Posted by pfairley on October 18, 2012
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.
Consider the software unveiled this month by researchers at Arizona State University, which estimates GHG emissions in cities at the level of individual road segments and buildings. According to their report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the system mines public databases for broader statistics on energy use, local air pollution and traffic flows, then feeds those to traffic simulators and a building-by-building energy-consumption models. The result is high-resolution maps that present GHG emissions in a format that’s both useful to policymakers and comprehensible to the public.
“Cities have had little information with which to guide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – and you can’t reduce what you can’t measure,” says Kevin Gurney, a senior scientist with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. “We can provide cities with a complete, three-dimensional picture of where, when and how carbon dioxide emissions are occurring.”
So far, maps for Indianapolis are complete and work is ongoing for Los Angeles and Phoenix. Ultimately they hope to map CO2 emissions for all major cities across the United States.
ASU’s effort to pinpoint emissions is part of a broader trend that I profiled in July for Earthzine, an online Earth observation journal, earlier this year. I noted a forerunner to ASU’s software that has been operating for several years in Finland, where environmental consulting firm Benviroc’s CO2-raportti news portal presents weekly estimates of Finland’s emissions by province and, increasingly, by city.
There are also more sophisticated systems that attempt to directly observe rather than estimate localized GHG emissions. Last year, for example, researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology used ground station detection data to model how much trifluoromethane (a gas whose 100-year warming impact is 15,000-times greater than that of CO2) were being released from each country in Western Europe. Their findings differed substantially from the emissions levels reported to the UN by several countries; Italy’s reports appear to be 10 times too low, likely due to undeclared emissions from a refrigerants factory near Milan.
Such top-down reporting thus does more than simply raise consciousness about sources and causes of GHGs. It provides an independent means of verifying GHG emissions, something that could be critical to reignite diplomatic efforts to control and ultimate drive down GHGs. As ASU’s Gurney puts it: “These results may also help overcome current barriers to the United States joining an international climate change treaty.”
This post was created for Energywise, IEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate
Posted in Climate Change, Earth observation, Emissions, Renewable Energy | Tagged: Arizona State University, ASU, Climate Change, Earthzine, emissions modeling, Environmental Science & Technology, ES&T | Leave a Comment »
Posted by pfairley on July 19, 2012
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 Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Climate Change, Climate Communication, Climate Science, Earth observation, Emissions | Tagged: Climate Change, Earthzine, emissions verification | Leave a Comment »
Posted by pfairley on March 24, 2011
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. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Climate Change, Climate Science, Earth observation, Renewable Energy, Wind power | Tagged: altimeters, Climate Change, Earth observation, Renewable Energy, satellites, wind power, wind speed, wind turbines | Leave a Comment »
Posted by pfairley on May 28, 2009
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. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Climate Change, Climate Science, Coal, Earth observation, Natural gas, Wind power | Tagged: avian mortality, bats, Benjamin Sovacool, birds, Coal, energy, environment, University of Singapore, wind power | 4 Comments »