Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Arctic sea ice reaches a record low: Scientists say 'disturbing' data points to a long-term trend in global warming

Arrant nonsense.  Arctic temperatures increased FAR more than global temperatures.  So this is a local effect, not a global one.  It is Arctic-specific with no demonstrable relevance to CO2 emissions or the alleged effects of CO2 emissions. Since CO2 emissions were in fact flat overall in 2015 and into 2016, it is DEMONSTRABLE that they did not cause the Arctic warming. Non-change doesn't cause change.  The warming could have been caused by oscillations in ocean currents, oscillations in air currents or subsurface vulcanism.  Nobody knows

The growth of Arctic sea ice this winter peaked reached another milestone.

It recorded the lowest maximum level of ice on record, thanks to extraordinarily warm temperatures.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center says ice covered a maximum of 5.607 million square miles of the Arctic Ocean in 2016.

That's 5,000 square miles less than the old record set in 2015 — a difference slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut.

It's also some 431,000 miles less than the 30-year average. That difference is the size of Texas and California combined.

Records go back to 1979 when satellites started measuring sea ice, which forms when Arctic Ocean water freezes.

This year's ice didn't break the record by much, but it's 'an exclamation point' on a longer-term trend, said Nasa scientist Walt Meier, who helped calculate the data.

The sub-par showing doesn't necessarily mean that the minimum extent this summer will also break a record, scientists said.

The summer minimum is more important for affecting Earth's climate and weather.

Data center scientist Julienne Stroeve says winter temperatures over the North Pole were 16 degrees warmer than normal, while other parts of the Arctic ran 4 to 11 degrees warmer than normal.

Data center chief Mark Serreze said: 'I have never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic.' 'It was so warm that the Barents Sea was 'pretty much close to ice -free for almost the whole winter, which is very unusual,' Meier said. Stroeve said early indications show that the sea ice is thinner than last year.

A leading but still controversial theory says loss of sea ice in the Arctic may change the jet stream and bring more extreme weather to the US, Stroeve said.

The new report reveals 'just the latest disturbing data point in a disturbing trend wherein climate changes are happening even faster than we had forecast,' Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said.

However, Nasa adds that the cap of sea ice over the Arctic Ocean is always changing.

Each winter it grows dramatically, usually reaching its maximum in March.It melts just as dramatically each summer, reaching its minimum in September.

In 2015-16, that winter growth got off to a leisurely start due in part to a month of unusually warm weather in the region.

They link this to a phenomenon known as the Arctic Oscillation. This involves differences in air pressure over the Arctic and lower latitudes.

Scientists say a shift in the Arctic Oscillation likely weakened the atmospheric barrier between the polar latitudes and the mid-latitudes


More than global warming afflicts endangered Shishmaref

The village of Shishmaref is as much a global symbol as an Alaska town. Located on Sarichef Island off the northern coast of the Seward Peninsula, the tiny community is remote even by Alaska standards. The population, which hovers around 560 residents, is almost entirely Inupiat and the economy primarily built around subsistence rather than cash.

What brought Shishmaref international renown is its precarious state. Sarichef is eroding in no small part due to the pernicious effects of climate change. There’s no question that the village will be abandoned at some point in the relatively near future. This impending fate has brought researchers and reporters from all over the world into town, and their consensus is that the residents of Shishmaref will soon be among the world’s first people to become climate refugees in the truest sense of the term.

The reality is somewhat more complicated.

“Fierce Climate Sacred Ground” is a brief book by Oregon State University-Cascades anthropology professor Elizabeth Marino. Based on her ethnographic studies of the people of Shishmaref, it places their plight in a broader context than just global warming. Drawn from her doctoral dissertation, written while she was a graduate student at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, it’s a somewhat academically oriented work, but one that remains accessible. It is essential reading for the heightened perspective it offers on a situation too often simplified for the purposes of those with differing political objectives.

The popular version of the story, Marino explains, is that Shishmaref is a small village of people living a deeply traditional lifestyle who are in danger of losing everything to forces far away and beyond their control. This understanding is true to an extent, but it overlooks the history of the community.

