Showing posts with label fossil fuel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fossil fuel. Show all posts

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The breach of the Paris Agreement

By Andrew Glikson
Earth and climate scientist
Australian National University



Since its inception the Paris Agreement has been in question due to, among other:
  • its broad definition, specifically holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels;
  • its non-binding nature; and 
  • accounting tricks by vested interests.
The goal assumes pre-determined limits can be placed on greenhouse gas levels and temperatures beyond which they would not continue to rise. Unfortunately these targets do not appear to take account of the amplifying positive feedback effects from land and oceans under the high cumulative greenhouse gas levels and their warming effects. Thus unfortunately the current high CO₂ levels of about 408 ppm and near-500ppm CO₂-equivalent (CO₂+methane+nitrous oxide) would likely continue to push temperatures upwards.

Significant climate science evidence appears to have been left out of the equation. The accord hinges on the need to reduce emissions, which is essential, but it does not indicate how further temperature rise can be avoided under the conditions of a high-CO₂ atmosphere, which triggers carbon release, unless massive efforts at sequestration (drawdown) of greenhouse gases are undertaken. Inherent in global warming are amplifying positive feedbacks, including albedo (reflection) decline due to the melting of ice and the opening of dark water surfaces, increased water vapor contents of the atmosphere in tropical regions which enhances the greenhouse effect, reduced sequestration of CO₂ by the warming oceans, desiccation of vegetation, fires, release of methane from permafrost and other processes. This means that even abrupt reductions in emissions may not be sufficient to stem global warming, unless accompanied by sequestration of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to a lower level, recommended as below 350 ppm CO₂ by James Hansen, the leading climate scientist.

The world is on track to produce 50% more fossil fuels than can be burned before reaching the limit prescribed by the Paris Agreement, with currently planned coal, oil and gas outputs making the Paris Agreement goal impossible. Projected fossil fuel production in 2030 being more than is consistent with 2°C, and 120% more than that for 1.5°C.

Unbelievably, according to the International Monetary Fund, “In 2017 the world subsidized fossil fuels by $5.2 trillion, equal to roughly 6.5% of global GDP”, which is more than the total the world spends on human health. Such subsidies cannot possibly be consistent with the Paris Agreement. The pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 by the G7 nations, with exceptions by the UK and Japan, may come too late as global CO₂ concentrations, already intersecting the stability limits of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, are rising at a rate of 2 to 3 ppm per year, the highest in many millions of years.

Despite the scientific consensus regarding the anthropogenic origin of global warming, the world’s biggest fossil fuel corporations are taking a defiant stance against warnings that reserves of coal, oil and gas are already several times larger than can be burned if the world’s governments are to meet their pledge to tackle climate change. ExxonMobil said new reserves in the Arctic and Canadian tar sands must be exploited. Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, said global warming was “an environmental crisis predicted by flawed computer models”. Glencore Xstrata said that governments would fail to implement measures to cut carbon emissions. The World Bank and Bank of England have already warned of the “serious risk” climate action poses to trillions of dollars of fossil fuel assets.

Not to mention the risks to the living Earth and its billions of inhabitants!

The apparent neglect of scientific advice is not an isolated instance. It is not uncommon that climate reports are dominated by the views of economists, lawyers, bureaucrats and politicians, often overlooking the evidence presented by some of the world’s highest climate science authorities. Whereas the IPCC reports include excellent and comprehensive summaries of the peer-reviewed literature, the summaries for policy makers only partly represent the evidence and views of scientific authorities in the field, including those who have identified global warming in the first place.
Figure 2. from: James Hansen, data through June 2019

There exists a tendency in the media to report averages, such as average global temperature values, rather than the increasingly-common high zonal, regional and local anomalies.

For example, the annual mean global temperature rise of for 2018 is about one third the Arctic mean temperature rise (Fig. 2). Given that developments in the Arctic bear major consequences for climate change, the global mean  does not represent the seriousness of the climate crisis.

Another example is the way extremes weather events are reported as isolated instances, neglecting the rising frequency and intensity of hurricanes, storms, fires and droughts, indicated in frequency plots (Fig 3.).

Figure 3. Rise in geophysical, meteorological, hydrologocal and climatological events. Munich RE
It is not until international and national institutions take full account of what climate science is indicating that a true picture of the climate crisis will be communicated to the public.


