Future Energy eNews February 22, 2004
1) Climate Model -prediction of hotter summers - the 2003 heat wave was "50 years to early"
2) Glaciers Receding -record breaking decline also confirms global warming progress
3) More power blackouts likely as grid continues to decline -repairs estimated at $100 billion
4) Greenhouse Gases- DOE Secretary calls for zero-emission energy technology to be developed!
5) Hubble Telescope -streaming video link
6) DOE EIA Annual Energy Outlook -This year DOE politically sidesteps any renewable energy discussion.
7) How Global Warming Can Cause the Next Ice Age- Excerpt from Random House book by T. Hartmann
8) Miscellaneous- Energy Generating Apparatus patent issued to Dr. Harold Aspden from UK
1) Climate Model Predicts Even Hotter Summers
The record-breaking heat wave that affected much of Europe in the summer of 2003 "took place 50 years too early" according to a Swiss climate scientist. Martin Beniston of the University of Fribourg says that last year's heat wave was not like those that occurred in 1947 and 1976, and more like the conditions that might be expected towards the end of this century. He hopes that governments will use the heat wave as an indication of "a shape of things to come" to devise new strategies for coping with future climate change and global warming (M Beniston 2004 Geophys. Res. Lett. 31 L02202).
Beniston used the HIRHAM regional climate model developed by the Danish Meteorological Institute to run two 30-year simulations. The "current climate" simulation was run for the period from 1961 to 1990, while the "greenhouse-gas climate" simulation covered from 2071 to 2100.
For both periods, Beniston first studied the fluctuations in the daily maximum summer temperatures in Basel - a town in northwest Switzerland that is close to the French and German borders - averaged over July, August and September. He also analyzed the number of days in which temperatures exceeded 30°C. He found that 2003 was clearly the hottest summer since 1901.
He then extended the model to different parts of Europe and found that in the latter half of this century, summer temperatures would increase across much of the continent leading to a "northward shift" in climatic zones. This means that Switzerland could have a climate similar to that in the South of France today.
Beniston observed a general increase of about 4°C in a band stretching across central Europe to the Black Sea, with greater increases over the Iberian Peninsula and the south west of France. Moreover, he found that the number of hot days would increase - particularly in the Mediterranean region and in Eastern Europe - with an additional 40 to 60 days or more above 30°C (see figure). In comparison, the period 1961 to 1990 saw an average of around 10 days.
"Perhaps the media attention given to these and similar results might motivate policy-makers to start thinking about the long term - and the implications of such climate change on health, water availability and quality, food security and so on," Beniston told PhysicsWeb.
2) Glaciers and Sea Ice Endangered by Rising Temperatures
By 2020, the snows of Kilimanjaro may exist only in old photographs. The
glaciers in Montana's Glacier National Park could disappear by 2030. And by
mid-century, the Arctic Sea may be completely ice-free during summertime. As
the earth's temperature has risen in recent decades, the earth's ice cover
has begun to melt. And that melting is accelerating.
In both 2002 and 2003, the Northern Hemisphere registered record-low sea ice
cover. New satellite data show the Arctic region warming more during the
1990s than during the 1980s, with Arctic Sea ice now melting by up to 15
percent per decade. The long-sought Northwest Passage, a dream of early
explorers, could become our nightmare. The loss of Arctic Sea ice could
alter ocean circulation patterns and trigger changes in global climate
On the opposite end of the globe, Southern Ocean sea ice floating near
Antarctica has shrunk by some 20 percent since 1950. This unprecedented
melting of sea ice corroborates records showing that the regional air
temperature has increased by 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit)
Antarctic ice shelves that existed for thousands of years are crumbling. One
of the world's largest icebergs, named B-15, that measured near 10,000
square kilometers (4,000 square miles) or half the size of New Jersey,
calved off the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000. In May 2002, the shelf lost
another section measuring 31 kilometers (19 miles) wide and 200 kilometers
(124 miles) long.
