A Few of My Favorite Things: Year-end Round-up of Online Ocean & Climate Science Sources

cryptocurrency trading strategy In the spirit of the season and the end of the secular year, I am working on a round-up and review of some of my favorite online sources of ocean and climate news. Most are direct sources: science journals, university websites, and government agencies, with a few others thrown in for good measure (whatever that means).

The great thing about the first two is that both allow you to get the details of the latest published research without being subscribed to the journals themselves. That’s no mean feat: a one-year subscription to Science or Nature will cost you at least $100 and the more specialized journals are even pricier! (Most researchers access these journals through their libraries, so they don’t pay for them either). The third is a freebie form one of those journals (Nature) – definitely worth checking out. I’ve also included some collaborative online science info efforts, as well as the websites of the top three government agencies working on climate change: NASA, NOAA, and EPA (roughly in that order). Check them out and enjoy! Have others to suggest? Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below.  Happy Holidays!

Unlike Letterman, I’ll start with #1 first.

  1. Science Daily.  Without a doubt, my all-time favorite source of the latest science news. This site includes press releases and short articles on a dozen or so different areas of science. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may recognize them as the source of my science news tweets. My favorite subject area is “Earth & Climate.” Other cool topics include “Plants & Animals”, “Fossils & Ruins”, and “Space & Time.” I get their Science Daily Environment Headlines delivered to my email inbox daily, so I can stay current on the latest and greatest science discoveries.
  2. Futurity.org. In response to the decline in science science and research coverage by traditional news outlets, consortium of dozens research institutions have banded together to deliver the latest research news and high-quality science content directly to the public. Their website says it all: “Futurity does the work of gathering [the] news. Think of it as a snapshot of where the world is today and where it’s headed tomorrow. Discover the future.”
  3. Nature Reports Climate Change. In this free-access web resource from Nature Publishing Group, Nature Reports Climate Change reports “on climate change and its wider implications for policy, society and the economy.” It includes short articles about the latest climate change research, interviews with researchers about climate science, and short opinion pieces about the natural, social, and political implications of research findings. Each issue is approximately 24 pages and is available for Google, as a newsletter or for download as a .pdf. Excellent. Nature also has a regular climate podcast. I’m not a big podcast user, but if you are, I would check this one out.
  4. RealClimate. This is a great – if somewhat confusing – site for climate science. It also features some of the best open discussion and debate among climate scientists, allowing the public a glimpse of the way science is really done. There is a lot here but if you spend some time wading through it, you will understand a lot more of what is going on and what is really at stake in the world of climate and global change research. This site also lists dozens of other sites and blogs dedicated to science – far too many for me to discuss here, so if you’re itching for even more sources, check them out.
  5. NASA’s Climate1Stop. I have only just signed on to NASA’s new website, which is still in beta stage (be forewarned) but I am willing to go out on a limb and predict that this will become a very useful site, once the kinks are worked out. Although most people know of NASA’s space mission, this agency is also a leading source of research on climate change. In general, NASA does a good job of explaining and disseminating climate science on their main sites and Twitter, so I am confident that this site will live up to that reputation. Check it out.
  6. NOAA Paleoclimatology. Paleoclimatology is the study of past climate through the use of various proxies: tree rings, pollen, ice cores and deep-sea sediments. It forms the basis of much of what we know about how the Earth’s climate system works and helps us to predict what future change might look like. It is also a passion of mine – my area of research in grad school. Check out the links under “Paleo Perspectives” for a series of short, easily understandable explanations of some of the major findings of NOAA paleoclimate research.
  7. EPA Climate Change. This site has some basic explanations of climate science and policy. The most valuable features are the accompanying links that bring you directly to the EPA programs and text of the legislation aimed at addressing climate change. A good combination of science and policy from the folks responsible for a bit of both.
  8. Climate Science Watch. Given all the abuse and suppression of government science that went on under the Bush administration, and since having worked for a government agency, I know how easily good science can be lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, I can’t list the previous three without adding Climate Science Watch. According to their website, they are “a nonprofit public interest education and advocacy project dedicated to holding public officials accountable for the integrity and effectiveness with which they use climate science and related research in government policymaking, toward the goal of enabling society to respond effectively to the challenges posed by global warming and climate change.” Climate Science Watch is a program of the Government Accountability Project, whose website is www.whistleblower.org. That says it all, eh?
  9. The Encyclopedia of Earth. In their own words, the Encyclopedia of Earth [EOE, is] a new electronic reference about the Earth, its natural environments, and their interaction with society. The Encyclopedia is a free, fully searchable collection of articles written by scholars, professionals, educators, and experts who collaborate and review each other’s work.” EOE is a great place to find an understandable explanation of how climate models work or a definitions for those technical terms that keep showing up in articles, like “radiative forcing” or “albedo.” What I love about the EOE is that, like Wikipedia, it is a collaborative project done by people who care about their subject and really want to share knowledge with a broad audience. On the downside, like Wikipedia, some articles suffer from a lack of oversight – they are not necessarily inaccurate, but are not as clear or on-point as they could be. That said, it is still a wonderful resource.
  10. Wikipedia. I love Wikipedia. Obviously, it’s a lot more than just climate info, but there is a lot of that too. It’s not always accurate and not everything I look for is in there, but I am constantly amazed and humbled by the sheer number of topics and the people who have put their time into making a whole lot of good info (as well as useless trivia) accessible for free in multiple languages. As I mentioned above, that comes with some drawbacks, but overall it’s great.  And hey, if you find some inaccuracies, something you KNOW isn’t right, why not sign on as an editor and share your knowledge with the world? I do!

