Teperdexrian

The Interesting, The Strange, The News.

Posts Tagged ‘weather

Secrets of Giant Cloud Holes Revealed

leave a comment »

An airplane-induced hole punch cloud.

Mysterious holes in clouds made by aircraft may owe their huge sizes to a little bit of heat, a new study suggests.

For decades people have seen gargantuan holes form in high, thin clouds made of supercooled water—liquid droplets that are chilled below the freezing point but that don’t have any particles around which ice crystals can form.

In the absense of dust, these cloud droplets can turn to ice if the water gets cooled beyond -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius). At such chilly temperatures the water molecules slow down enough to freeze spontaneously.

Researchers previously knew that plane wings, propellers, and turbines could chill supercooled water via rapid expansion of air in their wakes—making things cold enough to force the liquid to become ice. This mechanism is thought to be what creates hole-punch clouds.

As the water freezes, though, the change of state releases energy in the form of what’s called latent heat, and the role of this heat was suspect.

“I didn’t think the latent heat would be so important, but it drives the whole feedback cycle, in some cases for hours after a plane flies through,” said study co-author Gregory Thompson, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

“That’s why the holes can grow to the size of cities under the right conditions.”

Research Flights Affecting Cloud Data?

The researchers theorized that, as latent heat rises, it carries freshly frozen ice—material that would normally float down—back up into the cloud.

There, supercooled water droplets migrate to the ice crystals, feeding a chain reaction of ice formation. Eventually the ice patch becomes too dense and falls out as a flurry of snow.

To see if latent heat does lead to hole-punch clouds, the researchers ran cloud-model simulations with and without the effect.

The first simulation, which incorporated latent heat, showed that the heat suspended ice in the cloud, powered nearby evaporation, pulled surrounding vapor into the zone of crystallization, and created snow. The model ultimately formed holes in clouds that closely matched real images of the phenomenon.

The simulation without the latent-heat effect didn’t replicate what’s been documented in nature.

Thompson emphasized that this finding almost certainly doesn’t change our understanding of the role of aircraft in global climate. Nor do hole-punch clouds cause significant snowfalls around airports, he said: “It’s likely too minor for that.”

However, researchers “spend an awful lot of time flying through clouds to collect data, which we use to build models that mimic natural clouds. We may be altering that data as we measure it,” he said.

“It’s not a big effect, but it’s something to be mindful of in future atmospheric modeling.”

 

Via NatGeo

Advertisements

Japan nuclear: Radiation halts water clean-up

leave a comment »

Operators of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant have suspended an operation to clean contaminated water hours after it began due to a rapid rise in radiation.

Some 110,000 tonnes of water have built up during efforts to cool reactors hit by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. The contaminated water, enough to fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools, has been at risk of spilling into the sea. The disaster caused meltdown at three of the reactors, and radiation leaks. It is the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. The powerful earthquake and the tsunami it generated are now known to have killed more than 15,280 people, while nearly 8,500 remain unaccounted for.

Radioactive sludge?

A spokesman for the plant operators, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), said engineers were trying to find the cause of the jump in radiation levels. “The level of radiation at a machine to absorb caesium has risen faster than our initial projections,” the spokesman said.

He added that until they knew what was causing the rising levels they would not know when the operation would be able to resume.

“But I’d say it’s not something that would take weeks,” he added.

Dealing with the radioactive water is a key step to bringing the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant under control, reports the BBC’s Roland Buerk from Tokyo.

It is the rainy season in Japan and the pools of contaminated water could overflow, adding to radiation already released into the sea, adds our correspondent.

Earlier this week, officials had warned the radioactive pools were in danger of spilling into the sea within a week.

The Fukushima power station went into meltdown after its cooling systems were crippled by March’ s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The teams at the plant suspect the radiation rise may be linked to sludge flowing into the machinery intended to absorb caesium or the pipes surrounding it. The tsunami destroyed both power and back-up generators at the plant, breaking the cooling systems. The three unstable reactors are supposed to be brought to “a stable and cold shutdown” by January 2012. Despite the setbacks Tepco says it is still on track to meet that deadline.

