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Iceland’s Volcano and Climate Science: Will there be a Silver Lining to the Ash Cloud?

Michael Levitsky's picture

The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland could mean some good news for those of us concerned with understanding the science of climate change.

As volcanoes go, this is small stuff.  The last volcano to have a substantial effect on global climate was Mount Pinatubo which erupted in the Philippines in 1991. Volcanoes affect global climate largely because the sulfur gases that they emit oxidize in the atmosphere to form sulfate aerosols (fine particulate matter), which stay around in the stratosphere for at least 12 months, and act as a strong cooling agent. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Mt. Pinatubo caused global temperatures to dip by about 0.5 degrees Centigrade for a year. The ash, which has been of concern to airline passengers in Europe and many others across the globe recently, generally has only a small and local effect on climate –it tends to fall to earth in a matter of weeks.

A matter of degrees

Marianne Fay's picture

 

For economists interested in climate change, some news.  The long awaited regional version of Bill Nordhaus'  DICE model is now out. (Actually it’s been out since February, but I just got to it...) It’s called RICE with the ‘R’ standing for Regional.  A quick overview of some of the key results can be downloaded here.

Nordhaus is one of the earliest and most prominent climate modelers in the economics profession.  He and Nicholas Stern are often set up as the two book ends of the climate change economists’ spectrum.  I believe their differences are not that great.

Do we still need REDD if deforestation is decreasing in the Amazon?

Carlos A. Nobre's picture
Amazon birds -- iStockphoto
Two macaws in the Amazon.
Photo © istockphoto.com

Although the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen badly failed to achieve legally binding agreements, including on the specific mechanism of REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), there was nevertheless a general sense that this mechanism is something worth pursuing. Meetings and discussions continued to take place after the conference was over, and a fund of US$ 10 billion is being set up to promote initial steps for tropical developing countries to prepare for REDD.

What lessons can be learned from the Brazilian Amazon, where deforestation rates have been steadily declining for 5 years?

Compared to estimates of land-cover change emissions from elsewhere in the tropics, estimates in the Brazilian Amazon tend to be relatively more certain because they are calculated from annual, satellite-based monitoring of land cover change for over two decades for the Brazilian portion of the Amazon. That is the work of the PRODES Project carried out by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) of Brazil. 

Deforestation in the Amazon changes a lot from year to year. The proximate causes are not totally known. They have to do with economic drivers such as prices of commodities (beef, soy, etc.), the opening of roads, but they are also influenced by the effectiveness of law enforcement to curb illegal deforestation.

The latter may have played a key role in reducing deforestation in the last 5 years. During that period, annual deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon plummeted from over 27 thousand km2 (August 2003-July 2004) to around 7 thousand km2 (August 2008-July 2009), an amazing 74% reduction over 5 years!

Innovation in water, part 3: necessity is the mother of invention

Julia Bucknall's picture

 Futuristic water design that would provide water for food in the desert, featured in The Guardian in 2008. Photograph: Exploration Architecture.

“What are the new developments in water? Are there new technologies that developing countries could use to bypass expensive and cumbersome systems?  What’s the next big thing that could solve the water crisis?”  Politicians and the media often ask experts for new ideas to make water “interesting”.  Yet, on the whole, water systems constructed today use much of the same technology they did 100 years ago. 

US vehicle emission standards move

Andreas Kopp's picture

"These historic new standards set ambitious, but achievable, fuel economy requirements for the automotive industry that will also encourage new and emerging technologies. We will be helping American motorists save money at the pump, while putting less pollution in the air." This is how Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the new national standards for passenger cars and light trucks today.

Innovation in water, part 2: desalination

Julia Bucknall's picture

People skeptical of hearing water experts talking about water crises put their faith in the human capacity to innovate.  They point to the rapid decline in costs of taking the salt out of sea water as evidence that – when we really have to – we will innovate and make sure we can meet our water needs. 

Necessity is the mother of invention.  Israel, one of the driest countries in the world, has invested heavily in non-conventional sources of water.  Desalination currently provides around 40 percent  of Israel’s municipal water supply and the plan is for this source to provide 70 percent by 2015. In March, a team from the the World Bank's WDR2010 and Middle East North Africa units visited the largest operational reverse osmosis desalination plant in the world, in Hadera. 

Twenty minutes ago this water was sea water! from World Bank on Vimeo.

Desalination does indeed have potential to meet the municipal water needs of many people in the world – but only those who live near the sea.  

Uri Shamir, Professor Emeritus at Technion on 'Desalination' from World Bank on Vimeo.

Costs have come down to about $0.55 per cubic metre, about half what it was a decade ago.  How have engineers managed this?  Economies of scale are important.  They have also been able to save on costs by designing an efficient system within the plant and by clever energy saving technology. Will the costs come down much further?  About 10% say the Israeli experts.  Not more.

Israel’s very careful management of every drop of water has led to an interesting problem. 

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