Andrew Glikson
Dr Andrew Glikson
Earth and climate scientist
Australian National University


Books:
- The Archaean: Geological and Geochemical Windows into the Early Earth
- The Asteroid Impact Connection of Planetary Evolution
- Asteroids Impacts, Crustal Evolution and Related Mineral Systems with Special Reference to Australia
- Climate, Fire and Human Evolution: The Deep Time Dimensions of the Anthropocene
- The Plutocene: Blueprints for a Post-Anthropocene Greenhouse Earth
- Evolution of the Atmosphere, Fire and the Anthropocene Climate Event Horizon
- From Stars to Brains: Milestones in the Planetary Evolution of Life and Intelligence



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wildfires

Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are accelerating, even though emissions from fossil fuel burning have remained virtually the same over the past few years.

One of the reason behind this is accelerating emissions from wildfires as temperatures are rising.

Wildfires in Nevada caused CO2 to reach levels as high as 742 ppm on July 12, 2017 (green circle image on the right).

Global warming is greatly increasing the chance for what was previously seen as an extreme weather event to occur, such as a combination of droughts and storms. Heat waves and droughts can cause much vegetation to be in a bad condition, while high temperatures can come with strong winds, storms and lightning.

Wildfires cause a range of emissions, including CO2, soot, methane and carbon monoxide (CO). In Nevada, CO levels were as high as 30.43 ppm (green circle image right).


Above satellite image below shows the smoke plumes and the charred area. The google maps image below further shows where the fires were burning.


At the moment, wildfires are hitting many places around the world.

Wildfires caused carbon dioxide to reach levels as high as 746 ppm in Kazakhstan on July 11, 2017 (green circle on image on the right).

Carbon monoxide levels in the area were as high as 20.96 ppm on July 10, 2017.

The satellite image shows wildfires in Kazakhstan on July 9, 2017.


The satellite images show wildfires in Kazakhstan on July 11, 2017.


On July 16, 2017, CO₂ reached levels as high as 830 ppm in North America at the location marked by the green circle on the image below. Note that fires are burning at multiple locations.


The image below shows the location (red marker) where the fires burned in Canada.


That same day, July 16, 2017, CO₂ reached levels as high as 873 ppm in Mongolia, as shown by the image on the right.

The image also shows further fires burning in Siberia.

Carbon monoxide levels were as high as 37.19 ppm where the fires burned in Mongolia on July 16, 2017, as shown by the image below.


The image below shows the location (red marker) where the fires burned in Mongolia. The image also shows Lake Baikal across the border with Russia.


On July 22, 2017, CO₂ reached levels as high as 1229 ppm in Montana, while CO levels at the time were as high as 56.38 ppm at that location (green circle on image below).



The satellite image below shows the situation in Montana on the next day, July 23, 2017. See also the
NASA post Grassland Fires Tear Through Montana.


Furthermore, on July 23, 2017, CO₂ reached levels as high as 884 ppm at another (nearby) location in Montana (green circle on image below).


Meanwhile, temperatures keep rising. Surface temperature as high as 53.1°C or 127.5°F were forecast in Iran for July 11, 2017, at the location marked by the green circle on the image below.


At 1000 mb (image below), temperatures in Iran were forecast to be slightly lower, i.e. as high as 51.9°C or 125.3°F at the location marked by the at green circle, but note the difference in color, especially over Greenland, the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau.


The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action as described at the Climate Plan.

Aerosols

Some aerosols, particularly sulfur dioxide, have a cooling effect, making that they partly mask the warming effect of other emissions by people. The IPCC AR4 image below shows that the direct and cloud albedo effect of aerosols equals a radiative forcing of as much as -2.7 W/m². In other words, if this masking effect were to fall away, warming would increase by as much as 2.7 W/m², according to IPCC AR4 figures.
Anthropogenic aerosols are also suppressing the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, making that less heat gets transferred from oceans to the atmosphere. Recent research concludes that future reduction of anthropogenic aerosol emissions, particularly from China, would promote positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation, thus further speeding up warming over the coming years.

Dimethyl sulphide emissions from oceans constitute the largest natural source of atmospheric sulphur, and such emissions can decrease with ongoing ocean acidification and climate change. This could particularly impact specific regions such as Antarctica, speeding up warming and loss of sea ice there, as discussed at this paper.