 

Via BBC

Nuclear Plant threatened by Missouri River flood

leave a comment »

  • Nuclear plant inches from being totally flooded
  • Damage would be likely to cause energy prices to soar
  • Six to 12 inches of heavy rainfall over the last few weeks
  • Record floods hit 44.4 feet, topping 44.3 feet record set in 1993
  • Levees fail to stem surge of water from rain and melting snow
  • Flooding expected to continue until August
  • Residents begin burning wood to avoid it becoming flood debris
  • Meanwhile, engineers close the Bonnet Carre Spillway near New Orleans

A nuclear plant was inches away from being engulfed by the bloated Missouri River after several levees in the area failed to hold back its surging waters.

Dramatic pictures show the moment the plant was threatened with being shut down today, as water levels rose ominously to within 18 inches of its walls.

The river has to hit 902 feet above sea level at Brownville before officials will shut down the Cooper Nuclear Plant, which sits at 903 feet.

Engulfed: The nuclear power station in Nebraska came within inches of having to be shut down

Engulfed: The nuclear power station in Nebraska came within inches of having to be shut down.

Flooding is a major concern all along the river because of the massive amounts of water that the Army Corps of Engineers has released from six dams. Any significant rain could worsen the flooding especially if it falls in Nebraska, Iowa or Missouri, which are downstream of the dams.

The river is expected to rise as much as five to seven feet above the official ‘flood stage’ in much of Nebraska and Iowa and as much as 10 feet over in parts of Missouri. The corps predicts the river will remain that high until at least August.

Nebraska Public Power District spokesman Mark Becker said the river rose to 900.56 feet at Brownville on Sunday, then dropped to 900.4 feet later in the day and remained at that level on Monday morning.

The Missouri River set a new record Sunday at Brownville when its depth was measured at 44.4 feet, topping the previous record of 44.3 feet set during the 1993 flooding, according to the National Weather Service.

Stranded: Cars stop hopelessly, stranded by floodwaters over a bridge

Stranded: Cars stop hopelessly, stranded by floodwaters over a bridge.

 

Carnage: Other vehicles were not quite so lucky and were swept away by the floods

Carnage: Other vehicles were not quite so lucky and were swept away by the floods.

Meanwhile, just north of New Orleans, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers finally closed the final bays of the Bonnet Carre Spillway today.

The gates were opened weeks ago in an effort to redirect high water on the Mississippi River which threatened levees.

The Cooper Nuclear Plant remains operating at full capacity today but the Columbus-based utility sent an emergency ‘notification of unusual event’ to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission when the river rose to 899 feet early on Sunday morning.

‘We knew the river was going to rise for some time,’ Becker said. ‘It was just a matter of when.’

The nuclear plant has been preparing for the flooding since May 30. More than 5,000 tons of sand has been brought in to construct barricades around it and access roads, according to NPPD.

Should water levels engulf the facility, forcing closure and repairs, energy bills in the area would be likely to rocket to cover the cost.

‘In that case we may have to raise rates,’ a spokeswoman said.

Damage: A worker surveys they scene as he scales a levee attempting to hold back the floodwater

Damage: A worker surveys they scene as he scales a levee attempting to hold back the floodwater.

 

Man versus nature: A levee manages to keep the water from passing

Man versus nature: A levee manages to keep the water from passing.

No passing: Flood waters from the nearby Missouri River cover a county highway

No passing: Flood waters from the nearby Missouri River cover a county highway.

The Army Corps of Engineers said the river level at Brownville had surged about two feet from Saturday morning to Sunday morning and that it continued to rise because of heavy rain on the Nishnabotna River, which flows into the Missouri River from Iowa.

The Cooper Nuclear Station is one of two plants along the Missouri River in eastern Nebraska. The Fort Calhoun Station, operated by the Omaha Public Power District, is about 20 miles north of Omaha. It issued a similar alert to the regulatory commission on June 6.

Deluge: Statues of workers, part of Monument for Labor by Matthew J. Placzek, stand in the rising waters of the Missouri River, in Omaha

Deluge: Statues of workers, part of Monument for Labor by Matthew J. Placzek, stand in the rising waters of the Missouri River, in Omaha.

