Greenland and Antarctic maps reveal “unprecedented” ice loss

  • 21 Aug 2014, 17:02
  • Robert McSweeney

Greenland Iceberg | Shutterstock

A series of maps published this week show Greenland and Antarctica are losing more ice than at any time since satellite records began.

Scientists found the two vast ice sheets are losing a total of 500 cubic kilometers of ice per year, contributing to rising global sea levels.

Ice loss

The researchers used data from the European Space Agency's  CryoSat - a satellite that passes over the earth at 700 kilometers above the surface and measures the thickness of polar ice.

The satellite was launched in 2010 and has been collecting data on sea ice and ice sheets ever since. By comparing data with other satellite missions, scientists can see how quickly the ice sheets are changing.

The study, just published in the journal  The Cryosphere, reveals that since 2009, the volume of ice loss has tripled in West Antarctica and more than doubled in Greenland. This is the highest rate of ice loss since satellite records began 20 years ago.

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Is cheap coal bad news for the climate?

  • 21 Aug 2014, 10:40
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Kimon Berlin

Coal prices have halved since 2011 because of China's "anything but coal" power plans and competition from cleaner sources of energy, the Financial Times reports. Prices will probably rebound, but analysts tell the paper the recovery may be slow.

Back home, the UK has a coal problem. Use is up a fifth in four years due in part to low prices and the government has been looking at extending the life of coal plants. German use is up 13 per cent too.

Some are saying the shift to coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels, has been at the expense of cleaner gas and nuclear. If it persists it would be a threat to EU plans to cut emissions by 40 per cent in 2030.

So is cheap coal bad news for the climate?

Supply and demand

First, let's take a look at today's coal price and why it has become so cheap.

Coal prices haven't been this low since 2009, as the chart below shows, and have almost halved since a peak in 2011. Over the same period crude oil has remained above the historically unprecedented $100 per barrel level (purple line). So low coal prices aren't being caused by generally weak demand for energy.

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 At 16.04.19

A version of this blog was originally published on 23 June.


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Daily Briefing | Is China's coal appetite diminishing?

  • 21 Aug 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

CC2.0 Kimon Berlin

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Thermal coal falls victim to China's energy policy 
On commodities markets, the price of coal has fallen 50 per cent since 2011, reflecting low demand. The Financial Times reports: "Thermal coal faces oversupply challenges and a structural decline in demand brought on by decarbonisation and competition from more environmentally friendly sources of energy." One analyst tells the FT China is pursuing an "anything but coal" plan for its power sector. Nevertheless, analysts expect global coal supply to rise for a couple of years before falling. 
Financial Times 

Climate and energy news

Two Belgian nuclear reactors may be closed permanently 
Belgium stopped production at the 1,008 megawatt Tihange 2 nuclear reactor and the 1,006 megawatt Doel 3 reactor earlier this year after finding indications of weakness in their core tanks. The reactors had previously been closed in 2012 for the same reason. The reactors may remain closed until spring, or may not reopen, according to media reports. Last week EDF temporarily closed two UK nuclear power plants after defects were found. 

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Climate change a ‘major challenge’ to South Asia’s economic development - report

  • 20 Aug 2014, 15:50
  • Mat Hope

CC 2.0

India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Nepal will face "major challenges" as the impacts of climate change start to bite, according to a new report.

The Asian Development Bank's (ADB)  163-page analysis outlines how warmer temperatures and rising seas could hit South Asia's varied economies, home to nearly 1.5 billion people. It concludes that the "impacts of climate change are likely to result in huge economic, social and environmental damage to South Asian countries".

Climate impacts

ADB uses the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) emissions scenarios to model potential climatic changes in South Asia between now and 2100. It then uses an economic model to estimate how the climate impacts may affect the region's development.

The analysis was conducted prior to the release of the three instalments of the IPCC's fifth assessment report - published between November 2013 and April this year - so uses data from the fourth report, released in 2007.

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How a warmer Arctic could lead to colder winters in Britain

  • 20 Aug 2014, 15:14
  • Robert McSweeney

Arctic North Pole | Shutterstock

When you're chipping ice from your car windscreen or sheltering from the snow on a windswept platform, you might find yourself wondering how climate change fits in with the flurry of cold winters we've seen in recent years.

One theory suggests very cold winters in the northern hemisphere could be linked to rapidly increasing temperatures much further north - in the Arctic. A  new paper outlines three ways scientists think the two could be linked.

Rapid Arctic warming

Temperatures in the Arctic have been increasing almost  twice as fast as the global average. This is known as  Arctic amplification. As Arctic sea-ice shrinks, energy from the sun that would have been reflected away is instead absorbed by the ocean.

From 2007 to 2013, we've seen some of the lowest summer sea ice levels since records began, as shown in the graph below. This has coincided with a number of extreme cold and wet events across the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere, including the cold start to 2013 in the UK and the record low temperatures in the US and Canada during the 2013-14 winter.