The net warming effect of open biomass burning was estimated in a 2014 study by Mark Jacobson to amount to 0.4 W/m² of radiative forcing. Imagine a scenario in which many people stopped burning fossil fuels for heating, cooking and energy. That would be great, but if many of them instead switched to burning biomass in woodburners and open fires, while wildfires increased strongly, the net warming from associated aerosols would increase dramatically.

A recent paper by James Hansen uses equilibrium fast-feedback climate sensitivity of ¾°C per W/m², while another recent paper suggest that the temperature rise per W/m² could be even stronger.

A high-end increase in net radiative forcing combined with a strong temperature rise per W/m² could cause a temperature rise as a result of changes in aerosols of as much as 2.5°C in a matter of years, as suggested in earlier posts such as this one.



Links

• Climate Plan
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/p/climateplan.html

• 10°C or 18°F warmer by 2021?
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2017/04/10c-or-18f-warmer-by-2021.html

• Abrupt Warming - How Much And How Fast?
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2017/05/abrupt-warming-how-much-and-how-fast.html

• Accelerating growth in CO₂ levels in the atmosphere
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2017/02/accelerating-growth-in-co2-levels-in-the-atmosphere.html

• Feedbacks
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/p/feedbacks.html

• Warning of mass extinction of species, including humans, within one decade
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2017/02/warning-of-mass-extinction-of-species-including-humans-within-one-decade.html

• Turning forest waste into biochar
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/01/turning-forest-waste-into-biochar.html


Earlier posts on Wildfires

• Wildfires in Russia's Far East
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2016/08/wildfires-in-russias-far-east.html

• Wildfire Danger Increasing
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2016/05/wildfire-danger-increasing.html

• Smoke Blankets North America
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/07/smoke-blankets-north-america.html

• More on Wildfires
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/08/more-on-wildfires.html

• Wildfires even more damaging
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/07/wildfires-even-more-damaging.html

• Wildfires in Canada affect the Arctic
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/07/wildfires-in-canada-affect-the-arctic.html

• The Threat of Wildfires in the North
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-threat-of-wildfires-in-the-north.html

• Russia: 74 million acres burned through August 2012
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2012/09/russia-74-million-acres-burned-through-august-2012.html

• Earth on Fire
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2012/06/earth-on-fire.html

• Fires are raging again across Russia
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2012/06/fires-are-raging-again-across-russia.html


Further reading on wildfires and aerosols

• NASA: Grassland Fires Tear Through Montana
https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=90622

• 2016 fire risk for South America
http://www.ess.uci.edu/~amazonfirerisk/ForecastWeb/SAMFSS2016.html

• Global Fire Data - 2015 Indonesian fires
http://www.globalfiredata.org/updates.html#2015_indonesia

• Indonesia’s Fire Outbreaks Producing More Daily Emissions than Entire US Economy (2015)
http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/10/indonesia%E2%80%99s-fire-outbreaks-producing-more-daily-emissions-entire-us-economy

• Indonesia’s 2015 fires killed 100,000 people, study finds
http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/09/19/indonesias-2015-fires-killed-100000-people-study-finds

• Smoke from 2015 Indonesian fires may have caused 100,000 premature deaths
https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2016/09/smoke-from-2015-indonesian-fires-may-have-caused-100000-premature-deaths

• Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forests, by Abatzoglou et al.
http://www.pnas.org/content/113/42/11770.abstract

• The Mean and Turbulent Properties of A Wildfire Convective Plume, by Lareau et al.
http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/10.1175/JAMC-D-16-0384.1

• Airborne measurements of western U.S. wildfire emissions: Comparison with prescribed burning and air quality implications, by Liu et al.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016JD026315/abstract

• Hemispheric climate shifts driven byanthropogenic aerosol–cloud interactions, by Chung et al.
http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo2988.html

• Effects of biomass burning on climate, accounting for heat and moisture fluxes, black and brown carbon, and cloud absorption effects, by Mark Z. Jacobson
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014JD021861/abstract

• Amplification of global warming through pH-dependence of DMS-production simulated with a fully coupled Earth system model, by Jörg Schwinger et al.
https://www.biogeosciences-discuss.net/bg-2017-33

• Role of volcanic and anthropogenic aerosols in the recent global surface warming slowdown, by Doug M. Smith et al.
http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v6/n10/full/nclimate3058.html

