Natural gas has no odor, but you can smell a leak thanks to the addition of an odorific mercaptam compound. Do carbon dioxide and other similarly odorless greenhouse gases (GHGs) require some analogous device to make their presence known and thus prompt evasive action? Yes, and for these ubiquitous gases, it will be a visual cue indicating the source and quantity of GHGs Continue reading
Last year Swiss researchers demonstrated that European countries release more of the potent greenhouse gas trifluoromethane than they report. It was just the latest in a growing number of case studies showing that polluters and governments might be under-estimating their climate change impact, but it served to highlight the science and technology that can reveal such cheating Continue reading
In January we reported that winds across the Northern continents were losing some of their punch, and that climate change threatened to weaken them further — altogether bad news for wind power. In stark contrast, Australian researchers report today in the journal Science that gusts are accelerating over Earth’s oceans.
Unfortunately the trend offers offshore wind power a mixed bag: stronger but also more dangerous winds. “Mean wind conditions over the oceans have only marginally increased over the last 20 years. It is the extreme conditions where there has been a larger increase,” says Ian Young, vice chancellor at the Australian National University in Canberra and principal author of today’s report. Continue reading
Benjamin Sovacool agrees that wind turbines kill birds and bats, but this University of Singapore public policy professor makes a convincing case that this fact desperately needs context. Reviewing avian mortality from power generation in the June issue of Energy Policy, Sovacool shows that — gigawatt-hour for gigawatt-hour — it is fossil-fired power by a longshot that will ground winged creatures.
Sovacool’s analysis estimates avian deaths throughout the fuel cycle for coal, oil and natural-gas fired power generation:
- Coal mining = 0.02 deaths per gigawatt-hour (GWh). For example, habitat destruction by mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia has killed approximately 191,722 Cerulean Warblers.
- Plant operations = 0.07 bird deaths/GWh. Electrocution at one well-observed power plant in Spain killed 467 birds over two years.
- Acid rain = 0.05 deaths/GWh. Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology estimated in 2002 that acid rain reduced the U.S. wood thrush population by 2–5%.
- Mercury emissions = 0.06 deaths/GWh. Impacts include hampered reproduction and survival, observed in everything from albatross and woodstorks to bald eagles. Continue reading
The newly elected president of the Maldives wants to build a contingency fund to buy land elsewhere so that the island country can literally move to higher ground to escape rising sea levels. But what of the rest of the island’s biodiversity? According to Jo Mulongoy, chief scientist for the Convention on Biological Diversity’s secretariat in Montreal, the island ecosystems will never be reconstructed if they’re swamped – powerful motivation for capping greenhouse gas emissions and blunting climate change.
Overall, however, Mulongoy is more hopeful. Partly because governments are moving to act on biodiversity (says the scientific diplomat). But also because the power of information technology is informing smarter decision making and thus making it easier to do the right thing and preserve biodiversity (at least on higher ground).
The Congolese microbiologist needs to look no further than his homeland, where satellite imagery is helping the government protect its equatorial forests from over-harvesting by refugees displaced by years of civil war.
For more, in his own words, see my Q&A with Mulongoy that posted to Earthzine on Friday.