The river has risen at least 1.5 feet higher than Fort Calhoun’s 1,004-foot elevation above sea level. The plant can handle water up to 1,014 feet, according to OPPD. The water is being held back by a series of protective barriers, including an 8-foot rubber wall outside the reactor building.

Its reactor already had been shut down for refuelling and maintenance since April, and it won’t be turned on again until the flooding subsides.

The entire plant still has full electrical power for safety systems, including those used to cool radioactive waste. It also has at least nine backup power sources.

A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the NRC thinks OPPD managers have ‘done everything that they need to do to respond to the current conditions’ at the nuclear plant.

Over the weekend, several northern Missouri levees failed to hold back the raging floodwaters, and the hole in a Holt County levee that ruptured last week continued to grow.

The water started pouring over levees on Saturday night and Sunday morning in Holt and Atchison counties, flooding farmland, numerous homes and cabins.

Hope: Engineers close the final bays of the Bonnet Carre Spillway just above New Orleans

Hope: Engineers close the final bays of the Bonnet Carre Spillway just above New Orleans.

 

 The recreational community of Big Lake, which is home to a state park and less than 200 people, is being threatened by the floodwater.

Most of Big Lake’s residents have already evacuated. The area 78 miles north of Kansas City has been high for the past couple weeks, has experienced major flooding in three of the last five years.

Disaster: Flood waters from the Missouri River engulf homes in neighbouring Iowa. More than 250 residents have now been evacuated from Missouri after levees broke

Disaster: Flood waters from the Missouri River engulf homes in neighbouring Iowa. More than 250 residents have now been evacuated from Missouri after levees broke.

Water flooded two highways, several homes were under as much as five feet of water and there was extensive farmland flooding, said Diana Phillips, clerk and flood plain manager for the village of Big Lake.

‘It’s only going to get worse because there is lots of water coming in,’ Phillips said.

In Atchison County, where farmland was flooding, people have been evacuating for days, said Julie Fischer, a dispatcher for emergency services.

Gushing: The powerful waters rush through a ruptured levee near Hamburg, Iowa, last week‘Everybody is pretty much gone,’ Fischer said. ‘The roads are closing, there is no way in or out.’

Authorties have urged around 250 people in northwester Missouri to leave their homes.

Jud Kneuvean, chief of emergency management for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Kansas City District, said the Missouri River dipped by almost 1 foot after the Big Lake breach in Missouri but that the water started to rise again by Sunday afternoon.

He said Big Lake is seeking permission to cut a relief hole in an already-damaged county levee to allow water trapped behind the levee to flow back into the river.

The Corps increased water releases on Saturday from two dams — Oahe above Pierre, South Dakota’s capital, and Big Bend Dam just downstream — to make room for expected potentially heavy rains through early next week.

They have been increasing water releases from five dams in North Dakota and South Dakota to roughly double prior records to relieve reservoirs

Most people left their homes well in advance of the flooding. Those who stayed were told Saturday night that water was flowing into the area.

The Big Lake area, where water has been high for the past couple weeks, has experienced major flooding in three of the last five.

Mike Crecelius, the Fremont County Emergency Management chief, said that in Hamburg, Iowa, the river was expected to crest at 10 feet over flood stage in the coming days.

Crecelius said the river has been over flood stage since late April, and that forecasters are projecting river flows of 150,000 cubic feet (1.1 million gallons) per second through August.

‘[The levees] are not designed for this amount of pressure for this length of time,’ Crecelius told CNN. ‘They’ve never been tested like this.’

Raging: Residents burn wood to avoid it becoming flood debris

Raging: Residents burn wood to avoid it becoming flood debris.

Flames: Residents burn a pile of pallets in near Rock Port, Missouri, to avoid them from becoming debris in flood waters after a levee broke

Flames: Residents burn a pile of pallets in near Rock Port, Missouri, to avoid them from becoming debris in flood waters after a levee broke.

‘There was some talk this morning about more than 150,000 cubic feet per second coming out of Oahe,’ said Jerry Compton, working on Sunday at a convenience store in Missouri Valley.