• Slow climate mode reconciles historical and model-based estimates of climate sensitivity, by Proistosescu et al.
http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1602821.full

• Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions, by James Hansen
http://csas.ei.columbia.edu/2017/07/18/young-peoples-burden-requirement-of-negative-co2-emissions






Sunday, March 9, 2014

Dear Mr. President




Dear Mr President,

Ukraine is clearly another Western geopolitical stunt to stop Russian exports of oil and gas to Europe so they can be replaced by filthy fossil fuels from US fracking and Canadian tar sand oil. We are facing a devastating final show down with Mother Nature which is being accelerated by the filthy extraction of fossil fuels by fracking, tar sands and coal mining and continent wide oil transport in the US.

Call your troops home so they can immediately assist in assembling giant solar power stations, wind farms and converting all road and rail transport to electricity. Immediately terminate all gas fracking, tar sand oil extraction, oil transport, coal mining and all the giant subsidies paid to fossil fuel companies. This money must be solely spent on constructing renewable energy power stations and infrastructure. 

You will be held accountable by US citizens and the world if you do not stop this extreme American pollution, the fast approaching methane firestorm and our extinction by 2050.

Yours Truly,

Malcolm Peter Light (Dr)
Earth Scientist

Friday, August 16, 2013

Stop All New Fossil Fuel Megaprojects



Why is Obama not rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline now?

In light of Obama's 42 minute climate change speech, his understanding on the lack of permanent jobs created, as well as his knowledge on the corrupted environmental assessment report generated by pipeline advocates, one has to wonder what the delay is for? Clearly, Obama will reject the pipeline or completely lose support and credibility and destroy his long-term legacy.

So why the delay? For one thing, other pipelines are being planned and designed and pretty much slipped under the radar. Like the reversal of Enbridge Line 9 and conversion from natural gas to dilbit and a capacity of 1.1 million barrels per day, much higher than the 0.85 mbd from Keystone XL. By delaying on the Keystone XL, Obama is keeping pressure off these other projects which are threatening to slip in under the radar while people opposed are preoccupied with the Keystone XL.

This needs to change. People opposed to Keystone XL need to ramp up their opposition to all pipeline projects, in fact to all new fossil fuel megaprojects, including coal and pipelines and tankers and also to fracking. The reason is that climate change has moved into a much more rapid and abrupt regime, whereby massive extreme weather events like torrential rains cause floods in some regions, and long-term persistent droughts occur in other regions, all at the whim of a wavy and stuck jet stream.


Paul Beckwith is a part-time professor with the laboratory for paleoclimatology and climatology, department of geography, University of Ottawa. He teaches second year climatology/meteorology. His PhD research topic is “Abrupt climate change in the past and present.” He holds an M.Sc. in laser physics and a B.Eng. in engineering physics and reached the rank of chess master in a previous life.


Related

- The Social Tipping Point - by Paul Beckwith
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-social-tipping-point.html

- The Obama Climate Plan: Disappointing and Hopeless - by Peter Carter
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-obama-climate-plan-disappointing-and-hopeless.html

- Comprehensive and Effective Climate Plan - by Sam Carana

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Obama Climate Plan: Disappointing and Hopeless


by Peter Carter

The Obama plan is a phony fossil fuel PR plan to keep increasing American fossil fuel production, which, under Obama, has reached an all-time high. We have to get atmospheric CO2 down below 350ppm fast – with a planetary emergency climate action plan. Today it is 400ppm. Under the Obama plan, it will only keep going up fast.

It is easy to rate a climate plan, but it seems America doesn’t know the climate science basics. Basic climate science fact number one is “zero carbon” (see onlyzerocarbon.org). If we don’t stop emitting carbon, we can’t stop, or even slow down, global warming.

It is definite that the global temperature and ocean acidification cannot stop increasing unless industrial carbon emissions get to zero. You probably haven’t heard this fact because it means the end of the fossil fuel industry.

It simply means all fossil fuel energy must be replaced by clean, zero-carbon energy. It means that although some fossil fuels are worse polluters than others, any fossil fuel energy (including natural gas) production has to stop and be replaced by real, clean, zero-carbon energy. It means that any climate action plan that does not drop carbon emissions is a deadly dirty lie.

US Fossil Fuel Production under Obama


Some quotes:

Below from: US to become world leader in oil and gas thanks to fracking — The UK Independent, 13 November 2012.