bitcoin wallet hk There are MANY other sources of climate and ocean science info – particularity university websites (check out Climate Matters at Columbia, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Yale 360). What are YOUR favorites – on this or other science subjects? Please let us know in the comments section!

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Have the Oceans Had Enough? Largest Carbon Sink May Be Slowing Down

More than half of the CO2 emitted by human activities each year are taken up by natural carbon sinks, on land and in the ocean. However, recent studies suggest that anthropogenic emissions may be outpacing the ocean’s ability to take up CO2.

Le Quéré et al. (2009) constructed a global CO2 budget for 1959 – 2008 using a wide range of geophysical and economic data, and modeled carbon uptake by CO2 sinks. Between 1959 and 2008, a little less than half of each year’s CO2 emissions remained in the atmosphere on average; the rest was absorbed by carbon sinks. Over this period, the percentage of CO2 emissions that remained in the atmosphere each year appears to have increased, from about 40% to 45%, and models suggest that this trend was caused by a decrease in the uptake of CO2 by the carbon sinks in response to climate change and variability.

system The oceans are the largest sink for atmospheric CO2. Many climate models predict a slowdown of CO2 uptake by the oceans, but a study by Khatiwala et al. (2009) that reconstructs the accumulation of industrial carbon in the oceans from 1765 to 2008 is the first time scientists have actually measured it. While the oceans absorbed a record 2.3 billion tons of CO2 produced by fossil fuels last year, the proportion of CO2 absorbed may have decreased by 10% since 2000.

This slow down is likely due to natural chemical and physical limits on the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon. About 40% of the carbon enters the oceans through the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean, around Antarctica, because carbon dissolves more readily in cold dense seawater than in warmer waters. “Warm cola holds less fizz,” Jeffrey Park, an author of  related study said. “The same thing happens in the ocean.” Warmer temperatures mean less dissolved CO2. Park (2009) found that the time that it takes for the atmospheric CO2 to adjust to changes in sea surface temperature (SST) has increased from 5 months to 15 months over the last twenty years. Weaker CO2 absorption could be caused by changes in ocean circulation or increases in SST.

In addition to rising SSTs, ocean acidification is reducing the ocean’s absorption capacity. “The more CO2 you put in, the more acidic the ocean becomes, reducing its ability to hold CO2,” said Khatiwala.  Because of these limits, “the ocean is expected to become a less efficient sink of manmade carbon over time.” An interesting finding of  Khatiwala’s study is that land areas may now be absorbing more CO2 than it is giving off. This may be because of reductions in deforestation as well as enhanced growth of plants due to increased CO2 levels.

