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Climate Change in the Arctic & around the globe

Sea ice set to beat melt records

Melting ice, easier ship access

Melting ice, easier ship access (took this photo at Spitsbergen)

It comes as no surprise to me but I find it deeply worrying that scientists say we are heading for a record sea ice melt. Experts from the University of Colorado at Boulder say summer ice in the Arctic is already coming close to the lowest level recorded, although there are still a couple of weeks left in the summer melt season. Mark Serreze, director of the University’s National Snow and Ice Data Center has been telling news agencies he and his colleagues are amazed by the measurements coming in.

Read more on this and why the melt is so significant at Phys.Org.

The Russian environment agency also reported record melting this month.

Meanwhile, the Chinese have sent their ice-breaker through the Arctic, as reported in the last ice blog post. Russia is stepping up efforts to make the Northern Route more regularly accessible. Canada is setting up a new high Arctic research station. The hunt for oil and gas in previously inaccessible areas is attracting more and more interest. The battle for influence in the Arctic is heating up with the climate. At the same time I read somewhere the other day that cars today have more horsepower than ever before. Aren’t we supposed to be saving energy and cutting emissions?

Date

August 24, 2012 | 10:12 am

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Spring sun triggers Antarctic smart grid

Antarctic sunrise

Spring sun getting ready to take over from winter wind at Belgium's Antarctic station. Picture from the webcam, taken in July, copyright of International Polar Foundation

 

As the webcam shows, the sun has returned to Antarctica after the long dark winter. This is at Belgium’s station, Princess Elisabeth Antarctica, the “Zero Emissions Station”, as you may have read before on the Ice Blog. The station is uninhabited in winter, and controlled remotely via satellite. In winter, with no sun aboutj, power comes from wind turbines. Over the last few days, enough sunlight has touched the  solar panels to wake up the team of “Sunny Boys” – inverters that convert power coming from the solar panels so that it’s compatible with the station’s electric installation. The first of these awoke on July 15th, along with four others. Now up to ten are running, around half of the station’s total capacity.

With such a small quantity of sunlight, the solar panels aren’t producing much energy yet, but the station’s smart grid is reacting to the end of the long polar night: Princess Elisabeth Antarctica is waking up. “It is all going much faster than expected” says station engineer Erik Verhagen. The humans only return to Princess Elisabeth Antarctica in November,  but preparations are already under way for another summer research season.

The only thing that bothers me about this sunny story is that when the sun comes back to Antarctica – we  must be heading for autumn here in the north already. The temperature felt like it here in Bonn this morning – but the sun is still providing a fair bit of energy from the solar collectors on the rooftops here.

 

Date

August 3, 2012 | 10:41 am

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Scotland’s waves surge ahead with climate-friendly energy

Orkney coast, EMEC test site Billia Croo

Picturesque test site - EMEC, Billia Croo, Orkney

The waters between the north of Scotland and the Orkney islands have just been declared a Marine Energy Park. What does that mean? Well, I’m just back from a visit to the mainland coast in the Caithness region, Orkney and Edinburgh, headquarters of the Scottish government and the leading marine energy companies, where I was able to see for myself. The steady waves and strong currents of these waters make it an ideal location for devices to turn the power of the sea into electricity. I can quite understand why the Scottish and the UK governments want to heighten the international reputation of the region as a potential provider of clean, climate-friendly energy and speed up the development.   Orkney is home to EMEC, the world-leading European marine Energy Centre, where developers from all over the world are testing a wide range of wave and tidal energy devices. The centre even has a grid connection, so that energy produced in the water can be fed in.

Aquamarine Oyster device running off Orkney

Aquamarine's Oyster device is one of those being tested at EMEC

I will be writing more about this on DW’s Environment site in the weeks to come.  I’ll also be reporting for our radio programe Living Planet. I certainly got the feeling that some of the marine energy devices are ready to move on from the test stage to commercial application and viability in the next couple of years.

Energy from waves or tides has the potential to generate 27GW of power in the UK alone by 2050, equivalent to the power generated from eight coal fired power stations, according to the UK government.  Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change Greg Barker says the industry could sustain thousands of jobs in a sector worth a possible £15bn to the economy by 2050.

The Scottish Energy,  Enterprise and Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing was equally upbeat when I interviewed him last week. More from the Minister and those directly involved in marine energy in the not-too-distant future. Meanwhile, well done Scotland for pushing ahead with renewable energy and “surfing the waves”  towards the ambitious – but not unrealistic- target of 100% renewable electricity by 2020.

Wick harbour

Harbours like Wick in the far north of Scotland have to expand to service marine energy and offshore wind

Date

July 31, 2012 | 12:54 pm

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Greenland ice melting in extra-warm Arctic season

Greenland ice wall

The Greenland ice sheet, photographed 2009

Apologies for a lack of new posts over the last week. The ice blogger was offline “up north”, not quite in the Arctic, but on the Orkney isles, where pioneering companies are testing devices to turn the power of the sea into climate-friendly electricity. But more about that at a later stage.

The worrying news about Greenland and the Arctic has jumped to the top of the ice blog agenda. NASA images of the Greenland ice sheet have indicated that for a few days this month almost the entire surface of the “ice island” was melting. A giant iceberg also broke off the Petermann Glacier in Greenland.

This is part of an overall development in the Arctic, where the summer has been unusually warm. The US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) says a large portion of the sea route between Western Europe and the Pacific has as little ice as it would normally have at the END of the summer melt.

This type of widespread surface melting is not unprecedented, according to the NSIDC.It might happen around every 150 years in Greenland. But the difference is that previous events of this sort happened around 7,000 years ago when the sun was tilted in such a way that it sent more sunshine to extreme northern latitudes. This time, there is no solar tilt to explain the melt.

Mark Serreze, director and senior research scientist at the NSIDC says Arctic sea ice is also at the extreme low end of the satellite record for this time on year and could be on track to equal the 2007 record, when the Arctic ice reached its smallest size in the satellite record. The sea ice is in a “sorry state”, he says, with holes appearing in satellite images much like a Swiss cheese. What next?

 

Date

July 30, 2012 | 9:54 am

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Fresh wind for the climate?

My colleague Gero Rueter chairing the panel, here with Syliva Pilarsky-Grosch, vice-president of the German Bundesverband WindEnergie and Ulrich Kelber, member of the Bundestag and SPD expert on environment and energy issues.

 

The World Wind Energy Conference started in Bonn today, focusing attention on the role of decentralized wind power. It’s an interesting topic at this particular time with a big debate going on here in Germany over the role large offshore wind parks should play in securing a renewable energy supply. At a kick-off panel discussion organised last night by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the World Wind Energy Association, one of the main conference organisers, the speakers provided plenty of arguments in favour of smaller, decentralized systems with different ownership models, from citizens’ groups to local authorities, rather than large offshore parks run by big industry. At today’s official opening ceremony in the Bonn Conference Centre, a federal government representative, Secretary of State in the Environment Ministry Jürgen Becker, made the case for having both. The main problem with the big offshore parks at the moment is how to successfully connect them to the grid and get the power from Germany’s North Sea coast to where it’s needed farther south. Interesting discussions ahead. There are large delegations from China and Canada attending the conference, countries with a key interest in wind power. I bumped into a colleague from Japan this morning, who said he was covering the conference because of the urgent need to develop renewables in Japan after Fukushima.

 

 

Date

July 3, 2012 | 10:40 am

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