The Waterfalls of Greenland

December 2, 2019

Above, a moulin recorded in Southwest Greenland, summer 2014.

Washington Post:

A cerulean lake consisting of glacial meltwater on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, located about 18 miles from where the Store Glacier meets the sea in west Greenland, briefly became one of the world’s tallest waterfalls during the course of five hours in July 2018.

The waterfall, like many others on the ice sheet’s surface, was triggered by cracks in the ice sheet. In the case of this one meltwater lake that scientists closely observed in July 2018, the water cascaded more than 3,200 feet to the underbelly of the glacier, where the ice meets bedrock. There, the water can help lubricate the base of the ice sheet, helping the ice move faster toward the sea.

The observations of scientists, armed with aerial drones and other high-tech equipment, of the partial lake drainage that resulted could help researchers better understand how surface melting of the ice sheet could affect its melt rate, and improve global sea level rise projections.

Scientists are keenly interested in how meltwater on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet — the largest contributor to global sea level rise — acts to speed up the movement of ice toward the sea by lubricating the underside of the ice surface. The new study, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that scientists are underestimating the number of melt ponds that partially, and rapidly, drain into the ice sheet each year. This means tweaks may be needed to the computer models used to predict sea level rise from Greenland.

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Washington Post:

TOMBWA, Angola — His ancestors were Portuguese colonialists who settled on this otherworldly stretch of coast, wedged between a vast desert and the southern Atlantic. They came looking for the one thing this barren region had in abundance: fish. 

By the time Mario Carceija Santos was getting into the fishing business half a century later, in the 1990s, Angola had won independence and the town of Tombwa was thriving. There were 20 fish factories strung along the bay, a constellation of churches and schools, a cinema hall built in art deco, and, in the central plaza, massive drying racks for the tons upon tons of fish hauled out of the sea. 

Since then, Tombwa’s fortunes have plummeted; Santos’s factory is one of just two remaining. The cinema hall is shuttered. Kids run around town barefoot instead of going to school. The central plaza is overgrown by weeds, its statue of a proud fisherman covered in bird droppings. 

“Six or seven species have disappeared almost entirely from here, sardines and anchovies included — the ones these factories were made for processing,” Santos said in his office, after inspecting the day’s catch. 

“We’ll just have to close shop at some point.”

The gradual disappearance of fish is a death knell for Tombwa, a town of 50,000 that has little else to offer residents. The approaching bust is the result of three powerful forces: Fish are suffocating in oxygen-depleted waters, huge foreign trawlers are grabbing what’s left, and the water is heating up far more rapidly here than almost anywhere else on the planet. 

Click any temperature underlined in the story to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit 

Sea temperatures off the Angolan coast have risen 1.5 degrees Celsius — and possibly more — in the past century, according to a Washington Post analysis of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data. 

In recent years, multiple studies have identified the waters along Tombwa’s coast in particular as a fast-warming hot spot: In one independent analysis of satellite-based NOAA data, temperatures have risen nearly 2 degrees Celsius since 1982. That is more than three times the global average rate of ocean warming.

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The Chemical Engineer:

HIGHVIEW Power, the designer and developer of the CRYOBattery, is to build what it claims will be Europe’s largest battery storage system, in the North of England. The project will also be the UK’s first commercial cryogenic energy storage facility at large scale.

The 50 MW/250 MWh clean energy storage facility could help the UK to achieve its goal of decarbonising industry, heat, power, and transport, as CRYOBattery emits zero emissions and could dramatically contribute to emissions savings compared to fossil fuel plants.

Previously known as liquid air energy storage, Highview’s technology employs liquid air as a storage medium. The system uses off-peak or excess energy to clean, compress, and cool air to -196°C, and the liquified air is then stored in insulated tanks at low pressure. When energy is needed the liquid air is drawn from the tanks and pumped to high pressure, reheated, and expanded – resulting in a high-pressure gas which is used to drive turbines to generate energy.

The process does not use combustion and does not produce any emissions. Additionally, waste cold and waste heat are captured for use, increasing efficiency.

The new facility will supply energy storage, and also provide services to the National Grid to help it to “integrate renewables, stabilise the electrical grid, and ensure future energy security”.

Highview is currently in talks with potential offtakers.