Elsewhere on Antarctica, the Larsen Ice Shelf has largely disintegrated
within the last decade, shrinking to 40 percent of its previously stable
size. Following the break-off of the Larsen A section in 1995 and the
collapse of Larsen B in early 2002, melting of the nearby land-based
glaciers that the ice shelves once supported has more than doubled.
Unlike the melting of sea ice or the floating ice shelves along coasts, the
melting of ice on land raises sea level. Recent studies showing the
worldwide acceleration of glacier melting indicate that the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's estimate for sea level rise this
century--ranging from 0.1 meters to 0.9 meters--will need to be revised
upwards. (See http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/Update32_data.htm for
selected examples of ice melt from around the world.)
On Greenland, an ice-covered island three times the size of Texas,
once-stable glaciers are now melting at a quickening rate. The Jakobshavn
Glacier on the island's southwest coast, which is one of the major drainage
outlets from the interior ice sheet, is now thinning four times faster than
during most of the twentieth century. Each year Greenland loses some 51
cubic kilometers of ice, enough to annually raise sea level 0.13
millimeters. Were Greenland's entire ice sheet to melt, global sea level
could rise by a startling 7 meters (23 feet), inundating most of the world's
The Himalayas contain the world's third largest ice mass after Antarctica
and Greenland. Most Himalayan glaciers have been thinning and retreating
over the past 30 years, with losses accelerating to alarming levels in the
past decade. On Mount Everest, the glacier that ended at the historic base
camp of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first humans to reach the
summit, has retreated 5 kilometers (3 miles) since their 1953 ascent.
Glaciers in Bhutan are retreating at an average rate of 30-40 meters a year.
A similar situation is found in Nepal.
As the glaciers melt they are rapidly filling glacial lakes, creating a
flood risk. An international team of scientists has warned that with current
melt rates, at least 44 glacial lakes in the Himalayas could burst their
banks in as little as five years.
Glaciers themselves store vast quantities of water. More than half of the
world's population relies on water that originates in mountains, coming from
rainfall runoff or ice melt. In some areas glaciers help sustain a constant
water supply; in others, meltwater from glaciers is a primary water source
during the dry season. In the short term, accelerated melting means that
more water feeds rivers. Yet as glaciers disappear, dry season river flow
The Himalayan glaciers feed the seven major rivers of Asia--the Ganges,
Indus, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, and Huang He (Yellow)--and
thus contribute to the year-round water supply of a vast population. In
India alone, some 500 million people, including those in New Delhi and
Calcutta, depend on glacier meltwater that feeds into the Ganges River
system. Glaciers in Central Asia's Tien Shan Mountains have shrunk by nearly
30 percent between 1955 and 1990. In arid western China, shrinking glaciers
account for at least 10 percent of freshwater supplies.
The largest aggregation of tropical glaciers is in the northern Andes. The
retreat of the Qori Kalis Glacier on the west side of the Quelccaya Ice Cap
that stretches across Peru has accelerated to 155 meters a year between 1998
and 2000-three times faster than during the previous three-year period. The
entire ice cap could vanish over the next two decades.
The Antizana Glacier, which provides Quito, Ecuador, with almost half its
water, has retreated more than 90 meters over the last eight years. The
Chacaltaya Glacier near La Paz, Bolivia, melted to 7 percent of its 1940s
volume by 1998. It could disappear entirely by the end of this decade,
depriving the 1.5 million people in La Paz and the nearby city of Alto of an
important source of water and power.
Africa's glaciers are also disappearing. Across the continent, mountain
glaciers have shrunk to one third their size over the twentieth century. On
Kenya's Kilimanjaro, ice cover has shrunk by more than 33 percent since
1989. By 2020 it could be completely gone.
In Western Europe, glacial area has shrunk by up to 40 percent and glacial
volume by more than half since 1850. If temperatures continue to rise at
recent rates, major sections of glaciers covering the Alps and the French
and Spanish Pyrenees could be gone in the next few decades. During the
record-high temperature summer of 2003, some Swiss glaciers retreated by an
unprecedented 150 meters. The United Nations Environment Programme is
warning that for this region long associated with ice and snow, warming
temperatures signify the demise of a popular ski industry, not to mention a
Boundaries around Banff, Yoho, and Jasper National Parks in the Canadian
Rockies cannot stop the melting of the glaciers there. Glacier National Park
in Montana has lost over two thirds of its glaciers since 1850. If
temperatures continue to rise, it may lose the remainder by 2030.
