Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Arctic is now expected to be ice-free by 2040

The false prophets keep coming. Ten years ago, it was supposed to be ice-free by 2012

The last piece of summer sea-ice in the Arctic is expected to melt away in just 23 years, three decades earlier than previously expected.

Scientists now believe that the summer of 2040 will see the end of the frozen north pole after a rapid shrinking of the ice coverage in recent years, according to a report from the Arctic Council.

The scientific policy group of the eight countries with territory in the Arctic Circle says that over the past 30 years, the minimum coverage of summer ice has fallen by half while its volume has fallen by three-quarters. This change has profound implications, beyond those countries that have a direct stake in the region.

But even in the summer, the Arctic ocean can be stormy and unpredictable and may become more so as the planet warms. It is certainly not the easy option, despite the shorter journey.

So while there may be a limited benefit to the end of summer ice, it is far outweighed by the risks.

The world’s winds are driven partly by the temperature difference between the north and south poles and the tropics. With the Arctic heating faster than the tropics, this difference will decrease and wind speeds will slow, possibly disrupting the northern jet stream and leading to more extreme weather.

Ocean currents could slow down too. At the moment, the cooling of surface water moving north causes it to sink for the return journey south, helping to drive the gulf stream. If this process is disrupted, it could impact everything from the Indian monsoon to the pattern of El Niño in the Pacific ocean.

Even if all the countries that signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement stick to their pledges (which is seen as unlikely) the amount of carbon dioxide expected to be in the atmosphere over the coming decades is likely to be enough to wipe out the Arctic summer ice for good.


Ignorant woman attacks NASA appointment

There is no denying that our weather is getting more severe, that the oceans are rising, the Arctic ice is melting and hurricanes are wreaking ever-more havoc each time one pummels another part of the country.

Harvey has officially brought the most destructive rainfall in our nation’s history — more than 51 inches in some areas of Houston. As many as 42,399 humans are in shelters. Sure they can rebuild, but we’ve seen the horror first hand before. Rebuilding takes decades and sometimes it never happens, despite the fancy talk.

Yet in the face of all this, you, Mr. President, have chosen to nominate a climate change-denying partisan politician, Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine, to head NASA. How can you even think of such a man to head the most important nonpartisan science, space and aeronautical research and development agency in the country? No, make that the world.

As this planet heats up, we have to look to space. That won’t be done if the man heading NASA denies the science and looks down on the truth of what’s happening in our atmosphere. Scientists are in agreement that while climate change might not have caused Harvey, Katrina, Sandy, and other natural disasters, warmer air does hold more moisture and thus has a much greater capacity to make weather events much worse. Harvey, for example, is now being called an unprecedented natural disaster.

How then can you even think about nominating Bridenstine? Being a former Navy pilot doesn’t make him an astronaut anymore than having once served as director of Tulsa’s Air and Space Museum makes him an expert on space, no matter how many papers he’s written.

This is a guy who demanded that President Obama apologize for funding climate change research! He doesn’t believe in climatic research yet he wants to head the agency that sent humans to the moon and will one day send us to Mars due to advances in technological and atmospheric research?

This is a guy who has repeatedly said there is no credible evidence — in the face of credible evidence — that greenhouse gasses contribute to climate change and so opposes regulating emissions.

This is a guy that Florida senators on both sides of the aisle oppose. Sen. Marco Rubio (of Florida, where NASA is located) even told Politico, “I just think it could be devastating for the space program.”

Mr. Trump, when you met with clergy the other day, you declared today a day of prayer for the victims of Harvey. And that’s good — we need more God and less greed.

But God won’t save this planet that we’re so busy wrecking without our help. Remember that thing about how God helps those who help themselves?