In addition to its first large-scale facility, Highview is developing a portfolio of UK projects and is in the process of securing sites to develop similar large-scale, CRYOBattery projects across Europe. The projects are expected to further the UK’s movement towards its clean energy goals and help it to meet expected demand for energy storage.

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Popular Mechanics:

The United Nations released an exceptionally bleak report today, which warns that, at the current pace of greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures will rise by as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius (almost 7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. 

The report, published by the United Nations’ Environment Programme, aims to compare current rates of greenhouse gas emissions to the chief goals set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement: limiting an increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). 

In order to hit our target by 2100, greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 7.6 percent annually starting in 2020, according to the report. “Every year of delay beyond 2020 brings a need for faster cuts, which become increasingly expensive, unlikely and impractical,” the report’s authors state. “Delays will also quickly put the 1.5C goal out of reach.”

Inside Climate News:

To be on track for 2°C of warming, the report said, emissions in 2030 would need to be 25 percent lower than today.

To limit warming to 1.5°C, emissions would need to be slashed by 55 percent. Last year, global carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.7 percent.

“Every year that action is delayed, emissions reductions need to be steeper,” said Joeri Rogelj, climate change lecturer at Imperial College London and an author of the report. This is the 10th year in a row that the UN has released an emissions gap report. “It is really the accumulation of bad news every year.”

Confirmation that rising emissions are putting existing global goals further out of reach came on the eve of the COP 25 climate summit that begins in Madrid on Monday.

The meeting will be the first big climate gathering since President Donald Trump began the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement. Brazil’s president has also questioned the deal’s relevance.

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Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis:

This week Moody’s changed ExxonMobil’s Triple-A rating from stable to negative, raising the prospect of the oil company being downgraded in 2020.

Moody’s has red-flagged ExxonMobil’s rising capital expenditures and weak revenues. The oil giant is challenged by a low price environment ($60/barrel) and diminished refining and chemical earnings. The problems for ExxonMobil’s business model are fundamental — revenues have eroded and rebounding oil prices are proving inadequate to fund operating expenses, capital plans and investor dividends.

Moody’s negative outlook is based on its assessment of recent actions by the company in light of current market conditions:

Rising capital expenditures are not producing increased revenues. Moody’s identifies negative cash flow for the company in 2019 and expects the same in 2020 and 2021.

Despite recent increases in capital expenditures compared to recent quarters, the company is still spending less than it did earlier in the decade. ExxonMobil’s lower capital spending could not keep pace with the more dramatic and negative impact of lower-for-longer oil prices.

Rising dividend payments to investors masks the fact that ExxonMobil’s total shareholder distributions, dividends and share buybacks, have been substantially reduced. Earlier this decade, shareholders received annual payments of $40 billion in total distributions, while dividend payments now amount to $16 billion annually and there are no share repurchases. Capital expenditure discipline and reductions in total payments to shareholders are not enough to keep the company on a sustainable financial path.

ExxonMobil anticipates selling assets through 2021 that will generate $15 billion in revenue, if successful. Moody’s anticipates higher debt levels for the company, even if it successfully executes its asset sale program.

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Viral Burned Koala Dead

November 26, 2019

The Hill:

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up an appeal involving a prominent climate scientist who sued an iconic conservative magazine and libertarian think tank for defamation.

In a closely watched request to the Supreme Court, the National Review and Competitive Enterprise Institute asked the justices to intervene in a suit brought against them by scientist Michael Mann. The case, which pits climate scientists against the free speech rights of global warming skeptics, drew interest from lawmakers, interest groups, academics and media.

The Supreme Court’s denial means at least four justices declined to take on the case, which is required to grant an appeal. Justice Samuel Alitodissented from the court’s decision to decline the case.

“The petition in this case presents questions that go to the very heart of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and freedom of the press: the protection afforded to journalists and others who use harsh language in criticizing opposing advocacy on one of the most important public issues of the day,” Alito wrote.

“If the Court is serious about protecting freedom of expression,” Alito added, “we should grant review.” 

Mann, the plaintiff, is best known among climate scientists for his “hockey stick” graph, which showed a sharp uptick in the earth’s temperatures over the 20th century as carbon emissions from human activity were on the rise.

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