In just the past 30 years, the average temperature in Alaska climbed more
than 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit)-easily four times the global
increase. Glaciers in all of Alaska's 11 glaciated mountain ranges are
shrinking. Since the mid-1990s, Alaskan glaciers have been thinning by 1.8
meters a year, more than three times as fast as during the preceding 40
The global average temperature has climbed by 0.6 degrees Celsius (1 degree
Fahrenheit) in the past 25 years. Over this time period, melting of sea ice
and mountain glaciers has increased dramatically. During this century,
global temperature may rise between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius, and melting
will accelerate further. Just how much will depend in part on the energy
policy choices made today.
# # #
Additional data and information sources at
Electricity systems are becoming more vulnerable, and there's no quick fix.
Two groups of researchers have independently brought forward evidence of intrinsic weaknesses in the North American power grid. Their analyses both conclude that massive power blackouts, such as the one that hit New York last summer, are likely to happen again.
Last week, John Kappenman, a US government adviser from the California-based Metatech Corporation, told the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Seattle that geomagnetic storms could cause much larger blackouts. And, he warned, the way the grid is growing only makes it more vulnerable. "The threat is greater than anyone had previously thought," says Kappenman.
The Sun ejects streams of charged particles that can warp the Earth's magnetic field, producing dazzling atmospheric effects such as the aurora borealis. The changing magnetic field also induces a direct current in transformers. This causes huge electrical surges, because the grid is meant to take only alternating current. "It's very difficult to design a transformer that can cope with this," says Kappenman.
The effect on power grids can be devastating. In 1989, the power grid in Quebec, Canada, was shut down within 90 seconds of a major geomagnetic storm.
As the grid grows, and more interconnecting wires are added to the system, it actually becomes more vulnerable to such storms, says Kappenman. "It lowers the total electrical resistance of the system, effectively making a bigger antenna for picking up induced current," he says.
Over the past 50 years, there has been a tenfold increase in the lengths of power lines in the United States. "The power companies have unwittingly built risks into the grid, and the risk is spiralling out of control," he says.
In a separate study, Réka Albert of Pennsylvania State University and her co-workers constructed a model of the US network, in part to work out why the system failed in last summer's blackout.
The exact cause of the breakdown hasn't been pinned down, but the outages seem to have propagated over the grid in a cascade. Power lines are automatically shut down if they reach too high a voltage, and generating stations switch off if they cannot transmit their power. As power stations and transmission substations were knocked out, power was shifted to lines further down the network, causing them to overload too.
To model that process, the team constructed a map of the United States containing more than 14,000 generating, transmission and distribution substations, and over 19,000 connecting power lines1.
The researchers conclude that the US power grid is a so-called 'exponential network', in which most of the network functions without giant hubs that connect large sections of the network together. However, the few well-connected hubs that do exist are crucial to the power distribution. If those transmission substations that bear the highest power loads are the first to break down, failure of just 4% of them leads to the break-up of about 60% of the network, they found.
The situation was even worse when the researchers took into account how the failure of some substations shunts power loads onto the others, causing them to overload. In that case, the loss of just 2% of the highest-load transmission substations cut off 60% of the network.
Albert concludes that one way to make the grid more resilient would be to add more small power-generating substations to ease the job of transmission. The cheapest option, she adds, would be to add more connections between substations, so that there are more alternative routes when some lines fail.
But Kappenman points out that this would make the grid's vulnerability to space weather even worse. To protect the grid, he says, resistors would have to be installed at strategic points, which could reduce the induced currents by 60-70%. That would cost a few million dollars, he says.