Government role
What has caused Shishmaref to stand out for many is the somewhat mistaken belief that unlike climate refugees elsewhere on the planet, residents of this village are losing their homes entirely to climate change. This differs from climate crises in developing nations, where a combination of political ineptitude, economic failures and environmental challenges created vulnerable populations and where rising temperatures are simply the final blow to fragile communities.

As Marino explains, in America we like to think that our own government didn’t play a role in creating problems like the one in Shishmaref. She doesn’t explicitly say it, but this view is useful to both environmentalists and economic conservatives. For environmentalists it means the entirety of the situation can be blamed on human carbon emissions, while conservatives can insist that since the government didn’t place the village on Sarichef, it shouldn’t be responsible for relocating it.

In truth, the government did play an important role in locating the town. Shishmaref has on one level existed hundreds of years, but historically it was a seasonally occupied settlement used by people who migrated across the landscape seeking the best places to gather food.

Early in the 20th century the U.S. government pursued a deliberate policy of ending all nomadic lifestyles among Native Americans. The people of Shishmaref weren’t forcibly collectivized in the way that Natives were elsewhere in the country in the 19th century, but the government’s opening of a school in Shishmaref, coupled with the onset of compulsory education, had the same effect.

For the traditionally mobile Inupiat who settled there, Shishmaref made a certain amount of sense. It’s ideally located for winter hunting on sea ice and close enough to the mainland to access traditional subsistence grounds in summer. It was, however, always tenuous ground to build on.

Desperate situation
Erosion has been impacting Sarichef for a very long time, and as early as the 1970s there was already talk of moving Shishmaref to the mainland.

The problem is that the village itself lacks the resources to do so, while neither the state of Alaska nor the federal government is eager to pick up the tab, and the bureaucratic hurdles are enormous.

Compounding residents’ woes, since it is considered temporary even by some of the people who live there, the village has not seen the sort of upgrades other rural communities in Alaska have received. Instead a series of mostly failed stopgap measures have been taken to try to ward off erosion while the decision of where and when to move the town keeps getting studied and discussed into oblivion. Meanwhile, the steadily lengthening ice-free season has left shorelines exposed to storms that themselves are aggravated by climate change, speeding the pace of erosion and consistently thwarting efforts at maintaining the ground beneath the town.

For residents of Shishmaref, it’s a desperate situation. As a people they have lived in the region for centuries, and they see remaining there as integral to their cultural identity. If, as many have suggested, they simply integrate into other towns, they lose their sense of who they are. For the people of Shishmaref, Marino explains, this would be cultural genocide. Their lands and subsistence lifestyle define them. Everything else about their culture has already been taken away. That they live in a town rather than nomadically was entirely due to decisions made in Washington, D.C., and Juneau. Their present dilemma springs from a history over which they were often deprived of a say. What they want most this time is a voice in their own fate.

Midway through her book, Marino asks, “Is the risk posed to Shishmaref the product of climate change or the product of a history of development that ignored local knowledge and removed local adaptation strategies?” While much of the reporting on Shishmaref has focused on the former cause, Marino’s important book shows us that, in her own words, “the simple equation that anthropogenic climate change = erosion = relocation is not an accurate analysis of this complex sociological system.”

History, she demonstrates, shows us why this is.


The Catch-22 of Energy Storage

Pick up a research paper on battery technology, fuel cells, energy storage technologies or any of the advanced materials science used in these fields, and you will likely find somewhere in the introductory paragraphs a throwaway line about its application to the storage of renewable energy.  Energy storage makes sense for enabling a transition away from fossil fuels to more intermittent sources like wind and solar, and the storage problem presents a meaningful challenge for chemists and materials scientists… Or does it?

Guest Post by John Morgan. John is Chief Scientist at a Sydney startup developing smart grid and grid scale energy storage technologies.  He is Adjunct Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT, holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry, and is an experienced industrial R&D leader.  You can follow John on twitter at @JohnDPMorgan. First published in Chemistry in Australia.

