February 16, 2007
No Comfort Here: We Can't Confidently Predict Ice Sheet Behavior
The significance of ice sheet behavior to policy has resulted in substantial research efforts that have been bearing fruit in the last year or two. But recent studies suggest that the IPCC's uncertainty about ice sheet behavior is justified -- and may not be resolved quickly enough to allow us to make policy based on a narrow range of estimated sea level change. So what are we to do? It's the traditional problem of scientific uncertainty rearing its ugly head -- just at the time when we are convinced that something needs to be done, but now we have to decide what to do and how quickly it must be done.
The temptation is to say as much as feasible. But that begs the cost question, which defines our sense of what is feasible. So, we need to set "technology-forcing" or what I'd prefer to call "technology-facilitating" goals and let the genius of the market find ways to meet them. And the goals need to be set not based on what we guess is the central tendency of estimated climate impacts, but based on the higher end of estimated climate impacts --not based on a worst case scenario, but based on a moderately worse case scenario. To me, this is James Hansen's recommendation to hold SST increase to 1 degree by the end of the century. Now, what does that require? I don't know....but I'd like the answer to that question.
Here's the latest from the AAAS meeting:
Clues to Sea Rise May Lie Beneath Antarctic Glaciers
Images courtesy of NASA
A network of rapidly filling and emptying lakes lies beneath at least two of West Antarctica’s ice streams, according to new research published online today by the journal Science, at the Science Express website.
More than 100 subglacial lakes have already been discovered, but the new ones are particularly interesting because they occur below fast-moving ice. Though it’s too early to say exactly how this liquid water is affecting the rates of ice flow above, understanding the behavior of these fast-moving ice streams is essential for predicting how Antarctica may contribute to sea level rise.
Helen Fricker of the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and colleagues analyzed elevation data recorded by NASA’s Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) collected over the lower parts of the Whillans and Mercer Ice Streams. These are two of the major, fast-moving glaciers that are carrying ice from the interior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to the floating Ross Ice Shelf.
“We’ve found that there are substantial subglacial lakes under ice that’s moving a couple of meters per day. It’s really ripping along. It’s the fast-moving ice that determines how the ice sheet responds to climate change on a short timescale,” said Robert Bindschadler of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, one of the study’s coauthors.
“We aren’t yet able to predict what these ice streams are going to do. We’re still learning about the controlling processes. Water is critical, because it’s essentially the grease on the wheel. But we don’t know the details yet,” he said.
Bindschadler presented the findings at a news briefing for reporters on Thursday, 15 February, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California. In coordination with the briefing, NASA released satellite images of West Antarctica.
Glaciologists have known that water exists under ice streams, but the observation of a system of water storage reservoirs is unprecedented. The surprising thing about this discovery is the amount of water involved, and the pace at which it moves from one reservoir to another, according to Fricker, the lead author.
“We didn’t realize that the water under these ice streams was moving in such large quantities, and on such short time scales,” Fricker said. “We thought these changes took place over years and decades, but we are seeing large changes over months.”
The authors identified numerous spots that either rose or deflated from 2003 to 2006, likely because water flowed into or out of them. Water would be capable of this because it is highly pressurized under the weight of the overlying ice.
The three largest regions are between approximately 120 and 500 square kilometers, while the others are widely scattered and smaller. One of the large regions, referred to as Subglacial Lake Engelhardt, drained during the first 2.7 years of the ICESat mission, while another, Subglacial Lake Conway, steadily filled during the same period.
“I’m quite astonished that with this combination of satellite sensors we could sense the movement of large amounts of water like this. From 600 kilometers up in space, we were able to see small portions of the ice sheet rise and sink,” Bindschadler said.
Studies of the subglacial environment are rare, being expensive, risky and labor-intensive. Bindschadler explained that before the ICESat mission, researchers would typically have to drill holes in the ice streams in order to study what was occurring beneath them. These holes, generally just about 4 inches in diameter, provided a much more limited view of the entire ice stream than the satellite images do.
“Until now, we’ve had just a few glimpses into what’s going on down there. This is the most complete picture to date what’s going on beneath fast flowing ice,” Bindschadler said.