"Vulnerability of the electric power grid is inherent to its organization and therefore cannot be easily addressed without significant investment," reports Albert. Experts have already acknowledged that upgrading the US grid to prevent future blackouts could cost $100 billion. All the same, says Albert, "it's got to be done".
4) Greenhouse Gases
To the Editor, NY Times, January 31, 2004
In "Warming Up" (editorial, Jan. 25), you say that "a Washington Post survey found that only a tiny number of American companies" have agreed to participate in voluntary programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, trade associations representing thousands of companies from 12 energy-intensive industry sectors — accounting for about 40 to 45 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions — now participate in the administration's Climate Vision program. Nearly all these organizations have made specific commitments on behalf of their members to reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensity.
The administration has made significant efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions over the longer term. To meet the energy demand of a growing world population, lift people out of poverty and stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, new low- or zero-emission technologies must be created and adopted by the market. The United States is leading the way in developing transformational technologies in carbon sequestration, hydrogen, renewable energy, nuclear fission and fusion.
Secretary of Energy
5) Hubble Telescope Streaming Video Released
In an unprecedented move, Hubble images are now available in video format. It is a free download.
6) National Energy Modeling System Conference - Annual Energy Outlook
Free Admission- Register by emailing: Peggy.Wells@EIA.DOE.GOV
Location- March 23, 2004, Renaissance Hotel, 999 Ninth St NW, Washington DC 20001, 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM
Handouts Provided -in advance by the conference speakers and posted after March 9th online at www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/conf/handouts.html
Overview of the Annual Energy Outlook 2004 - Mary Hutzler, Director
N. American Natural Gas Resources
Electricity Reliability in the 21st Century
The Expanding Role of Liquified Natural Gas
Industrial Response to Higher Natural Gas Prices
International Nuclear Markets
Lower 48 Natural Gas Production and Prices
Market Power and Transmission
End-Use Energy Efficiency
The Coming Decline in Canadian Natural Gas Imports
Future Capacity Needs: When New Capacity is Needed, What Will be Built?
For further information, contact Peggy Wells, 202-586-3045
7) How Global Warming May Cause the Next Ice Age...
by Thom HartmannJanuary 30, 2004, CommonDreams.org
While global warming is being officially ignored by the political arm of the Bush administration, and Al Gore's recent conference on the topic during one of the coldest days of recent years provided joke fodder for conservative talk show hosts, the citizens of Europe and the Pentagon are taking a new look at the greatest danger such climate change could produce for the northern hemisphere - a sudden shift into a new ice age. What they're finding is not at all comforting.
In quick summary, if enough cold, fresh water coming from the melting polar ice caps and the melting glaciers of Greenland flows into the northern Atlantic, it will shut down the Gulf Stream, which keeps Europe and northeastern North America warm. The worst-case scenario would be a full-blown return of the last ice age - in a period as short as 2 to 3 years from its onset - and the mid-case scenario would be a period like the "little ice age" of a few centuries ago that disrupted worldwide weather patterns leading to extremely harsh winters, droughts, worldwide desertification, crop failures, and wars around the world.
Here's how it works.
If you look at a globe, you'll see that the latitude of much of Europe and Scandinavia is the same as that of Alaska and permafrost-locked parts of northern Canada and central Siberia. Yet Europe has a climate more similar to that of the United States than northern Canada or Siberia. Why?
It turns out that our warmth is the result of ocean currents that bring warm surface water up from the equator into northern regions that would otherwise be so cold that even in summer they'd be covered with ice. The current of greatest concern is often referred to as "The Great Conveyor Belt," which includes what we call the Gulf Stream.
The Great Conveyor Belt, while shaped by the Coriolis effect of the Earth's rotation, is mostly driven by the greater force created by differences in water temperatures and salinity. The North Atlantic Ocean is saltier and colder than the Pacific, the result of it being so much smaller and locked into place by the Northern and Southern American Hemispheres on the west and Europe and Africa on the east.