Several recent analyses of the inputs to our energy systems indicate that, against expectations, energy storage cannot solve the problem of intermittency of wind or solar power.  Not for reasons of technical performance, cost, or storage capacity, but for something more intractable: there is not enough surplus energy left over after construction of the generators and the storage system to power our present civilization.

The problem is analysed in an important paper by Weißbach et al.1 in terms of energy returned on energy invested, or EROEI – the ratio of the energy produced over the life of a power plant to the energy that was required to build it.  It takes energy to make a power plant – to manufacture its components, mine the fuel, and so on.  The power plant needs to make at least this much energy to break even.  A break-even powerplant has an EROEI of 1.  But such a plant would pointless, as there is no energy surplus to do the useful things we use energy for.

There is a minimum EROEI, greater than 1, that is required for an energy source to be able to run society.  An energy system must produce a surplus large enough to sustain things like food production, hospitals, and universities to train the engineers to build the plant, transport, construction, and all the elements of the civilization in which it is embedded.

For countries like the US and Germany, Weißbach et al. estimate this minimum viable EROEI to be about 7.  An energy source with lower EROEI cannot sustain a society at those levels of complexity, structured along similar lines.  If we are to transform our energy system, in particular to one without climate impacts, we need to pay close attention to the EROEI of the end result.

The EROEI values for various electrical power plants are summarized in the figure.  The fossil fuel power sources we’re most accustomed to have a high EROEI of about 30, well above the minimum requirement.  Wind power at 16, and concentrating solar power (CSP, or solar thermal power) at 19, are lower, but the energy surplus is still sufficient, in principle, to sustain a developed industrial society.  Biomass, and solar photovoltaic (at least in Germany), however, cannot.  With an EROEI of only 3.9 and 3.5 respectively, these power sources cannot support with their energy alone both their own fabrication and the societal services we use energy for in a first world country.

Energy Returned on Invested, from Weißbach et al.,1 with and without energy storage (buffering).  CCGT is closed-cycle gas turbine.  PWR is a Pressurized Water (conventional nuclear) Reactor.  Energy sources must exceed the “economic threshold”, of about 7, to yield the surplus energy required to support an OECD level society.
Energy Returned on Invested, from Weißbach et al.,1 with and without energy storage (buffering).  CCGT is closed-cycle gas turbine.  PWR is a Pressurized Water (conventional nuclear) Reactor.  Energy sources must exceed the “economic threshold”, of about 7, to yield the surplus energy required to support an OECD level society.

These EROEI values are for energy directly delivered (the “unbuffered” values in the figure).  But things change if we need to store energy.  If we were to store energy in, say, batteries, we must invest energy in mining the materials and manufacturing those batteries.  So a larger energy investment is required, and the EROEI consequently drops.

Weißbach et al. calculated the EROEIs assuming pumped hydroelectric energy storage.  This is the least energy intensive storage technology.  The energy input is mostly earthmoving and construction.  It’s a conservative basis for the calculation; chemical storage systems requiring large quantities of refined specialty materials would be much more energy intensive.  Carbajales-Dale et al.2 cite data asserting batteries are about ten times more energy intensive than pumped hydro storage.

Adding storage greatly reduces the EROEI (the “buffered” values in the figure).  Wind “firmed” with storage, with an EROEI of 3.9, joins solar PV and biomass as an unviable energy source.  CSP becomes marginal (EROEI ~9) with pumped storage, so is probably not viable with molten salt thermal storage.  The EROEI of solar PV with pumped hydro storage drops to 1.6, barely above breakeven, and with battery storage is likely in energy deficit.

This is a rather unsettling conclusion if we are looking to renewable energy for a transition to a low carbon energy system: we cannot use energy storage to overcome the variability of solar and wind power.

In particular, we can’t use batteries or chemical energy storage systems, as they would lead to much worse figures than those presented by Weißbach et al.  Hydroelectricity is the only renewable power source that is unambiguously viable.  However, hydroelectric capacity is not readily scaled up as it is restricted by suitable geography, a constraint that also applies to pumped hydro storage.