Carbon released by fossil fuel burning (black) continues to accumulate in the air (red), oceans (blue), and land (green). The oceans take up roughly a quarter of manmade CO2, but evidence suggests they are now taking up a smaller proportion. Credit: Samar Khatiwala, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Another cause of the reduction in the ocean’s CO2 absorption capacity may be a strengthening of the Antarctic westerlies — a product of the 40-year-old regional ozone hole. Specifically, an intense atmospheric circulation around the South Pole is linked to fast oceanic overturning and the movement of carbon-rich waters to the surface. The high carbon content of these surface waters may have reduced their ability to absorb CO2.


Baudains, S. (2009) Ocean science: Slowing sink? Nature Geoscience 2, 826  | doi:10.1038/ngeo716

Khatiwala, S., F. Primeau, & T. Hall (2009), Reconstruction of the history of anthropogenic CO2 concentrations in the ocean, Nature 462, 346-349 | doi:10.1038/nature08526

Le Quéré, C., M.R. Raupach, J.G. Canadell, G. Marland et al. (2009), Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide. Nature Geoscience 2, 831 – 836 | doi:10.1038/ngeo689

Park, J. (2009), A re-evaluation of the coherence between global-average atmospheric CO2 and temperatures at interannual time scales, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L22704 | doi:10.1029/2009GL040975


Altering the Abyss: Deep-Sea Ecosystems Affected By Climate Change

The abyssal plains, regions of the ocean below 2000 meters, cover 60% of the Earth’s surface. Scientists have long believed that the ecosystems located at these depths are relatively isolated and stable, immune to the dramatic changes rocking shallower ocean regions due to global warming. However, a recent paper* by Ken Smith, a marine ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and his colleagues, suggests that changes in the Earth’s climate can cause unexpectedly large changes in the deep-sea.

Smith conducted a time-series study at two deep-sea stations: one located 220 km off the Central California coast, the other on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, several hundred km southwest of Ireland. The seafloor at these sites is a flat, muddy plain that lies between 4000 and 5000 m below the surface. The small amount of food available at these depths takes the form of tiny bits of organic debris that drift down from the surface. The amount varies over time. Over the period of the study, two of the dramatic changes that researchers observed were the doubling from 1989 to 2004 of the grenadiers, an important Pacific seafloor fish and the virtually disappearance of a common species of sea cucumber after 1998. Scientists speculate that both of these events were linked to changes at the surface, such as El Nino and commercial fishing, which may have affected the availability of food.

A grenadier, an important deep-sea fish.

A small grenadier fish swims over the seafloor at Station M off Central California. Image © 2007 MBARI

“Essentially, deep-sea communities are coupled to surface production,” said Smith. “Global change could alter the functioning of these ecosystems and the way that carbon is cycled in the oceans.” However, deep-sea carbon cycling is left out of most climate models. This could be corrected using remote, automated monitoring technologies, including seafloor moorings and robots that could provide continuous data about short- and long-term changes in deep-sea ecosystems.

For more on Smith’s abyssal time series research, check out his website.

A study published earlier this year by MBARI researchers Peter Brewer and Edward Peltzer in the journal Science** suggests another way that deep-sea life may be affected by climate change. The combination of increasing carbon dioxide and decreasing oxygen concentrations brought on by increasing GHG emissions may make it harder for organisms to “breathe” – extract oxygen from the water around them.

And while I’m touting MBARI’s excellent science and deep-sea discoveries, check out this bizarre fish, the barreleye, with tubular eyes and a transparent head!

Other recent MBARI news: microbiologist and harmful algal bloom (HAB) specialist Chris Scholin has been appointed President and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). I got to know Chris when I ran a grants program for HAB research at NOAA and can say that MBARI is in excellent hands.

* Smith, K.L., Jr., H.A. Ruhl, B.J. Bett, D.S.M. Billett, R.S. Lampitt and R.S. Kaufmann (2009) Climate, carbon cycling, and deep-ocean ecosystems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106: 19211-19218.

