Category Archives: Global Climate

2016 Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Was Second Lowest on Record

On 15 September 2016, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, CO reported their preliminary assessment that the Arctic sea ice minimum for this year was reached on 10 September 2016.

Arctic sea ice minimum 10Sep2016Source: NSIDC

The minimum extent of the Arctic sea ice on 10 September 2016 was 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles). This is the white area in the map above. The orange line on this map shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent of the Arctic sea ice for that day.

  • There were extensive areas of open water on the Northern Sea Route along the Arctic coast of Russia (the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and in the Laptev and East Siberian seas).
  • In contrast, there was much less open water on parts of the Northwest Passage along the Arctic coast of Canada (around Banks and Victoria Islands).

The 2016 minimum tied with 2007 for the second lowest Arctic sea ice minimum on record.

The historic Arctic sea ice minimum, which occurred in 2012, was 3.39 million square kilometers (1.31 million square miles); about 18% less than in 2016 [750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles) less than in 2016].

You can read the NSIDC preliminary report on the 2016 Arctic sea ice minimum at the following link:

https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

An historic event in the Arctic occurred in September 2016 when the commercial cruise liner Crystal Serenity, escorted by the RRS Shackleton, made the first transit of the Northwest Passage by a cruise liner. The voyage originated in Vancouver, Canada and arrived in New York City on 16 September 2016. The timing of this Arctic cruise coincided well with this year’s minimum sea ice conditions. See my 30 August 2016 post for more details on the Crystal Serenity’s historic Arctic voyage.

Cruise Liner Crystal Serenity is Navigating the Northwest Passage Now

Background:

The Northwest Passage connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans via an Arctic sea route along the north coasts of Alaska and Canada. The basic routes are shown in the following map.

The Northwest Passage connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans via an Arctic sea route along the north coasts of Alaska and Canada. The basic routes are shown in the following map.

Northwest PassageSource: Encyclopedia Britannica

While it has been common for icebreakers, research vessels and nuclear submarines to operate in these waters, it is quite uncommon for commercial or private vessels to attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage.

The first recorded transit of the Northwest Passage was made in 1903 – 06 by the famous Norwegian polar explorer Roland Amundsen in the ship Gjoa.

Amundsens ship GjoaAmundsen’s ship Gjoa. Source: Underwood Archives/UIG/Everett Collection

Since then, there have been many full transits of the Northwest Passage. You’ll find John MacFarlane’s list of 126 transits for the period from 1903 – 2006 on the Nauticapedia website at the following link:

http://www.nauticapedia.ca/Articles/NWP_Fulltransits.php

Notable Northwest Passage transits by commercial and private vessels

In August 1969, the heavily modified oil tanker SS Manhattan, chartered by Humble Oil & Refining Company, became the first commercial vessel to navigate the Northwest Passage. At the time, the SS Manhattan was the largest U.S. merchant vessel, with a length of 1,005 feet (306 meters), beam of 148 feet (45 meters), draft of 52 feet (16 meters), and a displacement of 115,000 tons. Total installed power was 43,000 shaft horsepower (32,000 kW).

THE MANHATTAN SS Manhattan and CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent. Source: Associated Press

Prior to the Arctic voyage, the SS Manhattan was fitted with an icebreaking bow and heavy steel sheathing along both sides of the hull and in other vulnerable locations to protect against ice. The specific route of the SS Manhattan, from the Atlantic to Prudhoe Bay and then back to the Atlantic, is shown below. Several U.S. and Canadian icebreakers supported the SS Manhattan during its voyage.

Manhattan route 1969Source: NOAA, Susie Harder – Arctic Council – Arctic marine shipping assessment (AMSA)

Oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay in 1968. A barrel of crude oil was loaded on SS Manhattan in Prudhoe Bay to symbolize that supertankers operating in the Arctic could serve the newly discovered oil field. Further testing that winter off Baffin Island showed that year-round oil tanker operations in the Arctic were not feasible. Instead, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska was built.

