In climate-related news from the past week:
From Reuters: “Scientists amazed as Canadian permafrost thaws 70 years early.”
Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared.
A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilized the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia.
“What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university, told Reuters by telephone. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.”
With governments meeting in Bonn this week to try to ratchet up ambitions in United Nations climate negotiations, the team’s findings, published on June 10 in Geophysical Research Letters, offered a further sign of a growing climate emergency.
The paper was based on data Romanovsky and his colleagues had been analyzing since their last expedition to the area in 2016. The team used a modified propeller plane to visit exceptionally remote sites, including an abandoned Cold War-era radar base more than 300 km from the nearest human settlement.
Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognizable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier.
The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks - waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.
Torn between professional excitement and foreboding, Romanovsky said the scene had reminded him of the aftermath of a bombardment.
“It’s a canary in the coalmine,” said Louise Farquharson, a post-doctoral researcher and co-author of the study. “It’s very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region and that’s what we’re going to look at next.”
Scientists are concerned about the stability of permafrost because of the risk that rapid thawing could release vast quantities of heat-trapping gases, unleashing a feedback loop that would in turn fuel even faster temperature rises.
From the Guardian: “Himalayan glacier melting doubled since 2000, spy satellites show.”
The melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled since the turn of the century, with more than a quarter of all ice lost over the last four decades, scientists have revealed. The accelerating losses indicate a “devastating” future for the region, upon which a billion people depend for regular water.
The scientists combined declassified US spy satellite images from the mid-1970s with modern satellite data to create the first detailed, four-decade record of ice along the 2,000km (1,200-mile) mountain chain.
The analysis shows that 8bn tonnes of ice are being lost every year and not replaced by snow, with the lower level glaciers shrinking in height by 5 meters annually. The study shows that only global heating caused by human activities can explain the heavy melting. In previous work, local weather and the impact of air pollution had complicated the picture.
Joshua Maurer, from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth observatory, who led the new research, said: “This is the clearest picture yet of how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting since 1975, and why.” The research is published in the journal Science Advances.
The Washington Post: “Temperatures leap 40 degrees above normal as the Arctic Ocean and Greenland ice sheet see record June melting.”
Ice is melting in unprecedented ways as summer approaches in the Arctic. In recent days, observations have revealed a record-challenging melt event over the Greenland ice sheet, while the extent of ice over the Arctic Ocean has never been this low in mid-June during the age of weather satellites.
Greenland saw temperatures soar up to 40 degrees above normal Wednesday, while open water exists in places north of Alaska where it seldom, if ever, has in recent times.
It’s “another series of extreme events consistent with the long-term trend of a warming, changing Arctic,” said Zachary Labe, a climate researcher at the University of California at Irvine.
And the abnormal warmth and melting of ice in the Arctic may be messing with our weather.
Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that the Greenland ice sheet appears to have witnessed its biggest melt event so early in the season on record this week (although a few other years showed similar mid-June melting).
“The melting is big and early,” said Jason Box, an ice climatologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.
From Wired: “The Midwest’s farms face an intense, crop-killing future.”
The flooding that devastated the Midwest this spring damaged infrastructure and prevented farmers from getting crops planted on time. Though scientists can’t say if one storm or one wet season is the result of climate change, so far this year’s heavy rains are a perfect illustration of what scientific models of climate change predict for the region. And it’s only going to get more intense.
Those models warn that it’s going to get hotter, and that rain will continue to arrive in increasingly intense spring bursts, leaving long dry patches in the summer. “We’re fighting it at both ends in the Midwest right now. Too much too early and not enough late,” says Evan DeLucia, a professor of plant biology at the University of Illinois.
During the summer, the Midwest will see drought conditions similar to what California, Greece, or Italy have. A mediterranean climate seems nice, as a concept: temperate winters and warm, dry summers, guaranteed to get you an even tan. But, according to a report that DeLucia coauthored appearing in the journal Ecosphere today, if you’re a farmer trying to grow corn it means something very different: You need more water. Because the warmer the air is, the more water plants require.
From CBC: “How climate change is thawing the 'glue that holds the northern landscape together.’”
In one of the coldest places in Canada, Steve Kokelj is searching for Arctic thaw. He's driving the great Dempster Highway, 747 kilometres of gravel linking southern Canada to the Arctic.
"The large permafrost disturbances that we're seeing now have really developed in the last one to two decades," he says.
Kokelj is a permafrost scientist for the territorial government, and his job is to survey the alarming changes to the layers of ice and rock which underpin the North.
"Think of permafrost as sort of the glue that holds the northern landscape together.”
But as the Arctic warms three times as fast as anywhere else in the world, that permafrost — made up of leftover ice from the last glaciation, frozen for thousands of years — is degrading.
That's glaringly obvious as he pulls over to point out a huge hole carved out of the Dempster highway embankment. Elevated moisture and warmth have caused the side of the road to collapse.