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Factcheck: Is climate change linked to recent UK flooding?

  • 20 Aug 2014, 14:15
  • Roz Pidcock

This morning's  Times claims new research says the increase in flooding in Britain in recent times is due to urban expansion and population growth, rather than climate change.

According to the piece, this "does not agree" with warnings from scientists that climate change can be linked to recent flooding. But a quick look at the science shows a combination of land use and climate change is upping the risk of flooding in the UK.


The Times story is based on a new study from the University of Southampton. The number of reported flooding events in the UK grew between 1884 to 2013, according to the research.

But although the number of reported floods went up, it's mainly down to more people being exposed, the authors tell us. During that time, the population grew from 38.2 to 59.1 million.

If you remove the effect of population rise, there's no longer a clear increase in the number of reported flooding events, the report suggests. This is presumably where the Times draws its conclusion that the new research "rules out a link between last year's winter flooding and climate change".

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Daily Briefing | Big waves in the Arctic

  • 20 Aug 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Here's How Arctic Sea Ice Could Shrink Even More 
Waves are swelling to heights never before seen in the Arctic Ocean, and new research suggests this could be tied to the loss of sea ice caused by climate change. The larger waves could accelerate the rate of sea ice loss, it indicates, completing the destructive circle. "Swell waves carry more energy so you would expect them to have a larger impact (on sea ice). They're able to flex and stress and strain ice more than a short wave could", the research's lead author says. The difficulty of collecting data in the Arctic's inhospitable climes is currently limiting the research, however - though efforts are being made to add more buoys for better data, Climate Central reports. 
Climate Central 

Climate and energy news

Jet Stream Changes Driving Extreme Weather Linked Again To Global Warming, Arctic Ice Loss 
A new study from a team of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) suggests climate change could explain increases periods of extreme heat, Climate Progress reports. It's likely linked to changes in the movements of the jetstream, the research shows. Jet stream waves appear to be stalling for longer in one place, PIK's data shows, possibly accounting for extreme weather. 
Climate Progress 

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Questions and Answers on New Zealand's "climate change refugees"

  • 19 Aug 2014, 15:46
  • Alex Randall

Ocean waves / Shutterstock

Has the era of the 'climate change refugee' begun? That's the question  some have been asking following news that a Tuvaluan family has been granted residency in New Zealand after citing climate change impacts as a reason to migrate.

But the details of the case are complex, and the implications more limited than some media reports have suggested. Here are answers to some of the questions the case raises.

Did the court grant the family refugee status because of climate change?

No. The family was granted residency in New Zealand after a complicated court judgement. Although the impacts of climate change in Tuvalu were part of the family's case, they made several legal arguments for why they should be allowed to stay in New Zealand. The case contained refugee, human rights and humanitarian elements. The claim for refugee status because of climate impacts was rejected, as were several human rights claims.

The family made two arguments for residency on humanitarian grounds. The first was that climate change had created a humanitarian situation in Tuvalu that the family could not return to.

The second was that the family had strong family connections in New Zealand. The court decided that the family connections in New Zealand were enough to give the family residency.

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Why scientists need public backing to engineer the climate

  • 19 Aug 2014, 12:35
  • Mat Hope


As global greenhouse emissions rise, scientists want to research the possibility of engineering the climate to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

But the public has so far been wary of such schemes. So the so-called geoengineers are planning to make a declaration they hope will be the first step to getting a "social license" to operate.

The world's most prominent geoengineering researchers are meeting in Berlin this week to discuss the the field's progress. Attendees have been asked to provide feedback on a draft document styled as  the Berlin Declaration, released by  VICE this morning.  

It seeks to clarify geoengineering's governing principles, and quell public concerns. But does it go far enough?

Building blocks

A lot of climate engineering sounds a bit sci-fi - from drawing carbon dioxide out of the oceans by dumping iron filings in the sea, to putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight away from earth. We've gone into much more detail, here.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) takes geoengineering seriously, even if it gets a relatively small amount of attention in its reports. The panel is also eager to  emphasise the technique's risks.

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Daily Briefing | Soloman Islanders relocate to avoid impacts of climate change

  • 19 Aug 2014, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

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Meet The First Pacific Island Town To Relocate Thanks To Climate Change 
A small provincial capital in the Solomon Islands plans to relocate its entire population to a larger nearby island in response to the threat of climate change. The town is moving from Taro Island which is 6.6 feet above sea level, against estimated sea level rise this century of 1 to 3 feet. Think Progress 

Climate and energy news

Globally, Last Month Was The Fourth Hottest July On Record 
July was the fourth hottest on record according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The first seven months of 2014 were also tied as the third-warmest start to the year. 
Think Progress 

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