The threat of flooding is stressful, said Compton, who knows her customers by name and even knows what brand of cigarettes they buy.

‘People either moved out of their homes to another house, or they’re trying to live in a camper. Some people have had their utilities cut off,’ she said. ‘We just sit here and wait.’

Peak releases are planned until at least mid-August and high flows are expected until December.

The National Weather Service said that the six to 12 inches of rainfall in the upper Missouri basin in the past few weeks is nearly a normal year’s worth of raid, while runoff from the mountain snowpack is 140 per cent of average levels.

 

Via DailyMail

Fukushima: It’s much worse than you think

with one comment

Scientific experts believe Japan’s nuclear disaster to be far worse than governments are revealing to the public.

“Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind,” Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president.

Japan’s 9.0 earthquake on March 11 caused a massive tsunami that crippled the cooling systems at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. It also led to hydrogen explosions and reactor meltdowns that forced evacuations of those living within a 20km radius of the plant.

Gundersen, a licensed reactor operator with 39 years of nuclear power engineering experience, managing and coordinating projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, says the Fukushima nuclear plant likely has more exposed reactor cores than commonly believed.

“Fukushima has three nuclear reactors exposed and four fuel cores exposed,” he said, “You probably have the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactor cores because of the fuel cores, and they are all in desperate need of being cooled, and there is no means to cool them effectively.”

TEPCO has been spraying water on several of the reactors and fuel cores, but this has led to even greater problems, such as radiation being emitted into the air in steam and evaporated sea water – as well as generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive sea water that has to be disposed of.

“The problem is how to keep it cool,” says Gundersen. “They are pouring in water and the question is what are they going to do with the waste that comes out of that system, because it is going to contain plutonium and uranium. Where do you put the water?”

Even though the plant is now shut down, fission products such as uranium continue to generate heat, and therefore require cooling.

“The fuels are now a molten blob at the bottom of the reactor,” Gundersen added. “TEPCO announced they had a melt through. A melt down is when the fuel collapses to the bottom of the reactor, and a melt through means it has melted through some layers. That blob is incredibly radioactive, and now you have water on top of it. The water picks up enormous amounts of radiation, so you add more water and you are generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive water.”

Independent scientists have been monitoring the locations of radioactive “hot spots” around Japan, and their findings are disconcerting.

“We have 20 nuclear cores exposed, the fuel pools have several cores each, that is 20 times the potential to be released than Chernobyl,” said Gundersen. “The data I’m seeing shows that we are finding hot spots further away than we had from Chernobyl, and the amount of radiation in many of them was the amount that caused areas to be declared no-man’s-land for Chernobyl. We are seeing square kilometres being found 60 to 70 kilometers away from the reactor. You can’t clean all this up. We still have radioactive wild boar in Germany, 30 years after Chernobyl.”

Radiation monitors for children

Japan’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters finally admitted earlier this month that reactors 1, 2, and 3 at the Fukushima plant experienced full meltdowns.

TEPCO announced that the accident probably released more radioactive material into the environment than Chernobyl, making it the worst nuclear accident on record.

Meanwhile, a nuclear waste advisor to the Japanese government reported that about 966 square kilometres near the power station – an area roughly 17 times the size of Manhattan – is now likely uninhabitable.

In the US, physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published an essay shedding light on a 35 per cent spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant.

The eight cities included in the report are San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Seattle, and Boise, and the time frame of the report included the ten weeks immediately following the disaster.

“There is and should be concern about younger people being exposed, and the Japanese government will be giving out radiation monitors to children,” Dr MV Ramana, a physicist with the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University who specialises in issues of nuclear safety.

Dr Ramana explained that he believes the primary radiation threat continues to be mostly for residents living within 50km of the plant, but added: “There are going to be areas outside of the Japanese government’s 20km mandatory evacuation zone where radiation is higher. So that could mean evacuation zones in those areas as well.”

Gundersen points out that far more radiation has been released than has been reported.

“They recalculated the amount of radiation released, but the news is really not talking about this,” he said. “The new calculations show that within the first week of the accident, they released 2.3 times as much radiation as they thought they released in the first 80 days.”

