Analysis

Daily Briefing | Sea defences not enough to protect delta cities from rising flood risk

  • 07 Aug 2015, 10:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
River in flood

River in flood | Shutterstock

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Rising costs of flood defences could put world's major deltas at risk 
Rising seas, sinking land and increasingly expensive flood defences could see the risk of flooding in deltas such as the Mississippi and Rhine rise eight-fold, a new study finds.    Carbon Brief

Mapped: The world's largest offshore windfarms 
Have you ever wondered where the world's largest offshore windfarms are? And how much electricity they generate? Carbon Brief has mapped the world's offshore schemes to find out.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Sea defences not enough to protect delta cities from rising flood risk - study 
Rich nations spend huge sums to keep the seas at bay but wealth may not save them indefinitely. New research suggests that the probability of flooding in cities built on river deltas is on the increase and over time, the Mississippi and the Rhine may become up to eight times more at hazard from rising tides, storm surges or catastrophic downstream floods. The Washington Post also covers the new study, as did Carbon Brief, who also spoke to the lead author.    The Guardian 

Nasa say El Nino may bring relief to California, but it could cause 'mayhem' elsewhere 
Conditions in the Pacific are now as intense as they were in the summer of 1997, when a massive El Niño was brewing, say Nasa scientists. "It's no sure bet that we will have a strong El Niño, but the signal is getting stronger. What happens in August through October should make or break this event," said climatologist Bill Patzert. While this could be good news for drought-stricken areas such as California, researchers warn it may also lead to torrential and hazardous downpours elsewhere.    Mail Online 

Is it too late to stop Turkey's coal rush? 
Turkey has very big plans for coal, with more than 80 new plants in the pipeline, equivalent in capacity to the UK's entire power sector, reports Damian Carrington. In trying to keep stoking its fast-growing economy and to wean itself off its dependence on Russian gas, the scale of Turkey's coal rush is "greater than any country on Earth, after China and India". But a recent report suggests that expanding Turkey's wind, solar and hydropower could meet its energy needs for the same cost as the coal rush, says Carrington. The Guardian also has Turkey's coal boom in pictures.     The Guardian

Jeremy Corbyn interview: Big Six under public control, a solar panel on every roof & 'clean' coal 
In an interview with Greenpeace, MP for Islington North and aspiring Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn argues that a fundamental tool to enabling action on climate change is bringing things back under public control. "I would want the public ownership of the gas and the national grid," says Corbyn, and "I would personally wish that the Big Six were under public ownership, or public control in some form". Corbyn also discusses his support for solar, onshore wind, high standards of insulation, and carbon capture and storage for coal plants. The Financ

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Rising costs of flood defences could put world's major deltas at risk

  • 06 Aug 2015, 19:00
  • Robert McSweeney
The 2011 Mississippi flood. Credt: Mary/Flickr

Mississippi flood, 2011 | Mary/Flickr

Rising seas, sinking land and increasingly expensive flood defences could see the risk of flooding in deltas such as the Mississippi and Rhine rise eight-fold, a new study finds.

Researchers assessed the current and future flood risk in 48 deltas around the world and found that those in developed countries could face the biggest increase in risks if they can't maintain their investments in flood defences.

The Delta blues

Deltas form where rivers flow into the sea and deposit the sediment they're carrying. Some of the largest cities in the world are built on river deltas, from Cairo and Chittagong to Shanghai and San Francisco.

This sediment compacts naturally over time. So to keep the land surface from subsiding, the delta needs a regular top up, says Dr Zachary Tessler, a researcher at the City University of New York. He explains to Carbon Brief:

"In natural, or un-managed, deltas the land subsidence results in more river and coastal floods, which in turn distribute more sediment, rebuilding and maintaining the land surface elevation."

But human development can get in the way of this natural process, Tessler says:

"Human activities affect the integrity of deltas by reducing the amount of sediment in freshwater from the upstream river, and also reducing how effectively this sediment is deposited on the delta."

Building dams and reservoirs upstream of the delta holds back sediment, while using dikes and levees to control water levels can stop sediment from spreading onto the delta, Tessler says.Without adding new sediment, the land surface subsides, leaving deltas more at risk from flooding - both from the river that feeds it and the rising seas it flows into.

For cities built on river deltas, many have flood defences to protect them, but these need regular improvement and investment to keep a city protected.

Developed countries can typically afford to do this, but what if they couldn't? Tessler's study, published today in Science, asks that very question.

Risk and exposure

The researchers assessed the risk of flooding at 48 major coastal deltas across the world, home to around 340m people between them.

