Category Archives: AGU Fall Meeting 2008

AGU Meeting: Spying on carbon

By Liz Kalaugher

At last year’s AGU Fall Meeting, environmentalresearchweb spoke to David Crisp of NASA to find out more about the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (see  http://environmentalresearchweb.org/cws/article/research/32196). Since then, progress has been good and the satellite is due for launch sometime after 30 January 2009 from an air force base near Los Angeles.

Speaking at a press briefing, Crisp’s colleague Scott Denning detailed how the observatory will help us find out more about Earth’s carbon sinks. Currently these vary in the amount of carbon they absorb from year to year and nobody knows why. “Some years almost all the fossil carbon enters the atmosphere, some years almost none,” he said. “On average it’s about half.”

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AGU Meeting: To geoengineer or not to geoengineer

By Liz Kalaugher

This year’s AGU Fall Meeting session on geoengineering had twice as many submissions as last year – proof that the field is attracting increasing serious attention. But it’s still a highly controversial area. Not only are there ethical issues involved in committing future generations to maintaining the technology and the fact that it may negatively affect some regions of the globe, but also little is known about which approach is best, how effectively it will work or how much it will cost.

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AGU Meeting: Jim Hansen on pacts with the devil

By Liz Kalaugher

“We have a much sharper knowledge of global climate sensitivity than is usually stated and the Faustian bargain we have cut for ourselves is nastier than we have recognized,” said Jim Hansen of NASA to a packed lecture theatre on day three of the AGU Fall Meeting.

Hansen believes that governments don’t yet recognize the urgency of climate change. “There are a lot of governments who say they understand the problems, but a lot of it is greenwash,” he said. “The Venus Syndrome [in which Earth undergoes runaway warming and the oceans boil off] is the greatest threat to humanity’s existence. Earth is Goldilock’s choice of the planets – not too hot, not too cold, it’s just right.”

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AGU Meeting: City stores

By Liz Kalaugher

It’s not just tropical rainforests that store carbon – cities do too, in features such as soil, vegetation, people, landfill and wood in buildings, furniture and books. In fact, human settlements store 18 Pg of carbon, equivalent to the amount locked up in US croplands. So
says Galina Churkina of the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research in
Germany, who reckons that the cities of the future could use massive amounts of interior wood panelling to act as a carbon store.

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AGU Meeting: Taking a peek at oil

By Liz Kalaugher

While you might assume that a peak and subsequent decline in oil production would be good news for the climate, there’s so much coal left that the effect is likely to be limited. “The amount of oil is not very important in determining future carbon dioxide emissions,”
said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institute. “Coal is the big bear on the block.”

That said, the way that we replace oil is still significant. “Will the end of oil usher in a century of coal or a century of low carbon technologies?,” pondered Caldeira. “The need
for liquid fuels could drive coal liquefaction.”

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AGU Meeting: Taking the atmosphere’s pulse

The upper atmosphere is expanding and
contracting in cycles with periods of 5, 7 and 9 days, according to Jeff Thayer
of the University of Colorado, Geoff Crowley of ASTRA, and Marty Mlynczak of
NASA, who spoke about their work at a press briefing at the AGU Fall Meeting.
The researchers believe the density changes are caused by the rotation of solar
coronal holes – dark fixed features on the solar surface that project strong
solar winds – as the sun goes round. The resulting changes in solar wind stream
speed reaching Earth lead to geomagnetic storms and auroras, which act as a
heat source.

This newly discovered “breathing
mode” could affect satellite movements, the avoidance of collisions with
space debris, the electron density in the ionosphere, radio communications, GPS
systems, atmospheric composition, vertical wind circulation, and even weather
at the Earth’s surface. According to Crowley, there are
two potential connections to weather – changes in the ionosphere could cause
thunderstorms, and auroral particles could create nitric oxide that’s then
transported to the lower atmosphere where it could affect ozone distribution at
high latitudes. “We wouldn’t expect a 9 day cycle of weather,” he
said, “but somebody should look at that”.

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AGU: Cold outlook

There was further worrying news about the Arctic at the AGU Meeting this
morning. Igor Semiletov of the
University of Alaska Fairbanks detailed results from a 12,000 nautical mile long survey of the
entire Eurasian Arctic continental shelf for International Polar Year.
Worryingly, the International Siberian Shelf Study (ISSS-08)  found that methane is emerging from the East
Siberian Arctic Shelf, as evidenced by bubble clouds of methane in the sea and
methane bubbles trapped in sea ice in the winter. It looks like the sub-sea
permafrost is failing due to warmer ocean temperatures and allowing methane to
escape; because the
Siberian Sea is very shallow the methane isn’t oxidized as it travels to the
surface. “We didn’t know that the huge carbon pool there is extremely
vulnerable,” said Semiletov. Some have predicted that a 6 ppm increase in
atmospheric methane concentrations could induce abrupt climate change –
Semiletov says that would require the release of only 1-2% of the methane
stored under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

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AGU Meeting: Ocean view

By Liz Kalaugher

It’s fair to say that climate change is an issue that’s in the public eye but the same’s not true for its close relation, ocean acidification. In one of the first pieces of public outreach work for the topic, researcher Elizabeth Kolbert wrote an article for the New Yorker in 2006 entitled “The Darkening Sea”. Retired history teacher Sven Huseby read the piece and was horrified – since then he’s created a documentary, together with Niijii Films,
that it’s hoped could be the “Inconvenient Truth” for ocean acidification.

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AGU: Adapt and thrive

Each year weather-related phenomena such as
hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, flooding, heavy snows and drought cause
damage worth billions of dollars across the US. Knowledge about how climate
change will affect these and other factors is critical for local and regional
planning, supporting the introduction of carbon reduction ideas such as
cap-and-trade, forecasting for renewable energy sources like wind turbines, and
predicting the release of methane from permafrost, according to Jack Fellows,
vice-president of  the University
Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).

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AGU Fall Meeting kicks off

Welcome to environmentalresearchweb’s first
blog entry from the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. It’s been a hectic
day as nearly 15,000 researchers gather from around the globe in a
San Francisco
experiencing its second day of rain after a nearly month-long dry spell.

As Terry Wilson of Ohio State University, US,
explained, measurements of ice loss in
Antarctica and the Arctic should become a whole lot more accurate as data starts to come in
from an International Polar Year project. In turn, that should help predictions
of global sea level rise. 

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