** P. G. Brewer, E. T. Peltzer. Limits to marine life. Science. 2009. Vol 324, Issue 5925. April 17, 2009.

Past Proof That Cooler Temperatures Prevail When Volcanoes Erupt

Climate skeptics are fond of pointing to volcanoes when disputing the facts of global warming, citing these natural events as major agents in climate change. They’re right – volcanoes do play a major role in the climate, but not the way they think: the net effect of volcanic eruptions is to cool the planet. Volcanoes shoot large amounts of sulfur gas into the stratosphere, where  they form sulfur aerosols – minute droplets of liquid -  that can stay suspended in the air for long periods of time. These aerosols act as tiny mirrors in the atmosphere, reflecting incoming sunlight, and decreasing the amount of the sun’s energy that reaches the surface.

A recent article examines the impact that past volcanic eruptions have had on the Earth’s climate. The summer of 1816 saw severe climate abnormalities, which resulted in crop failures in Northern Europe, Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United states. For many years, this was attributed to the 1815 eruption of Tambora, which killed 88,000 million people, and sent 100 million tons of sulfur gas into the atmosphere. However, climate records show that the cooling trend started five years earlier and the entire decade of 1810 – 1819 was the coldest in the past 500 years.

Now, Jihong Cole-Dai of South Dakota State University and his colleagues have discovered evidence of a 1809 volcanic eruption, which started the trend. Large amounts of volcanic sulfuric acid were found in snow layers dated to 1809 and 1810. The traces were found in ice cores both Greenland and Antarctica, attesting to the global reach of the eruption, which probably occurred in the tropics. Scientists estimate that the eruption was about half the size of the one in Tambora.  It was the combined impact of the two that led to the disastrous summer of 1816.

More recent volcanoes have also altered the climate. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa cooled the globe by 4.2 degrees Fahrenheit and produced spectacular sunsets over Northern Europe.

Volcanic sunsets depicted in Munch's The Scream

The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia resulted in the vivid red sunsets depicted by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's painting, "The Scream."

The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 is still impacting the climate. Without its cooling aerosols, which are still in the atmosphere, current global  temperatures would be even greater. This is also true of the sulfur aerosols that have been emitted by the burning of fossil fuels: as we reduce these emissions due to well-founded public health concerns, the temperature increase that they have been masking will be felt. (Some scientists have even proposed seeding the atmosphere with sulfur particles as a last-ditch way to halt global warming, a truly frightening example of geo-engneering).

What about the millions of tons of CO2 emitted by volcanoes, your skeptic might ask? Answer: The US Geological Survey estimates that current volcanic activity emits 130 million metric tons of CO2 a year -  that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 30 billion tonnes emitted by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.


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Fishing For Answers: Connecting Ocean and Human Health

Walking home from an early appointment this morning, I considered what to write about for today’s blog post. An article about marine ecosystems and fisheries caught my eye yesterday. While intrigued, I was also reluctant – fisheries management is one subject that both interests and frustrates the hell out of me. I took one class on fisheries biology in graduate school. After seeing how politically charged fisheries management can be, and how often decisions are made with little regard for science, I swore I would never work in that field. (My vow backfired, of course and I spent 2.5 years working on fisheries-related issues for the Environmental Defense Fund* – in New England of all places, the most politically charged fishery of them all!) When I spotted a second fisheries article this morning – this one in the Washington Post about seafood choices that are “good for the oceans, good for you,” I knew I had to make my peace with the issue.

The first article reports on a comparative study of North Atlantic and North Pacific ecosystems conducted by team of American scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA – I’ve worked for them, too, but not on fisheries, thank God) and Norwegian scientists. The study, Marine Ecosystems of Norway and the US (MENU) is “the first attempt to provide a comprehensive, coordinated and integrated view of a wide range marine ecosystems.”