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Mapped: The world's largest offshore windfarms

  • 06 Aug 2015, 17:00
  • Simon Evans
Offshore wind farm

Offshore wind farm | Shutterstock

Yesterday, the UK government approved a 400-turbine 2.4 gigawatt (GW) offshore windfarm at Dogger Bank in the North Sea. Once built, it would be the world's largest by far.

But where are the world's largest offshore windfarms already operating today? And how much electricity do they generate? Carbon Brief has mapped the world's offshore schemes to find out.

Global offshore wind data

We found 62 offshore wind schemes currently generating electricity around the world, of which 25 are in the UK. Though Denmark was an early pioneer (red bars, below), the UK has installed more megawatts of offshore capacity than any other country in most years since 2004 (blue bars).

This year Germany is  expected to knock the UK off top spot (yellow bars), installing the largest offshore capacity for the first time. The chart below only shows capacity already up and running, so the total for 2015 will rise. There are some other important caveats on our figures, see below.

Annual -offshore -wind -capacity -additions

Annual offshore wind capacity additions between 1995 and 2015. Source:  Wikipedia. Chart by Carbon Brief. See below for a note on data.

Cumulative capacity

Once you tot up the annual additions it should be obvious that the UK is way out ahead in terms of total offshore wind capacity, with around 5GW currently operating today (blue bars, below). That's 57% of the current global total of 8.9GW (below right).

Offshore Capacity

Cumulative offshore wind capacity between 1995 and 2015 (left) and share of the current 8.9GW total (right). Source:  Wikipedia. Chart by Carbon Brief. See below for a note on data.

Offshore generation

How much power do offshore windfarms generate? The conversion between capacity in megawatts and generation in megawatt hours depends on the capacity factor. This accounts for the fact that wind turbines don't always turn, and rarely operate at maximum speed.

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Daily Briefing | US Carbon pollution from power plants hits 27-year low

  • 06 Aug 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Smoke from a smoke stack

Smoke stack | Shutterstock

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Paris 2015: Tracking country climate pledges 
Our tracker monitoring which countries have submitted their pledges to the UN on how far they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions has been updated to include Macedonia's submission.      Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

US Carbon Pollution From Power Plants Hits 27-Year Low 
Carbon dioxide emissions from US power plants hit a 27-year low in April, the Department of Energy has announced. A big factor was the long-term shift from coal to cleaner and cheaper natural gas, said Energy Department economist Allen McFarland. Outside experts also credit more renewable fuel use and energy efficiency. "A factor behind all these trends is that the writing is on the wall about the future of coal," said Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer.      New York Times 

Government grants planning consent to world's largest offshore wind farm 
The Department of Energy and Climate Change has announced approval for the Dogger Bank Teesside A and B Offshore wind project, which is expected to deliver up to 400 offshore wind turbines providing 2.4GW of clean power capacity. The project, which is being proposed by the Forewind consortium that brings together SSE, RWE, Statkraft and Statoil, has the potential to provide enough electricity for up to 1.8m British homes.      BusinessGreen 

16 states ask Obama admin to put power plant rules on hold 
Sixteen US states have asked the government to put Obama's clean energy plan rules on hold. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is leading the charge against the rules, banded together with 15 other state attorneys general in a letter to Environmental Protection Agency's Gina McCarthy requesting that the agency temporarily suspend the rules while they challenge their legality in court. The letter called for the EPA to respond by Friday. Meanwhile,  Bloomberg reports that Senate Republicans have advanced a bill to block Obama's regulations, overcoming a walkout by Democrats from a committee meeting that was considering the measure.      AP 

UN climate plan progressing says France, but urges finance clarity 
Negotiators working on a global climate change plan have "considerable common ground" according to a review of recent discussions published by the French and Peruvian governments. A five-page 'aide-memoire' indicates a significant number of countries are in agreement over the structure and goals of the proposed deal, due to be signed off in December. It suggests there is now widespread support for five-yearly reviews of global greenhouse gas cuts, although countries may only be compelled to increase national targets every decade. But the document underlines the need for "clarity" on how $100bn of climate finance will flow from rich to poor countries by 2020.     RTCC 

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Daily Briefing | Obama takes on the states over climate change

  • 05 Aug 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
US states

Credit: Carbon Brief

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A detailed Q&A on Obama's Clean Power Plan 
Carbon Brief separates the impact of President Obama's new 1,560-page Clean Power Plan from the spin with a handy Q&A. More ambitious than last year's draft, Monday's plan is designed to cut emissions from the power sector by 32% in 2030, compared to 2005.      Carbon Brief