New Study Identifies Natural Driving Forces Of Climate Change


The identification of causal effects is a fundamental problem in climate change research. Here, a new perspective on climate change causality is presented using the central England temperature (CET) dataset, the longest instrumental temperature record, and a combination of slow feature analysis and wavelet analysis. The driving forces of climate change were investigated and the results showed two independent degrees of freedom —a 3.36-year cycle and a 22.6-year cycle, which seem to be connected to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation cycle and the Hale sunspot cycle, respectively. Moreover, these driving forces were modulated in amplitude by signals with millennial timescales.


How a biofuel dream turned into a nightmare

In the decade after its 2007 founding, Joule Unlimited made a lot of amazing claims about the future of fuel and raised a lot of money to try to back up those claims.

Joule was designing a system that would produce diesel fuel or gasoline using nothing more than the sun, carbon dioxide, water, and a genetically modified bacterium. It would be available for about $1.20 a gallon — without government subsidies. The Bedford company was set to begin construction of a 1,000-acre production plant in New Mexico this year. Joule’s tagline said that it was “solving the energy crisis with affordable, renewable clean fuel,” and the company managed to attract $200 million in financing from investors, including Cambridge-based Flagship Pioneering and the German carmaker Audi, which was eager to test Joule’s sustainable fuel.

Last month, though, the company auctioned off its New Mexico facility. Nearly all of the company’s 120 employees were laid off — the most recent round of job cuts happened in the spring — after Joule was unable to raise more money. Its investors are now looking for a buyer interested in the company’s patents.

When it comes to producing “biofuels” from natural substances that can compete on price with fuel extracted from the ground, “There’s probably no approach that’s new under the sun that somebody hasn’t attempted,” says Robert Rapier, an analyst who runs the website R-Squared Energy. “Billions and billions of dollars have been put in” by big oil companies and startups, without producing anything that you can actually put in your gas tank, he said.

Joule got its start in the offices of venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering, as a concept: What if you could take a kind of bacteria that is sometimes called blue-green algae, tweak a few genes, and get it to excrete fuel? “It was a major, major scientific endeavor,” Flagship founder Noubar Afeyan says, and one that involved academic collaborators such as George Church of Harvard and Jim Collins of Boston University, both cofounders of Joule. Because the bacterium that Joule was working with rely on photosynthesis to survive, a research paper published by the company’s founders in 2011 was headlined, “A New Dawn for Industrial Photosynthesis.”

Joule’s prized patent, #9,034,629, was issued in 2015 — just as the company was starting to fall apart. It covered the genetically modified bacterium Joule had developed, and a process for using it to feed off of carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water (including brackish or sea water) and produce fuel. The CO2 used by Joule’s process, incidentally, could be piped in from a factory that would otherwise release it into the atmosphere — a big environmental benefit.

But many observers, including Rapier, questioned Joule’s claims. “They were saying that they would produce 20,000 gallons of fuel using an acre of land,” he says. But he doubted those numbers, simply based on the amount of solar energy — one of the required ingredients for the Joule process — that falls on the surface of the earth. “Many people were very skeptical that they could pull off what they were trying to pull off,” Rapier says.

The company was trying to prove that what worked in the lab would also work at a larger scale, at first using a one-tenth of an acre system in New Mexico. And it was making ethanol first, rather than diesel fuel or gasoline, because that was an easier initial step. (Ethanol is blended into other fuels, rather than used on its own.)

The challenge of the work, Afeyan says, is that “you’re competing with a commodity. On one hand, you have a hundred billion gallons of something” like crude oil, and the production efficiencies that have accrued to that industry over a century, and “on the other hand, you’ve got a couple gallons” of a biofuel made in a custom-built, one-of-a-kind facility. “You have to show not just feasibility,” Afeyan adds, “but economic viability. It proved quite challenging.”

Making it even more challenging were oil prices — they plummeted in 2014, from $112 a barrel to about $60 a barrel by the end of the year. Prices continued to drop in 2015. That was also the year that it was revealed that Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen, had created software to enable its cars to cheat on emissions tests. That scandal, coupled with less financial pressure to look for alternatives to oil, might have scared off the bigger oil companies and utilities that Joule hoped would supply its next round of funding.