This particular study does not stand alone.  Closer to home, Springer have just published a monograph, Energy in Australia,3 which contains an extended discussion of energy systems with a particular focus on EROEI analysis, and draws similar conclusions to Weißbach.  Another study by a group at Stanford2 is more optimistic, ruling out storage for most forms of solar, but suggesting it is viable for wind.  However, this viability is judged only on achieving an energy surplus (EROEI>1), not sustaining society (EROEI~7), and excludes the round trip energy losses in storage, finite cycle life, and the energetic cost of replacement of storage.  Were these included, wind would certainly fall below the sustainability threshold.

It’s important to understand the nature of this EROEI limit.  This is not a question of inadequate storage capacity – we can’t just buy or make more storage to make it work.  It’s not a question of energy losses during charge and discharge, or the number of cycles a battery can deliver.  We can’t look to new materials or technological advances, because the limits at the leading edge are those of earthmoving and civil engineering.  The problem can’t be addressed through market support mechanisms, carbon pricing, or cost reductions.  This is a fundamental energetic limit that will likely only shift if we find less materially intensive methods for dam construction.

This is not to say wind and solar have no role to play.  They can expand within a fossil fuel system, reducing overall emissions.  But without storage the amount we can integrate in the grid is greatly limited by the stochastically variable output.  We could, perhaps, build out a generation of solar and wind and storage at high penetration.  But we would be doing so on an endowment of fossil fuel net energy, which is not sustainable.  Without storage, we could smooth out variability by building redundant generator capacity over large distances.  But the additional infrastructure also forces the EROEI down to unviable levels.  The best way to think about wind and solar is that they can reduce the emissions of fossil fuels, but they cannot eliminate them.  They offer mitigation, but not replacement.

Nor is this to say there is no value in energy storage.  Battery systems in electric vehicles clearly offer potential to reduce dependency on, and emissions from, oil (provided the energy is sourced from clean power).  Rooftop solar power combined with four hours of battery storage can usefully timeshift peak electricity demand,3 reducing the need for peaking power plants and grid expansion.  And battery technology advances make possible many of our recently indispensable consumer electronics.  But what storage can’t do is enable significant replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy.

If we want to cut emissions and replace fossil fuels, it can be done, and the solution is to be found in the upper right of the figure.  France and Ontario, two modern, advanced societies, have all but eliminated fossil fuels from their electricity grids, which they have built from the high EROEI sources of hydroelectricity and nuclear power.  Ontario in particular recently burnt its last tonne of coal, and each jurisdiction uses just a few percent of gas fired power.  This is a proven path to a decarbonized electricity grid.

But the idea that advances in energy storage will enable renewable energy is a chimera – the Catch-22 is that in overcoming intermittency by adding storage, the net energy is reduced below the level required to sustain our present civilization.

BNC Postscript

When this article was published in CiA some readers had difficulty with the idea of a minimum societal EROI.  Why can’t we make do with any positive energy surplus, if we just build more plant?  Hall4 breaks it down with the example of oil:

Think of a society dependent upon one resource: its domestic oil. If the EROI for this oil was 1.1:1 then one could pump the oil out of the ground and look at it. If it were 1.2:1 you could also refine it and look at it, 1.3:1 also distribute it to where you want to use it but all you could do is look at it. Hall et al. 2008 examined the EROI required to actually run a truck and found that if the energy included was enough to build and maintain the truck and the roads and bridges required to use it, one would need at least a 3:1 EROI at the wellhead.

Now if you wanted to put something in the truck, say some grain, and deliver it, that would require an EROI of, say, 5:1 to grow the grain. If you wanted to include depreciation on the oil field worker, the refinery worker, the truck driver and the farmer you would need an EROI of say 7 or 8:1 to support their families. If the children were to be educated you would need perhaps 9 or 10:1, have health care 12:1, have arts in their life maybe 14:1, and so on. Obviously to have a modern civilization one needs not simply surplus energy but lots of it, and that requires either a high EROI or a massive source of moderate EROI fuels.