MENU results revealed that deeper ocean boundary systems, like those off Alaska or in the eastern North Atlantic, off Europe, are more strongly influenced by bottom-up mechanisms, known as forcing. The shallower western boundary systems found on continental shelves, like Georges Bank off New England are more strongly influenced by top-down processes, like fishing.

Could this difference make these latter ecosystems less resilient, more susceptible to collapse from overfishing? Perhaps this would explain why eastern fisheries, like Atlantic cod and other “groundfish”**, are doing so poorly compared to western fisheries, like salmon and halibut. Perhaps as a result of overfishing, fisheries landings in both types of ecosystems have shifted from fish to invertebrates, and bottom-dwellers to pelagic species.

Human activity, especially fishing, pollution, and climate change are having dramatic, even catastrophic impacts on marine ecosystems. One response might be to stop eating fish altogether. On the other hand, hardly a day goes by without a new study trumpeting the heart-healthy benefits of adding fish to our diets. So what can we do?

Well, my old friends at EDF have teamed up with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to develop the ’super green’ list of fish that are good for the oceans AND good for you. The “Best of the Best” are those fish that high in omega-3’s, low in contaminants, and caught in a sustainable manner. “Other Healthy Best Choices,” while strangely titled, are those that are lower in omega-3 but still good choices.

Image Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Image Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Lest you underestimate the importance of omega-3’s in your diet Dariush Mozaffarian, of Harvard Medical School who helped with the rankings, noted that eating an average of one serving of salmon a week provides enough omega-3 to reduce heart disease risk by 36%. (Question: If the subjects he studied had typical American diets that salmon meal probably replaced a high-fat meat dish – did that also help to lower their rate heart disease?)

The Super Green list is not yet available in a handy wallet-sized pocket guide like previous efforts but will likely be so soon. To read more , click here.

More info about the MENU study is available through NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, here.

For more great science news, check out my favorite source: ScienceDaily. (I get the Earth & Climate updates delivered to my inbox daily).

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* I worked for EDF during the brief period when they dropped the “f” and became Environmental Defense. There’s a ridiculous rumor about why they changed it back, but I won’t go into it here… :-)

** Groundfish is a bizarre term that is used in fisheries management, in spite of the fact that it has no ecological relevance. It refers to all fish that live somewhat near near the seafloor and can be caught using huge bottom-dragging nets. It is as if we referred to deer, racoon, fox, etc. as “landanimals” and hunted them together using bulldozers…

Project Surya Aims to Clear the Air and Reduce Global Warming

Welcome to Blog Action Day 2009! Starting early this morning in the Far East until late tonight in the Pacific Islands, more than 8,700 bloggers from 148 countries are stimulating a global conversation about many aspects of climate change. For me, the choice was easy – I write about science, so of course I’ll blog about the science of climate change. In the spirit of the “action” part of the day, I’m focusing on a unique project in India, what you might call an action-oriented scientific study of black carbon (BC).* [My regular readers know that I write about BC quite a lot – for you some of this will be a review, but please read on for some exciting new developments].

BC is a result of incomplete combustion of fossil and biomass fuels. Research suggests that BC is second only to CO2 in its contribution to climate change. BC absorbs the solar radiation reflected by the Earth’s surface and clouds. This absorption of sunlight contributes to the characteristic black or brown color of smoke and haze. Because BC only stays in the atmosphere for a week or so, the benefits of emissions BC reductions will be felt almost immediately. Reducing BC emissions by a factor of five – which is precisely what has been done in developed countries – could slow the effects of climate change for a decade or two. This could buy time to allow CO2 and other GHG reductions to take effect.

BC is not only a major climate agent; the indoor air pollution that BC is a part of is the 4th leading cause** of death in developing countries, resulting in 1.5 – 2 million premature deaths a year. Replacing smoky cookstoves and heating fires with more efficient ones, cleaner fuels, or renewable energy can improve the public health of millions, particularly woman and young children.

Woman and children are most affected by the pollution from smoky cookstoves and heating fires.

Woman and children are most affected by the pollution from smoky cookstoves and heating fires.