Added Fricker: “The approach used for this work provides glaciologists with a new tool to survey and monitor the nature of the subglacial water system and to link these observations to the motion of the ice sheet. We still don’t know how the subglacial water system varies on longer time-scales from decades to centuries. To do this, we need to continue monitoring the ice streams with ICESat and future follow-on missions.”
15 February 2007 3:24 pm
On ice sheets, U.W. reports:
Two of Greenland's largest glaciers shrank dramatically and dumped twice as much ice into the sea during a period of less than a year between 2004 and 2005. And then, less than two years later, they returned to near their previous rates of discharge.
The variability over such a short time, reported online Feb. 9 on Science magazine's Science Express, underlines the problem in assuming that glacial melting and sea level rise will necessarily occur at a steady upward trajectory, according to lead author Ian Howat, a post-doctoral researcher with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory and the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center. The paper comes a year after a study in the journal Science revealed that discharge from Greenland's glaciers had doubled between 2000 and 2005, leading some scientists to speculate such changes were on a steady, upward climb.
"While the rates of shrinking of these two glaciers have stabilized, we don't know whether they will remain stable, grow or continue to collapse in the near future," Howat says. That's because the glaciers' shape changed greatly, becoming stretched and thinned.
"Our main point is that the behavior of these glaciers can change a lot from year to year, so we can't assume to know the future behavior from short records of recent changes," he says. "Future warming may lead to rapid pulses of retreat and increased discharge rather than a long, steady drawdown."
The findings come on the heels of the widely publicized Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change's report issued Feb. 2. Some scientists criticized the report for disregarding the surprisingly high discharges of ice from Greenland's glaciers since 2000 when the panel estimated the amount of future sea level rise that will be caused by melting glaciers.
In the summary for policy makers (http://www.ipcc.ch/SPM2feb07.pdf), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explained its position saying, "Dynamical processes related to ice flow and not included in current models but suggested by recent observations could increase the vulnerability of the ice sheets to warming, increasing sea level rise. Understanding of these processes is limited and there is no consensus on their magnitude."
"I think the IPCC authors made a responsible decision in producing their estimates while noting the recent discharges are a real concern that we do not yet understand well enough to make accurate predictions," says Ian Joughin, a glaciologist with the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory and co-author on the Science Express article.
Getting accurate computer models of Greenland and Antarctic glaciers is important because 99 percent of the Earth's glacial ice is found in those two places. Glacial ice is second only to the oceans as the largest reservoir of water on the planet.
Previous findings published a year ago showed that Greenland's glaciers had doubled their discharge between 2000 and 2005, but these results were based on "snapshots" of discharge taken five years apart, Howat says.
"Did an equal amount of discharge occur every year? Did it happen all in one year? Is there a steady upward trajectory? We didn't know," he says.
Last week's Science Express article adds details from Greenland's second and third largest glaciers, Kangerdlugssuaq and Helheim, in the southwest part of Greenland. The two are known as "outlet" glaciers because their front edges reach all the way to the sea, unlike other glaciers that are landlocked. Together the two glaciers represent 35 percent of East Greenland's total discharge. The scientists examined the glaciers' speed, geometry and discharge between 2000 and 2006.
At Kangerdlugssuaq, roughly 80 percent of the total increase in discharge occurred in less than one year in 2005, followed by a 25 percent drop the following years, the authors say. At Helheim, discharge increased between 2000 and 2003, and then by an even greater amount between 2004 and 2005. It then dropped in 2006 to its near 2000 value.
The scientists say what they've learned is that the shape of these two glaciers changed as they surged toward the sea, changes that put the brakes on. The glaciers lost ice as their front edges began calving, became lighter and floated off the bottom, which led to more ice breaking off as the ice was buoyed up by water. The fronts stablized once the ice had retreated to shallower parts of the fjords and again rested on the bottom.
They also found the pace toward the sea was faster at the front edge of the glaciers than farther up the mountain. For example Kangerdlugssuaq's front edge increased in speed by 80 in 2005 percent while 19 miles inland the speed increased 20 percent. This caused the glaciers to thin, stretch and weigh less overall, which also slowed them down.