According to Gundersen, the exposed reactors and fuel cores are continuing to release microns of caesium, strontium, and plutonium isotopes. These are referred to as “hot particles”.

“We are discovering hot particles everywhere in Japan, even in Tokyo,” he said. “Scientists are finding these everywhere. Over the last 90 days these hot particles have continued to fall and are being deposited in high concentrations. A lot of people are picking these up in car engine air filters.”

Radioactive air filters from cars in Fukushima prefecture and Tokyo are now common, and Gundersen says his sources are finding radioactive air filters in the greater Seattle area of the US as well.

The hot particles on them can eventually lead to cancer.

“These get stuck in your lungs or GI tract, and they are a constant irritant,” he explained, “One cigarette doesn’t get you, but over time they do. These [hot particles] can cause cancer, but you can’t measure them with a Geiger counter. Clearly people in Fukushima prefecture have breathed in a large amount of these particles. Clearly the upper West Coast of the US has people being affected. That area got hit pretty heavy in April.”

Blame the US?

In reaction to the Fukushima catastrophe, Germany is phasing out all of its nuclear reactors over the next decade. In a referendum vote this Monday, 95 per cent of Italians voted in favour of blocking a nuclear power revival in their country. A recent newspaper poll in Japan shows nearly three-quarters of respondents favour a phase-out of nuclear power in Japan.

Why have alarms not been sounded about radiation exposure in the US?

Nuclear operator Exelon Corporation has been among Barack Obama’s biggest campaign donors, and is one of the largest employers in Illinois where Obama was senator. Exelon has donated more than $269,000 to his political campaigns, thus far. Obama also appointed Exelon CEO John Rowe to his Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

Dr Shoji Sawada is a theoretical particle physicist and Professor Emeritus at Nagoya University in Japan.
He is concerned about the types of nuclear plants in his country, and the fact that most of them are of US design.

“Most of the reactors in Japan were designed by US companies who did not care for the effects of earthquakes,” Dr Sawada told Al Jazeera. “I think this problem applies to all nuclear power stations across Japan.”

Using nuclear power to produce electricity in Japan is a product of the nuclear policy of the US, something Dr Sawada feels is also a large component of the problem.

“Most of the Japanese scientists at that time, the mid-1950s, considered that the technology of nuclear energy was under development or not established enough, and that it was too early to be put to practical use,” he explained. “The Japan Scientists Council recommended the Japanese government not use this technology yet, but the government accepted to use enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power stations, and was thus subjected to US government policy.”

As a 13-year-old, Dr Sawada experienced the US nuclear attack against Japan from his home, situated just 1400 metres from the hypocentre of the Hiroshima bomb.

“I think the Fukushima accident has caused the Japanese people to abandon the myth that nuclear power stations are safe,” he said. “Now the opinions of the Japanese people have rapidly changed. Well beyond half the population believes Japan should move towards natural electricity.”

A problem of infinite proportions

Dr Ramana expects the plant reactors and fuel cores to be cooled enough for a shutdown within two years.

“But it is going to take a very long time before the fuel can be removed from the reactor,” he added. “Dealing with the cracking and compromised structure and dealing with radiation in the area will take several years, there’s no question about that.”

Dr Sawada is not as clear about how long a cold shutdown could take, and said the problem will be “the effects from caesium-137 that remains in the soil and the polluted water around the power station and underground. It will take a year, or more time, to deal with this”.

Gundersen pointed out that the units are still leaking radiation.

“They are still emitting radioactive gases and an enormous amount of radioactive liquid,” he said. “It will be at least a year before it stops boiling, and until it stops boiling, it’s going to be cranking out radioactive steam and liquids.”

Gundersen worries about more earthquake aftershocks, as well as how to cool two of the units.

“Unit four is the most dangerous, it could topple,” he said. “After the earthquake in Sumatra there was an 8.6 [aftershock] about 90 days later, so we are not out of the woods yet. And you’re at a point where, if that happens, there is no science for this, no one has ever imagined having hot nuclear fuel lying outside the fuel pool. They’ve not figured out how to cool units three and four.”

Gundersen’s assessment of solving this crisis is grim.