Geoengineering is 'no substitute' for cutting emissions, new studies show 
Attempts to limit climate change by removing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere would not prevent irreversible damage to the oceans, according to new research. Meanwhile, a second new study finds that brightening clouds to reflect more of the sun's radiation would only temporarily offset the impacts of climate change.        Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Obama takes on the states over climate change 
The Obama administration has vowed to override states that refuse to accept its new climate goals by mandating how they should achieve emissions cuts. Opponents of the new Clean Power Plan - including the attorney general of Oklahoma, who is attempting to secure an injunction to stop the plan coming into force - argue that it is an infringement of states' right to order them to reshape their power sectors. A separate editorial in the Financial Times highlights the global significance of Obama's actions, saying the US may now lead a breakthrough in the pursuit of a solution to global warming "where once its role was merely a laggard and spoiler."      The Financial Times 

Methane Leaks May Greatly Exceed Estimates, Report Says 
A tool used to measure methane may be greatly underestimating leaks from industrial sources, said an inventor of the technology that the device relies on. In a new paper published yesterday, Touché Howard says the amount of escaped methane - a potent greenhouse gas - could be far greater than a recent landmark report sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund suggested. With the authors of the original report standing by their work, the dispute is causing a controversy among scientists over how much methane leaking from natural gas production is contributing to global warming, says InsideClimateNews. The problem with the device, according to the new study, is that it malfunctions when leaks are spewing at high rates, reports DeSmogGrist and Time have short summaries of the story.     The New York Times 

Russia lays claim to vast Arctic territories 
In a bid to extend its sovereignty over the North Pole, Russia has submitted a claim to the UN for 1.2 million square kilometres of Arctic territory, an area larger than France and Germany. Russia was the first to submit a claim in 2002, but the UN sent it back for lack of evidence. If the new claim is accepted, the waters will be subject to Moscow's oversight on economic matters, including fishing and oil and gas drilling, but Russia will not have full sovereignty, explains The New York Times. Rivalry for resources has intensified as shrinking polar ice is opening up new exploration opportunities, says The Guardian.     RTCC 

Public support for UK nuclear and shale gas falls to new low 
British public support for nuclear power and shale gas has fallen to its lowest ever level in a long-running official government survey. While nuclear and fracking for shale gas are "key planks" of the Conservative government's energy policy, the new Department of Energy and Climate Change's public attitudes tracking survey shows just one in five people now support shale gas and one in three support nuclear. The survey has temporarily dropped polling on public support for renewable energy, says The Guardian. BusinessGreen has a quick round-up of how British attitudes to fracking, renewables and nuclear have changed over time.      The Guardian 

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A detailed Q&A on Obama's Clean Power Plan

  • 04 Aug 2015, 18:00
  • Simon Evans

On Monday, President Obama launched his Clean Power Plan designed to cut emissions from the power sector by 32% in 2030, against a 2005 baseline.

It's more ambitious than a draft, published for comment last year, which targeted a 30% reduction. Obama says it is the "single most important step" the US has taken to tackle climate change.

It has attracted a huge quantity of news coverage, comment and analysis. However, the final rule is 1,560 pages long, making it hard to unpick the impact of the plan from the spin. It also has international significance in advance of the impending UN climate talks in Paris.

Carbon Brief's Q&A aims to help cut through the noise, explaining the why, how and what next of the Clean Power Plan.

Why is Obama doing this?

The Clean Power Plan is one part of the Obama administration's Climate Action Plan, launched in June 2013. The president hopes climate action will be a legacy issue, says the National Journal.

In a video released the over the weekend, Obama justifies his approach, saying that the changing climate is threatening the economy, security and health. He says:

"If you believe like I do that we can't condemn our kids and grandkids to a planet that's beyond fixing, then I'm asking you to share this message with your friends and family...We can do this. It's time for America, and the world, to act on climate change."

Obama's other climate policies includes vehicle efficiency standards, rules to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, controls on warming HFCs and a range of other efforts. Vox has a good summary of Obama's other climate initiatives.

Collectively, these are designed to meet the US pledge to the UN climate process, known as an INDC. The US is the world's second largest emitter, responsible for 12% of global emissions in 2012. It has promised to cut its emissions by 26-28% by 2030, against a 2005 baseline.

The power sector was responsible for 31% of US carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) in 2013, so any plan to cut to tackle overall emissions has to address the power sector.

There is also a legal imperative to regulate after the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that emissions endanger public health, a ruling that has since been upheld. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it is effectively bound to establish emissions targets for existing sources of CO2 under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, though this is disputed (see below).

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Geoengineering is ‘no substitute’ for cutting emissions, new studies show

  • 04 Aug 2015, 16:30
  • Robert McSweeney
A carbon capture coal plant

A carbon capture coal plant | Flickr

Attempts to limit climate change by removing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere would not prevent the irreversible damage to the oceans, according to a new study.

