Climate News Roundup

A few climate change-related items culled from this week’s news….

First up, a paper published in Nature this week suggests that tropical storms are tracking further from the tropics than they used to  – by about 52-63km per decade over the past three decades. That may not sound a lot, but if it means hurricanes are managing to wreck havoc over larger areas, that’s not good news. A little googling suggests that it’s already possible for Atlantic hurricanes to maintain their strength as far north as the Faroes (Huricane Faith, in 1966) so that puts “hurricane hits UK” well into the realms of possibility.

On a much longer-term note, it’s suggested in a paper to be published in Geophysical Research Letters that 6 of West Antarctica’s biggest glaciers are now in unstoppable, irreversible decline – PIne Island, Smith, Kohler, Thwaites, Haynes and Pope glaciers – have retreated by varying distances (10-35km) between 1992 and 2011 and the shape of the seabed under these glaciers has no obstacles to stop relatively warm waters circulating under the ice and melting them further. It will probably take centuries, but eventually these glaciers may completely disappear, adding about another 1.3m to global sea levels. One for our great-grandchildren to finally deal with, perhaps, yet happening now.

A startling paper released by Anglia Ruskin university in the south-east of England, suggesting that the UK has less than 5 years of fossil fuel reserves left. Given the size of the UK’s known coal reserves, not to mention the various oil and gas fields that haven’t dripped dry yet or the still hotly-contentious proposals to frack for gas in England, this paper has raised some brows, to put it mildly. Leaving aside the fact that it’d be better for the environment if we could switch off fossil fuels in the next five years, a bit of leg-work indicates that the source for this report’s take on coal is a single report by BP which clearly states under “Methodology” that

Proved reserves of coal are generally taken to be those quantities that geological and engineering information indicates with reasonable certainly can be recovered in the future from known deposits under existing economic and operating conditions.

Now, the catch here is that ‘existing economic and operating conditions’ are that the UK has 3 operating mines and 2 of them are due to close shortly. In other words, we have lots of coal left – but we’re not going to dig it up. So it might be more accurate to say that the UK will not be producing coal in 5 years…. which is a very different thing to “no coal left”!

I have no quarrel with it staying safely buried. If only we could leave a lot more of our fossil fuels underground instead of turning them into greenhouse gases in the atmosphere!

In the Pacific Ocean, the clock is ticking on declaring a state of El Nino – the pool of warm water that travelled eastwards as a “Kelvin Wave” in the early part of the year has now entered the “upwelling” phase as it’s reached the coast of South America and sea surface temperatures have risen accordingly. If the sea surface temperature remains above certain limits for three months or more, then NOAA will declare El Nino to be in existence. All the signs are that this is very likely to happen this year – most forecasts seem to be around 80% likelihood – and if the rise in temperature already seen is anything to go by, it could be a severe El Nino at that. More data and the expert opinions available from NOAA.



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