In 2007, the Northwest Passage became ice-free and navigable along its entire length without the need for an icebreaker for 36 days during August and September. During that period, the sailing vessel Cloud Nine passed through the Northwest Passage during its 6,640 mile, 73 day transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific. You can read David Thoreson’s blog about this Arctic voyage, Sailing the Northwest Passage, at the following link:

http://davidthoreson.blogspot.com/2007/09/completing-northwest-passage-2007.html

This voyage was a remarkable achievement for a small vessel. In his blog, David Thoreson commented:

“I feel strongly that we have witnessed the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. The golden age of exploration, Amundsen’s era, has come to a close, and a new era of exploration involving study and change in the earth’s climate is just beginning. We on Cloud Nine have experienced both eras. Frozen in and stuck in the ice twice over 13 years, and now sailing through unscathed and witnessing an ice-free Northwest Passage. We have bridged the two eras.”

Are we seeing the start of tourism in the Northwest Passage?

On 10 August 2016, Crystal Serenity departed Vancouver for Seward Alaska and the start of what is scheduled to be a 32-day voyage to New York City via the Northwest Passage. The ship is scheduled to arrive in NYC on 16 September 2016. The planned route for this cruise is shown below.

nwp-map-300-dpiSource: Crystal Cruises

The Crystal Serenity is smaller than SS Manhattan, but still is a fairly big ship, with a length of 820 feet (250 meters), beam of 106 feet (32.3 meters), draft of 25 feet (7.6 meters), and a displacement of 68,870 tons. On this voyage, Capt. Birger Vorland and two Canadian pilots will navigate the Northwest Passage with more than 1,600 passengers and crew.

Crystal Serenity will be accompanied by the icebreaking escort vessel RRS (Royal Research Ship) Ernest Shackleton, which was chartered by Crystal Cruises for this support cruise. Along the planned route, there are few ports that can accommodate a vessel the size of Crystal Serenity. Along most of the route emergency response capabilities are quite limited. Therefore, RRS Shackleton is equipped to serve as a first response vessel in the event of an emergency aboard Crystal Serenity. RRS Shackleton also carries two helicopters and additional crew to support special adventures during the cruise.

Crystal Serenity at Seward AlaskaCrystal Serenity in Seward, Alaska. Source: NPR.com, Rachel Waldholz/Alaska Public Radio

You can find a current report on the sea ice extent along the Northwest Passage at the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s website at the following link:

http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

The ice extent report today is shown in the following chart, which shows that the current ice extent is well below the 1981 – 2010 median. However, there appear to be sections of the Northwest Passage around Banks and Victoria Islands that are still covered by the Arctic ice pack. Crystal Serenity is scheduled to be in these waters soon.

Ice extent 28Aug2016Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center

You can track the current position of the Crystal Serenity as it makes its historic voyage at the following link:

http://www.cruisemapper.com/Crystal-Serenity-location?imo=9243667

As of 5:50 PM PDT, 29 August 2016, the ship is approaching Barrow, Alaska, as shown on the following map.

Location of Crystal Serenity 29Aug16Source: cruisemapper.com

A second cruise already is planned for 2017. You can book your Northwest Passage cruise on the Crystal Cruises website at the following link:

http://www.crystalcruises.com/northwest-passage-cruise

Update 24 September 2016: Mission accomplished!

On 16 September, the Crystal Serenity became the first cruise liner ever to transit the Northwest Passage. The west – east passage from Seward, Alaska to New York City took 32 days and covered 7,297 nautical miles (13,514 km).

Crystal Serenity Arrives in New York after Historic Northwest Passage VoyageCrystal Serenity arrives in NYC. Source: Crystal Cruises

U.S. Global (Climate) Change Research Program Plan Update

It used to be called “global warming”, then came “global climate change.” Now it seems that the simpler, but less informative term “global change” has become the politically-correct variant. National Academies Press (NAP) has just published the final document, “Review of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Update to the Strategic Plan Document.”

image  Source: NAP

The NAP abstract states:

“The Update to the Strategic Plan (USP) is a supplement to the Ten-Year Strategic Plan of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) completed in 2012. The Strategic Plan sets out a research program guiding thirteen federal agencies in accord with the Global Change Research Act of 1990. This report reviews whether USGCRP’s efforts to achieve its goals and objectives, as documented in the USP, are adequate and responsive to the Nation’s needs, whether the priorities for continued or increased emphasis are appropriate, and if the written document communicates effectively, all within a context of the history and trajectory of the Program.”

You might find this interesting reading. If you have a MyNAP account, you can download a PDFs copy of this report for free at the following link:

http://www.nap.edu/catalog/23396/review-of-the-us-global-change-research-programs-update-to-the-strategic-plan-document

You can download the 2011 report, “Review of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Strategic Plan,” at the following link:

http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13330/a-review-of-the-us-global-change-research-programs-strategic-plan

Draw your own conclusions on how this updated plan implements science and politics.