“Units one through three have nuclear waste on the floor, the melted core, that has plutonium in it, and that has to be removed from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years,” he said. “Somehow, robotically, they will have to go in there and manage to put it in a container and store it for infinity, and that technology doesn’t exist. Nobody knows how to pick up the molten core from the floor, there is no solution available now for picking that up from the floor.”

Dr Sawada says that the creation of nuclear fission generates radioactive materials for which there is simply no knowledge informing us how to dispose of the radioactive waste safely.

“Until we know how to safely dispose of the radioactive materials generated by nuclear plants, we should postpone these activities so as not to cause further harm to future generations,” he explained. “To do otherwise is simply an immoral act, and that is my belief, both as a scientist and as a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.”

Gundersen believes it will take experts at least ten years to design and implement the plan.

“So ten to 15 years from now maybe we can say the reactors have been dismantled, and in the meantime you wind up contaminating the water,” Gundersen said. “We are already seeing Strontium [at] 250 times the allowable limits in the water table at Fukushima. Contaminated water tables are incredibly difficult to clean. So I think we will have a contaminated aquifer in the area of the Fukushima site for a long, long time to come.”

Unfortunately, the history of nuclear disasters appears to back Gundersen’s assessment.

“With Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and now with Fukushima, you can pinpoint the exact day and time they started,” he said, “But they never end.”

 

Via AJTV

 

Amazing Photos of Chile Volcano Eruption

with one comment

The ash cloud from a Chilean volcano reached Buenos Aires, the capital of neighboring Argentina, but was not expected to cause problems for area residents, officials said.

The ash cloud had already caused most airlines flying into Buenos Aires to cancel flights, but if favorable weather conditions persist, it will not pose a risk to people, said Jorge Echarran, head of the emergency council.

Smoke and ash shot more than six miles into the sky when the Puyehue volcano in southern Chile first erupted Saturday afternoon. Authorities evacuated about 3,500 people from the area, the state emergency office said.

 On Tuesday, there was an ash cloud between 5,000 and 7,000 meters (about 16,000 to 23,000 feet) in the atmosphere over the capital, Echarran said, according to the state-run Telam news agency.

The cloud’s consistency was not as strong as when it passed over southern Argentina, and therefore would not bring with it the same problems, he said.

The Patagonia region in southern Argentina was the area most affected by the volcanic ash.

Cities that draw tourists, like Bariloche, Junín de los Andes and others in the area, canceled school and public activities.

Ash piled as high as 30 centimeters (about 1 foot) on highways through Patagonia. Local governments used machinery to clear the roads.

The scene in Buenos Aires was more normal.

“If the weather conditions change it could cause some of the ashes to fall,” Echarran said. “If this happens, we have to work, calmly, on prevention, carrying out our daily activities with caution, such as using masks or being careful with contact lenses to avoid irritation.”

Airlines canceled most flights Tuesday at the Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires, an official there said. Airports in several other cities are also affected, Telam reported.

Chile is located on the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Enrique Valdivieso, the director of Chile’s National Geology and Mines Service, said that thanks to the coordination of local authorities in Chile, no fatalities have been reported because of the volcano.

Because of monitoring, officials were able to predict the coming eruption and prepare for it, he said.

Highest greenhouse gas emissions in history push global warming towards ‘dangerous’ levels

leave a comment »

  • Recession hasn’t slowed down emissions, as was hoped
  • Global temperature will rise by 4C by 2100 if action isn’t taken
  • Thawing plant matter in the Arctic will release billions of tons of greenhouse gases

Global warming is fast heading towards ‘dangerous’ levels owing to the emission of a record amount of greenhouse gases last year, according to new figures.

Estimates from the International Energy Agency show that a whopping 30.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide was pumped into the atmosphere last year – a worrying rise of 1.6Gt on 2009.

The IEA has warned that annual emissions should be no higher than 32Gt by 2020 if the world is to avoid the most damaging effects of global warming.

Last year 30.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide was pumped into the atmosphere - a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009

At the current rate of carbon dioxide production, the threshold of ‘dangerous climate change’ – defined as a global temperature rise of 2C – looks almost impossible to be avoided.

