Weekly Climate Science Roundup: March 22 to 28

By David Kroodsma

Welcome to Climate Central’s weekly climate science roundup. This roundup summarizes noteworthy climate science studies published in the previous week, with a special emphasis on those that might have been missed by most media outlets.

Well-publicized Climate Science Papers and News:

An article was published in Science that noted an increase in offshore wind speeds and wave height during the past twenty years, as observed by satellite sensors. Climate Central’s Michael Lemonick summarized the paper, noting that the study did not conclude why winds and wave heights were increasing.

Both Science and Nature published news stories on the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi facility in Japan, following the devastating earthquake and tsunami there earlier this month. One article in Science argued that newer reactors are far safer than those in use at Fukushima, while another explained that the cleanup will be long and costly. In Nature, a news piece explained how workers avoided a more deadly catastrophe, and that scientists aren’t sure what will be the long-term effects of low-dose radiation near Fukushima will be.

Science also ran a news story suggesting that we may have already reached peak oil.

Paper Title: IEA World Energy Outlook 2010 — A comment
Journal Title: Energy Policy
Author: Hisham Khatib.

Credit: istockphoto

The Gist: This paper critiques the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2010 (WEO 2010). The IEA, an organization created after the oil crisis of 1973, advises most of the world’s developed nations on energy policy. In its comprehensive 2010 report, the IEA contemplates three possible future scenarios for global energy: a “Current Policies Scenario,” which means no major change in energy policies, a “New Policies Scenario,” which incorporates the modest pledges that countries have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the “450 Scenario,” which assumes that nations aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consequently keep greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere from rising above 450 parts per million in carbon dioxide equivalent. (“Carbon dioxide equivalent” is a way to measure the combined effect of all greenhouse gases in the atmosphere).

The author of the article, Hisham Khatib of the World Energy Council in Jordan, argues that the “450 scenario” of the IEA is no longer feasible, since emissions have been rising too quickly.

Paper Title: Climate change links fate of glaciers and an endemic alpine invertebrate
Journal: Climatic Change
Authors: Clint C. Muhlfeld, J. Joseph Giersch, F. Richard Hauer, Gregory T. Pederson, Gordon Luikart, Douglas P. Peterson, Christopher C. Downs and Daniel B. Fagre.

The Gist: Mountaintops are warming more quickly than lower elevations, partially explaining the rapid melting of some mountaintop glaciers around the world. This paper models how warmer and drier mountain streams will affect a rare aquatic invertebrate — the meltwater stonefly Lednia tumana, which is endemic to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in the U.S. and Canada.

Advocates have already petitioned to list this species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act due to climate-change-induced glacier loss (without the glaciers, streams may dry up at certain points of the year, destroying the stonefly’s habitat). The authors of this study model how climate change will alter the ecosystem, concluding that the stonefly is indeed at significant risk. It could lose over 80 percent of its current range due to the loss of snowfields and glaciers that feed the streams.

Paper Title: Tracking a Medically Important Spider: Climate Change, Ecological Niche Modeling, and the Brown Reclus
Journal: PLoS One
Authors: Erin E. Saupe, Monica Papes, Paul A. Selden, Richard S. Vetter.

The Gist: While climate change may contract the ranges of some species, it may expand others. Using ecological modeling, this paper finds that the brown recluse, a highly poisonous spider that is currently found in the south-central United States, may, in future decades, move to parts of Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Paper Title: The economic costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions under a U.S. national renewable electricity mandate
Journal: Energy Policy
Authors: Keith Crane, Aimee E. Curtright, David S. Ortiz, Constantine Samaras, Nicholas Burger.

Credit: istockphoto

The Gist: This paper considers the costs of implementing a national Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that requires the United States to get 25 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. More than half of U.S. states already have an RPS requirement, and Congress has debated a national policy. This paper finds that a national RPS would not be extraordinarily expensive compared to other policies, but that it would still be more expensive than a cap and trade bill (which failed to pass Congress last year).

The authors find that such an RPS would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent, and cost between $13 and $45 billion annually. The authors, though, point out that this RPS mandate would reduce carbon emissions more significantly than the cap and trade bill would have, and that the RPS could be cheaper if the cost of renewables come down due to technological improvements.

Paper Title: A Review of Climate Geoengineering Proposals
Journal: Climatic Change
Authors: Naomi E. Vaughan and Timothy M. Lenton.

Click to enlarge. Credit: Climate Central

The Gist: Geogengineering refers to a collection of efforts that would reduce the extent of climate change by either directly removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing incoming solar radiation, or through other artificial means. Geoengineering proposals are big, costly, and have been met with justified skepticism. However, proponents say that unless we can reduce carbon emissions, they may be our only option to avoid significant climate change. The authors of this paper analyze the pros and cons of different geoengineering methods. 

Of these methods, putting reflective particles into the stratosphere is likely to be the cheapest and to have the largest effect. Some, such as encouraging “downwelling” in the oceans will have almost no effect on the climate, the study states. All, though, would have significant side effects as well as likely unforeseen consequences. The paper summarizes these for each method.