Science is not Driving the Climate Change Debate

Thanks to Paul Fleming for sending me a thought provoking, well-documented paper entitled, “Global Warming and the Irrelevance of Science,” which was posted online on 17 February 2016 by Richard S. Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences (Emeritus) Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This paper is the text of a lecture delivered on 20 August 2015 to the 48th Session: Erice International Seminars on Planetary Emergencies.

The basic premise of this paper is that, in many fields such as climate research, governments have a monopoly on the support of scientific research, and, through government-funded research contracts, influence the outcome of the very research being funded.

Lindzen starts his paper by observing that,

“Unfortunately, as anticipated by Eisenhower in his farewell speech from January 17, 1961 (the one that also warned of the military-industrial complex), ‘Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.’

Rather, the powers that be invent the narrative independently of the views of even cooperating scientists. It is, in this sense, that the science becomes irrelevant.”

Lindzen uses the term “iron triangle” to describe this closed-loop vicious cycle:

  • Vertex 1: Scientists perform research and make meaningless or ambiguous statements about the research (IPCC WG1)
  • Vertex 2: Advocates and media ‘translate’ these statements into alarmist declarations [IPCC WG2 (impacts) & WG3 (mitigation), some politicians]
  • Vertex 3: Politicians respond to alarm by feeding more money to the scientists in the first vertex

The net result is poor environmental decision-making that is not supportable by credible climate science. On this matter, Lindzen notes:

“The situation may have been best summarized by Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia (a center of concern for global warming): “To state that climate change will be ‘catastrophic’ hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions, which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science.”

Lindzen characterized the following three different narratives related to the global warming debate:

  • Narrative 1 – IPCC WG1:
    • Broadly supportive of the proposition that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations are a serious concern
    • Relatively open about the uncertainties and even contradictions associated with this position
    • Public pronouncements tend to be vague with ample room for denial, carefully avoiding catastrophist hyperbole while also avoiding outright rejection of such hyperbole
  • Narrative 2 – Skeptics:
    • Regard the fact that virtually all models ‘run hot’ (i.e., their projections for the most part greatly exceed observed warming) as strongly supporting the case for low climate sensitivity
    • Generally believe in testing the physics underlying the positive feedbacks in sensitive models rather than averaging models
    • Much more open to the numerous known causes of climate change (including long period ocean circulations, solar variability, impacts of ice, etc.), and do not regard CO2 as the climate’s ultimate ‘control knob’
    • Openly oppose catastrophism
  • Narrative 3 – Political promoters of climate alarm (including IPCC WG2 & WG3, many environmental NGOs and mass media)
    • Emphasize alleged consequences of the worst case scenarios presented by WG1
    • Claim virtually unanimous support
    • It is this narrative for which the science is largely irrelevant.

Lindzen notes that, “Unfortunately, for most people, the third narrative is all they will see.“

You can read Richard S. Lindzen’s complete paper at the following link:

http://euanmearns.com/global-warming-and-the-irrelevance-of-science/

Thanks also to Mike Spaeth for sending me the following link to an informative document entitled, “A Primer on Carbon Dioxide and Climate,” prepared by a recently formed organization known as the CO2 Coalition.

http://co2coalition.org/primer-carbon-dioxide-climate/

The CO2 Coalition, formed in 2015, represents itself as, “a new and independent, non-profit organization that seeks to engage thought leaders, policy makers, and the public in an informed, dispassionate discussion of how our planet will be affected by CO2 released from the combustion of fossil fuel.” Hopefully, they can help make some headway with the mass media, general public, and politicians that currently are entrenched in Narrative 3. Even cartoonists know that this will be an uphill battle.

Research & critical thinking

Source: http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/2016/02/16

New From The National Academies Press

My 14 March 2015 post provided an introduction to The National Academies Press (NAP), which is a very good source for reports and other documents on the following topics:

  • Agriculture
  • Behavioral & social sciences
  • Biographies & autobiographies
  • Biology & life sciences
  • Computers & information technology
  • Conflict & security issues
  • Earth sciences
  • Education
  • Energy & energy conservation
  • Engineering & technology
  • Environment & environmental studies
  • Food & nutrition
  • Health & medicine
  • Industry & labor
  • Mathematics, chemistry & physics
  • Policy for science & technology
  • Space & aeronautics
  • Transportation

Most of the NAP reports can be downloaded for free as pdf files if you establish a MyNAP account. If you haven’t set up such an account, you can do so at the following link:

http://www.nap.edu/content/using-mynap

With this account, you also can get e-mail notifications of new NAP reports.