"All this in a matter of a few short years for these two glaciers is not the way glaciologists are used to thinking," Howat says. "We're used to thinking of the ice sheets in terms of millennia or centuries."
Predicting Fate of Glaciers Proves Slippery Task
By Richard A. Kerr
ScienceNOW Daily News
15 February 2007
Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declined to extrapolate the recent accelerated loss of glacial ice far into the future (ScienceNOW, 2 February). Too poorly understood, the IPCC authors said. Overly cautious, some scientists responded in very public complaints (Science, 9 February, p. 754). The accelerated ice loss--apparently driven by global warming--could raise sea level much faster than the IPCC was predicting, they said. Yet almost immediately, new findings have emerged to support the IPCC's conservative stance.
In a surprise development, glaciologists reported online last week in Science (10.1126/science.1138478) that two major outlet glaciers draining the Greenland ice sheet--Kangerdlugssuaq and Helheim--did a lively two-step in the first part of the decade. By gauging the elevation and flow speed of the glaciers using satellite data, Ian Howat of the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory in Seattle and his colleagues found that Kangerdlugssuaq sped up abruptly in 2005, no doubt accelerating sea level rise just a bit. But then it fell back to near its earlier flow speed by the next year. Helheim gradually accelerated over several years, also sped up sharply in 2005, and then slowed abruptly to its original flow speed. Apparently, these glaciers were temporarily responding to the loss of some restraining ice at their lower ends, much as a river's flow would temporarily increase with the lowering of a dam.
Helen Fricker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, and her colleagues report another glaciological surprise in a paper published online today in Science. Fricker also presented the study this morning at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW) in San Francisco, California. Using a new satellite-based laser technique, the team discovered an unexpectedly active network of linked lakes beneath two ice streams--Whillans and Mercer--draining the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Researchers knew of pools of meltwater at the base of Antarctic ice, but Fricker and her colleagues recorded the rising and falling of the surface by up to 9 meters over 14 patches of ice, the largest three spanning 120 to 500 square kilometers. Water that could lubricate the base of the ice and perhaps accelerate its flow was seeping from one subglacial lake to another in a matter of months, and in one case escaping to the sea. "We didn't know as much about the Antarctic ice sheet as we thought we did," says Fricker.
Glaciologist Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University in State College agrees. "Lots of people were saying we [IPCC authors] should extrapolate into the future," he says, but "we dug our heels in at the IPCC and said we don't know enough to give an answer." Researchers will have to understand how and why glacier speeds can vary so much, he adds, before they can trust their models to forecast the fate of the ice sheets, much less sea level.
February 16, 2007 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
February 15, 2007
Second Circuit requires tougher cooling water intake rules for existing power plants
Riverkeeper, Inc. v. U.S. E.P.A., (C.A.2) January
31, 2007: Clean Water - Clean Water Act's (CWA) "best technology
available" for cooling water intake structures precluded cost/benefit
analysis. The Clean Water Act (CWA) provision mandating the use of
"best technology available" (BTA) for minimizing the adverse
environmental impact of point sources' cooling water intake structures
did not permit the use of cost-benefit analysis in determining the BTA.
This was in contrast to the predecessor standard, "best practicable
control technology" or BPT. Instead, the later standard required a
determination of which means would be used to reach a specified level
of benefit. The issue arose on challenges to the EPA'S rule
implementing the provision for existing power plants.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) provision mandating the use of "best technology available" (BTA) for minimizing the adverse environmental impact of point sources' cooling water intake structures did not permit the use of cost-benefit analysis in determining the BTA. This was in contrast to the predecessor standard, "best practicable control technology" or BPT. Instead, the later standard required a determination of which means would be used to reach a specified level of benefit. The issue arose on challenges to the EPA'S rule implementing the provision for existing power plants.
