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Climate change causes extreme weather

Potsdam is home to one of the world’s leading climate research institutes, the PIK.

Human-triggered climate change has been the cause of a lot of the recent extreme weather across the globe, according to a new scientific study. A team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) says it has found a physical cause common to events such as the 2011 heat waves in the USA, the 2010 Russian heat wave or the floods in Pakistan in the same year. The scientists, whose study is published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, say climate change is affecting the movement of air around the northern hemisphere, resulting in extreme conditions. Lead author Vladimir Petoukov says: “An important part of the global air movement in the mid-latitudes of the earth normally takes the form of waves travelling around the planet, oscillating between the tropical and the Arctic regions. When they travel upwards, these waves suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the USA; when they dip downwards, they do the same with cold air from the Arctic. We found that during several recent extreme weather events, these waves virtually froze and remained unchanged for weeks. Instead of bringing in cool air after warm air, the heat just stays. ”

The mechanism is a complex one and the report is not easy reading. I can recommend a summary produced by Alex Kirby for the “Climate News Network“.

PIK’s director Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study, describes it as a breakthrough, but stresses there are other factors involved in extreme weather events as well as climate change. However, he and his colleagues say the physical process they have identified helps to explain the increasing number of weather extremes and provides a mechanism to explain a link between climate change and extreme weather.

Date

February 26, 2013 | 9:59 am

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USA announces new five-year Arctic Research Plan

Research in the far north of the USA at Barrow Arctic Science Consortium

The US administration’s  National Science and Technology Council has released a plan outlining key areas of study to be taken by the Federal government to better understand and predict environmental changes in the Arctic. The plan was developed by a team of experts representing 14 federal agencies and was based on input from sources including the indigenous Arctic communities, the Alaska Governor’s Office, local organizations and universities. It highlights research areas important for the development of national policies and areas which would benefit from cooperation between various agencies. Amongst the topics identified for focus are regional climate models, human health studies and adaptation tools for communities.

The announcement is a significant one in the view of the US Arctic Research Commission. They say it is “probably the first, truly integrated, five year US Arctic Research Program plan (ever?) released.”

Incidentally, the website of that particular organisation is a useful source for anybody following Arctic developments.

More information on the White House website

The Research Plan

Date

February 22, 2013 | 1:53 pm

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A climate-friendly future? Impressions of Masdar City

Today I paid a visit to Masdar City 17km from the centre of Abu Dhabi, set up in 2006 with the aim of being “one of the most sustainable cities in the world”, according to Masdar. Masdar was set up as a commercially driven renewable energy company and a strategic government initiative. The city is powered entirely by renewable energy and the buildings are designed to maximize energy efficiency.

This is an impression of the iconic architecture of Masdar around a pleasantly cool courtyard. (The modest gentleman on the couch is Sultan Aal Ali, in charge of Masdar’s development).

In the years since the vision of a sustainable, purpose-built city at the heart of a desert state was first launched, a lot of the enthusiasm seemed to have gone out of the project, at least in the view of a lot of media. That is one reason why I was keen to have a look at what is happening there today. I will be writing an article for our website on this in the next couple  of weeks, so for today I’d just like to share some pictures, thoughts and impressions with you.

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Director General of the Zayed Future Energy Prize with President Grimsson

Incidentally, as part of the World Future Energy Summit and at the ceremony   announcing the 2013 Zayed Future Energy Prize here last night, the ICE connection was brought up again by the President of Iceland, Olafur Ragran Grimsson.

He was chairman of the prize jury and was talking about those connections between the record melt of the Arctic ice and the push for renewables here in the oil-rich Gulf region. Yes! The message seems to have arrived on the global stage.

 

Anyway, to Masdar City:

 

Using the sun to cool Masdar. Normally, air-conditioning would be one of the highest electricity-guzzlers and emissions producers. The architecture uses window-to-wall ratio, insulating building materials, shading and other means to keep buildings cool – and uses sun power to do the rest.

A modern version of a cooling wind-tower, to bring cold air to the courtyard. These towers have a long tradition in the region. They look great as well.

 

Hi-tech lab for nano-technology research at the Masdar Institute. The city is developing around the university complex.

This is the centre-piece of the brand-new 2nd phase of the Masdar Institute. The city is a work in progress. Today I was one of the first journalists to be allowed into the new development without safety helmet and boots for construction site safety.

Beautiful places, beautiful people! One of my guides from Masdar’s communications department against the background of a wall constructed from desert sand. Thanks!!!

Driverless public transport, using magnetic technology. Felt a little like sci-fi, but definitely got us across the complex. Not sure if it will catch on, but it was quite an experience.

I could go on all night, but will save the rest for a later date. There is plenty of building work going on.  The German company Siemens will soon be moving in to its new headquarters in Masdar. Other companies are also planning to move in. The International Renewable Energy Association IRENA will ultimately have its headquarters here.

So far, students are the only residents. Seems a bit extravagant, which is one of the criticisms levelled at the eco-city in the past. But from what I saw today, things seem to be finally moving forward. EU Commissioner Connie Hedegard, who also visited Masdar today, told me Masdar was  “leading by example”. She’s very positive about what’s happening in the region in terms of the growing interest in renewables. There’s a long way to go, she says – but stresses that applies to all of us.

Still seats available at this Masdar café today.

Date

January 16, 2013 | 6:08 pm

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China to step up polar activities in 2013

Chinese Arctic Station in Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen

Chinese Arctic Station in Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen

I am finding people increasingly interested in the Arctic and Antarctic as climate change opens up more prospects of getting at the natural resources in the region or using it for transport. The latest example of top-level international interest is an announcement by China. Beijing is planning to launch its 30th expedition to the Antarctic region this year as well as its 6th Arctic expedition. This interest is not new, but clearly intensifying. (See China’s Arctic ambitions spark concern).

According to China Daily, quoting a document released at a maritime work conference on Thursday, the country is also planning to build more Antarctic research bases. There are plans to put more resources into planes for scientific expeditions and to “ensure the quality of newly-built icebreakers”.

The paper also refers in particular to “the protection of the country’s strategic interests in the Arctic region”. Now there is some food for thought.

Increasing international political and strategic interest in the Arctic will be on the agenda at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsö, Norway, starting January 21st. Watch this space.

 

Date

January 11, 2013 | 3:16 pm

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Stop flying over the North Pole! (Exception: Reindeer-drawn sleighs)

Greenland melt stream photographed by Ian Joughin, a glaciologist in the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory

I have written a lot about the melting Arctic ice on the Ice Blog. This spectacular photo shows a channel carved into the Greenland ice sheet by melt water. It was taken by Ian Joughlin from the University of Washington, co-author of the study on melting polar ice (see Ice Blog post from 30.11.12) and lead author of an article on factors that cause ice sheets to lose mass. It goes without saying (almost) that we need to reduce emissions to halt the process. (Come on Doha negotiators). A new study has come up with an additional suggestion. Atmospheric scientist Mark Jacobsen and his colleagues suggest airlines could help slow Arctic melting by stopping international flights from crossing over the Arctic circle.

Date

December 5, 2012 | 3:08 pm

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