The United States will leapfrog Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas in the next five years as the controversial practice of ‘fracking’ for hydrocarbons contained in shale rocks has enabled the country to increase production massively.

US oil and gas production is set to leap by about a quarter by 2020 as the rapid growth of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, propels the country towards providing all its own energy by 2035, according to the World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency.

The fracking boom will push US oil production up from 8.1 million barrels a day last year to 11.1 million in 2020 while gas extraction will jump from 604 billion cubic metres a day to 747 billion (International Energy Agency).

Maria van der Hoeven, the IEA executive director, said: “North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world.”

Below from: US may soon become world’s top oil producer — Associated Press, 19 February 2013.

Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. This will be the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.


Planetary-scale climate change murder

Obama is getting away with planetary-scale climate change murder. His actions as the most influential leader on the planet will affect the entire planet forever.

Obama is proud of his record American oil production: “Now, we absolutely need safe, responsible oil production here in America. That’s why under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years.” (February 2012)

With atmospheric carbon at the highest level it’s been in 15 million years and ocean acidification occurring faster than in the past 300 million years, there’s no such thing as safe oil production any more.

Check the Obama climate action plan for any evidence of a decrease in fossil fuel production any time in the future. It is all continued increase, and it is locking America and the world into another 50 years of fossil fuel energy dependency. Only by then, civilization will have collapsed.

Cover up

Quotes from: The President's Climate Action Plan
Unlocking Long-Term Investment in Clean Energy Innovation.
The Fiscal Year 2014 Budget continues the President’s commitment to keeping the United States at the forefront of clean energy research, development, and deployment.  … This includes investment in a range of energy technologies, from advanced biofuels and emerging nuclear technologies – including small modular reactors – to clean coal.
Spurring Investment in Advanced Fossil Energy Projects: In the coming weeks, the Department of Energy will issue a Federal Register Notice announcing a draft of a solicitation that would make up to $8 billion in (self-pay) loan guarantee authority available for a wide array of advanced fossil energy projects under its Section 1703 loan guarantee program.

Clean Coal? Only the coal industry talks the “clean coal” oxymoron, which makes Obama a coal man in the White House, as well as an oil man. There is no such thing as clean coal or oil, and, in any case, the cleanest fossil fuels would be far from zero-carbon.

Biofuels? Burning food is an obvious obscenity. Burning biofuels emits CO2 and incurs a carbon debt from the land being used to produce biofuels – it is nowhere near a zero-carbon energy.

Where is the long-term investment in real, clean, zero-carbon, everlasting energy? Yet this is a fossil-fuel-promoting climate action plan.

All this money is being used as fossil-fuel cover-up, to deceive Americans into thinking there is such a thing as “clean coal” and “ethical oil.” All government money should be going to true clean, zero-carbon energy development if we are to survive. Obama has no intention of replacing or displacing fossil fuel energy from its longstanding energy dominance.

This climate “action” plan is designed to maintain American and world fossil fuel dominance of the energy market. Now that Obama has got US fossil fuel production up to all time record levels, he placates his environmental supporters with the clean-fossil-fuel energy big lie, and they fall for it. It is, of course, too good to be true.

The Real Obama Plan
  • Obama’s advanced fossil fuel energy projects are backward, retrogressive, and impel us faster to global climate catastrophe. These Advanced Fossil Energy Projects (Department of Energy) are designed to advance the insane planet-destroying agenda of the fossil fuel corporations. The future he has planned for American and world energy is a future that won’t last long.
  • Novel oil and gas drilling, stimulation, and completion technologies, including dry fracking, that avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases
  • Coal-bed methane recovery CO2 capture from synthesis gases in fuel reforming or gasification processes
  • CO2 capture from flue gases in traditional coal or natural gas electricity generation
  • CO2 capture from effluent streams of industrial processing facilities
  • Coal or natural gas oxycombustion
DOE notes that the scope of this solicitation is intended to be broad. DOE will consider both electrical and non-electrical fossil energy use. All fossil fuels, including, without limitation:
  • Coal
  • natural gas
  • oil
  • shale gas
  • oil shale
  • coal bed methane
  • methane hydrates
These are all projects to support the big clean-energy lie. The fossil fuel industry is not wasting money on research into “clean” fossil fuels, which are bogus. The industry knows that feigning “clean” would add huge costs to fossil fuel energy in the attempt. But these US government projects permit the fossil fuel industry to keep up the clean fossil fuel myth. It is fossil fuel PR. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) language is now being used to make fossil fuel energy projects appear to be zero-carbon.