Responses to IPCC 4th Assessment
Here's the IPCC 4th Assessment summary for policymakers regarding climate change science: IPCC4 Climate Science Summary
Here are a random few responses (original 2/2; revised thru 2/15)
Nature editorial (see below)
Worldwatch Institute (see below)
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Real Climate on sea level change Prior ELP Blog post
World Council of Churches (see below)
Tiempo (see below)
"Any notion that we do not know enough to move decisively against climate change has been clearly dispelled," said Yvo de Boer, head of the Climate Change Secretariat on the release of the first volume of the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on February 2nd. The report sparked a range of comments in the days that followed. "The world's scientists have spoken," said Timothy E Wirth of the United Nations Foundation. "It is time now to hear from the world's policy makers. The so-called and long-overstated 'debate' about global warming is now over," he continued. "Faced with this emergency, now is not the time for half measures. It is the time for a revolution, in the true sense of the term," concluded French President Jacques Chirac.
There were dissenting voices. In the United States, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe described the IPCC assessment as "the corruption of science for political gain." William O'Keefe of the George Marshall Institute said that predictions of a "climate catastrophe in this century are unjustified." In Lagos, Nigeria, Thompson Ayodele of the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis announced the launch of the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change to provide "more rational thinking" on the climate issue. "Many of the proposed policies are likely to harm a society like Nigeria more than the climate changes they are intended to control," he said.
Nature Editorial 2/8/07
Light at the end of the tunnel
An emphatic and clear status report on global warming opens the way
for action - presenting new risks.
The release of the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC)last Friday marks an important milestone.
Following the scientific consensus that has been apparent for some
time, a solid political consensus that acknowledges the problem
finally seems to be within reach. But achieving this outcome brings
its own risks.
Until quite recently (perhaps even until last week),the general
global narrative of the great climate-change debate has been
deceptively straightforward. The climate-science community, together
with the entire environmental movement and a broad alliance of
opinion leaders ranging from Greenpeace and Ralph Nader to Senator
John McCain and many US evangelical Christians, has been advocating
meaningful action to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions. This
requirement has been disputed by a collection of money-men and some
isolated scientists,in alliance with the current president of the
United States and a handful of like-minded ideologues such as
Australia's prime minister John Howard.
The IPCC report, released in Paris, has served a useful purpose in
removing the last ground from under the climate-change sceptics '
feet, leaving them looking marooned and ridiculous. However, this
predicament was already clear enough. Opinion in business circles,in
particular, has moved on. A report released on 19 January by
Citigroup, Climatic Consequences - the sort of eloquently written,
big-picture stuff that the well-informed chief executive reads on a
Sunday afternoon - states even more firmly than the IPCC that
anthropogenic climate change is a fact that world governments are
moving to confront. It leaves no question at all that large
businesses need to get to grips with this situation - something that
many of them are already doing.
So then, the enemy is vanquished and the victors can rejoice? Hardly.
In fact,the pending retreat from the stage of the president of the
United States and his allies leaves those who do acknowledge the
severity of the problem facing an even greater challenge than before.
The world now broadly accepts that we have a problem, if not a
crisis. So what is to be done?
The policy choices that lie ahead are more daunting than political
leaders (or the media) have thus far been ready to acknowledge. In a
sense, twenty years of frustrating trench-warfare with the sceptics
has prevented a rational discussion about what needs to be done from
even taking place.
At present, the political response to the situation is, in large
part, incongruous. We need to restrict emissions in the developed
world, and some steps are being undertaken to do just that, chiefly
through the much-maligned Kyoto Protocol. We need to develop clean
energy sources, and these are being pushed ahead quite rapidly,
although each one - nuclear power, biofuels wind power and
hydropower, for example - creates its own environmental battlefield.
Steps are also being taken to build systems for large-scale carbon
capture and storage ,and to improve the efficiency with which energy
The trouble is, none of this is even close to being sufficient to
meet the challenge. Hybrid cars are being purchased (and often allow
their lucky drivers special access to empty highway lanes). David
Cameron, the leader of Britain 's Conservative Party,has sought
planning permission to erect a wind turbine in his back garden. And
Pink Floyd and Pearl Jam have declared that their most recent world
tours would be 'carbon neutral '. But we are all vaguely aware that
all of this is nowhere near enough.