A New Study Shows How Climate Science Could Be All Wrong

What could the theory of “ego depletion” possibly have to do with global warming?

Ego depletion is the idea in psychology that humans have a limited amount of willpower that can be depleted. It’s been largely accepted as true for almost two decades, after two psychologists devised an experiment in self-control that involved fresh-baked cookies and radishes.

One group of test subjects were told they could only eat the radishes, another could eat the cookies. Then they were given an unsolvable puzzle to solve. The researchers found that radish eaters gave up on the puzzle more quickly than the cookie eaters. The conclusion was that the radish eaters had used up their willpower trying not to eat the cookies.

Daniel Engber, writing in Slate, notes that the study has been cited more than 3,000 times, and that in the years after it appeared, its findings “have been borne out again and again in empirical studies. The effect has been recreated in hundreds of different ways, and the underlying concept has been verified via meta-analysis. It’s not some crazy new idea, wobbling on a pile of flimsy data; it’s a sturdy edifice of knowledge, built over many years from solid bricks.”

But, he says, it “could be completely bogus.”

A “massive effort” to recreate “the main effect underlying this work” using 2,000 subjects in two-dozen different labs on several continents found … nothing.

The study, due to be published next month in Perspectives on Psychological Science, “means an entire field of study — and significant portions of certain scientists’ careers — could be resting on a false premise.”

Engber laments that “If something this well-established could fall apart, then what’s next? That’s not just worrying. It’s terrifying.”

Actually, it’s science.

As Thomas Kuhn explained in his 1962 book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” this kind of event is typical in the course of scientific progress.

A “paradigm” takes hold in the scientific community based on early research, which subsequent studies appear to confirm, but which can later collapse as findings that don’t fit the paradigm start to accumulate. Kuhn found several such “paradigm shifts” in history.

The ego depletion findings also come as scientists are starting to realize that much, if not most, of what gets published is essentially bogus because it can’t be reproduced by subsequent studies.

“By some estimates,” notes an article in Quartz, “at least 51% — and as much as 89% — of published papers are based on studies and experiments showing results that cannot be reproduced.”

The Quartz article says one reason is a bias in scientific journals to produce “exciting studies that show strong results.”

“Studies that show strong, positive results get published, while similar studies that come up with no significant effects sit at the bottom of researchers’ drawers.”

So what does any of this have to do with global warming?

Democrats routinely accuse Republicans of being “anti-science” because they tend to be skeptical about claims made by climate scientists — whether it’s about how much man has contributed to global warming, how much warming has actually taken place, or scary predictions of future environmental catastrophes.

There’s a scientific consensus, we’re told, and anyone who doesn’t toe the line is “denier.”

Yet even as deniers get chastised, evidence continues to emerge that pokes holes in some of the basic tenets of climate change.

Evidence such as the fact that actual temperature trends don’t match what climate change computer models say should have happened since the industrial age. Or that satellite measurements haven’t shown warming for two decades. Or that past predictions of more extreme weather have failed to come true.

It is certainly possible then, that today’s climate change paradigm — and all the fear and loathing about CO2 emissions — could one day end up looking as quaint as Ptolemy’s theory of the solar system or Galen’s theory of anatomy.

It’s possible. And anyone who believes in science has to admit that.


Calls for Fracking Bans Ignore Sound Science

Some politicians and environmental activists have been quick to call for blanket bans on hydraulic fracturing under claims that the process is poisoning America’s drinking water. Scientific evidence, from both government agencies and independent analyses, proves otherwise.

For instance, The Environmental Protection Agency’s last study, released in June of 2015 and the most comprehensive government study on fracking’s impact so far, clearly states that “we did not find evidence … [of] widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

The EPA’s analysis is hardly the first study to refute the oft-repeated myth that fracking poses a serious threat to American drinking water. In 2009, the Department of Energy conducted a report that declared fracking “safe and effective.” In 2014, the Department of Energy released another study of the Marcellus Shale that found no evidence of fracking contaminating water supplies.