From the Weather Channel: “2019 On Track to Be Earth's Third Warmest Year on Record, NOAA Says.”
The first five months of 2019 have been among Earth's top three warmest in 140 years of temperature records, according to a just-released analysis.
NOAA said Tuesday that global average temperatures across all land and ocean surfaces were third warmest for any January-through-May period, ranking only behind 2016 and 2017, in records dating to 1880.
Parts of central and southern Africa, southeast Asia, southern Brazil, the western Pacific Ocean, the Barents Sea, northwest Canada and northeast Alaska were among the areas that experienced a record warm first five months of 2019, according to NOAA.
Australia shattered its record warm January-May period in 2019, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology noted.
In business-as-usual news from the past week:
From AP: “Amid urgent climate warnings, EPA gives coal a reprieve.”
Amid scientists’ increasingly urgent warnings, the Trump administration ordered a sweeping about-face Wednesday on Obama-era efforts to fight climate change, easing restrictions on coal-fired power plants in a move it predicted would revitalize America’s sagging coal industry.
As miners in hard hats and coal-country lawmakers applauded, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler signed a measure that scraps one of President Barack Obama’s key initiatives to rein in fossil fuel emissions. The replacement rule gives states more leeway in deciding whether to require plants to make limited efficiency upgrades.
Wheeler said he expects more coal plants to open as a result. But one state, New York, immediately said it would go to court to challenge the action, and more lawsuits are likely.
The EPA move follows pledges by candidate and then President Donald Trump to rescue the U.S. coal industry, which saw near-record numbers of plant closings last year in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas and renewables. It’s the latest and one of the biggest of dozens of environmental regulatory rollbacks by his administration.
From RigZone: “Permian Oil Output Set to Keep Growing.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has forecasted that Permian oil production will hit 4.226 million barrels per day (MMbpd) next month in its latest drilling productivity report.
This marks the first time the EIA has projected oil output in the region to surpass the 4.2MMbpd mark in a drilling productivity report. Permian oil production in June was forecasted to come in at 4.171MMbpd in the EIA’s latest report. Back in May, the EIA anticipated that Permian oil output would be 4.173MMbpd in June.
From Oilprice.com: “India Picks New Site For $44B Aramco-ADNOC Mega Refinery.”
The Indian state of Maharashtra has identified a new location where India, in partnership with the state oil companies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, plans to build a giant US$44-billion refinery, the chief minister of Maharashtra state, Devendra Fadnavis, said on Wednesday.
In June last year, Saudi Aramco and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) signed a framework agreement and a memorandum of understanding with a consortium of Indian national oil companies to join the mega project in the Maharashtra state on India’s west coast. Saudi Aramco and ADNOC will jointly own 50 percent of the new joint venture company RRPCL, while the other 50 percent will be held by the Indian consortium. The parties agreed to explore a strategic partnership and co-investment in the development of the US$44 billion mega refinery.
By investing in the giant Indian refinery, the national oil companies of leading OPEC producers Saudi Arabia and the UAE would secure off-take for their crude in a strategic fast-growing oil market in Asia.
From Reuters: “U.S. shale oil output to rise to record 8.52 million barrels per day in July: EIA.”
U.S. oil output from seven major shale formations is expected to rise by about 70,000 barrels per day (bpd) in July to a record 8.52 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its monthly drilling productivity report on Monday.
The largest change is forecast in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, where output is expected to climb by 55,000 bpd to a fresh peak at 4.23 million bpd in July.
Production in North Dakota and Montana’s Bakken shale basin is also expected to climb by 11,000 bpd to a record 1.44 million bpd, the data showed. Output from the nearby Niobrara basin is expected to rise by 10,000 bpd to a record high of nearly 730,000 bpd.
A shale revolution and production increases particularly from the Permian basin and the Bakken have helped make the United States the biggest crude oil producer in the world, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.
From Reuters: “Gazprom Neft says Bazhenov shale oil output to reach viability by 2022-2023.”
Russia’s Gazprom Neft expects lifting costs at Bazhenov formation, the world’s largest shale oil resource, to gradually fall and reach an acceptable level for viable production by 2022-2023, a top company official said on Thursday.
Russia sits on huge reserves of shale oil, which needs more investments for developments than the conventional oil. Unlike the United States, it lacks technology and funds to produce shale oil in large volumes.
The break-even lifting costs for shale oil production at the formation stand at 8,500 rubles ($132) per tonne, Alexei Vashkevich, head of geological exploration and resource base development at Gazprom Neft, told reporters.
“We are ready to get that number in 2022-2023,” he said in comments, cleared for publication on Monday.
He said the company had been working to raise its effectiveness, including via implementation of state-of-the-art technologies.
The company plans to start commercial production of oil from Bazhenov formation in 2025, Vashkevich reiterated.