Project Surya is studying the impacts of BC and other SLPs on the region’s climate as well as the immediate climate and public health benefits of reducing their emissions. Phase One will target three regions in rural India: one in the Himalayas, another in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) and a third in South India. The IGP is one of the major source regions for the BC that is contributing to the melting of Himalayas glaciers. Project Surya will provide sustainable, effective, incentive-based plans to enable 5,000-10,000 households in each region to switch to less-polluting technologies. The project’s ultimate goal is to guide the 3 billion people who depend on solid biofuels to cleaner, renewable energy sources. “Surya” means sun in Sanskrit, referring to the solar energy that the project will promote.

What distinguishes Project Surya from other such efforts is that it will be accompanied by the most comprehensive and rigorous scientific evaluation to date on the impact of emissions reduction on global warming, air pollution and public health. Much of the data will be collected by the participants themselves, enabling them to see the effect of their actions. These data will be collected by instrument towers in each region then combined with advanced data from NASA’s A-Train satellite to measure the regional climate impacts.

Read more about Project Surya at: http://www-ramanathan.ucsd.edu/ProjectSurya.html.

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* Black carbon, tropospheric ozone (trop. O3) and methane (CH4) are considered short-lived pollutants because they stay in the atmosphere for very short amounts of time. The atmospheric lifetime of BC is about a week, trop. O3 a few weeks, and CH4 twelve years. CO2, N2O and halocarbons have atmospheric lifetimes of hundreds to thousands of years.

** 4th leading cause after unsafe sex, malnutrition and poor sanitation.

Thursday 10/15 is Blog Action Day ~ 6,000 Bloggers Writing About Climate!

Hi, welcome back.  I know I said I would be updating this page on Tuesdays, (and I will return to that schedule next week,) but this week is a bit special. Thursday, October 15, 2009 will the be the 3rd annual Blog Action Day and the topic is climate. Almost 6,000 bloggers will be writing about some aspect of climate for their readership. Together we represent an audience of over 10 million readers in 128 countries! That’s a lot of people who will be writing, thinking, commenting, and Tweeting about climate all together, all over the world.

What to write about? Some blogs will focus on the human dimensions of climate change: food and water scarcity or the plight of environmental refugees. Others will discuss the politics of climate – and in the run up to COP 15, there’s no shortage of material there! I’ll write about the science of climate change, as usual, but about what specifically?  Hmmm, I read an interesting article in Science last week about the connection between monsoons and ice ages and what that means for our understanding of today’s polar ice sheets….  There was also an interesting meeting in Kashmir this weekend between glaciologists and other climate scientists focusing on the Himalayan region…  Or perhaps something else will come up between now and then!  I bet you’re just dying to know, right? Well, check back on Thursday and you’ll see!

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India is Vulnerable and Acting to Address Climate Change

“India is vulnerable,” said Jairem Ramesh, India’s Minister for Environment and Forests at a breakfast meeting in Washington, DC last week. “We are responding to climate change because it is in our own self-interest.” While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sheds members over its reactionary position on climate change, the US-India Business Council (USIBC), headquartered at the Chambers offices in DC, invited Minister Ramesh and Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar to talk about the challenges and investment opportunities in addressing climate change in the world’s second most populous country.

India’s primary challenge is development, said Ambassador Shankar. The question is how to develop sustainably, to avoid accumulating problems for future generations. India’s National Climate Change Action Plan, released last year, calls for 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020. Currently there is very little, which makes it an area ripe for investment. “We need technology transfer and collaboration similar to the IT revolution,” said Shankar, “in the areas of efficiency and environment.”

Minister Ramesh opened his remarks by noting the impacts that India is already experiencing including retreat of the Himalayan glaciers and the worst monsoon in 37 years. (A Purdue study released earlier this year predicts that global warming could lead to less rain and a delay in the start of South Asian monsoon season by up to 15 days by the end of the 21st century.)

Credit: Purdue

Credit: Purdue

Prime Minister Singh has given him a clear message, Ramesh said. “More than most countries, India must take a leading role. India has not caused the problem but it must be part of the solution.” He drew a distinction between between the developed (Annex I) countries and the developing world. Developed countries must take on international legally-binding commitments to reduce emissions. Developing nations can and should take on nationally-appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) in addition to adaptation measures.