Joule attained a bit of momentary fame during the 2016 election cycle. John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, had served on the board of Joule from 2010 to 2014. During that time, the company accepted funding from Rusnano, a venture capital firm owned by the Russian government. Media reports questioned whether Podesta’s links to Russia had led to that investment from Rusnano, and whether Podesta had properly disclosed the stock he held in Joule when he joined the Obama administration in 2014, as an adviser to the president.

Afeyan says the Podesta controversy “was a completely irrelevant factor” in Joule’s ultimate fate, and that Podesta “was not a factor in Rusnano’s investment in Joule whatsoever.”

On Aug. 15, you could bid online to buy the equipment that Joule once hoped would coax bacteria into producing fuel in Hobbs, N.M., just a few miles from the Texas border. Back in April, laid off Joule employees sipped margaritas and shared nachos at the Border Café in Cambridge. One of them, John Longan, said that he “always felt surrounded by super-talented people who were experts in their field, and passionate about what we were doing. They wanted Joule to succeed, really wanted to have a positive impact.”

John Beneman, an expert on algae-based biofuels, notes that Joule isn’t an anomaly. “There are other companies out there that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars and come up with the same results — either they are walking dead, or ghosts, or resting in peace,” says Beneman, who is also chief executive of the consulting firm MicroBio Engineering in California.

Does Beneman believe it’s just impossible to use a genetically engineered organism to make an affordable, more sustainable kind of fuel, rather than extracting it from the earth? “I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that it requires long-term work,” he says. “There are a lot of technologies [that] take years or decades to develop, and get to the payoff.”

Ten years and $200 million later, we’re still not there.


'Illegally dumped rubbish': Council removes share bikes blocking Melbourne footpaths

oBikes have been described by Melburnians as clutter, litter, a nuisance and even "visual pollution".

Now the City of Melbourne has officially declared them as such, removing bikes it considers illegally dumped  less than three months after the bike sharing service began swamping the city's streets.

Several pictures emerged on Friday of the infamous yellow bikes wrapped in City of Melbourne tape declaring them "illegally dumped rubbish under investigation".

A City of Melbourne spokeswoman confirmed the council had begun removing some hazardous bikes blocking footpaths.

"We have made it clear to oBike that we need to protect the amenity and safety of the city while balancing the ongoing need to encourage cycling," she said.

"As part of these discussions we have informed oBikes that too much clutter can cause a hazard and that in these instances we will remove the hazard to maintain public access and amenity."

The Singaporean bike share company has been blasted by many Melburnians who describe the bikes as clutter and a tripping hazard. Concerns have also been raised about oBike crowding bike parking.

Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle last month told small business operators he was at "the end of his tether", according to a CBD News report.

"We entered these discussions with them in good faith," Cr Doyle said. "They've made promises, including the provision of data and that has not been forthcoming."

"As recently as yesterday, there was real, I would say, anger amongst councillors that they haven't tried to do the right thing."

In an interview with Fairfax Media, Cr Doyle described them as "clutter that must be fixed" and signalled he would ban the dockless share bikes if the problem could not be fixed.

Pictures of the bikes dumped in the Yarra River, in trees, next to tram lines and – as spotted on Friday – on a barge in the middle of Albert Park Lake, have become popular internet fodder.

Councils in Amsterdam and London have banned oBikes in recent weeks, claiming they are a public nuisance.

Wandsworth Council last month confiscated more than 130 bikes and told the company it needed a "drastic re-think" after a flood of complaints, the Evening Standard reported.

Amsterdam city council has also temporarily banned the bikes.

oBike launched in Melbourne in June and trumpeted itself as a high-tech rival to the city's RACV blue bikes thanks to their dockless feature which means they can be parked anywhere.

oBike Australia head of marketing Chethan Rangaswamy acknowledged the company had struggled with "civic awareness" about bike sharing.

"We are actively liaising with local councils to have a sustainable solution to current problems," he said.

oBike says it has an operational team which collects dumped and misplaced bikes.




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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