For those of you who have not set up a MyNAP account, here are several new NAP reports that I found to be interesting.

Infusing Ethics into the Development of Engineers (2016)

Ethical practice in engineering is critical for ensuring public trust in the field and in its practitioners, especially as engineers increasingly tackle international and socially complex problems that combine technical and ethical challenges. This report aims to raise awareness of the variety of exceptional programs and strategies for improving engineers’ understanding of ethical and social issues and provides a resource for those who seek to improve ethical development of engineers at their own institutions.

NAP-infuse engineers  Source: NAP

Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors (2016)

Today, 74 civilian research reactors around the world, including 8 in the U.S., use or are planning to use HEU fuel. In the past decades, many civilian reactors around the world have been either shut down or converted from HEU to low enriched uranium fuel. Despite this progress, the large number of remaining HEU-fueled reactors demonstrates that further progress is needed on a worldwide scale.

Print  Source: NAP

Enhancing Participation in the U.S. Global Change Research Program (2016)

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is a collection of 13 Federal entities charged by law to assist the U.S. and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change. As the understanding of global change has evolved over the past decades and as demand for scientific information on global change has increased, the USGCRP has increasingly focused on research that can inform decisions to cope with current climate variability and change, to reduce the magnitude of future changes, and to prepare for changes projected over the coming decades.

NAP-global change  Source: NAP

Frontiers of Engineering – Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2015 Symposium (2016)

This volume presents papers on the following topics covered at the National Academy of Engineering’s 2015 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium:

  • Cyber security and privacy
  • Engineering the search for Earth-like exoplanets
  • Optical and mechanical metamaterials
  • Forecasting natural disasters

NAP-frontiers of engg 2015  Source: NAP

There are many other annual reports in the NAP “Frontiers of Engineering” series, dating back to at least 1997, and covering many other engineering topics.

I hope you’ll take some time and browse the NAP library for documents that are of interest to you. You can start your browsing, without a MyNAP account, at the following link:

http://www.nap.edu

Another Record-setting Year for Global Temperature

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) released the results of an analysis by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that showed that globally-averaged temperature in 2015 was the highest since modern record keeping began in 1880. You can read the NOAA / NASA press release at the following link:

http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20160120/

You can download a copy of the more detailed NOAA / NASA briefing at the following link:

http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20160120/noaa_nasa_global_analysis_2015.pdf

The analysis shows that globally-averaged temperature in 2015 exceeded the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 degrees Celsius) and continued a warming trend, as shown in the following graph.

gistemp_graph_2015Source: NASA Goddard

In this graph, the zero on the y-axis is the average temperature for a 30-year period from 1951 to 1980. The trend lines show results for El Niño years (orange), La Niña years (blue), and all years (dashed line). The 2015 globally-averaged temperature was:

  • 57° F (0.87° C) above the 1951 to 1980 30-year (baseline) average, and
  • 62° F (0.90° C) above the 1901 to 2000 100-year (20th century) average

The distribution of global temperatures relative to the 1951 – 80 baseline is shown in the following charts.

NOAA:NASA briefing_1_Jan2016

NOAA:NASA briefing_2_Jan2016Source, both graphics: NOAA / NASA Annual Global Analysis for 2015

The NOAA / NASA press release cited above includes an animation that helps visualize Earth’s long-term warming trend based on data from 1880 to 2015. NOAA / NASA note that phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña, which warm or cool the tropical Pacific Ocean, can contribute to short-term variations in global average temperature. A warming El Niño was in effect for most of 2015

The full 2015 surface temperature data set and the complete methodology used by NOAA / NASA in their analysis are available to the public on the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) webpage at the following link:

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/

The availability of the data and the analytical methodology allows the NOAA / NASA results to be subject to independent scrutiny. I commend NOAA and NASA for their openness in this matter, which will aid in reaching scientific consensus on the NOAA / NASA results.