The US oil and gas fracking technology has fast become the end-of-the-world model for the rest of the world to follow. So much for President Obama and the great climate change hope for greenhouse-gas-polluting energy change.

When President Obama talks about American leadership, he means leadership in shale oil, shale gas and methane hydrate gas. He is leading America and the world to Climate Hell.


[ Above post is an extract of the posts that appeared earlier at Uprage and at Boomerwarrior ]



Peter Carter is a retired family MD. Peter has spent many years working with environmental health development policy.
Peter has been a blogger since 2008. You can reach him at Uprage, the Climate Emergency Institute and on Facebook.
“I now focus on global climate change, because if we fail to fix this, we fail on everything,” says Peter.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Climate change fighting town savaged by runaway oil train

by Paul Beckwith

Early in the morning on Saturday July 6th, 2013 five locomotives and 73 tank cars carrying crude oil were parked about 12.5 km uphill (track distance) from the small idyllic Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic about 210 km east of Montreal. Apparently, the sole train engineer had finished his shift and left the train (locomotives running) a few hours earlier to get some sleep in the town; the train sat unmanned awaiting the arrival of the next engineer. Something went horribly wrong; the tank cars uncoupled from the locomotives and started rolling downhill and gathering speed as they headed towards the small town.

Map 1 (from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23221939 ) shows the town location within the province of Quebec in Canada and the general route of the oil train near the town. North is upward for all of the following maps.

Map 1

Map 2 below shows a satellite image from Google Earth of the town and nearby lake.  The red vertical line is for scale, with a length representing a 15 km distance.

Map 2
Map 3 shows a closer-up view of the town. The dark pathway is the route of the train tracks crossing the town from west-north-west to the south-east. This Google Earth image is several years old, and rail cars can be seen at the time this image was obtained beyond the track curve towards the south-east. The train track forks into a northward and southward curving line where it crosses a major road.

Map 3
Map 4 shows an even closer view of the region. The yellow line of length 0.2 km indicates the scale. Buildings within the red zone that I outlined by freehand were leveled as the train jumped the track near the fork and plowed along the orange path. I marked red dots on the individual structures within the red zone of destruction, and counted about 40 buildings. Most of these buildings were completely leveled, with the exception of a few near the perimeter of the red zone that were severely damaged.

Map 4
Map 5 indicates the general location where the train was parked and uncoupled from the 5 locomotives, in the town of Nantes, for the shift change. This Google Earth image from 2012 has an elevation of 519 m above mean sea level on the tracks at the location where some train cars are seen in this older image. This location has the highest elevation and drops off to either side along the tracks as determined from Google Earth elevations.

Map 5
Thus, from Google Earth the elevation of Nantes is determined to be roughly 519 meters, while that of the derailment zone in Lac-Mégantic is 399 meters. From simple physics, the potential energy of the train at Nantes (PE = mgh; m=mass, g=9.81 m/s2, h= height) was converted to kinetic energy at the derailment site (KE=0.5mv2). Solving for the speed of the train the mass cancels out giving v = sqrt(2*g*h) giving a value of 48.5 m/s (175 km/hr = 109 mph) which was clearly enough to cause the derailment if correct. This speed is an upper limit value, assuming no rolling resistance or air resistance or tank car braking. The actual number is certainly somewhat lower, but the amount is difficult to calculate exactly but we will estimate it. Assuming constant acceleration of the train down the hill, the time to reach the town after starting from rest at the top of the hill is given by t = 2x/v (x=length of track between locations = 12.5 km, v = speed at bottom of hill) gives a rolling time of 515 seconds (8 minutes, 35 seconds). The average acceleration along the track path down the hill is a=v/t=0.09417 m/s2 (or about 0.96% of the acceleration due to gravity). Again, this is for the no friction case, modifications for friction will be estimated shortly.

