Six things to know about Antarctic ice

  • 07 Jul 2014, 15:00
  • Roz Pidcock

This article was originally published in November 2012.

When scientists talk about ice and climate change, it's often about how quickly it's disappearing. So recent  news stories  about Antarctic sea ice growing may come as a surprise. 

The amount of ice in the ocean around Antarctica is indeed increasing, but this is only part of what's going on in the Antarctic as a whole. We've put together six things you should know about climate change and Antarctic ice.

1. Antarctic waters are warming faster than the global average

Along with the rest of the world, the Antarctic is warming up. The Southern Ocean, which surrounds the continent of Antarctica, has been warming faster than the rest of the world's oceans since the 1950s, at a rate of  0.17 degrees Celsius compared to a global average of 0.1 degrees. The increased rate of warming is mainly due to the way large weather systemstransport heat to the poles.

2. Despite rapid warming, there's more Antarctic sea ice

Despite rapidly warming water, the amount of ice that floats on the Southern Ocean around Antarctica - known as sea ice - is slightly increasing. On 26 September 2012, the USNational Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) confirmed that Antarctic sea ice reached a record extent - a measure of sea ice cover - of 19.44 million square kilometres.

Read more

How much does bad press affect policy and public attitudes to renewables?

  • 30 Nov 2012, 12:30
  • Ros Donald

Photo: Martin Pettitt

The UK's most-read newspapers wrote overwhelmingly negative articles about renewable energy sources despite evidence showing strong public support according to a new report. It calls for a more proactive approach to public relations from the renewables industry to address what it says is a democratic deficit in energy reporting. We asked a selection of experts on climate and energy in the media for their opinion.

CCGroup, the communications agency that compiled the report, says more than 51 per cent of the 138 articles selected was "negative or very negative toward the industry".  In contrast, it says 21 per cent was positive and 28 per cent was neutral. The group claims the findings indicate a 'democratic deficit' in the UK's press on renewable energy, because polling results indicate strong public support for renewables in the UK.

Read more

How much does DECC think the energy bill is going to cost consumers?

  • 29 Nov 2012, 18:00
  • Robin Webster

How much is the energy bill, unveiled today, going to cost consumers? The question forms the foundation for much of the media coverage of the legislation, but it's not one that is easy to answer. Journalists looking for figures often turn to calculations released by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) - but the details of the numbers are sometimes overlooked, or even just misreported.

Projecting energy bills into the future is an uncertain exercise. Bills are influenced not just by the relative success of government policies, but also how energy companies behave, and by future changes in gas prices. These are in turn impacted by a host of social and political factors.

So DECC's projections rest on a certain set of assumptions. For obvious reasons DECC's calculations are also frequently used by journalists - with varying levels of accuracy. So here we clarify what its calculations actually say, and the assumptions they come from.

The costs of Electricity Market Reform (EMR)

Electricity Market Reform (EMR) is the central part of the energy bill. Its purpose is to change the way the electricity market works so that it's easier to reduce the amount of energy we get from fossil fuels, and increase the amount we get from renewable electricity.

Read more

Leveson on science - all the extracts we could find

  • 29 Nov 2012, 16:13
  • Christian Hunt

The publication today of the Leveson report has obviously raised questions about what kind of regulation will come out of the process, and how effective it will be.

For us, it also raises a question about how a new regulator will be enabled to form judgements about issues of scientific reporting.

So as politicians debate the recommendations and their wider implications, I've taken a very selective look at the report, and quickly found sections which discuss or impact on the reporting of science. There are some parts which are specific to coverage of health issues, but because they're quite specialised, I have focused on the more general sections.

This is based on a quick scan - there are likely to be other sections which have implications for science reporting.

Leveson notes early on (  p.22) that according to the Science Media Centre (SMC), which gave evidence to the inquiry, issues of scientific accuracy were de-prioritised by the Press Complaints Commission:

"As explained by Fiona Fox (Science Media Centre) misleading and inaccurate reporting of conceptual issues (such as climate change or science generally) were similarly not covered by the complaints system."


Read more

A quick audit of 'due weight' in the BBC's coverage of climate science

  • 29 Nov 2012, 14:18
  • Carbon Brief Staff

The BBC Trust has commended the corporation for making "significant progress" in improving coverage of scientific issues including climate change. We examine the trust's claim that a key recommendation not to give equal weight to evidence and opinion is now "already a factor" in planning its output. 

Yesterday's BBC Trust report follows a review of the corporation's science coverage published just over two years ago. That review, written by Professor Steve Jones of University College London, contained a section on climate change suggesting that the BBC's coverage of the issue is a "microcosm of false balance" - where fringe scientific views are given equal weight to mainstream scientific opinion.

In particular, Jones highlighted examples from BBC reporting giving the impression that there are "two equally valid points of view that must be sorted out" over whether climate change is happening - despite the scientific evidence being, as he put it, "overwhelming". 

Jones proposed that in reporting science the BBC needs to achieve "due weight" or "due impartiality" in its reporting. This means conveying to audiences where the weight of scientific opinion lies, while retaining space for discussing scientific disagreement.

'Significant progress'

The BBC Trust said yesterday:

"The Trust commends the Executive for the significant progress which has made since publication of the Review in 2011. It is apparent that the Review has had an impact on output and is likely to continue to do so."

It highlights a series of steps the corporation has taken to that end. These include the appointment of new Science Editor David Shukman, the creation of something called the 'pan-BBC Science Forum', which has strategic oversight of science coverage, and a science training programme for editors. 