While a second study finds that brightening clouds to reflect more of the Sun's radiation could help boost crop yields in parts of China and Africa.

Speaking to Carbon Brief, authors from both studies highlight the importance of reducing carbon emissions now, rather than trying to engineer the climate later.

Geoengineering

Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale intervention into the Earth's climate system to try and limit human-caused climate change, and it can be divided into  two main methods.

Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, often described as Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), is one approach. The other is reflecting some sunlight away from the Earth before it can be trapped by greenhouse gases, commonly known as Solar Radiation Management (SRM).

The two new studies explore the implications of each of these methods, and the results are decidedly mixed.

Ocean acidification

We start with the oceans. About a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activity is taken up by the world's oceans. There it reacts with water to form carbonic acid, reducing the pH level and making the oceans less alkaline.

This process is known as ocean acidification, and it can have serious implications for marine life, says Sabine Mathesius from the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel in Germany. She explains to Carbon Brief:

"The resulting increase in the ocean's acidity disturbs important biological processes, like the build-up of calcium carbonate shells. If ocean acidification continues at the current rate, many species at the bottom of the food chain, as well as corals, could face extinction. In consequence, species that depend on them, including fish and ultimately humans, would be affected too."

Mathesius is the lead author of a study, published in Nature Climate Change, which investigates whether CDR could help stave off ocean acidification. Her results suggest that continuing to emit carbon dioxide in the hope of being able to remove it from the atmosphere later could consign our oceans to changes that are irreversible on human timescales.

Carbon dioxide removal

The study focuses on two scenarios, or representative concentration pathways, for how we deal with rising carbon emissions.

RCP8.5 is the highest of the emissions scenarios used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and is described in this paper as "business-as-usual". While RCP2.6 is the lowest IPCC scenario, where emissions are curbed to keep global average temperature rise to within 2C above pre-industrial levels.

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Daily Briefing | Shale gas is loser in Obama climate plan

  • 04 Aug 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
The White House

The White House | Shutterstock

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Emissions cuts using biofuels could worsen water stress in US, study suggests 
Using biofuels as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions could put US water resources under increasing pressure, a new study suggests. The results show that policies to mitigate climate change need to be carefully planned to avoid knock-on effects on natural resources, the researchers say.    Carbon Brief

Two degree climate target not possible without 'negative emissions', scientists warn 
All of our options for keeping warming below 2C above pre-industrial temperatures now involve capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground, according to new research. But the technology that doesn't yet exist on a large scale. In all but the most optimistic cases, staying below 2C requires capturing and storing carbon in amounts that exceed the capabilities of current technology, say the researchers.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Shale gas is loser in Obama climate plan 
Last year Obama called natural gas from fracking a "bridge fuel" to smooth the transition from polluting coal to emission-free renewable energy. But the shale industry was left reeling by a "sudden reversal" yesterday, as the White House abandoned its previous enthusiasm for natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal. In its landmark plan to cut emissions in the power sector the Obama administration eliminated an earlier projection that natural gas would contribute much more electricity, and instead upped the role of renewables and energy efficiency. Resistance to the plan could amount to a prolonged legal fight "reminiscent of Obamacare", writes Bloomberg. But while utilities and gas trade groups were left unhappy, hundreds of other businesses including eBay, Nestle and General Mills have issued their support for the plan, the Guardian reports. 365 businesses and investors wrote to 29 state governors to strongly support the rules, which they said would benefit the economy and create jobs. Environmentalists and public health advocates also welcomed the news, the Hill reports, as well as Ban Ki-moon. Elsewhere, Carbon Pulse highlighted that the rules seek to make carbon trading easier.ReutersNature and Fox News also covered the story. Obama's video address of the Clean Power Plan can be found here.    Financial Times 

G20 countries pay over $1,000 per citizen in fossil fuel subsidies, say IMF 
The world's leading economies are still paying trillions in subsidies despite pledges to phase them out, new figures from the International Monetary Fund show. Subsidies for fossil fuels amount to $1,000 (£640) a year for every citizen living in the G20 group, despite the group's pledge in 2009 to phase out support for coal, oil and gas. The UK, which is cutting renewable energy subsidies, permits $635 per person a year in fossil fuel subsidies. In contrast, Mexico, India and Indonesia, where per capita subsidies average $250, have begun cutting fossil fuel support. The IMF calculates that calculates that ending fossil fuel subsidies would slash global carbon emissions by 20%, and also prevent 1.6m premature deaths from outdoor air pollution. "The failure to reflect the real costs of fossil fuels in prices and policies means that the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world are being threatened by climate change and local air pollution," economist Lord Nicholas Stern told the Guardian.     The Guardian 