Again in 2014, the National Academy of Sciences released a a report finding that the contamination of water resources in Pennsylvania and Texas were attributable to well leaks, not hydraulic fracturing.

Groundwater aquifers sit thousands of feet above the level at which fracking takes place, and energy companies construct wells with steel-surface casings and cement barriers to prevent gas migration If any leaks or contamination does occur, companies should pay for the economic and environmental damages they cause from such well leaks. But these leaks are not a systemic problem of the industry, much less something that causes widespread polluted water.

Such statements by progressives and environmental activists, manifestly in conflict with actual experience and the science of the issue, pose a serious threat to the vast economic benefits of fracking. Scholars of all stripes agree that fracking is excellent for the economy, providing Americans with jobs, communities near fracking wells with economic booms, and U.S. households with significant energy savings. According a recent Energy Information Administration report:

Wholesale electricity prices at major trading hubs on a monthly average basis for on-peak hours were down 27 to 37 percent across the nation in 2015 compared with 2014, driven largely by lower natural gas prices.

Prices at the pump are down significantly, too, allowing American families to keep more of their money to use for other purposes. The current average price of regular gasoline is less than $2 per gallon. Many factors contribute to the price of gas, but domestic supply is a key component.

We save money not only through lower energy bills and cheaper gasoline, but through cheaper goods and services, because energy is a necessary component for just about all we do. Lower gas prices also reduce input and transportation costs for businesses around the country, savings that are also passed on to consumers through reduced prices in other sectors of the economy.

Moreover, hydraulic fracturing benefits low-income families most of all, which is why the Wall Street Journal termed fracking “America’s best antipoverty program.” Such an energy revolution should be embraced, not rejected out of hand.

Anti-fracking rhetoric not only conflicts with experience and science, but ignores the effective state-based regulatory system in place. The process has been regulated successfully at the state level for decades.

States have the most to gain when they permits fracking to take place, but also the most to lose if the process is done irresponsibly. The states’ effective regulation underscores the need for members of Congress to prevent duplicative federal intervention that would unnecessarily stall the oil and gas boom and drive up costs for producers and therefore consumers.

Fracking has safely provided a much needed boon to the American economy. Attacking it with unfounded rhetoric is an assault not just on the industry itself, but on American businesses and families who benefit from the influx of domestic natural gas and oil fracking companies supply. Congress should resist the demands of the environmental lobby and put more authority in the hands of the states, not less.


Some fun with a Leftist genius

I don't get a lot of emails or blog comments from Leftists but those I do get are invariably abusive.  Most conservative bloggers have that experience, I gather.  But sometimes the abuse is unintentionally amusing.

I recently got an email from an apparently Australian person named Leigh Williams ( who gave his mobile phone no. as 0405205252.  He started his first email with something I certainly believe: "I don't know anything about the specifics of climate change science".  But there was no rational argument or presentation of facts after that.  It was just abuse. So it was solid "ad hominem" abuse.

But here's the funny bit:  What did he accuse me of?  He accused me of "ad hominem abuse"!  That good old Leftist projection cut in good and hard!

He appeared to be upset that I had spoken ill of someone but did not say whom.  Since he mentioned climate however, I imagine he might be referring to my comments on writings by Warmism acolyte  Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick.  I put up her university picture and called her "gorgeous" in a subtitle to it.  That is abuse? Calling someone "gorgeous" is abuse?  Leigh Williams is certainly in a mental fog.  But most of the Green/Left seem to be in a permanent mental fog.

In any case, there is no reason why Leftists should have any monopoly of criticizing others.  If you offer facts and arguments in criticism of somebody else's claims that is a reasonable and routine thing to do.  When you offer no facts and arguments but proceed straight to abuse that is what is called "ad hominem abuse". And I did offer facts and figures in support of my disagreement with Ms. Perkins-Kirkpatrick. Strictly speaking, an "ad hominem" argument is one where you accept or reject a claim SOLELY because of who made it.  But that was all too deep for the foggy one.


For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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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