As a result, the warm water of the Great Conveyor Belt evaporates out of the North Atlantic leaving behind saltier waters, and the cold continental winds off the northern parts of North America cool the waters. Salty, cool waters settle to the bottom of the sea, most at a point a few hundred kilometers south of the southern tip of Greenland, producing a whirlpool of falling water that's 5 to 10 miles across. While the whirlpool rarely breaks the surface, during certain times of year it does produce an indentation and current in the ocean that can tilt ships and be seen from space (and may be what we see on the maps of ancient mariners).
This falling column of cold, salt-laden water pours itself to the bottom of the Atlantic, where it forms an undersea river forty times larger than all the rivers on land combined, flowing south down to and around the southern tip of Africa, where it finally reaches the Pacific. Amazingly, the water is so deep and so dense (because of its cold and salinity) that it often doesn't surface in the Pacific for as much as a thousand years after it first sank in the North Atlantic off the coast of Greenland.
The out-flowing undersea river of cold, salty water makes the level of the Atlantic slightly lower than that of the Pacific, drawing in a strong surface current of warm, fresher water from the Pacific to replace the outflow of the undersea river. This warmer, fresher water slides up through the South Atlantic, loops around North America where it's known as the Gulf Stream, and ends up off the coast of Europe. By the time it arrives near Greenland, it's cooled off and evaporated enough water to become cold and salty and sink to the ocean floor, providing a continuous feed for that deep-sea river flowing to the Pacific.
These two flows - warm, fresher water in from the Pacific, which then grows salty and cools and sinks to form an exiting deep sea river - are known as the Great Conveyor Belt.
Amazingly, the Great Conveyor Belt is only thing between comfortable summers and a permanent ice age for Europe and the eastern coast of North America.
Much of this science was unknown as recently as twenty years ago. Then an international group of scientists went to Greenland and used newly developed drilling and sensing equipment to drill into some of the world's most ancient accessible glaciers. Their instruments were so sensitive that when they analyzed the ice core samples they brought up, they were able to look at individual years of snow. The results were shocking.
Prior to the last decades, it was thought that the periods between glaciations and warmer times in North America, Europe, and North Asia were gradual. We knew from the fossil record that the Great Ice Age period began a few million years ago, and during those years there were times where for hundreds or thousands of years North America, Europe, and Siberia were covered with thick sheets of ice year-round. In between these icy times, there were periods when the glaciers thawed, bare land was exposed, forests grew, and land animals (including early humans) moved into these northern regions.
Most scientists figured the transition time from icy to warm was gradual, lasting dozens to hundreds of years, and nobody was sure exactly what had caused it. (Variations in solar radiation were suspected, as were volcanic activity, along with early theories about the Great Conveyor Belt, which, until recently, was a poorly understood phenomenon.)
Looking at the ice cores, however, scientists were shocked to discover that the transitions from ice age-like weather to contemporary-type weather usually took only two or three years. Something was flipping the weather of the planet back and forth with a rapidity that was startling.
It turns out that the ice age versus temperate weather patterns weren't part of a smooth and linear process, like a dimmer slider for an overhead light bulb. They are part of a delicately balanced teeter-totter, which can exist in one state or the other, but transits through the middle stage almost overnight. They more resemble a light switch, which is off as you gradually and slowly lift it, until it hits a mid-point threshold or "breakover point" where suddenly the state is flipped from off to on and the light comes on.
It appears that small (less that .1 percent) variations in solar energy happen in roughly 1500-year cycles. This cycle, for example, is what brought us the "Little Ice Age" that started around the year 1400 and dramatically cooled North America and Europe (we're now in the warming phase, recovering from that). When the ice in the Arctic Ocean is frozen solid and locked up, and the glaciers on Greenland are relatively stable, this variation warms and cools the Earth in a very small way, but doesn't affect the operation of the Great Conveyor Belt that brings moderating warm water into the North Atlantic.