India, he says, has responsibility to reduce emissions while developing; not necessarily to reduce emissions overall but to reduce growth of emissions. He noted, however, that emissions are an issue of consumption, not population as commonly believed.  As an example he cited China, which experienced negative population growth from 1985 to 2005 but saw its emissions rise by 43% over that same period.

Ramesh reported the “Singh Per Capita Principle,” as formulated by the country’s Prime Minister: India is willing to commit to keeping its per capita carbon emissinos lower than the west.  Currently, Indian emits 1.1-1.3 tons CO2 equivalent (CO2eq) per person. That is expected to grow to 2.5 tons CO2eq by 2020 and 3.0 by 2030. Even then, he said, India would still be 50th or 60th among nations.

On COP15, the climate change negotiations that will take place in Copenhagen in December, Ramesh said that India should not be painted as a “deal-buster” in Copenhagen. Instead, Copenhagen should be sen as the fist in a series of discussions. “Think of it as Copenhagen 1.0. We will not get the mega-treaty that everyone wants. Rather we should go for the low-hanging fruit.”

When asked about the significance of black carbon (BC) and possible measures to address it (by yours truly), Ramesh pointed out that he was involved in efforts to replace polluting cookstoves in the 1980’s “We learned the limits of central intervention,” he recalled. Black carbon is important in terms of ecology and public health, he added, but he would not like the climate negotiations to be “hijacked” by BC. The international agreement focus on the six greenhouse gases. “BC should not be included internationally.”

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[Note: Next week Brave Blue Words will be updated with a brand-new climate related blog on Thursday, October 15th - instead of Tuesday - as part of Blog Action Day. Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. The aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion. Check it out at: http://www.blogactionday.org].

Up in Smoke: Black Carbon’s Role in Climate Change

[Update: I am moving to a once-a-week blog post.  Check here each Tuesday for a brand new entry of Brave Blue Words!]

The most significant anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) is carbon dioxide, CO2. Comprehensive reductions in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 (expressed as “parts per million or ppm) are the only way to bring down global temperatures and reduce the impacts of climate change. However, because CO2 and most other GHGs have such a long atmospheric lifetime – hundreds of years – reductions made today will not be felt for a very long time. Black carbon, one of the small components of soot, may be responsible for as much warming as CO2 at the “Third Pole,” the Himalayan-Tibetan region and more than one third of the warming caused by CO2 in the Arctic. Because BC is so short-lived and only stays in the atmosphere only a week or so, BC reductions can have immediate benefits.

Black carbon (BC) is a solid, not a gas. When microscopic bits of a solid get suspended in the air, it is known as an aerosol. BC has such a short atmospheric lifetime because these tiny particles can get washed out of the air by rainfall. Greenhouse gases (GHGs) warm the atmosphere by absorbing infrared radiation, the heat that is given off by the Earth and would otherwise be transmitted out to space. BC absorbs sunlight directly, in the atmosphere and on surfaces.  When BC is deposited on otherwise highly-reflective surfaces such as snow and ice, the surfaces gets darker, reducing the amount of sunlight reflected back, the albedo. The heat absorbed by the BC accelerates melting of the underlying ice. This snow-albedo feedback is one of the most significant causes of of sea ice melting in the Arctic and the retreat of glaciers in the Himalayas.

BC’s short lifetime also means that it does not travel far from its emission source. Therefore its impacts – and the benefits of reductions – are felt close to its source. BC sources vary from region to region: the BC that gets deposited in the Arctic comes primarily from dirty diesel sources in areas north of 40 degrees N (North America and Europe), while much the BC darkening the slopes of the Himalayas is produced by cookstoves and primitive brick kilns in China and India. All of these sources produce air pollution that is responsible for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths a year. Therefore, in addition to producing dramatic climate benefits, reductions in BC can have immediate health benefits in the most populated regions of the world.