Even the most progressive governments continue to put the issue of
climate change on the back seat behind their fundamental commitment
to strong economic growth, which is needed to ensure political
survival (in developed countries) and to enable human dignity (in
developing countries). So in a typical European nation, for example,
governments are calling for strenuous emissions cuts while also
planning airport expansions that anticipate a further tripling over
the next twenty years of air travel -- the fastest-growing source of
and one not capped by the Kyoto Protocol.
The fundamental difficulty here is that it has been politically
impossible to accept that fighting global warming may involve some
economic sacrifice, at least while the sceptics were in the picture.
As these are vanquished, it becomes possible - and indeed necessary -
to start the discussion. Similarly, it has been hard to talk about
actions that need to be taken to mitigate the damage already certain
to be caused by climate change and associated rises in the sea level,
as such steps were regarded as a capitulation to those who just want
to keep emitting greenhouse gases. This is no longer the case.
Mitigation,which can take many forms ranging from the Thames Barrier
in London to the introduction of drought-resistant crop strains in
the Sahel and the establish-
ment of a proposed climate-change adaptation fund, needs to be
squarely on the agenda, alongside emissions cuts.
A similar relaxation arises with regard to revised negotiations for
the second stage of the Kyoto Protocol. There is a case for opening
the second phase beyond a simple extension of the cap-and- trade
proposals that made up the core of the first. US President George W.
Bush will remain a participant in such negotiations until the end of
2008. But even before then, talks should include all the options open
to a planet that is now ready, at last, to acknowledge the fix it is
From “Inconvenient” to Incontrovertible
Last year, the world was captivated by academy award and Nobel Prize nominee Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Now, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows the science is not only inconvenient—it’s incontrovertible.
Some 2,500 scientists from more than 130 countries agree that there is at least a 90 percent probability that warming observed during the past 50 years is the result of human activity (up from 66 percent chance stated in the last IPCC report released in 2001).
IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri has said the report’s greatest contribution to the debate was in achieving consensus about the threat. The question now is: What can we do about global warming and how can we prepare our world for worsening storms, droughts, floods and other impacts?
- The United States (the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and whose action is necessary to encourage China and India to reduce their emissions) can displace a large portion of its fossil fuels by looking to the American Energy vision.
cover only 0.4 percent of the Earth’s surface yet generate the bulk of
the world’s greenhouse gas emissions—can make significant reductions in
emissions by sourcing power locally and investing in energy efficiency.
Communities can plan for disasters due to the likely increase in sea-level rise, floods, heat waves, droughts, and hurricane intensity.
World church body says UN climate report shows need to act now Geneva (ENI). The World Council of Churches and other Christian groups say immediate action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after a UN climate panel issued its strongest warning yet that human activities are to blame for global warming. "The global debate over human impact on the environment must now shift from denial and delays to responsibility and remedies that are well within humanity's grasp," said the Rev. Martin Robra, who is responsible for the WCC's work on climate change.
A couple of articles caught my eye recently. One in Nature argues that phylogenetic diversity (a measure of how distantly species are related) should be considered in addition to using number of species to identify "hotspots" that deserve priority in conservation efforts. [see Science news report below]. Another Nature article described rapid biodiversity assessments, conflicting ideas on how to set biodiversity conservation priorities, and the utility of these assessments in priority setting [see excerpt below].