Map 6 shows the route connecting Nantes to Lac-Mégantic. The rail distance is roughly 12.5 km as measured on Google Earth and indicated by the yellow lines (connecting the red point tie dots along the track), and the vertical height change is 120 meters along this path down to the derailment site. The runaway train successfully negotiated two very sharp curves. The first is at Laval-Nord (elevation 457 m, height drop from Nantes of 62 m) giving a calculated speed of 34.9 m/s (126 km/hr), a derailment here would have taken the train into forests. The second sharp curve is 0.38 km north of the lake (elevation 431 m, height drop 88 m) with a calculated speed of 41.6 m/s (150 km/hr). Failure to negotiate the second curve would have been a derailment into the forests, and would have likely spilled crude oil that would drain into the lake.

Map 6
Map 7 from this link (map http://www.cbc.ca/news/interactives/before-after/lac-megantic/ba.html, north is down on this map) is a sliding before-and-after image that shows the buildings that were destroyed in the derailment and explosions. The after-image is also shown below. One can count 44 pancaked tank cars piled up alongside one another. The train came from the west (right side on this image which has north pointing downward) and the lead cars traveled a distance of at least 200 meters after leaving the rails. It is unclear where the other 30 or so tank cars are, presumably they still along the track behind the derailed cars (to the right on the image below).

Map 7
Some background history/information on the town can be found in this linked article: (http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/lac-megantic-history-of-a-picturesque-quebec-forestry-town-1.1357424 ).
Quoting from this article:
“According to the (town) website, it was one of 52 municipalities in Quebec to receive a "Four Blossoms" rating from the provincial organization "Les Fleurons du Quebec," which rewards municipalities for attractive greenery. It was also ranked among the first eight municipalities in Quebec to earn a "Carbon responsible" attestation, for climate-change measures, from the Enviro-access consulting company.”

Awards won by Lac-Mégantic
for climate-change measures
This award winning, climate change fighting town had no chance against the runaway oil train; which is an incredibly sad irony. Unfortunately, the train successfully negotiated two very sharp curves at speeds of 34.9 m/s and 41.6 m/s prior to entering the town of Lac-Mégantic. Derailment on either of these curves would have spared the town. In the town it derailed at roughly 48.5 m/s on a much more gradual turn crossing near or at a major road. As mentioned earlier, these speeds are upper limit speeds assuming no rolling resistance or air resistance and an on-track acceleration calculated from the basic physics of constant acceleration to be 0.96% of gravity. What is the effect of friction? If we assume a 20% reduction due to friction (rolling + aerodynamic + tank car braking) then acceleration is reduced to 0.07534 m/s2, rolling time is increased to 576 seconds, and derailment speed is reduced to 43.4 m/s (156 km/hr or 97 mph).

Still this is an incredibly fast speed that is hard to believe. Is this ridiculous? Re-examine the images (Map 7) above of the wreck zone, and observe that for more than half the train to completely derail and pancake (>44 tank cars) required an extremely high derailment speed. Going even one step further, let us now assume that there was even more friction, for example from more hydraulic braking action on the individual tank cars, such that the total frictional acceleration reduction was reduced by 50% to 0.0478 m/s2. Rolling time and derailment speed would respectively now become 723 seconds and 34.6 m/s (125 km/hr or 78 mph). I doubt this is fast enough to cause the level of pancaking and derailment distance observed, so my guess on the derailment speed would be between the two previous numbers. The train “black-box” should come out with accurate numbers after it is analyzed.

Given that train tank car transport of crude oil has increased by 28,000% in the last 5 years (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/07/lac-megantic-explosion-oil_n_3558647.html ) without a corresponding increase in safety inspections (and even cost cutting reductions) it is virtually certain that the frequency of accidents will increase. Pipelines are no answer to transporting oil, given that we are undergoing abrupt climate change. In fact, increases in the frequency, severity, and geographical regions of extreme weather events due to jet stream behavior completely changing due to rapid climate change is also greatly increasing the risk of oil transport by rail and pipeline from flooding, drought, heat waves, and extremely large temperature swings over short periods of time. In fact all infrastructure is being severely compromised by extreme weather. As the people in Calgary, Toronto, India, Europe, and many other places around the world are discovering first hand.


Paul Beckwith is a part-time professor with the laboratory for paleoclimatology and climatology, department of geography, University of Ottawa. He teaches second year climatology/meteorology. His PhD research topic is “Abrupt climate change in the past and present.” He holds an M.Sc. in laser physics and a B.Eng. in engineering physics and reached the rank of chess master in a previous life.