Primitive brick kiln

Primitive brick kiln

Sources of BC: dirty diesel smoke

Dirty diesel smoke



Himalayan Nations Meet to Confront Climate Change

Last month, South Asia nations met to discuss how to prevent and respond to climate change in the Himalaya. The conference, called “Kathmandu to Copenhagen: A Vision For Addressing Climate Change Risks and Vulnerabilities in the Himalayas,” brought together representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kyrgyz Republic, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Representatives from China also attended.

Himalayan glaciers are the source of ten major rivers in the region, including the Ganga, India’s holiest; the Yangtze, China’s longest river; the Karnali, Nepal’s main water source; and the Indus, Pakistan’s longest river. These rivers “supply the world’s most densely populated flood plains,” according to a statement on the Conference’s website. Researchers at the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences have documented that more than 82% of the glaciers in western China have retreated and glacial area has shrunk by almost 5% over the last 50 years. They have concluded that “strong warming and reduced precipitation are likely key drivers for the extensive ice-cover reduction in the eastern and southern parts of the TP [Tibetan Plateau]” (Ding et al., 2006).

Glacial meltwater lakes left behind by retreating glaciers in the Bhutan-Himalaya. (Image courtesy of Jeffrey Kargel, USGS/NASA JPL/AGU)

Glacial meltwater lakes left behind by retreating glaciers in the Bhutan-Himalaya. (Image courtesy of Jeffrey Kargel, USGS/NASA JPL/AGU)

On the other hand, large glaciers in the Karakorum are growing, “probably due to changing precipitation patterns, perhaps more precipitation in the winter season due to westerly winds,” said Dr. Andrea Schild, the director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in an interview with Isabel Hilton of chinadialogue a week prior to the conference. Glaciers, which depend on the monsoon, tend to be receding quicker.

If glaciers continue to melt at the current rate, water shortages will result, said Purushottam Ghimire, joint secretary and chief of the environment division in Nepal’s Ministry of Environment. “Hydropower generation will start suffering in Nepal, India and then other countries.” Hydroelectricity accounts for 650 megawatts of the 720 megawatts of electricity Nepal produces every year. The Indian Prime Minister’s security advisor Shekhar Dutt said that food, water, and energy shortages threaten India’s future and should be addressed on a priority basis. The Conference’s final statement notes “that the world had spent more on corporate financial bailouts than on promoting sustainability and, least of all, on addressing climate change.” [For more about the impacts of climate change on the Himalayan region, read: "Relations Between India and China: Thawing Over Melting Himlayas?"].

Mitigating climate change in this region is linked to doing so around the world – and therefore subject to the current debates about who should be bound to emissions cuts. “The difficulty for the big regional countries is that mitigation is directly linked with growth,” said Schild. “The global debate on mitigation will only have long-term effects.” While encouraging research and collaboration, ICIMOD focuses on adaptation: “It is essential to strengthen adaptation and build resilient communities.” A related ICIMOD report The Melting Himalayas: Cascading Effects of Climate Change on Water, Biodiversity, and Livelihoods was recently published in Conservation Biology in July 2009.

Ding, Y. S. Liu, j. Li, and D. Shangguan (2006). The retreat of glaciers in response to recent climatic warming in western China, Ann. Glaciol., 43(1): 97-105, doi:10.3189/172756406781812005

Xu, Jianchu; Grumbine, Edward R. ; Shrestha, Arun; Eriksson, Mats; Yang, Xuefeu; Wang, Yun; and  Wilkes, Andreas, 2009. The Melting Himalayas: Cascading Effects of Climate Change on Water, Biodiversity, and Livelihoods, Conservation Biology. 23(3):520-530, June 2009.

Copyrignt 2009 by Brave Blue Words/ Danielle Meitiv

Last month, South Asia nations met to discuss how to prevent and respond to climate change in the Himalaya. The conference, called “Kathmandu to Copenhagen: A Vision For Addressing Climate Change Risks and Vulnerabilities in the Himalayas,” brought together representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kyrgyz Republic, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Representatives from China also attended.