In millennia past, however, before the Arctic totally froze and locked up, and before some critical threshold amount of fresh water was locked up in the Greenland and other glaciers, these 1500-year variations in solar energy didn't just slightly warm up or cool down the weather for the landmasses bracketing the North Atlantic. They flipped on and off periods of total glaciation and periods of temperate weather.
And these changes came suddenly.
For early humans living in Europe 30,000 years ago - when the cave paintings in France were produced - the weather would be pretty much like it is today for well over a thousand years, giving people a chance to build culture to the point where they could produce art and reach across large territories.
And then a particularly hard winter would hit.
The spring would come late, and summer would never seem to really arrive, with the winter snows appearing as early as September. The next winter would be brutally cold, and the next spring didn't happen at all, with above-freezing temperatures only being reached for a few days during August and the snow never completely melting. After that, the summer never returned: for 1500 years the snow simply accumulated and accumulated, deeper and deeper, as the continent came to be covered with glaciers and humans either fled or died out. (Neanderthals, who dominated Europe until the end of these cycles, appear to have been better adapted to cold weather than Homo sapiens.)
What brought on this sudden "disappearance of summer" period was that the warm-water currents of the Great Conveyor Belt had shut down. Once the Gulf Stream was no longer flowing, it only took a year or three for the last of the residual heat held in the North Atlantic Ocean to dissipate into the air over Europe, and then there was no more warmth to moderate the northern latitudes. When the summer stopped in the north, the rains stopped around the equator: At the same time Europe was plunged into an Ice Age, the Middle East and Africa were ravaged by drought and wind-driven firestorms. .
If the Great Conveyor Belt, which includes the Gulf Stream, were to stop flowing today, the result would be sudden and dramatic. Winter would set in for the eastern half of North America and all of Europe and Siberia, and never go away. Within three years, those regions would become uninhabitable and nearly two billion humans would starve, freeze to death, or have to relocate. Civilization as we know it probably couldn't withstand the impact of such a crushing blow.
And, incredibly, the Great Conveyor Belt has hesitated a few times in the past decade. As William H. Calvin points out in one of the best books available on this topic ("A Brain For All Seasons: human evolution & abrupt climate change"): ".the abrupt cooling in the last warm period shows that a flip can occur in situations much like the present one. What could possibly halt the salt-conveyor belt that brings tropical heat so much farther north and limits the formation of ice sheets? Oceanographers are busy studying present-day failures of annual flushing, which give some perspective on the catastrophic failures of the past. "In the Labrador Sea, flushing failed during the 1970s, was strong again by 1990, and is now declining. In the Greenland Sea over the 1980s salt sinking declined by 80 percent. Obviously, local failures can occur without catastrophe - it's a question of how often and how widespread the failures are - but the present state of decline is not very reassuring."
Most scientists involved in research on this topic agree that the culprit is global warming, melting the icebergs on Greenland and the Arctic icepack and thus flushing cold, fresh water down into the Greenland Sea from the north. When a critical threshold is reached, the climate will suddenly switch to an ice age that could last minimally 700 or so years, and maximally over 100,000 years.
And when might that threshold be reached? Nobody knows - the action of the Great Conveyor Belt in defining ice ages was discovered only in the last decade. Preliminary computer models and scientists willing to speculate suggest the switch could flip as early as next year, or it may be generations from now. It may be wobbling right now, producing the extremes of weather we've seen in the past few years.
What's almost certain is that if nothing is done about global warming, it will happen sooner rather than later. This article was adapted from the new, updated edition of "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400051576/commondreams-20/ref=nosim/>" by Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com), due out from Random House/Three Rivers Press in March. www.thomhartmann.com http://www.thomhartmann.com
Electricity Generating Apparatus UK Patent GB2390941 just granted to Dr. Harold Aspden, author and engineer.http://l2.espacenet.com/espacenet/viewer?PN=GB2390941&CY=gb&LG=en&DB=EPD
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