Saving Species With Potential [edited by ELP]
By Robert Koenig
ScienceNOW Daily News
14 February 2007
When seeking to preserve biodiversity, simply trying to count and protect every species may not be enough. A new study suggests that conservationists should also consider the extent to which the mix of species in an area has the genetic potential to adapt to change. In the past, many scientists assumed that the number of species in a region reflects that area's potential for evolutionary change. That potential is expressed in terms of "phylogenetic diversity"--a measure of how distantly related those species are. The higher the species number, the prevailing theory went, the higher the phylogenetic diversity, and the easier it would be for the area as a whole to adapt to global change. However, in examining plant life in two biodiversity hot spots in South Africa's Cape region, researchers found that species number and phylogenetic diversity don't always go hand in hand. The researchers found that the western Cape had more plant species and the eastern Cape's flora had higher phylogenetic diversity. That diversity, in turn, had produced more plants with traits useful for food or medicine. [The results] may help conservationists better decide which areas to protect: "A planner might ask, 'Where do I place my next reserve to capture the most evolutionary potential?' It is precisely in these circumstances that one would expect phylogenetic diversity to really come into its own." Another evolutionary genomics researcher agrees that phylogenetics should be used by conservationists, but he cautions that predicting evolutionary change is tricky, as some lineages take millions of years to evolve significantly, while others evolve in much faster.<>>
Rapid biodiversity assessments and conservation priority setting:
The idea is simple. With funds, expertise and time too limited to
conduct thorough species surveys of every unknown region, experts
instead target the most promising areas and quickly assess whether they
are worthy of conservation. Proponents admit that the resulting data
are incomplete, but say the compromise is justified because rough
estimates of biodiversity can help inform preservation decisions. And
even a quick survey by scientists with decades of broad experience in
the field and in museum collections can lead to qualitative estimates
of an area's relative conservation value. "We would all love to spend
more time," says Debra Moskovits, a tropical biologist at the museum
and founder of its RBI initiative. "But the time pressure is intense.
If we can protect some of these areas, then maybe people will be able
to do the more extensive studies the areas deserve."
The protected areas on a list maintained by the United Nations have grown to some 11.5% of the planet's land surface in recent years1, but 'gap analysis' studies show that large numbers of species are not represented in the existing network2. Conservationists have argued for decades about how best to prioritize areas for future conservation: whether by geographical location and political expediency, or through some measure of species numbers, degrees of species interconnectedness, or the presence of rare, threatened or keystone organisms.
The Field Museum team has focused its attention on the high-biodiversity upper Amazon and Andean foothills regions of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Working with local, regional and international scientists and conservation groups, members of the core group of five museum biologists have conducted 12 rapid inventories in these regions since 1999, representing 9.2 million hectares of surveyed land - an area about the size of the US state of Maine. Preliminary results are shared immediately with local communities, organizations and political leaders; formal reports are usually published in a matter of months. "People are making land-use decisions all the time, and they can't protect places if they don't know anything about them," says Corine Vriesendorp, a conservation ecologist and the Field Museum's director for rapid inventories. "If you bring in a crack team of biologists, you can very quickly tell decision makers whether a place is special or not." And it can be done relatively inexpensively - a typical, foundation-funded RBI costs about US$300,000 from initial planning through to the final published report.
Six new protected areas have already been established, comprising about half of the territory the team has surveyed. Most of the remaining land is also on the road to legal protection.
The survey information can also help local communities and governments prioritize specific zones within a surveyed area, identifying those that most urgently need full protection, and those that might be allocated for uses such as tourism and sustainable harvesting. "People overlook the impact that these kinds of survey can have on building local capacity for conservation," notes tropical land use specialist Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa of the University of Alberta in Canada, who is not involved in the programme. "You can get local participation and a broader perspective, and that really helps build expertise and interest in the local communities."
For the Field Museum team, that means working with local scientists and graduate students to compile the inventories, and forming links with indigenous groups, regional and national governments, and local conservation organizations. The biological work is paralleled by 'social inventories' - surveys of the organizational structure and natural resource use of local villages. That social aspect, says Vriesendorp, sets RBIs apart from other rapid conservation assessments and is crucial to their success. "The dream is to protect these areas indefinitely," she says, "and that can only happen if the local people and their leaders are fully engaged."
The core of the RBI approach is the rapid inventory itself. The surveys have their roots in a 1987 birding trip, when physicist and avid birder Murray Gell-Mann and ornithologist Ted Parker first started talking about using quick-time biological surveys to spur conservation. By 1990, environmental group Conservation International, based in Washington DC, had put their ideas into practise; Moskovits and other Field Museum team members, including botanist Robin Foster and ornithologists Doug Stotz and Tom Schulenberg, were all early participants. The idea caught on with other groups, and by 1995 the Field Museum had initiated its own rapid inventory programme, spearheaded by Moskovits.