This behavior by NOAA / NASA is a stark contrast to the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has failed to provide full public access to their underlying data and analytical methodologies and has been criticized for failing to rigorously apply the scientific method in their work. To help understand why the IPCC claim of “scientific consensus” is without merit, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) published the book, “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” on 30 November 2015. You can download this document for free at the following link:

https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/why-scientists-disagree-about-global-warming

To help put this in perspective, I thank cartoonist Wiley Miller for the following timely and insightful cartoon published on 20 January 2016. I challenge you to apply this cartoon to your understanding of the climate change debate.

Cartoon Science_Jan2016Source: San Diego Union Tribune

Just What are Those U.S. Scientists Doing in the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean?

The National Academies Press (NAP) recently published the report, “A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research”, which you can download for free at the following link if you have established a MyNAP account:

http://www.nap.edu/catalog/21741/a-strategic-vision-for-nsf-investments-in-antarctic-and-southern-ocean-research

Print Source: NAP

NSF states that research on the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic ice sheets is becoming increasingly urgent not only for understanding the future of the region but also its interconnections with and impacts on many other parts of the globe. The research priorities for the next decade, as recommended by the Committee on the Development of a Strategic Vision for the U.S. Antarctic Program; Polar Research Board; Division on Earth and Life Studies; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, are summarized below:

  • Core Program: Investigator-driven basic research across a broad range of disciplines
    • NSF gives the following rationale: “…it is impossible to predict where the next major breakthroughs or advances will happen. Thus to ensure that the nation is well positioned to take advantage of such breakthroughs, it is important to be engaged in all core areas of scientific research.”
      • NSF notes, “…discoveries are often made by single or small groups of PIs thinking outside the box, or with a crazy new idea, or even just making the first observations from a new place.”
    • Examples of basic research that have led to important findings include:
      • Ross Sea food chain is affected by a high abundance of predator species (whales, penguins and toothfish) all competing for the same limited resource: krill. Decline or recovery of one predator population can be seen in an inverse effect on the other predator populations.  This food chain response is not seen in other areas of the Antarctic ice shelf where predator populations are lower, allowing a larger krill population that adequately supports all predators.
      • Basic research into “curious” very-low frequency (VLF) radio emissions produced by lightning discharges led to a larger program (with a 21.2-km-long VLF antenna) and ultimately to a better understanding of the behavior of plasma in the magnetosphere.
  • Strategic, Large Research Initiatives –  selection criteria:
    • Primary filter: compelling science – research that has the potential for important, transformative steps forward in understanding and discovery
    • Subsequent filters: potential for societal impact; time-sensitive in nature; readiness / feasibility; and key area for U.S. and NSF leadership.
    • Additional factors: partnership potential; impact on program balance; potential to help bridge existing disciplinary divides
  • Strategic, Large Research Initiative – recommendations::
    • Priority I: The Changing Antarctic Ice Sheets Initiative to determine how fast and by how much will sea level rise?
      • A multidisciplinary initiative to understand why the Antarctic ice sheets is changing now and how they will change in the future.
      • Will use multiple records of past ice sheet change to understand rates and processes.
    • Priority II: How do Antarctic biota evolve and adapt to the changing environment?
      • Decoding the genomic (DNA) and transcriptomic (messenger RNA molecules) bases of biological adaptation and response across Antarctic organisms and ecosystems.
    • Priority III: How did the universe begin and what are the underlying physical laws that govern its evolution and ultimate fate?
      • A next-generation cosmic microwave background (CBM) program that builds on the current successful CMB program using telescopes at the South Pole and the high Atacama Plateau in Chile and possibly will add a new site in the Northern Hemisphere to allow observations of the full sky

You will find detailed descriptions of the Priority I to III strategic programs in the Strategic Vision report.

 

New Report Quantifies the Value of Nuclear Power Plants to the U.S. Economy and Their Contribution to Limiting Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions

On 2 July 2015, I made a long post entitled, “EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule Does Not Adequately Recognize the Role of Nuclear Power in Greenhouse Gas Reduction.”