The International Energy Agency describes Bazhenov as the world’s largest source rock, a bed of ancient organic matter dating back to the Jurassic period which has given rise to most of the crude oil pumped from the fields of West Siberia.
Gazprom Neft estimates that the reserves of the light, low-sulphur and of low-viscosity Bazhenov formation stand at between 18 billion and 60 billion tonnes.
From Reuters: “Oil group Total hopes new supercomputer will help it find oil faster and more cheaply.”
Energy major Total said its new supercomputer - which has propelled it to a world ranking as the most powerful computer in the sector - will enable its geologists to find oil faster, cheaper and with a better success rate.
The Pangea III computer build by IBM will help process complex seismic data in the search for hydrocarbons 10 times faster that before, Total said on Tuesday.
The computing power of the company has been increased to 31.7 so-called ‘petaflops’ from 6.7 petaflops in 2016, and from 2.3 petaflops in 2013, Total said, adding that it was the equivalent of around 170,000 laptops combined.
From CBC: “Trudeau cabinet approves Trans Mountain expansion project.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have again approved the Trans Mountain expansion project, a crucial next step for the much-delayed pipeline project designed to carry nearly a million barrels of oil from Alberta's oilpatch to the B.C. coast each day.
The cabinet has affirmed the National Energy Board's conclusion that, while the pipeline has the potential to damage the environment and marine life, it's in the national interest and could contribute tens of billions of dollars to government coffers and create and sustain thousands of jobs.
Beyond approving the project, Trudeau also committed to directing every single dollar the federal government earns from the pipeline — which, when it's built, is estimated to be some $500 million a year in federal corporate tax revenue alone — to investments in unspecified clean energy projects.
From the Barents Observer: “Oil company starts drilling on shores of great river Yenisey.”
Operations are in the making at Payakha, the oil fields that could become among the biggest in the Arctic.
It is Neftegazholding, the company owned by former Rosneft leader Eduard Khudaynatov, that now unfolds major activities in the oil fields situated along great river Yenisey.
The Payakha could hold up to 1,2 billion tons of oil. Russia’s state mineral extraction agency Rosnedra earlier this year made a significant upgrade of the field’s resource potential.
Drilling on site started on the 13th of June.
“Today is a triumphant day,” Andrey Polyakov, company Vice President said in a ceremony. “The preparatory and testing phases are completed and we start drilling of the first group of wells in the unique Payakha area,” he underlined.
The Neftegazholding intends to produce an annual 26 million tons of oil on site. A big number of wells are to be drilled a special rig has been installed on site, facilitating working conditions on site. The installation is roof covered, which provides workers with protection against the harsh Arctic winds and severe temperatures.
The project includes the building of a more than 400 km long pipeline to Dikson, the town on the Kara Sea coast, as well as a major sea terminal. The oil is planned shipped both west- and eastwards on the Northern Sea Route.
It could become a key part of Vladimir Putin’s grand plan to boost annual shipments on the Northern Sea Route to 80 million tons by year 2024.
From CBC: “Canadians are worried about climate change, but many don't want to pay taxes to fight it: Poll.”
Canadians are deeply concerned about climate change and are willing to make adjustments in their lives to fight it — but for many people, paying as much as even a monthly Netflix subscription in extra taxes is not one of them, a new poll suggests.
The survey results, the first in a series from a poll commissioned by CBC News and conducted by Public Square Research and Maru/Blue to capture a portrait of the country in this election year, found that while nearly two-thirds of Canadians see fighting climate change as a top priority, half of those surveyed would not shell out more than $100 per year in taxes to prevent climate change, the equivalent of less than $9 a month.
The findings point to a population that is both gravely concerned about the heating of the planet but largely unprepared to make significant sacrifices in order to stave off an environmental crisis.
Just 34 per cent said they would go without air conditioning, 30 per cent would purchase a vehicle with an energy-saving mode and 25 per cent would fly less frequently. Fewer than one in five respondents who were willing to make changes to their lives said they would purchase an electric car (20 per cent), move to a smaller house or apartment (19 per cent) or give up eating meat (17 per cent).
Combined with the survey's findings of such a high level of concern about the cost of living — it ranked as both Canadians' biggest worry and their top election issue — the numbers suggest that while Canadians care about climate change, their financial concerns are more important.
Still, only six per cent said they'd like to make changes in their lives to fight climate change but "can't afford it.”
The concern about cost was most starkly demonstrated when respondents were asked how much they would be willing to pay in taxes every year to help prevent climate change.
Nearly one-third, or 32 per cent, said they were unwilling to pay anything at all, while 17 per cent said they would be willing to pay less than $100 in taxes every year. Netflix's most basic plan comes in at a yearly price tag of $120.
(Editor’s note: Of course, this is not unique to Canadians. See this Sky News story from May 2, 2019: “Majority of Brits unwilling to cut back to fight climate change, poll finds.”)