Climate change: Oceans will die even if we remove carbon dioxide from atmosphere, say scientists 
Attempts to save the world from global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while continuing to burn fossil fuels are unlikely to prevent the oceans from dying as a result of a build-up of acidity, scientists have found. "Geoengineering measures are currently being debated as a kind of last resort to avoid dangerous climate change - either in the case that policymakers find no agreement to cut CO2 emissions, or to delay the transformation of our energy systems," said Sabine Mathesius, the lead author of the study. "However, looking at the oceans we see that this approach carries great risks…even if the CO2 in the atmosphere would later on be reduced to the pre-industrial concentration, the acidity in the oceans could still be more than four times higher than the preindustrial level."     The Independent 

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Emissions cuts using biofuels could worsen water stress in US, study suggests

  • 03 Aug 2015, 20:00
  • Robert McSweeney
Switchgrass

Switchgrass | Shutterstock

Using biofuels as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions could put US water resources under increasing pressure, a new study suggests. Researchers find that a heavy reliance on bioenergy could mean a 42% increase in water consumption across the US by 2100.

The results show that policies to mitigate climate change need to be carefully planned to avoid knock-on effects on natural resources, the researchers say.

Water deficits

The new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed "water deficits" across the US. Deficits occur when demand for water outstrips the supplies available in local or neighbouring rivers and reservoirs.

The map below shows that much of the US is already in deficit for water. The orange and red areas in the main map below show the counties in US that are already worst affected by water stress.

Deficit Over Demand MapAverage total annual water deficit as a fraction of demand in 2005. Source: Hejazi et al (2015)

Using computer models, the researchers simulated how these deficits might change with different approaches for tackling global carbon emissions to limit the impacts of climate change.

The results show that measures to cut carbon emissions could mean water deficits are more severe by the end of the century.

Bioenergy

The study compared the impact on water stress of two scenarios, or representative concentration pathways, for how we deal with rising carbon emissions.  RCP4.5 describes a world where the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is stabilised at around 650 parts per million (ppm) by 2100.

In contrast, RCP8.5 is a future where emissions are not curbed and carbon dioxide concentrations rise to around 1,370ppm by 2100. The paper refers to RCP8.5 as a "business-as-usual" scenario.

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Two degree climate target not possible without 'negative emissions', scientists warn

  • 03 Aug 2015, 17:05
  • Roz Pidcock
Kemper County energy facility from the air.

Kemper Project | Wikipedia

All of our options for keeping warming below 2C above pre-industrial temperatures now involve capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground - a technology that doesn't yet exist on a large scale, according to new research.

The study, published today in Nature Communications, argues that 'negative emissions' alone, in the absence of conventional mitigation, are unlikely to achieve the 2C goal.

And in all but the most optimistic cases, staying below 2C requires capturing and storing carbon in amounts that exceed the capabilities of current technology, say the researchers.

Ahead of a major international climate summit in Paris, the study makes an interesting contribution to the debate about the role of negative emissions in meeting the 2C target.

Budgets

In December, global leaders will gather in Paris to agree a deal for capping global temperature rise at 2C above pre-industrial levels - the internationally agreed target.

For any given temperature target, there is a finite amount of carbon that can be burned before the chances of staying below that target become minimal. This is known as a  carbon budget.

In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that to have a reasonable chance of staying below 2C, total emissions from all human activity must not exceed 1,000bn tonnes of carbon (or gigatonnes of carbon, GtC).

The world is currently not on course to meet this target and there are two options for how to get ourselves back on track, says today's paper.

The first is to produce fewer emissions, which means burning fewer fossil fuels. This is what's commonly referred to as conventional mitigation.

The other is to capture fossil fuel emissions before they enter the atmosphere, or to suck them directly out of the air - a technique known as carbon dioxide removal. A third possibility sometimes proposed is to artificially engineering parts of the climate system, such as the oceans, to take up more carbon.

Collectively, the new paper calls these "negative emissions" technologies.

(Note that this is not shorthand for what the IPCC refers to as "net negative emissions". In its latest report, the IPCC  said: "Net negative emissions can be achieved when more GHGs are sequestered than are released into the atmosphere (e.g., by using bio-energy in combination with carbon dioxide capture and storage).

Carbon Sequestration

Laboratory studies help progress the field of carbon storage, by characterising the chemical signatures that result when certain types of rocks are exposed to carbon dioxide. Credit: Idaho National Laboratory | Flickr

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