‘It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker,’ said Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA.

It had been hoped that the global recession would have a positive effect on emissions – but the impact so far is negligible.

If we continue the way we’re going, there is a 50 per cent chance that the global average temperature will rise by more than 4C by 2100, according to Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the Stern Report into the economics of climate change in 2006.

‘Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict,’ Stern told the Guardian.

Around two-thirds of the world's permafrost will have melted by 2200, unleashing close to 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere

Meanwhile, the thawing of billions of tons of frozen plant matter in the Arctic could result in an acceleration in climate change as locked away organic carbon is released into the atmosphere, according to scientists.

The ice in the far reaches of the northern hemisphere is melting so quickly that a ‘tipping point’ – where the region no longer becomes a ‘sink’ for carbon dioxide – could occur within 20 years.

By 2200, around two-thirds of the world’s permafrost will have melted, unleashing close to 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere – a process which cannot be reversed.

‘Once the frozen carbon thaws out and decays, there is no way to put it back into the permafrost,’ Kevin Schaefer of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado told the Independent.

World map detailing major polluting nations' efforts to reduce carbon emissions

The recent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant in Japan is also adding to global warming woes as countries turn their back on the ‘cleaner’ power source, according to Dr Birol.

‘People may not like nuclear, but it is one of the major technologies for generating electricity without carbon dioxide,’ he said.

As well as Japan, Germany has halted its nuclear power programme, and a number of other European countries are considering whether or nor to follow suit.

Via DailyMail

Weather satellites capture shots of volcanic plume blasting through clouds

leave a comment »

Just in case you forgot that the Earth is one of the most geologically active worlds in the solar system, the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn has sent a very loud reminder: after seven years of relative inactivity, the volcano woke up on Saturday, rocketing a plume 11 kilometers (7 miles) into the air. The ash column blasted through the cloud layer, and was seen by weather satellites in space.

That was the view from the Meteosat-9, a European satellite in geostationary orbit. The animation is composed of visible light images and covers just under a three hour time span on May 21. You can clearly see the plume breaching the cloud layer and spreading out, then a second plume blowing through shortly thereafter. The shadow of the plume on the clouds gives an excellent but eerie sense of the scale of this event.

Here’s a similar view from the US GOES 13 satellite showing 3.5 hours of the eruption:

Note the oblique angle and distance; GOES 13 orbits the Earth far west of the volcano. In the last frame of the animation you can see the outline of Iceland to give you an idea of the size of this event.

This volcano has erupted many times over the past few decades. I knew Iceland was active, but what really brought it home to me in this case was a quote by a company that operates the airport facilities in Iceland, when a 220 km no-fly zone around the volcano was established: it was described as “standard procedure around eruptions”.

Yikes. The fact that they even need a “standard procedure” is eyebrow-raising to me; where I live, volcanoes are somewhat rare (maybe more so now than a millennia ago). However, this eruption doesn’t currently look like it will be a big danger to air travel like last year’s eruption of Eyjafjalajökull was; the ash is made of bigger particles which fall to the ground more quickly, and the volcano itself is located in a relatively isolated part of southeast Iceland.

Still, clearly, researching volcanoes and their eruptions is critical to many areas of life. Besides the knowledge added to our basic scientific understanding of geology and the Earth, monitoring and understanding volcanoes has a huge impact on air traffic, weather, and the daily lives of millions of people.

Image credits: CIMSS, UW-Madison (from images by EUMETSAT and NOAA). Tip o’ the caldera to Jonatan Gislason.

Lightning is common in volcanic plumes, but this one produced quite a bit more than usual. The footage is striking.

Also, NASA released a beautiful image of the plume as seen by the Earth-observing Terra satellite:

Note the scale; the ash column is over 20 km (12 miles) across. I said in the post earlier it reached 11 km in height; however the NASA news release states that it reached over 20 km high!

There is some indication the ash may be a threat to air travel in the UK, too. That’s a bummer; Eyjafjalajökull disrupted air travel for weeks. Let’s hope this one subsides sooner.

Video from Jon Gustafsson on Vimeo; Terra image from Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC


Via DiscoverMagazine