Each inventory starts with satellite images, geological maps and, if possible, video footage taken from the air. Experience has taught that the taxonomists' time is better spent walking trails than wielding machetes to create them. The RBI scientists identify areas they think will give them a broad cross-section of the available habitats, and advance teams of local workers prepare bush camps and cut trails to their specifications.
We're looking at what's common, what's rare, what's dominant and what's really weird.
In Sierra del Divisor, that means three separate campsites: two at higher elevations, one along a lowland riverbank, and each with a network of trails stretching for dozens of kilometres along streams, through swamps and up mountains. The museum biologists are joined by nine scientists and students from Peru and Brazil. "We try to balance the teams to get broad experience across the region, as well as local expertise," Vriesendorp says. The inventory focuses on limited taxa - trees, shrubs, mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians - to keep the workload manageable, and seeks to determine "what's common, what's rare, what's dominant and what's really weird", says Vriesendorp. The scientists tabulate individual species of plant and animal, and draw on experience to gauge the relative health, uniqueness and diversity of each ecosystem. The social inventory team, meanwhile, conducts its own surveys to map out the location and structure of local human populations, including the potential for and threats to long-term conservation.
February 12, 2007
Effects of Global Warming on Wildlife
Here's the CRS report. Climate change.pdf
February 12, 2007 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack
The Market's Betting Against Climate Change Policy
The Economist suggests that the markets are not yet taking climate change into account:
THE scientific consensus in favour of man-made global warming seems clear. There is also evidence that voters are increasingly inclined to believe in the phenomenon, even in America. This might lead one to believe that politicians will be forced to take action. But, as Tim Bond, of Barclays Capital, points out, the futures markets appear to be saying something different. The forward curves for hydrocarbon fuels (such as oil and coal) are upward-sloping: higher prices are expected in future.><>
Some of this might be due to investment demand for commodities, which is usually channelled via the futures markets; but the bulk of this money is placed into contracts of less than 12 months’ duration. The forward curve points to higher oil prices over five or more years. Conversely, the price curves of cleaner alternatives are downward-sloping. This does not suggest investors are expecting a mass shift away from oil and towards green fuel sources such as wind and solar power. Perhaps this reflects understandable cynicism that voters will ever agree to changes that cause them real pain: higher gasoline taxes in America, for example. As one hedge fund manager recently remarked to your correspondent: "If the UK stopped all carbon emissions tomorrow, the Chinese would replace them within six months. So why should I give up driving my big car?">
Or perhaps investor opinion reflects the enormity of the task. As Barclays Capital points out, energy demand is expected to rise by 50% over the next 30 years. The industry needs to meet that target, while simultaneously reducing the 80% share of supply currently provided by hydrocarbons. The attempt to square this circle may have important repercussions for financial markets. As Tim Bond says, an enormous amount of new investment is needed to meet increased energy demand―some $20 trillion, at 2000 prices. The energy industry did double its capital spending in nominal terms between 2000 and 2005, but thanks to infrastructure inflation (the cost of oil rigs, tankers etc), this translated into a real spending increase of only 10-20%.
The way that markets have traditionally encouraged investment spending is by ramping up prices, which helps explain why the oil price tripled within a few years (before a recent setback). But there is still a problem.><>
First, companies are uncertain as to how governments will act on climate change. This may cause them to postpone investment programmes until the outlook becomes clearer>
. Second, uncertainty will prompt them to apply a high discount rate to future projects. These discount rates may vary wildly. If, for example, it was clear that governments were pushing the energy industry away from oil, and towards, say, wind power, the discount rate for the wind industry would drop and that for the oil industry would rise. So energy prices might be both high (to encourage investment) and volatile.
That is not great news for stock markets. For a start, volatility leads to uncertainty which investors dislike. Furthermore, Barclays has found a clear inverse correlation between oil prices and the multiple that the market applies to corporate profits (see chart). In other words, the higher the oil price, the lower the market rating. Back in the 1970s, when oil prices rose consistently, the energy sector was about the only place to earn decent returns. In America, real returns from oil averaged nearly 25% a year, whereas shares managed just 1.4%.
Most investors seem to regard global warming as a long-term problem unlikely to affect equities over the next year or two. But the Barclays analysis suggests they may be wrong to be so complacent.