Wood, energy program director at think tank the Grattan Institute, said the corporation to date had done little but provide cheap financing to projects, meaning it was just competing with existing market players.

"If the government is going to intervene in the market you need to have a clear rationale and I'm not sure they have made a clear case," he said. Mr Wood said the corporation's energy-efficiency work was worthy but did not require $10 billion.

The [conservative] Coalition has vowed to axe the corporation if it wins the federal election, saying it is backing speculative ventures with borrowed money, which the private sector would not support.

"Why would you pay more than you had to for renewable energy - it's a wacky idea," said opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt.

On the first day of the election campaign Tony Abbott wrote to the corporation's chairman, Jillian Broadbent, to reiterate his government would close it down. It followed similar letters from other Coalition frontbenchers in recent months threatening not to honour contracts signed by the corporation.

On Monday, Fairfax Media reported that banks and other major investors were expecting about $4 billion to be sucked from the renewable energy sector as a result of regulatory uncertainty and the likelihood of lower returns under a Coalition government.

Mr Hunt rejected that report, saying he spoke regularly with major investors and banks and those concerns had not been raised with him.

The chief executive of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Oliver Yates, declined to comment on policies of the major parties, but said he thought the $4 billion funding estimate was likely to be "conservative".

Analysts estimate $20 billion in private and public investment cash would be required to meet the mandatory renewable energy target of 20 per cent clean energy by 2020 that has bipartisan political support.




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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