Read more

What is permafrost? Q & A

  • 29 Nov 2012, 12:15
  • Roz Pidcock

Melting permafrost in the Arctic could push the earth towards climate change that is "irreversible on human timescales", according to a new report released yesterday. Here's our quick guide to what you should know about melting permafrost.

The report, by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), says billions of tonnes of carbon once locked up in permafrost could be released into the atmosphere this century - accelerating global warming. But how much might be released, and how quickly? These questions are still being debated in the scientific community, which means that it's sometimes hard for media coverage to strike the right balance when discussing how significant the effect could be.

1. What is permafrost?

Permafrost is the name given to permanently-frozen ground in high latitudes. Permafrost acts like a lid, locking frozen carbon deposits deep below ground. The upper layer of permafrost thaws and re-freezes naturally each year. As the carbon thaws, microbes degrade it - a process that releases carbon dioxide and methane.

As atmospheric temperatures rise - due mainly to  human activity  - heat penetrates deeper into the ground than before. This leads to more permafrost thawing, and more carbon being released to the atmosphere.

2. What does that have to do with climate change?

Scientists are concerned that carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere from permafrost will mean more global warming. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas - around 25 times  more effective at trapping heat  than carbon dioxide over a 100-year cycle. 

What's more, this additional warming can create a vicious circle. Extra warming thaws more permafrost, leading to further warming - and so on. Scientists call a self-reinforcing warming cycle like this a positive feedback.


Read more

Future climate projections: Five graphs from three reports

  • 28 Nov 2012, 15:00
  • Robin Webster

Three different reports released in advance of the latest instalment of the international climate talks in Doha all carry more or less the same message. On current trends the world is increasingly unlikely to avoid a temperature rise of two degrees above pre-industrial levels - and a four degree rise is possible, they say.

We've pulled out some of the most interesting statistics and graphs to summarise the different reports.

The World Meteorological Organisation's greenhouse gas bulletin

First, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) - a specialised United Nations agency - released its annual greenhouse gas bulletin. The findings are based on data gathered by the WMO's Global Atmosphere Watch Network, which monitors the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The WMO's top-line conclusion is that greenhouse gas concentrations in 2011 were the highest on record. Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide - the greenhouse gases driving additional warming - are now 140 per cent, 259 per cent and 120 per cent higher than pre-industrial levels, respectively.

Read more

Five things to know about flooding and climate change

  • 27 Nov 2012, 15:00
  • Freya Roberts and Roz Pidcock

Source: JanetMCK

Heavy rainfall continues to batter the UK this week, causing widespread disruption. The Environment Agency has issued hundreds of  flood warnings and evacuated many from their homes. Is this unpredictable weather normal, or is there a link between flooding events like this and climate change?

Here's five things you should know about linking climate change with flooding.

1. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture          

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC), the atmosphere is about 0.75 degrees warmer than it was at the start of the century, which means it can hold5-6 per cent more moisture

That doesn't automatically mean more heavy rainfall for the UK because complex weather patterns govern the amount, timing and distribution of rainfall. But it does mean that with more water in the atmosphere, the volume of rainfall may increase when it does pour.

This isn't the end of it though, because climate change  may affect atmospheric circulationslike the  Jet Stream, which control the movement of weather systems over the UK. Research on this is still fairly new, however, and the link remains less than certain for now. But it's another reason why the climate change link to flooding is complicated.

Read more

Will the Energy Bill really add £178 to fuel bills? Dissecting energy bill numbers

  • 27 Nov 2012, 14:33
  • Robin Webster

"Wind farms to increase energy bills by £178 a year" announced the the  front page of Friday's  Daily Telegraph - adding in a subheading that the price rise will occur under a deal just struck over the government's new Energy Bill. Since then, other newspapers seem to have used the figure to suggest that the government's new energy bill will add around £170 to bills. So is this correct?

The Telegraph article followed an  announcement from the  Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) that the government will be publishing the energy bill this week. The legislation contains provisions to increase the amount of energy the UK gets from renewables and nuclear power.

The Telegraph searched out a figure for how much government policies will add to bills: £178. A closer look shows:

  • The claim that bills will go up by £178 over the next two decades is based on figures from DECC which are a year old. The figures do not refer specifically to the impact of the measures in the energy bill;
  • The extra £178 DECC calculated is due to a range of factors, including rising gas prices over the next two decades - it's not solely attributable to climate and energy policies.
  • The same figures show DECC believes energy bills would go up by a greater amount without new energy and climate policies;
  • The price rise is not attributable solely to subsidies for wind farms, as the Telegraph's front-page headline claims.

Given all these considerations, it's perhaps unsurprising that other newspapers mistakenly started to warn of a bill hike of around £170 as the result of the new energy legislation.

Let's take a look at the details.


Read more

How is science underpinning the climate talks in Doha?

  • 26 Nov 2012, 16:15
  • Roz Pidcock

Could laptop models help negotiators imagine the impacts of climate change? How could emissions accounting be improved to include land use? With the UN's COP18 international climate talks starting today, we look at some recent developments in science and political research that can play a part in helping countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Upper limits

Climate scientists' predictions go to the heart of the UNFCCC process. Scientists first suggested in 2007 that to avoid serious climate change, global mean temperature rise should not exceed two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But as three different reports out last week highlight, this target looks increasingly unrealistic.

According to the World Meteorological Office (WMO), carbon dioxide has continued to rise at a fairly constant rate  for the past decade, reaching a record high this year along with methane and nitrous oxide - two other important greenhouse gases.

The United Nations Environment Programme has said the "emissions gap" - the difference between government pledges to reduce emissions and what is needed to stabilise global temperature rise at two degrees - is widening.  And according to the World Bank, without further action, the world is likely to warm by more than three degrees.

Read more