A pinch of salt for new carbon storage modelling

  • 27 Sep 2012, 15:25
  • Freya Roberts

Source: M.L.Kirwan

Coastal ecosystems like salt marshes remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lock it up in their roots, making them an important part of the carbon cycle. They can also act as an important defence against sea level rise, as the carbon laid down by plants such as seagrasses helps to raise the elevation of the land.

new study in Nature suggests that beyond cycling carbon and offering protection from some of the impacts of climate change, these salty muddy shores may also be able to reduce the rate at which the earth is warming. Sounds too good to be true? In the long run it could turn out to be.

Previous studies have shown that with a bit more warmth, plenty of carbon dioxide and the occasional flood of seawater, sea grasses living in salt marshes grow better. Since climate change is likely to make all of these conditions more likely, it's possible that seagrasses will become more effective at locking up carbon. That's the good news. At the same time however, the rate at which seagrasses decay could speed up, releasing carbon back into the atmosphere.

The net effects of climate change

To figure out what might actually happen scientists created a computer model of a saltmarsh. They then simulated how it might respond under different projections of temperature and sea level rise taken from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

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Carbon Brief's pick of the Climate and Energy events at the Labour conference

  • 27 Sep 2012, 12:00
  • Chris Peters

Things could get interesting for climate and energy policy wonks. The Labour conference almost upon us, and Ed Miliband is expected to propose a motion supporting the 2030 power sector decarbonisation targets. Here's our rundown of the climate and energy events at the Labour conference starting this weekend in sunny Manchester.

Don't panic if, like us, you haven't shelled out for a pass - these events are outside of the security zone and free to all. Some may also include complimentary access to some small triangular sandwiches and orange juice.

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Christopher Booker flunks general studies

  • 26 Sep 2012, 12:00
  • Chris Peters

A-Level General Studies may not have the best reputation, (I enjoyed it - Ed) but even the harshest critics of the subject haven't generally levelled the charge that it's merely a tool for brainwashing teenagers. 

Not so Christopher Booker, whose latest column takes a swipe at what he calls "vacuous, one-sided propaganda" in an A-Level question about climate change.

Booker argues that eleven pages of "pre-release material" exam board AQA provided to students "shamelessly [promotes] global warming alarmism". He also - more tangibly - claims it contains inaccurate figures which make climate change sound worse than it is.

The question and supporting material are taken from a General Studies A-level paper AQA set in June 2012. A quick check of the paper suggests that, in fact, Booker has misread the material in at least two important ways.

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Arguing over when the Arctic ocean will be ice-free might be missing the point

  • 25 Sep 2012, 11:00
  • Verity Payne

This year the UK media has given the record Arctic sea ice loss a great deal of coverage, including plenty of prominent  reports that the Arctic Ocean will be almost entirely free of sea ice within the next four years, a prediction which comes from the most pessimistic end of expert scientific opinion.

But other polar scientists tell us that arguing over precisely when the Arctic will be sea ice-free in summer misses the point - we don't need to lose all of the Arctic sea ice to feel the most significant impacts on climate and transport.

Arctic sea ice has been declining over the last four or five decades, with the seasonal low summer ice coverage shrinking particularly quickly. But something new is happening - on top of the long-term decline, scientists now believe that conditions in the Arctic have changed markedly in recent years.

Since 2007, Arctic weather patterns have changed, and sea ice extent has seen some dramatic falls - the six lowest ice extents in the satellite record occurred in the last six years. Climate models that capture sea ice volume up to around 2006 are now failing to model it well - sea ice has become thinner than models estimate it should be.

What does this year's record low mean?

Scientists widely accept that Arctic sea ice decline over the last three decades is in large part due to manmade climate change. The most recent estimate suggests that between  70 and 95 per cent of Arctic sea ice loss in the past three decades is due to human-induced warming.

Over the last six years sea ice looks like it's been declining faster than this long term trend, and from parts of the media you might get the impression that scientists agree the more dramatic sea ice decline of the last six years is all down to manmade climate change.


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Lib Dems vote in favour of 2030 target

  • 24 Sep 2012, 13:00
  • Robin Webster

The Lib Dem conference this morning apparently 'overwhelmingly' passed a motion in favour of decarbonising the UK power sector by 2030, following a series of statements from politicians over the weekend on the subject. Such a target could feasibly be included in the energy bill, due to be debated by parliament in a few weeks' time.

Back in 2008, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC)  recommended that the government achieves a "substantial decarbonisation of the power sector" by 2030 in order to meet carbon targets specified in the Climate Change Act. Specifically, the CCC said it would be necessary for the average amount of carbon dioxide produced per unit of electricity generated (kilowatt hour) to be less than 50 grammes.

The political commitments and the Lib Dem vote, set the stage for a political fight about whether the target will be included in the forthcoming energy bill - probably the biggest issue in UK climate politics right now.


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Carbon Brief's pick of the Climate and Energy events at the Lib Dem Conference

  • 21 Sep 2012, 13:00
  • Chris Peters

With the Lib Dem conference upon us, and a  motion tabled calling on the party to support the  Committee on Climate Change's proposed target that the UK's power sector should be 'virtually decarbonised' by 2030, we've put together a list of the interesting looking climate and energy fringe events taking place this weekend in sunny Brighton.

If like us you haven't shelled out for a pass, don't panic - these events are outside of the security zone and free to all. Some may even include refreshments. 

Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference
22 - 26 September, Brighton


Fracking and the second dash for gas
A Friends of the Earth sponsored event. The blurb says "For some, shale gas is a panacea for Britain's energy challenges. But another dash for gas would bust our climate targets, and wreak havoc on local landscapes." Friends of the Earth, an MP and a local anti-fracking group speaking. 
20:15, Ashdown suite, Holiday Inn


To frack or not to frack? 
This event, organised by the British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society, asks what the risks and benefits are of shale gas extraction in the UK. 
13:00, Lancaster suite, Hilton Metropole 

Rethinking fossil fuels
Editor in Chief of PoliticsHome, Paul Waugh, and Andrew George MP, discuss whether new technologies can allow the clean use of fossil fuels. 
18:15, Ambassador suite, Hilton Metropole 

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Alex Salmond claims Scottish independence would increase energy market certainty

  • 20 Sep 2012, 13:00
  • Ros Donald

UK Chancellor George Osborne should stop creating uncertainty in the energy market, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond told the audience at the FT Global Energy Leaders Summit this week. In a characteristically robust speech, he claimed Scottish independence and the country's strong support for renewable power would benefit both Scotland and the UK.

Recalling with amusement a speech the chancellor made in Glasgow recently, warning that Scottish independence could create uncertainty in the energy market, Salmond was scathing about recent interventions by the Treasury to boost the UK's use of natural gas for power and reduce subsidies for renewable energy.

In contrast, Scottish independence - the Scottish National Party's key policy aim - would see a continued "clear, consensual and consultative" approach to energy policy in Scotland, Salmond said. He argued that the continuing fight between the Department of Energy and  Climate Change (DECC) and the Treasury was contributing to uncertainty among investors in renewable and conventional energy industries.

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Thinning ice probably explains record low Arctic sea ice coverage

  • 20 Sep 2012, 12:00
  • Verity Payne

Source: NASA

Scientists from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) have announced that Arctic sea ice has reached its  minimum extent for the year - 3.41 million square kilometres. The minimum extent marks the lowest summer extent since the satellite record began in 1979, and continues the decline in Arctic sea ice coverage over the last four or five decades.

Here's a video showing how this year's melt season has looked, compared to the average minimum extent over the past 30 years:


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Statoil’s UK PR campaign: a quiet power play

  • 19 Sep 2012, 12:00
  • Ros Donald and Chris Peters

Author: Oyvind Hagen/Statoil

If you've read a climate or energy story on the Telegraph website over the past week, you may have seen that Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil has sponsored a series of articles in partnership with the newspaper. Discussing the UK's energy future, the series so far offers a fairly measured view of the energy challenges the country faces. By presenting itself as a moderate voice in the energy debate and emphasising its green credentials, Statoil told us it wants to boost natural gas's image and replace coal in the future of the UK energy mix. But is the company's strategy as soft - and green - as it seems?

The Telegraph series

Statoil has so far produced four articles as part of its series, 'Statoil: Fueling the UK'. The series represents a significant investment. Based on the Telegraph's advertising rates, it appears to have cost Statoil at least £100,000 so far.  And it doesn't seem shy of exploring the challenges as well as the opportunities for the gas industry.

The first piece by Statoil blogger Amy Wilson is a scene-setter outlining natural gas's "unique position" in balancing "reliable, available and relatively cheap" fossil fuels and the need to decarbonise using "expensive" renewables, which still need backup from conventional fuels. Incidentally, the piece appears strongly inspired in places by an earlier BBC report, following the BBC's lead in saying the government wants to  "almost completely decarbonise" UK electricity production by the 2030s, and reproducing a quote from head of campaign group Sandbag, Baroness Worthington, in which the peer advocates replacing coal-fired power with gas.

The other articles are a mixture of news and opinion. They include opposing pieces by two economists  - a pro-gas and nuclear call to arms by Ruth Lea (citing reports Carbon Brief has analysed here and here) and a reminder that the UK must balance carbon cutting and energy security by Paul Ekins. The news pieces encompass new tax breaks for North Sea oil and gas producers and a letter by the UK's Committee on Climate Change (CCC) opposing the government's apparent keenness to increase gas-powered capacity.

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Wind in the media: latest update

  • 19 Sep 2012, 11:00
  • Robin Webster

The barrage of attacks on wind farms - from both the media and politicians - has reached such a pitch over the last few weeks that it's become rather hard to keep up. Discussion has always been polarised, particularly over onshore wind. Although generally popular the technology tends to attract disapproval from people living close to wind farm developments, and sections of the media. Parts of the Tory party, meanwhile, appear increasingly entrenched in opposition.

According to the Telegraph, energy and climate change minister Ed Davey will publish a call for evidence this week on the costs of onshore wind - fulfilling a promise the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) made in July. Chancellor George Osborne has previously called for a review to assess the costs of onshore wind, and it could lead to a reduction in wind subsidies in 2014, if generation costs have changed.

Reports say Davey will also launch a call for evidence on how communities can get both a greater say in where windfarms will be placed and financial benefit from hosting them. It's an approach that Denmark has successfully adopted. The move has received mixed press: while the Telegraph calls it "bribes for windfarms", the Independent sees it is an attempt to lessen "hostility" toward wind turbines.

New environment minister Owen Paterson flashed his rural credentials by giving his first interview to Farmers Weekly. Asked if he is a climate skeptic - a subject that has exercised some since he took up the post - he says:

"I am clear that climate change is happening - climate change has been happening and will continue to happen. And it is quite obvious there is a man-made element to that."


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