On 7 July 2015, Nuclear Matters (http://www.nuclearmatters.com) issued a related,  comprehensive report, prepared by economists from The Brattle Group (http://www.brattle.com), that quantifies the significant value of nuclear power plants to the U.S. economy and the contribution made to limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Their report’s findings include:

  • U.S. nuclear energy plants contribute $60 billion annually to gross domestic product (GDP), in addition to other economic and societal benefits.
  • The nuclear industry accounts for about 475,000 full-time jobs (direct and secondary).
  • Energy generated from nuclear plants avoids emissions that otherwise would have been generated by fossil power plants.
    • 573 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, worth an additional $25 billion annually if valued at the U.S. government’s estimate for the social cost of carbon.
    • 650,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOX) and over one million tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions annually, together valued at $8.4 billion using the National Academy of Science’s externality estimates.
  • Nuclear power helps keep electricity prices low. Without nuclear power, retail electricity rates could increase by about 6% on average. Keeping electricity prices low is the primary means by which nuclear power boosts the economy.
  • Provides $10 billion in federal tax revenues and $2.2 billion in state tax revenues annually.

You can download the report, entitled, The Nuclear Industry’s Contribution to the U.S. Economy” at the link below.  The report also describes the modeling techniques used to estimate economic value with and without the contributions from nuclear power.

http://www.brattle.com/system/news/pdfs/000/000/895/original/The_Nuclear_Industry’s_Contribution_to_the_U.S._Economy.pdf?1436280444

Brattle-Group-nuc-power-economics-report-7-Jul-15 R1

U.S. Drought Indicators Derived From GRACE Satellite Data

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center generate groundwater and soil moisture drought indicators each week. They are based on terrestrial water storage observations derived from GRACE satellite data and integrated with other observations, using a sophisticated numerical model of land surface water and energy processes. You can see current results for the continental U.S. at the following link to the National Drought Mitigation Center (NMDC), University of Nebraska-Lincoln, website:

http://drought.unl.edu/MonitoringTools/NASAGRACEDataAssimilation.aspx

Drought indicator maps for 6 July 2015 are reproduced below for:

  • Surface soil moisture
  • Root zone soil moisture
  • Shallow groundwater

The drought in the U.S. West looks most severe in the shallow groundwater map.

You can find information on the twin GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellites at the following link:

http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace/

GRACE_6Jul15_SFSM

GRACE_6Jul15_RTZSM

GRACE_6Jul15_GWS

EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule Does Not Adequately Recognize the Role of Nuclear Power in Greenhouse Gas Reduction

On June 2, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed what they called, “a common sense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants.”  You can access the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule and many related documents at the following EPA link:

http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule

This Plan proposes to limit carbon emissions from existing fossil fuel fired electric generating units, including steam generating, integrated gasification combined cycle, or stationary combustion turbines (in either simple-cycle or combined-cycle configuration) operating or under construction by January 8, 2014. Main points of the Clean Power Plan include:

  • Wind and solar power are the preferred EPA options.
  • Natural gas is an interim solution.
  • New nuclear capacity is not a compliance option.
  • The EPA allows compliance credit for:
    • New nuclear plants currently under construction, and
    • Preservation of existing nuclear plants that might otherwise be retired

I’ve already formed my opinion on the Clean Power Plan. To help you form your opinion, I recommend that you refer to the following recent analyses by four respected government and industry organizations that have reviewed the Clean Power Plan.

Institute for Energy Research (IER)

On 15 June 2015, the IER issued the results of their analysis entitled, EPA’s Clean Power Plan Ignores New Nuclear as a Compliance Option. IER concluded that the compliance formulae in the Clean Power Plan are biased toward new wind and solar power development. Deployment of these technologies, which currently are not capable of delivering reliable capacity, will decrease the reliability of the electric grid. IER also concluded that the Clean Power Plan will result in much higher electricity prices for all American consumers, while having only a marginal impact on global temperature based on EPA’s computer models.

You can read the IER analysis at the following link:

http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/analysis/epas-clean-power-plan-ignores-new-nuclear-as-a-compliance-option/

National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA)

On 21 May 2015, the NACAA issued a report entitled, Implementing EPA’s Clean Power Plan: A Menu of Options, containing 25 chapters, each of which explores a particular approach to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction in the electric power sector.  NACAA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association of air pollution control agencies in 41 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and 116 metropolitan areas.  Each chapter of their Menu of Options includes a brief descriptions of: (1) the option and it’s pros and cons; (2) the regulatory backdrop, policy underpinnings, implementation experience, and GHG reduction potential associated with the option; and (3) benefits of the option to society and the utility system, including costs and cost-effectiveness. In the last chapter, a variety of emerging technologies and other policy options for reducing GHG emissions are addressed.

An interesting table and two figures included in Chapter 6 of the Menu of Options are reproduced below.

NACAA Table 6-1 Source: NACAA

In 2012, electric power generation technologies with zero or low GHG emissions accounted for 31.4% of the USA’s total generating capacity. The data in Table 6-1 shows that 82.2% of the zero or low GHG emission generating capacity came from nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. The remaining low-emission generation capacity came from biomass, wind, geothermal, and solar power plants.

NACAA Figure 6-3Source: NACAA

In Figure 6-3, “life cycle GHG emissions” include those associated with operation as well as construction, fabrication, and fuel processing.  While nuclear power is not included among the “technologies powered by renewable resources”, it’s clear in Figure 6-3 that nuclear power meets the GHG reduction performance of the other technologies using renewable resources.

NACAA Figure 6-7  Source: NACAA

In Figure 6-7, note the relative cost-of-energy differential between nuclear power and fossil power. This difference makes it difficult for nuclear power plants to compete head-to-head with coal and natural gas merchant power plants and encourages the early retirement of some nuclear power plants on economic grounds.  While most renewable power sources have even higher costs-of-energy, various financial schemes subsidize their power generation.

You can download individual chapters or the entire NACAA Menu of Options at the following link:

http://www.4cleanair.org/NACAA_Menu_of_Options

U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

On 22 May 2015, the EIA released their analysis of the Clean Power Plan. The EIA analysis supports the IER finding that the Clean Power Plan will result in much higher electricity prices for all American consumers, even in a scenario that allows GHG reduction credit for new nuclear generation.

You can read the EIA press release at the following link:

http://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/powerplants/cleanplan/

You also can download a PDFs copy of the May 2015 EIA report, Analysis of the Impacts of the Clean Power Plan, at the following link:

http://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/powerplants/cleanplan/pdf/powerplant.pdf

Nuclear Energy Institute’s (NEI)

To address the “clean power” attributes of nuclear power, I refer you to an NEI Knowledge Center webpage: Environment: Emissions Prevented, which you will find at the following link:

http://www.nei.org/Knowledge-Center/Nuclear-Statistics/Environment-Emissions-Prevented

Here you’ll find a link to data on the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide emissions avoided in the U.S. during the years 1995 to 2014 by virtue of having about 20% of U.S. electric power generated by nuclear power plants instead of fossil power plants. NEI reports the total avoided emissions for this period as follows:

  • Sulfur dioxide: 57.75 million short tons (52.4 million metric tons)
  • Nitrogen oxides: 22.92 million short tons (20.8 million metric tons)
  • Carbon dioxide: 13,063.6 million short tons (11,851 million metric tons)

On this website, NEI states:

“Nuclear energy facilities avoided 595 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2014 across the U.S. This is nearly as much carbon dioxide as is released from nearly 135 million cars, which is more than all U.S. passenger cars. The U.S. produces more than five billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Without the emission avoidances from nuclear generation, required reductions in the U.S. would increase by more than 50 percent to achieve targets under the Kyoto Protocol.”

2013 paper, “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power”.

Supporting the above NEI position on the GHG reduction merits of nuclear power, there is a related 2013 article by NASA scientists from Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University entitled, “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power”.  You can read a short article on this paper on the Scientific American website at the following link:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/nuclear-power-may-have-saved-1-8-million-lives-otherwise-lost-to-fossil-fuels-may-save-up-to-7-million-more/

You also can read the complete paper at the following link:

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es3051197

In their study, authors Pushker A. Kharecha and James E. Hansen used historical production data from 1971 to 2009 and calculated that global nuclear power has prevented an average of 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent (GtCO2-eq) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning. From their analysis, the authors drew the following conclusion:

“In conclusion, it is clear that nuclear power has provided a large contribution to the reduction of global mortality and GHG emissions due to fossil fuel use. If the role of nuclear power significantly declines in the next few decades, the International Energy Agency asserts that achieving a target atmospheric GHG level of 450 ppm CO2-eq would require “heroic achievements in the deployment of emerging low- carbon technologies, which have yet to be proven. Countries that rely heavily on nuclear power would find it particularly challenging and significantly more costly to meet their targeted levels of emissions.”

So, what do you think about the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan? Is this the “common sense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants” promised by EPA; a politically motivated piece of crap designed to kill the nuclear and coal power industries; or something in between?